Ever Wonder Why Basketball Is Played On Maple Hardwood?

Ever Wonder Why Basketball Is Played On Maple Hardwood?

Everyone Knows March Madness Is Played on Hardwood. Ever Wonder Which Hardwood?

In 1891 parents in Springfield, Massachusetts challenged Dr. James Naismith to invent an indoor game that would condition and tire out kids during the long, cold New England winters. Famously, he nailed two peach baskets to the railing of the balcony in the YMCA gymnasium and changed history. The gym’s wooden floor was made of hard maple (acer saccharum).

More than a century later, rock maple remains the hardwood used by local Ys, the NCAA and all but one NBA team.(1)

 

So Why Rock Maple?

Maple flooring gained popularity in late-nineteenth-century America. Among other things, it was relatively abundant and hence, affordable. Plus, maple was known to be strong, durable and stable. Less likely to expand and contract in response to changes in temperature and humidity, maple is largely resistant to splintering. Measured on the Janka scale(2), rock maple is North America’s most resilient hardwood.

Moreover, maple’s exceptionally tight grain(3) prevents dirt and dust particles from seeping in between the wood’s fibers, making it an easy wood to clean and maintain. Finally, maple can be easily restored to look new again. These are all traits equally important for sports courts.

The ideal playing surface must be solid and consistent throughout to ensure that a basketball will bounce exactly the same (i.e., without recoil or dampening) when dribbled anywhere on the court, since even small differences can impact the game. But the ideal surface must also provide some degree of shock resistance or bounce-back, in order to minimize players’ fatigue and damage to their joints. Also, maple’s coloration is perfect for basketball, given the contrast between the game’s orange ball and the floor’s light to medium tans and browns. This helps make it easy for players to spot the ball on the court. The lightness of maple also aids in brightening arenas via the reflection of light off the floor.

 A Professional-Grade Basketball Court Will Set You Back $80 to $100k

The actual playing area of courts used by the NCAA and NBA measures 94 feet by 50 feet, but most incorporate a large perimeter, bringing overall floor dimensions to about 140 feet by 70 feet. The hard rock maple planks used are typically slightly thicker than ¾ of an inch, so it takes 80 to 100 trees to construct a single hardwood court. By the way, the NBA requires teams to replace their floor every 10 years.

The Big Dance Floor Will Be Offered to the Winner

Connor Sports (Elk Grove Village, IL) made the basketball courts used for 13 different NCAA conference championships. The modules that comprise these portable courts are shipped to regional tournament sites where they are assembled and eventually disassembled after play. Connor has also supplied the floors used in the Men’s and Women’s Final Four since 2005. These floors are also modular, but one-off custom designs that are offered for purchase to the winning schools who often display portions of the floor or cut the modules into smaller segments that can be sold to alumni or collectors via fundraisers.

The manufacturing process is remarkable; it even involves riding sander machines! Click the image below to watch this video on Youtube.

Here’s another time-lapse video showing workers installing the 2015 Final Four court – made of Northern rock maple harvested from Wisconsin – at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The Smartest Bet This March Madness Is on the Floor, Not the Brackets

It’s estimated that $10.4 billion will be wagered on 70 million brackets this time around (only 3% of those bets will be legal). Be smart and bet safe: for certain, all games will be played on North American rock maple!

(1) The famed Boston Garden features red oak in a distinctive parquet design, instead of maple.

(2) The Janka Hardness Scale measures the amount of pressure required to mar a wood sample.

(3) “Grain” typically means the physical structure and appearance of a wood surface and traces to the orientation of the wood’s cellulose fibers – the remnants of once-living longitudinal cells.

Walnut Butcher Block Tops

Walnut Butcher Block Tops

Walnut butcher block has become incredibly popular over the last few years, and we totally understand why: it is GORGEOUS! A while back we had a customer who needed to exchange his blended walnut butcher block countertop for a different finish. The top was 107″ long and absolutely beautiful, and it just so happened to be in Phoenix. A couple of us here at Butcher Block Co. decided we could find use for this beauty, so we each embarked on a DIY journey to create our own masterpieces.

We hope these two projects will help inspire you to bring walnut butcher block (or any butcher block) into your home!

