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Perfect picnic fare. July 25, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s summer, and that means picnics. Our friend Ben and I were invited to a picnic last night, and we’ve received a few hints that our friend Fritzjambo is in the vicinity and may spring another picnic on us tonight. Obviously, you don’t want to show up at a picnic empty-handed, even if you don’t know it’s happening ’til the last minute. And if you’re like me, you don’t want to show up with some hastily-purchased bags of chips and dip, either (though that’s not the worst option now that more groceries are carrying fresh salsa). So what do you bring?  

In a case like this, I like to have plenty of options, especially since I’m a vegetarian and don’t want to be confronted with a grill full of burgers and hot dogs, baked beans with pork, and the like. (“Well, you could just eat a bun… “) But even if you know there’ll be plenty to eat, you can always add a few distinctive contributions to the celebration.

In summer, I love to make refrigerator pickles, which are easy, have a ton of crunch, and are spicy/sweet/salty, which is to say, perfect! I always have some in the fridge, so they’re ready to snack on or grab to take along to a picnic or other gathering.

                 Silence’s Refrigerator Pickles

3 large to 8 small slender cukes, sliced

1 cup sugar

1 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon black mustardseeds

1 tablespoon gound turmeric

1 tablespoon whole cloves

1 large sweet onion, or more to taste, diced

dash hot sauce, such as Tabasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa, or more to taste

Combine vinegar and sugar and heat until sugar dissolves. Add salt, spices and hot sauce. Turn off heat and allow the brine to cool to lukewarm.

Meanwhile, slice cukes. Layer cukes and onions alternately in a glass or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. Pour lukewarm brine over the cukes and onions, then attach the lid and refrigerate. Shake container every day to make sure brine is saturating pickles. The pickles will be ready to eat in three to five days, but the spiciness will increase over time, if you can resist eating them. The onions are great in sandwiches or on salads. 

I also like putting together a huge, gorgeous tossed salad with summer’s bounty, and taking it along with a dressing or two (such as Greek and honey mustard or ranch). Or a fabulous Caprese salad, which is quick to make and incredibly good.

Caprese salad: Layer a large platter two or three leaves deep with Romaine or butter (Boston) lettuce leaves. Slice several large vine-ripe tomatoes, then halve each slice. You’ll get the most fabulous presentation if you can alternate red, yellow, black, and/or green ripse tomatoes (such as ‘Zebra’), but it will still look and taste great if you just use red. Slice a ball or two of fresh mozzarella, then halve each slice. Make concentric circles on the platter of alternating half-slices of tomato, fresh mozzarella, and large whole fresh basil leaves, until the entire platter is covered. Chop two or three scallions (green onions) and sprinkle them over the platter. Drizzle on extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle on salt (we like Real Salt). Cut into pizza-style wedges and serve.  

Of course, no picnic’s complete without coleslaw. I gave you two unusual homemade coleslaw recipes in my earlier post, “Silence makes coleslaw,” but what if you’re rushed and don’t have time to make from-scratch slaw? No need to panic.

Quick coleslaw: Buy a bag of ready-made coleslaw (shredded cabbage and carrots, not a dressed slaw) and a bag of shredded carrots at the store. If your store sells pre-chopped sweet onion, get that as well. Stir half the bag of carrots into the slaw along with three tablespoons of the chopped onion. Then mix in 1/2 to  2/3 of a bottle of chunky blue cheese dressing. (If you hate blue cheese, you can use a pepper ranch or cheese ranch dressing instead.) Your goal is to coat the ingredients, not drown them, so start with 1/2 bottle and work up from there. Cover and chill until picnic time. People aways ask if they can take home what hasn’t been polished off!

Deviled eggs are also indispensable at picnics, at least as far as we’re concerned. This is one reason why I like to have a half-dozen hardboiled eggs in the fridge at all times; they’re instantly available for slicing on tossed salads, but they’re also there should a picnic and/or the concept of deviled eggs come up. I have my standard go-to recipe, which involves mashing the yolks with mayonnaise, mustard, and horseradish before stuffing them back in the halves and dusting them with paprika. But recently, I stumbled upon a marvelously different version. Of course, I had to modify it:

                   Deviled Blue Cheese Eggs

6 hardboiled eggs

3 tablespoons blue cheese (can use feta instead)

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons chutney (sweet or hot to taste) 

2 tablespoons chopped pecans

2 tablespoons finely chopped yellow, orange, or red bell pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped sweet onion (such as Vidalia or WallaWalla)

salt to taste

sweet or hot paprika (for blue cheese filling) or cinnamon or garam masala (for feta)

Mash yolks and add all other ingredients (except paprika, cinnamon, or garam masala), mixing well. Fill eggwhite halves with yolk mixture, then top with spice of your choice or top different halves with different spices, as you please. Chill and serve. You can multiply the proportions to match how much your gathering loves deviled eggs; we find that two whole eggs (four filled halves) per person is about right.

