Autumnal Summer Part Deux: Picnic & Pickin’

October 2011

A long while ago, I mentioned how autumn allures me.  Since then, my relationship with the fall season has been more love-hate.  I love the changing leaf colors, the crispness in the air, the honey crisps and acorn squashes, the cinnamon sticks and cider vapors, but I hate the sneaking warnings of winter and its bitter cold winds.  However, when the temperatures create a very temporary, transitional season, the season I am calling “Autumnal Summer,” I have nothing but love to offer to the world!  What better way to celebrate autumnal summer than a picnic and pickin’ adventure outside the city bounds?!?  The visions were whirling in my imagination, and I began the reality in the kitchen, of course!

Pssst… This is a long one!  Might I suggest something for your listening pleasure, so you can really kick back and enjoy this post?  Take a hint from our picnic listening and let Tremolo by The Pines take you to your country place.

THE PREPARATIONS

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad

Ingredients

Olive Oil

1 Golden Beet, peeled and sliced
1 Red Beet, peeled and sliced
1 Large sweet potato, peeled and sliced
1 Red pear, sliced
1 Bosch pear, sliced
3 Cloves of garlic, sliced
All natural dried cranberries

1/2 teaspoon curry powder
Cinnamon, to taste
Nutmeg, to taste
Cloves, to taste

2-3 Tablespoons organic, unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons organic brown sugar

Let your taste and intuition dictate on this one, but here’s the idea:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Grease a 9×13 inch pan with olive oil.  Combine the first set of ingredients in the pan.  Stir a few times to coat the vegetables in the oil.  Add the spices and stir again.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until the vegetables/fruit is tender.  Remove the pan from the oven.  Add the butter and brown sugar.  Stir as the butter melts.  Return to the oven for a few minutes until the sugar has dissolved.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
*Once cool, remove the cloves.

Meanwhile, stir a handful of hazelnuts in a saucepan over medium-high heat until fragrant.  Add a couple Tablespoons of honey and stir quickly.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

To Assemble the Salad

In a large bowl, combine the roasted vegetables/fruit with mixed greens, the honey roasted hazelnuts and the blue cheese of your choice.  Add a sliced pear for a garnish.

Charcuterie

Moroccan Lamb Coppa from the Crested Duck Charcuterie, local green apple slices, organic red pear slices, manchego cheese and a touch of ground black pepper.

Fall Harvest Loaves

(Click the image to enlarge the recipe)

PS:  I am calling these “loaves” in the vein of “pumpkin bread,” but let’s be real, this is cake!  Also, next time I approach the pear/sage combination, I will be bolder with the sage!  Be daring!

The plan for the cocktail?

Champagne
Organic Sparkling Cranberry Italian Soda
A Garnish of Apple/Pear/Orange/Natural Dried Cranberry

(Picnic tested; picnic approved)

All packed and ready to start the sunny adventure…

THE PICNIC

There was something very spontaneous and maybe a smidge naive about my vision for this adventure:  We’d drive down a winding, country road, find an idyllic picnic location, removed enough from “it all” so as not to be shot by a gun-wielding, property owner and then just enjoy the sunshine with good friends and good food.  Wilderness Road looked promising.

My film professor used to quote Werner Herzog to me quite consistently, “I believe the common denominator of the Universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder.”  Said film mentor would use this quote to contest the way most people perceive nature as a pristine and calm system.

As we drove on roads winding through beautiful country fields interrupted by cul-de-sacs, a landfill, bursts of highway and finally deforestation, the visions in my head began to resemble The Lorax, with a Herzog narration more than a day at a country cottage.  I was beginning to think maybe I had lost all touch with reality while falling blissfully into fantasies of picnic baskets, an occasion for hats and sipping champagne in a field.

However, there is a something to be said for determination!  Wilderness Road may have offered its fair share of [disgusting] obstacles (bulldozers and weird sludge?!?), but we persevered.  Lo and behold, there was a place for us amidst the chaos of Western, Pa, and it was everything I wanted the spot to be!  There was sunshine, the changing colors of leaves, the occasional raining of those leaves around our clearing, peace and quiet (except for the popping of our champagne cork)!

