Picnic Under The Willow Tree

(mid august. number 52.)


“Sandwich outdoors isn’t a sandwich anymore. Tastes different than indoors, notice? Got more spice. Tastes like mint and pinesap. Does wonders for the appetite.” 
                                                                                     ― Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine 

For some reason, August has never seen an entirely "normal" Secret Restaurant event. The first year, my roommates had moved out, taking the dining room table and all the dishes with them, so we did a small italian thing for 6 people at Lucas's place. The next year, I was in New Hampshire cooking meals for everyone on a small farm with one electric skillet. The next year, we did the sac lunch picnic at the the bluffs. Last year, I did the huge on-farm dinner in Maine, then we did the casual pasta feed at home. This year, we were still recovering from the massive undertaking of the 50th. Also, our benches for the normal dining table at my house had broken during a roommate's birthday dinner or something. Point is, embracing that August is a time for alternatives, I scrapped one idea (sidewalk café Secret Restaurant– it'll happen next summer) and thought fondly of the bluffs picnic. Two years later and a golden glow surrounds those memories. Repeating it wouldn't work– it seemed like bad luck to attempt such a thing– but a picnic somewhere else? Yes! 

I edit, design, and print books under the name Two Plum Press. This is a fond nod to a park near my house called Two Plum Park. It's a tiny, quiet, unassuming little park tucked between houses on a very quiet stretch of a residential area. We lucked out. On the day of our late lunch we were actually the only people in the park. We arranged the food on our new, portable outdoor tables (assembled the day of by Lucas, from slats of wood I'd found last summer). People spread out on blankets in the shade of a giant willow tree. The day had a high of 90º, but at that point in the afternoon (2-5 p.m.) there was just a hint of autumnal breeze. This, combined with the cooling shade, created an utterly bucolic weather condition; the kind one can go years without experiencing. I found myself pausing to think This is the kind of summer day written about in 'Dandelion Wine' and 'Other Voices, Other Rooms' and 'Light In August'– this is it!!! 


A constraint for creating this menu was "include as much from Secret Garden as possible." This year the growing of Secret Garden was more of a solo affair than in past years, so I particularly wanted other people eating the food! Everything I grew is indicated throughout this menu by  :   (S.G.)




Union Wine Co. Underwood Pinot Gris 

In a can! Union's winemaker/owner Ryan Harms is the father of two students I've taught as preschoolers. The youngest, Ethan, was also in Kate(Schweitzer, hand model/helper)'s class. Ryan generously donated a case to us for this event. 

We can't recommend it highly enough. My first experience of it was when Sofie and I were packing up for a weekend camping trip to The Anacortes Unknown Music Festival in Washington. The events are all ages, and neither of us had any desire to get schwasted, but the idea of a half bottle/two generous glasses in one easy-to-sip-in-a-park-at-sunset vessel was just too good to pass up. To have the contents of this vessel be lovely, high quality Oregon pinot seals the deal. 

We also appreciate/are entirely in line with Union's angle as sort of "the people's fancy Oregon wine company," as we consider ourselves "the people's fancy Portland supper club."


Peach Horchata

Fresh peaches from market, a little sugar, and rice. So delicious (and easy to make). 

It was great to offer a non-booze alternative drink. People also did a lot of sipping half their can of wine, sipping half their glass of horchata, then pouring them together for a unique and fun summer winechata. 




Stained Glass Flower Crackers with Fromage Blanc and Fox Grapes

Another crispbread from the amazing Tartine Book n. 3. Different from the ones we made in February, these featured Emmer Flour from Lonesome Whistle Farm in Eugene (a flour introduced to me through this book, though not actually featured in the book as a crisp bread). I grew edible flowers this year pretty much entirely in order to make these crackers, so finally putting them together was very satisfying.

Inside, one could find borage (S.G.), chrysanthemum (S.G.), calendula (S.G.), nasturtium (S.G.), and rose petals (S.G.). 

We doctored up Cypress Grove Fromage Blanc with herbs from Secret Garden, lemon zest, and a little full fat yogurt. 

Near the bush in southeast Portland where I glean white currants every year, I recently discovered an insanely overabundant grape arbor. It is outside an apartment building, accessible from the street. So many of the grapes are so high, and so full, I felt entirely welcome to utilize my height and glean them. They were exquisite, full flavored seedy grapes.


Green Bean, Celery, and Onion Almondine

A salad of green beans (S.G.) and celery (S.G.), blanched then cooled, tossed with roasted whole small cippolini onions (S.G.) and roasted almonds. Dressed in a vinaigrette of smashed roasted onions (S.G.), mustard, honey, parsley (S.G.) and chervil (S.G.). 

This was passed around after the cracker and cheese course. 


Fancy Melons

Sofie has been working this late spring and summer at Working Theory Farm (mentioned frequently in the entry for the 50th). They produced an entire hothouse of melons this year to sell to restaurants. Even doing this abundantly, they've had plenty of extras, so we've been drenched in heirloom, dwarf, whatever: interesting melons. As they were soon to be over, we thought it'd be nice to offer up cold halved and seeded melons, with spoons to scoop with and maldon salt to sprinkle on top.


Niçoise Salad on a roll

Credit to David Tanis from his perfect 'One Good Dish.'  An extremely balanced take on olive tapenade, a variety of tomatoes (S.G) with garlic (S.G) and basil (Working Theory/S.G.), marinated and grilled eggplant (three kinds, S.G.), garlicky summer squash (our friend Abby's garden), and boquerones (those little fresh spanish anchovies). 

Bolo rolls from Sofie's former place of employment, Grand Central Baking Company. 

The recipe says they are best after hanging out for an hour, so we timed it as such, and have to agree with him. Thanks, Mr. Tanis. 


Peach & Plum Pudding Cups, Figgy shortbread cookies with black pepper

Little 4 o.z. jars with 1. a teaspoon of delicious, expensive-ass cashew butter 2. a large dollop of fresh custardy vanilla pudding (using Gary's meadow milk and cream), then slices of plums dressed in brown sugar & lemon juice + unadorned perfect peaches. Served with these cookies which were a fun inner-S.R. collaboration. I'd made them up and written a recipe for the cookbook project earlier in the week (designed to go with peaches), even had an extra ball of the dough in the freezer. Sofie ate them, liked them, had the idea for a cookie to go with the pudding cups. I suggested she make my cookies as a recipe-testing opportunity. Always one for black pepper, she remixed them to include black pepper. They were awesome. The shortbread is made more interesting with a little rice flour and a whole grain flour mix. The seeds in the soft dried figs provide a really nice texture experience. 


The white face of afternoon took shape in the sky.

                                                                                – Truman Capote. Other Voices, Other Rooms