May 20, 2020
Dear Book Friends,
Happy Guest Writer Wednesday. I am thrilled to share with you this week’s Foodie. Kate Shaffer, Owner and founder of Black Dinah Chocolatiers, is typically all about the chocolate. Today however, she is talking all things picnic related to Mr. Hemingway. Before we get to that, let me tell you a little more about Kate. In addition to owning two chocolate shops in Maine, she is the author of two books, Chocolate For Beginners and Desserted. She has appeared multiple times in Martha Stewart Living Magazine, Gourmet Magazine and Good Life Magazine. She has won countless awards, including Top ten Chocolatiers in North America, The Good Food Award, Food & Wine Magazine’s Top 25 Cookbooks, and many many more. You can find Kate’s recipes on her Black Dinah Chocolatier Blog, Zest Maine and in her yummy cookbooks. I hope you enjoy her delicious letter to Mr. H. When an outdoor picnic sounds like a five star dining experience, I am all in.
Happy Reading & Happy Cooking!
P.S. Be sure to subscribe to Kate’s newsletter. She will be hosting a Father’s Day Giveaway with one of her favorite Maine Based Mystery authors.
Dear Mr. H.,
It’s been a while, and I’m sorry for that. I’ve been busy, and you’ve been dead, and frankly, our correspondence while I was in high school kinda killed the romance for me.
It wasn’t you. It was me.
Anyway, let’s not rehash the past. The plain truth is, at this moment in time, there isn’t much I wouldn’t do to be sharing a coffee, croissant, and lively banter with you at Place de la Contrescarpe; or discussing anything but the daily news over the bouillabaisse Marseillaise at Café du Dôme. From here, it seems an escape from the grim, stale reality of the day to day, sheltered in my tiny apartment, seeing not much else other than the well-worn route to and from work.
Recently a line you wrote famously in The Old Man and the Sea came to me as I was feeling a little sorry for myself: “Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.”
It is spring in Maine! The birds are singing, the bees are buzzing, there are fresh lettuces, ramps, and fiddleheads in the farmers’ markets! The grass is finally green again, and the sky is blue more often than it is grey. It is perfect weather to be outside! And because it is Maine there is a rock, a patch of grass, a soft bed of moss beneath a towering maple tree that waits for me in solitary welcome, far from the Portland crowds. A place to lay a blanket and a book, and unpack a well thought-out picnic.
Mr. H, I love eating outside! Outside, salads are crisper, fruit is sweeter, bread is fresher, butter is buttery-er. There is nothing like a fresh, steaming cup of coffee next to a morning campfire. Just as no indoor “grill pan” can replicate the clean, crisp char on a perfect T-bone from an outdoor charcoal-fired Weber.
Fifteen years ago, I discovered that author Jeremy Jackson shared my love of outdoor dining when I stumbled upon his sweet, simple cookbook Good Day for a Picnic. In it, Jeremy not only introduces us to “simple food that travels well”; but chronicles the history of picnicking (and how it is, in fact, different than simply “eating outside”), makes suggestions for simple picnic gear (an old blanket, a ukulele, your dog), and shares some perfect places to have a picnic (an orchard, a small airport, the lawn behind the state capitol).
He can be downright philosophical about it, and I can again picture lively debate among your Dômiers about what exactly defines a picnic.
And yet, he retains a joie de vivre about it all that is completely antithetical to the world-weary art of your Lost Generation. And this is what I love about this book. It sparks joy, imagination, and encourages us to plan and create for the simple pleasure of eating outside. “Think of what you can do with what there is.”
And the food! Jeremy gives us recipes for a global collection of portable delicacies such as Gougères with Fontina and Chives, Poached Salmon with Tomato and Basil Vinaigrette, Cornish Beef Pasties, and Sesame Noodles. There are drinks galore, classics such as a Pimm’s cocktail and several variations on lemonade; as well as weird things like a vinegar-based beverage from the Middle East called Sekanjabin (which is delicious and shockingly thirst-quenching). And, of course, dessert: Apple Cider Tartlets, Little Chocolate Cookies, Plum Tart Painted Purple.
“Now is no time to think of what you do not have.” These days, we can’t just skip off to the outdoor cafes of Paris or Istanbul; and we can’t plan the grand summer fêtes we’ve looked forward to all winter. But we can enjoy a pretty, well-planned meal outside, and bask in the good company of the birds and the trees and the sky.
Thanks for the counsel, Mr. H. I wonder what other good advice is lurking in those books of yours. I plan to find out at my next picnic.
P.S. Be sure to check out my own cookbooks, Chocolate For Beginners and Desserted. Hope to see you at the store one day!