Every year I create a new menu to feed 25 familial mouths at a family reunion off in Montana’s wilderness. Stores are hours away, so we cart in all of our food for a week and we each cook one evening dinner to feed the masses. Many of my siblings have it down to a science, cooking the same thing year after year and creating a bit of a tradition (one family always makes fajitas with margaritas, another opts for spaghetti and red wine). They are smart. Each year: they use the same grocery list and pack accordingly.
Though I threatened to just bring cold cereal for dinner this year (they didn’t believe me), I couldn’t help but round up a menu that is far more complicated than it should be (esp. considering we are out in the middle of nowhere and I should probably just grill sausages, peppers and otherwise relax). BUT. It was also a chance to ‘love on the people I love.’ How often do I actually cook for my extended family? We aren’t neighbors, and I see them far too little. Bringing them memorable bites and fancy cocktails in the middle of the wilderness—which promises big smiles, happy bellies and large laughs—is a temptation I cannot resist.
To be fair, I don’t go ‘all out’ the way I sometimes do at home (I want to have time to visit as well, not be in a tiny cabin kitchen for an entire day!)… but this urban farm girl wasn’t about to cook hot dogs.
In the weeks leading up to our week in Montana’s woods, my husband looks at me skeptically: you are going to keep it simple this year, right? And I always mean to. This year my goal was to make condiments and sauces, simple syrups and rubs all in advance so when it was my ‘night’ to make dinner it would be mere assembly.
OR so I was planning. Until my sister-in-law requested onion rings to order… with chipolte aioli.
And I figured jam bars with homemade preserves would be an easy dessert—especially if I premixed all the dry ingredients in a Ziploc and used last year’s jam. But then creeps into my mind: that chocolate stout cake really is SO easy to make. And I could just buy organic whip cream in a bottle to top each rounded bite… instead of making it from scratch (oh the short-cuts I take!).
All in, here is what I decided on:
roasted garlic with cambazola and crostini/toasts
olives, smoked almonds, goat cheese with brandied fig jam (jam already made!)
Italian sodas for the kids (I made strawberry simple syrup in advance)
Lemon drops and Kamikazis for the adults
sauteed corn with chili, cilantro and feta
broccoli salad with bacon, raisins and red onion
lemon thyme marinated chicken with peanut sauce (marinated the chicken AND made the peanut sauce in advance)
onion rings with chipolte aioli (made the dry part of the batter and the aioli in advance)
Latin-rubbed steak with blue cheese dipping sauce (made rub and blue cheese sauce in advance)
jam bars (both strawberry and peach)
chocolate stout cake
You have been paying attention: I write incessantly about food in this post, but instead of food photos give you a myriad of photos highlighting the fun, the sun and extended family. Top to bottom:
- Janelle holding a salad. The backstory: it actually rained so we kept piling on layers. I was tickled to find my brother’s black and red hunting jacket to keep me warm!
- Oars. We canoe and kayak quite a bit. Sometimes on the river, sometimes on the lake.
- Janelle and sis-in-law Maluhia chilling on the porch. As it should be.
- Janelle with cousin Chris.
- Janelle having a moment with Zoe (Chris’s daughter)
- Zoe. Star material.
- Cousins on the swim dock. Caleb (my son) jumping.
- Uncle Kerry—aka my brother—looking the part.
- cousin time on the lake.
- this reunion we made rockets (we love to have a theme!); Uncle Jim and Aunt Vicki with all the kiddos. Rockets included.
- watching rockets
- James (my husband) and Lily (niece) with rocket.
- Jack (nephew) with his hand-crafted rocket.
- Lily likes rocketry.