Caswell Beach 2012. View from my bedroom.

Caswell Beach 2012. View from my bedroom.

(I’m really excited to be a part of DailyBuzz Moms’ July 9×9 feature: Out & About. Check out all 9 featured blog posts on Thursday, July 26th, at DailyBuzz Moms.)

The most important thing about a family vacation? After, of course, time spent with loved ones.

The food.

And one of my fears of vacationing with a big group of people? Not that people won’t get along. But that, yes, you guessed it, there won’t be enough food to feed everybody.

And that fear almost came true last month.

For the fifth year in a row, my blended family of five headed 11 hours north in a rented minivan to the beaches of North Carolina to spend the week with my brother, his wife and their three kids, and my parents.

Twelve people. Multi-generational. Ranging in ages from six to 83.

Caswell Beach View of house

The house we rented, the same one we’ve rented all of these years, sits right on the beach with a long wood walkway leading out to the dunes and the ocean beyond. The beaches are pretty and wide and private, lined only with houses. No hotels. And there really isn’t much to do other than take long morning walks, swim in the ocean with the kids, play in the sand and, in the evening, gather in the kitchen to watch my husband cook dinner.

kids on Caswell beach

Over the last couple of years, we’ve figured out what works for our group. And things have definitely changed now that the kids are older. The teenagers are now allowed to go down to the beach, and in the water, by themselves. And we don’t need to eat dinner at 7:00 so we can put any little ones to bed by 8:00.

Caswell Beach dunes

The number of electronic devices our group brings with them has multiplied. iPads, iPod Touches, iPhones. Aye yi yi. And each room has it’s own TV. So this year, we tried to institute a no electronics policy which was quickly modified to a no electronics sometimes policy. 

There’s plenty of room in the house for everybody to space out. Enough beds and bathrooms. Our group needs their personal space and this house gives it to us.

And within a few hours of being there, everyone starts to just fall in to the rhythm of the days and exist by a natural, flowing timetable. Breakfast, beach, lunch, afternoon rest and then back on to the beach.

Caswell Beach in the water

Plus, of course, dinner.

Here, my family is extremely lucky. My husband owns a restaurant so we have an in-house chef. He enjoys planning our meals and packing the minivan with food items he knows we can’t get at the beach. Like certain spices, a 2.5 pound bag of Panko or a couple of packs of ribs. The rest of the meals are modified depending on what is fresh in the markets that day. Beautiful Grouper cheeks, clams that Clem harvested that morning and locally grown tomatoes.

Fred in the kitchen

We never eat dinner out. We tried doing that once before, five years ago. And it didn’t go over too well. We ended up having to wait almost two hours for a table and the food was just so so and the kids, being much younger then, were, well, kids.

But this year, on the one night that my brother was assigned cooking duty, he chose to make reservations. (Insert your own version of a bad joke here.) And we were all game to try it again. But we didn’t get out of the house as early as we wanted to. (Can’t go against the flow.) The kids had wanted to stay on the beach and getting 12 people showered, dressed and out the door? Not quick. (Hm, there’s a reason we eat at home.)

We got to the restaurant and the parking lot was crowded. We were told it was a 45 minute wait. And we were stuck. It would be the same wait anywhere else and so by the time we got everyone back in the car and got somewhere else, well, you know.

A few of us hung out at the bar and had some beers. The kids were outside by the marina looking at boats. It was a beautiful night. No worries.

The calm before the food-less riots

The calm before the food-less riots

Until I realized that we had been waiting an hour. A few minutes later, a customer came out from the dining room to tell the hostess that they had been seated an hour ago and hadn’t even received their drinks. Then word came from the kitchen that they had run out of a few items, like chicken fingers. By now it was 8:30. We had been there for an hour and a half.

Seriously. Six kids. Six grown-ups. No food. 8:30 at night.

Remember my fear of not having enough food?

While we were standing in the parking lot, starting to panic, a group of people came out and said that they were leaving because the kitchen had run out of most items on the menu.

The “I’m hungry” cries were starting to come from the kids. And me.

And in a flash, a plan was made.

One minivan, with all of the kids, went back to the house where my brother was going to grill up a pack of hot dogs. And four of us, my husband, my parents and myself were going to make a mad dash for the grocery store. My husband was going to make chicken lettuce wraps, a dish he makes frequently at home and is just as frequently rewarded with clean plates.

At the store, we were each given specific items to find. We were to get nothing else. I was to get emergency pizzas to serve as appetizers while dinner was being cooked. As well as hoisin and jasmine rice. But my nephew had been asking for bagels and cream cheese for breakfast so I broke away from the crowd and got that first. I saw my husband on aisle 6 and he looked at my hands and shook his head.

Then I saw my mother. Her hands were full too. Of items that were not on her list. Then my stepfather appeared. Guess what he had?

So we got out of there with three times what we were supposed to have. But we did it. And made our way back to the house, perhaps speeding slightly. Unloaded and started cooking. From the time we left the restaurant to the time dinner was served? One hour and one minute.

And we learned our lesson. Never try to eat out with a group of 12 in a small beachside town.

(Clockwise from the top) diced ginger, pizza, finished dinner, chicken in progress

(Clockwise from the top) diced ginger, pizza, finished dinner, chicken in progress

Emergency Hoisin Chicken Lettuce Wraps
(Feeds 12 very hungry people)

5 pounds of ground chicken
6 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 red onion chopped
2/3 cup of diced fresh ginger
6 tablespoons of minced garlic
20 ounces of Hoisin sauce
3 cups of bean sprouts
2 bunches of chopped scallions (white and green parts)

Romaine lettuce leaves
Cooked Jasmine rice

Saute red onion, garlic and ginger in 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat for 3-4 minutes (until softened). Remove from pan and set aside.
In same pan add another 3 tablespoons of olive oil and over medium high heat, brown the ground chicken and cook through. Remove the excess liquid.
Add the ginger, garlic and onion back in to the pan. Stir in the hoisin sauce, bean sprouts and scallions.

Serve on top of lettuce leaves and/or rice.

And don’t worry. There will be plenty to go around.