Thursday, October 2, 2014

A “Very Proper” New York City Picnic (And a Plum Cake to Die For)

New York City is wearing a grey raincoat today. It's beginning to drizzle. It’s official -- the fall has taken over. But not before we managed to grab and bottle up some warmth and sunshine. Last week Vlada called me, “It will be a beautiful weekend. Let’s do it,” he said, “let’s have a picnic in the park.” We have been talking about it for months, as a matter a fact we have been talking about our picnic since the early spring, then we talked about it throughout the summer, but nothing happened. I guess that’s how it’s supposed to be; we get too busy with important things in our lives, work, school, travels, chores, things that must be done, and we forget to make time for the “unimportant” ones, the non-musts, the little things that make us happy and alive. So we dragged our picnic, and dragged it, until the summer of 2014 was over and it looked like there is no hope. It was promising to turn into a picnic of 2015, but the early fall intervened, gave us one gorgeous Friday afternoon and that was it!

Ours was never supposed to be an ordinary picnic. That was the very core of the idea. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a lunch in the park sometimes,” someone said at a party last spring, “you know, like a real old-fashioned lunch, sitting on the grass, having real plates, silver and a picnic basket. People do not do things like that anymore.” And it got us thinking... Why? We decided that we simply must do it, have our old-fashioned, very-proper, very-real picnic, right in the middle of New York City. Defy the rules of this gigantic beehive and the observances of the ever-accelerated times we live in. Stop the buzz of this city for a moment, forget about the traffic jams and sirens, forget about work, worries, must-do’s, forget about everything important, just sit on the lawn, somewhere close to the river and watch the sunset.

“I will take care of food,” Vlada tells me. “Carolyn and I will be at work, and we will prepare everything. We will meet you in front of the lawn at the Chelsea Piers.” For Vlada and Carolyn, “work” means Appetite, a catering company they started five years ago. I try to offer my help, secretly hoping that it is not needed. Vlada refuses and I thank the Heaven and my luck! I have known Vlada for over 15 years. I celebrated my very first New Year’s Eve in the States at Vlada and Arnaud's party. We had some mighty good times together. Vlada cooked for me more than gazillion times. He has almost encyclopedic knowledge of food and enviable kitchen skills -- I want to be Vlada and I am working on it -- until I get there, I will jump at every opportunity to enjoy the foods he prepares!

Vlada emails me the menu. It looks like this:

Plantain Curls

Seared Smoked Paprika-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Onion Garlic Marmalade

Harissa, Mint & Yogurt Baked Chicken

Malaysian Shredded Pork Sandwiches with Cilantro Mayo, Pickled Carrot & Japanese Turnip on a Baguette

Chard Ricotta Cakes

Kohlrabi, Golden Beet & Bordeaux Radish Slaw with Anise Hyssop

Purple Tomatillo Salad with Purslane & Honey Sherry Vinaigrette

Plum Cake

Vlada then calls to make sure that I am happy with the menu. He must be joking. I am happy when someone makes me an omelet, let alone a nine-course supper served on fine china, styled by Carolyn, then sprinkled with flowers and garnished with sunset. Ethan brings the ball, Dr. V brings the balloons. I bring the camera... There is nothing for me to do but sit in the grass, admire Carolyn's and Vlada's artistry, and take pictures. Can life be any better?

It’s a rainy day here in New York City and I am flipping through my photos from the picnic -- it was a busy week at work and I did not have time to process them all. The fall has taken over, but my hard disk is bursting with sunshine and megabytes of warmth and happiness. Strangers are stopping to say "hi" and "what a beautiful picnic you have". I can hear the girls laughing, the music from the carousel in the background. My tiny, dark home office upstairs is vibrating with the flavors of wonderful food, and balloons are flying in the apartment.

And I cannot help but wonder, how come we do not do this more often.

Plum Cake
From Vladimir Zivkovic, Appetite NYC

* 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour, plus more for the pan
* 1 cup sugar
* 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
* 2 eggs
* 3 oz freshly squeezed orange juice
* 1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for oiling the pan
* 1 tbsp Grand Marnier
* 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
* grated zest of 1 lemon
* 1 1/2 lbs ripe but firm plums, preferably Damson
* powdered sugar, for dusting the cake
* lightly sweetened, softly whipped crème fraiche (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Oil and flour 11” round pie pan.

Stir together the flour, sugar, and baking powder well in a medium mixing bowl.

In a smaller bowl, whisk eggs. Add  orange juice, grand Marnier, vanilla extract, oil and lemon zest, and incorporate into flour mix. Pour the batter into the pan, starting from the center of the pan. The batter will be fairly thick, so it might need a couple of minutes to spread by itself to the edges of the pan.

Wash the plums, halve lengthwise and pit them. Layer the plum halves on top of the batter, cut side up, radiating from the center of the pan.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven until done. The cake should be golden, and pulling away from the sides of the pan. Depending on your oven, it should take 30 to 40 minutes (test for doneness by poking the cake in the middle with a toothpick, if it comes out clean, the cake is done).

Dust generously with powdered sugar, and let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

Serve warm, or room temperature, with crème fraiche (if using).

Kohlrabi, Golden Beet and Bordeaux Radish Slaw with Anise Hyssop 
From Vladimir Zivkovic, Appetite NYC

* 1-2 kohlrabi (green or red), peeled and julienned
* 2-3 smaller or 1-2 larger golden beets, peeled and julienned
* 1 Bordeaux radish, scrubbed well and julienned
* about 3 tbp of extra virgin olive oil
* 2 lemons, zested and juiced
* few sprigs of anise hyssop
* fleur de sel
* freshly ground black pepper

Pick anise hyssop leaves and finely chop tehm.

Mix all three julienned vegetables, and season with olive oil, lemon zest and juice, anise hyssop, salt and pepper to taste.

(Note: The vegetables for the slaw can also be grated on the box grater.)

p.s. In case you are wondering about Appetite, here is the info:

215 West 29th Street
New York, NY 10001


  1. Hi Sashy, Yes this was a wonderful late afternoon in the park -- so glad I was able to make it. The setting was great, the late afternoon light was gorgeous, the food was awesome, and the company was fun. You are right, why don't we do this more often? Ah, and let me now say it "officially" :-) you are the clearly most talented photographer I know...

    1. Well, now that we put it in writing, we really must do it more often. And thanks for the compliment... I enjoy feeling talented, although you are my friend and clearly biased on the matter :)

  2. How gorgeous! Stunning photos, beautiful food and setting. What a great idea, something I hope to *find* the time for over the summer here...

  3. Thanks for the recipes and the amazing photos! My favorite part of this post is: "We decided that we simply must do it..."
    I'm taking up that mantra for the rest of the year! Happy Sunday, Queen Sashy :)

    1. Thank you for stopping by! I have took up the mantra too -- from now on there are no excuses...

  4. Love the way you write....and your photos are quite lovely!!

    1. Cheri, thank you for the kind words and for stopping by the blog. All the best, -QS


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