Here, Taste This : Late Summer Vegetable Soup

I have been horrible about getting to the farmer's market this summer.

And I am the less for it.

Spending an hour or two shopping fresh produce, admiring the plump tomatoes, the pyramids of glossy zucchini and squash, the rainbow chard laid seductively at child's level - it's one of my favorite ways to spend a Friday morning. I walk the street and mingle with fellow moms, pushing babies in strollers, and grandparents strolling hand in hand, and the hurried business person grabbing a bag of veggies on a break. I chat with my favorite farmers and trade recipes for that week's special and I feel rich in community.

And my home is never without fresh flowers.

The fact that I haven't been at all since school started earlier this month is perhaps the most devastating, because it means I don't have enough late-summer produce on hand to make my favorite vegetable soup. This soup is summer in a bowl, full of the season's bounty, and it's freezable, which means you can make a big batch today, have a bowl for lunch, then freeze the rest for an evening in January when you will have forgotten that the world can be warm and green and filled with the goodness summer offers.

photo credit : Everyday Food

Late Summer Vegetable Soup
(adapted from Everyday Food)

4 ears corn, husked
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
30 ounces vegetable or chicken broth
2 large zucchini, halved lengthwise sliced into semi-circles
2 cups green beans, ends removed, cut into bite sized pieces
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, in juice
1/2 cup orzo pasta
salt, pepper


1. Cut the corn off the cob. If you haven't done this before, it's fairly simple. Just stand the corn upright in a large bowl or plate. With a sharp knife, slice down; the kernels will fall off in thick slabs. (This is messy!) Try to resist eating the corn that very minute. It's tasty.

2. In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the chopped onion. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 3-5 minutes. (I sometimes shave to turn my burner to medium-low to prevent the onion from browning before it gets soft. Do what you have to do.)

3. Add your broth AND 2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Add the zucchini, green beans, corn, tomatoes with juice and and orzo. Cook, uncovered, until orzo is tender, 8 to 11 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Be sure to taste this before you serve it. This salt needs seasoning.)


1. To freeze, let the soup cool and ladle into freezer bags and place on a flat surface in your freezer. (That ensures the bags will freeze flat, which makes them easier to store.) I like to freeze the soup in 2-cup portions, which is just enough soup for lunch. But again, do what you need to do.

2. This soup is so adaptable,so for those of you who like to tinker, tinker away. Substitute veggies, use frozen corn instead of fresh, add herbs, experiment with toppings. Have fun.

3. This soup is perfect accompanied by a thick, gooey grilled cheese.


Outside my window, autumn glows.

Golden sunshine hangs in the air, shadows lay long on the ground. Leaves throw off everyday green and display proud their true beauty. The breeze is crisp, the sky crystal and the apple orchard down the street is turned into amusement park, laden with the bounty of MacIntosh, SweeTango, Honey Crisp and the laughter of children decorated with caramel and grass.

But inside my home? It's summer.

Our family is at a stage of life where everything just flows. My oldest is not yet a teenager, my youngest is no longer a baby. We sleep though the night (mostly). We head to the playground without any extra equipment (save the spare diaper stashed in my purse). We play the same games together, laugh at the same jokes, enjoy each other's company. No one is too old or too young, nothing else intrudes, the innocence covers us all like a blanket.

Fall is a season to harvest, winter a season to endure. In spring, there is more work to be done than hours to do it.

But in summer? Gershwin said it right: In summertime, the livin' is easy.

Summer is a time for enjoying God and others, without reserve and without apology. It's a time for rediscovering the sheer pleasure of simply being alive: waking early or sleeping late, wading lake shores or tenting in rain forests, talking late under starlight or staring silently, for hours, at clouds.

Likewise, the summer of the heart is marked by leisure and pleasure, a kind of holy hedonism. We strive for nothing and yet have everything. We relish abundance without needing to hoard it or feel guilty about it. We heed the counsel that Scripture gives to rich people: don't trust in your wealth, which is so uncertain, but trust in God "who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment."

In the summer of the heart, we get that: abundance isn't for trusting in. It's for enjoying.
- Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul, Mark Buchanan
Corey and I, we've endured much. We've known years of famine, when the ground hardened into stone. We've known a firestorm so devastating, the entire landscape lay charred and smoking. And praise Jesus, we've known the rebirth of spring, when the barren bears new life and everything must be done right now, the plowing, the sowing, the watering, the weeding.

