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Like thousands of other families last week, John and Amanda Gross and their son Braxton celebrated Thanksgiving Day at the home of her parents Jack and LaVonna Herzog along with her siblings and families. Besides Amanda, Kim (Mrs. Eric) Shrum and Pam (Mrs. David) Herzog each brought their various favorite side dishes to complement the centerpiece of roasted turkey, ham and venison. The result is lots and lots of food as many of the old family favorites appear as tradition demands. Amanda admits that her favorite dishes that always appear are the sausage dressing, parslied potatoes and pineapple upside-down cake!

While the table is barely cleared from this year’s Thanksgiving feast, plans are already underway to gather again at their parent’s home for the annual Christmas Dinner. LaVonna said she always looks forward to having her children and grandchildren with her for the holidays and added, “We have so much to be thankful for.”

This year family was thankful not only that they were all together, but especially that eight-year-old Braxton's checkups continue to show he remains cancer free. During the difficult period while he was undergoing treatments at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis the entire clan had banded together to support Braxton and his parents.

“We greatly appreciated the support of our family and friends while Braxton was at Children’s," Amanda said. "John and I, of course, ate most of our meals there in the cafeteria, but one evening my family surprised us with a wonderful home-made meal. What a great treat that was.

"After we returned home the caring and love of our many friends and family really poured forth, as they took turns preparing meals and bringing them to our house. I didn’t have to cook then and could focus completely on Braxton’s health needs and care. It was a tremendous blessing, and John and I were immensely thankful for the generosity of everyone who helped.”

As Amanda talked about her appreciation of the meals that others had prepared, her mother said Amanda was also a very good cook. Amanda laughed and said that was because she had mostly learned from her mother, and her favorite dish was still her mom’s Sunday roast.

LaVonna replied she, in turn, learned from her mother and always greatly admired the perfect peaks on the meringue pies she made.

LaVonna said she started cooking when she was about 12 years old and still uses some of her mom’s recipes today. Her cooking skills came in handy after she married Jack Herzog nearly 40 years ago and learned her husband, who then worked as a roofer in St. Louis, had a hearty appetite. Their three children, Kim, David and Amanda, quickly began arriving and meals became even more of a test of her management skills, since LaVonna was also worked at Trimfoot Shoe Company. Today the three children are grown, married and have families of their own; Jack is retired and now a farmer and LaVonna works at Parkland Health Center. But, she is still cooking.

Amanda and her husband, John were married in 2006 and just recently celebrated their 12th anniversary, although Amanda said it seems more like 19 years as they started dating seven years before they were married. Today, they live with their son near the St. Joe State Park, which works well as both John, who is a Supervisor at St. Francois County Road and Bridge, and Amanda enjoy hunting during the season. Besides hunting, Amanda has several hobbies along with cooking and baking that she shares with her mom.

“We both enjoy canning, sewing, crocheting, shopping and fishing,” she said.

Amanda said she has learned to “prepare ahead” as she works full time in the office of Jefferson-Franklin School.

“I like to fix meals that freeze well, and I can put in our freezer to pull out to use for fast meals," she said. "I usually prepare dishes ahead during the winter months or when I have some extra time.”

Her two favorite cooking utensils are a non-stick skillet and her cookie scoop.

“I like to make mini-meat loaves and maple sugar cookies and the scoop makes it easy to get the cookies about the same size for even baking and is also useful for scooping the meat mixture into individual containers," she said. "Both the cookies and the meat loaves freeze well also.”

She and her mom both agreed that the best advice they can give new cooks is to remember that you don’t have to follow recipes exactly.

"If it calls for something your family doesn’t like or that you don’t have on hand, just use your imagination and substitute. Even experienced cooks’ dishes don’t always turn out the best, but you never give up!

They both laughingly agreed you sometimes learn when you start to make one thing, it might turn into something else entirely, good or bad, as they cited some of their own early cooking mishaps. They admitted to accidents such as using cinnamon seasoning instead of chili power in a recipe; leaving the tails on the shrimp when using in a casserole, and, a common occurrence many cooks have made, forgetting to remove the package that contains the liver, gizzards and neck from the cavity of the turkey before cooking it. Quite a surprise when it’s time to carve the bird!

Both women said they always look forward to seeing what different dishes will be brought to the Thanksgiving Christmas tables each year. It’s part of the tradition that one family member must always try to make a recipe that their grandmothers made.

“We never know what it will be,” said LaVonna, “but this way we always keep our past family with us.”

Whatever food graces the table they are always thankful for it and the joy of gathering around the table with those they love.

Following are some of the family favorite recipes from LaVonna and Amanda.

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