Candice’s Island Top

About 10 years ago I inherited a kitchen island that was originally used as a store display, and I have wanted to refinish it ever since. I got as far as replacing the wooden knobs with cute ceramic ones, but the improvement wasn’t exactly notable. The biggest problem was the top. It was cheap and too soft to use as a butcher block, not to mention completely unappealing to my tastes. Thankfully the perfect solution presented itself in the walnut butcher block being exchanged by our customer. It was already the ideal depth at 30″, and I only needed 51″ in length to give my island a nice 2.5″ overhang on each end, expanding my work surface a bit more than the previous top.

After a couple hours of wrenching the original pine top off my island (seriously, there were something like 18 screws…a little overkill!), I was able to start sanding the base so it could be painted. Unfortunately I do not possess quite enough upper arm strength to power sand 25 years of buildup off a table base, so I enlisted some help at this point. I bought some spray paint in a nice almond shade, went out of town for a week, and came home to a fully transformed kitchen island (do I have the best dog-sitter/friend or what?!)!

The oil finish already on this block was the right option for me, as I am using this as a prep table to do all my chopping. My favorite part of every month is when it is time to oil my block – there is just nothing quite as beautiful as a freshly oiled walnut butcher block. My ugly old island has become one of my most prized possessions.

Walnut Butcher Block

Kathleen’s Kitchen Table

My son was moving into his new home and we gifted him the oak breakfast nook my husband designed 25 years ago. It was a perfect excuse for us to finally upgrade to the kitchen table of our dreams.  We have always wanted a bar height kitchen table to match our dark mahogany colored kitchen cabinets. And luck would have it, we were able to repurpose this blended walnut butcher block countertop that was returned to Butcher Block Co.  Using the “other half” of the top Candice used, we were able to make a kitchen table 59”L x 36”W.

We started with an oil finish blended walnut top, our “half” was 56”L x 30”W x 1.5”. We sanded it down to completely remove the oil finish that was applied at the factory.  This table was a little small for us, so we added a 3” mahogany rail on the sides and a 1.5” wide rail on the ends using a biscuit joiner.  We chose a 3” thick rail of mahogany so that the finished table appeared to be a chunky 3” thick, even though the butcher block was just 1.5” thick. Further sanding smoothed out the seams. We did not have any desire to cut upon this butcher block, so we decided to stain it to match our cabinets, using a Zar brand wood stain. And because we were looking for a low maintenance table top, we knew we wanted to go with a polyurethane finish, applying 4 coats to the top.

The base of our table consists of 2 bar height metal disc bases.  We hired a family friend to weld the custom foot rest that attaches to the metal base. Then we sent the bases and footrest to a local business to powder coat them to match the metal on our bar stools. Our finished table is gorgeous.  The walnut colored stain brought out the beautiful grain patterns in our blended walnut butcher block. And this top is so low maintenance that all I need to do is wipe it clean and use Pledge on the top to keep it looking new.

 

Cozy Christmas Drinks to Put You in the Holiday Spirit

Cozy Christmas Drinks to Put You in the Holiday Spirit

Get into the cozy Christmas mood with these festive cocktails from Claire (you know how we love a seasonal drink!). Whether you are spending a quiet night in or hosting a holiday party, Claire has you covered in the cocktail department! Let’s get mixing, Claire!

This year seems to have gone by in record time, which is good, because 2016 has been a real stinker and I’m not going to miss it when it’s done. Usually in December, all I want to do is get cozy and Christmassy, but this year I’ve been having a tougher time than I normally do getting festive. Luckily, I have devised a brilliant, alcohol-fueled plan to grease my Christmas spirit wheels, and it all starts today, as I trim my tree.

A cozy Christmas cocktail is the perfect way to fire up the holiday spirit!

As a child of a mixed-religious union, I grew up celebrating both Christmas and Chanukah, though with so many fun activities involved, Christmas always won out as the bigger deal of the two. Our family tradition was to spend Christmas day at our Grandma’s house, so we didn’t always have a tree in our house. Well, I am a strong believer in creating your own holiday traditions, so now that I have my own house, I always have a Christmas tree, no matter where I’ll be on Christmas day. The week after Thanksgiving, Pier and I go out to the tree lot, we pick out a tree, and then he helps me set it up so I can decorate it. Well, this year, Pier has had to work late all week so I went to the tree lot by myself. I tied the tree to my car by myself and then unloaded and stood it up by myself. I knew I was going to need some powerful holiday magic to get me through decorating by myself. What better than hot cocoa? I used to always make Mexican hot chocolate from scratch whenever I got a craving for cocoa, but I found that I actually wanted cocoa more often than I was willing to put the effort into the process. Since then, I have gotten smarter and/or lazier, and I have adapted my own recipe for an instant mix from Alton Brown’s own recipe (so you know it must be good).

