Looking at photos of the Portland Picnic Society shenanigans on Instagram, it probably looks like all fun and games and bottled cocktails and ridiculously beautiful food. Well guess what, it’s hard work. Especially the location scouting. Which is how I found myself sitting alone in the rain at the Washington Park amphitheater last night, eating gooseberry granita out of a Tupperware tub with a spoon and reading a trashy romance novel. Not. Glamorous.
This month’s PPS theme, since we attempt to adhere to themes and loosely coordinate who’s bringing what so we don’t end up with a dozen plates of deviled eggs and one bowl of chocolate frogs (not that that’s a bad thing, it’s a normal day’s lunch at UTTWJ headquarters), was Mediterranean Mezze, and it was decided that since Portland’s glorious International Rose Test Garden is in full bloom, we’d convene there.
It would have been nice to plunk our picnic down in the middle of the rose garden, but I’m guessing that’s not really allowed and you’d probably be trampled by the tourist hordes anyway, so I went a bit early to secure a spot for our group in the Washington Park amphitheater, a lovely terraced greenspace below the rose garden that you’ve probably seen a summer opera in, or had a moonlight makeout session in, like some members of our group confessed to doing, not naming names.
I picked a particularly lush spot on the widest amphitheater step and spread my blanket and looked around for a few minutes, thinking how nice it was to relax and reflect in such a serene place. All the tourists were up in the garden sniffing flowers, so it was just me and a romanticky looking couple and a group of kids celebrating a birthday, and a group of West Hills ladies also having a picnic. Sisters! Since I can only reflect and relax for five minutes, tops, I got bored and had to break out my emergency reading material, some deep, intellectual piece of paperback literature that may or may not have been penned by Nora Roberts. (may)
Mother Nature must have thought I looked flushed, so she started to drizzle, first half-heartedly, then with enough energy to send the birthday group packing. I wrapped my iPhone in a trash bag to protect it and decided I should probably eat some of the gooseberry Riesling and marionberry granitas that the lovely and hugely talented resident PPS pastry chef Kristen Murray had sent with me in her absence, in case there was a flash flood and they all got washed away.
On a side note: Do you know what makes Portland so special? Moments like the one when your pastry chef friend texts you that she can’t make it to your picnic tonight, but she made you all three summery granitas anyway and she tells you to stop by her apartment and get the key from its hidey hole and grab them out of the freezer. Kristen is super busy lately, because she’s tending to her exciting Kickstarter campaign and all the opening details for her exquisite upcoming pastry luncheonette, Maurice. If you haven’t donated to her campaign already, please do, because there are only 8 days left for her to reach her Kickstarter goal, and because Maurice is going to be a very, very special place. Even a few dollars will help! It will help Kristen open her dream cafe, and it will help you get more exceptional pastry in your belly. This is good for everyone. Have one less happy hour cocktail tonight and donate that money to helping one of our friends do something amazing. Help! And that is my speech for the day. Back to the picnic.
Fortunately, the rest of the gang started to trickle in before I could eat all the granita. Hey, I tried. They came bearing platters, they came bearing bowls, they came bearing laundry baskets of lamb.
And then, utilizing our unique terraced geography to set up an unorthodox but effective Mezzepalooza buffet, we dined.
We started with drinks (the only way to start anything, really)–much-loved bottled Mint Juleps by the lovely Katie Burnett and a bottle of hard cider graciously donated by the charming Trevor Baird (of Baird Family Orchards fame), who, when he isn’t growing the world’s most delicious peaches, makes European-style hard ciders under the Farmhouse Cider label. They can be tricky to find because supply is limited and demand is high, but you can find them at Bushwhacker and Woodsman Market and 1856, among others.
We piled our plates with Marnie‘s showstopping miniature lamb meatball pitas, Lucy‘s tasty tabbouleh, Katie‘s perfect chickpea salad, Califia‘s flavorful chop chop salad, Mona‘s supermodel figs with feta, honey and mint, and Andrea‘s equally gorgeous cucumber salad with plums and slivers of shiso. To ensure we had the finest quality fundamentals for our Mezzepalooza, Lila was kind enough to trek to Nicholas for hummus, baba ghanoush, and fresh pitas the size of car tires.
I made beet dill walnut and watermelon feta basil salads, and here are the recipes: Mix roasted beets, fresh dill, garlic, red wine vinegar, olive oil and walnuts in a jar. Mix cubes of watermelon, chunks of sheep’s milk feta and fresh basil leaves in a jar. That is all. What can I say? I like dishes that are easy and pretty. And easy. Also, Mason jars are the total picnic package–you pack, tote, unscrew and serve. No muss, no fuss.
For dessert, we snacked on brilliant clusters of Denison Farms grapes Mona had plucked from the Buckman farmers’ market a few hours earlier, and ate Kristen’s granitas right out of the tub, because we are classy, and because I forgot the tiny Mason jars for them.
Eventually, Mother Nature sighed and shrugged and let up with the drizzle, and we could smell the faintest scent of roses coming off the damp gardens above, as this rainbow rose over them. Our first PPS rainbow. I’m thinking that at the end of it, there was probably a pot of gooseberry granita (and a Nora Roberts novel).