I just returned mid-week from my annual family vacation to “Sandy Pond” and wanted to share my trip with all of you.  It was full of family and nature – two of my favorite things to include in any vacation.

“Sandy Pond” is the name of a large pond connected to Lake Ontario, about an hour outside of Syracuse (where my Dad grew up).  Nearly 50 years ago, my Dad, Uncle, and Grandpa built a cabin on a spit of land between the pond and the lake.  My family has spent a good part of every summer there ever since.  My Aunt Sally (who has 8 children and 22 grand children) has a larger cabin about a mile away, and every 4th of July an un-official family reunion takes place at her camp.

In addition to the usual fun & family, I was especially excited about this year’s trip to the lake because my sister and her husband would be there with my 18-mos old niece, Charlotte, who I simply can’t get enough of!

One of my favorite things about Sandy Pond is the many types of beautiful scenery for hiking, boating, and kayaking.

There are woods…

The beauty of the lake…

and a serene Pond…

This year, Mike and I spent several hours exploring the pond by kayak.  We kayaked over to a little nature preserve where we were able to get out and walk around a bit.  Later that day, we went under a low bridge to paddle down a narrow channel surrounded by cattails and the sounds of happy frogs and birds.

But perhaps my favorite thing about being at Sandy Pond is the food!  My parents totally spoiled us with hot breakfasts every day, ranging from my dad’s famous oatmeal to my mom’s lemon ricotta pancakes.

As my Dad is 100% Polish, my mom also made her famous “golumpki’s”, which are cabbage rolls filled with meat and rice and cooked in tomato sauce.  She made a special batch just for me, using crumbled up veggie burgers (she used Amy’s All American Burgers) for the filling.

A couple days later, after eating WAY too much at our Fourth of July BBQ, we all decided we wanted something lighter for dinner, so my Mom made her Pumpkin Bean Soup by request!  Not only is this a healthy meal, it’s also full of protein and fiber to keep us fueled up for hiking and kayaking.  And even better, my Mom had all of the ingredients she needed right in the pantry.

This soup is so easy it can be made in any kitchens with limited equipment – and would probably even cook well over a camp fire.  It’s also a great recipe to go to for weeknight meals, since it can be thrown together quickly with ingredients you can keep on hand.  All of the ingredients are boxed, bottled, or canned, with the exception of the onion and garlic!

And you only need one pot!  The recipe starts by sautéing the onion and garlic, then adding the cinnamon, cumin, and allspice to toast the spices.

Next, you add two cans of black beans (rinsed and drained), a can of diced tomatoes, a can of pumpkin, and 4 cups of veggie broth.

Simmer the soup until it’s thick, about 45 minutes.  Then stir in 3 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar just before serving!

It makes a perfect meal with a green salad and some whole-grain bread.  It could also be served with some brown rice to stir in for a heartier bowl.  I like to have the Balsamic Vinegar on the table so I can also add more to taste – an extra splash really brightens the taste! Or, for a slightly smokier flavor, instead try it with a few splashes of Tabasco’s Chipotle Pepper Sauce.

Nothing beats a hearty, healthy dinner enjoyed with family!

Where do you like to go to immerse yourself in Nature?

What are some of your favorite family meals?

Stay tuned for more adventures in Upstate NY, including the famous Moosewood Cafe and a Farm Sanctuary!



Serves 5


4 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup chopped red onion

2 minced garlic cloves

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon allspice (can be substituted with equal parts cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg)

dash of salt and pepper


4 cups vegetable broth

2 cans black beans, drained & rinsed

1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes

1 can (16 oz) pumpkin puree


3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar


Cook onion, garlic and seasonings in the olive oil in a large pot on low heat until browned.  Add remaining ingredients* and simmer until thick, about 40-45 minutes.  Stir in balsamic vinegar before serving.

*If you prefer, all/some of the beans and tomatoes may be pureed with half of the broth before adding to the pot.  (We prefer the soup to be chunky!)

**Note: my Mom can’t recall the original source of this recipe, though she’s been making it for years and believes she made a few tweaks.  If you have seen this recipe before, please let me know so I can give appropriate credit – thanks!