Friendsgiving 2017

I have a lot of catch-up posts to do, including this one about our whirlwind trip to Chicago to see our friends T, A and their daughter for Friendsgiving 2017.

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A random image I Googled. Sigh.

Backstory: Spouse and T. met at their first jobs out of college in the mid-1990s. They hit it off and so did their girfriends, a.k.a A. and me. Fast forward two plus decades and we’re still friends, albeit now with different jobs, kids, dogs and everything else that goes along with that.

They have also come to visit us in Minnesota at least three times and we were waaaay overdue to travel to Chicago. Plus, we’ve already spent two Friendsgivings with them over the past few years so this is becoming a tradition.

Chicago is approximately 400 miles from Minneapolis, so this drive is not insignificant.

We decided to break it up into two days. On Wednesday we left after work and drove to Wisconsin Dells, WI, which is roughly half way. Traffic leaving the city was as crazy as we expected and a three hour drive turned into four plus.

If you’re not familiar with Wisconsin Dells, it’s a seasonal resort town in the middle of Wisconsin that is primarily known for its water parks. I’d purposely booked a hotel WITHOUT any water park bells and whistles because I knew it would be impossible to get the kids out of there the next morning when we had to finish our drive to Chicago. We stayed at the Springhill Suites, which opened in 2015. More about the hotel in a second.

The part above where I said “Seasonal resort town” really hit us when we tried to find somewhere for dinner at 9:30 PM on the night before Thanksgiving. In the summer, Wisconsin Dells is bustling but in the winter, it’s more like a ghost town. Many restaurants were closed and with the additional need to find some decent gluten-free options for Trixie (8), we were limited. This place was still serving:

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I don’t know what is happening between this delivery vehicle and the moose, but based on the image, you can estimate for yourself the type and quality of food served here.

We reached the Springhill Suites (right around the corner from this restaurant) about 10 PM and checked into our “suite,” which was somewhat of a misnomer since there was no real separation between the small sitting area and the rest of the room. There were two queen beds and the sitting area contained a desk and sofa bed, plus a small coffee bar/mini fridge area with a microwave. The bathroom was really nice with a big shower and plenty of space for more than one person to brush teeth, etc. There was also an oversized walk-in closet with an ironing board. Where the hotel really shone was in the free breakfast the next morning. There was something for everyone including eggs, bacon, sausage, bagels and other pastries, oatmeal, cereal, hard boiled eggs, make your own waffles, etc. I was impressed because the toast toppings included peanut butter, a variety of jams and Nutella. I mention all of this because while the hotel is not posh it is new and serviceable if you are looking for a place to crash during your roadtrip and then re-fuel the next day.

I was surprised by how many families were in the same boat we were, sleepily waking up and then heading out to Thanksgiving somewhere else. The breakfast area was full.

The rest of the drive to Chicago was uneventful. The weather was great and traffic was not bad. We arrived in early afternoon. T. and A. live in a nice neighborhood with a lot of trees and winding roads. We walked dogs and went to a park with the kids. A. had texted me a few days before and asked how committed we were to traditional Thanksgiving food, and the answer was “Not at all,” so we had tacos instead of turkey with all the trimmings. I loved it. The great thing about a taco bar is that you can also make them as healthy – or otherwise – as you want, so this appealed to everyone in the group. T. and A. have also made some amazing lifestyle changes over the past year so this fit well for them to eat in a healthy way. After dinner we played games and worked on a puzzle.

On Friday we woke up, had breakfast and went to a fun park, then a huge arboretum near their house. With temps in the 50s, it was easy to spend a few hours wandering the arboretum. We split up (girls/guys) after that and the girls went to a paint-your-own pottery place. Trixie immediately picked two pieces and painted them within 10 minutes, then asked for more.

These were the color chips that you could use to select your paints. I found them oddly cool, especially since they were piled into a big bowl.

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I made a small dish for myself and really enjoyed the painting process. Here it is pre-firing:

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Now I just need a giant diamond ring to put in there.

The girls and their masterpieces:

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On Friday night we had Chicago style pizza, which is insanely delicious. I went way overboard. It was worth it but this is not something one should often eat. The calorie total per slice is approximately one zillion.

Saturday was another beautiful day but we had to start heading home. We were going to make a pit stop in Madison, WI (our college alma mater) and then stay the night in our hometown in western Wisconsin before finishing the drive on Sunday.

We spent Saturday night at my mom’s lake place. We had it to ourselves since she is in Florida for the winter. The afternoon sun was awesome:

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The drive home on Sunday was also uneventful, but we got home a little later than we expected and then still had to pick up the dog from the boarding place, do a Target run, etc., so it was not a restful end to the weekend.

One major perk of driving six hours each way: lots of time for passengers to shop online for amazing Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals. I did almost all of my Christmas shopping on the trip home, including some things From Me to Me, which is basically my favorite type of gift. 

Friendsgiving 2017 is in the books and I chalked it up as a big success. Now to start planning for next year…. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friendsgiving ’14 Recap

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Yesterday we had an awesome Friendsgiving, and I was so grateful for it.

After 16.5 years of marriage, it was the fourth Thanksgiving meal that Ever Patient Spouse and I crafted.

Two years ago (#2), I was in charge of the turkey. Yesterday, he was on Bird Duty.

One of the best parts of yesterday was having everyone over for drinks, appetizers and conversation, then people who had obligations elsewhere could go as necessary and everyone else stayed for the Big Meal.

It was perfect.

The biggest hit of the day was an appetizer: whipped lemon feta dip.

Seriously, every morsel of this was gone by the time cocktail hour(s) was/were done.

Here’s the recipe:

Whipped Lemon Feta Dip

Ingredients:

  • 10-12 oz. crumbled fat-free feta (this is a real product and perfect for this dish)
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • Juice AND zest of one lemon
  • Optional but recommended: Generous shakes of red pepper flakes

Directions:

  • Get out your food processor. This is what you need for this recipe to work.
  • Pulse the garlic cloves until they are in fine bits. Scrape down bowl.
  • Add feta, lemon zest, olive oil, (and red pepper flakes, if using) and then juice/pulp of the lemon.
  • Pulse until creamy.
  • Ok to eat immediately, but even better if you let the flavors meld for a few hours.

I paired this with crudités (endive, baby zucchini, cherry tomatoes, carrots), a cheese board (brie, manchego, peppered gouda), marcona almonds, and two flatbreads I bought from Trader Joe’s.

After a prosecco toast, one holiday drink we served was hot cider with two kinds of spicy liqueur (Fireball – a cinnamon whisky, and Goldschlager) as optional add-ins. Yum!

The Big Meal was mostly traditional, but we had carrot cake, pumpkin pie, and my unfailing flourless chocolate cake as dessert. All of the chocolate cake was gone in the end. Every last crumb. Like ALWAYS. This dessert hit another home run.

Having friends over was so awesome. This was a great holiday.

P.S. This actually happened:

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