California Wine Harvest Celebration

California Wine Harvest Celebration

As if the beautiful weather, colorful trees, and pumpkin recipes weren’t enough to make us love Fall, it is also wine harvest season! Claire gets in on the wine harvest celebration every year, and she’s here to tell us all about it. Grab a glass and join us as Claire takes us on a little wine tasting!

It can be difficult to remember sometimes that nearly everything on our tables comes from a farm somewhere. Most of us buy our groceries from supermarkets, far away from their farms of origin. In a post-agrarian culture like ours which mercifully makes hamburgers possible, but which disconnects us from the rhythm of growing seasons, we can sometimes forget that autumn is also the harvest season. The symbolic cornucopia that graces our Thanksgiving greeting cards has lost its significance for most of us, but for those few who still tend the field or the flock, this is one of the busiest times of year. Agriculture is California’s biggest industry, and though we are the country’s leading producer of fruits and vegetables, I am personally most fond of the vineyards.


I grew up in a family of alcohol-appreciators, especially when it came to wine.

My parents aren’t exactly snobs, but they’re not too far off. Wine I remember visiting my aunt and uncle in San Francisco with my parents once when I was a kid, and they took us up the Sonoma Valley to taste at Ravenswood and Gundlach Bundschu. I was too young to drink, but I still remember the trip quite clearly. Fast forward something like 20 years, and naturally, the first time my mom came out to visit my home in California, my then-boyfriend and I took her wine tasting. At her request, we visited the Sextant Wines tasting room. An hour later, my boyfriend and I were slightly tipsy, packing up a case of wine and signing our first wine club membership. Being a wine club member affords us some privileges, like discounts on bottles and free tastings, and best of all, discounted tickets to winery events. We joined Sextant in the spring. That fall, we got married at city hall and we celebrated with our closest friends at the annual Sextant lobster boil. Since then, Pier and I have gone to the event for our anniversary dinner every year.

Every October, right in the middle of harvest, the hard working crew at Sextant changes pace for one week. They clean up their working area and turn it into a beautiful outdoor escape, lit with café lights and surrounded by working wine barrels. They invite their members to join in their harvest celebration with fresh lobster and prawns, and they open bottle after bottle of their fall releases to pour for us. We look forward to this event every year, and it never disappoints. I absolutely love lobster, but I love lobster and Chardonnay even more. And I love lobster and Cabernet Sauvignon the most!

We are indeed privileged to be so close to the Wine vineyards here and to have access to the incredible wines that are coming out of this region, but the world is getting smaller and smaller every day. Only 40 years ago, the rest of the world scoffed at the idea of Californians becoming vintners, but now the Sonoma and Napa Valleys are some of the most respected wine regions in the world. What I’m getting at here is that quality wines can come from anywhere, and anyone; even those of us who stock our wine racks at the supermarket can have access to really excellent bottles of wine at nearly any price point. There are hundreds of tasting guides out there, and though I am an enthusiastic drinker of wine, I don’t flatter myself that I can offer any fresh insights that the experts may have missed. All I need to know is that my meal is merrier with a bottle of wine on the table. So what do you look for in a bottle of wine?

White Bean Soup – A Family Favorite

White Bean Soup – A Family Favorite

Now that it’s starting to cool down a bit in the evenings, we can turn our thoughts to soup. There is nothing quite like a nice, cozy meal to bring family together, and Claire is here to share a recipe from her sister for comforting White Bean Soup. This is the perfect recipe to ease us into soup season. Grab a spoon and come along for story time and soup with Claire!

I have two sisters and I love them like crazy. Like a lot of siblings, we fought a lot when we were kids, but as we got older and less obnoxious, we became much closer. Though we all live far apart now, we speak on the phone often and try to get together as frequently as we can manage with our busy schedules. One of the side effects of our relatively infrequent face-to-face interaction, though, is that my older sister and I came to realize that we probably didn’t know each other as well as we thought we did. In an effort to remedy that, we have been trying to spend as much time together as possible so we can become reacquainted. Over the summer, I got to spend my vacation week at the lake with her, but by the end of my trip, I still wanted more one-on-one time. I found a relatively inexpensive flight to Denver and I planned a long weekend for some more quality time with my big sis, and, let’s be honest here, a break from the California heat.

