Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Our Progressive Dinner

     I often talk about our family get-togethers in this blog, but this is one of my favorites that I haven't blogged about before, our progressive dinner. It wasn't our original idea, but that doesn't mean we can't take it and run with it, and if you like it, feel free to do the same...

5 of my 6 sisters
     Do little sisters ever truly have good ideas that aren't products of their older siblings efforts?  Of course not, we older siblings know this to be true, and it was true in this case too.  The idea of the progressive dinner is said to have come from my youngest sibling, She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, but clearly I had friends who had this kind of event, prior to our family starting it, and I'm sure I shared it with her, but because she is younger, she can take advantage of my failing memory and claim the idea as hers.  Give it a couple of more years and you will be able to wrap things I already own and give them to me for Christmas.  Think I am kidding?  Last summer I went into my garage and before I went off to Lowes to buy a new hedge trimmer, I glanced up and saw a brand new one on my wall that I had purchased the year before, but I digress, they say it was her idea, so I have to believe them.  What is a progressive dinner?  In short, it's a full meal that is split between houses so that each house is responsible for a single course.  Our family moves between 5-6 houses in the Canandaigua and surrounding area and spends about an hour at each place. We always do it a few weeks before Christmas and I would guess that we have been doing it for 15 plus years.

     In order to have a successful progressive dinner, you have to have a reasonable travel time to each location, so early on we eliminated my siblings that live in Rochester, Ithaca, Buffalo and Ohio from the
Antlers aren't required for the event, but.....
planned route.  We generally start at noon on a Sunday prior to Christmas, and move hour by hour to the next sibling's house.  We've had as many as 6 stops in the past, but lately it's a consistent 5, but that's not to say that the other siblings are not involved, they just show up for the event and add to one of the planned stops.  The folks that I knew that did a dinner like this lived in the same neighborhood and it was a walking event in the summer.  Ours evolved to a pre-Christmas event, which I like because we don't gather as a family or exchange gifts for Christmas anymore, but we always have the Progressive Dinner to look forward to.  The 5 courses are normally, appetizers, soup, salad, entree, and desserts.  If we have a 6th stop we do Holiday themed drinks or something like that.  We choose what course each family is doing each year on our family website, and if it works smoothly each family rotates what they do.  You are responsible for feeding just the one course to the folks that come and we normally have 30-40 in attendance.  It's mostly siblings and their families, but it wouldn't be a Yarger event without a few Klingons, oops I mean Cling-ons, the folks who come along with a sibling, like in-laws, boyfriends and girlfriends, friends, and acquaintances.  This harkens back to my Dad and Mom's tradition of always having room at our dinner table for whomever was in the house that day.  I can't tell you the number of times I've been in a bar (stop guessing numbers I'm not done with the sentence yet, and incidentally you are guessing too low) and talked to someone that has had the pleasure of sitting at our dinner table.  Speaking of tables, let me talk next about what we put on them each year.

     The house that does the appetizers has the best opportunity to be creative.  You would think, that being
Just a few jokers
as the party goes 5 courses over 5 hours, that the host house for appetizers would do one or two dishes and be done with it, but if you do think that, you just failed the test to be a Yarger.  I've never know anyone that did less than 5.  We've had cheese and crackers, swedish meatballs, stuffed peppers, stuffed mushrooms, mini quiches, vegetables and dips, rye boats, shrimp, bacon wrapped scallops, spanikopita, tortilla pinwheels, chicken wings, Italian sausage, cocktail franks, stuffed celery, and that was just last year's items from my sister Hummingbird's house !  Alright, I was kidding on that last part, but pick 5 or so of these and that's what the first course is like.  The soup course comes next and we've seen Italian wedding, chili, broccoli and cheese, corn chowder, chicken, beer cheese, minestrone, and one year I found the recipe for the Soup Nazi's crab bisque and made it.  It had to cook down all night, but it was fantastic, if I do say so myself.  That year we were contacted by the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper and they asked if they could attend and do a story on the event, which they did.  You see it's not only Cling-ons that we draw, it's Paparazzi too. The salad course comes next and we've seen things offered like, home-made croutons, dressings, bacon bits, different greens and chopped vegetables, it's all fair game.  It's a little more difficult to get creative with this course, but each year, the family never disappoints.

     The entree course, by far, is the most difficult course to do.  Remember that whatever you make has to be done and ready 2-3 hours after you leave your house, so it has to be fully cooked and be able to be held
Bacon wrapped stuffed pork loin
well or be thrown together or reheated in 10 minutes of you arriving early to your house.  The appetizer people have it easy as they are home to cook and watch everything, but the entree people have to really plan this course and execute well.  We've seen chicken french, pulled pork, scalloped potatoes and ham, stuffed pork roll, ziti and meat sauce, ham, and chicken dishes.  I can't remember them all, but trust me, if you had to do this course, you remember exactly what you did and how you did it.  This year I tried an eggplant and chicken lasagna bake that didn't quite work as intended.  My sons and I prepped it the day before, so all the ingredients were cooked in it, but it could have had longer to bake and to set up.  It had great flavor, but truly it was more like lasagna soup than an entree.  As I said that day however, I have to throw my family a bone like that, every now and again, just to prove I'm human, just like them. 

     We finish the day with desserts and some coffee or specialty drinks.  This is one of those courses where
Meter Maid with her contribution this year
the out-of-towners can contribute.  If they didn't bring an appetizer or bread for the main entree, they can make a dessert or two and add it to the table or bring along a specialty drink.  This year my sister Meter Maid brought jars of apple moonshine in mason jars, as gifts for each family, but admittedly, some did get opened and tasted during the event.  My wife and I are suckers for one Aunt's baklava, which by itself keeps the Rochester butter market in the black each year.  We've seen cupcakes, cheesecakes, brownies, Holiday cookies, pies, pumpkin rolls, death by chocolate, candies and any other desserts that you could think up.  One year I made deep fried cheesecakes and that came out much better than my chicken-eggplant did this year.  Maybe I should stick to desserts, but as is, I tried to take this course 2 years in a row due to my failing memory (Did I mention that already?).  This course brings an end to the event and we all roll off, back to our homes.  I didn't mention one of the benefits of when we hold this event, and that is the ability to see everyone's house decorated for Christmas.  That part of the idea was likely She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named 's contribution, but I can't say if she stole it from another family member or not, but I can say that it didn't come from me, though I wish it had.  That's the recap of my family's take on a Progressive Dinner, as I said in the beginning, feel free to steal this idea for your family, you'll be glad that you did.
My wife and daughter at the progressive dinner


Beeg said...

Credit where credit is due.....it wasn't "she who shall not be named" idea...it was her brilliant husband. And I think this was year 12 or 13...we haven't owned our house for 15 years yet.
Great blog tho!

Judy Johnson said...

Can I be a Cling-on next year???? Great story, Bill and it sounds like loads of fun. Happy New Year!