Sometimes it’s really nice to have the best picnic. Growing up, my parents would take me to the Washington Capitol for a sensational display of fireworks, the monuments providing a magnificent backdrop to a National symphony choreographing each burning ember. We’d bring a picnic, sure, but it always seemed like someone else had a better one than we did. You know the feeling. You lay out your food on a blanket, sit around enjoying the open air experience and then you look over to your left and someone else has a much better presentation, with real wine glasses, cloth napkins and something mouthwateringly good. I call this picnic envy and have had it more times than I’d like to admit.
Well, I’ve finally figured out how to throw one of those stop-in-your-tracks picnics and it takes real teamwork to accomplish. First it takes a real desire NOT to eat at a restaurant after a day at the beach. Tired of pizza or junky Mexican food after a long day at the beach, my friend Debbie and I decided to join forces with her mom to dine on the beach for dinner. A quick planning call in the morning to strategize what we each would bring and we’re grilling, sautéing and stirring various creations that will satisfy kids and grown-ups — an assortment of grilled vegetables, a zesty homemade hummus from Debbie’s mom, gourmet cheese and meats, homemade chicken tenders for the kids kept warm in a thermos, farm fresh pasta salad, yellow tomato, basil and mozzarella salad — and more!
We have Debbie’s stylish mother to thank for the décor, which made our picnic elegant amidst a crowded beach. A foldable whitewashed table (from Crate and Barrel), silk flowers, a colorful runner and some sea themed plates, napkins and even a seashell spreader set the mood. Our food, set proudly on this table, with the fishing pier as its backdrop and crashing waves as the soundtrack, was right out of Martha Stewart Magazine (only it was real!). We had to bat off a few sea gulls and other beachgoers, responding to their comments about our “honeymoon” picnic on the beach.
Here’s one of the summer salads from our beach buffet:
Southwestern Quinoa Salad
2 cups cooked quinoa (1/4 cup less chicken or veggie stock according to package directions)
4 scallions, cleaned and chopped
3 ears of corn, cooked and kernels removed
1 small Vidalia onion, diced
½ red pepper, finely diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
½ cup yellow (or red) grape tomatoes
3 ounces Cotija (or feta) cheese
3 tablespoons canola oil
¼ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon of honey
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1 garlic clove, crushed
Juice from 1 lime
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Pepper to taste
Cook Quinoa according to package directions using chicken or vegetable stock. Fluff with a fork and place in a medium sized bowl. Add the scallions, onions, corn, tomatoes, peppers, crumbled cheese and cilantro. Mix together well. Whisk the canola oil, lime juice, honey, cumin, garlic, salt and pepper and pour over the mixture. Mix again well and serve.