We managed to pack three parties, three meals out, and several hours of crafting time in just Friday and Saturday, so when Sunday rolled around, we agreed that we needed a day to just sit around. We sat and knit Christmas stockings and chatted. We vented about family frustrations and work. We made plans for this Christmas and next summer, and then when we got hungry, we made plans for dinner. Unlike in California, in Colorado, the weather is actually starting to cool to boots and jean jackets temperatures, so I requested one of my all-time favorites from my sister’s dinner recipe arsenal: white bean soup.

This white bean soup is perfect because it is hearty and filling, but not heavy.

It’s easy to cook, so it fits with a lazy afternoon, and the addition of a simple green salad and some bread or crackers turns it into a good, square meal.

To make this soup, you will need:

  • 2 cans Great Northern Beans, drained
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 leeks, chopped (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 bacon slices, chopped
  • 10 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

White Bean Soup

Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add bacon and onion and cook until bacon fat is rendered, then add the rest of the chopped vegetables. Sauté until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes.

Add beans, chicken stock, thyme, and rosemary. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow the soup to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Since we are using canned beans instead of dried, there is no need to cook the beans, but simmering time will allow the flavors to deepen.

Next, blend the soup until it is smooth. If you have an immersion blender, you can achieve this step right in the pot. If not, you can use a blender or food processor to puree the soup in batches.

When the soup has reached a smooth, consistent texture, stir in the cream. Season with salt and fresh pepper and serve.

White Bean Soup

Soup is easy, but relationships are hard. They take work and dedication and willingness to be open and listen, but they reward us with a sense of kinship and emotional fulfillment. By the end of my trip to Denver, I felt like my sister and I had both revealed new facets of ourselves. I think I know her better now than I did before, and I hope she feels the same about me. Also, I hope this white bean soup tastes as good when I make it at home as it always does at her house.

Printer-friendly recipe: White Bean Soup

Baked Apples – The Taste of Autumn

Baked Apples – The Taste of Autumn

My only encounters with baked apples have been on camping trips, when we would wrap stuffed apples in foil and throw them in the fire. While delicious, they were quite messy…and there was no ice cream, so really what’s the point? I like Claire’s approach better, as it involves staying indoors and using real plates. And these baked apples just look SO GOOD! They are the perfect way to ease into Fall baking. Let’s get to it. Claire, usher us into Autumn with your spectacular baked apples!

Well, it’s eighty-three degrees in the shade today, and California is still on fire, but I am ninety-three percent sure that I felt a cool, cool, autumn breeze last week, so I am already gearing up for fall. I am packing up my summer wardrobe, planning my Halloween costume, and breaking out the knitting needles for sweater season. Just joking; this is California. I just wear all dresses all year. I also plan my Halloween costume and knit year-round, obviously. I’m not joking about the breeze, though. I have lived here long enough to know that one cool week means nothing, except that we’re about to have another month of dry, relentless heat. In fact, in my experience, the first week of October has a habit of being the most unbearably hot week all year. All that aside, I am ready for fall, whether Mother Nature likes it or not.

Across our great nation, Trader Joe’s and Starbucks are ushering in the autumn with pumpkin spice everything, but for my money, the most supreme fall fruit is still the apple. Whether pressed into cider or baked into pie, the combination of apple and cinnamon is distinctly, undeniably autumnal. Now, my grandmother taught me well and I make a damn good pie crust. Still, sometimes I find myself in a bit of a time crunch and have to turn out something delicious and impressive in a third the time of a pie. In a case like that, I will choose to forego the rolling and chilling and latticework and egg wash and skip right to the bake.

This very hot autumn, my go-to dessert is baked apples and vanilla ice cream.

  • 4 large Honeycrisp or other good baking apples
  • 1/3 cup butter, slightly softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup pecans, chopped very fine

Preheat your oven to 375°. Using a sharp paring knife and a spoon, hollow out the cores of the apples, leaving just enough at the bottom to form a basin. In a medium bowl, mix together the rest of your ingredients. Fill each apple to the top with the spice mixture and place them in a baking dish. Pour half a cup of water into the bottom of the baking dish and bake for one hour until the apples are soft.

Baked Apples

Let the baked apples cool slightly. With a slotted spoon, gently lift each one into its own bowl or plate and top it with a nice big scoop of vanilla ice cream. These evoke all the comforting warmth of an apple pie without the fuss of the crust, and, as a bonus, they will make your home smell like heaven. For as simple as these treats are to make, they really make a stunning dessert, and a quintessentially autumnal crowd-pleaser.

Baked Apples

Furniture Industry Growth Is Driven by Shifts to E-Commerce and Environmentally-friendly Products

Furniture Industry Growth Is Driven by Shifts to E-Commerce and Environmentally-friendly Products

Like other mature industries, the U.S. furniture market is experiencing shifts toward E-commerce and environmentally-friendly products. These are two key findings recently revealed in a market research report issued by Conlumino, a retail research agency and consulting firm.

The report notes that the furniture sector is strongly outperforming the economy as a whole, with sales increasing 6 to 7% annually, thanks to a pickup in new home sales and the increasing ease of shopping online and U.S. consumers’ increasing confidence in purchasing online. Demographics are also favorable, in that millennials stuck in parents’ basements will at some point join the homeowner ranks, further fueling demand for home furnishings. Notably, this age cohort is especially interested in environmentally-friendly, sustainable and renewable materials and products – a segment that’s increasingly important.

One company that seems well positioned to capitalize on these trends is John Boos & Co., with headquarters and manufacturing plants in Effingham, IL. Not only is Boos – a maker of wood countertops and butcher block tables, islands and carts – a leader in the home furnishings industry; it relies on online dealers (as well as brick and mortar distributors) to deliver its goods to consumers; and nearly all of the company’s residential products can be described as environmentally-friendly.

Ted Gravenhorst, Jr., Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the company, indicates that, “Boos only uses wood harvested from North American hardwood forests that are managed for sustainability. Suppliers must be members of the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA, whose focus is replenishing forests through reforestation). Not only does this enable Boos to satisfy today’s demand for natural, wood counters and butcher block kitchen furniture, it ensures that the U.S. will have an adequate supply of domestic hardwood to satisfy future generations’ needs for recreation plus beautiful, natural home furnishings.” Gravenhorst went on to explain that, “Boos makes sure no wood is wasted. Leftover wood staves are used in end-grain island tops and cutting boards, and pieces that aren’t long enough to be repurposed are ground into sawdust that’s burned to generate steam to power kilns used to dry out fresh lumber.”

Gravenhorst says he is encouraged by the report’s conclusions and optimistic about prospects for Boos’ continued sales growth. “All we have to do is keep designing, making and marketing great-looking wood furniture that’s made to exacting standards and perfectly priced,” he quipped.

The information herein was compiled by Butcher Block Co., a leading online seller of home furnishings and accessories made by such manufacturers as John Boos, Catskill Craftsmen and others.

For more information, please visit

Contact Info:
Name: Kathleen Grodsky
Organization: Butcher Block Co.
Address: 10448 N 21st Pl
Phoenix, Arizona 85028


Oktoberfest Food – Beer Cheese Recipe

Oktoberfest Food – Beer Cheese Recipe

I am always ready for some delicious Oktoberfest food and beer! It’s too bad Oktoberfest doesn’t last all year. But if you’ve got a simple and delicious recipe, you can have Oktoberfest at home any time you want! Claire is here to share just such a recipe, and I can’t wait to try it. Cheese us, Claire!

