Thursday, March 27

Creative ideas for organising group meals at the cottage

Location: Trenanthia Cottage located in Muskoka, Ontario, Canada (90 min north of Toronto)
Last week I was at a friend’s house for dinner, where we shared a delicious spread of enchiladas, homemade chips and guac that we had prepared together. As we mashed up the avocados, diced tomatoes, and experimented with different seasonings, it made me think of all the times I helped my mom make dinner when I was a kid. Well, I thought I was helping anyway. In reality I was licking spoons and getting my fingers slapped away from the meatballs every 5 seconds. Still, I felt proud to be contributing to the family meal and making them together are still some of my fondest memories.

Taking a group trip up to the cottage for a relaxing break full of oodles of meals together?  What a great opportunity to have a bit of fun with it ...

two friends having a laugh cooking together in the kitchen

Bringing back the lost ritual of breaking bread

Everybody’s family has a different idea of what quality time is, but no matter what, food always brings people together. In my house, preparing to sit at the table to eat at the end of a work and school day was a sacred tradition. No i-pads, i-pods, i-phones. Just i-dinner.  Or should I say we-dinner.

What I remember most, though, is the feeling of closeness we had in both the preparations and the actual eating.  While digging into the enchiladas I got to thinking about how to recreate that kind of bond. As you get older and move apart, the family dinners become fewer and farther between. And is it just me, or do they tend to feel a lot more formal than they used to?  Hey, don't get me wrong.  I love a good gourmet meal as much as the next person, but sometimes I'd still like to enjoy the bonding without worrying about which order I've laid the cutlery.

So in search of this lost ritual of breaking (and making) bread together, I must say ... you've gotta try new things to get back to the old ones...

1. Arrange a "truly loco" group meal

Just like those spoon licking, meatball filching days of yore, create a (slightly bonkers) family style dinner menu that everyone can get together to make.  How?  Easy peasy:
  1. Come prepared with some crazy recipes and unusual tasks to get the ball rolling
  2. Have everyone pick what they want to make or do (draw from a hat, choose-your-own, shortest straw, whatever works)
  3. Watch the fun unfold
Each member has a dish or task they're in charge of, from the misunderstood smash recipe that became smarties & mashed potatoes which Jilly's so excited to make, to Javier's wicked impression of a salad (what? you've never had fried coconut in your salad before?), to Uncle Jorge's whacked-out totally-cutlery-free table setting.  With everyone together things are bound to get crazy in the best way possible.

When there's travelling involved, you can always customise a potluck where the dishes are brought pre-made.  Then, at least, you don't have to see the smarties going in.  See no evil ...

2. Host an "international three-course meal crawl"

For bigger groups, with siblings, in-laws, aunts & uncles, and family friends, let's try something a bit different: Instead of a pub crawl, have a "international three-course meal crawl"
  1. Split into three groups
  2. Each group makes a course of the meal following a theme (perhaps "international cuisine & cocktails" to start with)
  3. Get prepared to lick your lips as well as your fingers
For example, grandpa's group serve up traditional Mexican taquitos & beer margaritas, followed by Karly's group with chicken tikka masala & tamarind martinis, then Michey's group with Japanese mochi ice cream & ginger saki-tinis.  You can even lay the feasts out in different themed rooms.

Thus proceedeth the crawling.  Bonus points for the most regionally (in)appropriate attire.

3. Hold a mystery box challenge

Break into groups, draw three to five random ingredients from a hat, and see who can turn those ingredients into the yummiest gourmet fare.  Or grossest (after all, it's always nice to be inclusive of the lame cooks amongst us - yes, yes, that would be me)

4. Take a ride on the gourmet-meal-merry-go-round

Enjoy a trip to the local farmer's market and stock up on groceries together. Each evening meal, rotate amongst the list of indispensable roles required for hosting a gourmet evening.  You know, like chef, sous chef, pastry chef, and chief-bottle-washer.  But don't forget the most important roles: CFO (chief fun organiser), CTTO (can't-touch-that officer), DJ (deejay), and hostess-with-the-mostess (always best if this rotates amongst the fellows in the group) to name just a few.  The more creative (and essentially non-sensical), the more fun.

And there you have it, a deluxe series of group meal planning ideas with plenty of memory-making potential and a modern take on the ritual of breaking bread.  At these meals, i-pads, i-pods, i-phones and any other i-cameras for making we-moments are most welcome