(Apparently, I was very excited and encouraging when it came to popping the champagne)

Fortunately, cork is compostable because that sucker went fllllllllllying!

Nature’s dessert:  local apples drizzled with honey

Nature’s sound system…(are you still listening to The Pines?!?)

The gents went on a reconnaissance mission.  Something about two squirrels carrying a pumpkin?!!?  That’s why you always go on the reconnaissance mission!  Lesson learned?

With the bubbly consumed and our stomachs content, it was time to pack up and switch gears to the pickin’ component of the afternoon adventure plans.

A little bit of a back story…

My family has a deep affinity for ice cream.  I won’t lie; I have a fairly strong conviction my oldest sister married her husband because he is part of the family behind Merrymead Farm, a dairy (ie:  constant ice cream supply) farm in the ‘burbs of Philadelphia.  During the month of October, Merrymead holds “Harvest Days.”  I initially attended the fall festivities as a smaller Quelcy.  I would jump in the hay, attempt to launch baby pumpkins into a bathtub, in a cow field, meander my way through corn mazes, bounce on the hayride en route to picking my perfect pumpkin, pet baby cows, have my face covered in paint, have at least one temporary tattoo make its way to my body, eat a cider donut, probably eat some ice cream and call it a day.

This would repeat as many weekends as my sister was willing to take me, until the day when I was old enough to be employed by Harvest Days and had to be there every weekend.  As an ambitious youth, I climbed the silo ladder from game attendee (incidentally, this is why I question adults who are obsessed with “corn hole”… have you never been to a commercial farm in the fall?!?) to face painter.  After the many harvest weekends as an employee, everything began to blur into one crying kid with a snotty face, and I would gladly usher in the month of November.

Fast forward to a few years ago when some friends talked about going to pick pumpkins and apples at a farm outside of Pittsburgh.  I had a vision of neatly ordered rows of apple trees and a pleasant field of pumpkins.  A friendly farmer in plaid would hand me a basket.  I’d pick what I deemed the ready apples.  He’d weigh my basket, I’d pay, and voila!  The reality was a lot of obese Steelers fans in a confined and commercial section of a farm, wining kids and an overall frenzy that struck a little too close to home.  Where were the apple trees?!?  This time around, as visions of autumn activities escalated to near Victorian outings in my head, I prepared myself more for the reality of hayrides, face paint and screaming children.

THE PICKIN’ (in theory)

A friend, who is well versed in the local apple orchard scene, suggested Shramm Farms & Orchards might fit more into my idyll fantasies.  It was closer than my previous experience, but it was not the cigar.  In conclusion, I probably just want to be a day laborer for one day and take my lunch break under an orchard tree.  In the meantime, I embraced what Shramm had to offer.

Really contemplated how to disassemble and transport this teepee…

Shramm’s biggest offering?

THE PIRATE THEMED CORN MAZE!!!

The competition was fierce [it wasn’t at all fierce].  Upon charging the labyrinth’s entrance, nature dictated a division into pairs.  Jono and Quelcy had accepted the mission:  find and mark the pirate symbols, culminating in a treasure chest, in the inner sanctum, of the inner corn circle.  Nicole and Eric Beauregardless caved under the pressure, and sadly, they exited having never even glimpsed the majesty of a treasure [there was no treasure] in a [cardboard] chest in a maze made of maize [completely intentional word play]. 

Go ahead and click on the corn maze pursuits to enlarge the raw emotion on the trail to glory [and complete and utter failure]! 

Not a pumpkin or apple was picked among us.  Instead, I walked away with this flour, mostly because of that Grandma and a little bit because of “Flannel Cake!”

All in all, a very memorable autumnal summer experience!  Thank you friends for playing along!

Now the question is…what will we do to celebrate the winter season?

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