Monday, January 05, 2009

Crookston Christmas, II

The Crookston Christmas continues with a description of the evening of December 26th.
After we were all together two years ago, there was some discussion about how to make the celebration more meaningful and purposeful. We all recognized a need to structure some of our time, given the large number of people together in one house. Out of these musings came a lot of ideas, and this year as we started planning the shindig, Eric's mom suggested we serve a meal at the Care N Share, a local homeless shelter. It would be no small feat to feed 25+ residents, all the while maintaining sanity among our own troops.
The menu was set via phone conversations and our special Christmas "wiki" (a web page that multiple people can access and edit). Mom and Eric's sister Jessica led the planning committee, the rest of us happily traipsing along behind. It was determined that this would be a served meal- no buffet line or family style digging in. The evening evolved to include little gift bags, live entertainment, fancy-schmancy food, and friendly service

Menu, December 26th
Caesar Salad
Quinoa-Sage-Cayenne Bread
Chicken Armando over Spaghetti
Double Chocolate Raspberry Tart

Eric's brother Ryan works at an Italian restaurant in Ohio where Chicken Armando is the BIG deal. So Ryan twisted the arm of the the chef/owner to hand out the recipe and Ryan and Eric stood over a very hot stove making Chicken Armando (pounded and breaded chicken breasts, mozzarella, cream, Parmesan, sauteed mushrooms). It was extremely rich and delicious, and definitely made Ryan's chicken pounded-splatter painted t-shirt worth it!
Below you see a picture of the stove that lit itself on fire right in the middle of getting the food on the plates and out the door. The emergency gas shut-off is rumored to be a few rooms away, but Ryan managed to safely put the fire out and resume cheffing! I really enjoyed watching my in-laws problem solve in this moment... they were all a little frantic, but somehow still calm. Except Mom, she had hit fast forward and was seeing mental images of the cover page of the Crookston Times with the whole Care N Share burned to smithereens. But to be fair, she still looked calm.

The work-horse kitchen, huge frying pan that contained the famed Armando sauce.

Eric's sister Jessica is artisan bread maker extraordinaire. The quinoa loaves may be my favorite ever, comprised of fresh ground wheat flour, cooked quinoa, sage, ground cayenne peppers from her garden. It is chewy, savory, and a little spicy. Hope loves it toasted, Eva says it's too spicy. I'm with Hope on this one.
I'm taking credit for the idea of SIMPLE Caesar salad, but Nedra did all the hard work of salad tossing.
The dessert was something I used to serve when I worked for the catering department at Concordia. I usually make this recipe around the holidays, but this year I made a big 'ol batch and transported them to Crookston frozen . Pie crust, raspberries, white chocolate mousse, and bittersweet chocolate ganache on top. I confess, it was too rich to follow the Chicken Armando and Caeser Salad, but it was yummy anyway.
What? You think I just wasted four paragraphs describing the food? Well, let me move on then. Eric, Ryan, Jessica and Mom went to the Care N Share in the afternoon and prepared most everything. When the other 14 of us arrived, we finished up little odd jobs, attempted to keep the kids out of the kitchen, and mingled with the residents. The two littlest, Hope and Baby Thor, were worn by their mamas, making it much easier to keep rollin'. I had the privilege, while pouring Coke, to pray for one of the residents, the highlight of my night!
Eric chatting with Brad
The kids got excited about the opportunity to serve. Even Eva was able to bring empty glasses with ice around to the tables. The older kids got to bring out the plates of steaming food and serve each guest one at a time. The guests were truly thankful for the food and service, and they loved watching the kids pitch in.
After dinner, Eric's brother Dana broke out his guitar and we participated in a little caroling and some silly songs for the kids too. There were two little girls living at the shelter with their parents, and our little girls were quick to make friends with them. One of the girls had a sweet collection of girly Christmas gifts and was very kind to share with our crew (6 of the 9 grand kids are girls!). Children are amazing at making friends, and it was fun to watch them sit together long after all the hoopla was over, still playing away.
Dana in the background with the guitar leading a carol or two.

Grandma sings with Katelyn and Eva.

I always come away from these kinds of events questioning why we do this. After it's all said and done, I usually feel like I get more out of it than the ones I am supposed to be serving. Strangely, for the first time in my life, I felt like that was perfectly OK. I realized that I am now looking through the eyes of a parent, and I see this situation as one part service opportunity, one part teaching opportunity for my kids (and the rest). Once home, I overheard several meaningful conversations between parents and their kids about the experience of serving homeless people. Particularly interesting to me, Ethan (10 y.o.) and Dana discussing a mural at the shelter depicting Jesus standing in a soup line wearing a pair of old tennis shoes.

I know that those who spent most of their day in the kitchen might feel otherwise, but I really enjoyed making this memory and I hope that it will become a bi-annual tradition!


Erin said...

wow again. I'm really impressed that you guys went out of your way to make Christmas special for other people. I can't get it out of my mind the girl(s?) that you spoke of. I'm so sure they loved having friends to play with that night.
This is something that will come back ten-fold.

Anonymous said...

That's a great idea...and now that you've made my mouth water with descriptions of all that delicious food, are you going to share any recipes? Especially the quinoa bread....that sounds awesome!