What else to bring? Our friend Ben and I always like to bring crusty baguettes with softened butter and one or more cheeses. Yum! A mix of marinated artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, and cubes of feta cheese is also incredibly delicious, with the bread and cheese or as a topping for a tossed salad. This also makes a great topping for tomato slices or quartered bell peppers, and a delicious filling for rolled radicchio or endive leaves.

If we know our hosts will have a grill going, we’ll bring portabella mushrooms and pesto. Corn on the cob with browned butter and salt is hard to beat, too, whether the corn is grilled or boiled. How about grilled cantaloupe or pineapple slices for dessert, with a splash of fresh-squeezed lime juice from your own greenhouse-grown fruits?

Okay, maybe I’m getting carried away. But none of this is impossible. And as OFB reminds me, those homegrown limes make a mean margarita, too.

            ‘Til next time,



How to repel flies from picnics. July 3, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. With the Fourth of July weekend upon us, I thought that the folks who came on to our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, seeking an answer to this question were very timely. I’m surprised people haven’t come on asking how to repel ants! (That one’s actually easy: Set your picnic table out where ants can’t drop down from an umbrella or park-shelter ceiling. Then set the legs of the picnic table in wide, shatter-proof bowls or buckets of water until the picnic’s over. No trouble, and no ants on the table!)

Because flies, well, fly, they’re a little more problematic. Ditto for those horrid yellowjackets. To keep yellowjackets away, keep trash cans far, far away from your picnic and don’t serve sweetened drinks. Diet drinks are fine; unlike us, they don’t recognize those no-cal sweeteners as sugary. Keep any fruit salads, melons, and the like covered until you’re actually eating them, and re-cover them the second everyone’s helped themselves. The same holds true for pies, cakes, and sweets in general. And as soon as you’ve finished eating, take those ooey, gooey plates to the distant trash can and toss them! But I digress.

Flies are more problematic, because they’re attracted to all kinds of food, not just sweets, and, as noted, they can fly wherever the food is. But there are a few things you can do to fly-proof your picnic. Here are four:

1. Hold your picnic away from public parks and other places where food is typically served. Flies build up where food is abundant. If you have your picnic in a backyard or other area that doesn’t usually attract flies, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding them.

2. Hold your picnic in a screened pavilion. This could actually be very romantic. You can rent large tents and pavilions for parties, outdoor weddings, and the like. No need to tack actual metal screening on the sides—instead, use sheer curtains, mosquito netting, or other lightweight, see-through fabric panels that are woven densely enough to keep the flies out but loosely enough to let in the breeze. If your picnic is likely to extend into the night or resume after dark, hang strings of tiny white lights and/or paper lanterns from the ceiling, set potted shrubs in the corners with white-light netting, run lights up the corner poles, and you’ll stage a picnic no one will ever forget. Welcome to Shangri-La! This is a great option if mosquitos are a nemesis, too. For extra protection, burn citronella candles on the table(s) or citronella-oil tiki torches outside the pavilion.

3. Hold your picnic in a breezy spot. And no, I don’t mean someplace with a strong enough breeze to blow the plates and napkins off the table. Our friend Ben and I often eat out on the deck at our home, Hawk’s Haven, which is characterized by gentle but nonstop breezes year-round. It’s not a fly-free area by any means, but we’ve never been bothered by a single fly while enjoying a leisurely repast on our breezy deck.

4. Eat indoors. As a last resort, reconsider your idea of what a “picnic” is. Set out a buffet of picnic foods and drinks, cover your dining-room table with a cheerful red-checked tablecloth, paper plates, and colorful paper napkins, and dash back inside with those grilled burgers, dogs and so on as soon as they’re done. Make sure there are plenty of fun outdoor activities to engage in as soon as the “picnic” is over, and everybody will enjoy fly-free food and an outdoor gathering. If you finish up with sparklers or a trip to your local ice-cream stand followed by a visit to the local park to watch the fireworks, I promise everybody will think it was the greatest “picnic” ever!

