Tag Archives: Indian Summer Picnic

My Friends are Talented

My food photos are, well, lacking.

However, I have friends who are talented.

Although the Third Annual Indian Summer Picnic is a distant memory and the recaps are [finally] done, there are still photos to remember it by.

Feast your eyes on them…

.then give me some ideas of what I should add to the menu next year.

To access all of the recipes, click here.

All photos courtesy of Michael Landry


Leave a comment

Filed under Etc.

From the ruins

lavender lemon shortbread

Years and years ago, when I first moved back to London for graduate school, I was lucky enough to live in a furnished apartment. Or, almost. The one thing that was missing was a desk *, which seemed essential at the time, given that I was a student.

My roommate—who I had met through a mutual friend but not actually met in person—and her parents knew this and mere minutes after I arrived, whisked me off to Ikea. Or, it felt like that anyway.

I was still bleary eyed from the red eye transatlantic flight and the surreal experience of presenting the customs officer with a notarized acceptance letter and a bank check for thousands of GBP made out to University College London. And, I was in need of everything that didn’t fit within the confines of two suitcases. And, also, very, very tired.

By the time we got to the bays holding the desks, I was dead on my feet. But, it hardly mattered. I knew what a wanted—an understated blonde wood one that would blend in perfectly with the rest of the furniture in my bedroom. I pointed to it, my roommate’s father helped me get it down and then it sat in my flat for two days before I had the energy to open up the box and build it.

When I did, it was bright orange.

Stay with me here. There’s a point, and I’m getting to it.

I was alone in my flat and started to laugh aloud, like a crazy person. This wasn’t what I wanted at all. But, I had no access to a car, and no easy way of getting to Ikea to return the desk without one. I had no choice but to start building. The funny thing was that, as I did, I realized that aesthetically, the orange desk worked and, in fact, made my bedroom look far better than the beech wood version ever could.

The recipe below was meant to be something different.

I had visions of flaky buttery cookies sandwiched between tangy lemon curd. There would be just enough acid to counterbalance the richness and just enough heft to the cookie so that it would be easily stackable. They would be delicious.

And, then the cookies came out of the oven and they too flaky.

I tried to dollop some lemon curd between two and they fell apart. Once I got over the initial disappointment, I realized I was right about at least one thing—they were delicious and tender enough to almost melt away.

All of which is to say, from the ruins: shortbread.

Lavender Lemon Shortbread

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 TBS lemon zest
1 tsp dried lavender
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup corn flour
1/4 cup cornmeal, plus more for dusting
3/4 tsp salt

Cream the butter and powdered sugar. Add in the vanilla, lemon zest, and lavender until it is well blended. Sift the flours and salt together, then add it into the creamed butter/sugar and thirds. The mixture will appear sandy at first. Beat util a soft dough forms, taking care not to over blend.

Roll into logs about 1″ in diameter, coating in cornmeal. Cover in wax paper and refrigerate at least one hour.

When you are ready to cook, heat your oven for 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Slice the shortbread into rounds 1/4″ wide. Place on a parchment lined baking tray and bake 12-14 minutes. The shortbread will be pale. Allow it to sit for at least 10 minutes on the baking tray to crisp.

Photos courtesy of Michael Landry

*Actually that’s not entirely true. For the first two months in the flat, we were also missing dining room table chairs. How we finally got them is another story.

1 Comment

Filed under Cookies, Dessert

Around the Campfire.

Last week, as I was walking to my office, the air felt crisp. My office itself was colder than usual. I had to put my sweater around my legs to keep warm.

There’s no mistaking it, Fall is upon us, and my long ago Summer Picnic feels long ago. The last hurrah of Summer.

To be quite honest, I wasn’t sorry to see it go.

I was ready to move forward, and into some much needed rest. And, yet, as the end of summer drew nearer I was suddenly and unexpectedly nostalgic.

Labor Day weekend, I found myself reading a book that I probably should have read for the first time twenty years ago, Judy Blume’s Forever.

And, well, this quote:

“It’s funny, the way you get to know summer friends so well in a short period of time, especially at camp, when you are thrown together morning, noon, and night.”

That was all it took. And suddenly, I was remembering the summers of my childhood at camp. Or, more specifically of those end of the summer nights when the upstate air was cold as we sat around the lake, clinging to each other for warmth, getting ready to say goodbye. This was before we were all online at all times, when the head counselors would read sports scores from last night’s major league baseball games at flag pole. When saying goodbye meant staying in touch with letters or simply with the tacit understanding that we would see each other at the same place next year.

I’ve tried to explain the experience and, somehow, always fall short.

How can I not?

The details sound unimpressive—or even strange without the right context. I could tell you about how the entire camp dressed in white on Fridays for the Sabbath or how on the last night of the season, we floated candles on Sylvan Lake, making wishes and plans for the following year. Or, I could tell you about being younger, and looking forward to the night where my division would have a campfire and we’d gather sticks to roast marshmallows for our very own s’mores.

