The Story of Cooking - L & L Blog
Love it or hate it, pumpkin spice is here to stay. What started as a seasonal treat from Starbucks has turned into a market-driven phenomenon. From benign products like pumpkin spice candles and pancakes, to the extreme, such as pumpkin-spiced Spam, facials and deodorant, it's everywhere.
Years ago, an astute food writer mentioned that pumpkin itself isn't a very tasty vegetable. In fact, it isn't used in many recipes as is. The mild flavor is dominated by cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, then baked into pies.
But I'm not sure that even matters to pumpkin spice fanatics. Because for many, it's more than a novelty latte at the coffee shop. It means an end to humidity and the unending bikini selfies on Instagram. It means cool nights by a bonfire, apple picking, cashmere sweaters and changing leaves. What began as a flavor has become an idea.
Besides, what's Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie? It's also a great source of beta-carotene, fiber and vitamins B, C and E. And if a burning pumpkin spice candle doesn't make you feel a little warm and fuzzy, it's an economically-sound way to gage whether or not you're dead inside.
It's August, but you wouldn't know it if you were out shopping. I ran into Halloween displays at Michael's on the last day of July. Blink, and it will be pumpkin spice everything. But I'm holding on while we still have August. Soak it up, or you'll think back on time wasted once January hits. And what better way to revel in summer than with a picnic?
A picnic forces us to slow down, be in the moment and delight our senses. Realistically, you'll only do it once, so you may as well make it amazing.
We need to talk about fried chicken. I love it like Garfield loves lasagna, but cannot understand why it's a picnic staple. By the time you drive to your destination, walk to a shady spot and unpack, the condensation turns the crispy skin soggy. Then there's the bones. Unlike compostable things such as banana peels and apple cores, chicken bones can be dangerous if found by dogs - even fatal. So I'd like to plead my case for sandwiches. They can be enjoyed at room temperature and don't leave behind a trace. Clearly I have an issue with sogginess, so if it's plain bread be sure to toast it. But why not go for a crusty french roll, or baguette? No toasting needed, and heavenly. Some fun combos:
- Roasted red pepper, goat cheese and roasted chicken
- Smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, onion and tomato
- Hummus, marinated artichokes, queso fresco and alfalfa sprouts
- Pancetta, provolone, arugula and sun-dried tomatoes
- Classic bologna, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise - it will take you right back to your childhood!
As for fruit, enjoy seasonal treats that won't be here for long. Watermelon slices, bing cherries and cantaloupe. And no need to carry around the pits and rinds. Toss them into the woods (off the trail) to delight the bugs and feed the trees.
If you're feeling really festive, bring mason jars of homemade sangria loaded up with seasonal fruits. It beats a plain bottle of wine!
You have to have a salty side, and I'd never scoff at good old fashioned potato chips. They're lightweight, don't require utensils and can add a crunch to your sandwiches! If you want to go healthier, there's always crudites and dip.
And of course, you need a little something sweet. I'm a fan of avoiding utensils to keep the packing simple. If you want to go for the all-American slice of pie, make a batch of hand-held pies. Otherwise, chocolate-covered strawberries are decadent, and cookies are a cinch. Since this is the ultimate picnic though, go for something out of the ordinary, like chocolate orange whoopie pies, or oatmeal cookie pies!
Make sure to keep things extra cozy with cloth napkins, an oversize blanket and real dishes. Keep things safe from summer heat with a sweat-free ice pack. If your picnic basket doesn't have something to secure your plates, stack cloth napkins between them or buy melamine plates. Gorgeous, and indestructible! This way, you create less waste while making this picnic feel extra decadent.
Now, go enjoy the last of summer before the pumpkin spice takeover!