There is little sweeter than the first gentle breezes of spring. The crocuses start peeking out, a green haze covers the willows, tiny spears of green poke through the tangle of grasses and twigs in gardens and woodlands, and streams, unlocked from blankets of ice, gurgle happily down mountainsides. People slough off winter coziness and eagerly take to the outdoors. Any excuse will do to get outside, whether it is for a walk or a spring cleanup project, or - best of all - to have a picnic!
Spring Day-Hike Picnic
Grilled chicken fillets in a spinach wrap*
Gingerbread* and fruit
Herbal iced tea*
*Recipe included in this chapter
Tiny, early spring violets, wild lily of the valley, and bunchberry poke their blossoms through the dense leaf cover along the trail and, with luck, a trillium or lady's slipper appears beneath the trees. Find yourself a glade of these miniature beauties and look through the leafless trees to find a view that would be hidden in the summer. It's often too muddy to hike in the spring and the bugs can be a bother, but it's a thrill to see things growing after a long winter. Pick a sunny day with soft, balmy breezes and enjoy the chance to dine in the open air.
What Else to Take:
- Thermos bottles
- Small insulated bag with ice pack
- Insect repellent
- Space blanket or moisture-resistant ground cloth
Grilled Chicken Fillets in a Spinach Wrap
The simple satay marinade on this chicken is a staple in my kitchen. Not only is it fantastic on chicken, but I love it on grilled fish such as swordfish, halibut, or tuna. With or without the spinach wraps, this chicken is delicious.
8 chicken breast halves, boned and skinned
8 spinach wraps or flour tortillas
corn oil for cooking
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin (sweet cooking sake)
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger root
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder (available in natural foods stores)
1. Rinse and pat dry the chicken; place in a shallow glass pan.
2 To make the marinade, combine the marinade ingredients in a small bowl and pour over the chicken. Let sit for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
3. Preheat gas grill to high.
4. Remove the chicken from the marinade and brush lightly with corn oil. Grill the chicken for 3 minutes on a side or until cooked through, brushing often with the marinade. An alternate cooking method is to cook on a ridged grill pan on the stovetop. Use medium-high heat with the exhaust fan running. Cook about 2 minutes per side until marked and cooked through. The trick is not to overcook the chicken and dry it out.
5. Let the chicken cool slightly and then refrigerate. Wrap the cold chicken in aluminum foil for transporting. Place the spinach wraps in a resealable plastic bag and pack them in your backpack. At the picnic site, roll the chicken in the spinach wraps, and enjoy hearty sandwiches of tender and moist grilled chicken.
Soft deli rolls or hamburger rolls are nice with this chicken. For a more substantial and tasty bread, try focaccia, lavash, or sourdough or Portuguese rolls.
Jytte, a Danish friend, shared this recipe with me years ago. It quickly became a favorite item in picnics I catered for people attending the music festival at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts - summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Three 6-ounce jars marinated artichoke hearts with marinade
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, washed, dried, and sliced
6 sun-dried tomatoes, cut into strips
4 scallions, thinly sliced, including some green tops
1 medium tomato, seeded and cut into bite-size chunks
1 stalk of celery, sliced
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1. In a large bowl, combine all of the vegetables.
2. To make the dressing, whisk the ingredients together in a small bowl and pour over the vegetables.
3. Let the salad sit in the refrigerator 8 hours or overnight. Place in a covered plastic dish and tuck it into your knapsack.
Late summer is artichoke season on the central California coast. Buy a bag of tiny artichokes, trim the ends off each leaf, cut in half lengthwise, and steam them to use in this salad. They are so small that the chokes usually don't have to be removed.
Gingerbread is a classic spice cake that speaks of home and hearth. It's also a great traveling food because it's both sturdy and moist. It will keep for several days and freezes well. Enjoy it with whipped cream or brandied hard sauce, or have it plain.
1 cup molasses
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup heavy cream, whipped (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350-F. Grease a 9-inch square disposable baking pan.
2. In a small bowl, combine the molasses, buttermilk, and egg and stir to blend.
3. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add the molasses mixture and mix well. Add the butter and stir just until blended.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. When completely cool, cut into eight generous pieces and cover securely with aluminum foil for packing.
5. Put the whipped cream in a small covered container in the refrigerator until packing time. Wrap the container in heavy aluminum foil and place it in the pack. Stir before serving. If the hike is longer than 1 1/2 hours, leave the whipped cream at home.
For a more intense ginger experience, substitute 1-2 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger root for the 1 teaspoon ground ginger. Add it to the molasses mixture instead of to the dry ingredients.