[Recipe: Basic Vinaigrette]
Seems everyone’s reporting on idyllic picnics lately, on petite tarts with ambitious stacks of marinated summer vegetables sliced thin, on picturesque salads and scenery.
Here, then, is my contribution, a report on an unintentional roadside picnic, a picnic that was never meant to be any kind of production. There was no tablecloth. No brilliant containers. Just an open car door revealing disposable Tupperware and white paper napkins and an assortment of plastic utensils I’d scrounged from an out-of-sorts drawer.
Still, it was a photogenic picnic. We were surrounded by Kodak moments, despite the fact that we were eating on the side of a two-lane highway because we were stranded in totally stopped traffic, 22 miles south of Page, Arizona – which was supposed to have been our picnic destination.
But in an uncharacteristic move, I hadn’t packed my camera.
Why, oh why, didn’t I bring my camera? Because I was determined to pack light, that’s why. Because it was supposed to be a less-is-best kind of weekend, an up-and-back road trip, a jaunt requiring little more than a duffel stuffed with a change of clothes and trail runners.
Never mind that we’d be covering 1,800-plus total miles. I’d seen these miles flash before my windshield many times before, and never have I cared to photograph them. It’s the desert; it’s red rocks and red dirt, dust and scrub the color of sage. Big whoop.
But as we – my husband, our daughters and my younger sister – all sat on the side of the road, dinner in hand, things suddenly looked pretty. It wasn’t the rhythmic flicker of emergency vehicle lights, or the steep swoop of the helicopter indicating we’d be parked there a long while. It was that when necessity demanded that our picnic change venue and we started losing daylight, we made lemonade, so to speak.
We propped the cooler open in the backseat and used the lid as a surface to prep a pasta salad of whole-wheat penne, sliced olives, chopped cucumber and tomatoes, crumbled feta and basic vinaigrette. We put together sandwiches of smoked salmon and goat cheese on whole-wheat rolls.
And we ate.
It was still a picnic, even though we consumed it standing, plastic plates perched on our open palms, a meal enjoyed under a round sky full of summer storm clouds.
I’m admittedly unoriginal when it comes to description, but let me try to describe the scene for you, the images I would have captured if only I’d brought my camera: Silhouettes of jutting red rock formations against a plummeting sun; my five-year-old’s hands, clutching her sandwich; shafts of light through shifting clouds; the sunset meeting the desert floor, and the expansive sky it left behind. And then there was my sister, attempting while standing to stab her pasta with a dull plastic fork at the same time she was texting on her cell phone.
This is my go-to vinaigrette. It can dress everything from pasta to vegetables to fish. Let your whims rule: add a teaspoon of your favorite mustard or some chopped herbs.
¼ C fresh lemon juice or white wine, red wine or balsamic vinegar
1 tsp honey
1 small shallot, finely minced
½ tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ to ½ C extra-virgin olive oil
Whisk together the lemon juice or vinegar with the honey, shallot, salt and pepper, to taste. Add the olive oil in a steady stream, whisking until emulsified.