But now? It is summer. I make no apologies for drinking every drop.

Welcome to The Parent 'Hood, a weekly blog round-up of all things parenting. I host this carnival every Monday, along with some of my favorite blogging buddies (FriedOkra, Vita Familiae, To Think is To Create, Joy in this Journey, Lovefeast Table and O My Family). Post your link using the tool below, and your post will show up instantly on all the host blogs. (How cool is that?)

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Here, Taste This : Oatmeal Cinnamon Waffles with Yogurt

I am an unabashed breakfast lover.

I love rich, dark coffee swirling with cream in my mug. I love eggs with cracks of black pepper and crystals of kosher salt, scrambled, fried or "peeled," in Teyla's words. I love bacon sizzling in my oven (you do cook your bacon in your oven, right, so there's no greasy mess to clean up?) and I've been known to burn my fingers on crisp rounds of salty ham right out of the pan. I love spinach in my eggs and avocado on my toast and I will eat homemade donuts until I am sick.

So maybe it's no surprise that brinner (breakfast + dinner, but you know that, right?) is one of my favorite, simple, go-to meals.

Oatmeal Cinnamon Waffles with Yogurt, the recipe I'm sharing with you today, stands out in particular, because it's about as balanced a meal as brinner can be. It has whole grains in the waffles, and instead of being covered with sugary syrup, toppings include yogurt and sliced fruit. Serve it with Canadian bacon and, if you're worried about the lack of veggies, add on some sugar snap peas, and you've got yourself a brinner that's easy, delicious, healthy - and very kid-friendly.

Oatmeal Cinnamon Waffles

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
6 tbsp butter, melted


1. Combine dry ingredients (flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt) in a medium mixing bowl.
2. Whisk together wet ingredients (eggs, milk and melted butter) in a second mixing bowl.
3. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir just until combined. The batter might be a little lumpy. That's OK.
4. Pour batter onto a heated waffle iron. My waffle iron takes about 1/2 cup of batter to make a perfect waffle.
5. Serve with yogurt and sliced fruit.

1. If you don't have quick-cooking oatmeal, you can use whole oats. But the waffles will be a bit chewier. (Do NOT substitute instant oatmeal. It usually has added sugar and flavorings that will throw the recipe off.)
2. I haven't tried swapping the flour for whole-wheat flour, but I bet you could. Who wants to try it for me?
3. Plug your waffle iron in to preheat before you start making the waffle batter. That way, everything will be ready at the same time and your kids won't be climbing over the counter, asking if the waffles are ready yet because they are staaarrrvvvvingggg! Hypothetically, of course.
4. Have fun with the yogurt and fruit variations! When I was a kid, my Mom served this with strawberry yogurt and sliced bananas and strawberries. My kids prefer banana yogurt with blueberries and raspberries; it works better for making those all-important waffle faces. But what about mango yogurt with sliced mangos and coconut? Or vanilla yogurt with blackberries and granola? The possibilities, they overwhelm.

The Joke

I think every two-year-old believes it. Diaper changes, no matter now necessary, are the equivalency of water-boarding for toddlers.

"Foul!" they cry, writhing on the changing table. "Foul! This is only happening because you are bigger than me!"

To which I respond, "Foul doesn't even begin to describe this, kid."

Last week, Kieran and I were wrestling through one such diaper change. He was fussing and twisting on the changing table and, maybe most astounding of all, trying to deny reality.

"I not stinky! I not stinky!" he shouted, scowling at me.

I looked at him wryly. 

"Buddy, you are stinky! Look!" 

I held up the nasty diaper to make my case.

All of a sudden, his entire face burst into a smile.

"I just joking on you, Mama." he said with a grin.


There was a time in my life when I didn't want to be a mom. I saw children as an inconvenience and a disruption. I wanted a life of adventure, a life of meaning. I didn't want to spend my days cleaning up after little people, wiping counters and wiping noses. What a small life, I thought to myself.

What I didn't know then is that children add wonder and joy, and there is no bigger adventure than loving my kids and watching in awe as they become their own people.

Trust me, Kieran. The joke's on me.

I can't believe I almost missed this.

Welcome to The Parent 'Hood, a weekly synchroblog about all things parenting.

