Tag Archives: picnic

A Foray Out – A Bento Picnic

I was invited to attend a picnic this weekend and I was delighted to accept because the weather during the day has been so un-San Francisco like, warm and sunny, almost like summer!

 

The night before, however, I was beset with anxiety. How would I get there? Where could I sit? Would I be able to access the picnic area? Was there an accessible restroom nearby that I could get to? Would I be able to stay out in the sun the whole time? What could I wear to cover up? Where is my hat? What can I make to bring? Would I be a burden to the other people? Would I have a good time?

 

Oh, anxiety, you are such a demon. I supposed all this comes from feeling helpless and vulnerable during this healing period. It’s only temporary but the lack of sleep the night before and the insurmountable hurdles some of these questions posed felt quite difficult.  Happily, it all worked out beautifully.

 

Fortunately for me, in San Francisco, there are places where a disabled person can picnic and have a good time! We went to Chrissy Field and my friends picked me up in their car. Thanks to my temporary handicap placard we were able to party pretty near to the picnic area. There was a decent dirt path that led to the lawn and we found a nice spot with amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and Angel Island and the curve of the city to the Bay Bridge.

 

NHK picnic

 

The purpose of this picnic was more than just friends getting together for the afternoon.  My amazing friend Biggie was being interviewed by NHK World television for a program about foreigners making bento.  She is the original bento food blogger and received much acclaim for her website Lunch In a Box.  I personally use her website frequently to find recipes because she’s an amazing cook and when I get home I wonder, how did she make that Thai curry?  Or what is in that sanbaizu sauce?

 

This is such an exciting time for her and so wonderful that the Japanese film crew flew out to watch her make bento and then observe the bento picnic and then (gulp) interview her friends about bento and Biggie.   I grew up eating Japanese food, thanks to my neighbors and living where I did, but I never made or enjoyed a homemade bento before my friendship with Biggie.  It has really expanded my world.

 

NHK picnic

As Biggie says, bento crosses all cultural lines and anything can go into a bento, and it is the best way to use leftovers!

 

With my weird food allergies, I can’t tell you how many times I have ended up in the emergency room because something I purchased for lunch was contaminated by egg.   Bringing a bento box not only is an economical way to use leftovers but makes lunch feel special.  This is a direct-from-Biggie-quote.

 

NHK picnic

For her special picnic I wanted to bring something tasty and special and happily I had enough goodies in the fridge for a special bento.  The focus of my blog and locus of my food preferences are items that are local, sustainably sourced and grown.  The harmoniousness of my bento happily reflected this mindset.

NHK picnic
(my bento is in the little metal tin at the bottom!)

 

Happily, everyone enjoyed my humble bento, especially the Japanese film crew who polished off every last bit except for a sprinkling of red onion.  I also brought a container of Costco’s smoked pulled pork doused in bacon hot sauce (my favorite sauce) and some fresh rice, which got polished off.  Cold bing cherries were the perfect finish to my contributions to the picnic.

 

The other bentos were truly fantastic and I am sorry I didn’t take pictures of them.  Because I was sitting up in a camp chair (the current gimp factor did not permit me to join the others on the picnic blankets), my angle of photography was pretty poor.

 

Biggie made her incredible Spam musubi, the best spam musubi on the planet, I might add (see her site for the recipe); little liverwurst and sweet pickle roll up sandwiches, maki style; a bento filled with rolled local sliced salamis, prosciutto and bresola; Tillamouk extra fancy white cheddar; a fancy prepared bento with fruit and vegetables and the maki sandwiches; and a bento of hot rice and mapo dofu, a spicy pork and tofu dish made extra spicy with lots of Sriracha sauce; and a huge Louisana crunch cake.  It isn’t a picnic without cake!  Friends brought a bento made especially for a child with fried fish, vegetables and fruits, a bento with fried polenta squares drizzled with pesto (amazing!), edamame and vegetables.   We washed all of this down with lots of wine, hard cider and beer, and juice boxes and chilled water and juices for the kids.