Mix together one and a half to two cups of powdered sugar, one cup of unsweetened cocoa powder, two and a half cups of dry milk powder, two teaspoons of cornstarch, and one teaspoon of salt. Add cinnamon and cayenne pepper to suit your taste. I like a lot of heat in mine, so I go a little heavier on the cayenne. Just add hot water, et voilà, you’re in cocoa heaven. This mix can keep for a whole year in an air-tight container, but I doubt it will last longer than a month, especially if you prepare it the way I like it best. Put two spoonfuls of cocoa mix into your mug. Add some coffee if you have some made, or a little bit of instant espresso if you don’t. Pour in hot water, leaving about an inch of space at the top. Stir until everything is dissolved, then fill the space to the top with Irish cream. Top it with marshmallows (obviously) and you are ready to get cozy while you untangle your lights!

Cozy Christmas

Cocoa is nice while I enjoy the Fireplace for Your Home on Netflix, but it can be a little rich for everyday drinking. For something equally warming, I recommend mulled cider. Mulling spices make some of the best smells on the planet, and they go great with the piney smell of the Christmas tree. This will make your home smell like a cozy Christmas cabin. To make mulled cider, just pour some good apple juice or cider into a saucepan. Add a tangerine, either pierced with cloves, or sliced. Also add a couple of whole star anise, a good tablespoon or so of allspice berries, and two or three cinnamon sticks, cracked. I like to add some ginger to my cider as well, because I like the kick. Add a little wine, if you like, and bring the whole pot to a gentle boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, and strain. If you need an extra pick-me-up, bourbon, rum or brandy will all blend beautifully with your cider.

Cozy Christmas

Of course, the Christmas season isn’t just about cuddling. December has only just started, and I already have three parties on my calendar. Hot cider works nicely at a quiet dinner party or a bonfire, but for a traditional Christmas soiree, I’d say that punch is best. It can be made in large batches, so the host doesn’t have to tend bar, and it makes a festive and stylish centerpiece. There are a lot of ways you can go with your punch, but I think it’s nice to keep it simple. For this one, simply pour a whole bottle of sparking white wine (Prosecco, Champagne, whatever!) into your punch bowl. Add a cup of cranberry juice cocktail, half a cup of vodka, and a squeeze of lemon or orange juice to taste. I like to freeze a bag of cranberries and throw them into the bowl, too. They help keep the punch cold, and they add a festive flair. I also recommend setting your punch bowl on top of a bowl of ice or some freezer packs wrapped in a napkin or towel to keep it chilled.

Cozy Christmas

Whatever you’re drinking this holiday season, I hope you are with people who love you, or at least a cat that doesn’t mind sharing the room with you. Happy holidays to you and yours.

Creative Reuse – Furniture Projects

Creative Reuse – Furniture Projects

It’s that time of year again, when I like to raise awareness of America Recycles Day and share the small part I play to make the earth a better place to live. Last year I introduced you to “upcycling” and highlighted the creative reuse furniture projects my son, Ben, completed. This year, I am happy to say the entire family has been busy in the workshop repurposing and upcycling furniture and more. So this blog is sort of a Creative Reuse – Part II.

The spirit of upcycling is to not waste that which has, or could have, useful life. It focuses on reusing or repurposing materials and has the overall environmental benefit of reducing your carbon footprint.  It so happens that bulk trash pickup in my neighborhood falls in October.  And as I walk my dog around the neighborhood I find valuable treasures in other people’s junk piles…items that definitely still have a useful life.  So just last week we picked up an old BBQ grill and restored it with some elbow grease, paint and a few replacement parts and it works like new!  We also found a huge tree stump that will soon become the base for a new coffee table! We will save that for another blog, but my blog today focuses more on restoring items we already had around the house.

We honor America Recycles Day, November 15th, with a blog featuring our latest creative reuse projects.