I think I’ll stop there—at least that last one seems to be more universal. And, ultimately, I wasn’t nostalgic for the place so much as the feeling—of being on the cusp of things. Over the summers of my childhood it was the promise of fall and new books and fresh starts in the school year. Now? The days are getting busier and shorter and colder. And, I find myself wanting to hold on the lazy luxury of the summers of my youth in whatever ways I can.

I don’t have access to a camp fire—and, given that I live in an apartment in Manhattan, that’s a good thing. So, this is the indoor version of the summer standby. The good news is that, when the weather gets cold, and I’m feeling wistful and nostalgic, s’mores are no longer so hard to come by—stick not included.

S'mores Bars

S’mores Bars
Recipe courtesy from Seriouseats.com

Making everything from scratch is not a requirement (and, some may say you’re crazy to do so). However, I’ve included links to the recipes for graham crackers and marshmallows, should you be so inclined. It’s worth the effort.

1 cup graham cracker crumbs (made from 10 rectangular crackers)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups Marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cut two 16-inch pieces of foil and line an 8-inch square baking pan, allowing excess to hang over sides. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Break graham crackers into small pieces and pulse in food processor until they become fine crumbs. Melt 4 tablespoons butter. Add melted butter, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to crumbs and pulse to combine. Press into bottom of prepared pan.

Melt chocolate and remaining 8 tablespoons butter in medium bowl in microwave, 1 to 2 minutes, stopping every 20 seconds to stir with rubber spatula. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
With a wooden spoon, mix in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, eggs, espresso powder, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add the flour and baking powder and mix until smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with moist crumbs attached. Do not over-bake.

Transfer to cooling rack and top with marshmallows.

Adjust oven rack to upper third position and heat broiler. Broil until marshmallows are golden brown, 1 to 3 minutes. Cool in pan 1 hour. Using foil sling, transfer directly to wire rack and let cool completely, at least 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.

Makes 16 2-by-2-inch bars

Photos courtesy of Michael Landry


Filed under Cookies, Dessert

A Small Bite

I have to admit something. Don’t be alarmed—it’s not that that kind of confession. It’s just that I’m never quite sure what to tell my guests to bring when I’m hosting an event.

I think a lot of this comes from going to poorly planned dinners—you know the kind, where you’re being served Eggplant Parmesan with a side of samosas and stir fried vegetables? Where everything is cooked well but the sum simply detracts from it’s parts?

It’s true that I get unnaturally excited about menu planning, but perhaps it’s from the aforementioned dinner misses. At least I’d like to think so. Regardless, I’m a firm believer that the best meals are the ones where the flavors play off each other, with one course building upon the next. So, when I saw this recipe as I planned for the Third Annual Indian Summer Picnic, I knew I had to make it. The flavors were all there—echoing the spices from the pork. Plus, with the protein, it seemed a good bet that, if I couldn’t get the pulled pork out on time, this would hold everyone’s hunger at bay.

I’m hoping to get to the rest of the recaps from that long ago Third Annual Indian Summer Picnic as time allows. But, until then, consider this an appetizer to keep your appetite in check as well.

honeyed nuts

Honey Glazed Almonds
Recipe Courtesy of MyRecipes.com

1 1/2 cups raw, unblanched almonds
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Place the almonds in a medium nonstick skillet; cook over medium heat for 6 minutes or until lightly toasted, shaking pan frequently. Combine the remaining ingredients in a 2-cup glass measure. Microwave at HIGH for 30 seconds. Add honey mixture to pan, and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Arrange almond mixture on prepared baking sheet in a single layer; let stand 10 minutes. Break apart any clusters.

Photo courtesy of Michael Landry

Leave a comment

Filed under Etc.

The Third Annual Indian Summer Picnic (aka the one that took place in the Summer)

It seems only appropriate to begin this post with the obligatory photograph of slow roasted pork shoulder. This is 15 pounds worth.

In the end, all that was left was this:

Somehow I managed to fit 30+ people in a New York apartment. To say my house needs cleaning would be a serious understatement. There’s a dishwasher that needs to be unloaded and reloaded, ad infinity. The floor needs to be mopped. At least twice. Every surface needs scrubbing and rescrubbing.

Still, it was worth it. It was my most ambitious menu to date—I’ll get to that in a minute. It also afforded me the chance to help a dear friend of mine who has been sick for some time.

If you were at my house you would have seen the tray pictured below.

It’s a make your own s’mores kit, complete with homemade marshmallows and graham crackers. The note attached reads:

Official Solicitation
Haven’t heard of Justin’s plight? It’s a gripping tale of a 30ish year-old moderately successful designer who’s fighting a way against his own body. Please enjoy this homemade treat and shameless solicitation compliments of your host, Hillary.

The long and short of it is this: my friend Justin has been sick with a chronic condition called RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy). While there’s hope, treatments are ongoing, expensive, and often uncovered by insurance. You can help. Click here to find out more.