There are other effective but less appealing options, like tossing a fresh roadkill or piece of raw meat a good way from your picnic area. Nothing like carrion to get a fly’s undivided attention. (Thanks, but no thanks.) No fly strip on earth is going to draw every single fly away from your picnic spread, and anyway, who wants to look at dead (or dying, struggling) flies while they’re trying to eat? Eeeewwww. So I’m sticking with my four suggestions. Anybody have others?

Happy Fourth, everyone!

          ‘Til next time,


Some eggcellent picnic fare. May 25, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, recipes.
Tags: , , ,

Silence Dogood here. Memorial Day weekend kicks off picnic—or, at least, outdoor eating—season, and with a whole summer of outdoor fare ahead of us, it seemed only right to share a few picnic favorites from the Hawk’s Haven recipe archives.

Needless to say, with our six chickens laying eggs like no tomorrow (we give them a rest over winter so they can devote their energy to staying warm and healthy, and they always seem to try to make it up to us the rest of the year), we love recipes that use a lot of eggs. So I’ll kick off with one of my all-time faves, deviled eggs, and give you a few more egg-based treats as well. Just be sure to keep those egg- and mayo-rich dishes on ice in a cooler or in the fridge until it’s time to eat! In the case of the deviled eggs, I doubt you’ll have a problem, though—I can’t seem to keep them around long enough to even set out! (Ben and Richard, are you reading this?!!) So of course I call them…

           Silence’s Bedeviled Eggs 

6 hardboiled eggs (or as many as you need)

mayonnaise (Hellman’s—hmm, what an appropriate name!—or grapeseed, please)

mustard (we like Jim Beam bourbon-honey mustard)


hot sauce (we like Pickapeppa) or seasoning (such as Trocamare)


Hungarian paprika (sweet or hot)

Drain 1 teaspoon horseradish (the secret ingredient). Shell and halve hardboiled eggs, dropping yolks into a bowl. Mash yolks with a fork. Stir in mayonnaise, mustard, and horseradish, a teaspoon at a time, to bind yolks into a thick paste (you don’t want yolks that are either runny or crumbly). If yolk mix is too dry, add more mayonnaise first, then taste, and add more mustard and/or drained horseradish to adjust seasonings to taste. Once the yolks are the right consistency, add a dash of hot sauce or Trocamare and salt to taste, stirring well to blend. Mound yolk mix back into egg halves, top each with a sprinkling of paprika, and refrigerate to set up. You can dress these up with a bit of pimiento or a slice of black or green olive on top of each if you’d like (or if nobody, ahem, eats them first), but they’re luscious as is. Maybe my family and friends are more deviled-egg crazy than yours, but I count on two eggs (four halves) per person and never have leftovers.  

Your may recall our friend Delilah from her wonderful Crock-Pot mac’n’cheese recipe. (See my earlier post, “The ultimate mac’n’cheese,” if you missed this recipe; believe me, that’s one you don’t want to miss!) She’s a great cook and a great gardener, and she and Chaz have chickens as well as ducks, so using eggs is a priority at their house, too. Here’s another “eggcellent” egg recipe from Delilah:

           Delilah’s Egg Salad

6 hardboiled eggs

sweet pickle relish


mustard, preferably stone-ground

salt and pepper to taste

Drain a tablespoon of the pickle relish. Shell the hardboiled eggs and chop them fine in a bowl. Mix relish, mayo, and mustard into the chopped eggs, starting slowly and adding more until you have the taste and consistency you want. Add salt and pepper to taste, then cover and chill until ready to serve. Serve on toast, Melba toast, or Ritz crackers, or on celery. Or eat it the way we love to here: on a sandwich of toasted multigrain or whole-wheat bread with lettuce, tomato and mayo. Yum!!!!

Moving right along, let’s check out another favorite egg-based dish, quiche. An advantage of quiche as far as outdoor eating is concerned is that it tastes great at room temperature as well as hot (as long as you have enough salt!), so it’s fine picnic fare, especially when you make crustless quiche in muffin pans and serve everyone their own quiche “muffins”! This recipe, based on one from our CSA, Quiet Creek Farm, uses Swiss chard, which is coming in now here at Hawk’s Haven.

           Chard Quiche

1 pie crust (optional)

3 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk, cream, yogurt, or combo

1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon white pepper (or to taste)

1 bunch chard, chopped (preferably ‘Rainbow Lights’, ‘Bright Lights’, ‘Pink Passion’, or other colorful types)

1/2 large sweet onion (‘WallaWalla’ or ‘Vidalia’ type), diced

1 cup Swiss or Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated

Steam chopped chard until tender; let cool. Place in colander and squeeze out excess liquid. Saute diced onion in butter until onion clarifies. Mix eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add onions, chard, and Swiss or Parmesan cheese. Fill crust or pour into greased muffin pan and bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes. (If using a muffin pan, the individual quiches may take less time to cook, so keep an eye on them.) Let stand for at least 15 minutes to set before serving.

