Every summer my family rents a house on one of two lakes, each a good day's drive from Portland and Seattle, where all branches of our immediate family are located. We convene with coolers full of your finest Costco meat, flats of soda, milk crates full of IPA and Corona, and liquor.
The first two times we did this, as we are a late-blooming group when it comes to vacation, there is no adjective worthy of describing the passive-aggressive moments that filled the first two days. One day I walked in and saw someone pissing on the canned baked beans and marinating tri-tip roasts, declaring their domain.
Thankfully, we got better.
Now we just eat and swim, sun and sleep. We share rooms, deal with one bathroom and spotty cable. The first house we ever rented was crazy -- it had a big-screen TV in the basement and digital cable, which meant that we didn't see my cousin, youngest sister and her Best Friend for seven days, except for when they showed up to demand more queso, which no one in our family eats outside of those seven days. We're on someone else's property. Much like blood oaths, everyone forgets about partially-hydrogenated cheese dip once you're back in your own zip code.
The house we rented last year, the one pictured, was smaller, crowded, people had to drink in order to deal with the room assignments, but after the first five hours, it turned into the best vacation yet. The water was so fluid you thought you were swimming in the plasma of Dakota Fanning. The weather was perfect, and there was no fighting or strained exchanges.
We eat well on those vacations. One of my aunts, who is young enough that I feel weird calling her an aunt and go for the just as strained "My Uncle's Wife", is insane in the kitchen. She cooks like she has her own PBS show, and is so knowledgeable about techniques and blasé about slight mishaps that nothing ever tastes bad. I contribute little in the way of culinary adventures, usually because I'm suddenly ten years old on these trips, in my swimsuit all day, in and out of the lake, tangles in my hair, barefoot with scratched toenail polish, drinking can of soda after can of soda despite the iced beers and relishing the feeling of dry clothing on damp, cool skin. I like to bake beforehand, and shove a pan of brownies and stacks of cookies in beside our beach towels, stacks of magazines and coolers full of food we swore we wouldn't bring this year, and I like to throw together salads and man the rental-supplied blender, one hand braced against the unsure plastic lid, the other shaking the base slightly, saturated hair flinging with the vibration, droplets of water hitting my ears and lips. Last year I made Lava Flows, complete with pineapple and paper umbrellas. Next year, lakeside Brass Monkeys.
It isn't fun, cooking in a strange kitchen, stocked with dollar-store utensils and appliances that make no sense. After the first year, we've been sure to bring a can opener because I guess everyone else opens cans with their children's incisors. But it is exhilarating, to try and pull together a meal for a crowd mostly seen only on holidays, with the knowledge that tonight's dinner is also tomorrow's lunch. Most of the kitchens aren't big enough for more than two people to comfortably occupy space, and who wants to be in a hot kitchen, slipping on linoleum, when you could be outside, in that lake.
But last year, I also made a loaf of stuffed artichoke bread, which is something someone should eat once a year, if that. So yesterday, I made it. We're not going to the lake this year, because everyone has something going on (I don't, but goddamn, I like it when my family assumes that I am living a productive life), so why not make it for dinner, for people who were coming over to watch Big Love.
I guess it spurred something in everyone, because suddenly we're all about next year's trip, planning and deciding, weighing one house against the other, old vs. new. I am pulling for the one we rented last year, the tiny white house on the big green lawn up the hill from all of that blue. This bread tastes like summer, and death. I'm sure you've seen a variation of it somewhere -- I followed a recipe exactly last summer, and it wasn't that fun, no one really wanted a second piece. This year, I threw it together using what I wanted and it was gone in seconds. I suggest you make it.
Stuffed Artichoke Bread
Adapted from Midwestern Kitchens, everywhere
1 large loaf of sourdough or French bread (no baguettes)
1 12 oz can of artichoke hearts, packed in water
1 cup sour cream
¾ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3-4 dashes Tabasco or Franks Red Hot
4 slices of Thick-Cut Bacon
2 Tablespoons of Fresh Chives, minced (or 1 Tbs dried)
1 small shallot, diced
1 ½ cups grated Sharp Cheddar
¼ cup ground Parmesan
4 slices Aged Swiss Cheese
1 ripe tomato, sliced
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line a sheet pan or cookie sheet with tin foil, and set aside.
Slice the bread in half, evenly. Using the tip of your knife, trace the interior of each half, leaving a ¼ to ½ inch border of bread. Now tear out the innards, and rip into bite-size pieces, no bigger than an inch in width or height. Reserve a heaping cup and a half of these, and dispose of the rest however you wish.
Drain the artichokes completely, and chop roughly. Slide into a large bowl, and add the mayonnaise, sour cream, salt, pepper, garlic powder, Tabasco or other hot sauce, and chives. Stir to combine, cover with saran wrap and chill.
Meanwhile, fry the bacon until crisp or done to your liking. Drain completely on a paper towel or napkins, and pour off almost all of the grease. Add the shallot, and sauté until soft, tender and golden. Cool slightly.
Crumble the cooked bacon and add the shallots into the sour cream mixture. Stir well, then add 1 cup of the grated Cheddar and the Parmesan. Stir to combine one last time, check for seasonings, adjust to taste, and fold in the reserved cup and a half of bread cubes. Divide the mixture between each loaf half (if your loaf is exceptionally long or wide, and I’ve heard it is, you might end up with only one full half – it’s better to have an overfilled half than a skimpy whole). Tear each slice of Swiss cheese in half, and layer diagonally (4 half-slices per slice) over each half. Or, use a tomato instead.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown, bubbly and smelling ridiculous. Remove from oven, cool for ten minutes, and devour. And don't go swimming for at least forty-five minutes.