Sunday, May 18, 2008

Saturday in the Park with Bob

Yesterday was my birthday and what a lovely birthday weekend I'm having. Technically, it started on Wednesday night at my knitting class, when my students surprised me with two of my favorite things. Food:and Wine:The cupcakes are from Sensational Bites, a local bakery. Up there are Chocolate, Red Velvet, Raspberry Truffle, and Boston Creme, of recent fame. I had the Boston Creme, which was rich and pudding-y and delicious. I wanted to try them all, but that seemed excessive even for a birthday girl. It just gives me a reason to go there another time, to try another flavor.

The wine is an intriguing grenache from the Barossa Wine Region of Australia. I love the playfulness of the name. One of my students brought a bottle in for a little party we had last month (we do actually knit at knit class, honestly we do) and I got such a kick out of asking everyone if they wanted a little bitch. But the crowning moment was when another student, who came a little late, asked "Who brought the bitch?"

Apparently, the grenache grape is difficult to grow. I think that might be a little of the play on the name. But even though the name is catchy, the wine is actually very good. Not only did they bring a bottle for us to consume on Wednesday night, they brought me a bottle of my very own. There was also a bottle of something called Evil from the same company. Along with a bottle of Goats Do Roam, a South African wine which was also very good. I got to bring the rest of that bottle home with me too. Yes, I am one lucky knitting teacher.

I've taken off work Friday and Monday, so I had a lovely day on Friday. I did not set my alarm and slept until I woke up around 8:45. I took care of the necessary chores right away, like laundry and the dishes, then spent some time reorganizing my apartment and going through the humongous pile of clipped recipes and food-related articles that had accumulated over the past year. That took most of the day.

I also finished my market string bag so I could take it with me to the Green Market:The plan was for Bob to meet me at the Green Market yesterday morning, where we would roam around and buy some picnic goodies, then go eat at in the park. Since the Green Market starts every year on my birthday week, it has become something of a tradition for me to always go that first week. The pickings are usually a little slim because it's the beginning of the season, but I can usually count on some asparagus and spinach, and Nicholson Farms always has potatoes.

But the moment I got there I realized something was different. There was live music, a stage set up off to the side, and about a thousand people. Turns out it's the ten year anniversary of the market, and the Mayor was there and it was this big deal. I am happy that the market is so successful, but selfishly, I was annoyed that there were so many people in the way. The main thing I had wanted for our picnic was some bread, but the line was just too long:So I ran around and grabbed some purple asparagus, spinach, and potatoes while I waited for Bob. As soon as he got there I grabbed him and said "Let's get out of here." I think he wanted to check it out, but I was ready to go start our picnic.

Since I didn't get any bread at the market, we walked down Clark Street to the Big Apple, where we picked up a lovely loaf of french bread (I think it was Gonella) and a container of the most beautiful, fresh-looking cut up strawberries I've ever seen. From there we walked up Fullerton to Lincoln Park, where we sat in the gorgeous sunshine and watched the ducks and the people. It was beautiful. The trees are all fully in bloom and there are all kinds of lush green grasses growing. We passed a beautiful white-flowered tree (don't know what it is) and Bob agreed to pose next to it.And now for the food. You knew there was going to be food, didn't you? In the past, Bob and I have gotten in the habit of meeting for coffee, then walking along the park or the lake, then walking back toward home on Clark Street, stopping for breakfast at Anne Sather, the Melrose, or lately Frances Deli (until it closed for remodeling a couple of weeks ago). But with
winter being so damned crappy crappy crappy (oh, and did I mention crappy?) this year, Bob had the brilliant suggestion that, instead of heading back to a restaurant for brunch, we bring goodies with us and have a little picnic in the park or by the lake while the weather is so nice. I thought it was a great idea, and I love that we decided to kick it off on my birthday.

So even though we talked about just picking up picnic-type food while we were out, I couldn't stop thinking about picnic food, and wondering what kinds of things would be good to make. Something relatively easy to eat, that did not have to stay warm, where we could pick up stuff to accompany it so I didn't have to bring a whole lot of stuff with me.

