Food & Drink October 12, 2010

Winter Picnics

Last night’s snow is already beginning to melt, and your skis glide over it effortlessly. Occasionally the unaccustomed height of your pack bumps a branch hanging low with its burden of snow, showering the trail and your shoulders with a puff of white. The sky is the blue of sapphires, the snow sparkling with sunshine as if diamonds were scattered across it.

After an hour of easy cross-country skiing, your destination greets you silently: a mountain lake, frozen hard, trout sleeping in its cold depths. The warming sun of March has already melted the snow off a large log by the shore, revealing the perfect picnic table. You stomp the snow down with your skis, creating a flat spot on which to lay out your blankets and thermarest, taking care to make it big enough for the postprandial nap you may want on a day like this.

Or perhaps you are snowboarding on Baldy, carving turn after turn on perfectly groomed trails. Hunger stirs, awakened by the exercise and mountain air, and reminds you of the backpacks you and your friends left on the first run of the day at a picnic table on a south-facing ridge. You swoop down across the flats, arcing the perfect turn directly to your picnic site. The view of the Pioneer Mountains is postcard perfect as the sun warms your face. Down under the snow and frozen ground, spring stretches and yawns.

Whether the meal that awaits you is a hunk of salami and cheese or a gourmet feast of champagne and caviar on sensational toast points, the very act of eating in the open air makes food taste better—and feasting in the crisp air of the mountains tops it all.

The key to a successful winter picnic is preparation. Choose your destination carefully, as it will dictate everything else. If you carry an extravagant meal and all of its accoutrements for many miles, you may not be able to ski out again after eating. If, however, your picnic takes place a hundred yards from the Prairie Creek trailhead, you can bring folding chairs and tables, real plates, glasses and silverware, even a vase of flowers.

Follow the usual safety procedures when picnicking in the backcountry. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back, and be sure to heed the avalanche warnings. Take avalanche beacons if you will be traveling through areas where there is even the remote possibility of an avalanche.

Thermarests are great for winter picnics because they insulate you from the snow, keeping your behind dry and warm. A blanket for a nap can be surprisingly welcome, and down slippers with camp soles are a good idea if your feet are likely to be uncomfortable in your boots. Bring binoculars along to look for mountain goats, or to watch the occasional winter bird, a camp jay, or a chickadee.

Choose your menu for ease of packing, serving, and eating, again keeping in mind your destination and mode of transport. In order for your food to look appetizing as well as taste good, choose foods that travel well, and pack them carefully.

Tupperware is light and will protect fragile items such as cookies from being crushed in your pack. If the cookies don’t fill the container, fill the empty space with crumpled paper towels to prevent them from rattling around and arriving at the picnic as crumbs. Green and pasta salads travel well in Tupperware, too; just don’t dress a green salad until you are ready to serve it.

1. A Picnic on Baldy
champagne, paté with toast points, lobster chowder,
brioche, green salad,
& chocolate tarts.

2. A Picnic at the top of Titus Ridge before descending through the powder
Trinity Springs water,
carrot sticks & olives,
hummus, tomato & arugula
sandwiches, pasta salad, orange slices, & milk
chocolate chip cookies.

3. A Picnic beside
a frozen lake
dark beer, beef stew over
noodles, crusty bread,
green beans & cherry
tomato salad, brownies
& shortbread.

Sandwiches (and brownies and other bar cookies) do well if they are individually wrapped in plastic wrap and then placed in Ziploc bags, as many to a bag as it takes to create a snug fit. If your sandwiches need to be kept cold, simply slip an ice pack into the Ziploc with them.
Nissan stainless steel thermoses are the best available, and come in different sizes. You can pack hot soup or stew in individual serving-size thermoses and eliminate the need to take bowls. Simply hand each guest a thermos and a spoon. No need to worry about keeping cold drinks cold—just nestle them into the snow when you arrive at your destination.

No matter where you picnic this winter—at the ice rink or on Baldy, Owl Creek or Galena Summit, the most important ingredients are good friends and plenty of sunshine. So choose your day, invite your favorite people, and head outside to dine in the mountains.

The milk chocolate chips give these soft and chewy cookies a slightly different twist.
4 sticks butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups white sugar
2 cups brown sugar
2 T. vanilla
3 eggs
5 cups flour
1 1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 t. baking soda
2 bags milk chocolate chips
(4 cups)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Cream together butter and sugars. Add vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix together flour, salt, and baking soda, and add to mixture, beating well again. Stir chocolate chips in by hand. Drop by teaspoons onto a well- greased cookie sheet and bake for 8 minutes. Remove from cookie sheets immediately (to stop cooking) and allow to cool on a rack.

3. When cool, cookies can be packed in Tupperware.

1 pound green beans, rinsed,
tips removed
3 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
3 T. balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground
black pepper

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add beans and boil until just crisp tender, about 6 – 8 minutes. Remove from heat, drain, and plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. When cool, drain and pat dry with towels.

2. Combine beans and tomatoes in a bowl. Whisk together oil and vinegar, and pour over vegetables. Toss well and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

3. Pack in Tupperware to carry to
the picnic.

4. Serves 4 to 6.

Hummus, Tomato & Arugula Sandwiches
1 19-oz. can of chick peas
1 garlic clove
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 t. cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1. Combine first four ingredients in bowl of food processor and blend to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
whole wheat bread
tomatoes, sliced

2. Spread the bread with the homemade hummus, layer tomatoes and arugula on top. Sprinkle salt and grind some fresh pepper over all. Cap with the remaining slice of bread.

To pack safely for travel:
3. Wrap each sandwich individually in plastic wrap. Then place two sandwiches and a cold pack in a large Ziploc bag and seal. This will keep them fresh, as well as minimize buffeting.

For broth:
2 live lobsters, 1 1/4 to
1 1/2 pounds each
5 cups fish broth, clam juice
or water
1/2 cup dry white wine
1. To kill the lobsters humanely, place each one on a cutting board and quickly and firmly slice down through the center of the head. Bring liquids to a full boil, add lobsters, boil for about 5 minutes, until shells are red. Do not overcook. Meat will be slightly underdone.
2. Remove lobsters from broth, reserving broth, and when cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the claws, knuckles, and tails. Chop meat into one-inch pieces, cover and refrigerate.
3. Simmer remaining liquid until reduced to about 3 cups. Strain the broth and check amount. If you have too much, put it in a clean pot and simmer until reduced; if you have too little, add water until you have 3 cups.

For chowder:
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 large carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 cups heavy cream
2 medium yellow or red potatoes,
chopped into one-inch pieces
1 t. chopped fresh thyme
1 T. chopped fresh chives
salt and pepper to taste
4. Sauté onion, carrots, and celery until softened, about 10 minutes. Add broth, cream, and potatoes, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in lobster meat and herbs. Cook, stirring frequently for several minutes, until meat is heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5. Serves 4 to 6.

To pack safely for travel:
6. Fill a thermos with boiling water and let stand for 10 minutes to ensure that it is heated all the way through. Empty thermos and fill with hot soup. Close lid immediately.




This article appears in the Winter 2002 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.