Rooted In Wonder:
Nurturing Your Family's Faith Through God's Creation
Master Naturalist, Bible teacher, author, wife, and mama of four! Join our adventures of discovering God while adventuring in creation.
If I were to ask you to recount to me the most hilarious meal you’ve sat down to in the past year, would it quickly come to mind? For me this is easy. Dinner on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Every year.
In a society where Thanksgiving is quickly being sandwiched into oblivion by Halloween and Christmas, my family is fighting to preserve it. We do not take this holiday lightly. In fact, every year my parents treat us all to a week-long stay in a beautiful cabin (big enough to house 15 of us, made up of four generations!). We enjoy staying in a new location each year. Our week is packed full of games, movies, outdoor fun, phenomenal food, cherished fellowship, and lots and lots of rest and relaxation!
One of our favorite traditions for our “Turkey Palooza” week is our annual cooking competition. On Wednesday evening we all draw knives, which have written on them the mystery ingredient we will each then be cooking with. We then draw knives again–numbers this time–determining who gets to choose, in which order, from the provided proteins.
Once we all have our mystery ingredients and proteins, we have until Saturday to conjure up a plan, buy any additional ingredients, and psych out our competition.
In past years I have lucked out in drawing some fairly versatile mystery ingredients, and a good place in line to draw a desirable protein. However, this year my luck was up. Our draw of the knives left me with fat-free ricotta cheese and last choice of proteins–cream of shrimp soup.
Now, if you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, or know anything about me, you should know that I’m not a fan of anything claiming a “fat-free” label (read more about that here). Processed canned soups such as cream of shrimp are also very out of my element when it comes to cooking. My two ingredients were quite unfamiliar territory to my whole-food way of cooking, but I was determined to create with them a delicious….or at least edible….dish!
When Saturday evening rolls around, and everyone begins cooking their dishes, things can get a bit frenzied in the kitchen. A few of us were thankful this year that my husband Grayson and my brother-in-law Mike decided to cook out over the open fire, freeing up some space in the kitchen and burners on the stove top for the rest of us.
While we all raced around the busy kitchen composing our dishes, Gray and Mike were hard at work sitting out around the fire with their mason jars of Mike’s homebrew, watching meat smoke over the open flames.
Now, I think it’s important to note here that no one in my family takes cooking lightly. We all love good food. We all know how to cook. We all have a reputation to uphold. This competition, although fun and hilarious, is no small thing. This is serious business.
Although our imagination is the limit when it comes to what we create with our ingredients, there are of course some guidelines to our competition.
Let me just say–I was even more impressed by my family this year than in past years. As I said earlier, my family knows how to cook, and our friendly yet highly competitive cooking competition gets us all tapping into our creative sides and demonstrating our various expertise in the kitchen!
So, now that you have an idea of what our annual competition entails, let me introduce you to this year’s entries, and the place they took in the competition.
In sixth place was my brother-in-law Mike (last year’s winner, read the story here how he won with marshmallows and beef bacon!). This year Mike presented us with his “Pork” in Red “Fish” sauce over fresh greens. It was a creative display of the use of his ingredients: strawberry fruit roll-ups and canned ham slices. The “fish” in his fruity sauce came from another ingredient we had laying around the house….Swedish fish candies, which he reduced down with his fruit roll-ups to create a sauce….
Although Mike took last place, he did win my dad over with his “fish” sauce. In fact, after the meal, when desserts were brought out, my dad proceeded to pour Mike’s “fish” sauce over his chocolate cake. “Dad’s getting diabetes tonight.” My sister predicted. My husband agreed, “Wow, few people can trace back their diabetes to one specific night.”
My dad commended Mike, “The odd thing is, Mike, I don’t normally like seafood!” Yes–it is indeed the dialogue which makes this out to be the most hilarious meal of our year!
My mom took fifth place with her Raspberry-Infused Chicken Cordon Blu Meatballs in Sausage Gravy. She showed innovation in the use of her two ingredients: ground chicken and dried raspberries. She also received extra points for utilizing a leftover: her homemade sausage gravy. “If you get a crunch, that’s the seeds from the dried raspberries.” mom warned us as we each took our first bite.
My hubby Grayson took fourth place with his Smoky and Spicy Beans and Beef. “Or, if you don’t like that, it’s beef and beans”. He simmered down his Anasazi beans, and smoked his tri-tip beef over the fire pit to create this delicious dish–which I will be requesting that he recreates at home.
My brother Ian took third place with his “Kwarma” Walking Tacos in Homemade Flat Breads with “Cucumber of the Tree” (apples). Ian always wins us over and scores extra creativity points with his cunning and comical descriptions. His dish was a tasty use of his two ingredients: Greek yogurt and home canned pork.
My sister Andi placed second in the competition with her creative “Global Tacos”. She baked her first mystery ingredient, wonton wrappers, into hard taco shells, and stuffed them with her second mystery ingredient, Italian sausage. She served her tacos with two additional ethnic garnishes: homemade Alfredo sauce and an Italian bruschetta-like salsa.
That means that yes–I took first place this year! I somehow managed to pull of the win by masking the tinny, fake flavors of my poor lot of ingredients with a whole lot of herbs, roasted garlic, butter, and some great fresh pasta dough.
I did offer a disclaimer as I described my dish. “Here we have a Fresh Shrimp Ravioli….however allow me to point out that it is the pasta which is fresh….not the shrimp….”
At home I normally cheat with my pasta dough, allowing my bread machine to do all of the hard work of mixing and kneading. However, I failed to pack my bread machine for vacation, and so my pasta for the competition was kneaded by hand, lending just the right artisan flavor and texture.
My parents never skimp on the prize for the cooking competition. This year my win sent us home with a brand new set of 6 matching stoneware ramekins with lids!
The real indicator of whose dishes were a success is whether people reach for seconds. At the end of the meal, some entries instead meet their demise in the trash can. After Mike’s “pork” met such a fate, he joked, “Wait! We could have given it to the dog…oh wait…never mind.” They had tried throwing her a scrap while outside cooking. She wouldn’t touch it.
Although the competitive spirit of our annual cooking competition is nothing to scoff at, the true heart of this tradition is in bringing our family together around the table; enjoying good–or at least creative–food; food made by each of our hands. And it is this amusing display of creativity which unfailingly leads to eruptions of laughter around this– our most hilarious meal of the year.
“Tradition” holds this connotation of permanence; a sacred establishment not to be messed around with. Yet sometimes we don’t even know its origin, or why it continues each year. Sometimes traditions only create stress, holding power over its adherents. “But it’s tradition–we have to do it!” There’s nothing wrong with tradition, but is tradition for tradition sake really worth all of the fuss involved? Every tradition is worth a closer examination; a look at the heart behind the practice.
For my family, the value of a tradition is calculated by the laughter it brings us. Laughter is, well, no laughing matter to my family. It is of cherished value.
On the day my dad gave me away as wife to my husband, he challenged Grayson, “Always keep her laughing” And then he turned the attention of our guest’s to my mom, moist tears forming in his eyes, and pointed to the laugh lines adorning my mother’s eyes; gracing her mouth. Those laugh lines are from my dad, born over the years he’s brought her laughter and joy. That’s what is so special about my family’s traditions; they grace us with laughter.
Raising kids stirs something deep in our souls — an innate knowing that our time is finite. Taking my kids outside in creation, I’m discovering how to stretch our time and pack it to the brim with meaning. God’s creativity provides the riches of resources for teaching the next generation who He is and how He loves us. Join our adventure and discover inspiration and resources for refusing rush, creating habits of rest, living intentionally, and making the most of this beautiful life!