February 26, 2016
How about an indulgent picnic lunch in a serene little spot where people seldom go—your dining room! I think these lighthearted lunch-box meals are aptly named—A Moveable Feast. (I hope that Hemingway, wherever his spirit may be, will forgive me for borrowing the title of his Paris memoir.)
I have prepared many versions of A Moveable Feast, but one of my favorites is a St. Patrick’s Day picnic. By March, winter has leached the color from our Iowa landscape, and we are craving spring. Even though Kermit reminds us that it’s not easy being green, we can certainly try to create a verdant haven for just a few hours!
Perhaps March seems an unlikely time of year for a picnic, but when it’s held indoors, the weather always cooperates! Even if it were summertime, I would still choose to picnic inside because of Iowa’s weather extremes—too windy, too cold, too hot, too sunny, too humid, too foggy, too cloudy, too rainy, too “polleny”; not to mention the battalions of bugs—crawling, flying, buzzing, biting, stinging, dive-bombing. I also don’t care to share my air with lawn chemicals, deer and rabbit repellents, citronella candles and torches, and fellow picknickers doused in DEET. Don’t misunderstand—I love Iowa! I simply have observed over the years that perfect picnic days are as rare as honeybees.
Because my Moveable Feasts are almost always held indoors, weather concerns are moot. I can devote all my energies to preparing the lunch and spiffing the house. Actually, there is one constant, tiny, nagging worry—what if there were a tornado warning while my guests were enjoying their dining-room picnic? Would I do the right thing and offer them shelter in my basement? Now that’s a tough one because I really believe that, in that moment of paralyzing fear, I would tell a lie: “Run for your lives, people! We don’t have a basement!” (Well, yes we do have a basement, but it’s kind of messy so I prefer not to entertain people down there.) Hmmm. Okay. I supposed I would feel bad for my guests if they were mowed down by a twister and had to be hauled away on gurneys. So, yes I would allow them to go down to the teeming underbelly, but I would have to insist that the lights remain off. On the bright side, The Messy Cook does own a copy of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, thanks to my extremely organized friend, Shayla. After I find where I left it, I will read it, and then I’ll put together an action plan to spiff up my basement. After all, people’s lives depend on it.
I digress. The very best part of A Moveable Feast is that all of the food prep has been accomplished a day or two in advance, providing The Messy Cook with a plenty of time to straighten the kitchen and whisk away all splatters, drips, and crumbs. All traces of knife-cutting accidents have been wiped clean, and all wounds have been covered with Neosporin and Band-Aids. All surfaces are sterilized and sparkling. The good times are ready to roll!
One or two days ahead of the lunch, all the components of the meal are prepared and packaged in individual plastic containers and wrappings. An hour or so before the picnic, everything is carefully placed inside each lunch box. I use gable boxes (size “medium”, 8 inches by 5 1/4 inches by 4 7/8 inches, from PaperMart.com; other sizes and shapes are also available).Cookies and breads are placed in clear cellophane envelopes or bags. I order these from ClearBags.com. (I especially like the 5-inch by 8-inch size.) Colorful fruit salads can be contained in low, wide clear drinking cups and covered with plastic wrap. The other salads can be placed in small, snack-sized Glad food containers. Cookie bars or cake balls are easy-to-eat-and-pack desserts. (I love the cake balls at Caché Bake Shoppe in West Des Moines. If I don’t have time to make my own, I adapt Caché’s cake balls or cupcakes to carry out my theme.) Cookie bars, cake balls, or even chocolates, can be placed (two or three per person) on a small narrow plastic tray or plate and covered in plastic wrap. Individual tarts are also a favorite.
If desired, add individual, small bottles of wine, champagne, Perrier, Vitamin Water, cans of Izze juice, etc. A CD of a playlist you’ve created of your favorite picnic or Celtic music is also a unique addition to the box. (Random fact—I have playlists for almost every aspect of my life.) About an hour before guests arrive, the filled lunch boxes can be set on large square (10-inch by 10-inch) paper plates (for people to place their food on when they take it out of the box), and those are placed on top of each placemat on the table. I order attractive coated-paper placemats online at Amazon.com. Sturdy plastic cutlery and large paper napkins in a variety of colors and graphic designs are available from Michael’s, Nobbies, Party City, Hobby Lobby, etc. It’s fun to scatter shamrock confetti (that you’ve made yourself) down the center of the table. Also, you can add a paper shamrock to individual colorful straws and place one in each clear plastic cup, right next to a bottle of water. (Perrier is perfect because it’s in a green glass bottle.)
