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May . . . According to some ancient "cliché writer", the month where the showers of April bless us with lovely blooms. The flowers of the early spring are the prettiest -- I think. Not the least because they are the first promise of a new beginning. May is a time of good weather, and life starting afresh. I can't help thinking it would be nice if that renewal was part of the human condition too. I guess that's why Easter is the only other religious holiday that seems to have taken hold regardless of your beliefs. We all in some small way acknowledge Easter, even if just to exchange greetings and chocolate bunnies. Can't be too much wrong with a holiday that promotes chocolate!!!
I was remembering a trip to Italy when I was 13. We were there from late April through the summer, but what I most remember was the picnic that was traditional on Easter Monday. It was truly something. It started with a procession in which folks dressed up horses and carts with all manner of ribbon and paint and such. You either walked or rode your cart all through the village and out to the "countryside" and up the mountains to a clearing where everyone -- and I do mean the whole village -- would meet to share their morsels and enjoy each other's company. Everyone contributed to the feast with whatever his or her specialty was, and though it was a "picnic" we didn't have what would be known as "picnic food". There were trays of lasagna and cannelloni, all manners of vegetables including roasted peppers and rapini, pizza and of course the necessary lamb BBQ. No picnic or barbecue where Italians preside is complete without lamb "spedini" (little shish kabobs of lamb) straight off the barbecue and being eaten. Yummmmmmm!!!
So, since we all know that almost any train of thought leads me to column fodder, I thought I'd talk about picnics this month. The weather is getting warmer and there's no time like the present to "plan ahead" for that ultimate alfresco dining experience.
When the kids were little, picnics weren't confined to the outdoor variety. I'd move the coffee table out of the way and lay a big blanket on the living room floor and we'd all sit on it and enjoy our "picnic feast". They'd each get to "pack" something special and we'd just enjoy the time and play games together until they literally dropped to sleep on the "picnic" blanket.
Some of the favourite things we seemed to always pack were cheese slices and McVitie's Tuck crackers, breaded veal cutlets that had been cut into finger size portions, cold homemade pizza squares, pickles, pineapple spears, bagel chunks and lots of juice.
These days their choices for picnic fare aren't much different. They still love the breaded veal cutlets. I remember growing up as a kid that we always had them cold. I think it was a long time before I realized that breaded veal cutlets (known to some as wiener schnitzels) were actually cooked hot and had to become cold! In fact, my younger brother and his friends always called
them "popsicles". We still pack several homemade pizzas, which I usually get up at the crack of dawn to make, and we always have a "panettone" now. The panettone I'm talking about though isn't the commercial one that's available in most Italian grocers at Christmas time. This one is more like a pound cake. I sometimes call it my "tumbler" cake as it uses a tumbler to measure most of the ingredients!
Prepare the pan by lightly greasing an angel food (tube) pan and then sprinkling coarse sugar all around the sides and bottom. The top of this cake as it bakes will actually become the bottom as it is unmolded and served as is from the pan.
Preheat the oven to 350.
The tumbler I used to use for this recipe is the equivalent of approximately 12 oz. I used to have two dozen of them in my kitchen cupboards (they were freebies at one of the local gas bars years and years ago). Over the years they've been lost, broken, or given away each time I gave someone a Panettone and the recipe, so now I'm reduced to a close approximation thereof. Still makes an awesome cake!!!
Beat 6 large or extra large eggs until they're thick and creamy then add 1/3 of a tumbler full of canola oil and continue beating. After about five minutes, add a tumbler full of sugar and beat till light and thick.
Into this mixture, stir a tumbler of orange juice (the pulpy kind works great), the juice and pulp of two lemons and 2 teaspoons of vanilla.
Slowly incorporate flour into the mixture until the "right" consistency is reached. I usually look for a nice thick batter and use approximately three and a half cups of all purpose flour. Stir in three heaping teaspoonfuls of baking powder and pour into the prepared pan.
Bake at 350 for approximately 65 minutes. When the top of the cake is golden brown and cracked and the crack is dry, it's ready. Cool the cake completely and serve with lots of cold milk!!
Mmmmmmmmmm!!! Got me dreaming of green fields and blankets and packed, fragrant picnic baskets!!!