A Surprise Party and a Government Shutdown - Baked Eggplant Parmesan
A Surprise Party and a Government Shutdown
Will's favorite dish is eggplant parmesan. To him, it trumps all. So, for his 30th birthday, I made eggplant parm. For all of our friends. But, it came at a cost. He's never liked being the center of attention. It’s all to familiar for him to say, “I don’t want to inconvenience anyone.” So, for someone who despises attention, what better gift than a surprise party? The caveat was that in truth this was a gift to me. I love entertaining. And moreover, I love celebrating. I have always enjoyed hosting. Perhaps because my mom always hosted family for big holidays at our house. Or, because I worked for a catering company throughout high school. Regardless, I've always wanted everyone to have a good time.
So, I organized a surprise party. Nothing massive, nothing crazy. A dinner party of sorts. I invited several couples, and I’d make eggplant parmesan, linguine, caesar salad, and garlic bread. It was the first real time we’ve hosted a larger group. Since it would be the week after his birthday, he wouldn’t suspect a thing.
It also coincided with the government shutdown of 2013. It was an incredibly hectic, stressful time at work. Nonessential employees--government term, not mine--were furloughed. It lasted roughly two weeks, from October 1st through the 16th. It basically halted most routine operations since Congress failed to enact any legislation for FY 2014, or even a Continuing Resolution (CR) for the interim. It was partisanship at it's finest. Roughly 800,000 federal employees were furloughed, and 1.3 million were told they must report to work, without known payment dates. The uncertainly was maddening. Since the House Radio TV Gallery is under the purview of the CAO, and the news centered around Congress, we were deemed essential. A blessing and a curse. If congress was in session, we had to come in. So, we worked every weekend. I recall vacuuming the studios, taking out the trash, since the janitorial staff were furloughed. Despite the inaction on the House Floor, we were helping to facilitate nonstop press conferences.
I had to work that Saturday of Will’s party and had yet to go grocery shopping or start cooking, fearful of ruining the surprise. I was thrilled to learn I could leave work at 2 p.m. that day. I orchestrated Will's friends to invite him for drinks at Ragtime, a bar nearby, so I could get supplies and start preparing. They swooshed him out of the apartment, and their corresponding girlfriends came over to help set up.
Everything was going great. The sauce was simmering, the oven preheating. I finally hit my groove. Then one of the girls received a text: “Will just ordered a chicken sandwich.” My face dropped. This couldn’t be! My hands submerged with egg wash and panko breadcrumbs, I was overheating. I was making this elaborate meal.
I later learned his friends did try to deter him, but to me, the damage was done. Naturally I overreacted. But, I felt that all of my work was for naught. I suppose it was more symbolic than anything else. When Will walked in a little after 7 p.m., he was completely shocked. He did order that sandwich, after all. Ultimately, I pulled it off--a successful surprise party. However, I made it clear it was my first and last. I wasn't bashful to admit that it was a fair amount of work. I told him next surprise was his 50th. That should give congress a solid 20 years to mitigate some of the all encompassing partisanship. To Will's credit, he did have the eggplant parmesan, and loved it. In fact, everyone raved about it. The recipe below can easily be doubled. Since I made far too much, we had eggplant parmesan for a week. Perhaps the best birthday present of all.
Baked Eggplant Parmesan
2 large eggplants
2 large eggs
2 tbsp. milk
1 cup plain panko breadcrumbs
1 cup finely grated parmesan
6 cups homemade chunky tomato sauce, more if serving with pasta
1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven 375 degrees
Whisk eggs plus milk
Combine breadcrumbs, parmesan and spices in separate bowl
Dip eggplant slices in egg, then completely dredge in breadcrumb mixture
Bake for 20 minutes, flip and cook for an additional 20 minutes, until golden brown
Raise oven temperature to 400 degrees
Ladle sauce so it covers the bottom of the baking dish
Layer eggplant slices on sauce, cover with mozzarella, and more sauce
Repeat with remaining eggplant, mozzarella, and sauce
Bake until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted, roughly 20 to 25 minutes
*Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart, Everyday Food (2003)