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A Letter From Kate

Dear Readers,

I enjoy family reunions. They give me a chance to see relatives I haven't seen in a while and meet new additions to the family. My extended family is small, and we don't get together all that often. But my husband, Jay, has a close extended family.

Jay's family is much larger than mine, and they are dedicated to getting together every two years. His grandmother had five brothers and three sisters. Those who are still with us bring their families and meet every June on the even years, at an old community building not far from where they grew up. We enjoy a potluck meal, and homemade ice cream is the highlight of the day.

The first time I went to one of the Jones family reunions, I was overwhelmed by the number of people. Relatives had come from several states, and it was hard to remember who was from where. I tried my best to match the names and faces, and to which part of the family they belonged. Now that I know most of them, I look forward to seeing everyone.

One of my favorite things about the reunion is that no woman leaves without one of Aunt Ramona's crochet-topped dish towels. Every year, she spends a great deal of time creating these colorful towels, and she fills a large box with them to distribute. She makes many different kinds, so there is sure to be one to go with any kitchen color scheme. I was delighted the first time I learned of this tradition. It was like getting a party favor.

I feel fortunate to be part of such a large family. I enjoy the small, relaxed gatherings of my immediate family, but it's exciting to go to a large reunion, where there are so many people, all happy to see each other and eager to share the events of their lives. In some ways, I think I have the best of both worlds.

Kate Marchbanks

Together With God

Who thought of the idea of family reunions? The gathering of family from young to old, meeting at one specific place and time to share updates with family members was a great idea. Families are priceless, and we cherish the moments of getting together.

At the Rutz family reunions, I am the daughter-in-law trying desperately to match names and faces each year, and failing at the attempt. I usually confuse the uncles, and they do not help much in my attempts, but rather enjoy confusing me more. The food is always great, and I usually get my best recipes at family reunions. Everyone brings a dish and a 3-by-5-inch card with the recipe, in case there is any interest in duplicating the dish.

Father, thank You for our families, for all the uncles and aunts and cousins. Bless our reunions with Your grace and keep us safe on our travels. May we have many years of gatherings together so that we can pass along our cherished memories to each generation. Amen.

 - D. Susan Rutz

Siblings met at barn

My family held one last reunion on the old homeplace where we grew up. Our parents moved there in 1942. When Dad passed away, Mother continued to live there until 1987. We then sold the house.

In 2002, the barn across the road from the house was scheduled to be torn down. We quickly planned a reunion in the yard, under the maple trees.

Seven brothers and sisters, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren met at the old homeplace. We explored the barn and reminisced about the good old days. It was a reunion we will never forget.


Returned to Wisconsin

I had moved to Phoenix to be closer to my two daughters after I had a stroke in 2002. My daughters and I flew back to Wisconsin in May 2003 for several reasons.

Our first stop was at my sister Ruby's, where we spent the night. My oldest sister, Verna, also came to get in on the fun. We had invited several people to come over and visit while we were there. By the end of our visit, 68 people had come to see me.

After two days, we drove to see my son and his family, where we attended my grandson's high-school graduation. We had a great time there as well, so it was a memorable reunion all around. The bad thing about reunions is that they are never long enough.


Annual tradition got started in 1929

Our first family reunion was held on Labor Day Sunday in 1929. There were 300 people in attendance - the families of five brothers and three sisters who had immigrated to America in the early 1900s from the Ukraine.

We've had annual reunions ever since. Of course, the older generations have passed on, but as I am now one of the oldest ones, it's a joy to see the many descendants who now make up the family.

Our activities vary from year to year. They used to consist of a ball game between city and country cousins, visiting among the older ones and children's games for the younger ones. Now, the men play horseshoes, and anyone who wants to plays bingo. All activities take place after a big potluck dinner.

We sell raffle tickets for donated prizes, and prizes are awarded for the oldest, youngest, longest married, the family with the most children, ones who came the longest distance, the one who has the most credit cards in his wallet and other silly things.

We all look forward to the last Sunday in August, when we get together for the big reunion. 


Family planned surprise auction for reunion

I am from a family of seven children. We lived in several states, including Iowa, Nebraska, Texas and Pennsylvania. Our mother and three of us children lived in Washington. We tried to get together every other year. Our mother was in a nursing home in Washington, and the reunion was held here so everyone could see her.

My oldest sister and I were in charge of the reunions. One year, we sent letters, asking everyone to bring homemade items with them, and everyone brought nice things. Our mother donated several beautiful hankies that had edgings on them.

On the day of the picnic, we put all the items on a large table, and everyone looked them over but did not know what we were going to do. After the meal was over, a sister-in-law and brother-in-law were designated as the auctioneers. We told everyone but our mother what we had in mind.

We planned to auction off the items and give the proceeds to our mother, because she was on a limited income and living in a nursing home. What fun we had raising the bids and giving each other a hard time. When it was over, we gathered around Mother and presented her with the money, which amounted to more than $600. She was speechless, and it brought happy tears to her eyes. We really surprised her.

We continued with the reunions, and after Mother passed away, we took turns going to different states so we could have the opportunity to see each sibling's families. Our reunions lasted about a week, and we had great times.

We have since lost two brothers, so we are now down to five siblings. We are all a little older, and we are not able to do the traveling we did a few years back. But nothing can take away the good memories we have. 


Country stores

The local country store was a place of wonder, with shelves containing almost anything one could imagine. Those stores may be a thing of the past, but the specialty stores of today make it easy to find almost anything you're looking for.