Menu ideas are endless. Depending on the theme and how much effort you wish to expend, this is what a typical menu might include:
- Three kinds of salad (1 meat, e.g., Chicken Artichoke Salad; 1 vegetarian, e.g., Edamame Corn Orzo Salad; 1 fruit, e.g., Piña Colada Fruit Dip with Fresh Berries)
- A bread (mini-garlic toasts, crisp gourmet crackers, mini-muffins)
- A dessert (decorated sugar cookies, cookie bars, mini-chocolate tarts, cake balls)
- A bottle of water
- A mini-bottle of wine or champagne and/or Bailey’s Irish Cream
As I read back through all of this, I sound maniacal. I suggest that you just pick and choose from these ideas. Buy stuff from the deli, if you like. Entertaining shouldn’t make you pop a major vein; it should be fun!
As far as appetizers are concerned, I don’t put them in the lunch boxes. I make a couple of large trays of appetizers and/or a cheese tray and serve them with wine, champagne or margaritas for guests to enjoy prior to the picnic. Here is a perfect St. Patrick’s Day appetizer that I created to satisfy those “fresh and green” cravings. (See the snow-pea butterfly? Thanks to my friend Susan Furtwangler for teaching me how to make this clever garnish.)
Asparagus, Sugar Snap Peas, and Snow Peas with Dill Pickle Dip
Asparagus, Sugar Peas, and Snow Peas with Dill Pickle Dip
- Fresh asparagus, trimmed to the same length
- Fresh sugar snap peas (ends removed)
- Fresh snow peas (ends removed)
- Fresh sprigs of dill
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 1/2 teaspoons beau monde seasoning
- 2 teaspoons dillweed
- 3 or 4 green onions, thinly sliced (with some green parts)
- 1 small clove garlic, finely minced
- 1/2 cup diced dill pickles
Partially cook the trimmed asparagus in water in the microwave (2 1/2 to 3 minutes, depending on size) and drain. Quickly shock them in ice water for a few minutes to enhance the green color. Place on paper towels to dry. (Can be refrigerated a day ahead until ready to serve.) To make dip, stir together the last 7 ingredients and place in a small white serving bowl. Arrange asparagus spears in a “spoke” fashion on a white platter around the dip bowl. Add the raw sugar snap peas and snow peas in similar spoke arrangement. Garnish with sprigs of fresh dill, and perch a “snow pea” butterfly on a sprig of dill tucked in the dip, if desired. Dip is also great with grilled salmon and potato chips!
To make a butterfly, cut one whole snow pea at opposite angles to make a wing shape. Slice open the “slightly rounded” side so the wings open with a center “hinge”. (Hinge should be on the “straighter” side of the snow pea.) Remove the peas from the inside. Drop into ice water for 30 minutes or so. Remove, dry, and gently arrange on dip, veggies, or a salad. Careful! Just like a real butterfly, it’s fragile.
Recipe from messycookblog.com
By the way, don’t try to be overly clever and spread a picnic blanket in your living room. Food can spill, drinks can tip over, and legs of guests can become useless stumps after hours of sitting on the floor Unless you have an off-duty EMT squad standing by to hoist people back to an upright position, just don’t do it.
You may wonder why I call my lunch A Moveable Feast when I seem to be quite rigid about having it served at the table. I think I just like the idea of knowing I could carry my meal somewhere else if I wanted to. (Maybe I want eat my entire dessert in the privacy of my coat closet, away from judging eyes.) My obsession with portability probably hearkens back to childhood days. Didn’t we all love to carry our stuff around in tote bags or little suitcases or backpacks? Being moveable is also handy because you can tote the leftovers home to enjoy later—especially if you have been standing in a dark basement waiting out a storm for most of the afternoon.
We hope that, when the insects take over the world, they will remember with gratitude how we took them along on all our picnics.—author Bill Vaughn
Thank you for dropping by! My next post will be published Friday, March 11.—Tracy Mullen