Laguna Bayou

One of the things I’ve loved doing is taking pictures of the bayou our lakehouse is situated on. I love capturing the changing light, leaves and water. The changes from season to season are the most dramatic, of course, but subtle shifts happen even from moment to moment.

Spring Lake is unusual in that it is very long and narrow with a ton of little bayous and bays. Some of the larger bayous have names but there are many smaller ones that don’t, at least as far as we know. We used to drop anchor in an unnamed bayou that we dubbed “Spartan Bay.” When we bought the lakehouse, we weren’t aware of a name for our little bay so we named it “Laguna Bayou” after one of our favorite places – Laguna Beach, California.

Here’s the first bayou shot I took, shortly after we took possession of the lakehouse. This was a happy day, because we had just gotten the boat out of storage and brought it to the dock for the summer!

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Here’s Just Like Heaven, all ready for summer. Judging from the lack of boats in front of our neighbors’ cottages, we may have been a little over-eager to get our boat into the water.

This is the bayou in early summer, late in the day. I love the golden glow from the late afternoon sun.

laguna bayou

This shot is the one that’s featured in my blog header. It was taken in the middle of the afternoon on a beautiful Sunday in July. I had a heavy heart when I took this because it was time to head home. There’s nothing sadder than having to tear yourself away from this!

Laguna Bay

Here’s another late afternoon shot taken toward the end of summer.

Late afternoon on the bayou

You can see the tiki lights that we added to the boathouse. Rich really wanted to have at least one gaudy decoration at our new place, so this is what we decided on. They’re actually super festive and fun!

This was a gorgeous fall day, with the leaves just starting to reach peak color. We had just taken the boat over to be stored for the winter.

Bayou

We got an early snow in mid-November, while there were still leaves on some of the trees.Snowy bayou

We went back to the lake the day after Christmas and there was no snow, but I loved this beautiful sunset.

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Rich’s sister and brother joined us for New Year’s Eve at the lakehouse. I caught this shot right after we got there as the sun was setting. I love the combination of colors with the periwinkle clouds and the pink sunset.

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Then just yesterday Rich was snowed in for a while, and he sent me this shot of the lake effect snow that had hit the west side of the state. It was amazing because we had nowhere near that amount of snow in the Lansing area. This picture almost looks like it has a black & white filter on it, but this is actually full color!

wintry bayou

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of capturing the changing beauty of our bayou, and I’m especially looking forward to seeing it all decked out for our big event on July 25.

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Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Disclaimer: This dish was not created at the lakehouse. I’m afraid that now that summer has drawn to a close, there will be less lake activity to share. However, this is a wonderful end-of-summer recipe that I plan on making again many times, and I’m sure that will include at least a few times at the lakehouse next year.

My friend Norma and I had big plans to can tomatoes this summer, but like many big plans, they never materialized. To be honest, while I’ve always liked the idea of having a supply of home-canned tomatoes all winter long, I have never been very interested in the actual process of canning. It just sounds hot, labor-intensive, and messy, and the last thing I would want to do on a beautiful summer weekend.

However, during my most recent mammogram I was having a nice friendly chat with the tech, and she told me how she roasted tomatoes and froze them, saying it was so much easier than canning. It sounded like a much more do-able way to preserve tomatoes, so Norma and I decided to try that instead. But again, summer got away from us and by the time I went to buy a bushel (or bushels) of tomatoes from the farmers market for a big roasting party, it was too late. All that were available were a few random quart-ish sized containers – not enough to buy in any sort of quantity.

But I was determined to at least give roasting a try and make a batch of sauce for pasta, so I bought one container of heirlooms and one of just plain old tomatoes. Yesterday was a rainy, chilly Sunday – perfect for spending some time in the kitchen.

Tomatoes before

Here are the tomatoes, minus one because I had already cut it up. The mammogram lady made a point of telling me the tomatoes needed to be dried carefully, so this is after they were washed and dried.

Core and coarsely chop the tomatoes. There seemed to be just a few too many tomatoes to spread onto one baking sheet without crowding, so I used two sheets.

