Posts Tagged 'picnic lunches'

to the dogs (project picnic.3)

I’ll be honest. Life has been doling out some hefty punches lately. At the risk of dragging you into the ring with me, I’ll just touch on the highlights. Or would those be lowlights?

My heart is aching (and filled with hope) for a dear friend who’s husband was recently diagnosed with leukemia. They are both tremendously strong, but no one deserves to fight such a battle. I have been sending them every last ounce of my energy. In my own, far less serious medical world, there are some complications with my eye surgery. Scar tissue has caused a pocket of fluid to build up which is increasing the pressure in my eye and not allowing the tube implant to do its job. It is also makes me look as though I have a large marble stuck under my eyelid. I have what is technically referred to as a “bleb.” C’mon, really? A bleb? Can’t I get a cooler medical diagnosis than that? But it does sort of roll off the tongue if you say it a few times. And it is a fairly accurate descriptive of how I look and feel. Bleb.
In other news, the sweetest of my 3 hives of bees (led by queen Ruth Wilson) limped through the winter, only to meet their demise this spring. It was a little unexpected and cleaning out her hive boxes left me feeling especially glum. As a bee keeper I harbor a big responsibility for my girls. I wondered over and over what else I could have done to help them. And if loosing thousands of little bees wasn’t enough to break my heart, having to put our dog of 8 years to sleep last week was. We are slowly trying to adapt to the ghost dog that has taken her place. It’s hard.

I guess it should be no surprise then that some of this sadness has followed me into the kitchen. I’ve turned out a few duds lately. Most of them have at least been edible, but one went to the dogs – literally. I knew this experiment had gone bad when my friend Charly, a man who is not afraid to bring road kill into the kitchen, found it hard to choke down. This was an ultimate low for me. Charly loves food. He’ll eat nearly anything. I know, because over the years I have seen him happily indulge in plenty of my mistakes. I’ll be ready to chuck something into the compost and Charly will intervene for another helping. Not this time though. This time Charly suggested we feed the remains to his team of Siberian sled dogs. Ouch.
I had made stuffed eggs for our May picnic outing. The picnic was lovely. The eggs were not. Having just pruned off the tops of my basil seedlings, I enetered into the kitchen with a handful of aromatic goodness and tried to get inspired. I decided to make use of our egg surplus and stuff a dozen of them, hard boiled, with a savory basil-anchovy-egg filling. Evidentially I was a little heavy handed with the anchovies. The dog team is still barking about my culinary prowess.
We took our May picnic at one of my all-time favorite destinations – the Winter Greenhouse in Winter, Wisconsin. If you look at a map of Wisconsin, you will find the town of Winter in the upper west quadrant of the state, smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Which I realize is not unusual for a lot of little Wisconsin towns. What sets Winter apart is that it is home to what is truly one of the most amazing plant nurseries I have ever visited. (My husband Mark can attest that this is no small number). So each spring we make the 2 hour pilgrimage south to walk their grounds and greenhouses and get inspired by color, texture, and patterns. Then I typically load as much of this inspiration as can fit into the back of our little car and head back north to spread the beauty.
This year we found a quiet bench in one of their shade gardens to enjoy our picnic lunch. Despite the egg fiasco, the rest of our fare was quite tasty. Hands down, the star of the picnic was a kale salad. With the exception of preparing the salad, I have to give all remaining credit to my friend Landis. Not only did she provide me with the recipe, she grew the kale to boot. And I’m so glad. Because she has hereby turned me on big-time to spring kale. Until this salad I didn’t even know there was such a thing as spring kale. In my book, kale is a sturdy fall green that tastes even better after a kiss of winter frost. Spring kale, I have discovered, is something altogether different. It is tender and sweet and frilly. And it is perfect as the base for a raw salad. It was so fantastic that we were scrapping the bottom of the container before I even had time to snap a photo.
Kale Salad with Chilies & Pecorino
(Adapted from  Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite)

1 bunch of tender spring kale
1/4 cup coarse homemade bread crumbs (from a slice or two of good bead)
1 small clove garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup grated pecorino or Parmesan
3 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon recd chili pepper flakes
Salt and black pepper to taste

Trim about 2 inches off the kale stems (you can save these for a soup or stock). Slice the kale into 3/4 inch ribbons. You should have about 4 to 5 cups. Place kale in a large bowl.

Using a mortar and pestle or a heavy knife, pound or mince the garlic clove with the salt into a paste. Transfer the garlic paste to a jar with a lid and add the grated cheese, olive oil, lemon juice, chili flakes, a pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper. Give it all a good shake and gently pour it over the kale. It will take a bit of stirring to get all of the leaves well coated. Let stand for about 5 minutes and serve with an additional sprinkling of cheese, bread crumbs, and/or olive oil.

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