A Different Kind of Picnic

How do you imagine the perfect picnic?

Sitting on a brightly-colored blanket covering soft, green grass? Enjoying an unbelievably sunny day - blue sky and just enough white, fluffy clouds to make things interesting? You, sitting and laughing with friends or family (or both), relaxing in the sun-shade border (must be able to get to both depending on the temperature, right?)? Perhaps each of you with a glass of crisp, chilled white wine or rose in hand? Of course there will be delicious, refreshing food, but is it all part of the experience to share your bounty with the requisite ants in attendance? Does your picnic happen on the beach, at sunset? In a mountain meadow under a gorgeous oak tree? Or does it happen in the local park, next to kids playing baseball or friends throwing a frisbee? Does your picnic include fried chicken and potato salad, burgers grilled on a portable grill, or gourmet cheeses, crackers and fresh fruit? Perhaps a bit of all of them?

All of these sound like the perfect picnic to me, but my first real picnic in Hawaii - one where we packed up the most portable food we could find - was not even close to any of these idyllic picnics. Was it better? No, but it was certainly different!

We took our picnic to The Sandbar.

We arrived by kayak.

The Sandbar is located in the middle of Kaneohe Bay. It's a small "island" of sand (yes, only sand) that is exposed at low tide. That is to say, the sand is exposed when there is a tide low enough to actually uncover it. The day we went there, the tide was not low enough to expose the sand, but that doesn't stop the locals (or us for that matter) from heading out there in boats, kayaks and jet skis to play and picnic for the day because the water is still shallow enough that you can stand on the unexposed sand and it will only come up to your waist, or in the shallower places, your shins. We'd heard the hype about it, we just happened to have a couple of kayaks in our garage, and well, we wanted a piece of the adventure too.

On the day of our picnic, we donned our suits, packed up the most portable, eating-in-the-water-friendly (but still fun) food we could think of, loaded up the kayaks and set off to see what this Sandbar place was all about. And let me just say: it lived up to they hype. It was a great day - we threw frisbees and water footballs, drank lots of beer (in cans, because they float!), basked in the Hawaiian sun, and huffed and puffed our way there and back - burning off the calories and struggling not to want to kill each other in our two person kayak.

The Sandbar is crazy, as you can tell by the pictures in the link above (though it wasn't quite as crazy as the day in the pictures, as that was a holiday). There are beautiful people everywhere , from every age group. There are lounge floaties (connected swimming pool floaties that have spots for drinks for each person), floaties with umbrellas, water volleyball, water frisbee and water football games. People bring tables to set up in the water (the water reaching only a few inches below the surface of the table) so that they can set up their grills and grill their hamburgers out there in the middle of the bay. No one arrives without some kind of water game to play, their swimming suit and a bunch of food (and ahem, copious quantities of alcohol). And everyone stays 'till the tide comes in (or the clouds hide the sun for too long - it's kind of chilly to sit in the water all day long with no place to get out!). It's a truly local, Hawaiian adventure. It was a blast, and a perfect picnic.

What did we bring for our picnic? Simple food, good food, portable food. It was the perfect time to participate in this month's Heart of the Matter, where the theme is...you guessed it: Picnics. I scoured the Internet for ideas, and while there seemed to be a plethora of ideas for picnics in all of the major magazines in July and August, many of them simply would not work for our type of picnic - standing, in water that could be up to our waists, in the middle of Kaneohe Bay (and keep in mind that I am a 5'0" woman). Even a cheese and crackers type meal was too complicated. I needed food for 3 people - food we could either eat individually or pass around in a single container. Food that could handle a 35 or so minute kayak trip out to where the picnic would take place. Food that didn't make much waste we would have to cart back and didn't take up too much space on the way out there. Worse, we didn't have time to go shopping beforehand and had to go with what we had in the house, whipping everything together the hour before we were supposed to leave.

I finally found Mark Bittman's 101 Ideas for Inspired Picnics. He had some wonderful and simple ideas that I adapted to work for my picnic, and to be heart healthy for HotM. I made whole-wheat wraps with chicken and an arugula/sun-dried tomato/basil pesto - so that we could eat them, standing in the water, wrapped in waxed paper and not worry about any of the "good stuff" falling out. We had fresh veggies passed about in baggies with homemade hummus, and my adapted version of his three-bean salad. I also took the last of my latest (and much adapted) batch of homemade granola and mixed it with a small amount of brown sugar and honey before forming it into bars and doing as Bittman recommended: calling it "dessert." These granola dessert bars were great too - wrapped up in wax paper, they made a very portable (if sticky - but that's what all that water is great for - you don't even need a napkin!) ending to our picnic.

While everything was delicious, the three-bean salad was the winner of day. And it's so adaptable that you can make it with nearly anything you have on hand. I had a few cans of different beans (oh Costco, you're such a good friend here) and used everything I had that needed to be used up. If you haven't already, please join us in creating an archive of heart-healthy picnic recipes over at HotM's home site. My lovely co-host Joanna, from Joanna's Food, is collecting all of your recipes and will post them together on her site, and on the HotM site, after all the entries are in. There's still plenty of time to join, just send your entries to her by August 25th. Details can be found here.

