Just an hour north of Sacramento, surrounded by the lush evergreen backdrop of the Sierra Foothills, is a playground for some darling little gems that have graced my imagination ever since I fell in love with the childrens classic, Johnny Appleseed. And who wouldn't? This was a person whose mission in life was to sprinkle the land with apple seeds -- wow, what a cool life, I thought. So, with visions of sugary apple pies dancing in my head, I still remember being the little girl in class, smiling and coloring my rows and rows of apple trees, as I prepared for my upcoming field trip to Apple Hill. It would be a day of many firsts: my first time frolicking in an apple orchard; my first time seeing an entire apple being pressed to the core so that I could taste its sweet nectar; and my first time appreciating the beauty of autumn's treasures with its vibrant hues of crimson and sunburst dotting each tree limb.
As I prepared for the sixth challenge of Project Food Blog where I would need to design a "meal on the go," it was only befitting that I set up my late apple harvest picnic at the same spot where such whimsical childhood memories took flight. And after discovering a scrumptious recipe for a harvest cake with the goodness of organic parsnips, rainbow carrots, grapeseed oil and apples, I knew that my decision was set.
So, with the Project Food Blog "cooler" swung over one shoulder and my trusting Nikon over the other, we made our way to Apple Hill to celebrate the end of the apple harvest season with a picnic that featured only the best of Spicy Green Mango:
Inspired from memories of childhood field trips, I wanted to keep my picnic as simple, minimalistic and convenient as possible. I packed my dishes in recyclable paper boxes, tucked in mini vintage bottles of sparkling apple juice and tied some twine & parchment paper to dress up my harvest cake that was oozing with so much yumminess with every mouthful.
In honor of October's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I also decided to incorporate shades of pink in the drink flags and food labels. A year ago, I completed the Susan G. Komen run and was truly humbled by witnessing the strength and resilience of the amazing women (and their families) who courageously battled this illness. It's my belief that you don't necessarily have to be directly affected by a disease to make an impact for those who need it most.
The rustic tablescape & spread to create the perfect picnic ambience
Crunchy Rice Salad (Lao Naem)
Makes about 25 balls
The salad can be served as an appetizer or main entree---the choice is yours.
Essentials: You will need to preheat your deep fryer to 375 degrees (Fahrenheit) and fill it with enough oil to fry the naem.
- 4 cups jasmine or white rice, cooked
- 2 cups coconut, grated
- 1 tbsp red curry paste
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 large eggs
- 1 green scallion, sliced
- 10-15 cilantro sprigs, chopped
- 3-4 tbsp peanuts, roasted and roughly chopped
- 5-10 mint leaves, chopped or whole
- 2 tsp fish sauce
- 2-4 lime wedges
- 5 small dried Thai chili peppers, flash-fried in oil to deepen smoky flavor
- Heat oil to 375 degrees (Fahrenheit)
- In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Roll up your sleeves and grab a fistful of the mixture and shape it into a tightly-packed ball. The tighter the better b/c that will prevent it from breaking apart when it is fried.
- Fry the rice ball in batches of 4 or 5 to prevent the oil temperature from getting too low. Fry each batch for about 10 minutes or until rice turns a golden hue
- Let batch cool completely before attempting to crumple the balls. The crispy outer shell provides a wonderfully pleasant textural variation for your taste buds.
- To serve, simply crumple the shell of each ball, sprinkle in some sliced scallions, cilantro & peanuts, a squeeze of lime and some salt (or fish sauce) to taste and you're done! (If you decided to try the authentic route, make sure you also add in the pork skins and cured pork during this time as well--I always do!). Serve it up with lettuce or your favorite leafy green and this will just leave your friends wondering what restaurant you hustled to cook up this dish for you!
- If you should be so inclined, traditionally, the naem salad can be eaten with some of your smoky fried chili peppers.
Roasted spicy eggplant dipping sauce that pairs really well with the beef jerky...tasty nibbles to please you!
And who could possibly go to a picnic and not bring dessert? One of my favorite things to do as the weather cools down is keep my home warm and toasty by doting my oven with plenty of home-baked goods. The smorgasbord of root and squash vegetables continues to inspire me to push the envelope when it comes to enhancing my baking skills. Moist, soft and just perfect for a picnic, this harvest cake (although quite honestly, it is more of a loaf) is definitely all it's cracked up to be (and then some). My sister and I baked it the night prior and fed it to our taste testers for a review--they loved it!
A Harvest Cake ( or a Loaf)
Although we missed the peak of apple harvest season, I was still determined to capture the beauty of the orchard by strolling among the apple trees, with my sparkling apple juice bottle in hand. Here's what I found lying on the ground and my oh my, they are simply lovely!
I spotted this tree from far away and couldn't help but become entranced by its aura...no styling, no props-- just some golden delicious apples not quite ready to surrender its stems to the ground below. I thought it was truly a lovely capture for the day and a very nice ending to my day of picnicking in an apple orchard.