Sugar Snap peas and new potatoes are more of our springtime favorites. Here’s a potato salad that uses both, from our friends at Pheasant Hill Farm in nearby Emmaus, Pennsylvania:

          Potato and Sugar Snap Salad

2 pounds new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite-size chunks

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon finely minced onion

juice and grated zest from 1 lemon

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

12 ounces Sugar Snap peas, blanched for 30 seconds in boiling water, then refreshed by plunging into very cold water

1/4 cup minced fresh chives

salt and pepper

Place potatoes in large pot and cover with cold water. Salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are fork-tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and transfer to large bowl. While potatoes are still warm, sprinkle vinegar over them, toss, and set aside to cool to room temperature. In a small bowl, whisk onion, lemon juice and zest, oil, and sugar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add snap peas and chives to potatoes. Pour dressing over and toss.  

           Veggies and Dips

Finally, let’s talk about veggies and dips. Here at Hawk’s Haven, we love varying the veggies we use for dipping by what’s ready to harvest. That way, we never get tired of crudites. Right now, we’re enjoying sliced radishes, rolled lettuce leaves, scallions, Sugar Snap (aka edible-podded) peas, and steamed asparagus. Of course, you can use sweet pepper slices, cherry tomatoes, celery sticks, broccoli and cauliflower florets, and carrot sticks or chips if you’d like. We say, what’s important is to eat your veggies!

Let’s not forget those all-important dips. We love dips as much as anybody, but we hate the idea of turning healthful raw veggies into an artery-clogging calorie fest. So rather than using mayonnaise or cream cheese as a base for dips, we use cottage cheese or (our favorite) yogurt cheese.

What’s yogurt cheese, you ask? It’s nothing but plain yogurt that’s been drained to form a thick, cream-cheese like paste. It is so easy to make at home, you simply must try it! And if you can’t stand the acidic tang of plain yogurt, rest assured, it seems to drain out with the yogurt whey (which our dog, cats, and chickens all love, and it’s so good for them, though you can also add it to soup stock). We really can’t tell the yogurt cheese from cream cheese.

Here’s all you do: Pour a large container of plain yogurt into a fine-meshed sieve and set it over a bowl or pan to drain. Cover with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator overnight (or longer, for even thicker yogurt cheese). Give the watery whey to your pets or use it in soup or pour it over your compost. Spoon out the yummy yogurt cheese and you’re ready to make your dip! (Taste it first to see for yourself how good it is. You’ll be amazed!) Confession: Since we really love yogurt cheese, I actually bought a special yogurt cheesemaker called The Wave, and that’s what I use to make mine. It’s nothing more than a Tupperware-like rectangular plastic container with an insert containing a fine mesh in a “M” pattern (thus the name “Wave”). I got it from Lehman’s Non-Electric Catalog; there’s a link on our blogroll at right to their blog, and you can get to the online store from there. But the sieve-and-bowl option will work just fine, as long as the sieve mesh is really fine. 

For a cottage cheese-based dip, I like to start with a drier cottage cheese and whisk it into a creamy mass, breaking up the curds (you could use a blender or food processor for this as well). Then I add shredded Swiss, white Cheddar, or Parmesan cheese, salt to taste, and a splash of hot sauce. Finely chopped black olives are great in this, too. (Our heat-loving friend Richard Saunders likes to add minced, drained jalapenos to his, but if you go that route, skip the black olives and go for a bolder cheese like Cheddar rather than Swiss.)

For a yogurt cheese dip, you can add anything you’d normally add to cream cheese and/or mayo, from ranch or other dressing mix to a fiery blend of Southwestern spices. But our all-time favorite yogurt-cheese dip mix is simply yogurt cheese with a bunch of very finely minced veggies (with salt or a blend like Herbamare or Trocamare to taste) blended in. We like to add scallions, carrots, radishes, and sweet red pepper, then refrigerate, covered, to give it time to “set” before serving with raw veggies and/or tortilla chips. Try it, you’ll love it! And please, enjoy this beautiful late spring, summer, and fall by sitting and eating outdoors as often as you can.

As always, if you have picnic or outdoor eating favorites you’d like to share, we would love to hear them!

           ‘Til next time,