Nuts. They’re everywhere. I started noticing this when I began the research for Nuts in the Kitchen. Why, just last Sunday a friend came over with his daughter and a couple of her playmates, his mandate to bring dessert for our indoor picnic. I opened the pretty box from the bakery to reveal a gorgeous “crumble,” French-style, rife with chunks of almonds and pistachio paste.
That nut-rich “crumble,” so elegant with its base of pate sucrée, it’s delicate filling studded with preserved cherries and topped with raspberries, elevated our picnic to haute cuisine. Of course it was already a pretty unusual picnic, since rain was gushing down outside, it was cold, and we were comfortably ensconced on the dining room floor. But hey, I’d promised a picnic so we were having a picnic. I was simply following our family motto: “Any day is a good day for a picnic.”
I cannot count the times we’ve turned our dining room, our guest room, a child’s bedroom into the scene of a picnic. Fiona is now practiced. With the help of her somewhat skeptical friends (it was their first Herrmann Loomis indoor picnic), she moved the dining room table to the side, and spread out a tablecloth on the rug, which is always slightly warm from floor heat. She took silver from the silver drawer and set it on the table cloth, along with cloth napkins and a mixed selection of flea market plates from the 1920’s. A pitcher of water, some pink glasses, a bowl of mixed nuts and one of tortilla chips and the picnic apéritif was ready.
I suggested the girls go into the garden and find some ants. It took them a moment to get it, but they did and all ended on the floor rolling around with the giggles. Then, they dove in. The cashews disappeared first, then the macadamias, then it was onto the tortilla chips. I felt some satisfaction that they’d gone for the good stuff first.
The rest of the picnic emerged – a plate of gorgeous ham from the butcher next door, an assortment of cheese, lengths of baguette, a plate of butter, and a bowl of lettuce. Each girl built her own sandwich. I watched with interest, forever fascinated by the French obsession with butter and pork. On the bread goes a thick layer of butter, then a folded slice of ham. With motherly urging, a few leaves of lettuce made their way to the sandwich, too. Carrot sticks rounded out the meal.
I joined them, as did Thierry, father of one of the girls. Strains from the soundtrack of My Best Friends’ Wedding accompanied us as we whiled away a Sunday afternoon.
The crumble was a huge hit, with each of us savoring it to the last, nutty crumb. It was a fitting end to a picnic on the rug. I’m already looking forward to the next one.