Now, the menu:

The Third Annual Indian Summer Picnic (aka the one that took place in the Summer)

Honey Glazed Almonds

Pulled Pork, with barbecue sauce
Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Fennel Slaw
Four Bean Salad

Buttermilk Pralines
Lavender Lemon Shortbread
S’mores Bars
St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

To Drink
Spiked Lemonades

I’ll be sharing the new recipes in the upcoming weeks, and thanks to a good friend who has actual skills as a photographer, expect some great photos.

Leave a comment

Filed under Etc.

And so, we press on

I know, I know, after posting recently about transplants and stolen wallets, it feels a little anticlimactic to be telling you about bean salad.

I suspect it would be anyway.

This is the last of the Second Annual Indian Summer Picnic recaps. And, I’m not really sure that a humble bean salad stands a chance against pounds and pounds of pork or a cake so good my guests are still talking about it a month later.

And, yet, this bean salad is precisely what I’m choosing to share with you now.

It’s not by necessity—I have a whole series of recipes that I’m waiting to share.

Rather, it’s because my four bean salad is exactly the kind of thing that I need these days. It’s humble, yes, but it’s also infinitely adaptable. This is particularly important if, like me, you were raised by a woman who told you that if you didn’t have any leftovers, you didn’t have enough food. This is a maxim I still hold true, which is why, this is one of those recipes that’s meant to serve more as a guide so that, if three hours before your guests arrive you start to get nervous that you won’t have enough food, you can simply add more beans.

Or tomatoes.

Or, well, you get the idea.

And, on that note, I’m hoping to have more information to share about the stolen wallet saga soon, mostly because, in all honestly, I’m anxious to have this put behind me. I’ve already spent countless hours on the phone dealing with the aftermath, all the while trying to remind myself that, while this is something that happened to me, it’s not something that happened to me.

If you know what I mean by that, we should definitely be friends. In which case, there’s a very good chance I would be making you this very salad.

Four-Bean Salad

1 cup green beans, cut in 1″ pieces
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch scallions
2 cups chick peas
1 cup black beans
1 cup kidney beans

For the Dressing:
1 shallot, diced finely
2 TBS cider vinegar
1 TBS red wine vinegar
1 TBS Dijon Mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

If you’re using dried beans, cook them according to the method outlined here. For canned beans, simply drain and rinse them and set aside until you are ready to use.

Blanche the string beans and set them aside.

In a large bowl, combine the shallots, mustard, vinegars, salt, and pepper and whisk to combine. Slowly pour the olive oil in to the mixture, whisking constantly to combine.

Mix the beans, string beans, and tomatoes with the vinegarette and toss to combine. Garnish with scallions and add salt and pepper to taste.

Leave a comment

Filed under Beans, Vegetables

This is not a blog post*

I’m fairly certain that only three words are necessary here: Gooey Butter Cake.

If I were you, I’d skip all the way to the bottom of this post, straight to the recipe.

Let’s be honest, you’re not going to miss much.

I’ll wax rhapsodic for a while about how, as I was cooking, I kept sneaking tastes of the cake until I was concerned that I might not be hungry at all when my main dish was ready. Then, I might make a joke.

I’ll tell you about how, some sort of alchemy happens when the cake bakes, so, despite the short ingredient list, there’s a rich and deep flavor. Think cotton candy mixed with creme brulee. If you didn’t know what went into the cake—butter, sugar, flour; the basics, really—you would think that it had to have a secret ingredient. Your guests will. Indeed, this is one of those things like whole wheat chocolate chip cookies or the bacon pizza at the Famous Ray’s on 9th Avenue in Chelsea where the sum is better than its parts. I’ll go on a little bit about this.

And, after a few paragraphs, I’ll ultimately conclude that, while everything I’ve said is true, it also simply doesn’t do justice to St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake. It’s one of those things that you really just have to try yourself.

So, what are you waiting for?

*With apologies to René Magritte.

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake
Recipe courtesy of
The New York Times

For the Cake:
3 TBS Whole Milk, at room temperature
1 3/4 tsps active dry yeast
6 TBS unsalted butter at room temperature
3 TBS granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

For the topping:
3 TBS plus 1 tsp light corn syrup
2 1/2 tsps vanilla extract
12 TBS (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg
1 cup plus 3 TBS all-purpose flour

In a small bowl, mix milk with 2 tablespoons warm water. Add yeast and whisk gently until it dissolves. Mixture should foam slightly.

Cream butter, sugar and salt. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add flour and the milk mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition. Beat dough on medium speed until it forms a smooth mass and pulls away from sides of bowl, 7 to 10 minutes.

Press dough into an ungreased 9-by 13-inch baking dish at least 2 inches deep. Cover dish with plastic wrap, set in a warm place, and allow to rise until doubled, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

While the oven is heating, prepare the topping. In a small bowl, mix corn syrup with 2 tablespoons water and the vanilla. Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add flour and corn syrup mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition.

Spoon topping in large dollops over risen cake and use a spatula to gently spread it in an even layer. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes; cake will rise and fall in waves and have a golden brown top, but will still be liquid in center when done.

Makes 16-20 servings

Leave a comment

Filed under Cookies, Dessert