By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Food Columnist
I’ve just returned from my annual family retreat. We came, we gathered and we delighted in one another’s company. And before my last child was safely home, we had secured the date and placed the down payment for next year’s return. When we first rented this little haven in the woods, we weren’t looking for a place without technology; but we found it, and it’s wonderful to disconnect from technology and reconnect with one another. It would be complicated to say we’re simple people, but we sure loved the simple pleasures we carve out of our week, nested in the mountains of Montana. We are content to sit by an icy creek, play badminton in the yard, pan for gold, go on long, lazy hikes, compete in a fierce pie eating competition, or just cheer on babies who are nearly ready for their first steps.
Our family is four pairs of (plus a few more “like family”) adults and seven adorable children who range from eight months to ten years. Through some creative process, we manage to accommodate the gang in five little log cabins. Throughout our week in the mountains, we become even more creative as a sundry of friends or relatives pop in for visit, a meal or even an overnight stay.
The meals aren’t elaborate, but they’re the foods my children and their children love, and it’s my contribution to our gathering. In preparation, I begin planning, baking and freezing months in advance. We have a few favorites that always show up, like homemade pickles, potato salad, macaroni and shrimp salad, fruit breads, rhubarb pie and lots of homemade cookies. I try hard not to disappoint, but along with carefully laid plans comes room for the unexpected meal. This year, my son managed to arrange a fishing trip to our old ranch, where there’s a pristine lake with the best fishing holes ever. No one came home empty handed, and I have priceless photos of two pride-filled grandsons with their first catch. Naturally, these fresh trout were served at the next meal. Dusted with a little cornmeal and salt, fried in a sizzling cast iron skillet, I delivered them, accompanied with homemade Remoulade sauce, to my hungry little anglers.
Sometimes, when I whip up something like Remoulade Sauce, my children accuse me of going overboard. It’s true—I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, but it’s by choice. The kitchen is my haven, cooking is my craft and since I love to cook as much as they love to eat, I think it’s a great arrangement. Food has such a way of connecting people, and throughout the week I have some great one-on-one time as assorted helpers wandering in and out of the kitchen, pitching in to chop an onion, dice a pepper or stir a batch of cookie dough with a sturdy wooden spoon. I’m most approachable in this environment, so it’s also where someone might come in, pull up a stool and share what’s on their mind.
Just outside the kitchen, when the door is open, I can hear my two sons-in-law get to know each other a little better each time they turn and baste chicken, ribs and steak over the smoking grill. Just beyond the grill is a fast running stream where we store perishables in mesh laundry bags. Retrieving goods from the stream is a task that falls to the children who are highly skilled at retrieving fruit for their lunch, or limes for our bottomless pitchers of rhubarb margaritas.
My kids would say the hub of activity is the over-sized screened porch on the main cabin, where they gather every night after the young ones are asleep. I usually manage an hour or so with them, but I tend to keep a schedule not unlike the grandchildren because morning comes early. I have the only bedroom in the main lodge, and even through a couple of solid old wood doors, I hear the muffled sounds as they catch up, cut up and amuse one another, just as they’ve done their entire lives.
With the exception of my early rising son, I won’t see another adult for hours, but every morning I am greeted by my two eight-year old grandsons, who are inseparable cousins. Our ritual begins with cups of steaming hot chocolate and reliving their tent adventures from the previous night while I warm up the oven and grills for breakfast. If it were up to these two boys, breakfast would always consist of either pancakes or French toast (who knew thirty years ago when I first flung a pancake across the room to see if I could land it on my son’s plate, a new game, “Kitchen Sports,” would not only be born, but live on through another generation of French toast and pancake-catching enthusiasts?). Sometimes it’s a couple of hours before the last riser is fed, the kitchen is readied for the next meal and the left over pancakes are torn and tossed to chipmunks and horses.
That’s our week. We laugh and play and eat and drink and repeat. Before we know it, it’s time to clean up and line up for tearful hugs goodbye.
As soon as I have unpacked the last box of supplies, I’ll be thinking of next year’s menu, which will always include macaroni and shrimp salad. Every year Ryanne bemoans the fact I’ve never committed this recipe to paper, and implores me to take a minute to measure everything I am tossing into the bowl.
This recipe is for you, Ryanne, and everyone else who loves macaroni and shrimp salad. If you have time, make the Remoulade sauce the day before.
•1 lb box of medium shell macaroni
•1 ½ lb gulf shrimp, peeled and deveined
•1 cup of Remoulade sauce
•(up to) 1 cup of mayonnaise
•(up to) ½ cup milk
•6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
•1 bunch finely chopped green onions
•1 cup finely chopped celery
•1 cup frozen petite peas
•sprig of fresh thyme
•1 tsp salt and dash of white pepper
Cook the macaroni in lightly salted water according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water to cool. Set aside.
Bring a 2 qt pot of water to boil, add 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning, pinch of salt and lemon rinds (left from Remoulade sauce). Add shrimp and cook until pink. Rinse cold and chop into thirds (save a couple pretty ones for garnish, and cut them in half lengthwise).
Mix the macaroni with the Remoulade, and as much mayonnaise and milk as needed to get the right consistency (it’s best to have it kind of “wet,” as the macaroni will absorb liquid). Stir until thoroughly mixed. Add the shrimp, eggs, onions, celery and peas and thyme leaves and combine. Add the salt and pepper, taste and correct the seasoning. Chill overnight or at least 8 hours. Enough to feed one large, happy family and a few friends.
Remoulade originated in France and is a mayonnaise based combination that closely resembles tartar sauce. It’s delicious on fresh fish, crab cakes, as a dressing for macaroni and shrimp salad and it makes a great fry sauce.
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon hot sauce
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder salt
Mix all the above ingredients in a glass bowl. Store covered, in refrigerator, for up to a week.