Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country


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Summer 2015 Retrospective

Some days you eat the summer; some days the summer eats you. This summer, we were neck-and-neck. And although we spent much of June and July as (happily) dead meat, splayed prey for the hungry chaos of our lives, we do have a few things to show for ourselves. Here is a sampling of those things, in more or less chronological order:

  1. An outdoor shower

Outdoor shower

How cool is this thing? It’s an outdoor shower with hot-and-cold running water (thanks to a tankless camp water heater called the Camp Chef Triton), a patchwork shower curtain (thanks to my mom), and a classy cedar framework (thanks to my hunky carpenter-husband). It was supposed to be his personal outdoor shower, a spot in the shady back corner of the yard where he could retreat from the crazies to shower beneath the stars. But, as you can see from those pairs of little feet beneath the curtain, he opted to share.

Nothing like a shower in the great outdoors…

2. A rollicking beach vacation

Little guy leads the way…

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The water is only about 65 degrees in Lake Michigan in July, but the secret is to keep moving

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And to be fearless, of course…

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A little Tai Chi in the surf can’t hurt: Mind over matter.

If you aren’t a midwesterner, you may be shocked to learn that the Great Lakes have bona fide beaches, with waves and tides and dunes like you wouldn’t believe. I didn’t have the good camera with me the day we went to Warren Dunes State Park, but I wish I had. The day was oddly cool with a brisk wind, and the park was virtually deserted. I’d never been there when we didn’t need to search for a parking place, but on this day, our minivan shared the parking lot with only one school bus. The kids climbed…and descended…and climbed…and descended the 260-foot dune formation that overlooks the beach (also deserted on this day) and ultimately discovered a set of enormous avian tracks which they followed, Wild Kratts style, with their daddy, until they discovered a flock of wild turkeys fleeing into the hardwood forest. Wow. What a morning.

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Just try climbing up and down the dunes in search of wild turkeys without falling asleep before dinner!

3. A new custom kitchen island

island

My husband built this. Need I say more? It started out as a big heap of wood, a little bit of molding, and a pre-fab unfinished drawer tower and cabinet, and it ended up as the delicately detailed, elegantly tailored centerpiece of my kitchen. He would tell you that it ate his entire summer in the process, but I think he secretly enjoyed at least some aspects of the work. And my kitchen remodel (which began in the spring of 2014) is now 80% complete. I like to say that we are proudly a work in progress around here, and I find that position oddly satisfying. After all, the television shows, with their “big reveals” overwhelm their recipients with so much at once that they can’t even begin to process it all, much less appreciate it. I, on the other hand, appreciate every step along the way. (Thanks, Hunky Hubby!)

Speaking of my hunky hubby and reality television…

4. A remodeled garage

With the entire process to air on September 19th. Nope, that’s not a joke. You can read about it here: Starring: family’s garage.

5. A new school year (already)

Third grade, first grade, and pre-K commenced August 3rd, and these three kicked butt bottoms the first day:

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First day of school: 2015

6. Delicious dishes

Even with almost no attention, the garden keeps growing. This summer, despite the torrential rains and strong storms that virtually drowned our tomatoes (and left us without power for almost two full days this summer!), our green beans have bloomed and fruited and fruited and bloomed. When the vines produced their first handful of tender pods, I deployed them in the creation of a date night treat that might be one of the tastiest things we ate all summer…and was definitely one of the easiest. It’s my homemade version of the ubiquitous “green bean french fries” that has popped up on restaurant menus in the past few years.

Busy summer day and overflowing green bean vines? There’s an app for that. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Oven Roasted Green Bean Fries

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Green beans (fresh, or frozen skinny ones, if it’s not summertime)

Olive oil (enough to coat them lightly)

Sea salt (a generous sprinkle)

Fresh-ground pepper (to taste)

Grated Parmesan cheese (the kind in the green canister works brilliantly, so save the block of the good stuff for something else)

  1. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.
  2. Wash your green beans and break off the stem end (if they’re fresh).
  3. Place your green beans in a baking pan and toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  4. Roast them, stirring occasionally, until they are browned and tender.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  5. Place them in a bowl and toss them with enough Parmesan cheese to coat them well.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  6. Serve piping hot or warm temperature. I don’t think you could mess them up if you tried!