Oktoberfest is just around the corner, and though I’ll be far away from the Bavarian tents, I am still on the edge of my American seat to partake of this year’s batch of Oktoberfest food and beer offerings. The official Oktoberfest in Munich is the largest beer festival in the world, and is in its 186th year! And what better way to get into the spirit of the fest than a party? I’ve been invited to just such a party this year by a very close friend, and unlike Labor Day BBQs with strangers, a German beer festival with friends is something I can fully get behind. This one is going to be potluck style, and this friend actually lived in Germany for a couple of years, so I worry that any Oktoberfest food I bring to the table will be judged pretty carefully. With this in mind, I spent a good couple of days combing over the German foods I could think up off the top of my head trying to decide what to make.

My first thought was fresh pretzels, but honestly, even if I cheated with a bread machine for the kneading process, who really has the time to deal with the dough rise and the baking soda bath and everything else? But thinking of pretzels led me right to beer cheese. Pretzels and cheese is one of my favorite snacks, and if the cheese is good enough, I think we can excuse some store-bought pretzels. After a quick Google, I found a few recipes for Obatzda and headed to Trader Joe’s with a short list. I was also lucky enough while I was there to find some tiny Bavarian-style bratwurst, along with some apparently very traditional pumpernickel pretzels, if the cartoon German on the front of the bag is anything to go by.

This recipe is as simple as it is delicious. To make it, you will need:

  • 1 pound of Camembert, rind mostly removed
  • 3 ounces of cream cheese
  • 2 ounces of butter
  • 1teaspoon of paprika
  • Half of a small onion, minced or grated
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • Up to 3 oz German Weizenbock or Hefeweizen
  • Chives for garnish

Let the cheese and butter come to room temperature. With a potato masher or a hand mixer, work the brie until it forms a pretty consistent blob. Add in the cream cheese, butter, onions, and paprika. Gradually add the beer until the mixture is your desired flavor and consistency. If you like a drier cheese spread, you can leave the beer out entirely, though you’ll certainly want to chill that beer and drink it heartily while you eat delicious cheese spread on pretzels or potatoes or maybe even slathered all over a traditional Bavarian bratwurst. I scooped my Obatzda into a little wooden bowl, garnished it with some chives from my front yard, and surrounded it with pretzels and celery (for color, mostly… no one is going to actually choose celery over pretzels, obviously). I am fully ready to drop this platter on a long table with some sausages, sauerkraut, and other Oktoberfest food, and raise a glass of liquid gold to friends and ‘fest!

Oktoberfest food

La Croix – A Refreshing Drink Alternative

La Croix – A Refreshing Drink Alternative

Like seemingly everyone else in the U.S., I have become fairly obsessed with La Croix, a delightful sparkling water that comes in a variety of flavors. I’ve had to cut myself off recently, as the shame of burning through two flats of it in one week was a bit more than I could handle. So of course Claire is writing about La Croix this week. It’s fine; I can handle a little temptation (no I can’t). I can’t talk about this anymore. I’ll be stocking up at the grocery store if you need me. Claire, refresh us with your sparkling wit (and water)!

When Labor Day was first conceived, the idea of labor unions was still a relatively fresh one, and somewhat controversial. Celebrating the American worker, taking time to remember that the nation runs on the backs of hard working men and women was a revelation. Like most holidays, I think a lot of the original sentiment has disappeared in our remembrance today. What’s left of the holiday is a day off from work, the reason for which that most people aren’t completely sure they understand, but the weather is nice, so what the heck, it’s a three-day weekend. I have to work on Saturday and get my week’s errands done on Sunday, so for me, Labor Day mostly means that I will be sitting through another backyard BBQ with some of my husband’s work friends that I may have met once or twice a few years back. You might assume that I would prefer to drink my way through an event like that, but in fact just the opposite is true. I’m planning to remain fully sober so I can hop into my car and skedaddle as soon as it doesn’t seem impolite.

If I’m not drinking beer or cocktails, I will need to substitute in an alternative beverage. In the face of a hot afternoon among strangers, I am not interested in drinking something sugary and dehydrating like juice or soda. If I stick to water, I’m afraid my boredom will be too obvious to my hosts and someone will try to pour me a drink. I need something fun and refreshing and light in calories to make up for the three hot dogs I plan on inhaling. I need to feel like I’m back in Michigan, floating around the lake on that giant unicorn with a cold drink in my hand.