Years and years ago when I was young (can you tell I just had a birthday?) we had a party at work. One of my co-workers brought home-made pimiento cheese and I just could not get over how good it was, especially compared to the store bought stuff I was used to. When I asked for the recipe, she just shrugged and wrote down a few ingredients, without measurements or anything, and said "Just mix it all together." I filed it away in my recipe box, but I never made it.

On Friday, when I was trying to come up with some ideas for our picnic, I did a little online searching and saw a suggestion for pimiento cheese. Seemed like the perfect thing. And maybe a little ham to go with it? I went down to Treasure Island for inspiration. I already had a goat cheddar cheese I bought at Pastoral last week, but I needed something orange to go with it. They had a beautiful Double Gloucester that I hoped would pair nicely with the cheddar. I wandered over to the deli, and the minute I got there I knew I wanted prosciutto, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it. The woman who helped me told me to get a honeydew melon and wrap it with the prosciutto. I thought that would complement the pimiento cheese quite nicely.

So I found what I hoped was a ripe melon and threw it in the cart. After I got home I cut open the melon (yay! It was ripe!), and started digging in with my melon baller. I grated up my cheeses, added the rest of the other ingredients and mixed that all up.

I waited until yesterday morning to wrap the prosciutto around the melon balls and secure them with toothpicks. I only had six slices of meat; each worked for three balls, so I had 18 wrapped melon balls. I put the unwrapped balls in the container, and then arranged the wrapped ones on top. I thought it looked pretty nice. By the time we got to the park and opened it up, the meat had kind of melted into the honeydew, and they were just perfect.I had put the cheese in a thermos container so it would stay cool. After our refreshing appetizers, I opened up the thermos. We pulled off chunks of the bread and slathered on the cheese. The bread was perfect - crusty and crisp on the outside, soft and fresh on the inside. The cheese had softened to just the right consistency. Sharp and tangy, with an indulgent overtone of green-olive-salty from the pimientos, it was just what I had hoped it would be. The bread and cheese together were smooth and luscious.
And the strawberries were the perfect dessert. They cut through the saltiness of the cheese and helped quench our thirst. I couldn't have asked for a more successful picnic. We walked back to my neighborhood, said our goodbyes, and Bob decided to walk home while I got ready to go in to the knit shop.

Where I got more cupcakes and some delicious Mexican cookies from Mary and Jessica, respectively. Mary of BertandFelix fame brought chips and salsa. It was nice, and very low key, which was what I wanted. We all got started on the Rosalie Skirt from the new Louisa Harding book, the store's first KAL project. There was quite a bit of cursing and starting overs around the table, but I think everyone had a good time. I know I did.

The evening ended with sushi at Kamehachi with a couple of knitting friends. The perfect end to a perfect day.

Even if it's not your birthday, I highly recommend a picnic in the park. Pimiento cheese is the perfect picnic food: it's incredibly easy to make, it travels well, and all you need to make it perfect is to stop and pick up a loaf of crusty french bread on the way to your destination.

And today is Andrew's birthday. Happy Birthday, Andrew!
Pimiento Cheese

Cheddar cheese (I used white goat cheddar)
Monterrey Jack or Mozzorella cheese (I used Double Gloucester since the cheddar was white)
- 8 ounces total. You can either use equal parts of both, or two parts cheddar to one part Jack
2-oz. jar pimientos, with juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
dash of cayenne
1/8 to 1/4 cup mayonnaise

Grate cheeses. Mix together with all other ingredients, starting with 1/8 cup of mayonnaise and adding more if needed. Chill before using. The longer it sits, the more the flavors blend.

Recipe basically adapted from my friend Cathy Best (whom I hadn't seen for years, and haven't seen again after reconnecting once a few years ago, how does that happen?)


Anonymous said...

what a great day!!
you sound very happy. i'm glad.

happy birthday, i was there, i would have been at the knitting party.

Anonymous said...

i mean if i was there in chicago...

i'm heading back soon, in the next 3 weeks.

dejamo said...

Hi there! I knew what you meant, and I thought of you. It was very sweet of everyone.

I did have a great day Saturday. The weather was beautiful and it was the perfect day to be outside.

See you in a few weeks!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...