For years on my way to and from my family home on Whidbey Island I’ve been passing through this area, the fertile swath of agricultural land between the Puget Sound on the west and the Cascade Mountains to the east. There’s a shortcut, of sorts, where you turn off Interstate 5, or Highway 20, and slow your pace while the neat rows of crops flicker past your window. You can drive serenely through striped acres stretching across the valley, often hosting hundreds of fat, white snow geese who will take your breath away when they rise together, twisting magically into the air, their alabaster wings contrasting starkly against the blue or gray sky.
Once the spring arrives, Snow Goose Produce slides open their doors and walls, and you can’t help but stopping in to browse the open-air market, filled with all manner of tempting local goods, produce, cheese, seafood. If your will is strong enough to drive by the heaps of bright woven baskets, and lush plants displayed outside, the tantalizing scent of homemade waffle cones might make you pull over. Just across the Skagit River and up the road is the Rexville Grocery, where you can pop in for an espresso, or tasty hot food, or a pint of local brew. They’ll also pack a picnic for those romantic souls who desire a laid-back gourmet lunch among the celebrated tulips that adorn the fields this time of year.
Of course, I’m one of those romantics. When I heard the tulips were in bloom, I planned out a menu, prepared everything the night before, and on a sunny Friday, the first day the fields were open to the public, we set out for an entire day of downright Downton Abbey-esque decadent leisure. Attired in fancy hats, swirling skirts, lace and pearls – Joe in a Cubavera shirt in beige tones to match his hat and chinos – our intrepid trio traipsed from the grassy parking lot still wet with dew according to our long hems, to join the throngs of nature worshippers lined up to go into RoozenGaarde, the tulip mecca of the Pacific Northwest.
We drove a short way to a sandy beach we shared with bald eagles and an intermittent handful of people strolling along the water’s edge, where we spread out on a large tapestry, and toasted the stunning day with Honeydew Bellinis. In consideration for our food-sensitive guest, Pixie, the meal was entirely vegan and gluten-free, each bite bursting with the freshness of the season. With the bay and San Juan Islands splayed before us, Joe played the flute, and I strummed the ukulele and sang. Pixie got out her art supplies and painted pastel patterns on shells. We shared meringue cookies with people who walked by. We abandoned our shoes and happily dug our toes into the sand. For one glorious day we forgot about our troubles. To sum it up, (and you really must say it in your head with an upper-class English accent): It was delightful.
Vegan, Gluten-Free Picnic Menu
Asparagus with Vinaigrette*
Fusilli with Lemon Pesto*
Vegan Meringues (made with aquafaba, or 'bean juice' a simple, amazing egg replacement!)
*Recipe adapted from Seattle Picnics, 1991 edition
4 cups 1-inch cubes ripe honeydew melon (about ½ medium melon)
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 750-ml bottles Prosecco
Line large strainer with 2 layers damp cheesecloth; set over large bowl.
Puree melon, sugar, and lemon juice in blender until smooth. Pour melon puree into lined strainer. Let puree drain until only pale green pulp remains in strainer, about 30 minutes. Discard pulp in strainer.
Pour generous 3 Tbsp. melon juice into champagne glasses, fill with Prosecco and serve.
2 ½ pounds thin, tender fresh asparagus
2/3 cup olive oil
½ cup white wine vinegar
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 – 2 Tbsp. minced shallot
1 – 2 Tbsp. minced garlic chives
Wash and trim asparagus, then steam over boiling water just until tender (about 10 minutes). Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again. Arrange in a glass dish.
Whisk remaining ingredients in a small bowl, and pour over asparagus. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 week.
Makes 8 servings.
4 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
¾ cup soy sauce
4 lemons, juiced
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Gently boil carrots for 2 to 3 minutes. Immerse in cold water. Drain.
Combine remaining ingredients. Pour sauce over carrots and refrigerate in a large covered container. Carrots will keep for 10 to 14 days.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup shelled raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pumpkin seeds and toast, shaking pan often, until seeds are brown, about 4 minutes. Add cumin seeds, then gradually add sugar, then lime juice, tossing constantly to coat seeds with melted sugar and juice. Transfer pumpkin seed mixture to a foil-lined baking sheet; spread out and let cool. Season with salt.
2 cups fresh basil leaves (1 ounce), rinsed, patted dry, chopped
4 tsp. sesame oil
6 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
¼ cup gluten-free soy sauce
2 tsp. finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tsp. sugar
10 oz. fusilli (corkscrew), or some type of gluten-free pasta
In a blender, combine basil with oil. Blend until puréed. With blender running, add remaining ingredients, except pasta, and blend until smooth.
Following package instructions, cook fusilli; drain well. Pour sauce over hot pasta; toss to mix. For picnics, tastes best at room temperature.
Makes 8 servings
Liquid from one 15-ounce can of chickpeas (about ¾ cup)
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of cream of tartar
Dribbles of beet juice
Heat the oven to 250°F and line one or more baking sheets with parchment paper. Pour the chickpea liquid (aquafaba) into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks form, about 15 minutes. Gradually beat in the sugar and cream of tartar, then the vanilla and dribbles of beet juice until it reaches a pink tinge you like.
Scoop or pipe the aquafaba mixture into mounds onto the baking sheet(s) and bake for 90 minutes. (The meringues will be hard to the touch.) Let meringues cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then serve. (Meringues can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days.)
Yield: 30 to 35 meringues
Time: About 2 hours, almost entirely unattended