I need La Croix.

La Croix

As a Midwestern girl, I have been delighted to see several of my favorite regional beverages hit the national market, including Vernors Ginger Soda, which I love for nostalgic reasons and because I am not a traitor to my home state, but secretly, Vernors will never be my favorite ginger soda. Faygo brand sodas were a staple of my terrible diet in high school, but their reputation has since been tainted by the fanatical devotion of the Insane Clown Posse, so who even cares about Faygo anymore. La Croix’s emergence into America’s consciousness over the last decade has been the most delightful to witness by far. These lightly flavored sparkling waters have fizzed their way into the hearts and homes of consumers across the country, and there is nothing in my California grocery store that thrills me more. Though most stores don’t stock all of the brand’s twenty flavors, the three most important flavors have become fairly available in most grocery stores, and those flavors are of course lime, pamplemousse (grapefruit), and most wondrous of all, coconut, and I’ll fight anyone who says different.

These sparkling waters are perfect La Croix on their own, but they also make fabulous mixers. I have been extending the life of a delicious but too-sweet pineapple Jarritos by adding just a small pour to a tall glass of coconut La Croix. The lime flavored is so gentle and versatile, it’s great for basically all cocktails, but I also like to add just some fresh or frozen fruit to make a pleasant warm-day beverage. The grapefruit flavor is a little more tart than the lime, and it is actually perfect with just a little bit of mint and a splash of gin, but of course, I’m leaving the gin at home this weekend. Honestly, my favorite way to drink La Croix is any flavor poured over ice, and then I like to chew on the little ice bits at the end. I haven’t decided which flavor I’ll bring with me to the BBQ, but no matter which I choose, it will be sublime, because each can I open sends me right back to the lake, where I know I truly belong.

“Choose Your Boos” Cutting Board Giveaway

“Choose Your Boos” Cutting Board Giveaway

“Choose Your Boos” Sweepstakes Will Feature Famous John Boos Cutting Boards

Butcher Block Co., a leading online seller of kitchen furniture and equipment, unveiled its latest consumer sweepstakes event. The winner of their “Choose Your Boos” promotional giveaway will be awarded a John Boos butcher block cutting board with a retail value as high as $350.

The company’s Marketing VP, Kathleen Grodsky, says, “Since September kicks off the fall cooking and baking season, it’s the perfect time to showcase the incredible variety of butcher block cutting boards on the market; they come in a wide assortment of woods, sizes and styles. John Boos & Co., the best-known and most renowned supplier, makes over 100 different wood cutting boards.”

“With so many great options to choose from, it was difficult to select a single Boos board to feature, so instead, the winner of  the sweepstakes will have the option to choose his or her own prize from the full Boos cutting board collection.”

Echoing Grodsky on the subject of cutting board diversity, Ted Gravenhorst suggested, “It can be more complicated than it first looks. After all, there are Boos cutting boards designed for everything from serving cheese or slicing bread to chopping vegetables or carving roasts. Plus, you have different wood species and grain styles to consider, along with size and shape.” Ted is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at John Boos.

Ms. Grodsky says the Boos cutting board promotion runs through the end of September and is open to U.S. residents at least 18 years of age. “It’s easy to enter by visiting Facebook and no purchase is required,” she emphasized.

About Butcher Block Co. – BBC is an online seller of wood countertops and kitchen furniture, stainless steel kitchen equipment, and such accessories as cutting boards, kitchen knives and knife blocks. Besides John Boos, the company carries products made by Catskill Craftsmen, Chris & Chris, Cotton & Dust and Proteak.

For more information please visit:

Kathleen Grodsky
[email protected]

Easy, Delicious Walnut Banana Bread

Easy, Delicious Walnut Banana Bread

It’s been a while since I blogged a recipe to our readers. Thankfully we have Claire and Sarah to do most of the food blogs for us, because they LOVE to cook.  I, however, really don’t love cooking or baking. I’m not sure why. Maybe because as a kid about 12 years old, it was my job to make dinner! We were given a day of the week, and it was our responsibility to plan and prepare the meal for the family. My divorced mom had 5 kids living at home at the time (seven kids total), so it was a very smart, strategic move on her part. While I was proud of what I learned to make…lasagna, meatloaf, spaghetti…I always felt like it was a chore. But luckily, I married a guy who is simply fabulous in the kitchen! He does nearly all of the cooking, AND he has taught me how to simplify recipes, and to enjoy the process as much as the end result. So once again, he has helped me come up with a recipe idea for our Butcher Block Co. Blog!