Next, roughly chop an onion and four cloves of garlic, and sprinkle everything on both trays. Because I had peppers still growing in the garden, I roughly chopped a couple of those and added them to the trays but this is optional.

Some fresh herbs are next. I happened to have some fresh basil in the garden, so I clipped a small handful. I like oregano in my pasta sauces, so I bought some fresh and added that as well. The herbs are really up to your taste and what you have on hand; rosemary and thyme would be good too. Remove the leaves of the basil and oregano from the stems (not necessary to chop them at all), and sprinkle them into the mix.

Tomatoes ready to go

Finally, sprinkle both trays with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and drizzle olive oil over everything (a couple of tablespoons per tray). With clean hands, gently toss everything together to make sure it’s all coated with oil and seasoning.

Tomato roasting

I wish I’d removed those pots from the stove before taking this picture. I didn’t try to hide the glass of wine though, because after all, what would a rainy day of tomato roasting be without a little vino?

Place both trays in a preheated oven set at 325 degrees. Roast for one to two hours or until vegetables are tender (mine only took an hour).

Finished tomatoes

These tomatoes are incredibly flavorful! I ended up dumping one tray into a Ziploc bag and freezing it; the other I used to make pasta sauce. I cooked them down (discarded most of the onion and garlic and just used the tomatoes with their juices) with red wine and a small can of plain tomato sauce, but no extra seasoning was necessary.

Roasted tomato sauce

Oven Roasted Tomatoes (printable format)

  • About 2-½ lbs. tomatoes (any combination of heirloom, regular, Roma, etc., roughly 16 small or 8-10 medium-large)
  • Small bunch fresh basil
  • 4 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed, roughly chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Wash and dry each tomato; core and coarsely chop. Distribute evenly among two baking sheets. Rinse and dry basil and oregano and remove leaves from stems. Sprinkle evenly over both trays; add onion and garlic, distributing equally. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. With clean hands, gently stir vegetables to evenly coat with oil.

Add both pans to oven and cook for one to two hours, or until vegetables are tender. Place in freezer Ziploc bags and freeze for up to six months.

If using immediately for sauce: Place all vegetables (I removed the onion and garlic; it’s completely up to your taste) in saucepan and add about ½ cup dry red wine. If desired, add small can plain tomato sauce. Cook until vegetables are broken down and incorporated. If you prefer a smoother consistency, use an immersion blender and blend or pulse until you get the right texture.

Mopedin’ Around Town

When Rich first brought two brand spankin’ new Mopeds home to the lake house, I was less than thrilled. I guess I’d been damaged from our scooter rental experience in Key West. It SEEMED like it would be fun, but I had a difficult time controlling mine and almost steered into oncoming traffic several times. Plus I’m not a big fan of speed, loud noises or adventure in general. But it turns out, there’s nothing to be scared of on these little puppies! I mean I definitely would not want to be on one in heavy traffic, but they’re perfect for tooling around town. And Spring Lake has lots of little side streets and cute neighborhoods, so it’s really an ideal place to have them.

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On this particular outing, we decided to take the scooters over to Spring Lake’s popular dive bar, Stan’s. This little watering hole is a favorite among the locals. Plus you can order a pizza from the nearby pizzeria, Mamma Mia’s, and they’ll deliver it to you right in the bar!

Rich at Stans

The rear entrance to Stan’s. I didn’t notice the “in-out” sign when I took the picture, but I see now that it’s pointed directly at Rich’s head. I think it’s referring to his listening skills.

But I think my favorite thing about Stan’s is the wine pours. None of this fancy pouring until the wine hits the proper spot on the bowl of the wine glass. No, Stan’s bartenders take special pride in pouring to the very top of the glass.

Stans pour

It may not be particularly good wine, but you’re going to get a lot of it!

Though summer is drawing to a close, I think we still have a good month or so of Moped time left. I definitely want to explore those little lakeside streets and take some pictures, which I will share here. In the meantime, cheers to the wind in your hair, summer days and good pours!