 

As one parent said, bringing bento to a picnic is a perfect thing, because it can be eaten alone or shared and it’s not like a huge bowl of food that can get tipped over or go off.

 

We hit that wonderful peaceful lull that comes to every picnic when everyone is sated, the sun feels fantastic and one gazes out over the incredible views with perfect contentment.  Like a bento, it was a perfectly encapsulated moment of enjoyment.

 

NHK picnic
(the fog, rolling in a bit)

 

The interviews were handled with great care and consideration and did not feel at all intrusive.  We really enjoyed getting to meet the crew and chat about food cultures, eating habits in California and San Francisco and how we knew Biggie.  It was such a fun day!

 

Soon the program will be aired and I am excited to see my dear friend on television – soon the world will be sharing in her wonderful food!

 

Later, at home, I reflected on how enriched my life is by knowing extraordinary people like Biggie and the parents from her child’s school, our mutual friends and new friends, and the access to scenes and food like today.  Despite being disabled at the moment, I feel like a very lucky lady.

 

NHK picnic

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Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic

We have a wonderfully talented group of food writers, bloggers, photographers and food lovers in the Bay Area and thanks to social media we know who we all are and, on occasion, we get together for some shenanigans.

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From Wikipedia Commons

This year I took on organizing a date for a picnic in San Francisco and chose Dolores Park for our venue. It’s usually sunny there, it has a great view of the city and is reasonably close to BART and other public transportation. The park is also right across the street to BiRite Creamery. A picnic with fun people, a pretty spot and decadent ice cream, it is such a winning combination.

The morning fog blew away pretty quickly and despite the stupidity of the City watering the lawn during the night (very soggy and muddy lawns) we had a very merry time.

Many lovely friends and new friends came to share in the afternoon and of course the food was terrific.  I made my favorite sangria and that was a big hit, and I could have doubled the quantity and still would have not made enough.   Next time I will bring two jugs worth, or six bottles of wine!
Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic

It was one of those magical times when we were not playing with our phones *overmuch* or taking pictures constantly, we were in the moment and enjoying each other’s company, trading stories, singing goofy songs and talking about food and writing.  We did play some hilarious music on our phones, tucked into a red Solo cup for acoustical enhancement purposes.

Yes, it’s true, we were all singing Makin’ Bacon Pancakes, the New York remix, for way too long and it’s still in my head today.

Bay Area Food Bloggers Picnic

When the sangria ran out and the fog started to blow back in, we gathered up our soggy Mexican picnic blankets (funnily, almost everyone brought one) and headed to the long line at BiRite Creamery.
Insanely long line at BiRite but we don't care - sundaes!!!!

Despite the line being ridiculously long we were patient and chatty, and it really was worth the wait.  Just sampling their vast and unusual selection is worth a bit of catching up on life and people watching, and soon enough we all had our decadent ice cream treats in hand.  With frozen mouths and sunburned faces we chatted a bit more before scattering to our own destinations – Tartine, a tour of the Mission, BiRite Market, home.  We said farewell and until next time.

Picnics in the summer are my favorite thing to do and this time so many of my favorite people were there.  Thanks to everyone who attended and for your amazing and decadent treats!

Thanks to:
Faith – Blog Appetit
Diane  – Will Write For Food
Amy – Cooking with Amy
Owen – The World of Owen Rubin
Jenn – FootBat and EastWest Pastry
Lori and Doug – Fake Food Free
Deborah and friends – Lunch In A Box
Nathan – Knit1Eat1
Christian – Dad in the City
Jennifer and Baelson – Revel Kitchen
Orly and friends – Yumivore
(if I missed your name here, I’m so sorry!)

