Tuesday, July 22, 2014

all that matters

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Sorry for being such a slacker lately. I would love to breezily post recipes and stories every single week like clockwork but you see, the only one in charge of my schedule is me. And I have proven myself time and time again to be unmanageable. It’s not that my heart isn’t here; it is. It’s just that my body is usually at the beach- and I don’t have a much better excuse than that. I take leisure time in the summer extraordinarily seriously. Massachusetts in the summer is glorious, absolutely glorious. It’s also quite dreamy through September and parts of October. And then somewhere around the first of November it goes downhill and the rest of the year is spent in hibernation with many pots of soup and bottles of red wine. So when summer comes round, on my days off when I would normally check lots of pertinent tasks off my to-do list, including maintaining this here blog, I instead feel zero obligations and I park my ass at the beach with a meatball sub, because, apparently, shame is not an emotion that I feel and because I take summer very, very seriously.

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The crown jewel of summer always has been the 4th of July. For as long as I can remember, my family would gather together at my aunt and uncle’s house by the beach (where Paul and I lived last summer while we were preparing to buy our house) It was (big sigh) the greatest house ever. Screened in porch, large, partially shaded yard, ample parking, and a slow, easy shuffle down to a beautiful New England beach. It was the perfect place for 4th of July. We spent the day pruning up our fingers in the Atlantic, the afternoon drinking a few too many watermelon margaritas on the porch and the evening eating a big fat 4th of July feast. At some point my aunts would sing ‘Grand Old Flag’ at the top of their lungs, sometimes marching, with flags and hats, mostly fueled by Chardonnay. It was a good place to be.

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So at the end of last summer when Linda and Eric finally sold their house on Grasshopper Lane, we were all a bit verclempt. As expected. This is the first summer in my life I haven’t had a direct blood relative with free beach parking access- so you can imagine it’s been a pretty tough adjustment for me. I’ve lived a charmed life in terms of access to beaches and that, my friends, is a difficult thing to bid adieu. So this year, as the 4th loomed and the nostalgia of perfect family holidays danced in the memories, I decided that we simply had to get together. Even if it was in a landlocked cul-de-sac closer to the city than any coastal breezes. I’d buy squirt guns and water balloons and the food would be just as good and the company same as always and it would be great. And you know what? It was.

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What you realize as you grow up and places you are very attached to get sold to new families, like the house you grew up in, your grandmother’s digs, or the family beach house is that as sad as it is to close those doors for the final time, no four walls can define a family’s joy. The happiness of being together, sharing food, laughter, good news and a little too much wine simply cannot be limited to any particular location. What we share is beyond limitation, geographic or otherwise. And it always helps that our food is the MOST bomb around. So this July we had Uncle Billy hitch his smoker to a trailer and drive it over to our side yard. And we had smoked almonds and hotdogs with three different sauces. And then a few perfectly smoked pork butts were pulled and sliced, piled on homemade brioche rolls and slathered with not one, but four different homemade barbeque sauces. We had baked beans and two types of slaw and lobster salad so fresh you could still taste the ocean water. But most of all we had each other and we all know that’s all that really matters.

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(adapted, just barely, from Pioneer Woman)

6 slices bacon, cut into 1” pieces
1 medium onion, cut into small dice
1/2 medium green pepper, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
Worcestershire sauce (optional)
Bourbon (optional)
3 large cans (28 oz.) pork and beans
3/4 cup barbecue sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

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Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large Dutch oven or deep skillet, fry bacon over medium-high heat until partially cooked and about ¼ cup drippings have released. Scoop out bacon and set on paper towels to drain. Reduce heat to medium, add onion, green pepper and jalapeno to the pan and sauté until tender and fragrant; about 5 minutes. If using Worcestershire and bourbon (I use Makers), raise the heat to medium-high/ high and sprinkle in a few generous drizzles of Worcestershire to deglaze the pan with it. Then, repeat with bourbon. Pour in a scant ¼ cup, crank heat to high and use a wooden spoon to scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan.

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Reduce heat to medium and add all three cans of beans and remaining ingredients, stirring to thoroughly combine. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Since I was a bit generous with the vinegar and Worcestershire, my beans were a bit tangy at this stage. Which I wanted because I knew the whole mixture would sweeten substantially as it baked- keep this in mind. Let beans simmer a few minutes and then transfer the whole pot to the oven. If your skillet is too big to fit you can pour the beans into a 13x9 inch baking dish. Top the beans with the reserved bacon and bake until bubbly and bacon is crisped, about 2 hours.

To make ahead: I made my beans two days prior to my BBQ. I baked them for one hour then let the whole pan cool. Store in the fridge until ready to serve and either bring up to heat in a 325 degree oven for an additional hour; or, on the stove top, covered, over low heat for one hour.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.