Book review: For an anniversary gift, The Picnic beats all else

Excerpted from The Picnic by Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker, and Jen Stevenson (Artisan Books). Copyright (c) 2015. Illustrations by Emily Isabella.

Excerpted from The Picnic by Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker, and Jen Stevenson (Artisan Books). Copyright (c) 2015. Illustrations by Emily Isabella.

GrapesMy husband and I are preparing for our ninth wedding anniversary this week, and since I’ve never been one to go for the traditional gift items (9th is leather? really?), I’ve decided that #9 must be the year of the picnic.

It can’t hurt that I recently got my hands on a copy of one of the most beautiful cookbooks I’ve ever laid my hands on and it is completely devoted to the art and practice of picnicking. I say art because picnicking is one of those things that can be taken to the nth degree — you can do it easy and pick up sandwiches and head to a park or you can create the most exquisite spread possible with the kind of finger foods that make your guests ooh and ahh for hours on end. Either is perfect any time, but for us, this year, we were going for the latter.

The Picnic: Recipes and Inspiration from Basket to Blanket was written by my Portland friend Jen Stevensen (of Under the Table with Jen, food stylist Andrea Slonecker and magazine writer Marnie Hanel, all founding members of the Portland Picnic Society. These women really know how to do it up, and have shared their knowledge from almost half a decade of picnicking through Portland’s long summers in a book of exceptional loveliness with illustrations by Emily Isabella. The book is essentially a how-to on approaching picnicking as a high-style art, but it is approachable and has options for both casual plein air diners and the more practiced picnic style-setter. It’s divided into the categories: 1 From Basket to Blanket, 2. Bites 3. Salads 4. Plates 5. Sweets and 6. Sips.

You can't feel this image, but The Picnic feels like a party invitation made at a letterpress studio.

You can’t feel this image, but The Picnic feels like a party invitation made at a letterpress studio.

The basket

On a recent trip to Pennsylvania, where I grew up, my mother gifted me with my great-grandmother’s actual picnic basket, the same basket that sat on the top of our refrigerator for my entire childhood. I’ve been cleaning it and displaying it on my own fridge for the past month, eager to get it out. It has these gorgeous hand-carved handles that just break my heart.

If you don't have an heirloom picnic basket (I realize this is a high order, Goodwill often has a good selection.

If you don’t have an heirloom picnic basket (I realize this is a high order), Goodwill often has a good selection.

The setting

We had high plans to get to a nearby park and wear seersucker and really do it up, but we found ourselves with a late morning without our two kids in the house and huzzah! a backyard primed for a blanket. For harried parents I can’t think of a lovelies solution than the backyard when the house is empty!

The menu

I could eat from every one of these recipes every day, but I chose a selection of recipes inspired by the book.

Beet hummus with crudite

Beet hummus with crudite.

This shocking pink hummus is a nice alternative (and has even more vitamins).

Classic deviled eggs

Picnic1

Bring the components separately and pipe on site!

This is the point at which I should mention that I could eat a deviled egg every day of my life and still not have enough. This book has not one but 12 different options! for deviled eggs, including eggs with caviar, horseradish and other bitey alternatives. But the big win is the suggestion to fill the eggs ON SITE using a piping bag or simply a twisted sandwich bag. This was the highlight of the picnic — so fun!

Hawaiian poke salad on cucumber

Cucumber rounds with Hawaiian poke salad

Cucumber rounds with Hawaiian poke salad

This is another one you can assemble on site to great effect. The book suggested a smoked salmon on cucumber finger food, but I’m a giant poke salad fan so I decided to try that instead. There’s nothing like eating raw fish out in the open.

Chocolate cakes with bourbon ice cream

Warning: Don't eat marigolds!

Warning: Don’t eat marigolds!

The best part of this book is how it offers simple picnic hacks to elevate the experience. One of my favorites was 99 Uses for a Mason Jar. I decided to bake some small chocolate cakes directly in a Mason jar (using Orangette’s Winning Hearts and Minds Chocolate Cake recipe from A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table. Then I plopped a scoop of Bourbon vanilla ice cream on top.