The Recipe:

Carmen Miranda Sangria – San Francisco Style

If you live in the Bay Area and want to join the Bay Area Food Bloggers group on Facebook, ask to join here, and also there is a Google group, ask to join here.  We are food writers, bloggers, photographers, culinary-minded entrepreneurs and food lovers.  We are also people who used to do all of the above (i.e., lapsed) but are still interested in food and culinary scene.  We connect to share opportunities, ask questions, get support and socialize.  These are not forums to promote yourself or your brand, however.

Oysterfest

This weekend I was invited to a wonderful Northern California treat, an oyster picnic at Hog Island Oyster Company. Oysters are a perfect protein and a great example of sustainable and environmentally responsible seafood farming in California. Located along the Tomales Bay, the Hog Island Oyster Company, among others, grows over 3 million oysters a year, all Food Alliance Certified Sustainable.

My friends have an annual tradition of picnicking at Hog Island with their family and friends and I was delighted to be included this year in their wonderful picnic, which includes raw and grilled oysters fresh from the bay, plus wonderful wine and side dishes brought from our homes.

For years I have had oyster parties where we would buy a couple of boxes of medium oysters from Drake’s Bay Oysters (formerly Johnson’s Oysters) and grill them over mesquite with a variety of savory sauces or just lemon and hot sauce. Drake’s days of operation are coming to a close because the National Park Service decided to shut them down, and fabricated and misinterpreted evidence and have steadfastly ignored all scientific evidence to support their claim they operate sustainably while protecting the environment. We are continuing to hope they can get the NPS to overturn their irrational and puzzling decision and listen to Drake’s and all of the environmental and scientific groups supporting them to let their oyster farming continue.

I no longer have a place to grill at home but remember my oyster parties fondly and was very excited to have a chance to join a party of oyster lovers. My dearest friends joined me, D___, my little friend Bug and L___ are major oyster aficionados also so we packed up the car and hit the road.

Love this view

The drive north and west was quite pleasant, despite a bit of traffic along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard that leads from San Rafael all the way to Highway 1. The slow pace afforded us time for a natural history lesson given by yours truly on some of the wildflowers and trees in bloom in the chaparral, riparian and redwood forest environments. We passed through Samuel P. Taylor State Park, a beloved place for creek walking, picnics and hiking, and I hope to go there soon to do some of that with my friends.

Arriving at Hog Island on a weekend is an adventure. Highway 1 is lined with cars trying to park precariously on the side of the road to access the various oyster companies and restaurants that line Tomales Bay. We were very lucky to snag the last spot along the bed of oyster shells along the shoulder near Hog Island’s spot. Each night after the oyster farm closes they dump wheelbarrows full of shells along the shoulders, where cars crunch them into pure white and rather fragrant gravel.

We trudged along, carrying our loads of picnic baskets and apparatus to the reserved group picnic tables that hug the edge of the cove. If you don’t have a reservation don’t bother going, it is so very crowded there and the lines for oysters and a spot to sit were ridiculous. Instead, buy oysters to go and find a picnic spot in Point Reyes National Seashore; there is nothing finer than slurping oysters while sitting on the beach!

Pretty sunny day
(windblown but happy with the great view)

The sunny sky dotted with dragon and dolphin shaped clouds was perfect, just enough sun, the wind was up but it wasn’t too strong and we didn’t need coats at all, which is a complete miracle for the unpredictable weather along the bay. As experienced picnickers in Northern California we were prepared for everything, including wool hats, thermoses of espresso and flasks of whiskey, to sunhats, SPF 30 and chilled wines. Both D___ and I have glorious picnic baskets with all the accourterments required for sophisticated picnicking.

I brought a foie terrine to the picnic today
(a treat from D’Artagnan)

Cheese plate: chèvre, St Andre, Dubliner
(chevre, Dubliner and St. Andre)

Fun nibbles
(a trio of fun nibbles including chicharonnes from 4505 Meats)

We laid out our pre-oyster feast of savory tidbits along with L___’s batch of divine lemon meltaway cookies, bite sized lemony buttons that were egg-free (for me!) and D___’s enormous container of beignets fried up freshly that morning, just like the ones from Cafe du Monde! She even brought along a container of powdered sugar to redust the fluffy pillows of fried dough. Such evilly delicious treats and both sweet treats were the hit of the day.

