Summery Picnic Treats
I live on a small island in Puget Sound, where living is generally a lot slower than in the city across the water. Indeed, island time is always a factor in any social engagement, since people are pretty loose about start and stop times. Sunny summers seem to sprout countless little picnics and dinners and get-togethers, so that in a day or two my calendar changes from empty to full-to-the-brim. The past few weeks have been as full of sunny warmth as of sudden downpours, but despite the crazy weather, we’ve been hosting record numbers of friends and family.
The Fourth of July is always a grand occasion here, largely because of our small town parade, which often includes a Basset Brigade of hounds as well as skip rope champions, floats of every flavor, dressed-up horses and antique cars, and all sorts of musicians, notably a smokin’ jazz band. People line up five and six deep along the mile or so of parade pathway, which runs gently downhill from the library, makes a sharp left at the oldest church on the island and rolls past everyone’s favorite family-run grocery store-cum-social hall before vanishing up a side street.
Weather Or Not, Here We Come
One of my favorite Northwestern sayings holds that summer officially begins on July 5th and ends on July 6th. That’s not (always) true, of course, and in my memory, July Fourths seem to alternate between rain and shine. I have vivid recollections of being on a scalding hot fire truck packed with overheated cub scouts as well as riding sodden floats with damp musicians frantically returning cranky instruments. Some years, our Fourth feasts have featured sizzling hot chili and curry to warm our chilled bones. This year, even the rainy days have been muggy, so picnic food feels more appropriate, rain or shine.
Unless you can cook under cover, grilling may be a challenge in a now-it’s-rainy-now-it’s-not summer like this one. Instead, make up several entree salads ahead of time, so the ingredients can meld and mellow while you party. Take them out of the fridge before it’s time to dish up, so they can come up to room temperature, where flavors can be fully savored.
Drinks Hot Or Cold
I usually make up a gallon or so of barley tea, using cold water and putting it into the refrigerator overnight to develop its finest flavor. It has no caffeine but tastes as robust as a cup of coffee, if a lot more refreshing. It’s also good hot, for those who need warming up, and it brews in about 10 minutes when you use boiling water. I’ve tried making my own barley tea, but most of the time I buy the House brand (from Korea), which comes in generous sachets that make a quart each.
We also love this sparkling limeade with a hint of mint:
Fizzy Minted Limeade
1 cup cane sugar
1 cup spearmint leaves
2 cups freshly squeezed lime juice
2 quarts plain sparkling water (such as Talking Rain)
In a small saucepan, combine sugar with 2 cups water, bring to a simmer and stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, add 1/2 cup spearmint, cover and steep for 10 minutes, then strain into a pitcher or large jar. Add lime juice and sparkling water to taste. Serve cold, garnished with fresh mint leaves. Makes about 2 quarts.
Generous Entree Salads
Here are some simple summery salads that taste as if you spent a lot more time on them than you really need to. I love recipes that earn more credit than I deserve….
Pesto Pasta With Smoked Salmon
1 pound gemelli or penne ziti (or any favorite pasta)
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, quartered lengthwise
4 stalks celery, thinly sliced on diagonal
1 cup spicy-sweet peppers (such as peppadew), chopped
8 ounces soft smoked salmon, skinned and flaked
1 cup basil pesto
1 tablespoon capers, drained
Cook pasta in salted water until just al dente, drain, place in large bowl and drizzle and toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil, set aside. In a wide, shallow pan, heat remaining oil with onion, shallots, salt and olives over medium high heat and cook, stirring, until soft (6-8 minutes). Add celery and peppers, cover pan and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients, then toss with pasta and serve or chill until serving time. Serves 6-8.
A Sweet And Spicy Salad
This toothsome potato salad is a new family favorite, especially since we all love anything to do with kale. It tastes lovely warm or chilled, but if you don’t serve it right away, set the crisped kale aside and don’t add it until serving time so it won’t get soggy.
Spicy Sweet Potato & Crispy Kale Salad
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (1/2 inch pieces)
1 large bunch kale, stems trimmed, cut in fine ribbons
1 tablespoon safflower oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon thai red curry sauce
1 Walla-Walla sweet onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro or parsley, stemmed
Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Rub sweet potato dice and kale with safflower oil, spread on two rimmed baking sheets, sprinkle with salt and roast at 400 F until kale is crisp (20 minutes). Remove kale but leave sweet potatoes in oven until slightly caramelized (15-20 more minutes). In a large bowl, combine olive oil, red curry sauce (to taste), sweet onion, celery, sweet peppers, and cilantro or parsley, toss gently and season to taste with salt (if needed). When sweet potatoes are done, toss with onion mixture, top with crunchy kale and serve or chill until serving time. Serves 6-8.
Red, White and Blueberry Salad with Fireworks Dressing
Bursting with fruit, Walla-walla Sweet onions, and pop-in-your-mouth tomatoes, this invigorating salad goes well with anything you care to serve. Serve it with Fireworks Dressing for a delightfully explosive experience.
Red, White and Blueberry Salad
4 cups young salad greens
1 bunch red arugula, stemmed
1 cup flat Italian parsley, stemmed
1 cup basil, stemmed and shredded
1 Walla-walla Sweet onion, finely diced
1 cup extra sharp white cheddar cheese, finely diced
1 pint blueberries, stemmed
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, stemmed
In a serving bowl, toss greens and herbs gently. Top with cheese, blueberries, and tomatoes. Pass with Fireworks Salad Dressing. Serves 8.
Fireworks Salad Dressing
Lively and spunky, this dressing is also great over fish or chicken. To modify the heat, use less exuberant quantities of the chipotle or green curry sauce.
Fireworks Salad Dressing
1/2 cup virgin olive oil
1/4 cup cider or wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-3 teaspoons chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, pureed
OR 1-3 teaspoons Thai green curry sauce
Combine oil, vinegar and garlic in a covered jar and shake well to blend. Add pureed chipotles or green curry sauce to taste, starting with 1 teaspoon. To serve, drizzle over greens and toss gently. Makes about 1 cup.