Cooking For Others: Celebrating Sarah

birthday campfire: we sang “happy birthday” instead of “kumba-ya”

EVENT: Sarah’s Birthday
VENUE: Sarah’s Parents’ House
TYPE: Mellow, with a hint of over-the-top
CARA’S CONTRIBUTION: Appetizer Tray Extraordinaire

Sometimes, when people with approaching birthdays say, “Nah, I don’t want a party,” they mean it. But usually they don’t. Our friend Sarah was turning 24 on the 24th, and though she kept claiming she wanted to keep things mellow, the”small party at her parents’ beach house” quickly devolved into a the-more-the-merrier, all-night Memorial Day event. There were fireworks on the beach and later a bonfire, 20 enormous Levain cookies in addition to a cake, and 25 guests who just happened to have been milling about the neighborhood.
Though Sarah may have been in denial about her deep-seated desire to celebrate her golden birthday (dorky, yes: 24 on the 24th…), she is not a space cadet, and she quickly realized that to feed all 25 of her family and friends, she’d need to be spectacularly organized.
To that end, her brother Daniel got put in charge of the meat, her father took care of the seafood and her mother the pastas, Sarah herself was on tofu duty, and I volunteered to bring over an appetizer tray.

above, Sarah’s brother Daniel with meat and girls; below, Sarah’s tofu

The Sunday of Memorial Day—unlike the clear, fireworks-friendly night that followed it—was somewhat gray. I alternated sleeping and reading all morning, but then sometime after lunch it occured to me that I’d prefer cooking all afternoon to doing pretty much anything else. So I embarked on an hors d’oeuvres platter to end all hors d’oeuvres platters, because, well, why not? If Sarah was going overboard, I might as well too.

From my kitchen, where a birthday always means a party, to yours,



Half the tray was made up of various experiments in phyllo dough; on that, more soon. The homemade crackers are the recipes I’ve given below, and they’re really a great stock hors d’oeurves to be able to make. For one, they satisfy the baking urge without producing a dessert, and for another they appear to have required that extra effort that makes people exclaim that they can’t believe you made them by hand. Each recipe makes about 24 crackers.

Two Pepper Olive Oil Crackers


1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2 egg, beaten

Parmesan Sesame Crackers


1 cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons sesame seeds

1/2 cup grated parmesan

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter

1/2 egg, beaten

For both crackers, combine all the dry ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Add the fat—using your fingers to mix in the butter if you’re making the Parmesan Sesame Crackrers. Finally, stir in the egg.

Roll the dough into a log about 12 inches long. Wrap well in plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375°F. Slice the cookies about 1/4 inch thick and arrange them on baking sheets. Bake until golden around the edges, 10-12 minutes. Serve alone, with cheese, hummus, or other dips.

Posted in: Cooking for Others
  • Sarah L

    wait, i'm not a space cadet? thanks for the best golden birthday ever – both in the hamptons and the city! i love you both so much and appreciate all that you do for me. These girls are not only two of the best chefs i know but the best friends i could ever ask for. love love love

    oh and thanks for making me an internet sensation. it's hard just walking down the street these days without being recognized…

  • Kate

    Phyllo is also great filled with sautéed spinach and cooked on a griddle! And Sarah is right, you are the best birthday planners around!!

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