L___ looked at me with a glint in her eye and said,

“Yes, I am really going to go there…. oh yeah……. I am!”

She then spread a bite of beignet with the foie pate. Oh my stars, did that ever look amazing. I had to try it too and it was true evil genius.

An evilly brilliant idea, pâté on a homemade beignet

After a very long wait in line our oysters arrived. Oysters really are just the perfect picnic food. Contained within their rugged and ruffled shells are the perfect bite (or two) of saline, oceanic goodness. Hog Island provides each group reservation with a bag of ice, a huge bag of oysters, a tray, gloves and an oyster knife and shucking instructions if you want them, and mesquite charcoal for the grills, plus all the oysters and mignonette sauce you desire. C___’s mom brought up a pair of sauces that were sloshed on the oysters as they grilled: a red Thai curry sundried tomato sauce and a delicious garlic herb butter. I had intended to bring my amazing garlic butter for oysters but a mishap in the kitchen that morning prevented its use, next time!

LunaRaven13s photo of our oysters

(L___’s photo of our enormous sack of oysters – please check out her other photos and art here and photos of our picnic here)

Everyone got into the fun of shucking and the shucking jokes flew fast and wild. N___, D___ and I took up our knives and started prying oysters open, some to slurp just then and some to put on the grill. Even young master Bug had a go and we were soon drenched in brine and well dusted with bits of shells, miniature mussels and limpets. Oddly this year we noticed the oyster shells were really crumbly and flakey but no one seemed to mind much the bits of extra calcium in their treat. No pictures though, shucking oysters is a messy business.

My method of grilling oysters is simple. Over a bed of coals, you place the rounded side of the oyster on the grilling rack and watch them. After a few minutes liquid will start to bubble and burst out of the shell. At this point, remove them from the heat with tongs and using a towel or hot pad and an oyster knife it is quite easy to slide the knife between the two shells. Remove the top (flat) shell and discard, and cut the oyster free from its curved bottom shell. It’s much easier opening oysters this way than trying to pry them open for a raw bite. If you ever watch an oysterman or a chef at a raw bar open oysters you must understand just how physically tough they are.

Now, return the oyster in its open shell back onto the grill and dollop in a little sauce and watch them again. Remove the oyster from the grill when the sauce is bubbly. Repeat until everyone is full. If you are grilling for more than 30 minutes you will need to add a few more pieces of charcoal to the bed of coals to keep the heat going – I bank them along one side of the grill and move away the oysters from the live flame.

Mini sweaters were a big hit
(lots of wonderful wines and my mini sweaters were a big hit although the whimsy was lost on a few folks. I think they are an essential part to any table.)

The 50 pound bag of oysters seemed large but it didn’t take long to go through them all. We opened more wine and sat back and watched the beautiful view and chatted with each other in a sated fashion.

My BFFs @Biggie and R - such a fun day
(Bug is taking a break after all the pate and oysters in his glamorous Mom’s lap!)

We are all very excited about N___ and C___’s impending move to the Bay Area. I looked around the table and realized that these people, all so near and dear to my heart, were all friends that I found through Twitter.

Picnic buddies @lunaraven13 @knit1eat1 thanks for having us!!!
(C___, N___ and L___)

L__ and I met and bonded over Massa Farm’s duck harvest one year, and she knew D___ from food blogging so the three of us had a blast one night organizing a dinner of the Bay Area Food Bloggers and have been the best of friends ever since. We are like sisters and it’s a wonderful thing.