Heart Healthy 3-Bean Salad, serves 6
inspired by Mark Bittman's 101 Inspired Picnics

1 can of black beans, rinsed
1 can of garbanzo beans, rinsed
1 can of kidney beans, rinsed
kernels from 2 ears of corn, cooked
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
1 jalepeno, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
juice and zest from 1 lime
1 tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped finely (or 1 1/2 tsp. dried)
1 tbsp. good fruity olive oil

It's easy: Just mix everything together and put in a portable container. And don't forget the forks!


My Computer Went Kaput, Kaboom, KABLAM!

Sorry I've been delayed in responding to your comments. Sadly, my computer crashed (um, died is a better word) and we have been unable to revive it as of yet (I haven't even been successful in getting it to turn on, although LB was able to at least get it make that *hello* chime finally - yay LB! - but still, no picture). When did we all suddenly become so dependent on our computers? How did we ever live without them?! And email? I used that computer every single day, for many hours a day - and now I feel so disconnected! It's a strange electronic world, but I can't help but love it. And I miss it! I keep trying to tell myself that maybe this will be good for me. And for getting more work done...maybe...

Hopefully I'll be back up blogging soon, but since I have no where to download my pictures or even a computer to check your wonderful blogs on regularly (work is busy too, but lucky for me today is a holiday so I have the lab, with all its free computers, nearly to myself. Hawaii has lots of extra holidays...I love Hawaii.). I guess what I am saying is: it just might be a little while until I can get a new one. Hopefully not too long. I'm going to try to get my post up for this month's Heart of the Matter (you should join in too - there's still another week left before the entries are due on the 25th!) even if it is sans picture and I hope to be able to at least come around to your blogs and say hello a few times in the meantime. A hui hou, my friends! (until we meet again!)


Got Figs?

Figs are definitely on the list of my five top favorite food and they are certainly one of my favorite fruits. My first taste of a fresh fig occurred while living in northern California when I was house-sitting for my (then) boss - he and his wife had a huge Black Mission fig tree in their backyard and told me to "help myself" to as many as I would like. I did. I had never seen nor tasted fresh figs before then. In fact, the only figs I'd had any contact with previous to that little fig tree and its hanging jewels were (gasp!) Nabisco's Fig Newtons.

But after eating that first fig, I couldn't get enough of them. I cleaned the tree out in a few days flat.

Yep, every last fig.

And that was only the beginning of my affair with figs. They had soft, succulent flesh that went with everything from honey to goat cheese to blue cheese to port. Sweet or savory, the figs fit the bill. They were fabulous whether roasted, baked or scraped off the inside of their tender skins with my teeth. They were like sex: even a bad fig was a good fig. And there were no bad figs that time of year. Later, I remember wandering aimlessly, hopefully, into a tiny, out of the way Mediterranean market in October that year to ask if they ever had fresh figs. The proprietor of the tiny store laughed. He told me to come back next August.

Next August? But that was a whole year away!

And so, there was nothing I could do but wait. The next year, I loaded up again. When I moved to Oregon, I bought my own tree. It was small, and it didn't produce many figs, but each one was like a prized possession. Every August and September, I bought them in quantity at the market, from Freeman. I even went so far as to preserve them in rum.

Well, it really is true: the best things come to those who wait. Figs are one of the few produce items that you simply cannot get in the grocery stores the whole year. And often, many grocery stores don't even carry them. Figs are sweet, fragile and ephemeral. Like a coy lover, they are here one moment and gone the next - leaving your tastebuds longing for more. No wonder they're considered aphrodisiacs. Consider yourself lucky if you have them in your grocery store (and if they're ripe). Scour the farmer's market for them or scout out the neighbor's tree...bring the neighbors cookies or pies if you have to, for trade. Or, seek out a tree near the sidewalk that you can snatch a few from in desperation.

Figs are also somewhat finicky - they don't grow well everywhere. They require wasps to pollinate them. They don't grow in Hawaii.

Or so I thought.

That was until I received a tip from a couple of foodies in LB's office that there had been figs at the Farmer's market in town (Honolulu). I didn't know who the vendor was, but I told LB we were going. And we went. We arrived at 9 AM (it begins at 7:30) and finally found the vendor in question: Blue Lotus (Organic) Farm. We asked if they had any figs.

They laughed at us. They asked us, "What time is it?"

We said, "Almost 10," looking down at our watches. They said, "Come back next week, early. We've been sold out for hours."

And so, we did. We arrived the following week at 7:35 AM and went straight to the booth. No figs. He was already sold out. We got the last 3, very bruised specimens for half price. But oh, they were tasty - heady, even. The first bite transported me back to all the other Augusts when figs had touched my lips for the first time each year...I instantly wanted more, needed more. I put the charm on and worked out a deal with the farmer and he offered to set some aside The next weekend, I called and he was going be out of town...he promised the following week he would be there, figs in hand.

So it took me three weeks to get my figs, but it was worth every moment.

The figs are here, friends. And they're organic!

Go see Greg Yee, at Blue Lotus Farms. Get them while they are still here because before you know it, they'll be gone. Go early and bring something to place these jewels in - a safe, gentle resting place - while you do the rest of your shopping. It'll be worth it when you get them home, perfect and unblemished.

