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Native Cooking

We drive over two hours back to my childhood. It is disappointing most of the way, so built-up and not at all pretty as it was back in the day. The spaces are nearly all filled in, and the houses that were once new are either in disrepair or so changed I can't recognize them. Yikes, does that make me old! Time stands still for no one, yet everyone seems in such a rush. To get where? Oh well. I can understand, but most of me wants it to be as it was and, of course, the past is gone. So, I have to imagine how it was in my head and hold on tight to that image for a few hours.

After all, we only came here to the little park by the beach to have a picnic and have fun. Picnics are like mini-

vacations, best enjoyed by two to four people. Dining out, hoping for breezes, hoping we remembered the insect spray, certain we'll come away with a memory or perhaps an adventure.

The best part is the challenge of the menu plan. Everything must be fresh, packed well and not predictable. Everyone should come away having eaten something new and different that they'll remember for a long time as part of the experience. It can be a beach, a spot in the middle of the woods, an open field or wherever you want. It is almost always a special experience. With coolers and insulated bags, taking food on a picnic is safer than ever. All you need is fresh air and a fresh attitude. (Not that kind of ''fresh''!)

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The first essential part of a picnic is to have a checklist. You can use a basket or a cooler; in fact, both of these are ideal. The basket is for the knives, forks, spoons, napkins, salt, pepper, plates, cups, small cutting board, sharp knife, cloth or paper towels, matches, garbage bag and any other dry ingredients; bring a cooler for the ice, food and drink. I suppose a map and a tablecloth are nice, too, but not essential. You can walk, ride or paddle to a picnic designation. As for a menu, a salad (bean, potato, beet or pasta), a meat (summer sausage, chicken wings or legs, deli-type meat, etc. ...), some cheese, crusty bread and fresh fruit (pears, grapes and apples) are naturals. For fancy, include some filled things like cherry tomatoes or mushrooms. There is always the sandwich or wrap to please someone, especially kids. Tuna, deli meat, cheese, even peanut butter and jelly are considerations. A cool beverage and simple dessert rounds out the meal.

A few things that just don't picnic well: mayo, eggs, dairy, salad greens and anything with gelatin. They sort of ''melt'' or spoil easily - don't chance it.

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Veggies to Go

1 can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered

1 small jar roasted red peppers in oil

1 small jimica, peeled and cut in sticks

Put all in a plastic container and drizzle with wine vinegar and oil lightly, shake and chill overnight. So you don't forget, tape the toothpick container or some plastic forks to the top.

Other choices could be carrots, celery, mushrooms, baby corn cobs, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumber, grape tomatoes, raisins or olives.

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Beet Salad

1 can (14.5 oz.) sliced beets

1/2 red onion, sliced thin

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Drain beets and put in a stainless bowl. Combine with the rest of ingredients and chill until ready to serve.

Picnic Sandwich Spread

This may seem kind of crude to some, but it really is delicious or I wouldn't want to share it.

1 cup Spam

1 cup onion

1 cup green bell pepper

Mayonnaise to mix

Chop Spam, onion and pepper coarsely and put all ingredients in a blender or food processor until it is pink and mushy. Chill at least two hours. Spread on bread. Kids will love it too!

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Notes and tips

* Small stackable plastic containers are great for cut-up fruit or cheese, mixed nuts, trail mix (like granola) or jerky.

* There is one rule about food and summer - DO NOT leave any prepared food out at room temperature longer than two hours. If you are out at a barbecue or picnic and the temperature is over 90 degrees, then discard any food left out after one hour.