Mustache gang(the Bay Area Food Bloggers infamous mustache incident on our first excursion together)

Two years ago we had a twitter-sourced meet up of local knitters, crocheters and dyers and met N___, who is an incredible knitting designer and artist, and his husband C____, who graciously kept us company and allowed us to geek out over fiber and fun. Through the magic of Twitter and Facebook we have deepened our relationship and having them move closer is going to be fantastic.

We are planning another visit to Tomales Bay this summer for more oysters and picnicking. I shall be sure to correctly prepare my garlic butter sauce but in the interim will enjoy it on prawns and grilled fish.

Fondue of Butter for Seafood
2 cubes of unsalted butter (1/2 pound or 1 cup)
1 head of garlic, peeled and trimmed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. shallots or onion powder (if desired)

In a small saucepan over very low heat melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook very slowly without simmering for an hour or until the garlic is extremely soft and tender and yet not browned. It is very important to monitor the heat of your stove to ensure the butter does not boil and brown and the garlic stays creamy white. When the garlic is super tender use a fork or an immersion blender to puree the garlic. Add salt to taste, the paprika and the shallot/onion powder. Keep warm while grilling the oysters in a small pot on the corner of the BBQ and dollop spoonfuls into the oysters. Grill until bubbly.

Also, if you are feeling too challenged by dealing with placing the oysters on the grill to finish with the garlic butter, you can place a grill-safe skillet on a corner of the grill and fill with the butter, and plop in the oysters as you open them after their initial grilling. Your guests can use a cocktail fork or spoon to scoop up an oyster as they wish.

Printer-friendly recipe

A few notes: Please buy your oysters and seafood from reputable, sustainable sources. On the West Coast you can gather your own shellfish but the red algae that plague our waters can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP), particularly in mussels, therefore a quarantine applies to our coast from Oregon to Mexico and shellfish are generally unsafe between March and October. You can phone the Biotoxin Information Line 1-800-553-4133 to get updates on current quarantines and health advisories throughout the year. Other types of shellfish, including oysters and clams, and commercially harvested mussels from certified companies are not included in the quarantine. The commercial companies test their shellfish and are certified as toxin-free.

Perfect Protein:

This summer I will be writing about sustainable seafood as part of the Perfect Protein project, created by Eric Ripert and Mario Batali. The book, “The Perfect Protein: A Fish Lover’s Guide to Saving the Oceans and Feeding the World” by Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless, is a new, thought-provoking book on why and how we should and can quickly increase the amount of wild seafood in our oceans; as well as how as consumers we can shop and eat more of the right seafood to help feed the world, address hunger and improve the world’s health. I am proud to be part of this project this summer as I have long been a proponent of wild and sustainable fishing, whether fished by myself or by commercial sources. Since I was a teen I have carried a copy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch’s guide in my wallet, and now have their app on my phone. I love seafood, and feel especially lucky to live on the California coast with all the wonderful edible creatures off our doorstep.

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Diner en Blanc San Francisco

Ever watch those viral videos of flashmobs dancing or doing other crazy things? San Francisco had it’s own version of a flashmob – a dinner al fresco where everyone dresses all in white called Diner en Blanc San Francisco.

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Originally from France, the Diner en Blanc phenomenon is where diners are dressed with the height of fashion and descend upon a secret location at a designated time and dine al fresco, until the end, when everyone magically clears up their picnic and tables and vanish into the night leaving nary a trace of ever being there. Imagine it as an Occupy movement but with food and happiness instead of violence and arrests.

I was invited to attend Diner en Blanc San Francisco with some friends. Months ago the tickets to the event were purchased and the date was set for the late fall but the location was a secret.  We waited excitedly for the email announcing the location, and by 3 pm on the day of the event we learned we would be dining at the Marina Green!

Sadly our brief warm weather departed that morning and the fog was thick and “frizzle” was falling heavily. Frizzle, if you are not in the know, is fog and drizzle, where visibility is hazed and one feels a constant and light prickling of tiny droplets on your skin. It’s quite refreshing if you are a fern but for humans and cats it is quite sodden.

