A Passion For Picnics

I've got a passion for picnics and I am so happy to share my love and joy for them in this post.

Passion For Picnics was my latest class at Best Health. This class was especially fun for me because it just happened to fall on the first day of summer. I do believe that summer is my favorite season.

Spring is so touch-and-go with chilly days, freak snowstorms, allergens flying about the air, and sickeningly oppressive heat, that I cannot fully embrace the season of my birth with flourish and fanfare. The best I can do is enjoy spring lamb, peas, and look forward to Easter.

Every year since I can remember, I've packed a lunch, made ice cream, gone to a pool, or to a movie in celebration of the Summer Solstice. It amazes me that there are 12 hours of daylight, I think. There's no school, extended late-night hours of my favorite restaurants, outdoor concerts, lightning bugs, and the best months of my life have been spent during the summer.

Every summer I'd travel up north to Philly to stay with my grandmother. The day after school let out until the day before school began, I'd call 19141 my home. While droves of kids were being "sent down south" to see grandparents and forgotten aunts and uncles, I was living the high life: riding the subway, being allowed to walk to the grocery by myself, going to the zoo, to the Mint, meeting "inner-city" kids, watching the Phillies, hoping to stay long enough to see the Eagles in a pre-season game...I truly cherished those summers.

After high school, I became a camp counselor and spent five formative adult years working hard, playing hard, and changing lives at Keyauwee Program Center. As I sit here typing this, I'm picturing the group of counselors there now, many of whom I saw turn from tweens to young women, comforting first-time campers during the thunderstorm we're experiencing in Piedmont North Carolina right now.

To usher in Summer, just as I did Spring, I decided to make some easy, adaptable recipes to make any kind of picnic simple and healthy.

Blackberries straight from the farmer's market

Sliced kiwi and local strawberries

Fruit salad (1/2 cup per serving)
1 pint strawberries
1 pint raspberries
1 pint blackberries
1 cup orange supremes (slices)
4 kiwi, sliced
1 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp Organic raw agave sweetener
3 packets Splenda (optional)
1 bunch fresh mint, chiffonade

Rinse and drain fruit. Place in serving bowl. Whisk together orange juice, agave, and Splenda, if using in a separate bowl. Pour mixture over fruit. Toss gently. Garnish with mint. Serve immediately or refrigerate up to 2 days. If refrigerating, save mint until just before serving.

A finished product: fruit salad garnished with mint chiffonade

Let me extol praises of the joy that is agave sweetener. If you haven't heard of it yet, let it be known that I believe this is going to be part of a new fad soon. It comes from the same plant that tequila is made. I am not sure of the process, but I'm sure these people can tell you: click here.

For my diabetic friends, it will not spike your glucose levels. It's 1 1/2 times sweeter than sugar, so you use less. It is easily dissolvable in hot and cold beverages. You can use it to bake and cook. 1 cup sugar=1/3 cup agave sweetener. My mom found an amaretto flavored one and it is the best tasting thing I think I've ever put in my mouth (besides lobster monter).

Vegetable Chips Serves 4 (1/3 cup per serving)
4 sprays olive oil cooking spray
1 medium zucchini, sliced crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1 medium yellow summer squash, sliced crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled, sliced crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
2 large carrot(s), peeled, sliced 1/8-inch-thick slices
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp each dried basil, chives, parsley, tarragon, dill
2 tsp each dried orange and lemon peel

Crunchy, spicy vegetable chips.

Preheat oven to 200ºF. Coat 2 large baking sheets with cooking spray.
Place zucchini and squash in a single layer on one baking sheet. Place potatoes and carrots in a single layer on other baking sheet. Coat vegetables with cooking spray and season tops of vegetables with herbs and seasonings.
Roast for 1 hour and then rotate trays. Roast until vegetables are crisp and dry, about 30 to 60 minutes more. To keep chips crisp, store completely cooled chips in an airtight container or zip-close plastic bag for up to 3 days. To re-crisp already cooked chips that have gone soft, cook on a baking sheet for about 10 minutes at 250ºF.

Instead of sprinkling the veggies while they were on the pan, I used a Ziploc bag to shake everything up. I sprayed the veg, poured in the seasonings, both sides of all the veggies were coated, and I had an easy clean-up.

You can adjust your seasonings as you see fit. Experiment with something new r use a mixture you know to be tried and true. The chips turned out incredibly crunchy, spicy, and delicious. Oh! They're a great alternative to potato chips any time of the year. Because the oven temp is so low, you won't be adding too much energy (heat) to your home.

Creamy dressing (Serving 2 Tbsp)
1 cup fat-free cottage cheese
1 cup plain Fage 0% Greek yogurt
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 bunch chives, chopped
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 bunch tarragon, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch scallions (white and green parts), finely sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

I apologize for giving you another craptastic photo, but this dressing really is good. Substitute the cottage cheese for sour cream, add a few more cloves of garlic or 3 Tbsp of garlic powder and it becomes ranch dressing. Hidden Valley will have NOTHING on you.

Combine all ingredients. Cover in refrigerator for 1 day. Add to prepared salad.

Red pepper sauce (serving 2 Tbsp)
2 red peppers, roasted, skinned, diced
1 tsp Dixie Crystals Extra Fine Granulated Sugar
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp oregano
1 Tb tomato paste
1/3 cup Kraft fat free Italian dressing

Combine ingredients in a food processor or blend using handheld mixer. Cover in refrigerator for 1 day. Add to prepared salad.

It's not a picnic without some sort of sandwich. I prepared some turkey pastrami and white cheddar petit fours on Merita Light Wheat for my guests. I do believe my efforts were appreciated.

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About the author

Nikki Miller-Ka

Nikki Miller-Ka

Ms. Miller-Ka is a classically trained chef with a BA in English from East Carolina University and a Culinary Arts Associate Degree from Le Cordon Bleu-Miami.

Formerly, she’s worked as a researcher, an editorial assistant, reporter and guest blogger for various publications and outlets in the Southeast. She has also worked as a catering chef, a pastry chef, a butcher, a baker, and a biscuit-maker. Presently, she is a food editor, freelance food writer, and a tour guide for Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tours.

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  1. the look of the salad is so refreshing. perfect for this super hot weather!

  2. oh your whole picnic sounds just wonderful. I feel like I haven't had a real summer in years since San Francisco is usually cold all summer. This first summer back in MN is a treat with warm hot days & warm evenings.

  3. I love all of this! Thanks especially for the vegetable chips. You rock.

  4. The veg chips look awesome. I love picnics and cant wait for reasons to break out my hamper.

  5. Flanboyant: Thanks!

    Kat: I hope that you're able to have a real live picnic soon. That CSA box will help with that, I'm sure.

    Cookie: Thanks to you, too! Those chips are the BEST. I hope you get to try 'em!

    Courtney: They really are awesome. I was surprised at how well the pic turned out. The lighting in that classroom kinda sucks, but it's great for photos. I usually forget to take pics but I won't now!

  6. Wow, you've been busy.

    I'm really hungry for blackberries now. Those look amazing.

    I've been wanting to try agave but I haven't gotten around to it. It's kind of expensive. Maybe it lasts a long time.

  7. Oh, I do share your love for picnics and I have such wonderful childhood memories of wonderful picnics with my family. Love all the salads, although for me a simple sandwich and coffee from a flask will also do for a picnic.

  8. Those all look great Nikki! I just recently got some agave and it is great! I had fun reading your post and learning about your life as a child! I love that fruit with the mint!

  9. Ms Jena: Thank you!

    Emiline: Yes, I have! Thanks for noticing lol You really should try the agave. Yeah, I know, it is expensive, but a little goes a long way. And maybe even ordering it from the 'net would make it cheaper. It would be great in all the things you bake! OOoohhh...

    Nina: I'm glad I'm not the only one that enjoys a good picnic!

    Jenn: Oh yay! I really do love that agave. A lot of my clients are diabetic and it has been a godsend for them.

  10. Oh Nikki, you are just too good to be true. I read on the forum that you have just recently re-styled your blog. It looks wonderful. I love to cook and write about it, but I've never been a very good web designer. It all takes me awhile. Considering everything you do and are busy with, I raise my glass to you. You're awsome!

  11. Teresa: I left you a comment on your blog. No, no...YOU ar too good to be true. I must check out your book!


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