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!
How do you imagine the perfect picnic?