Thursday, July 8, 2010
A Canadian 4th of the July
Every 4th of July my Mom's giant family (2 grandparents, 8 kids, 17 grandkids) gathers at our beach house in Canada on Lake Erie. Though our beach vacation includes all the traditional activities like tanning, boating and playing in the sand, it's the food we dream about all year.
Food weaves its way in and out of all my memories of the beach in Canada. It's a way for us to come together after spending the year scattered across the U.S., a constant across the changing years. Our family specialties remain the same: grilled chicken with Chevetta's and "white trash" potatoes on the 4th, and late night trips into the city for wings and pizza; my Grandmother's pies and my Aunt Meg's famous sauce. We also look forward to the regional specialties from Buffalo and Ontario: cheese, local ice wine, Buffalo wings and Sleeman's Cream Ale.
The Ahrens family food obsession certainly comes from my grandfather, shown below with a breakfast scrambled eggs (with sharp Canadian cheddar of course) and peameal bacon. His sense of taste is almost gone, though he is a miraculously good cook.
His hash browns are somewhat of a wonder and his grill skills are legendary. His love for food is not just in cooking, but in searching out the best products and ingredients, whether at his favorite butcher's shop or the farmers market. His passion has certainly been passed down through the generations. Even the youngest member of the family, Livia, is an adventurous eater.
Grilling is central to almost every meal at the beach. We all crowd around the giant gas Weber when the cooking starts with a few glasses of wine and a lot of "helpful" suggestions for the one holding the tongs.
The 4th of July is the big day for us, and always involves great food. Lunch this year was a giant antipasto platter from Louie's of Buffalo on the lawn; fresh meats, aged cheeses, olives, pickled eggplant and peppers spilled forth on a giant platter.
We served it with another regional favorite, cheese bread (its a wonder this stuff hasn't caught on elsewhere):
Dinner always includes what we call "Beach Chicken". My Grandfather buys about 40 or 50 chicken quarters specially seasoned and parboiled, then marinates it in Chiavetta's Marinade. He grills them until their skin is crispy and slightly blackened. I don't know if its the seasoning or the marinade that makes this chicken so delicious, but people in my family have been known to eat as many as seven pieces.
That night we launch fireworks and sit around a bonfire, enjoying a few too many beers and s'mores, the sand in our toes and our marshmallows. The adults share stories from "when they were kids". Eventually we move to the cottage, crowded into the living room, and talk late into the night. A few more bottles are uncorked and the leftover pie is pulled out of the fridge. The next day? Just rinse and repeat.