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Winter Picnic

coleslawGroan. Right about now, the thought of turkey anything is enough to make the residents of Chez Siberia lock themselves in the bathroom (and considering that there are only 1.5 ‘necessaries’, this could result in a rather interesting game of musical toilets..), but even the Siberians must eat. And, as luck (bad) would have it, The Boy had a birthday celebration intermixed in all this and asked for (hurrah!) a meal that actually hearkened back to a period when our family was…mmm…shall we say….how should Aunt Toby put this?

Well, we weren’t exactly going out to eat on a regular basis due to lack of discretionary income. And the Little Siberians (who were actually quite little at the time) dearly loved going out to eat, so to compensate, we used to encourage them to play a game called “Restaurant” (yes, I realize that the name is not exactly creative, but kids are pretty literal at that age), with all that this implies.

Together, they used to come up with a theme (‘we’re going to a French restaurant”; “we’re going to a French restaurant in Mexico” that sort of thing) and comb through the zillions of cookbooks that the DH and I had collected and would come up with a menu and a shopping list. They would decorate the table in their best “French restaurant in Mexico” sort of way; we would cook things up and then one of them would drape a wash towel over an arm, put on a crazy “Pepe Le Pew Meets Continflas” sort of accent and we would play coming to the door and being seated and so on. It was all very sweet and funny (though a little sad..sigh..but that’s a topic for another time).

One of the easiest and cheapest ‘restaurant’ themes that they came up with was “Beach Restaurant in January.” Now, on the surface, this makes no sense since no beach-front restaurant that I know is ever open in January unless you are someplace south of Myrtle Beach. But the idea was that we’d go on a picnic at a time of the year when it is beastly cold; we’re stuck inside, it’s hellishly gloomy and we’ve been eating far too much stew, chili and other hot stuff.

Now, there are many things that do not translate to ‘picnic’ at this time of the year because you just can’t get them – like locally grown tomatoes if you don’t live in warm areas. But, in our part of the world, there are things that are available, cheap, good – and we had not been eating them for several months so they seemed fun and unique and fresh.

So, if you are completely sodden with turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin everything, turkey left-overs in every permutation, combination and setting, here is something cheap and fun. The décor is up to you; truckload of sand, beach balls, and blanket optional.

Menu:

  • Chicken Spiedies with rolls (or Italian bread – that is traditional)
  • Potato Salad with hard boiled eggs and onions
  • Cole slaw with carrots
  • Apples and Oranges

How to’s:

spiediesChicken spiedies are to our local area what Hot Wings are the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York. You will need: boneless chicken breasts, and something to marinate the chunked up chicken in. If you are lucky and your local groceria carries it, go for a spiedie marinade. If not, an easy one is vinegar, oil, and every sort of Italian spice you can lay your hands on. At this time of the year, one essential ingredient won’t be found in the garden and that is mint. Here’s a good recipe.

http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Sandwiches/Spiedie.htm

Ordinarily, spiedies are cooked on skewers on a grill but only the truly hardy would be out doing this in the winter, so you can grill them on your stove (5 min. on a side and flip). If you are stuck with an oven with a grill that does not work, spiedies can be cooked in a frying pan; just keep stirring them around until they cook. It takes so short a time that it’s really best to get everything else done and in the fridge earlier in the day and do the spiedies at the end. To make a sandwich, take a roll in one hand and the skewered meat in the other. Put the skewer inside the roll, grip tightly and pull off meat into the roll. Voila.

Potato Salad with hard boiled eggs.

This is the classic summer picnic staple. Yes, I know there are all sorts of potato salads from all over, complete with wonderful dressings and bacon and goodness knows what else. In our house, the only fancification allowed is perhaps the addition of a couple of stalks of chopped celery, but since this is a ‘reach into the fridge and pull out whatcha got’, no celery is to be found (except for the rather limp stuff that always gets forgotten in the bottom of the drawer and ends up on the compost heap or being fed to the chickens). You will have potato salad left over; that is the essence of potato salad. But the basic recipe is:

  • 1 fist sized potato (not Idaho russets – go for red potatoes or some other boiling potato) per person.
  • Eggs: count up the number of people to be served and subtract 2. That’s your number of eggs. Hard boil them – that is 10 min. on the boil.
  • Onions: ½ of an onion that is slightly smaller than your fist. I like red ones as they are slightly less pungent than the white or yellow ones, but whatever you have will do. Chop fine.
  • Dressing. We like a pretty spicy dressing at our house, but plain ol’ mayo will do. Put in enough (and it’s always more than you would think) so that the potatoes have a nice coating but not so much that you have soup in the bottom of the bowl. Our dressing for what ends up being 6 big potatoes goes like this:
  • Mayo – about a cup
  • Grated horseradish (comes in a bottle – red or white doesn’t matter): 1 big honkin’ tablespoon
  • Something sweet. 1/8 cup of …left over cranberry sauce, apple sauce, etc. If you have nothing else, a teaspoon of honey or sugar will do.

Mix everything together and mix into the potatoes, onions and celery (if you’ve put that in).

Refrigerate and then serve.

Cole Slaw (see photo at the top).

Again, this is the classic stuff. No nuts, no raisins, no marshmallow peeps, just shredded carrots and coleslaw. The fam does not particularly like this when I’ve made it with the food processor – the individual pieces are too small and it gets mushy. Cabbage is shredded with a knife. Carrots shredded with a hand grater.

Basic recipe:

  • Carrots: One big carrot per person. Don’t get them too big – once the leaf end gets above an inch across, they get sort of woody. Shred with a hand grater and keep your fingers away from the business end. This is not potato latkes – odd bits of skin and blood are not considered beneficial additions.
  • Cabbage: If you are using both red and green cabbage, use about 1/3 of a head for each. If just one or the other, use a half a big head of the cabbage. Cut out the center core. Shred with a big knife so that you end up with long strings of cabbage.
  • Put the cabbage and the carrots into a big bowl and mix up.
  • Dressing: There are plenty of bottled cole slaw dressings – we find them rather sickeningly sweet. Our dressing is:
  • May: one cup
  • Ground black pepper
  • 2 table spoons of something sour – vinegar will do, lemon juice is better, orange juice in a pinch.
  • 1 teaspoon of something sweet – honey or sugar will do.

Mix up the dressing and pour over the cabbage and carrots. Mix together and refridgerate.

Dessert:

No one eats too much fresh fruit at this time of the year and at this point in our house, everyone is sick of things with baked fruit in them. Washed crunchy apples or big peeling oranges are just the ticket.

Enjoy.

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