Please read these guidelines before linking your post:
1. Today’s link-up will run from this morning through next Sunday night. A new link-up will start next Monday morning.
2. Link the
unique URL of your parenting post, not the homepage of your blog. Otherwise, your parenting post will get buried under new content on your homepage and be hard to find when readers click through later in the week.
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Here, Taste This : Homemade Ranch Dressing

This weekend, I'm doing something I haven't done in probably 15 years: I'm going away with some girlfriends for the weekend.

Frequent moves, Corey's intense travel schedule, 4 babies and a general sense that the timing wasn't right have led me to pass on retreats, conferences, trips and celebrations since the turn of the century. In fact, I think I've only left my family twice since Natalie was born: once to attend a Beth Moore conferece and once to attend my grandmother's funeral. Needless to say, I'm a jumble of nerves right now. Sad to leave my children (especially Kieran, who spontaneously burst into sobs when I walked away at the airport), lonesome for Corey, who got home from his last trip just 12 hours before I left for mine. But I am also beyond-the-pale, pinch-me excited, because this weekend, I get to meet face-to-face blogging friends I've known online for years.

I'm going to stop for just a second and let that wonder sink in again.

We are flying in from all corners of the country (and beyond, eh) for a self-styled writing retreat. And since we'll be in somone's home, and many bloggers in the group are fantastic cooks, we are splitting the meal duties.

Which brings me (finally!) (sorry!) to my Here, Taste This recipe for the week: Homemade Ranch Dressing. I'm making a big batch of it this weekend, which thrills me, because it's hands-down the best salad topping I've ever tasted. (Barring the cherry vinegarette I got from the in-store salad bar at Central Market in Poulsbo, Washington. But that stuff is so good, it's clearly made by magic. So not in the same category.) And I like sharing good food with my friends.

Homemade Ranch Dressing
(adapted from an old edition of Everyday Food, my favoritest cooking magazine ever)

1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup mayonannaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp white-wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dried dill
a big handful of chopped chives
coarse salt and ground pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk ingredients together. Serve. Store covered in the fridge.

1. The original recipe said this dressing lasts "up to 3 days" refrigerated. I've kept it up to a month, with the only degradation being a little separation. Of course, you could make less and then use it all at one sitting. I'm too lazy for that.
2. This doesn't taste like the standard ranch dressing you get in the grocery store. It's tangier and brighter. It took my kids a couple of tries to get used to it, but now they eat it up. (And I love that I can name all the ingredients.)
3. Obviously, this recipe is highly customizable. Use as many chives as you want, adjust the salt and pepper, substitute a different herb for the dill. I want to try making a cracked pepper edition. Have fun!

Gift Guide: Inside the Heart of a Tween Girl

Natalie is not in a hurry to grow up.

It's one of my favorite things about my fresh 11-year-old, she of the sweet spirit and quick smile. She isn't lured by the pop and sparkle of modern tween culture. She doesn't care much about clothes or make-up, and she scoffs at the hysteria over Justin Bieber. She rolls her eyes at self-conscious teenagers "trying to look cool." She isn't a young girl anymore, but she's not a full-fledged young woman either, and she's OK with that. She's as confident and comfortable in her own skin as an 11-year-old can be.

I share all that so you know my motivation for sharing this list. After her birthday party a few weeks back, Natalie and I chatted a while about what kind of gifts a tween girl like her might like. Many gift guides online these days focus more on the 11-year-old who is ready for a cell phone, Taylor Swift concert tickets and a bag of spa products. That is not Natalie, and I know there are many girls out there who share her preferences.

Hence, this gift guide for tween girls - also known as, gifts my 11-year-old loved getting.

1. Digital Camera
This is what we got Natalie for her birthday this year: a purple (color is important when you are 11) Kodak EasyShare Mini Digital Camera.

Previously, she had a VTech Digital Camera, which worked well for a few years, but lately, it's been erasing her photo stash whenever it feels like it. Frustrating! Plus, she was ready for a camera with more horsepower - something that can zoom and take higher resolution photos and videos. The Kodak EasyShare is user-friendly, small, lightweight and about $65 - but really, any camera similar to it would work. Girls who are 11 are just starting to form their own world. Having a camera to chronicle it makes perfect sense.

2. Scrapbook Kit or Digital Scrapbook Gift Card
If your girl already has a camera, the logical next step is to record those memories. Natalie loves crafts, and a physical scrapbook would be the easiest entry point.

Try something like the American Girl Crafts Super Scrapbook Kit (picture above) or the Alex Toys My Sweet Scrapbook. If the girl you're buying for isn't into stickers and glue, you could always move directly to digital scrapbooking. Shutterfly is an easy to use, online site that even an 11-year-old could use to make fun, fabulous photo books of her adventures. (I might get a Shutterfly gift card for Natalie for Christmas.)

3. Craft Kits
Almost all 11-year-old girls are brimming with creativity of some sort. The trick is knowing their passion of the moment. Last year, we gave Natalie a horse stamp set for Christmas, because she was super into horses. We also got her a couple of American Girl craft kids and they were huge hits. My favorite: This fabric bag. Not only is it sturdy and useful, but the girls can personalize it. Adorable.

(Side note: I was incredibly impressed with the quality of the American Girl crafts. Fabrics were soft, instructions easy to follow. The finished product was built to last years, not days. Highly recommend.) One hint for buying craft kits for tween girls: Find a kit that teaches them something. Girls this age want desperately to be valued and productive. A craft that teaches them to sew or draw or make jewelry with beads is much better than a sticker set. (Said the lady who bought her daughter horse stamps. Do as I say, not as I do.)

4. iPod Shuffle
This was Natalie's birthday present last year, and she's still madly in love with it. It was a relatively cheap gift - around $50 - and I bet you could find it for even less on sale. I manage her music using my iTunes account, which works for both of us. I also like that a Shuffle is simple to use, hip and yet it can't text or access the Internet. Win-win.

5. Ice skates / roller blades
Natalie has a set of both, and she is equally enamored. I love that these gifts get her active and encourage her to learn a new skill. Maybe your girl doesn't have access to ice or sidewalks. No matter. The point is to find something that is fun and new and maybe a bit challenging. If you can find a place where she can take a few lessons with her new equipment, that's a bonus. And be sure it's not a team sport, which can be so intimidating to girls this age. This should be an opportunity for them to compete against themselves, a confidence booster.

6. Cool furniture
A few years ago, Natalie was given a (purple) chair for her birthday. It's similar to this hang-a-round chair at Pottery Barn Teens.

It's round and cozy and foldable, so it's easy to move or store. It's the perfect place to curl up on a rainy Saturday and read a book or three. (Or a great place to keep your Shriveled Balloon Collection, which is what Natalie's chair is doing right now. Keeping it real, folks.) Pottery Barn's chair is obviously a tad high on the price spectrum, but you can find all sorts of fun chairs or beanbags at Target, Wal-Mart or Ikea. I would never have thought of giving furniture as a gift, but done right, it can be practical and cool.

7. Umbrella
This is another practical-but-fun gift. I mean, how cute is this?

Look for something bright and quirky that reflects your girl's style. I also recommend you get one that collapses so it will fit into a backpack. Natalie takes her umbrella to school when it looks gloomy, and she loves that she can stash it in her bag.

8. Snow cone maker
This goes back to my theory that tween girls want to be productive! Natalie has a snow-cone machine, and nothing makes her happier than when one of her siblings asks her to make a snow cone. She positively glows! We got a version of this one, which I highly recommend.

It's not just a cute snow cone machine designed for preschoolers. It's a real ice shaver that can be used to make everything from snow cones to slushies. It's also held up extremely well. Natalie even took it to school for a class party last spring. Huge hit.

9. Games
Natalie's favorite games right now enable her to be social (she's 11; duh) and competitive but not to the point of extremity. Playing games for her is a chance to deepen relationships, not show off how fast she can hit a buzzer or  move her game piece around the board. Games that are easy to explain and not heavy on the rules are a plus. Her top picks are an ever evolving thing, but I would recommend these without hesitation: UNO Flash, Qwirkle, Connect 4x4 and Clue. (She might be getting Clue for Christmas, so I'm going out on a limb with that one. But I loved it when I was a tween. That has to count for something, right?)

