Recipe for the Perfect Picnic



Italian bread.

Wine. Red.

Add a little greenery, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a bumpin’ twitter feed and a few thousand of my closest friends, and this is the making of a beautiful evening.  

People do it up right at The Ravinia Festival.

There’s the mad dash from the gate. The in-fighting over the shaded spots close to the Pavilion.  The pop up tables, real crystal, and vases of flowers.  Everything you’ve heard about Ravinia is true.  It’s at times chaotic and dripping with wealth, but the North Shore folks in khaki pants and claustrophobic lawn quickly fade away once the music kicks in.  You settle into your bottle of wine, gaze up at the trees, and all your worries melt away. 

For just ten bucks, you can sit in the most beautiful back yard in the tri-county area and hear some of the best musicians in the world.  This particular Sunday it happened to be Idina Menzel with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Admittedly sniffly, and suprisingly crass, that bitch can sing.

What a glorious way to spend a summer evening. 

Lauren relaxing on the lawn at Ravinia Festival

Oaxaca City, Mexico: Arts, crafts, & hanging meat

Disclaimer: This trip occurred exactly one year ago.  Since Travelpod does not allow you to export blogs, I shall be bringing them to you in real time, just a year later.

August 1, 2010

I’m told that Oaxaca City is the “capital” of the South, well, in truth, my Moon handbook told me this, and it’s the southernmost capital city (being the capital of the state of Oaxaca) excepting the capital of Chiapas, in Mexico. With all due respect to Chiapas, I’m not going there, so this would be the south-est I have ventured thus far. Even so, Oaxaca City is exceedingly mild-boasting mostly spring-like weather all of the time. It is essentially the same as San Francisco (cool mornings, warm afternoons, and cool evenings). This is all thanks to the city sitting in a big valley with mountains on all sides and makes for a great walk and a challenging wardrobe selection.

Since I missed an entire day due to some difficulties at George Bush airport I pounded the pavement shortly after breakfast. I visited the zocalo and a series of authentic markets (Benito Juarez and 20 de Noviembre) as well as a number of artisans markets. Oh my, the bounty. More cheese than the eye can behold. Fresh fishies, meat hanging on sticks and being grilled in front of you on open barbecues, breads, and fruit and veggies. Being of an American constitution, veggies were out of the question, but we did make out with some Oaxacan cheese, avocados, and a hot chocolate to die for that came with free bread.

On my way back through the zolcalo we stopped for some street food: a couple of ladies still in their Sunday best making tortillas in front of our eyes and heating them with some sort of black bean mixture, chilis, and queso fresco.

Lunch was at the zocalo for some awesome enchiladas and mole, where I was lucky enough to witness some street musicians rocking out Cold Play on the marimba. Best mole to date.

Throughout the city were scatterings of various arts and crafts stalls and a good portion of the day was spent admiring the handiwork of the people of Oaxaca City; my favorite stop has to have been MARO, a collective of Oaxacan woman artists who receive support from the government and produce absolutely amazing work. Along the route I came across these strange and funny looking fuzzy fruits that taste like grapes. The vendor gave out samples and said that he picked them himself near the border of Chiapas. Perfect! I’m not going to Chiapas, but they’ve got some yummy fruit. 1/2 kilo por favor!

I swear I did not spend the entire day eating… but at around 4pm after walking all day long I needed a cup of coffee. Badly. Although skeptical of any shop or restaurant with a name in English words, the instant I stepped into “Coffee Beans” it started to rain. Correction. Downpour. Well, it looked as though I’d be at Coffee Beans for awhile. Despite the all-American line-up of pop and hip hop music, I had a delightful time at Coffee Beans; I sat right by the door, watched the rain, and laughed at the occasional tourist in a white t-shirt taking refuge in the doorway and then guiltily moving on.

Upon return to Los Mariposas (our B & B), I took refuge on the gorgeous patio with a plate of bread, cheese, fuzzy fruit, and avocado with a sixer of Tecate. Excellent, excellent day.

Kitchen organization and visions of zucchini muffins

I’m a bit of a freak when it comes to kitchen organization. Take for example this shelf in the baking cupboard above. Yes, each item is poured into a clear glass container, and yes, Each clear glass container is labeled with a labelmaker.

What goes where is also exceedingly important. Everything has to be in a cupboard that’s accessible to what you’re doing. Cups next to the fridge, potholders in the drawer next to the stove, plastic baggies reachable with one hand to where I make sandwiches in the morning.
It took me five years to perfect the old apartment kitchen, and this one is twice as big with three times as many cupboards. I’ve rearranged twice already (much to Nancy’s dismay), and I just finished the third installment. Admittedly, it’s putting me in the mood to bake…

Record heat is the talk of the day on the Book of Faces, and all I can think about is hot, delicious zucchini muffins.
The thing is, there’s a delightfully cool breeze coming through the kitchen window, it’s reaching noon-time and still 74 out, and so while it seems crazy to voluntarily heat my kitchen to 375-degrees on the purported hottest day in five years, this run-on sentence is trying to say that I’m going to do it anyway.
Who could refuse this already defrosted shredded zucchini from last summer’s bounty??

Zucchini Muffins

  • 1/2 C. applesauce
  • 1/4 C mashed banana (applesauce and banana can be substituted for 2 eggs)
  • 2 C. sugar
  • 3 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 C. vegetable oil
  • 2 C. shredded zucchini, unpeeled, liquid squeezed out
  • 3 C. flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 C. chopped nuts (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 375-deg F. Whisk applesauce, banana (or egg), sugar, vanilla, and veg. oil together until well blended.
  2. Stir in drained zucchini. Add flour, baking powder, salt, soda, and cinnamon and mix until well blended.
  3. Fold in nuts, if desired.
  4. Turn into greased muffin tins and bake 18-25 minutes or until pastry pick comes out clean
** You can also cook the batter in a loaf pan to make a bread. In that case, bake 45 min-1 hour
Makes approximately 20 muffins