 

 

Tropical Pots

I love planting these containers. I started doing these a number of years ago when a friend introduced me to Coleus, which I wasn’t familiar with. I had always done beds and and planters with very conventional plants like geraniums and impatiens. But I got kind of hooked on this darker,”urban” look.

best planter

These look great grouped in the planters we found at Costco this spring. They’re huge, heavyweight, and at about $40 apiece, a bargain. We sort of spread them across the upper deck at the lake house and then just let them do their thing. Little tip we got from a local gardening guru: fill the bases of huge pots with packing peanuts! They’re light and do a great job of taking up space in that base that really doesn’t need to be filled with heavy – and expensive – potting soil.

2 planters

I always start with a big anchor plant in the center. In this case, it’s a spiky tropical; Elephant Ears make great anchors too. Then I plant fillers at the base – sweet potato vine, regular ivy, Coleus of course, asparagus fern and spikes if there’s room. The goal is a mix of dark, light and contrasting foliage.

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We sometimes move these planters inside and try to keep them going through the winter, but I don’t know if that’s possible at the lake house because there really isn’t enough room for these babies. In the meantime, we’re going to keep them outside to remind us of warm, beautiful days for as long as we can.

Lakehouse Tuna Pasta Salad

As much as I love to cook, I love to be outside enjoying my favorite season more. Summers are fleeting in Michigan and weekends are short, so I try to make meals that are quick to put together. This pasta salad is ridiculously simple but always gets rave reviews.

(I know I’ve been saying I’m trying to cut back on my pasta intake, but it’s just such a quick, easy way to feed hungry lakehouse guests and teenagers. Besides, I did Pilates this morning.)

Let’s take a moment to talk about tuna. For years I was a Bumblebee albacore fan, but in recent years I’ve found it to be disappointing. It seems mealy and lacking in flavor. Definitely not worth the price tag. I basically stopped buying tuna for a while, until during one of our Costco visits when they were doing tastings of their Kirkland brand canned albacore tuna. I thought it was so good I bought an eight-pack and that’s what I’ve used ever since. It’s high quality, firm, not watery at all, and delicious. tuna pasta salad ingredients

This is such a basic dish it really doesn’t require instructions. I always include chopped celery, green onions, fresh dill (dried is fine if you don’t have fresh), fresh lemon juice, light mayo, lemon pepper, freshly ground black pepper and a little salt. For the pasta I like medium shells.

tuna salad ingredients

Dill is one of my favorite herbs. You know how they say that of the five senses, the sense of smell is the number 1 trigger of memories? When I was little we had a next-door neighbor named Mrs. Ring who had no children of her own and treated me like a granddaughter. I spent a lot of time with her (I think most of it was during the summer my mom was pregnant with my brother). She had a vegetable garden where she grew dill for canning pickles. To this day the smell of fresh dill reminds me of my childhood.

tuna chopper

When I drain tuna I use this little gadget to shred it. I don’t like to bite into huge hunks of tuna; I prefer it in little bits. The gadget is similar to one my mom gave me when I first lived on my own. It disappeared last year and I panicked, because I couldn’t find a replacement anywhere. I asked my mom where she got it and she said it was one of two that my grandmother, her mother-in-law, had given to her. In other words, it was a thousand years old and so outdated nobody probably even uses it anymore. But it’s such a handy, simple little tool that really has a lot of uses. It’s a great, low-tech way to give a quick rough chop to just about anything. I searched everywhere and online but wasn’t even sure what to search for. Meat chopper? Tuna shredder? Anyway, I finally found a bunch of them on clearance in Meijer’s kitchen gadget section, so I bought four of them.

Sometimes it’s the old-fashioned ways that work the best.

Tuna pasta salad

Here’s the finished dish. It’s best if you make it ahead of time and refrigerate it for a few hours before serving, so the flavors have time to blend. Enjoy!

Lakehouse Tuna Pasta Salad

1 lb. pasta (I prefer medium shells), cooked in salted water according to package directions, drained and cooled

2 cans tuna (preferably albacore, packed in water), drained and shredded to your liking

4 stalks celery, medium to finely chopped

1 small bunch green onions, whites and part of the greens, chopped

3 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh dill

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Roughly 1/2 cup mayo (I use light)

Lemon pepper, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Toss all ingredients together and adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate for a couple of hours; serve. Makes about 6 servings.

The Big Lake

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(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.

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.