Surprise… We’re Celebrating YOU!

IMG 6346When you work for a family-owned company like Latham Hi-Tech Seeds, there are many time-honored traditions. One of my favorites is the way we honor Evelyn Latham by celebrating special occasions with good food and the gift of presence. IMG 6336When I was the bride-to-be, Shannon Latham hosted a surprise bridal shower for me in her home.  Last July we threw a surprise bridal shower for Rachael Bruns. Today we pulled off a surprise party to honor Kilah Hemesath (soon-to-be Watson). As one of our resident event planners, this was no small feat! We made it happen by getting on Kilah’s schedule – literally.

Kilah is getting married in about 30 days. She has a monthly calendar, a weekly to-do list and a daily planner to make sure she “crosses all the proverbial t’s and dots all the I’s” while planning her wedding and coordinating other work-related events like our annual Dealer Kickoff meetings. Because Kilah is one of the hardest working and most thoughtful people you’ll ever meet, we wanted to make sure she didn’t lift a finger in planning her own party. We also wanted to keep the atmosphere casual and allow all team members to have a chance to unwind and enjoy one another’s company.

Surprise parties have become a fun way for us to celebrate our coworkers. We keep it simple but make it personal. Here’s how:IMG 6337

  1. Save the date. We literally invite the person to “do lunch” or plan a meeting that entails a working lunch. Then we send a private e-vite to others in the office.
  2. Choose a theme. Rachael was planning a late-summer wedding, so we chose a summer picnic theme and decorated with sunflowers because those also were her wedding flowers. Today’s theme was “Italian” as Kilah often talks about how much she enjoyed her college ag travel course to Italy. In a blog entitled, 10 Takeaways from My Italian Ag Adventure, Kilah wrote: “Americans tend to rush meal time while Italians make meal time an event. I found it interesting to see how much time, effort and pride was taken in each course of every meal. As a food lover myself, I enjoyed that meals were not rushed. I learned to appreciate my food and the preparation that went into making it.” Today we made lunch a leisurely event!IMG 6343
  3. Plan the menu. We created a signature mocktail with cute drinking cups and straws for Rachael’s party and served Summer Chicken Salad on croissants. We know how much Kilah loves Italian food. In her blog post about Italy Kilah wrote, “Pasta holds a larger spot in my heart than I thought. The largest personal takeaway from the trip is all things pasta. My mom taught me how to make pasta when I was little, so it holds a special place in my heart. On this trip, we were lucky enough to learn how to make ravioli from Italian women! I also came away with a new favorite type of food, gnocchi, which I think of as potato pasta. Gnocchi may be purchased in the grocery store. It tastes great in pesto sauce, cheesy pasta or soup.”

Because we believe in planning parties that are tailored for the person who’s being celebrated, today’s menu had to have gnocchi. January also happens to be Soup Month, so it was perfectly fitting that one of my favorite recipes is Chicken Gnocchi Soup. To complement the soup, I made Pennsylvania hoagies by filling Italian rolls with Italian meats, Provolone cheese, lettuce, onion, tomato, with oregano-vinegar dressing drizzled over the top. Those sandwiches are a favorite of my husband and his family because they’re Pennsylvania natives. My husband, Aaron, loves them so much that he agreed to help me shop for groceries in exchange for his own hoagie lunch. No party is complete without dessert. Since January in Iowa is a little cold for gelato, I decided to make a lemon cheesecake.

Escape the Midwest winter for an hour or two this weekend with your own Italian luncheon adventure. Today I’m sharing with you my recipes for Chicken Gnocchi Soup and Lemon Cheesecake. Buon appetito!

IMG 6342Lemon No-Bake Cheesecake

1 envelope sugar-free lemon Jell-O
1 c. boiling water
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 c. sugar
2 pkg. 8oz. cream cheese softened
1 ready-to-use graham cracker crust

Mix gelatin and sugar in a small bowl. Add boiling water and stir for five minutes until the gelatine and sugar have dissolved. Beat cream cheese and lemon juice in a large bowl until creamy. Gradually add the lemon gelatine mixture, beating well until well-blended after each addition. Cool in the refrigerator 30 minutes (stirring once after 15 minutes has passed). This step will help make sure your pie crust doesn’t take on too much moisture when the filling is added. If you’re in a rush, it will turn out even if you skip this step. Pour into pie crust and refrigerate.

Chicken Gnocchi Soup


1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts cooked and shredded

1 Tbs olive oil

4 Tbs butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 small onion chopped

2 garlic cloves minced

6 cups chicken broth

2 cups milk

1 cup carrots shredded

2 tsp parsley flakes

Salt and pepper for seasoning

1 package 16 ounces mini potato gnocchi (regular size are just as yummy)

1 cup fresh spinach chopped (can also use frozen)


In large dutch oven or stock pot, melt butter and olive oil together.

Add your onions, carrots and garlic and cook until onions become translucent.

Whisk in your flour and let cook for a minute, slowly stir in your chicken broth and simmer until it starts to thicken up.

Meanwhile in pan cook your gnocchi according to package directions, drain and set aside.

Add your milk to your veggie and chicken broth mix and bring to a boil, stir in your seasonings.

Once at a boil reduce heat and add your gnocchi, spinach and chicken simmering until heated through and thickened.


Original recipe from Turnadough Alli blog.