Pussy willows, Daffodils and the first robin are all harbingers of spring but country cooks, chefs, foodies look for more savory signs to jump into the long awaited summer season, such as the first red strawberries, leafy spinach, garden fresh-asparagus and the often neglected rhubarb.

We build summer celebrations around traditional favorites, family recipes handed down generations and recipes you want to try with the bounty from your gardens, and the little roadside vegetable stand.

How long has it been since you have been on a picnic?

Summer, the most loved season by far in which the days become longer and the nights shorter, is the ideal time to relax and recharge, and of all the seasons it’s time to do just about anything outdoors.

One of summer’s most seasonal fun thing to do is to enjoy a picnic. Whether you eat out on the porch enjoying your backyard, the patio in the garden, the family reunion bash, the yearly company picnic, your favorite romantic place on the trails, the key to a successful picnic menu exists in creating combinations of food that delights everyone, summer sipping drinks to get your buzz on, flavors and creative fanfare that reveal a perfect simple summer occasion to gather and enjoy.

If you’re used to a usual spread, take a foodie leap and head to the park or favorite place, spread your bounty and enjoy yourself.

Preparing picnic food is easier if you whip it up the day before. Simple summer salads, sandwiches and chips, hot dogs and hamburgers, fried chicken and pasta salads, tried and true favorite recipes.

My non-traditional picnic includes a baked ham with a raspberry wine glaze, grilled rib eye served with a garlic, roasted onion buttered sauce, a roasted red potato salad made with a brown grain mustard and dill dressing. It also includes calico baked beans “that” taste just like grandma used to make, a layered antipasto salad with fresh mozzarella and parmesan cheese, a marinated carrot/mushroom salad, traditionally made in Mason jars. Both salads are made with imported olive oil and vinegar, garlic and herbs, which stand up well on the table despite warm weather.

And, a third salad (as you see rotating vegetables to please the finicky one), is a fresh broccoli/cauliflower and black olive salad with a Mandarin vinaigrette.

Finally, to round out our feast is a spiral pasta with spinach and cherry tomato salad with a zesty Italian dressing.

All salads can serves as appetizers, or a picnic meal in a bowl.

Rounding out the country picnic is fresh buttermilk yeast buns that make a great sidekick to the meat, and are just darn tasty simply with fresh butter.

I elevated and used the traditional ingredients with simplicity and flair. All of the the ingredients are simply put together and seasoned with dressings and can all be easily transported.

No one will leave hungry and you’ll wish it was summer all year long.

Ideally, your chosen spot will have picnic tables and areas to spread out with blankets and large towels. Pack napkins, forks, spoons, plenty of plates and cups, add chips and other munchies, plenty of sweets, and drinks, like lemonade, iced tea and water will be welcome (in addition to your adult beverages).

A couple of chairs, some music, some balls, rackets, various games and you’ll be all set.

And, yet, no picnic or any outdoor event is complete without ants. Have I told you, I don’t like ants?

Even if you haven’t rolled out a blanket, unpacked a basket and chomped on a sandwich, you have probably seen one or a few dozen on the sidewalks and on the edges between the walkway and the grass, maybe running in formation on the porch between the cracks. Little bitty ants running back and forth to their colony.

They can be nerve-racking, showing up without an invitation!

As much as I hate them, they are pretty impressive in form. They can carry 20 times their body weight.

Scientists believe they have been around for more than 110 million years and they are colonized just about everywhere on this earth. They are very social insects that live together, with about a million ants in their “territory.”

They thrive in any environment, and have a defined social organization and division of labor, with different ants doing different jobs. And, can be much better than humans at solving complex problems.

They feed on almost anything — including sweets — but maintain a standard diet of plants and insects, which is why they are more than thrilled to invade your picnic.

So you decide to picnic next to the big old oak tree at the park, know that the arts are watching and timing their invasion.

Picnics are fun, and the food shouldn’t have to be too hard to put together. Just relax and have a good time. And, pick up all your trash when you leave the space.

The Recipes

Raspberry Wine Glaze

¼ cup dry white wine

2 tsp cornstarch

2 tbsp lemon juice

2/3 cup seedless raspberry jam

1 tbsp butter

In a saucepan blend wine and lemon juice into cornstarch. Add half the jam. Cook and stir until well-blended and thickened and bubbly. Stir in remaining jam and butter; heat while stirring until butter is melted. Brush ham with glaze. Bake ham 10 minutes more, basting regularly.

Roasted Red Potatoes with Dill Salad

A flavorful twist on traditional potato salad. Fresh light taste with olive oil, garlic and scallions mingle with fresh dill and feta cheese. Serves 8.

8-19 baby red potatoes

1/3 cup olive oil

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 cup crumbled Feta cheese

½ cup chopped scallions

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

2 tbsp chopped dill

Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and quarter (or dice) red baby potatoes; toss with olive oil and garlic Place in a pan and season with salt and pepper. Bake in 400 degree oven until brown (18-25 minutes). Cool to room temp.

Gently stir in feta and scallions, then drizzle with vinegar. Add chopped dill and toss gently.

Season with salt and pepper. Chill for at least 1-2 hours before serving.

Broccoli/Cauliflower Salad

1 bunch of broccoli florets

1 head cauliflower, broken into florets

6 oz pitted black olives, drained

6 oz stuffed green olives, drained

8 oz crumbled feta cheese

1 pint, cherry tomatoes

1 cup Italian dressing

Place all ingredients in a large bowl. Toss to coat. Marinate in the fridge at least 8 hours, stirring occasionally. Yields 6-8 servings.

FUN TIP: When baking, follow the instructions, When cooking, go by your own traits. ~ Laiko Bahrs

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