10. Books
Almost every tween girl I know is a bookworm. Natalie is no exception. Of course, books can be terribly personal. But these are a few series Natalie has loved. Note: There are no Sweet Valley High or Hunger Games or Twilight-type books on this list, in keeping with the theme of not pushing them to grow up.
The Littles
A to Z Mysteries
The Complete Little House Nine-Book Set
the Puppy Place books

11. Activity for 2
You know what tween girls need more than stuff? They need you. They need loving adults in their lives to listen and talk and just be with them. Hence, my final suggestion. Find an activity your girl loves - or something that will challenge her to learn something new. Social media sites like Groupon and Living Social can be fun for this; they offer great deals on services or experiences you might not have considered. What about an afternoon of paddle boarding? Or rock climbing lessons? Tickets to a Circque de Soleil show? Take her to tea. Go get a pedicure.

The time you spend together will be the real gift - for both of you.

Denial and the First Day of School

Wednesday of last week, the second day of school, I awoke to a quiet house. I showered, got dressed and set out to wake up the big kids from their summer-induced slumber.

I walked into the kitchen to find Connor, my almost 9-year-old, sitting at the kitchen counter in his slightly-too-small-for-him pajamas and his treasured orange baseball cap. He was swinging his feet from his perch on the stool. His back was to me, but I could see he was playing Poptropica on the laptop, his morning ritual. His summer morning ritual.

Sweetly oblivious to reality. A little stuck in the pleasant past.

With light incredulity I said, "Hey buddy! You need to go get dressed. You have school today, remember?"

He didn't greet the news with joy.


The first day of school each year is something I've come to tacitly dread. Not only does it herald an end to my beloved summer and its carefree ways, but it brings me face to face with something I'd rather ignore: My kids are growing up.

It hits me broadside, because unlike birthdays, that first week in September, all my children grow a year instantly. My goofy little boy, who used to follow me around talking incessantly, is suddenly a 3rd grader, ready to tackle multiplication tables and cursive. And my firstborn, my Natalie, is abruptly moved into a whole new hallway, a 6th grader, with her own locker, that she opens casually and stands next to, talking to her friends, clutching her pile of notebooks and fresh dreams.

Fate is gentle with me; I still have two little ones who leave the school building with me after drop-off. It lessens the sharp sting of time's swiftness. But their presence is bittersweet, because now I'm keenly aware. Teyla starts preschool this year. Next fall, it's kindergarten. And Kieran is only two years behind her. My day are numbered.

When did this happen? How did this happen?

I have been sweetly oblivious to reality. A little stuck in the pleasant past.

I don't greet the news with joy.


Still, me being a relentless optimist and all, and someone who believes with certainty that these good gifts are but a whisper of the goodness of the Giver, I can't hate the first day of school. It is but a reminder to appreciate the sunrise, to savor every minute.

Besides, denial isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes it just means I'm too busy soaking in the every day to dread what comes next. I'm loving well and living right here, right now, with my kids.

Then again, sometimes, denial really is a river in Egypt.


Parenting is not for the faith of heart, friends. Which is why I want to welcome you to the 'hood - the Parent 'Hood, to be exact, a new weekly synchroblog that focuses on all things parenting.

I will be hosting this every Monday along with some of my favorite bloggers, including FriedOkra, Vita Familiae, To Think is To Create, Joy in this Journey, Lovefeast Table and O My Family. How does a synchroblog work, you ask? Just write a post about parenting and link it up here or at one of the other host blogs using the linky below, and viola - the link to your post will appear on every site.

Our hope is that, just like in a real neighborhood, this synchroblog will spark some online community. Because we all know, in the 'hood, that smell isn't just the roses. You can read more about our dreams, and get the low down on some details, at Megan's place.

Here, Taste This : Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Before I share my recipe of chocolate zucchini cake for this Friday's installment of "Here, Taste This," I have to tell you a story.

Last week, I accidentally made this cake with tofu. And it was awesome.

It was all because I grated half a giant zucchini a friend gave me ('tis the season where grown-ups ding dong ditch with overgrown produce) before realizing I was out of eggs. I cannot abide a trip to the grocery store to buy just one item, so I turned to Google.

Did you know tofu is an acceptable substitute for eggs in most baked goods?

I did not, probably because I rarely have tofu sitting around. But I bought a chunk (square? brick? hunk?) of tofu at Trader Joe's earlier this summer, intending to sneak it into some smoothies. And then I totally forgot to use it. So when I read that I could both bake my cake and get rid of use the tofu that was giving me the stink eye from the back of the garage fridge, I jumped at the chance.

The process was simple: 1/4 cup of pureed tofu equals 1 egg. I cut the tofu into chunks, threw them in the food processor, gave it a good whirl and added the resulting goo to my recipe at the appropriate time for eggs.

