The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


July 3, 2013

Cheryle Finley: Holiday, anniversary combine for epic day of food, family and fun

CARTHAGE, Mo. — What do you do to add more excitement to your normal Fourth of July festivities? If you are my sister-in-law, Pam Roets, and her husband, Mike, of Carthage, you choose the celebration of our country's independence as the day to get married. Then you begin a tradition of inviting your family to celebrate with you.

Because of Pam and Mike's work schedules, the party date rarely falls on the Fourth of July, but that's OK. When it's held is irrelevant. It's the actual party and fellowship that are important.

Here's how Pam and Mike serve up a successful party every year: It begins with invitations that promise great family fun with gobs of food and some fireworks. The first year you attend you learn that "some" fireworks is an understatement, but the rest of the invite rings true.

When you RSVP and ask what you can bring, expect to hear a definite "nothing." If you're lucky, you might get to pick up some hamburger buns, a sheet cake or a few bags of chips, but that is only after years of pestering, persistence and most likely agreeing to do so silently.

Yes, the latter applies to me. My aunt, Shirley Evans, was able to sneak in a chocolate sheet cake one year, and now it's become a staple.

Probably the most important factor in the success of their party is the one thing for which Pam is teased: her lists. Every detail is on a list -- grocery shopping, salad-making day, day before the party, day of the party.

While Pam and Mike do the bulk of the work, family members get in on some of the tasks, too. If I ask how I can help, there's no scratching my head or wasting time trying to come up with something. I simply choose a job that has yet to be marked off the list.

I might be cutting cheese cubes, slicing tomatoes, draining olives and pickles or installing the parking sign. After years of fine tuning, the list idea works and leaves nothing to chance. Nothing is forgotten.

While both Pam and Mike get the yard and flowerbeds in pristine order for the party, Pam is all about the food. Making 10 or more different salads plus deviled eggs means every refrigerator available is chock-full of large plastic containers with enough food for maybe not an army but at least a platoon.

Leftovers are part of the master plan. Two or three kinds of potato salad, a couple of varieties of coleslaw, corn salad, a macaroni salad or two and cucumbers and onions floating in a vinegar solution all contain uniform pieces that can only come from taking the time to do the job precisely.

And the eggs aren't just stuffed. The yolk filling is swirled in a fancy design and then topped with a sprinkling of paprika. They are almost too pretty to eat, but I quickly get over that feeling.

We don't want to fill up on salad because there's an entire table of meat from which to choose. Mike's main contribution to the cooking happens the day of the party when he grills the hamburgers, hot dogs, brats and hot links so they can take their place alongside the ribs and brisket.

By the time we get to the baked beans, everyone will be like me: wishing they had a platter instead of a plate or that they had grabbed a second plate. But seconds and thirds are on the menu, so there's no need to fret that I didn't get a little bit of everything on my first trip though the food line.

Once the plates are filled with food offerings on the colorfully decorated inside tables, it's time to find a place at one of the equally colorful outside tables. The tablecloths have been cleaned and ironed from the year before, and when taken from their storage containers anyone can get them arranged on the tables.

The tablecloths have been pressed even so there's a crease right down the middle, which aligns perfectly on the table, assuring a quick, even fit in no time with no guessing or having to check from side to side. This helps me immensely. Again, attention to detail is always obvious and worth the extra time it takes.

Thirsty? You can find your favorite soft drink in one of the coolers, or choose a cup of tea, grape drink or pink lemonade from a Thermos. There's always cold bottled water to quench your thirst, too.

After dinner, there's time to visit and get caught up on everyone's activities and news while trying not to think about that stuffed feeling we have from eating too much. It's a great time to simply relax and wait for the sun to go down.

Once darkness hits, Mike emerges from the garage with a trailer full of fireworks. This isn't a show like most of us have in our backyards where we light one display then run for cover while it shoots into the air, then repeat until the fireworks sack is empty. Mike has attached all the fireworks -- just like a professional would -- so the fireworks ignite one after another, and he only has to light one fuse.

Pam moves her stereo system outside and puts on a specially mixed CD of patriotic music that plays during the fireworks. I always want to sing along. Folks find it hard to believe when I tell them the fireworks display rivals any city's, but it does. It always brings lots of "oohs" and "ahhs" from those lucky enough to see the action. I've been known to clap throughout the entire display.

And though it's hard to believe the evening could get any better, what comes next is what some consider the highlight of the evening: homemade ice cream, made using Pam's secret recipe. A heaping bowl of this frozen confection, combined with shortcake, strawberries and other toppings, is the perfect ending to the perfect evening. That stuffed feeling returns again, but it is so worth it.

Offering unforgettable family fun is a labor of love for Pam and Mike. I wish them a happy anniversary. Don't lose those lists! I'm already looking forward to next year.

The colorful corn salad recipe is Pam's favorite. Some salad dishes may come and go over the years at the Fourth of July party, but this salad will always be front and center, and for good reason.

The hash brown bake recipe, from "America's Best Church Supper Recipes," is one Pam has served to rave reviews, including mine. It makes a great evening meal, but also works as breakfast or brunch.

When asked to bring a dish starting with the same letter as her last name to another family get-together, Pam chose ratatouille. This casserole is full of vegetable goodness, making it the perfect side dish or vegetarian main dish. The recipe is from "Taste of Home Comfort Food Diet Cookbook." Happy Fourth of July to everyone and happy eating!


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