It's All Relative
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It's All Relative

Family customs are as quirky and wonderful as families themselves. Here's how one Minnesota clan celebrates together.

The Family
Niki Williams, 36
Tani Williams Kalweit, 34
Keri Williams Henke, 32

The Tradition: Three-generational weekly get-togethers

Try a Tonka Pie!

This Midwestern specialty -- a camping dish made in a long-handled, two-sided grill over an open fire's embers -- can be sweet or savory. For a Williams family favorite, go to LHJ.com/TonkaPie.

While they were growing up in a Minneapolis suburb, Keri, Tani, and Niki Williams were unusually close. Even as adults the sisters all settled within a 20-minute drive of one another and their parents. But as much as they loved hanging out together, the demands of daily life kept interfering. Then one summer day in 2008, just weeks before Keri was due to give birth for the first time, Tani proposed a solution: a weekly family dinner, with the host rotating among the four households. "Tani thought it would be a great way for the cousins to have good relationships and for us aunts to be close to our nieces and nephews," Keri recalls.

Keri kicked off the custom with Mexican takeout at her house that September, a week after her son, Liam, was born. Nearly three years later the extended family still gathers at one of their homes every Tuesday night for food, drink, and conversation. The menu has expanded, too, encompassing everything from steaks and salads to savory Tonka pies, a camping food they bake in a cast-iron griddle in the fireplace. "Sometimes we add a hot Tater Tot dish," Keri says. "We're so Minnesotan, it's ridiculous."

But the food matters less than the company. "The kids play together and the grown-ups sit around and chat," says Keri. "We catch up on the week and trade parenting tips. It's so important for us to have this support system."

Tonka Pies

Find pie irons online or at any large camping supply store. We build and cook these pies and serve them with fresh veggies, fruit, some pickles, and kettle chips. These two recipes are some we happen to really enjoy. You can get creative and try ham and cheese melts, reuben, BLT (with precooked bacon), breakfast pie with scrambled eggs, bacon and cheese, dessert pie with fresh fruit, pie filling and powdered sugar sprinkled on top, or s'mores with chocolate and marshmallow in the middle (minus the graham cracker).

The Pizza Pie

  1. Butter two slices of bread and place in a greased pie iron, buttered side to the outside of the iron plates. Cover each piece of bread with pizza sauce.
  2. Add mozzarella, black olives, mushrooms, pepperoni, sausage, or any other pizza topping you like. Close pie iron and place it in the fire; cook until just heated through and toasted.

The Turkey Pie

  1. Butter two slices of bread and place in a greased pie iron, buttered side to the outside of the iron plates. Spread Cream of Mushroom soup on each piece of bread and add any kind of shredded cheese. Top with cooked ground turkey, mushrooms, and black olives.
  2. Close pie iron and place it in the fire; cook until just heated through and toasted.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, June 2011.

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