Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe
My mother has always packed a wonderful picnic. I don't mean a cookout type meal, I mean a true honest-to-goodness checked cloth, wicker basket affair. My mom was Martha Stewart before anyone knew who Martha Stewart was.
Mom would line two large wicker laundry baskets with a pretty older or even antique tea towels and fill them to the brim with necessities and delicious treats before topping each off with another tea towel and tucking the ends in around it all.
There weren't paper plates or napkins or plastic cutlery. Mom used the real thing. She had an old set of dishes that she had found at a flea market and gently soaked to remove some of the signs of aging. She would stack those plates with real napkins between each to protect them and then add a set of flatware just as old as the plates and likewise bought at a flea market.
She brought along a blanket or quilt to spread on the ground and that was where we all sat, gathered around the food in the center.
Mom didn't serve standard picnic fare either. She would pack a generous amount of her fried chicken, cold but just as wonderful as the moment it was taken from the oven. Mom's potato salad was a must on these outings and was usually served from a large earthenware bowl with a real antique silver spoon.
I recall later in life looking at Victoria magazine and coming across photos of picnics that were laid out just as Mom's were. She is a true romantic at heart and a grilled hot dog served at a picnic table beneath a pavilion would never suit her. (Unless it was an old fashioned church picnic at Tipton Park in Tipton, Indiana!)
It took me years to realize what mom did to make her chicken so special. It's obvious that I learned the bulk of my cooking from Mom, neither of us like to write down recipes. I asked Mom many times how she made her chicken to be told that it was a standard breading procedure; flour, buttermilk, breadcrumbs. Ah, the buttermilk! That had to be it. I proceeded to try it out and found that although it was good, it wasn't "it". No matter what I did I couldn't duplicate that chicken.
Finally I was there one day to watch her from start to finish and figured it out. Mom doesn't use regular old breadcrumbs, she uses fresh. I don't mean fresh from the can, I mean she uses fresh un-toasted bread for her crumbs. She pops a few slices in her processor, whirs away and voila. For some reason those fresh breadcrumbs make all the difference.
I wish I had a recipe, but I don't. I'll just tell you that Mom uses fresh breadcrumbs, buttermilk, and only fries her chicken long enough to brown it before putting it all in the oven to finish up. Funny, even though I know the secret, like Mom's picnics, it's just not the same unless she makes it.