Ah, summer vacation -- blissful! And this year was no exception. We had the perfect beach vacation away and spent time with lots of family and friends. As with any family vacation, it had its moments, but this year most of them were good ones -- or at least amusing. The car rental upgrade to accommodate the two teenagers; the accidental OnStar emergency call (don’t push buttons just to see "What does this do?"); and six ferry rides in five days, including some very short ones that elicited "What was the point of that?!?" from the peanut gallery in the back seat. Then there was the gorgeous weather, waves to ride, eerily empty beautiful beaches, a life guard "assist" from some steady undertow, a sustainable sandcastle (it had its own "garden") and snoozing in the sun. The big house stood quietly in the sun waiting for us to return at the end of the day offering cool rooms, wide porches and the perfect place to connect with one another in the evening. Swallows swooping in the sky, bunnies snacking on grass in the backyard, cousins running amok and lots of fireflies. We all thoroughly enjoyed swimming, playing, napping, reading and, of course, eating.

As per usual, food and drink played a large part in our vacation. Some of these delectable delights were old favorites while some were new. Regardless, they will now be indelibly inscribed in my mind as being associated with this year’s summer relaxation.


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Heady Topper: It all began the Friday before we left with a picture sent to me via text from my brother -- three four-packs of Heady Topper that he had tracked down in the Jericho region of Vermont. A legend in its own right, made in small batches and difficult to get a hold of, Heady Topper by the Alchemist brewery in Waterbury is an award-winning double IPA and my husband and brother were very pleased with the score. The can was even recognized on the beach on Long Island and got a comment from a "local," which is saying something in those parts!

Fried Fish-on-a-Stick: The East Lyme Day festival held in Niantic, Conn., was in full swing when we arrived at my husband’s aunt and uncle’s house the night before our ferry out to Long Island. Of course, we had to go down and check it out. Closing Main Street, this festival showcases almost all of the local restaurants as well as vendors of all types. I stopped by a stand run by the Flanders Fish Market and picked up a fish stick for dinner but it was hard choosing -- they also had clam fritters and steamed mussels among other great fresh seafood options. And to walk just a short distance to the Hole-in-the-Wall beach to eat it made the experience sublime.

New York Strip Steak: I don’t know if it was simply being on vacation, but the steaks that we bought at the local King Kullen grocery store and grilled at the house were wonderful. I guess I’ll give credit to both the butcher there as well as my brother who was the grill master.

Muse, Sag Harbor, N.Y.: Delicious outdoor dining that featured fabulous seafood in a great atmosphere. My husband is still raving about his tuna and my scallops were great as were the sea bass special, salmon and grilled shrimp over pesto pasta. A night to remember!

Prosecco: This is my favorite summer drink. My husband, Jon, went to Windham Wines to choose a special bottle and returned with Glera vino frizzante recommended by Frank Larkin as delicious. It was. While there, Jon also discovered that Frank spent many summers two houses up from the family house that we stay in on Long Island; his grandmother spent her summers there as well and Frank remembered playing with Jon’s Aunt Nanny. What a small world.

Mom’s Potato Salad: Simply simple -- and hard to stop eating.

Pancakes: The house that we stay at is equipped with a large commercial-style oven, complete with six gas burners, two ovens and a large griddle. I couldn’t wait to make pancakes on that griddle and yes, it was as fun as I had hoped -- I felt like I worked at a diner! Next year, though, we will bring our own Vermont maple syrup. 

South American meat grill: We arrived back in New London on Thursday afternoon and were lucky enough to get to spend a last night with Unk and Aunt Ellen at their home in Niantic. My husband’s cousin Steve was cooking dinner that night -- a feast of grilled meats South American style. Besides the grilled cod, local sausages and pineapple marinated chicken, Steve had asked the butcher to slice rib eye steaks about a one-quarter-of-an-inch thick and had allowed them to marinate all day in a special concoction all his own. They cooked quickly and were absolutely delicious -- a technique that I will have to try soon.

Raspberries: We arrived home happily travel-weary to find our raspberry bushes full of ripe berries. After unloading the car and getting a bit re-acclimated we headed out and ate them straight off the canes -- pure, sweet, berry goodness. A great welcome home!

I’m still enjoying savoring our wonderful vacation and like knowing that there is a last bottle of the delicious prosecco in the fridge, ready to be opened when the memories of the beach have faded a bit and need to be refreshed. Relaxation sometimes comes hard and can feel so fleeting, so finding ways to make it last is important. I am making an effort to preserve as much as I can, by revisiting reminders of vacation as well as being mindful of some lifestyle changes. With that in mind, I will be scaling back my column writing to every other week, to also keep the quality of writing as my life gets busier with work, kids and relaxing. Of course, I can’t help but think that I’ll use the extra time to write a book, put together a website or at least write a blog. Regardless, I promise to continue cooking, eating and telling the stories as long as you keep reading, just a little less frequently.

Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at jpottercooks@gmail.com.