Excerpted from The Picnic by Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker, and Jen Stevenson (Artisan Books). Copyright (c) 2015. Illustrations by Emily Isabella

Excerpted from The Picnic by Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker, and Jen Stevenson (Artisan Books). Copyright (c) 2015. Illustrations by Emily Isabella

I’m starting to think that with a July anniversary every year should be a picnic year. Now I have the basket, I have the company, I have a killer chenille blanket and have the inspiration for the next one. Next time we might actually make it to the park or to one of wine country’s picnic-worthy vineyards.

If you’d like to meet the creators of The Picnic: Recipes and Inspiration from Basket to Blanket and even picnic with them, the Portland Culinary Alliance is featuring the authors and the book tomorrow night at the Altabira City Tavern. It’s going to be a giant potluck on a stunning 58-acre farm. Read more about the event here.

How about you? What’s your favorite go-to picnic recipe? My plan is to become the Queen of the Deviled Egg.

A Field Guide to Pistils Nursery in Portland

Pistil's Nursery on N. Mississippi takes greenery and makes art out of it.

Pistil’s Nursery on N. Mississippi takes greenery and makes it art.

airstreamI’m not a plant person, but I’m definitely married to one. We have over 100 bonsai in our backyard and a growing collection of wee trees, as well as the most insane slow-growing rainbow of a succulent collection.

So while on assignment this week in Portland for AAA Via, and with my anniversary looming (in a good way), I thought I’d explore an uncommon garden store:  Pistils Nursery on N. Mississippi.

If you adore plants, you’ll find a welcome home here, but even if you’re not that into greenery you might discover that Pistils is really about living art — finding the inventive ways to incorporate plants into your lifestyle whether you’re a great friend of fronds or really have some black thumbs.

The store definitely has that curated curiosity vibe that makes shopping in Portland so fun in general, but I think it does especially well at finding creative solutions for people who live in cold, gloomy places (ahem, Oregon) or in apartments that don’t get that much dependable sunlight. Succulent displays, vertical solutions for small spaces and leafy green tropical foliage if you’re wild at heart — the options are many.

Tiny Cacti

Take for example these tiny cacti. Adorable. Left alone to grow and watered but barely, they might be the funniest houseplant gift I’ve seen. I could see this being a really sweet gift for someone who has migrated from the southwest and is homesick or just can’t care for anything that needs high maintenance. It might also be a good breakup gift.

Tiny cacti might be the perfect gift for black-thumbed friends with a sense of humor.

Tiny cacti might be the perfect gift for black-thumbed friends with a sense of humor.

Build-your-own Terrarium Bar

In the middle of the store you’ll find an old Chinese medicine chest filled with various types of pebbles, sand, larger rocks and other materials for setting the stage of a terrarium. You pay by the scoopful and can choose a vessel (I’m a fan of the hexagons) from a wall, everything from slim glass containers to fishbowls to apothecary jars. You also have your choice of perfect terrarium plants, all of them priced individually. The Pistil’s staff can help you pick the right plants for your tiny world.

At the terrarium bar, the world is your, um, tiny enclosed dome you control mwah ha ha.

At the terrarium bar, the world is your, um, tiny enclosed dome you control mwah ha ha.

The wall of vessels 

The wall of vessels, which I’ve only partially captured here, shows you a range of options for your container. Below a row of air plants add to options for low-maintainance terrariums.

Terrarium choices abound.

Just a small selection of the terrarium choices.

Self-care wall

Pistil’s also carries a fine wall of self-care items — salves, lip balms, lotions, washes, soaps and the like. Most of them are by local or regional makers, though there are a few from farther afield like San Diego and one from South Africa.

Tropical plants for indoor living.

The self care stock includes some of the city’s best small makers.

Portland Apothecary

There’s a special focus in the self-care sectionon Portland Apothecary, whose founder is a former employee of the store. Portland Apothecary is interesting because it combines traditional herbal medicine with self care (think soaps, lotions, face oils, misters). They make a fun Summer Solstice Mister, herbal teas and limited edition herbal extracts.

