At a tiny flea market in the apple country village of Oak Glen, I stumbled across a lovely picnic basket and simply had to buy it. At five dollars, it’s an item that will yield many great delights and festive occasions in the days to come. My first inclination was to wait until the weekend to pack it full of goodies and take it out for a picnic by the seaside. But then I got wonderful news from my dad that brought such joy and cheer to my heart: his 6-month post-op cancer screening came back clear! And then I thought, why wait – what better news than this to celebrate with a picnic dinner at home under the evening sky right in the middle of the week.
Sometimes we have the tendency to put our heads down and power through the busy weekdays, waiting until the weekend to unwind. Days fly by and blur together, the sun cyclically rises and sets, and by week’s end a collective sigh is evident worldwide amongst social media. But hearing of my dad’s good health reminded me to savor this day, a seemingly mundane mid-week one, and to make time for festivities and merriment beyond the weekend. So I whipped up some simple fare, Allen shook us up some delicious cocktails, and we headed up to the rooftop for a celebratory picnic dinner just before sunset.
We nibbled on Saint-André cheese and Castelvetrano olives as a starter course – an earthy triple cream cheese and crisp, bright green olives that taste more like olive oil than their briny counterparts. To keep things easy and light, I made endive cups – rosemary pecan chicken salad for the hunters and curried egg salad for the gatherers. I served both of these salads (in tea sandwich form) at my best friend’s baby shower last fall, and they turned out to be big crowd pleasers. They are such effortless recipes but so full of flavor and levity. Cucumber mint martinis served as a wonderful palate cleanser in between bites, and the strawberry carpaccio is a versatile dish that can be served as either an appetizer or dessert. The true standout was the pistachio cream – so light and airy yet nutty and decadent. Be warned, it’s addictive (you’ll taste it as you make it and then won’t stop tasting it), so be sure to make enough to last until dinner!
What I love about dining outdoors in California is watching the azure sky burst into a fierce orange fire and then slowly fade into a vivid pink hue tinged with streaks of violet and indigo. A slow gradation of colors that is so magnificent before the moon and the stars finally come out of hiding and dominate the skies. It’s the perfect canopy under which to dine and enjoy a few carefree hours. The best part is when the cool evening breeze starts to tickle the back of your neck, giving you reason to cozy up under a blanket, lean back in your chair, and exhale all of the daily stresses and worries into the wind, up, up and away.
ENDIVE CUPS WITH CURRIED EGG SALAD
Ingredients (serves 2-3):
¼ cup light or fat-free mayonnaise
¼ cup raisins
2 spring onions, sliced
1 ½ tsp curry powder
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 endive leaves
Soak raisins in warm water for 1-2 minutes, then strain and set aside. Place eggs in pot and fill with enough cold water to cover eggs. Bring to boil. Cover pot with lid and turn off heat as soon as water boils. Keep lid on for 12 minutes, then strain water and rinse eggs with cold water. Peel eggs and mince with fork in mixing bowl. Add rest of ingredients and stir together. Scoop 2 tbsp of mix onto each endive leaf – makes about 8 endive cups.
ENDIVE CUPS WITH ROSEMARY PECAN CHICKEN SALAD
Ingredients (serves 3-4):
½ chicken breast (bone-in and skin-on), approx. 2 lbs
½ cup light or fat-free mayonnaise
¼ cup dried cranberries
2 spring onions, sliced
¼ cup toasted pecans, chopped
1 ½ tsp rosemary, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
12 endive leaves
Preheat oven to 400°. Rinse chicken breast and then pat dry with paper towels. Coat with olive oil and season both sides generously with salt and pepper. Place skin side up in roasting pan and roast in oven for 10 minutes. Turn down oven to 350° and roast for another 35-45 minutes (ovens vary) until meat thermometer reaches 180°. While chicken is roasting, soak dried cranberries in warm water for 1-2 minutes, then strain and set aside. Remove chicken from oven and let cool. Cut chicken breast into 1 inch cubes. Mix chicken in bowl with rest of ingredients. Scoop 2 tbsp of mix onto each endive leaf – makes about 12 endive cups.
*To make the chicken salad even lower carb, you can either omit the cranberries, or just garnish each endive cup with 2-3 cranberries. Same goes for the raisins in the egg salad.
STRAWBERRY CARPACCIO WITH PISTACHIO CREAM
Ingredients (serves 2):
12 fresh strawberries, sliced into thin vertical slices
6-7 mint leaves
1/3 cup pistachios
1 cup whipping cream
2 tsp agave nectar, plus more for drizzling
Preheat oven to 350°. Rinse strawberries and slice into very thin vertical slices (see photos). Arrange strawberry slices on plate. Toast pistachios in oven for 5-6 minutes. While still hot, grind the pistachios in a food processor or blender until they form into a crumbly paste texture. In mixing bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Whip the pistachio crumb-paste and agave nectar into the cream. Place heaping dollop of pistachio cream onto strawberry carpaccio and garnish with mint leaves.
CUCUMBER MINT MARTINI
Ingredients (serves 1):
3 oz cucumber juice, freshly squeezed
1 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz lime juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp agave nectar
2-3 mint leaves
Muddle mint leaves. Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker and shake together with ice. Strain into martini glass. Garnish with a fresh cucumber slice and mint leaf.