Picnic in the Park

I’m not the most nature loving person out there. I men, yes, I love nature, and natural beauty, and the environment, and animals, but I’m not like, really good at camping. In fact, I’ve only camped twice in my life. And I despise/fear bugs. A beetle flew at my face the other day in the subway and I screamed like a three year old. A beetle was making weird fluttery noises trapped by the rear windshield in a taxi I took last month, and I made the driver pull over and kill it. A cockroach once flew out of the sink drain when I was doing dishes in Taipei, and my response was to fling a soapy frying pan at it and flee the room. I like running rater and tables and cushioned chairs and air conditioning.

Despite all this, I love picnics, both in theory and practice. They’re messy, you have to carry a lot of things, it’s just slightly uncomfortable unless you happen to have a folding chair or picnic bench, and there are a lot of bugs. Regardless, love them. Wish I went on more picnics. Holding out hope for that over the top romantical perfect picnic basket filled with baguette and cheese and wine and whatnot.

So, we’ve been fortunate to have some remarkably nice days this week. Mid 90s, sunny, blue skies, low AQI. On Tuesday we threw together a last minute barbecue with my inflatable pool, it was so nice. A friend’s been having a rough couple days at work, so I decided to surprise her with a lovely picnic lunch, because really I should do that more often.

It starts of course, with fresh homemade lemonade. Five lemons, juiced, zest of one lemon, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water. Make simple syrup with the water and sugar, add the lemon juice and zest and let reduce slightly. Once cool, add to 6 cups of water. I filled a glass growler of the lemonade and put it in the fridge overnight. Just before lunch, I stopped and bought a bag of ice and a bottle of sparkly water. We poured about a 3:2 ratio of lemonade to bubbly water over ice, which resulted in a tartly refreshing and delightful beverage.

First course: Onigiri. The perfect snack. I didn’t know the Japanese name until 6th grade, when we had a Japanese student teacher come give a lesson on Japanese culture. (I won the chopstick fast-eating contest, but it may have been slightly unfair seeing as how I grew up an entire drawer devoted to chopsticks in my kitchen). But we’ve always had rice balls on our menu, particularly for long car drives. Self contained, endlessly variable, low effort. Steam some rice. Don’t refrigerate, it’ll dry out and fall apart instead of becoming a sticky ball. Toppings: traditionally fish flakes or seaweed seasoning flakes or pickled plum. We used to put rou-si (dried pork floss) and Chinese pickled cucumbers in at home. I hard-boiled some quail eggs and chopped them up with tiny pieces of Taiwanese sausage.  Whisked a Tbs of soy sauce, dash of Mirin, Maggi, salt and sugar. Dab some over a spread out square of plastic wrap. Moisten your hands so the rice doesn’t stick to you. Take a ladleful of rice and flatten in down on the plastic. Trickle drops of seasoning around the rice. Add filling. If there’s enough rice, wrap t up, or add a small spoonful on top of the filling, and create a ball so mostly the filling is in the middle. Twist the plastic closed. Shape into a sphere, triangle, cube or whatever shape pulls on your desire. I packed the individual wrapped strips of nori (dried, toasted seaweed) alongside the wrapped onigiri. Once ready to consume, add the strip of seaweed (it gets soggy after about ten minutes of contact with the rice, so really wait until last minute). Extra strips of nori are tasty snacks in their own right.

Second Course: Fresh vegetable sticks (sugar snap peas, carrots and green pepper) with a freshly whipped up batch of Sriracha aioli.

Third Corse: Ham Cheddar and Apple Sandwiches.  I cut two small, 4-inch long segments of baguette, then cut them into three horizontal slices. One side of each sandwich I spread with a little bit of room temp butter, the other side was slathered in the Sriracha aioli. Layers: carefully washed and dried Bibb lettuce, two folded slices of ham, thinly slices green apple, and thinly sliced sharp cheddar cheese.

Fourth Course: Quinoa Salad. I ran out of faro a couple months ago, but I like this dressing and add-ins a lot so I swapped in quinoa instead. Rinse a cup of quinoa, boil until fluffy, the tails have popped out and center is translucent. Drain any excess water. Toss with: edamame, chunks of green apple, dried cranberries and chopped almonds, and a dressing of peanut butter, miso paste, sesame oil, balsamic vinegar, minced ginger, honey, and canola oil.

Dessert: Cashew Custard with Peach. I made a very quick batch of cashew milk, and used about one cup to make the custard (properly strained of all grittiness, cashew milk with a little bit of honey, vanilla extract and cinnamon is really tasty, but the custard is my favorite application). I layered the custard with chopped up canned peaches. Bright, pretty, incredibly simple to make, and surprisingly impressive and crowd pleasing, as far as desserts go.

It was a lovely lunch, and what I prepared was quite a bit of food for two. 95 degrees out, sitting in the shade with an icy drink, with just a little breeze, clear blue skies above. The grassy, shady little area we chose was just far enough that we could see people, but be removed from the lunch rush hour crowd and eat a leisurely, peaceful meal. I like having a lot of little bites of different food, and having a quiet meal with a friend in a very pretty setting was a nice break away from the office.

I packed everything in jam jars or plastic wrap, and since it was a workday-lunch, could keep everything cold in my office fridge. I also purloined some real spoons and disposable plates, cups, and paper towels from work. I even included a (stolen airplane) blanket to sit on, and everything was easily transported in a cloth grocery bag. Although, since I hope to do more of this, weather permitting, and not always during the week, think tht I’ll start scouring TaoBao for a pretty, insulated picnic bag to invest in.

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