The cake didn't suffer for it. In fact, it might have been even more deliciously dense. Plus: extra protein. Between the tofu and the zucchini, this cake is practically health food. Eat it for breakfast and start your day off right.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup canola oil
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs (or 1/2 cup pureed tofu)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream (or Greek yogurt)
2 1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tbsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups grated zucchini

Cream butter, oil and sugar until mixture is light and fluffy.
Stir in eggs, vanilla and sour cream until well blended.
Combine all dry ingredients. Add slowly to batter and mix until blended.
Add grated zucchini.
Smooth into greased 9x13 cake pan.

Sprinkle with a topping of
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar

Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes. The cake will be dense and moist but will spring back slightly when touched in the middle.

1. You can substitute margarine for the butter. But why would you want to?
2. I have taken to using plain Greek yogurt in almost all my dishes that call for sour cream. I can't tell the difference.
3. I often add a tad more than 2 cups of zucchini to the cake, owing to the fact that I'm trying to use up all the monster zucchini I've been gifted. But don't overdo it, or your cake will never cook. Not that I've ever done that or anything, cough.
4. Feel free to use your discretion with the toppings. If you don't like nuts, leave them off. If you'd rather not have so much chocolate, then use fewer chocolate chips.
5. Be wary of using regular brown sugar as a topping. It has a tendency to melt into the cake during baking, making the resulting dish almost too sweet. The brown sugar I've been using lately (Trader Joe's organic) has large sugar crystals, which keeps this from happening.

6. Store this cake in the fridge, lest it get bubbly. 

Memories on a Stick

Growing up, I rarely missed the Minnesota State Fair.

It was an annual rite, the consummation of summer, one last fling of deep-fried joy before school began and common sense and schedules returned to rule.

When I was young, I went with my family and stared silently at the inappropriate t-shirts and tattoos. It was all so foreign and loud. Exotic, but not in a good way. As I got older, I went with my friends and gorged on mini-donuts and freedom. I shrieked from the steel confines of rickety rides and linked arms to do The Monkees walk down the middle of a crowded street, tickled at our own hilarity as only 15-year-olds can be. As I got even older, I started shilling at the fair. I drove to the application office with my best friend, singing Paula Abdul and Wilson Phillips at the top of our lungs, and we were assigned positions in a nut roll booth in Heritage Square. We wore bonnets over our pony tails and gingham aprons over our shorts and we smelled like caramel for weeks.

Eventually, I networked my way to a waitressing position at Andy's Diner, a '50s inspired, stool-surrounded counter, that served breakfast, lunch and dinner in-between dance routines set to music from "Grease." (If you ever want to see me dance, just queue up "Greased Lightning.") It was a jostling, playful, greasy place, and because we opened a full week before the fair did, we even had regulars. The police officer who came by just before gates opened to take a egg sandwich to go, the 4H kids who came by in late morning for a shake, the carnies (ohmyword the carnies) who left black grease marks on our white counters and asked for ashtrays with Southern drawls and who winked at me with dull eyes set in crinkled skin. "Honey, get me some coffee, and lay on some cream and sugar. I like it blonde and sweet, just like I like my women. Heh. Heh. Heh."

I think for many Minnesotans, the State Fair is a tradition of coming home. Few of us farm anymore, but that doesn't matter. We still take pride in the blue-ribbon vegetables, we marvel at the seed art, we take our children to the dairy barn so they can see where their milk comes from. We smile at the Dairy Princesses - or at least their likeness, carved in giant blocks of butter. We buy the a bucket of warm, gooey cookies from Sweet Martha and eat as many as we can before hitting up the All You Can Drink Milk booth, where we remark with a smile that we remember when a glass only cost 25-cents. We ride the giant slide with our children and remember our own trips down the green and yellow curves. It seemed so much bigger back then.

Maybe for all those reasons, it's hard for me to miss a state fair now, even if I've already attended the county fair, even if I know it will be crowded with people who will challenge my concept of personal space and how many tattoos belong on one body. It's the Great Minnesota Get Together, and summer isn't complete without adding another layer of grease, sweat, laughter and ice cream drips.

Memories on a stick. That's what the state fair really sells. And I'm buying.

I'll also have two more ears of grilled sweet corn, please. Summer isn't over yet.