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My famous vegetarian-style stuffed grape leaves make any picnic a smash!

An impromptu, planned picnic, say what?  You can’t plan spontaneity!  Oh, yes you can!  The best picnics are coordinated days beforehand, step by step.  By the time picnic day rolls around—you choose a time, figure out a location, perhaps call a few last-minute companions to join in the fun.  Now that’s what I call a stress free spur-of-the-moment day trip.  Grab the stuff, out the door, no hassle; don’t even worry about the rain, it’s in the plans too.

Here’s how.  Each day, beginning midweek, Wednesday, you start getting everything ready.

Wednesday

1. Get your (preferably reusable) basket(s), tote bag(s), cooler(s) or take-along(s) ready.  Double check to see if you have enough dinnerware and utensils; napkins (preferably reusable cloth) and other supplies.  Make sure you have frozen ice packets or ice bags.  Don’t forget the chairs/blanket; umbrellas and rain attire (for plan B). 

2.  Check to see what condiments you have on hand, such as salt/pepper, butter/margarine, hot sauce.  For trouble-free packing, transfer, if necessary, items to smaller containers. 

3.  Decide if you want to add any special touches, like candles, hand fans or silk flowers. 

4.  Create a shopping list for any missing items. 

5.  Decide on a cold food menu (this way, you don’t have to worry about keeping food hot) and add to your shopping list. 

Here is a sample menu.  You are welcome to use it:

Cold Vegetarian-Style Stuffed Grape Leaves (see recipe below)

(Optional) Chicken Quesadilla Pinwheels (or an assortment of finger sandwiches of your choosing)

Fresh Green Salad or Fresh Vegetable Assortment

Stacy’s Sensational Potato Salad

Fresh Italian (or any other kind of) Bread

Additional condiments of your choice:  pickles, mixed assortment of olives, assortment of cheese, crackers.

Soft drinks, water, whatever you like

Assorted fruits, yogurt, your favorite dessert.

Thursday

1.  Shop for supplies/food/condiments/ice. 

2.  Pack ALL utensils and non-perishable supplies in their designated baskets/tote bags.  Have them out-the-door ready; in fact, place whatever you can into the car’s trunk NOW (one less worry).  Pack chairs and any other bulky items in the car, too. 

3.  Prepare rain gear, have it out-the-door ready, too.

4.  Sort out soda/water/beverages into cooler. 

5.  Prepare and pack condiments.  Remember, if a jar of pickles is too large to take, break down the volume and pack in an appropriate container.

5.  Wash all fruit and veggies; air dry overnight.

6.  Scrub potatoes and celery root; peel.  Boil both.  Refrigerate.

7.  Cook rice; I like jasmine in preparation of stuffed grape leaves recipe.  Refrigerate.

Friday:  

1.  Purchase bread. 

2.  Assemble potato salad (see recipe below), and pack in appropriate container and refrigerate.  3.  Assemble grape leaves, and pack in appropriate container and refrigerate. 

4.  Prepare sandwiches or Chicken Quesadilla Pinwheels.

5.  Prepare dessert.

Now here’s the fun part:  Wake up Saturday at your leisure, pack and add ice to remaining picnic foods.  Chose a perfect picnic location—if it’s raining, obviously find one that has overhead protection or roof like a gazebo or pavilion—and go, rejigger* with all your might!!

For the sake of novelty, conduct a brainstorming session and come up with some off-the-beaten-track picnic spots, perhaps, for instance, on a museum’s grounds where the public is allowed.

Behind the CT River Museum, Essex, makes a flawless picnic backdrop

Westport's (CT) Sherwood Island: A unexpected picnic guest drops in

Recipes:

Cold Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves

Approximately one jar of vegetarian-style grape leaves (available in the ethnic section of the supermarket); I prefer Peloponnese jarred variety

Approximately two cups of rice, instant or long cooking, any variety or flavor; again, I prefer jasmine

One small jar of pine nuts

One Knorr’s Vegetable Soup packet (I can’t cook without Knorr’s!)

One 8 ounce can of chopped tomatoes or fresh chopped tomatoes

Two tablespoons of rice vinegar

Your favorite oil and vinegar salad dressing, approximately three cups: enough to soak/cover a completed tray of stuffed grape leaves

A squirt of fresh lemon juice

Sprig of parsley for garnish

Rinse, do not blanch grape leaves—about half of the jar, depending on desired quantity.  Cook two or more cups rice, depending upon desired quantity.  Add the contents of one Knorr’s Vegetable soup packet to rice, mix.  Sprinkle in pine nuts, gauge amount to personal preference.  Squirt lemon for taste.  Place about one teaspoon of rice mixture on underside of each leaf near the stem’s end.  Covering stuffing by folding left and right sides of leaf until they touch.  Roll up leaf from base to tip, pinch in the sides if necessary.  Repeat with all leafs and line all rolled leaves in baking dish.

Cover baking dish of rolled leaves with salad dressing and juice from one whole lemon.  Add two or three good squirts of rice vinegar.  Cut the remaining lemon and decorate tray with rime.  Top off with canned or chopped fresh tomatoes.  Garnish with a sprig of parsley.  Bake approximately 30 to 40 minutes or until boiling.  Cool and refrigerate for picnic time.

Stacy’s Sensational Potato Salad

One bag potatoes, I prefer Dole brand potatoes

One celery root (found in the produce section of the supermarket)

One large sweet onion

Two scallions

One Knorr’s Vegetable Soup packet

Mayonnaise (I prefer Hellmann’s)

Two tablespoons of rice vinegar

One or two boiled cold eggs (optional)

Chopped fresh dill (optional)

Cook and dice potatoes and celery root (dice both about the same size).  Dice finely raw onions and scallions.  Mix onions, scallions and Knorr’s Vegetable Soup packet and about a cup or more, depending on taste preference, of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise into potatoes and celery root combination.  Add rice vinegar.  Add dill and boiled chopped eggs, if desired.  Chill in appropriate container until picnic time. 

*  “Quietly but noticeably over the past year, Americans have rejiggered their lives to elevate experiences over things. Because of the Great Recession, a recent New York Times/CBS News poll has found, nearly half of Americans said they were spending less time buying nonessentials, and more than half are spending less money in stores and online,” In Recession, Americans Doing More, Buying Less; NYT, January 2, 2010.

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* “Quietly but noticeably over the past year, Americans have rejiggered their lives to elevate experiences over things. Because of the Great Recession, a recent New York Times/CBS News poll has found, nearly half of Americans said they were spending less time buying nonessentials, and more than half are spending less money in stores and online,” In Recession, Americans Doing More, Buying Less; NYT, January 2, 2010.

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