The Big Lake

biglake

(Heads up: going into Pure Michigan public relations mode here) Did you know that Michigan, with more than 11,000 inland lakes and touched by four of the five Great Lakes, has more freshwater shoreline than any other state in the country? In Michigan you are never more than six miles from a lake or stream, or 85 miles from one of the Great Lakes. Michigan truly is a water wonderland.

And we are especially fortunate to have our vacation home on Spring Lake, because it is one of Michigan’s few inland lakes that has the added bonus of Great Lake access – in this case, to spectacular Lake Michigan.

Big lake

The Great Lakes are an absolutely incredible (and underrated) travel destination. First-time visitors to Michigan are always blown away by the Great Lakes and how similar they are to the ocean, except they have, as the ubiquitous sweatshirts proclaim, “no salt, no sharks.”

big lake

If you’ve never visited one of the Great Lakes, consider making your next getaway to Michigan. From festivals to camping, from long days on the lake to wine tasting, from lighthouse tours to lounging on one of Michigan’s stunning beaches, an abundance of activities await you. Need more information? Your trip begins at michigan.org.

For some amazing fun facts about the Great Lakes, visit here.

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Beans… They’re Good for Your Heart

Baked beans are such an old school dish but they’re perfect for feeding a crowd, especially at a summer cookout. I’ve played around with my tried and true baked bean recipe many times. I always start with canned beans, including a can or two of already-prepared baked beans, and doctor them up with various ingredients. I am not one to soak dried beans overnight, although I respect people who do because it seems like something serious cooks would adhere to. But really, who has the time?

Anyway, I stumbled upon this recipe for Cowboy Baked Beans on Wicked Good Kitchen recently. It’s very similar to my recipe with one unusual addition: a dark beer reduction. I made a few tweaks and was very happy with the outcome. This is now my go-to baked bean recipe.

Just look at those beautiful beans.

baked beans

Cowboy Baked Beans

For the beer reduction:

  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle dark beer (I happened to use a Michigan beer, Founders Imperial Stout, but any dark beer will work)

For the vegetables:

  • Four slices center cut bacon, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ Vidalia onion, chopped
  • 1 medium to large red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

For the beans:

  • 1 (28-ounce) can Bush’s Original Baked Beans
  • 2 (16-ounce) cans kidney red beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (16-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (4-ounce) can green chiles, drained
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

For the bean sauce:

  • Beer reduction
  • ½ cup BBQ Sauce (I used another Michigan product, Brownwood Farms Yankee Bourbon Barbecue Sauce)
  • 1/3 to ½ cup ketchup
  • 1/3 cup unsulphured molasses
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1-½ tablespoons Dijon or spicy grain mustard, such as Grey Poupon®
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Tabasco® sauce or cayenne pepper, to taste (a few dashes)
  • 1 teaspoon dried cilantro or 1 tablespoon fresh
  • ¼ teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin

For the topping:

  • 4 slices center cut smoked bacon, partially cooked but still soft
  • A couple of tablespoons of dark brown sugar, if desired (I skipped this)

Preparation:

Prepare the beer reduction: In a heavy saucepan over high heat, bring beer to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-high and continue to simmer until reduced by half to ¾ cup, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Arrange oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 350º F. Spray 2-quart (9×13-inch) baking dish with cooking spray.

Prepare the bacon and vegetables: In a large frying pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until browned and just about crispy, about 5 minutes. Reserve rendered bacon fat in pan. Add onion and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in chopped red bell pepper and green onions; sauté until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

Prepare the beans: Combine beans and chilies in large bowl or stock pot; season with salt and pepper. Scrape bacon and vegetable mixture into beans. Season with salt and pepper; stir well to incorporate. Using rubber spatula, scrape and pour into bowl or stock pot and stir into bean mixture.

Prepare the bean sauce: Add all of the sauce ingredients to the bowl or stock pot with the bean mixture. Stir well to incorporate. Using rubber spatula, scrap and pour mixture, evenly dividing, into baking dish.

Bake in preheated oven until sauce has thickened, is bubbling and cooked through, about 90 minutes. Top with the precooked bacon slices and sprinkle with brown sugar (if using) after 30 minutes of baking. Remove from oven and transfer to cooling rack to rest before serving, about 5 minutes.

Welcome to the Lake House

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This was my first attempt at chalkboard lettering. When I was younger I used to love playing around with hand lettering, but it’s been a long time and my skills are rusty. I was pretty pleased with these results, even though the word “welcome” goes on a downward slant. There are tons of chalkboard lettering tutorials out there in the blogosphere; I found a helpful one on this website.

chalk paint class

Here I am with my friends Norma and Jen showing off our finished chalkboards.

The frame was actually a DIY project too. Last winter my friends Norma and Jen and I did a chalk paint workshop at Bungalow 47, a little shop in our hometown. The class included the frame and supplies. I can’t remember the exact steps I used, but I know they involved two shades of chalk paint, glue and a hair dryer, and some dark rub. I’m going to contact the store to see if they can give me the written instructions. If they do, I’ll post them here. In the meantime, here’s a link to some tutorials on the American Paint Company (brand of chalk paint we used) website.

The Reading Glasses

imageThis guy fought reading glasses forever. He tried reading stuff at arm’s length for a while, then went through a phase where he’d just give up reading something and blame it on the size of the type. He finally caved and bought a few pairs. He actually tried sneaking them into the house and hiding them from me, but of course that didn’t work. He thinks they look dorky but I think they make him look distinguished.

 

Hydrangea Love

So these were bursting forth when we got to the lake house for our week-long vacation. I enjoyed them in the yard until our last few days, then cut some of the blossoms for a bouquet. It still looks gorgeous so I think I’m bringing the arrangement home to enjoy before it starts drooping. I love seeing rows of hydrangea plants in bloom, especially at a waterfront home. My goal is to plant a few more before the end of the season.

Hydrangeas