On the last Sunday of each month, we celebrate all the birthdays during that month. One of our four children hosts the dinner/party. These parties are enormously fun, brim full of conversations and family antics. One such antic was a new drink created by our son—the Danielcito Mojito (equal measures of Sprite and Coke with a dash of lime and a few sprigs of fresh mint). It was muy bueno. The grandkids and their parents loved this new liquid concoction.
This month's birthday dinner celebration was a bit different. My daughter Amy and her husband Scott added some party elements that made the entire affair very engaging and so much fun. We will talk about these additional elements shortly.
First, we had a meal that all the grandkids and their parents love—Hawaiian Haystacks (see related recipe). I highly recommend this meal. It is a winner.
The dinner requires families to work together to bring all the critical food elements for the haystacks. It is a hugely collaborative enterprise. And everyone delivered! The biggest challenge is making the chicken gravy or sauce. Mary, our daughter, put it together this time.
There are several terrific advantages of serving this kind of feast. The grandkids have all sorts of choices. Some eat rice with chicken gravy only. Others include every choice: coconut, mushrooms, celery, peppers, olives, chow mein noodles, etc. It is so much fun.
Grandkids simply make their personalized haystack—just what they want and like. This is a significant advantage of this meal—everyone likes it. This multi-faceted feast meets most of the caloric needs of our grandchildren, even our fussy eaters.
However, as this blog title suggests, another dinner element was very entertaining. Each family brought a white elephant gift or something else they wanted to "unload" or discard—a few purchased brand-new gifts—funny socks, novel beach sandals, scented candles, etc. I wrapped up an old, battery-powered pencil sharpener. All the gifts were wrapped or placed in a bag with plenty of tissue paper. Thus, you had to open the gift to see what you won.
There was also one other caveat associated with the gifts. If you saw another gift someone had won, you could acquire it simply by winning a new game round. Once you made the 2nd choice, the gift was permanently yours.
The vehicle for winning gifts was the game, Bingo. Amy made sure we had plenty of game cards. As you can imagine, everyone was engaged—all the cousins, all the aunts, and myself. We anxiously waited to hear the letter-number designation: B-1, I-29, N-45, etc., hoping we could place a bean or small colored-plastic disk on one of our card squares.
You know the feeling of having one more square to fill and having someone else beat you by saying "BINGO." There were many tense moments during the games, especially when we cleared the cards and played "blackout" for the biggest and best prize of the evening.
The gifts and the gift exchange policy made the game so much fun. One of our grandsons won a cosmetic gift card—not precisely what he was hoping for or wanted. Of course, shortly after winning this card, a granddaughter, one of his cousins, allowed him to obtain another, more practical gift.
Amusingly, Livie, now a high-school senior, won four different rounds of Bingo. She was so happy with her successes and gifts. How did she do that? We were all puzzled.
The night ended with the usual birthday cakes and ice cream. Most everyone left with a gift and a happy disposition. And this valuable family tradition continues—creating fond memories for all to savor!
Hawaiian Haystack Recipe
Chicken and Gravy (6 servings)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
1 cup chicken broth (I use low sodium)
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
⅓ cup flour
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups milk
3 to 4 cups of cubed rotisserie chicken
Melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large, thick-bottomed pan.
Add the onion and sauté until transparent or translucent
Combine milk, broth, and flour in a mixer or blender until smooth.
Pour the blended ingredients into the pan and cook slowly until the gravy simmers and thickens.
Stir in the cubed, cooked chicken.
Add salt and pepper.
Simmer over medium heat and cook for about 4 minutes.
Season to taste.
Serve over hot rice—your grandkids pick their preferred toppings.
Toppings in Bowls
Slices of bell peppers (red, green, orange, and yellow)
Chow mein noodles
Sliced fresh mushrooms
Cut Cherry Tomatoes