Our Easter Sunday menu was conceived as I was stocking up on fruits and veggies at Bedner’s Farm Fresh Market on Good Friday. Feasting most of my senses on meaty heirloom tomatoes, bumpy Kirbies, crunchy red leaf lettuce, fragrant dill, green onions the size of oranges and potatoes the size of grapes, I was already chopping them up, tossing them together in a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, and savoring their flavorful blend in my mind’s eye. The potatoes whose baby size and waxy texture piqued my particular curiosity were decided to be thrown into foil pouches with a head of fresh garlic in each, sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt, and roasted on the grill next to Kevin’s Handy Hamburgers whose ingredients usually include, but are not limited to: 80/20 ground beef, finely chopped onions, a dash of each Worcestershire sauce, steak marinade, barbeque sauce, and a pinch of each coarse salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
It was the dessert that I contemplated about the most. Yes, we might have some leftover hot cross buns but what about strawberries? These beauties that we just picked in the field were at the prime of their short life, and I couldn’t bring myself—even in my imaginary kitchen—to waste their nutrients in cakes, pies, and cookies. “Eat them straight up!” my mother’s voice echoed in my head from my good old but complex adolescent times that fell on the collapse of the USSR and the economic hardships following it. Both of my parents lost their jobs and were forced to do all kind of odd jobs to put food in the mouths of their four kids for quite a while. We lived one day at a time. There never was a surplus of food in the house. Even in the summertime when the local fruits were readily available and cheap, Mom would never cook them, feeding them straight up to us, nourishing our bodies with essential vitamins and minerals rather than empty calories for the long winter ahead. Those days are long gone but those memories—some muffled; some faded on their own—still linger in me, surfacing unexpectedly and taking over forcibly.
“So straight up it is”, I gave in, paid the bill, and left the store. We were all set for Easter.
This Easter, I wasn’t seeking to thrill my guests with odd ingredients put into fancy dishes or to add frills to a holiday table setting with yet more bunny-inspired merchandise; I had my heart set on a simple, natural, rustic picnic on the beach. Nothing out of the ordinary, considering that for the last four weeks we had been coming to Pompano Beach every weekend in search of relief for Nicole’s asthma and eczema and in anticipation of Daddy’s juicy burgers and some family downtime.
Our modest menu and a small company of three (my dear sister and her husband couldn’t make it due to working overtime) were more than generously compensated by the fine quality of the produce picked up at Bedner’s that made our effortless dishes really stand out and gorgeous weather cooled down a notch two days before, just in time for Easter egg hunts and get-togethers outside.
We got to the beach around 6 p.m. in hopes that fellow picnickers would be wrapping things up by then, with a school night looming on the horizon, and we would find a shaded table and a parking spot nearby. And while finding a suitable area for our recreation was not a problem, the parties there seemed far from calling it a night. Well, the more, the merrier. (This is what Nicolasha—our social butterfly—would’ve said if she were a little older.) She took off immediately upon arrival, befriended a bunch of kids (primarily boys), crashed a few Easter egg hunts as a result, and later settled for “making” sand cakes and “grilling” sea grape tree leaves skewered on a stick.
Kevin made his best burgers ever. The medium rare meat patties that sported nice, picture-worthy grill marks and slightly charred onion pieces were put on a bed of ketchup, blanketed with freshly made salad, and sandwiched between a pair of thin wheat buns.
The peewee potatoes cooked up to the claim on their original packaging and my impromptu recipe: infused with garlic and dill flavors and moistened with extra virgin olive oil, their taste was rich and buttery indeed, yet definitely less starchy than other potato varieties. Considering that and the size of these cuties, peewees make a healthy, gluten-free side dish worthy of a big celebration like Easter or a regular week night.
As for me, I was imbibing with all my senses that beautiful evening filled with the squealing of the kids, the crunch of the sand under their running feet against the asphalted picnic grounds, Stereo Hearts by Adam Levine blaring from one of the neighboring picnic parties’ portable radio, the intoxicating smoke of the barbecue mixed in with the sea air, and a strong shoulder I was leaning on, sipping my tea and munching on a hot cross bun, trying to keep myself warm in the cool of the waning sun. My husband’s hair and shirt smelt like the meat he just grilled, and I remember clearly thinking that it was the sexiest scent he’d ever worn.
As for the dessert, the strawberries did get eaten straight up. Watching Nicole who was happily exhausted by the great outdoors devour the natural goodness, I realized more keenly than ever the meaning of “less is more”.
P.S. After getting tired of packing and unpacking my picnic basket every time we went out and after numerous incidents of leaving necessary tools behind, I came up with this list of picnic essentials that I keep in my basket at all times now:
1. 4 melamine plates (normally for a party of three plus an extra one)
2. 4 sets of utensils that are kept in a drawstring cotton pouch
3. 4 plastic wine glasses
4. A set of refillable salt and pepper mills (you can do shakers if you wish)
5. A package of table napkins
6. A stainless steel BBQ burger turner
7. A set of mini ketchup and mustard bottles that I fill with fresh condiments every time
8. A few recycled plastic bags for trash
9. 3 small glass salt/pepper shakers with handle that I repurposed for transporting liquids, such as olive oil, dressings, and sauces. They came with a perforated lid and a seal underneath. So I never removed the seal and use them as containers with lids. I also love the idea of using them with or without lids in a more formal setting where your guests stay in charge of how much or how little dressing they want to use on their salad. You can check it out here.
10. A list of these things that’s pinned to the inside of my basket as a reminder to go over everything one last time before we leave
A handful of peewee potatoes (about 25-30)
1 garlic bulb
1/4 cup olive oil
A pinch of coarse kosher salt
½ cup water
1 tbs. chopped dill
Pepper to taste
Heavy duty aluminum foil
1. Out of foil, cut 2 12” squares. Layer them.
2. Cut off 1/4 to a 1/2 inch of the top of garlic cloves, exposing the individual cloves of garlic and place in the middle of foil.
3. Wash peewees, pat dry, and arrange around garlic bulb.
4. Make a pouch out of foil by bringing its sides up and together and drizzle its contents with olive oil. Sprinkle in salt.
5. Pour in water and wrap the potatoes and garlic in.
6. Roast/steam over medium fire for 25-45 minutes, depending on the grill and charcoal heat. Check every 5 minutes by opening the foil and checking for tenderness. Add additional water if necessary.
7. When done, let the pouches rest for a few minutes, then squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins, mash with a fork, and spread over potatoes.
8. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chopped dill.
Makes 1 pouch.