Most of the figs Greg has are Calimyrna figs. They are more subtle and delicate than Black Mission figs; and not quite as sweet or rich as their darker cousins. With the two pounds of figs I bought, I ate many of them simple, fresh and unadulterated. Then I topped these mini mascarpone tarts with them - a modified version of this tart, but scented with Grand Marnier and honey and with a toasted hazelnut and graham cracker crust. I also made a fresh fig, date and ginger (mascarpone) ice cream. Delicious. Seductive. Heavenly.

Greg Yee
Blue Lotus Farms
KCC Farmer's Market (Row E - over by the boiled peanuts)

Consequently, Greg also sells organic chicken and duck eggs (prices dependent on size) and even better - whole, free-range local chickens. The chickens are about 6 lbs each and come out at approximately $20 per bird. He didn't have any chicken the day I was there last, but he says he usually does. On an island where local eggs are rapidly disappearing and local chicken is even more rare, farmers like Greg are a blessing and need your support. But trust me, my friends, nothing - and I mean nothing - compares to the figs.

***Update, Jan 9, 2015***

Courtesy of a commenter: Greg Yee passed away January 8.  He was a beautiful person who loved life and always had a smile to share with others. It brought him great joy to see people enjoy his fruits, vegetables and eggs. He will truly be missed.

Rest in Peace, Greg.  You were a blessing to all at the Market and we did enjoy your products!  Thank you for the light you brought and the beautiful things you shared with us. You will be missed.


El Premio Arte y Pico

I feel so honored and humbled...the lovely Deb, at Kahakai Kitchen just awarded me, and four other lucky bloggers, the El Premio Arte y Pico award (and this was even before we met each other! I promise!). I have never received an award before, so I'm blushing, shuffling my feet back and forth, looking down at the floor and just completely beside myself that someone out there would choose to give little ol' me and my little ol' blog an award. Thanks so much, Deb! Since I've been gushing a lot recently about Deb's site, I'll just say go and check it out on your own if you haven't already - and I can tell you from experience that she's as great in person as the posts on her blog and the sweet comments she leaves on other's sites would have you believe. You can see her award and the other bloggers she chose on her post.

Upon trying to figure out what El Premio Arte y Pico translated to in English, I came upon the original site. I'm adding the link to that and the *rules* of the award (though I condensed them...which I probably wasn't supposed to do, but oh well, nobody is perfect, eh?), since they seem to have gotten lost amongst all of the passing on. The phrase itself supposedly translates to something like: "Wow. The best art. Over the top!" The rules are as follows:


  1. Choose 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award, creativity, design, interesting material, and also contributes to the blogger community.
  2. Each award should have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone, and a link to the blog which bestowed it upon them.
  3. The award-winner and the one who has given the prize should include a link to "Arte y pico"blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.
Now the best part of receiving the award: getting to choose 5 other bloggers whose sites and posts are a creative inspiration to me. There are so many wonderful blogs out there, and so much amazing photography, but I also wanted to pick bloggers that not only had great photography, but inspired me in other ways too. So here are my 5:
  1. Cookiecrumb, at I'm Mad and I Eat. I've been reading Cookiecrumb's blog now for years (she was, in fact, one of the first blogs I ever read) and she never ceases to inspire me in so many different ways...to eat locally (this woman made her own salt, people!), to cook without recipes, to make the most of what's available to you (even if it's 100 pounds of pears), and recognizing the beauty in the ingredients of the food as much as the food itself. Plus, she makes me laugh every day and there's nothing better than that!
  2. Karen, at Rambling Spoon. Karen's photos and descriptions take you all over the world from New Mexico to Laos, Thailand, India and beyond. Plus, she's a Gourmet contributor, an author of two books (I'm planning on buying both as soon as I get my budget figured out here), and an incredibly humble, intelligent and sweet person to boot. She not only inspires me to cook, but makes me want to travel the world!
  3. Ilva, at Lucullian Delights. Ilva and I started our blogs around the same time and have been visiting online ever since. I love the simplicity and clean lines of her blog, making her incredible pictures center stage. She lives in gorgeous Tuscany and shows her readers a little of her life every day, along with simply prepared and delicious food - showing that even with a few ingredients, you can make a masterpiece. Her site and her ideas are always inspiring!
  4. Tanna, at My Kitchen in Half-Cups. Not only do I love having Tanna visit my site because she leaves such warm and supportive comments, but Tanna's site seems to be different than most of the other blogs I visit. Her background always has to do with what she's cooking up in the kitchen that day, and every post is filled with great quotes, thoughts and often the most beautiful breads. She inspires me to want to bake my own bread every time I read about hers!
  5. Ann and Jack, at Redacted Recipes. Ann randomly stopped by my site one day and I'm so glad she did because then I was able to find their blog! Their pictures are beautiful (they can make anything look delicious) and they are always trying new recipes and participating in all kinds of events - churning out all kinds of fabulous-looking food. They make me want to jump in the boat and join in everything (if I only had the time). Plus, I'm a sucker for their header - it's so cute!!