Kathleen Bonham makes cinnamon rolls

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Kathleen Bonham loves a celebration, especially when it means bringing kids and grandkids together. Her pull-apart cinnamon rolls are a hit with all ages.


Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Kathleen Bonham's cinnamon rolls


Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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Kathleen Bonham makes cinnamon rolls

Creating family traditions centered on food, fun

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print story Published: 8/26/2009 12:01 AM

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As I write this, Kathleen Bonham is cooking up a celebration at the family summer home in the Northwoods of Wisconsin with her husband, their eight children plus five spouses and five grandchildren.

It is their annual family weekend and Kathleen is doing what she loves best: enjoying the togetherness fueled by great homemade food that doesn't chain anyone to the kitchen.

"I'm very well organized, I must say, and I do have help," says the Schaumburg woman, an artsy type who takes a watercolor class and enjoys cross stitch and needlepoint.

Kathleen plans all the meals, buys the groceries and packs them in boxes according to meal. She makes a list of the prep work and places copies of all the recipes, arranged by days, in a folder so she doesn't have to drag along her cookbooks and magazines.

"When we sit down together it's just so much fun," she said. " I like to think I'm making memories for my kids and the grandchildren."

Kathleen's is a "yours, mine and ours" kind of family. She had two sons when she married Bob; he had three. Together they had one more boy and twin girls, now 21.

Believe it or not, to stave off boredom during the dreary, post-Christmas months Kathleen would plan theme dinners as the kids grew older. They celebrated Chinese New Year, Mardi Gras and Cinco de Mayo with appropriate decorations, music and food.

"We needed some fun stuff to do," she says.

The payoff now that some of the kids are married: those holidays don't have to be alternated with in-laws, "because no one else does it." Pretty sneaky.

When we talked, Kathleen and her crew were making Pasta Salad (printed here) for the next day's pontoon picnic. They'll ship out with sandwich wraps, root beer cupcakes, watermelon and chips and dip on board.

Saturday will be a daylong fiesta starting with a breakfast burrito bar and ending with tacos, enchiladas and crab quesadillas.

Another Northwoods favorite she shares this week is Wild Rice Salad made with locally grown rice and lots of add-ins, like chewy cranberries and crunchy pecans.

For just about every big occasion, Kathleen makes her signature pull-apart Cinnamon Rolls, a from-scratch recipe you can watch her prepare on this week's video segment.

Like the well-organized, forward-thinking woman she is, Kathleen devised a plan to encourage her family to take over the cooking for its traditional get-togethers.

"Last year I started to worry; I want this to continue but I'm not sure my daughters or daughters-in-law will do it," she says.

So she gave sons, daughters and spouses each a cookbook that focused on one course of a meal with instructions that each person contribute a dish to a family potluck.

"Everyone brought their cookbooks and we swapped" for the next potluck, she says.

Now that's a clever idea.

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