Discover more from soft leaves
First, a couple of announcements related to weird desserts:
Saturday, June 10th — I’m throwing a Mushroom Desserts Bake Sale at Archestratus! Expect some shiitake cookies and the debut of the “Twigs” bar (porcini shortbread, mushroom caramel). All profits will go to Good Bread, an inclusive bakery in Kyiv giving away bread in Ukraine's front-line territories.
My recipe for Salt & Vinegar Chip Pie is in the new issue of Cake Zine: Humble Pie — which is open for pre-orders now. I haven’t gotten to read all of it yet, but it’s full of contributions from a humbling set of writers and chefs. Mine is a sweet pucker sneaky sucker punch of a pie made for the true vinegar heads. The crust is potato chips, because I love potato chips in dessert, and honestly stands alone as an excellent snack. Order the zine!
And now let’s get into it (or…outside of it?)
A picnic is just the same food we eat all the time, transformed by the way sunlight feels on your skin or the sound of leaves moving. The breeze that picks up your napkins and sends you chasing them down the pavement is a welcome annoyance. It can be an excuse to eat entirely cheese for dinner, or a way to throw a party for all your friends if your apartment is small. We’re lucky to live near what I think is the best park in Brooklyn — a small one with old trees. Lately I’ve been taking Miro there in the evenings and we sprawl against each other on a blanket, and it’s extra delicious to feel his bathtub-soft baby skin outside. A picnic is just the luxury of experiencing the things you’re used to inside, outside.
I loved Alicia Kennedy’s newsletter the other week about recipe writing as “a form of embodied writing,” in that it seeks to convey a very physical experience — and then goes beyond: to grant you, the reader, the gift of embodying a similar experience yourself. That’s what makes it a magic spell.
So I asked a few friends to tell me what they bring on a picnic. “Could be a recipe, could be a vibe,” I prompted. A picnic is the perfect opportunity to pull together a meal that’s less about the “cooking” and more about the sourcing or the composition (which has always been cooking, after all).
Emily: Chocolate Sandwich
“Just imagine lying in the park on a 68° day (not too warm, for the butter) and breaking off chunks of a She Wolf sesame loaf, smearing it in nice, salty butter — like a SLICE of butter, you should be able to see your teeth marks in it — and haphazardly shaving off curls of the best dark chocolate and making perfect little bites.”
Maureen: Ramen salad
“Toss3c cabbge/c mungbeansprout/5T peanutoil&scalion/T soya&vinegr/pkg ramenspice. Top w crumbledramen/c tstdalmond; chill>4h.” This is from Maureen’s Twitter cookbook (back when Twitter was max 140-character and was a cool, fun part of the Internet). In longform: Toss the cabbage (maybe with a cup of snap peas instead of mung bean sprouts) with 5 tablespoons chopped scallions, 5 tablespoons peanut oil, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, and add the whole packet of instant ramen spice. Roughly chop and then toast some almonds, crumble the instant ramen, and put them both on top. Maybe sprinkle on some sesame. She adds, “Use instant ramen, which is already pre-fried; after chilling it becomes al dente. Toss before serving.”
Annie: Happy things cut and enjoyed as-is
“One picnic that is seared in my mind is during college when I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off and my friend organized a birthday picnic by the river. She just tore up some baguette and cut some avocado and it was the most beautiful moment and taste. It reminded me that good doesn’t have to be stressful or complex. Now I like to find soft figs or French breakfast radishes and bring salted butter and just dip and plop into my mouth.”
Leanne: Cucumber sandwiches with various salty banchan
“I tried to bring cucumber sandwiches once but the bread gets so soggy, so in the future I’ll bring [everything] as separate components and assemble there…Japanese milk bread, with mandolined cucumbers and lemon mayo. It’s great with the tiny salty fish in banchan or fried mushrooms or anything salty, fatty or crunchy.” She suggests you cut them small, which is optimal for sharing, and “use regular mayo because kewpie is sweeter.”
Arkadiy: Egg Salad
“Boil eggs until just short of hard boiled, [put them in an] ice bath, take the yolks out and smash them with a fork then add mayo (ideally kewpie) and a bit of mustard [or Trader Joe’s mustard aioli sauce], add some capers, season with salt and white pepper, chop the whites medium-fine (I put them through an egg slicer then cut with a knife), mix.” He says that the “separate preparation of the yolks and knife-cut whites is key.” Later he added that “the next level upgrade is adding salted (or Koji-cured) duck egg yolk” into the mortar. Eat the egg salad on bread.
Jenn: Cheese dip and pretzels
Kentucky beer cheese, which is basically cheddar blended with some spices and flat beer (read Jenn’s recipe here). Serve with thick pretzels, “like the Union Sq farmer’s market Martin’s pretzels” — or, if those aren’t available, “go for the Unique Splits or the flat pretzel crisps” because they’re “big and crackly.”
Amy: Watermelon, feta, mint, red onion, olive oil salad
Use big mouth-sized chunks of seedless watermelon, and start with big cubes of feta, “because as you mix it, it will break down. Don’t wanna mix tooooo much or it'll get mushy…the thin red onion is key for a nice sharpness that contrasts with the fatty cheese and the sweet watermelon…you could probably throw some balsamic on it if you were feeling fancy.” Amy says she didn’t really picnic when she was a kid because Texas is too hot, but she had a salad like this at her first Brooklyn picnic (“I remember walking for what felt like forever to some place in the Long Meadow to find 20 *very* cool-looking people on a bunch of blankets”) and the watermelon-cheese combination shocked and then hooked her.
Vic: Bowie’s Smorgasboard
“We always picnic on our deck. We bring out a blanket and the same large tin tray and a million little bowls and I just fill them up with everything: nuts [salted cashews or pistachios], crackers [Wheat Thins or whole wheat round crackers], cheese, turkey rolls [i.e. turkey slices rolled up], fruits, trail mix [Bowie goes straight for the M&Ms], etc…In the winter we have floor picnics.”
Me: Tomato Bread Salad
This is panzanella, but a very simple version and made by frying bread instead of just drying it out: Cut a baguette (or some other bread with chew) into large-bite-size pieces and fry it on the stove in lots of garlicky olive oil. Toss with halved sweet cherry tomatoes or big chunks of the best August heirlooms, and some torn basil. Season with salt and pepper, and maybe a splash of vinegar depending on what the tomatoes taste like. Put it all together in a container or a Ziploc bag and take it with you. The flavors will meld and the bread will soften as you make your way to your destination.
Last week’s paid subscriber recipe, a.k.a. Miro’s first birthday cake: