The hardest part about living in Seattle is that most of my family is 3,000 miles away on the East Coast. We phone each other, we e-mail, we send photos, but it's not the same as gathering for Sunday dinners. That's why we look forward every year to seeing the whole gang at an informal reunion just after the school year ends. Sometimes held on Cape Cod, sometimes at my mother's home in New Jersey, our reunions give three generations the chance to play, feast, and marvel at how quickly the kids are growing. And we're not alone: According to the Travel Industry Association, a Washington, DC-based trade group, 25% of Americans say they'll attend a family reunion this year.
With an extended family that includes children ages 3 to 15, we're a lively group, even on the drizzly day Child joined 17 of us at my mom's house for a lunch of picnic favorites. The kids at Grandma's that day -- including my sons, Aidan, 7, Eli, 6, and Jasper, 4, and my sister Jen's children, Julianne, 13, Eric, 11, Jackie, 8, and Erin, 6 -- were happy to play board games, flip through photo albums, run around in the rain, and of course, enjoy the food! My artistic nieces and nephews also suggested projects such as making a scrapbook for their grandmother. Even though the kids hadn't seen one another for a long time, they fell into playing as if they'd been together every day.
Since snacking is a big part of any family gathering, we set out lemonade and baked pita chips with salsa and guacamole. Our meal was a buffet of easy-to-eat delicacies that appeal to all ages: thinly sliced filet of beef on toasted garlic French bread, grilled chicken and veggies on skewers with honey mustard dressing, and tortellini salad with pesto vinaigrette. For dessert, peach and deep-dish berry pies were so delicious, everybody went back for seconds. The kids also decorated vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, with extras to take home.
My 83-year-old cousin, Betty, entertained the group with family stories like the one about my grandmother buying so many pairs of stockings for her friends that my exasperated grandfather said, "What are you, Lillian, a centipede?" This year, she had a new audience -- my sons. Watching them listen intently was thrilling for me.
As the day unfolded, I realized that our family's reunions are touchstones in our lives. We catch up, we laugh and eat, but we also reconnect with our roots, our memories, and our values. It feels good to know that our younger generation is beginning to live out the values our parents instilled in my brothers, sister, and me: a love of learning, respect for others, and a desire to make the world a better place.
Preheat oven to 500?F.
Step 1: Place tenderloin in a roasting pan. Rub with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven, cover with foil, and set aside. Allow beef to cool fully before slicing.
Step 3: Under the broiler in your oven, toast bread lightly, turn, and toast on the other side. Rub one side of the bread with garlic. Set aside.
Step 4: Slice beef very thinly. Divide bread among three serving platters. Spread one platter of bread slices with the blue cheese sauce, top with a few slices of beef, and add a dollop more sauce. Sprinkle with 2 or 3 pieces of chopped scallion. Cover with plastic wrap.
Step 5: Top bread on the second platter with a few slices of beef, a heaping tablespoon of arugula salad, and 1 or 2 pieces of shaved Parmesan. Cover with plastic wrap.
Step 6: Spread bread slices on the last platter with mayonnaise. Top with a slice of beef and 2 tsp. cheddar cheese. Cover with plastic wrap.
Blue Cheese Sauce: In a small skillet, heat 2 tsp. olive oil. Add 1 or 2 cloves minced garlic; cook for two minutes. Cool. Combine garlic mixture, 1 cup low-fat sour cream, 3 Tbs. blue cheese, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl; chill until serving time.
Arugula Topping: In a large bowl, combine 1 bunch washed and chopped arugula; 2 large tomatoes, chopped; 1 small red onion, thinly sliced; and 1/4 cup of vinaigrette dressing.
Each piece with topping (AVERAGE): 150 calories, 11 g protein, 13 g carbohydrate, 6 g fat (2 g saturated), 1 g fiber, 27 mg cholesterol, 29 mg calcium, 2 mg iron, 197 mg sodium.
Step 1: In a large saucepot, cook tortellini according to package directions. During the last two minutes of cooking, add squash. Drain and rinse with cold water. Toss with olive oil or pesto vinaigrette. (If you'd like to make skewers, set aside 2 cups of cooked tortellini and thread pieces onto skewers alternating with grape tomatoes and blanched baby carrots.)
Each serving: 208 calories, 9 g protein, 28 g carbohydrate, 6 g fat (3 g saturated), 1 g fiber, 21 mg cholesterol, 149 mg calcium, 1 mg iron, 162 mg sodium.
Preheat oven to 350?F.
Step 1: Bake the cooked potatoes for 10 to 15 minutes in the olive oil. Allow to cool. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients; toss well. (If you'd like to make chicken skewers, set aside 2 cups of chicken chunks and thread onto skewers alternating with potato halves, chunks of peppers, and grape tomatoes.)
Each serving: 160 calories, 18 g protein, 10 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat (1 g saturated), 2 g fiber, 46 mg cholesterol, 30 mg calcium, 1 mg iron, 87 mg sodium.
Toss 2 pints grape tomatoes with 2 Tbs. olive oil. Place tomatoes in a pan and roast 10 to 15 minutes at 500°F. (You can do this while the beef tenderloin is cooking.) Allow tomatoes to cool. Slice 10 to 12 yellow tomatoes and arrange on a serving platter. Top with grape tomatoes and drizzle with the oil from the roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and ¼ cup fresh chopped cilantro. Serves 16.
Each serving: 40 calories, 1 g protein, 6 g carbohydrate, 2 g fat (0 g saturated), 1 g fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, 7 mg calcium, 1 mg iron, 78 mg sodium.
Preheat oven to 350?F.
Cut 8 pita breads (a combination of white and whole wheat) into sixths. Place pita triangles on two baking sheets and bake until crispy and light golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool before serving. Serves 16.
Each serving: 71 calories, 2 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 1 g fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, 15 mg calcium, 1 mg iron, 140 mg sodium.
In a small bowl, combine 1 10-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained, 2 10-oz. pkgs. frozen corn, cooked according to package directions and cooled, 1/4 cup finely chopped onion, 2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a dash Tabasco sauce, if desired. Chill for several hours. Serves 16.
Each serving: 43 calories, 2 g protein, 10 g carbohydrate, 0 g fat (0 g saturated), 2 g fiber, 0 mg cholesterol, 6 mg calcium, 0 mg iron, 140 mg sodium.
Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the June/July 2004 issue of Child Magazine.