By Al Luening
Representatives from all walks of life populated the halls of the Ozaukee County Family Enrichment Center facility this past Saturday. A gathering of donors and providers paced about, introducing themselves to one another, shaking hands and thanking each other for the work they do, two very important jobs to the families of Ozaukee County that utilize the center for the much needed services they provide: Birth to 3 services, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ozaukee, and Interfaith Ozaukee, to name a few. Walking through the door, I was greeted with warmth, kindness and a simple request of “enjoy yourself.” Probably not hard to do with an evening of food and wine sampling planned.
Rather than dive right into the evening’s fare, I felt it best to see what else was going on. Sauntering the halls, careful not to step on the upwardly turned floor lights that gave an elegant “gala” appearance to the whole building, I had no problem navigating the layout, as all areas were clearly labeled and politely frenzied with activity and a hum of commotion. After glancing through some of the raffle prizes and handsome silent auction items, the aromas had beckoned my palate enough.
The Cheel boasted flavors from the Himalayas to the Rockies; a great mix of uncommon flavors in familiar concoctions. The Eggplant Bharta was a deliciously spicy awakening of the senses, that could best be described as a chili, but far more complex than that. A rich combination of smashed and simmered eggplant, garlic and ginger, combined with tomato and cilantro. The dish paired very well with the smoky Chardonnay offered by The Glass Palette, which generously provided all the wine pairings for the event.
Casa Tequila was the next stop on the journey, where an unexpected side of Mexican food greeted the visitors. Surprising Banderillas (pork medallions, red pepper, potato and chipotle sauce) went very well with an Italian Toscana, as did the Chicken Bites with pecan sauce; both dishes were unexpected and very flavorful.
Shully’s Cuisine was the third room of food and wine sampling. I decided to skip the wine pairing here, since I was “saving room” for an IPA that I noticed as I walked past the Beer Pub room. Shully’s provided a vegetarian pasta dish that was light and rustic, with homemade flavor. I spoke to a couple donors here who managed a donor fund. They spoke about the increased necessity for support for these services and how Gala events like this help to support these very important facilities that are needed by more and more families every year. It was a conversation that exhibited the passion that many of these donors have toward this cause.
As I walked back to the Beer Pub room to sample that IPA, I engaged in conversation with one of the charming people from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ozaukee. Sipping the flowery IPA, we talked about the need for a program like BBBS. I shared a story of how much this organization has affected a friend of mine who recently took on a little sister; she seems to be just as fulfilled as her little sister does. What a wonderful notion that giving can actually be receiving in perhaps its most sincere form.
After another pass through the silent auction items, I was headed out the door into the waiting night. The combination of good food and good conversation, paired with a sense of purpose, made the evening certainly one worth looking forward to again.
"Strengthening Nonprofits for a better community, " the Family Enrichment Center, a 501 (c)(3), is a unique place where human service nonprofits share space, costs and passion for serving the community. Learn more at http://www.ozaukeefec.org.
"Big" Al Luening is no stranger in Oz. A husband to a great lady, a father to two great girls, a musician, and a graphic designer; Al may be a Milwaukee boy at heart, but now he calls Grafton home.