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(Warm but with damp hair)

We had a great time figuring out what to wear and how to decorate our table for the dinner. Our shopping efforts to find elegant, all white evening wear resulted in mostly white denim and linen but we added warmer things like blankets for the laps and luxurious pashmina throws for chilly, frizzled shoulders. I was fortunate enough to have on loan from my mom a luscious cream wool coat with a white fur trimmed hood, normally my apre ski wear but perfect upon this chilly and damp occasion.

We arrived at the Marina Green by 5:00 pm to claim our table and rent our white chairs from the organizers. There were hundreds of dining tables set out on the green and thousands of diners setting their tables and arranging their decor for the evening.

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Our table was dressed in D___’s great aunt’s heavy white damask linen and lace table cloths with matching serviettes, her grandfather’s railroad silver service (Reading Railroad, no less) and a variety of white table wear. I brought along the Block china demitasse set from my late neighbor Lucille, complete with silver demitasse spoons, a S’Well thermos of espresso and another of frothy steamed milk. We had a lovely floral arrangement of cream roses and hydrangea and lime green Irish belles, wrapped in a banana leaf inside a round vase. Tiny votive candles were arranged in little clear cups weighted down with a spoonful of water.

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Despite this elegance, our first effort at Diner en Blanc made our table look like we were the poor churchmice cousins at a fancy dress ball. Surrounding us were tables with extremely elaborate settings teeming silver chargers, 5′ high floral arrangements, candelabra, tiered stands filled with the finest delicacies, silver footed champagne buckets and fancy cocktail shakers, arbors of fairy lights and hanging Chinese lanterns. Someone had recreated the Golden Gate Bridge all in white as their centerpiece!

We vowed next year to take our decor up to the next level and go all out. Nonetheless, we really enjoyed our cozy and quietly elegant table for four.

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Our menu was representative of the bounty of San Francisco: Columbus Salami’s new Farm to Table fennel salami, local cheeses from Rouge et Blanc and an Acme baguette, a salad with strawberries, feta, walnuts and a balsamic dressing, red cooked Chinese chicken, garlic roasted mushrooms and a deluxe French chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, chocolate dipped strawberries and chocolate shavings.

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We sipped Mumms Cuvee Rose sparkling wine and Stag’s Leap Pinot Noir under the foggy skies, and at dusk, lit our candles to dine. The event began with the ceremonial waving of the serviettes and the crowd hooted and cheered until our arms tired of waving the fine linen around in circles.

Throughout the night pockets of cheering erupted as the San Francisco Giants dominated over their playoff game for a spot in the World Series. We saw elegantly dressed people furtively watching the game in flickering candlelight. GO Giants!

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The wind picked up and the frizzle fell firmly but everyone was undeterred in their enjoyment of the evening. Under the drapery of our table linens we were cozy and warm with heavy blankets covering our laps and feet. The breeze played havoc with our votives but we discovered by toppling the cups over they still burned perfectly protected from the wind.

We savored our wonderful dinner.  The salad was teeming with surprise goodies with each bite.  The red cooked chicken was so complex and melt in your mouth and was perfect with the garlic laden miniature mushrooms.  Our bread basket lined in heavy linen became damp from the frizzle but the chewy sourdough and fresh, sweet butter were the quintessential San Francisco accompaniment to our multi-cultural meal.

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We lingered over the wine, nibbling here and there on cheese and salami until the dessert hour was reached.  Cheers went up and more serviette twirling ensued when the Giants won the game, hooray!   We finished the wine at last and then poured steaming hot espresso topped with hot, steamed and frothed milk. The gorgeous cake was cut and a wonderful sugar and caffeine high lifted our laughter above the crowds around us.

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(After – sorry for the flash photo)

Finally, at 9 pm, we hastily packed up our leftovers and table settings, returned our chairs and strolled over to our princess parking by the seawall.

Farewell Diner en Blanc, until next year!

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