Creative Reuse – 100 year old Door transformed into a Shabby/Chic Headboard

Creative Reuse Headboard

The feature project is the upcycling of this old door found at a scrap yard. Ben knew immediately upon seeing it that this would become the headboard for his girlfriend’s new bed. It started with removing the old hardware and scraping and sanding off all of the old paint. The porcelain door knob was a gem, so he cleaned and polished it like new. He then created his own “stain” by soaking steel wool in vinegar for a few days. The longer the steel wool soaks, the darker the stain becomes. He applied the stain and then put a matte polyurethane finish over it. He padded the headboard by cutting plywood to fit the panels in the door, covering them with batting and a soft flannel material, and gluing them to the door headboard.

Creative Reuse – Furniture from the past Reimagined with Chalk Paint

Creative Reuse Furniture 3
My husband inherited his baby dresser years ago, which is now over 50 years old.  In its day it had a beautiful walnut veneer but over the years it lost its appeal and was relegated to a closet to be used for storage.  But now that my eldest son is moving into his own home, we had the perfect opportunity to do what all empty nesters do…turn his bedroom into a guest bedroom!  So out of the closet came the baby dresser, and with a coat of lovely red chalk paint, this forgotten dresser has now become the focal point of the guest room!

Earlier this year we went to the local “Junk in the Trunk” vintage market and discovered a 100 year old desk top which happened to be missing its legs. It had no useful purpose, as is, so we purchased unfinished legs and again used our red chalk paint to upcycle this unwanted piece of furniture into a beautiful desk to match the dresser.

Our final project was repurposing an old file cabinet.  Straight out of the 80’s, this file cabinet was golden oak in color and definitely did not “fit” in my antique gray furnished office.  It was in the garage collecting dust when I had an epiphany that it would be a great nightstand for our new guest room.  I love red, so yep, red it is.  The guest room is done in charcoal gray and black so the red accent pieces are not as overpowering as you might think.

Creative Reuse – Recycling old blogs for America Recycles Day

Finally, I thought, why not “recycle” our blog from a couple years ago, in the true spirit of America Recycles Day.  Read more helpful tips on how you can “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Every Day”.

Look around your house.  What do you have that could be repurposed or upcycled into something useful and beautiful? Creative reuse is good for the earth and good for your soul.

Creative Uses for Butcher Block

Creative Uses for Butcher Block

Over the past four years, I have seen all sorts of creative uses for butcher block. One of my very first projects was for a customer making a shuffleboard table. A high quality shuffleboard table can run several thousand dollars, and this customer was a skilled craftsman, so he figured he could make it himself. He ordered a 14-foot long maple butcher block countertop to use as his playing surface since he didn’t have the equipment to fabricate something that long in one piece, let alone ensure its stability and level surface. He built his own base for the table and put it all together, saving himself thousands while creating a one-of-a-kind piece of functional art.  I wish I had had the foresight back then to follow up with him and get photos!

We love seeing our customers’ creative uses for butcher block!

Now that we are much more social media savvy, we regularly encourage our customers to send in photos of their projects, whether they are showing off their kitchen, laundry room, office, or something even more unique.  We certainly love seeing butcher block in its traditional role, and get a special thrill when it’s applied to an unconventional base (like this block attached to a vintage sewing machine base), but every once in a while,  we see something totally unexpected, and it just makes our day!

Creative Uses for Butcher Block

A few weeks ago I received a call from someone ordering a Boos dining table top. She had a few questions and when we got to talking, it came out that she was using it as a speed bag platform. Amazingly enough, this isn’t the first time we’ve sold a butcher block for that!  I only know of two instances, but this has me wondering if it’s more common than we thought.  This customer was kind enough to send us some photos showing the setup, and I’ve got to say, it’s pretty dang cool! Who knew a speed bag could look so sleek?

Creative Uses for Butcher Block

Another fun project comes from Ben, whose neat ideas we have featured in the past. Ben used a Boos round cutting board (with feet removed) as a topper to a vintage milk can to make this super unique end table. It’s an unexpected use for butcher block, but it sure looks cool and makes a great conversation starter! Simple projects like this are easy to accomplish and make a big impact. It’s just a matter of getting creative!

Creative Uses for Butcher Block

Have you come up with any creative uses for butcher block? We would love to see your projects!

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.

Wine

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

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.

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!