026

Marimo Moss Balls

Finally, I give you what might be, for me, the most exciting thing to find at Pistils. These are Marimo moss balls, a traditional Japanese decorative home item often passed between generations. Legend holds that two star-crossed lovers were so distraught at being kept apart they decided to throw themselves into a river and became these moss balls, which float around in perpetuity, becoming larger slowly over time.

Marimo moss balls for your underwater garden.

Marimo moss balls for your underwater garden.

The moss consists of a rare form of sea algae that only grows in certain places of the globe (Japan, Australia, Iceland for example). They need very little care, but you do have to change their water every two weeks and shake them up a bit so every side of them sees some indirect sunlight.

If you live elsewhere and are interested in getting a set you can order them directly from Pistils.

I’m going to do a longer post on these soon, but in the meantime, I’ll leave you to behold these tiny fuzzy, Fraggle-like globes. I’d say their about five steps up from the pet rock, don’t you think? What’s the traditional anniversary gift for nine years? Please tell me it’s moss ball.

The Most Fragrant Rose in Portland

The Young Lycidas smells better than it looks.

The Young Lycidas smells better than it looks.

airstreamA rose is a rose is a rose. Unless you are at the Portland International Rose Test Gardens, where every rose is a thing to behold unto itself.

I’m in Portland all week while my eldest son is at Zoo Camp, so I’m taking the time to do a little traveling by nose.

What is traveling by nose you ask? Well, just seeking out the sensual travel experiences that incorporate smelling. It’s a great way to really focus on what you’re doing when you have just a little time to travel.

My first task was to find the most fragrant rose at the International Rose Test Gardens. Now before you go sniffing every bloom in the place (though I recommend that, too), know that the “most fragrant” has already been designated by the American Garden Rose Selections. According to that group, the most fragrant rose in the test gardens is located in section C1 and is the Young Lycidas.

These roses were named after the short poem “Lycidas” by Milton.  They bloom in clusters or alone and tend to droop a bit.

Good luck finding C1, by the way! Not only is it difficult to find in the garden, there is the problem of the roses I met on the way to the Young Lycidas.

In the meantime, I might have gotten a little distracted by some other roses.

057 062 066 073 075 076 080 082 089 097 102Now that you’ve thoroughly geeked out on roses, back to business. The Young Lycidas is actually in the miniature rose testing section. You can find its row by finding this sign.

110Then, I looked for the flowers themselves, which are full and round, large and deeply cupped. Their petals don’t seem to be arranged in any particular order. Kind of like chaos in a little ball.

Indeed, they are not the most beautiful roses in the bunch — but would you expect any different? The world of smells is so divorced from the world of visual beauty. Rank things can smell beautiful, beautiful things can smell awful. You have to go through the world inhaling it all to find out.

Hold on, I’m almost there!

092This is what always happens to me. The closer I get to a goal the more profound my conviction that I’ll never reach it. That last 10%. But then, when I was sure that I’d never ever find the smelliest rose in the garden and of course it doesn’t even matter because yes, they all smell and each is its own and why even pick the most fragrant, I found the Young Lycidas.

The Young Lycidas smells better than it looks.

The Young Lycidas smells better than it looks.

Except that the first one doesn’t even smell that good. Kind of stinky, actually. Like old roses that haven’t been dried properly. And then I smelled the next one and there is only the fairest hint of fragrance. And I started to wonder about these people, these rose people, like what is UP with their sniffers?

But then I happened upon the one that was blooming at the height of its scent. It hasn’t quite opened yet but is no longer in its tight little bud.

So we learn the only rule about the fragrance of the Young Lycidas. It changes right under your nose.

There is a delicious fragrance that changes markedly with the age of the flower; starting as a pure Tea scent and changing to a blend of Tea and Old Rose, with intriguing hints of cedar wood.– David Austin Roses

But isn’t that how real beauty works? Temporal, passing, catch it while it is there and die a little inside when it goes away.

Lavender Week!: How to Cook with Lavender

Lavender is a versatile herb that can perfume many household staples; but use it in moderation.

