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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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“All it takes is a little…”

In the past blog, I stated “Liz Cooper who opened Newtown, CT’s Great Finds & Designs this past year not only carries women’s fashions, jewelry and accessories, home décor and gift items, but freshly baked cookies with copies of the accompanying recipe at hand for shoppers and browsers as well.”

And if that doesn’t raise the bar on the mood gauge, this will:    Liz is one of the most encouraging women I’ve ever met.  First, back to my previous blog.  Remember how I griped about the long, dreary, sadly dismal state-of-mind winter that I had in my mind (mind = one’s worse enemy)?  Well, I spilled out my guts to her; right over the jewelry counter.  Her pearls of advice?  “Faith.”  In fact, she pointed out a sign right above her head on the shelf that said just that.

She shared a bit of her story with me, which began with her own leap of faith into the unchartered waters of running a business.  She did hire the services of a coach whom she raves about.  Did I feel great?  Not really, but it gave me a spark of fuel for the long day’s and week’s journey ahead.  One thing certain, you don’t have to do it alone.  That’s the nice thing about taking a short trip somewhere—you never know who you will meet.  What I have found is that most successful small business people, who are living their passions, are more likely to exchange some positive dialogue with you to help lift your spirits, energize, rejuvenate, fill your mind and help you rejigger.* 

 *  “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.

Didn’t get the raise you counted on?  Don’t have the burst of creativity to click out that short story you’ve been meaning to write?  Or perhaps you were won out by a co-worker for the job promotion?  Yada.  Yada.  Yada.   You know the drill.  I’m an expert at it.  Being a writer for thirty-plus years, I have had so many rejections that I can plaster the walls of the Taj Mahal from top to bottom (of course, the rejection letters would not fit the décor!) 

This past winter, I had an over-polluted mind of misery and discontent, and justified every last oozing note of melancholy.  The piggy oinked to be fed; writing assignments few and far between.  Yada.  Yada. Yada.  Sunk in this state of mind, who would believe that I found an effulgence in my life while day tripping and visiting….Tah Dah!…independently owned stores?   Chatting with the owners was the cherry that crowned the day trips.  Shopkeepers and small business people are my heroes.  Donning alligator skin, generous hearts and overworked hands, they are easy to detect.

For the next few weeks, I will highlight some of my “shop therapy” day tripping experiences; I hope the accounts inspire you to visit one of these merchants or all of them.  If you reside outside of Connecticut, take a day to pop into a mom-and-pop shop.  Here are some of the positive perks that I wish for you from such excursions, an RX to:  lift your spirits, energize, rejuvenate, fill your mind and help you rejigger.*

“Shop therapy” day tripping can satisfy your sweet tooth, too.  Liz Cooper who opened Newtown, CT’s Great Finds & Designs this past year not only carries women’s fashions, jewelry and accessories, home décor and gift items, but freshly baked cookies with copies of the accompanying recipe at hand for shoppers and browsers as well.  Pineapple Squares, Chocolate Covered Almond Squares, Lemon Crisps and Ricotta Cheese Cookies are just some of the tasty treats that will entice a smile out of the grumpiest of moods, especially after a bit of taste testing.  

Liz Cooper enjoying her chocolate creation

*  “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.  

Here is Liz’s recipe for Pineapple Squares 
 
 
 
 

So sweet & light, they're almost gone!

Pineapple Squares (use 13 x 9 pan; bake at 350 degrees, approximately one hour) 

Spray pan with PAM  

Spread one 20 oz. can crushed pineapple with the juice on the pan  

Layer shredded coconut over pineapple (enough to cover the pineapple)  

Layer yellow cake mix (dry mix only, do not mix with anything)  

Layer slivered almonds (enough to cover the cake mix)  

Cut up two sticks butter and layer over almonds  

Bake approximately one hour (check at around 55 minutes to make sure sides are not browning too much)  

Remove from oven, loosen sides—let sit a while  

OPTION ONE:  Let cake cool and then flip; any pineapple that sticks to pan: just take a spatula and smooth it back on.  Cut into desired serving pieces.  

OPTION TWO:  Place cake in frig for a few hours, loosen sides again and then cut cake into four rectangles and flip each piece and then cut into desired serving pieces.  

Here is Liz’s recipe for Chocolate-Covered Almond Squares

Yummy Chocolate-Covered Almond Squares

Chocolate-Covered Almond Squares  

3 Tbsp. butter, melted  

2 ½ cups sweetened flake coconut  

¼ tsp. salt  

4 ½ cups powdered sugar  

¼ cup evaporated milk  

80 whole almonds, toasted (to toast almonds: Spread the almonds in a single layer on a foil-lined cookie sheet.  Bake 5 to 10 minutes in a 350-degree oven until lightly browned in the center of the almond.  Allow to cool before use)  

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips  

Line a 9 x 13 inch pan with foil and lightly spray with cooking spray.  Combine melted butter, coconut and salt.  Stir the powdered sugar into the mixture.  Add the evaporated milk and mix well.  Evenly press the coconut mixture into the prepared pan.  Melt the chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler or in a microwave oven.  Spread the melted chocolate evenly over the coconut mixture.  Place the almonds in rows (8 x 10) on top.  Cover and refrigerate.  Remove from pan and, with a large knife, cut between the almonds into small squares.  

 
 

  

Consummate Author! Consummate Journalist! Consummate Motivator!

Through simple secrets to a happier life like day-trip adventures and a gratitude journal by the bedside, I have not only been able to overcome many obstacles in my life, but erase negative and useless thinking…and, yes, learn to relax, rejuvenate, rejigger. *

Rejigger *

* “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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