Do you remember going to the country store as a child? What made it special to you? Is there a unique store you enjoy shopping at now? Tell us about your favorite stores.

Send your letters to Kate Marchbanks, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265.

Contest spotlights diverse methods
for cooking chicken

By Jean Teller

Fifty-one cooks recently arrived in Charlotte, N.C., with 51 different ways to prepare chicken. They represented all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the 46th National Chicken Cooking Contest. And one contestant went home with the $100,000 grand prize.

Camilla Saulsbury, of Bloomington, Ind., is a sociology professor with a new doctorate degree to her name, and she teaches exercise classes and is a personal trainer. She's also the latest grand-prize winner of the contest. Her recipe - Mahogany Broiled Chicken with Smoky Lime Sweet Potatoes and Cilantro Chimichurri - captured the judges' attention with its well-blended, spicy flavors.

Mahogany Broiled Chicken with Smoky Lime Sweet Potatoes and Cilantro Chimichurri

- Wagner International Photos
WINNER: Mahogany Broiled Chicken with Smoky Lime Sweet Potatoes and Cilantro Chimichurri won the grand prize at the National Chicken Cooking Contest.

1 cup chopped cilantro leaves
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon pepper, divided
5 tablespoons dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons bottled hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice, divided
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon chopped, canned chipotle pepper
1 teaspoon adobo sauce (from canned chipotle)
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon lime zest
 Cilantro sprigs

To make Cilantro Chimichurri: In a small bowl, mix together chopped cilantro, olive oil, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper; set aside.

To make Mahogany Sauce: In a medium bowl, mix together brown sugar, mustard, hoisin sauce and vinegar. Reserve 2/3 of this mixture. To remainder, add 1/2 cup lime juice and stir in chicken; cover and refrigerate.

Place sweet potatoes in a heavy saucepan; cover with boiling water. Cook, covered, over medium-high heat until tender, about 15 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup cooking liquid, then drain potatoes in a colander. Return potatoes to reserved liquid; add butter, chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, remaining lime juice, cumin, lime zest, and remaining salt and pepper. Mash potatoes.

Thread chicken on 8 bamboo skewers that have been soaked in water. Broil about 6 inches from heat, basting with reserved Mahogany Sauce until done, about 8 minutes.

Divide potatoes among 4 plates; top each with 2 skewers of chicken; drizzle with Cilantro Chimichurri. Garnish with cilantro sprigs. Yields 4 servings.

Rosa Fiore, of Shoemakersville, Pa., combined chicken with traditional Italian flavors to create Sicilian Sweet and Sour Chicken, which took second place in the contest. Fiore's family has been in the food industry for a number of years, and she says that her mother and her Italian background are her inspirations in the kitchen.

Sicilian Sweet and Sour Chicken

2 tablespoons raisins
1/2 cup dry white wine OR white grape juice OR apple cider
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
1/3 cup flour
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 small ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
2 Sicilian green olives, pitted and chopped
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
Chopped parsley
Tomato skin made into 4 rose flowers

Place raisins in a small dish. Add wine and set aside.

Place chicken between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and pound to 1/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle chicken with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; dredge in flour.

Place oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook for about 10 minutes to brown on both sides. Remove chicken and add onion and garlic to pan. Sauté for about 2 minutes, then add oregano, remaining salt and pepper, sugar and vinegar. Stir in tomatoes, capers and olives. Add raisins to sauce and stir in chicken broth; cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Return chicken to pan and heat through.

Arrange chicken and sauce on a serving platter and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Garnish with tomato-skin roses. Yields 4 servings.

Jean Quanbeck, of Minot, N.D., submitted Chicken Satay Sticks with Wasabi Mayonnaise to take the contest's third-place spot. The mother of six, Quanbeck also represented North Dakota in the 45th contest in 2003.

Chicken Satay Sticks with Wasabi Mayonnaise

- Wagner International Photos
TANTALIZING: Chicken Satay Sticks with Wasabi Mayonnaise have a spicy, exotic flavor.

1 pound ground chicken
1/2 cup flaked coconut
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
1 egg
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated lime peel
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Spice Paste, recipe follows
Lime slices
Red chilies
Wasabi Mayonnaise, recipe follows

Place chicken, coconut, coriander, egg, sugar, lime peel, soy sauce, salt, pepper and Spice Paste in a food processor. Process until well-combined; divide into 8 equal portions. Moisten hands with water and shape chicken mixture around top half of 8 wooden skewers. Place skewers on a foil-lined, lightly greased broiler pan and broil for about 12 minutes, turning occasionally.

Arrange skewers on a serving dish and garnish with lime slices, coriander and red chilies. Serve hot with Wasabi Mayonnaise for dipping. Yields 4 servings.

Spice Paste

2 medium red chilies, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 spring onions, chopped
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 Roma tomato, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil

Place all ingredients except oil in a food processor; process until coarsely ground. Place oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add chili mixture and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Cool.

Wasabi Mayonnaise

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 teaspoons wasabi paste
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander

In a small bowl, mix together all ingredients; chill.

Chicken cooking tips:

• Refrigerate raw chicken promptly. Never leave it on a countertop at room temperature.

• Freeze uncooked chicken if it is not to be used within 2 days.

• Thaw chicken in the refrigerator. It takes about 24 hours to thaw a 4-pound chicken.