Lavender is a versatile herb that can perfume many household staples; but use it in moderation.

perfume-1Lavender is one of the most versatile culinary herbs — used correctly, you can take many of the foods you use regularly anyway and perfume them lightly with the herby, floral, slightly astringent smell of one of the world’s most alluring scents.

But be careful. A little lavender goes a long way. Use it too much and it will completely overpower the other flavors in your dishes. The goal is to add subtle lavender fragrance, not a perfume bomb you can smell half a mile away.

If you are using the lavender from your own garden, here are some steps to preparing the flowers for use in cooking:

Dried lavender will retain its oils and freshness for several months if stored properly, in an airtight container.

Dried lavender will retain its oils and freshness for several months if stored properly, in an airtight container.

  • Harvest the lavender. The blossoms are ready when the brilliant purple flowers have emerged and have not yet begun to wilt. If you are cutting lavender yourself, cut the stalks a few inches above the plant’s woody growth and gather the lavender into a bunch. Tie it together.
  •  Dry the lavender. You can always use lavender fresh, or you can hang it up or lay it flat to dry it. Note: If you are cooking with fresh lavender, use three times the number of flowers as in a dried lavender recipe.
  •  De-stem the lavender. You can use the whole stalk in cooking, but many people prefer to remove the flowers from the stalk and store them separately.
  •  Store it well. Store lavender in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. A Mason jar is a good choice.

Buying Lavender

If you don’t know exactly what has been sprayed on your lavender or on the lavender in the field near you, it is a good idea to buy from a reputable lavender farm or from an online lavender dealer. Byrne and Perry’s Chef Products carries a great Culinary French Lavender, harvested in the Provence.

Grow your own lavender and you won't have to worry about what pesticides might be lurking on it.

Grow your own lavender and you won’t have to worry about what pesticides might be lurking on it.

Cooking with lavender

Here are some ideas for perfuming your food with lavender.

Lavender butter

Smeared on fresh baked goods, there is nothing that feels more special than a specialty butter like lavender butter. Take  (½ pound) of room-temperature butter and top it with a tablespoon of dried, ground (if desired) lavender. Mix the lavender and butter together in a mixing bowl. Chill it for two days to let the lavender flavor develop. Use it directly atop your favorite bread, scone or muffin.

Lavender sugar

Lavender sugar can be used in any recipe calling for cane sugar, so the opportunities are limitless! Use about 1 tablespoon dried lavender for every 2 cups of Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Fair Trade Cane Sugar. If you have an Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder with Stainless Steel Blades, or food processor, grind the lavender for about 15 seconds to develop the lavender flavor. Add a cup of granulated sugar to the process and blend well, about three or four quick presses on a Cuisinart. Store the lavender sugar in an airtight container such as a Ball Jar  and use it in all of your favorite sweet baking recipes that call for sugar.

Lavender vodka

Using a funnel, drop about a ¼ cup lavender flowers into a bottle of your favorite vodka. Take out the funnel and close the bottle. Shake, so the flowers mix throughout. Store in the freezer for three days. Strain the vodka into a separate container, using a fine-mesh sieve, a cheesecloth or a paper towel. Squeeze the bundle with the flowers in it to extract as much lavender flavor as possible. Pour the vodka back in the bottle and store in your freezer for use in a lavender vodka tonic with a splash of lime. If you’re inspired to try more botanicals in your cocktails, check out The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks.

Lavender balsamic vinaigrette

Lavender can add a quick, floral kick to any basic vinaigrette recipe. In vinaigrette recipes calling for a combination of balsamic vinegar, oil, honey and ground pepper, add 1 tablespoon of fresh lavender (or a third of that of dried) for every 1½ cups of vinaigrette.

Lavender-roasted chicken

Poultry invites new herb combinations, and lavender will be a real surprise to your guests. Create a rub for roasted chicken using about a tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1½ tablespoons dried lavender, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon honey.

