Summer is in full swing, and we are smitten. Even on the hottest days, sunny Southern California weather does not disappoint, and we find ourselves drawn to spend long, leisurely afternoons at the beach or by the pool. Farmers markets are alive with color and activity, their stands piled high with ripe produce, inspiring vibrant, vegetable-centered feasts best enjoyed al fresco. Friends gather to enjoy music or movies in the great outdoors, families ride their bikes along winding beach paths, the sun sets late. Sunscreen is required, but shoes are definitely not. This can only be described as summer bliss, and it deserves to be celebrated - ideally, with brunch served outside. So naturally, on a sunny summer Sunday, we packed up some brunch in our baskets and headed to the park for an afternoon with friends.
In true summer spirit, we wanted our brunch picnic to reflect all the vibrant flavors of the season without requiring that we spend too much time in the kitchen. We focused on simple, easy-to-transport mains, backed up by plenty of shareable, hand-held snacks and treats. A fresh, fruity cocktail was a must, as were heaps of fresh summer berries, cherries, and grapes.
To drink, some refreshing cocktails made with fresh pureed watermelon, tequila, blueberries, mint, and lime juice. These are oh-so-delicious, and taste like summer in liquid form - even the watermelon-fearful among our group fell in love with them. The recipe is easily made a few hours ahead of time, and it's easy enough to transport as long as you've got a leakproof container and a cooler. We topped off each glass with a touch of La Croix to add a bit of sparkle. You could use plain old sparkling water, but why would you? La Croix is too much fun.
All good brunch includes a little something sweet to start, so we kicked off ours with some adorable coffee cake muffins using a recipe from Joy the Baker's beautiful brunch book, Over Easy. Joy's recipe is for big-kid sized muffins, but since we knew we'd be taking our treats outside, we decided to make 'em tiny - because, you know, tiny things are cuter. And also easier to eat. These are downright addictive little things - they've got a lovely toasty brown butter flavor and a perfect balance of sweet and salty, and they're topped off with a generous amount of sweet, buttery crumble and crunchy nuts.
Sandwiches are perhaps the most essential picnic food, so we whipped up two sandwich variations for ours. First, a grilled chicken sandwich with sundried tomato spread, spinach, and mozzarella. The spread was super flavorful and added a bright, tangy flavor that complimented the hearty chicken and creamy mozzarella perfectly. Of course, bread is perhaps the most important factor in a good sandwich, and must be carefully considered during construction. Before the picnic, we dropped by one of our favorite spots, Lodge Bread, to pick up one of their amazing naturally-leavened whole wheat loaves. Its nuttiness and tang add a really nice element to this delicious combo.
For the vegetarians of the group, we put together some pretty Green Goddess Sandwiches - pleasing not just to the eyes, but to the belly! We were inspired by two recipes for these: Joy the Baker's version, again from Over Easy, and also a version by The Bojon Gourmet that employs fresh mozzarella. These start with a base of seeded sourdough from a vendor at our local farmers market, Bakeshack, which is toasted and then slathered with some homemade herby, garlicky mayo. Next, layers of sliced zebra-striped green heirloom tomatoes, fresh daikon sprouts, tender butter lettuce, creamy avocado, and luscious fresh mozzarella. For a few special diets in the group, we even made a vegan, gluten-free variation of this sandwich - for the bread, we picked up a loaf of gluten-free sourdough from Honey Hi (one of our favorite healthy spots on the Eastside), and used Kite Hill's delicious soft fresh almond milk cheese in place of mozzarella.
For a protein-packed side dish, we made a quick quinoa tabbouleh with tons of parsley and mint, heirloom cherry tomatoes from the farmers market, and a generous drizzle of lemon and olive oil. This is the sort of thing we make without a recipe - its composition is defined more by muscle memory and whatever's currently in our fridge than by any strict rules - but here's a good one if you're in need. On top, we sprinkled some crunchy chickpeas tossed in za'atar, which are completely addictive and add depth to pretty much anything you put them on. That's assuming, of course, you don't eat them all the moment they come out of the oven.
No good picnic is complete without some chips, so when Johnna discovered this simple recipe for homemade salt and vinegar chips, we knew we had to try them for ourselves. There's something so satisfying about a chip that's homemade, and this one is especially appealing with a generous sprinkling of salt and just a kiss of vinegar flavor. To simplify portioning them out (and let's be real, to keep us from eating most of the batch before we even got to our picnic spot), we put them in simple parchment bags from the grocery store, which also made for a very pretty effect.
For dessert, we turned once again to Joy's wonderful Over Easy for inspiration, and created a riff on her Peaches & Cream with Honeyed Cornflakes recipe. Peaches are abundant in our farmers market these days, so we chose some sweet white peaches with a delicate floral flavor and grilled them quickly to add a nice touch of caramelization. In cute little picnic-friendly jars, we combined them with creamy whipped mascarpone cheese and blueberries, and sprinkled them with Joy's lovely honeyed cornflakes for some crunch and added sweetness.
With heaps of seasonal produce, this picnic spread was a celebration of summer abundance - and with a little advance preparation, truly wasn't all that difficult to whip up. We can't think of a more delicious way to celebrate the warm summer months than an al fresco brunch with our friends, and we hope we've inspired you to throw one of your own!