July is National Picnic Month, when summertime is at its peak. The days are long and leisurely and time is on our side. Languid evenings are tinged with pink-hued sunsets and a sizzle in the air makes us want to savor every moment outside.
Eating al fresco is the ultimate summertime pleasure, and for inspiration on what to pack for the best basket bites, we talked to chefs from across the state of Oregon.
From farm-fresh peaches to duck liver parfait, and crispy baguettes paired with fresh chèvre, the chefs dished tips, impromptu fare and their favorite escapes for your next moveable feast. Get ready to pack a basket and head outside!
In the Basket: Chicken liver mousse, pears from Hood River, a baguette, a bottle of Rosé and an Opinel (traditional French country knives)
Favorite Picnic: Buying a baguette and saucisson, a bottle of wine and one pound of cheese (as the cheesemonger would not let me buy a quarter pound from her stall — too small she said!) and sitting on a bench in July at the Sacré Cœur in Montmartre in Paris
Tip: Do not forget the knife — you can use it as a fork, a spoon or a wine opener. Plus, you can carve your name in the tree nearby or under the bench.
The Chef: Matthew Domingo, Founder & Director at Farm to Fork Event Company
In the Basket: Oregon Salmon (or Steelhead if you're lucky) Rillette on Baguette
Tip: Lightly poaching the salmon/steelhead in a white wine like sauvignon blanc or vermentino adds an extra layer of flavor and complexity to this simple yet sophisticated spread. I prefer adding dill, chives and shallots, but make the rillette your own by customizing the herbs and aromatics.
Secret Spots: Through our travels to farms and vineyards across the state, we've found a few choice spots for a picnic. In Central Oregon head to Drake Park on the banks of the Deschutes River in Bend; Southern Oregon — take in a show at the Britt Festival in Jacksonville. In Hood River, the Kiyokawa Family Orchards
offers a spectacular view of Mount Hood.
The Chef: Sunny Jin, JORY Restaurant, The Allison Inn & Spa, Newberg
In the Basket: There are a few basic, yet necessary items that define a great picnic for me. A fresh baguette from Pearl Bakery, chèvre from Briar Rose Creamery, Castelvetrano or Arbequina olives, and the best cured meats you can find (Whole Foods, Trader Joe's) like sopressata, coppa and prosciutto.
Wine Country Vista: Pack a lunch and head over to Penner-Ash. The 2007 Pas de Nom is enough reason to go and visit, but the view down the valley channel that leads your eyes to Mount Hood in the background is enough to keep you there 'til dinner!
Table or Blanket: Blanket. In fact, don't forget the paper cups for your wine. The point is to have fun, relax and live only for that moment.
The Chef: Courtney Sproule, din din Supper Club, Portland
In the Basket: Tillamook Sweet oysters with sorrel sherry mignonette, Dungeness crab with buttered baby potato.
To the Coast: One of my favorite day-off treats is to choose a couple inviting vegetables at the farmers market, do some very simple preparations and packing at home, and then head to the coast. There I purchase oysters and a cooked crab from the local dock or store.
Tip: I love a meal of Oregon oysters and crab on the beaches of the waters where they came from, as a picnic is most effortless when you can jettison what you don't want to cart home as you eat!
Sunset Vista: In anticipation of sunset we bring our basket to the beach, and for this particular meal, put the pre-blanched potatoes (so tiny and young that there's no need to peel the skins) on a portable butane burner (or beach fire if you're so talented) to plump in butter while you shuck oysters to eat with the pre-prepared sorrel mignonette. We then enjoy alternating buttery bites of the sweet potato and sweet crab as we toss the crab shells on top of the oyster shells already in the sand.
Red or White: A Greek Santorini or a French Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine
The Chef: Eric Bechard, Thistle, McMinnville
In the Basket: During the summer, when picnicking is at its prime, I would opt for a Willamette Valley peach, duck liver parfait (from Thistle, of course), fresh still-warm baguette and a bottle of something white and refreshing.
Tip: A picnic is not something to overthink. I always have these seven items when making an extended outdoor journey: fruit, meat, bread, knife, blanket, wine and its key. The knife is essential unless you don't mind sharing bites of a juicy peach among friends.
Favorite Spot: I enjoy hiking the Niagara Falls in Willamina and anywhere along the Coast range — Grand Island is another favorite.
The Charm: Picnicking is a great simple escape, a miniature vacation you can have within moments of home.
DUCK LIVER PARFAIT
By Eric Bechard, Chef/Co-Owner of Thistle in McMinnville
- ½ pound duck livers
- 1/3 pound butter
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 2 tablespoons sherry-style wine
* salt and pepper, to taste
1. In a pan, sauté livers at high heat in a small amount of oil until medium rare, about 3 minutes, and then remove. Add shallot, cook for 5 minutes on medium heat until browned; add sherry and reduce to light syrup.
2. Transfer all to a blender. Add butter and purée until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Spoon into small jars.
Kerry Newberry is a Portland-based freelance writer covering food and wine, travel and lifestyle for print and online publications.