Friday, September 12, 2008

Old Fashioned, End-of-Summer Picnic

Southern-fried chicken on an old-fashioned picnic basket herald the end of summer.

Where did the summer go?

Kids are back in school, moms and dads are packing lunches and driving car pools, the days are getting shorter and Target is already hawking Halloween candy and costumes. Thanksgiving and Christmas can't be far away.

To celebrate (and mourn) the end of summer, I invited some friends for an old-fashioned trespassing picnic. We could have enjoyed our picnic lunch in our back yard, any one of the dozens of parks in Altadena/Pasadena or a nearby wilderness area, such as Eaton Canyon, but what would have been the fun of any of these perfectly legal options?

Instead, we packed up our baskets and blankets and walked a few feet down our street to a small, private vacant wooded lot. The owner of the lot, which is scattered with California Live Oak trees and native plants, lives in an imposing Mediterranean home next door. So we felt a little naughty trespassing on her lovely undeveloped property, but that always makes the chicken taste just a little better.

When our daughter, now 19, was in elementary school, we often smuggled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to our "secret garden." It had been nearly a decade since I'd enjoyed a picnic among the oaks.

Not your typical "vacant lot"

We started with an assortment of appetizers.

A simple crab salad served on endive on a bed of tarragon. Rainy Days and Sundays served a similar salad at her father's retirement party.

No picnic would be complete without deviled eggs. These, filled with sour cream, Japanese Kewpie mayo, a touch of dijon and dill, are served on a bed of dill. I got a little carried away with the condiments, so these were a little too "wet," but still tasted great.

One friend brought homemade pesto and home-grown tomatoes, garlic and basil served on a crusty French bread

Our main course was the buttermilk fried chicken from Martha Stewart's Fried Chicken 101. The secret is an 8-hour brine bath followed by an 8-hour buttermilk bath. Hey, I think I'd be pretty succulent too after all that soaking. Then the chicken is dredged in flour, salt and pepper and fried to a deep mahogany color. Another friend provided a crisp green salad filled with vegetables from her garden.

And, of course, no picnic would be complete without a chocolate layer cake. This decadently delicious one was a belated birthday cake baked by another friend.

Just for good measure, another friend brought yummy chocolate cookie bars.

I came home, cleaned the ants out of the picnic basket, took a well deserved nap and dreamed of throwing an Autumn picnic.

(And don't worry. I have my neighbor's "tacit" permission to use the secret garden.)


Anonymous said...

I'm awestruck. What beautiful food! And beautiful photos of beautiful food. So glad you break and enter; me too!

Susan C said...

Not only was the food beautiful, but it tasted great too. The left over chicken in the fridge is calling me NOW. (I'll be right there.)

BTW, gotta any recommendations for sites for our next "trespassers picnic"?

Anonymous said...

OK, no one ask me to come along to the picnic and I love fried chicken too. Be sure to give me a call next time you go on a picnic. The food looks amazing.

Anonymous said...

Deviled eggs are about the only thing I know how to make.'ll bring the deviled eggs. I once made the mistake back in the 80's of throwing red and blue food coloring into the mix (4th of July party). A certain art critic for the L.A. times got drunk and started throwing them like snowballs. I wasn't drunk but I was horrified.

Susan C said...

Hey, Chuck, bring some of your fig and anise bread or sourdough biscuits or savory breakfast loaf, or, well heck, anything from your oven, and you will be number one on the picnic list.

And, PA, you're welcome to bring the deviled eggs, sans food coloring. Hilarious about the drunken art critic!

Anonymous said...

I know some interesting places for the next guerilla picnic, but I can't actually say we would have been given permission. Of course, if they catch us, we can always lob some deviled eggs.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a spread. Your deviled eggs look delish and that cake is gorgeous!

Susan C said...

AH, I'm getting so excited about the site for the next trespassers picnic. Let's talk!

Amritac, yes, that cake was divine, but I can take no credit for it. MMMM, the stuffed peppers on your site sound fab!

Anonymous said...

Yes, let's talk. My first thought is a place that's on top of the world.

Anonymous said...

What an absolutely fantastic picnic! I've made that same Martha fried chicken recipe and it's the best. Love that you didn't forget dessert! :-)

Patrizzi Intergarlictica said...

I am living in the shadows of the pure perfection of these foodie photos. Mahogany chicken needs to be made in my kitchen when it's not soooo hot.

Christina said...

Beautiful! What a perfect day.

Anonymous said...

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