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By Nani Steele
THERE IS SOMETHING BOTH HOMESPUN AND EXTRAVAGANT ABOUT A PICNIC, regardless of where you lay down the blanket or what’s on your plate. And although it can be an either-or proposition, it’s more likely that a memorable picnic will include a little bit of each. As I see it, it’s not just the food or even the setting that takes the cake, but a combination of delicious pleasures that elevate a picnic from ordinary to great.
When I was a kid, a picnic meant a day at the beach, an outing to a mountaintop or a lazy afternoon under the boughs of a fruit tree. It was fun and adventurous, and there was always something special to eat. On occasion, it might have called for a trip to the Mediterranean market in town for thin slices of peppery salami and provolone cheese, or colorfully wrapped cookies called amaretti. Or simply to savor the silvery sardines that came packed in tins of olive oil, along with the Swedish biscuits and German licorice that my grandmother kept in the back of the cupboard for just such an occasion. Other times it called for baking a cake to serve with wild berries, or chocolate meringues to devour with cream.
I love a good picnic, from the preparing of food, to being on the way, right through to experiencing it. As an adult, I have had my share of memorable ones-from simple affairs on the water’s edge to more lavish ones on a yacht in the idyllic waters of Greece. I have particularly fond memories of picnicking on the fog-shrouded edge of the Napali Coast on Kaua’i with three friends-two of them on the Sail America team-more than 20 years ago now, eating fat sandwiches we made ourselves in a hotel room chased down with a bottle of warm soda.
There have been the picnics of runny cheese with red wine and roasted chicken in my overgrown garden with friends, a sunrise picnic of everything peaches in a peach orchard, and plenty sweetness to savor while dallying in bed. And yet again, a picnic is not so much about what and where, but the care and attention brought to each; the delicious food, good friends, loved ones and sense of place that, all combined, makes them far greater. Whether you choose to have a picnic in a luxury setting, right at home, or at Kapi’olani Park at sundown, it’s adding that touch of gourmet (read: flavor) that will seduce the heart and spice up your day.
So forget the mayo-laced sandwiches and cellophane bags of chips right off the shelf, and instead dress up your picnic with tropical fruits and far-flung flavors that are sure to turn up the heat. Here are some of my favorite food ideas for picnic pleasure this spring in the islands:
-Spice up a dish of rice with slivers of green papaya, chicken and lots of Chinese parsley (cilantro).
-Stir fresh coconut milk into poke, to make a quick version of Tahiti’s poisson cru; garnish with sliced green onions.
-Make a tomato salad using Kamuela tomatoes and thin slices of Maui onions; add olive oil and a sprinkling of local goat cheese.
-Scoop the tart juice and seeds of a fresh lilikoi over cheesecake or any other cake.
-Drizzle island honey and lime over papaya and mango slices and spoon-feed your loved one as the sun comes up.
-Make your own chocolate truffles: Add exotic flavors like vanilla bean, chilies or yuzu (Japanese citrus) and enjoy with Champagne or Prosecco overlooking the sea.
Green Papaya Salad
1 large green papaya, peeled, seeded and grated (about 4-6 cups flesh)
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
6 green onions, sliced on the diagonal
1 bunch cilantro (Chinese parsley), chopped
1 bunch Thai basil, leaves torn
Zest from 2 limes
1/2 cup peanuts, lightly toasted
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Serrano or Thai chili, finely chopped
About 1 tablespoon palm sugar, or to taste (or use honey)
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fish sauce
For the dressing, whisk together the garlic, chili, sugar, lime juice and fish sauce.
Layer all the salad ingredients in a large bowl, and toss with the dressing when you are ready to serve. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.