Lavender and blueberry anything

Of all the fruits you can perfume with lavender, blueberry is my favorite. And lucky for us, they usually are in season at the same time. Try putting lavender sugar into your favorite blueberry cobbler at the height of the season, bake some lavender directly into blueberry lavender scones, or infuse some milk with lavender and pour it atop fresh blueberries. About half a teaspoon of lavender is usually a good fit with a pint of fruit.

Salmon and lavender

Create a rub of lime zest and lime juice from two limes, ½ teaspoon thyme, ½ teaspoon dried lavender, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil. Rub the seasoning mix on salmon fillets and bake as you would in your favorite salmon recipe.

How do you use lavender? If you are inspired to try more recipes with lavender, I highly recommend Sharon Shipley’s The Lavender Cookbook.

New Updates for Your 5 Senses: Can you really smell one trillion scents?

5Senses

In my quest to rage against the purely digital life, I’ve started compiling new information on what we are learning about the senses. Here are some of the latest sensual discoveries in the world of science and medicine.

Smell

Remember the startling statistic released last year by Science that the human nose can actually smell more than a trillion scents? Now, some researchers are calling bunk. Gizmodo has a great article out on why the statistical model used to reach that model is just that, and not based in reality.

“We disagree with several aspects of the 2014 study,” said Rick Gerkin of Arizona State University, who, along with Jason Castro of Bates College, authored a rebuttal paper that appears today in the journal eLife. “First, the assertion that humans can discriminate between at least one trillion odors is based on a fragile mathematical framework — one that’s capable of creating nearly any result with small variations in the data or the experiment design. So the result in question could be tens of orders of magnitude — a factor of one with dozens of zeros after it — larger or smaller than first reported.” — Gizmodo.com

Touch

People with autism have brains wired differently to respond to the sense of touch, according to this article by the Simons Foundation for Autism Research about a new Yale study.

“People without autism automatically interpret the social significance of the touch and start revving up the parts of the brain involved in processing social information,” says lead researcher Kevin Pelphrey, professor of psychology at the Yale Child Study Center. By contrast, he says, people with autism “perceive the non-social aspects of touch, but they don’t perceive the significance.” — Sfar.org 

Hearing

A new type of headphones allows bicyclists to hear traffic while listening to headphones. A Royal College of Art student completed the headphones as part of her graduate project. She was studying on the RCA’s Design Products course, created the Safe+Sound headphones after noticing a large number of cyclists wearing earphones while travelling on London’s busy roads.

“Eliminating your sense of hearing puts you and others around you at enormous risk,” she said. “Yet I can completely understand the desire to move to music.” — Emma Roper, quoted in DeZeen Magazine

Taste

A Huffpost article explores the phenomenon of the “supertaster,” or the genetically based ability some people have (roughly 25% of the population) to taste at deeper levels than their family members. The article takes that idea and applies it to the kids who are picky eaters.

“Different sensory experiences impact appetite, comfort, and curiosity around food, as do personality traits like being a risk-taker vs. preferring the familiar. Understandably, a history of pain or discomfort with eating or digesting, or food allergies can also negatively impact how a person relates to food.” — Katja Rowell, Huffpost.com

Sight

Digital eye strain is on the rise. Rage against the tyranny of the visual by focusing on your other senses, or do as this article suggests, which is to incorporate a diet rich in vision-enhancing nutrients to battle eye strain.

“Approximately 10 million Americans suffer from macular degeneration, and that number is set to rise exponentially in the next few years. Some experts believe that delaying the onset and progression of the condition can be found in a diet rich in eye-healthy nutrients.” — TechNews.com

That’s all for now. Go smell some roses! Follow me on Twitter @emilygrosvenor

Write It Slant: 3 New Must-Read Women’s Memoirs

 

BooksIKept

Ever since I cleared out 5/6 of my library I’ve been going full throttle on my own memoir and immersing myself in the study of the genre. But I’m not just reading any old life story — I’m deliberating choosing the kind of stories where the writer explores a part of herself through a specific pursuit or obsession.