For our walnut-themed week, I’m making easy, delicious Walnut Banana Bread! It’s timed perfectly for you foodies out there, because Saturday is also National Banana Lovers Day!

So what makes this recipe easy?  Buy Trader Joe’s boxed Banana Bread Mix and a bag of Walnut halves.

What makes this recipe unique?  Roast the walnuts, use frozen bananas, add vanilla, orange and almond extract, and add chocolate chips (of course)!

For those of you who know what you’re doing in the kitchen, you can probably stop reading now and go make this walnut banana bread.  For the rest of you, there are a few helpful tips and adjustments to the recipe that are required to pull this off successfully, so read on…


walnut banana bread ingredients

  • Trader Joe’s Banana Bread Mix
  • Walnut Halves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Chocolate chips
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • * 1/4 cup water (not the 3/4 cup noted on the box)
  • *1/4 tsp orange extract
  • *1/4 tsp almond extract
  • *1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 * frozen bananas (in the peel works best)
  • * = adjustments to the recipe


walnuts Slightly roast the walnut halves in a dry fry pan on medium to high heat.  Walnuts are done when they just begin to darken slightly AND you get a waft of nutty, earthy smell off of them.  This should take no more than 10 minutes.  Do not let them burn.  Roasting will take the bitterness out of the walnut. Then chop them to the desired size. I used my handy John Boos Herb Board and Mezzaluna Knife for this. Yah!

Follow the directions on the banana bread box.  Whisk wet ingredients together then add the dry mix to the wet and blend with a spoon until just mixed.

Now for the frozen bananas.  Living in Arizona, I find that bananas turn really fast, so we have a freezer full of brown bananas at all times.  Just toss them in the freezer, peels and all, and they are always on hand for baking and making shakes! So now, grab your frozen bananas and defrost them in the microwave just until soft.  Squeeze the banana out of the peel into a bowl and mash them slightly with a fork.  Add them to the mixture. mix walnut banana bread

Add chocolate chips and your chopped, roasted walnuts and fold together. Pour into lightly greased bread pan and bake at 350 degrees for *50 minutes (instead of the recommended 40 minutes).

Cool.  Slice.  Eat.  Repeat.

Easy, Delicious Walnut Banana Bread

Final walnut banana bread

Printer-friendly recipe:Easy, Delicious Walnut Banana Bread


Vacation Cooking at the Lake House

Vacation Cooking at the Lake House

Vacation cooking is something I typically manage to avoid, as most of my vacations consist of visiting friends or staying in a hotel. I do like to cook, but I’ll be honest, there is nothing quite like having Claire cater your meals for a few days while you relax (don’t worry, sometimes I help)! This week, Claire is here to share some of her family’s traditions, along with some fabulous food. This is how you do vacation cooking! Take it away, Claire!

One of the tragedies of adulthood is the end of summer vacation. For most of us, the summer months carry on nearly identical to their colder counterparts, except perhaps that a higher percentage of the day is spent casting desperate looks out the window, accompanied by discontented sighs. Or maybe that’s just me? I think I probably spend more time than most on nostalgia, but it’s easy to cast my mind back and envy my younger self her idyllic mid-western summer breaks. As a kid in Michigan, I spent the whole summer in the water. Whether it was the dinky little pond at the far end of my subdivision, or the beautiful clear waters of Long Lake in Traverse City, my summer days were defined by the presence of water.

