I recently graduated from college, and my brother from high school. To celebrate the class of 2012, my family threw a double graduation bash. Like any graduation party, the house filled with friends and family of all ages, talking and getting to know each other. We sat in the backyard, music pumped out through speakers, sunglasses on, tans blossoming on our shoulders. There isn’t much that beats spending time with the ones I love in relaxed, open moments under the summer sun. The one addition that makes everything better is food.

Gather strangers around a table and it becomes an opportunity to learn, grow, and share. When people open their mouths for good food, they open themselves to exploring beyond their taste buds. Naturally, food was an important aspect of our bash. In fact, those in the dining room practically revolved around the table. Food was the centerpiece, and it was almost all homemade, something for which I have my mom to thank.

She asked my brother and I for food suggestions for the party. My brother requested meatball sandwiches, and I pulled pork sandwiches, two classic American graduation party dishes. They’re classics because they are fairly easy to prepare and they’re simple to keep warm in crock pots on the kitchen counter. We bought fresh rolls (a must) from a local bakery.

The interesting thing about these main dishes is that they’re not easy to eat; they’re sloppy and can stain. It’s funny to me, then, that people eat them off of plates in their laps, while dressed up, in front of others with whom they may not be acquainted. Nevertheless, I think these sandwiches embody the feeling of a party, especially a summer party: it’s okay to get a little messy, to have to lick your fingers, and to enjoy good food in a slightly chaotic form.

The main dishes at our bash were supported by vegetables in various forms. There was a bowl of blueberries, two kinds of coleslaw, roasted vegetables with Parmesan cheese, and Mexican orzo salad, which I prepared.

I found the recipe for the salad on AllRecipes.com when I searched for “corn”, “beans”, and “orzo”. I knew I wanted to make a corn and bean cold salad, having seen a picture of one made with ingredients from the community garden at my alma mater. The recipe was easy to make, and there were no mishaps except for the crazy ability of an onion to make everyone in the room burst into tears. It sent my brothers and mom fleeing from the kitchen with towels pressed to their eyes.

The salad turned out beautifully, a wonderful mix of colors. The lime juice gave it an unexpected bright flavor, and the cilantro was a must, adding another tone to a symphony of flavors. It was a great supporting dish and one I would highly recommend.

I have a sweet tooth that could consume the world’s supply of dessert, so I was quite pleased to see chocolate chip cookies, two varieties of dessert bars, and many other options. And while many graduation parties boast a large sheet cake as the main dessert, after about three bites of overly sugary icing and sweet vanilla cake, I usually toss the picked over remains into the trash can. My brother agreed with my sentiment, and neither of us felt the need to have our faces on a cake, as so many graduates do, so we decided on ice cream sundaes. Chow mein noodles are an unconventional favorite ice cream topping of mine, which give a different crunch than the usual sprinkles. I think people enjoyed the ice cream: cool on a hot day and easy to eat.

The food at our double graduation bash was a sure success. Graduation parties and similar gatherings provide the perfect opportunity to mix standard party fare (meatball sandwiches, pasta salad) with something a little different (chow mein noodles on ice cream). Attendees won’t feel as overwhelmed or intimidated by food they don’t recognize or aren’t used to when it’s sitting next to something they know and love. So don’t be afraid to combine traditional favorites with a little flare. Visit this site (and this one too) for interesting and creative ideas for party food. Check them out, whip them up, invite some friends over, and have yourself a summer shindig.