Think about it: Memoir is poetry in book-length form. By writing at the thing you use to explore your particular issue — grief, self-discovery, trauma, childhood —  you can say more than if you were to attack it directly. As in poetry, the object becomes theme. Human beings, after all, process their stories through behavior before they can ever really articulate what was going on. Brenda Miller put out a great book on this very topic a few years ago in her book on writing creative nonfiction, Tell It Slant.

In writing about the thing they can’t stop doing, in exploring their lives through one specific lens, these writers have an exceptional filter through which they can tell their stories. Reading them has been like a master class for the memoir I am writing about finding a sense of home through scent. Here are three I have loved.

1. H is for Hawk

HisforHawk
British writer Helen Macdonald is one of those Renaissance women I can’t help but admire — a poet, illustrator, naturalist, historian, research scholar, and perhaps most curiously, raptor trainer. In the wake of her father’s death she looks for a way to channel her grief by acquiring and caring for a Goshawk, a kind of raptor known among falconers as being the most difficult to train. Her book H is for Hawk is a moment-by-moment exploration of tending to one’s own inner wounds by focusing on the minutiae of a singular pursuit — in this case, falconry. Steeped in the poetry of a naturalist and rife with lovely meditations on loss, H is for Hawk is for everyone who understands that grief has a vocabulary different to every individual. in taming her hawk, she finds a way to corral a heart gone feral. I highly recommend it.

Scent passage:

“The hawk had filled the house with wildness as a bowl of lilies fills a house with scent.”

2. Hammerhead: The Making of a Carpenter

nina

Nina McLaughlin was a late-20s news writer for the Boston Phoenix when the tyranny of clicks and likes and likes sent her looking for something else. At the height of the recession, she responded to an ad on Craigslist from a woman named Mary looking for an assistant carpenter  Over the next five years, McLaughlin would err and persevere, build and join, demolish and screw her way to a new understanding of life by learning one of the oldest crafts in existence. In Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter, the reader learns with her — and not just about carpentry, but how to be humble before a master, become confident while maintaining unbridled curiosity, and push forward in the face of any failure. Her focus on the craft of carpentry feels like Thoreau, as if she were channeling the master, respecting the craft, carpentry and writing alike. It’s an inspiring, visceral read, something of a big 4U to working at a computer.

Scent passage:

“Sawdust spewed and dusted down onto the pavement, resting in craters in the cement, and the smell of pine moved with it, bright and clean, the smell of Christmas, renewal.”

3. Coming Clean: A Memoir

ComingClean
If you’ve ever turned away from watching the TV show Hoarders because it feels exploitative, you’ll much prefer Coming Clean: A Memoir, Kimberly Rae Miller’s thoughtful, train-wreck of a memoir about her paper-hoarding father and her shopaholic mother. Growing up in a household filled with trash can’t help but change a person, and so it is with Miller, who fights her way through the shame, disgust and self-loathing of living in unclean surroundings to come out on the other end a self-actualized young woman with a bright future. And though the subject she takes as the filter for her life story is the chaos of trash, her memoir is the opposite of disorganized, showing just how possible it is for a writer to draw meaning and create story but sifting through all the garbage. I can’t say enough good things about this memoir, which shows how gently but powerfully you can write about family, even when they’re a problem you don’t want to just go away.

Taste passage:

“Each room has its own particular flavor of squalor, but what remains constant is that I am always trying to figure out where and how to start to fix it.”

 Have you read any great memoirs lately? Are you writing one?

 

How to Make Mint Oil

The mint is going CRAZY in our garden. Here is one of my most popular posts for how to make mint oil.

Mint2

PerfumeI have a problem on my hands and its name is mint.

By now my garden has gone all but fallow and has nothing but a massive cloud of almost invasive mint spewing forth out of its raised bed.

I say almost invasive.

You see, just a few months ago I had transplanted this particular mint plant to another part of the garden. I had been doing the square foot gardening method, and mint was inching its way, like an army, across the lines and into the Swiss Chard. It wasn’t letting up. It was lush and gorgeous and absolutely not where I wanted it. So I pulled it out — or so I thought — and replanted it in another bed, near the squash, where it would bother exactly no one.

Just a few weeks later it rose, Phoenix-like, out of the ashes, to take over its two square…

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