These days, the mid-west is still rich in water Vacation Cooking , but in California where I live, climate change and careless over-use of water has led to crisis-level drought, and the small lakes that used to exist near me have dried up completely, leaving only muddy pits and a rusted out car to mark where they used to be. The dryness of my adult existence has only exacerbated my need to indulge in memories of long days spent paddling around the lake in goggles and a snorkel, digging up clams and crayfish and interesting rocks. Eventually, I get to a point where day-dreaming isn’t enough, and I count up my vacation hours and trade them in for one precious week with my sisters in our family home on the lake.

In past summers, my parents have always been there at the lake house taking charge of our vacations. My mom did nearly all of the vacation cooking, and my dad arranged all our activities around the best times of day to be out on his catamaran. This year, they were too busy yachting down the eastern seaboard to join us, so the role of head chef fell to my sisters and me, and I must say, we rose to the occasion.

Vacation cooking presents an interesting set of complications, especially when you’re with a large group.

What are all the dietary restrictions to consider? Who is doing the grocery run? Who is doing the inevitable second grocery run when we realize that we’ve forgotten something crucial? What pots and pans are available in the vacation house? And most importantly, what can be easily made in a large enough quantity to feed 13 people without forcing some unfortunate soul to spend all day in the kitchen?

For my turn in the kitchen, I decided to make carnitas tacos. Anything that can be set up build-your-own style is a good idea in a group, and Mexican food is easy to make gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free. Plus, there is something so summery about tacos, especially when they are topped with salsa verde and fresh cilantro. When I cook carnitas, I always use the Serious Eats no-waste recipe. Prep is quick and easy and I can walk away for 3 hours while it cooks, float around on the lake on a gigantic unicorn until my skin starts to crisp, then head back to the kitchen, whip up the salsa verde in about 15 minutes, and bing bang boom, dinner is served. I made this for the family last year, and it was such a huge hit, we ran out of meat. This year I added two additional pounds of pork, and we still ran out. I’m telling you, this recipe is a winner.

Vacation Cooking

The next night, we did brats and burgers with sweet corn and salad, all essential summer crowd pleasers. Anything that can be thrown on the grill and served up directly is a good pick for a large group. Another night, my younger sister made meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Meatloaf isn’t exactly a quick meal to execute, but it is a family tradition, and works well for a crowd because it can be made ahead of time, and it can be easily scaled up or down as the group requires. In our family, we go huge with the meatloaf, and then we make sure there is lots of good bread for leftovers sandwiches.

Vacation Cooking

Speaking of leftovers, since we only stay in the house for week, we try very hard not to over-buy groceries, so on our last night we had a big salad to use up the remaining produce, and we served it with whatever we could scrounge out of the fridge on the side. I ate every meal on the patio overlooking the lake, surrounded by my favorite people, with my bathing suit under my dress and the sun setting in the background.

Vacation Cooking

A week at the lake is never enough, but I live for adding more lake memories to my nostalgia bank, so I take what I can get.


Fun Week – Summer Fun for the Whole Family

Fun Week – Summer Fun for the Whole Family

There’s still a little time left for some summer fun! We’ve been compiling recipes and ideas for a few years now, and we figure it’s the perfect time to share the summer fun with you.

Adult or kid (or kid at heart!), there’s something for everyone in this summer fun roundup!

First and foremost, get a batch of Boozy Poptails in the freezer right away. These adults-only frozen pops will surely get you through the last few weeks of summer!

Poptails Done

If that booze gets you feeling nostalgic, come share your childhood summer fun memories with us here.

Doing any camping this summer? Or attending a bonfire? Sarah’s fire pies are a definite must!

Campfire Pies summer fun

Another fun way to eat outdoors is having a build-your-own kabob party! Everyone gets exactly what they want all grilled to perfection!

If you’re looking for something on the lighter side, Claire’s grilled salad brings the best of summer onto your plate.

Grilled Salad

Or if the heat is just too unbearable, stick with something delicious that you don’t even have to cook! Ceviche tacos make for the perfect dish on a hot day – no grill required!

The very best way to finish off summer is with the most refreshingly delicious dessert: homemade mint ice cream. Can you think of anything better? I sure can’t!

Mint Ice Cream

What are your go-to meals and activities for summer fun? Share with us!