A Tisket, a Tasket, or a Brown Paper Bag

One of my many jobs on Nantucket was as a gardener. (Not to be confused with Gardner, which I also am, but don’t earn a paycheck from.) Gardening, actually “Landscape Design” was what I had gone to college to study. When I moved back home in early ’82, I worked for Sherburne Associates with Dave Champoux and Joan Manley. It was a great, fun job. We had a working greenhouse, sowed all of our own annuals for the Sherburne properties, planted the wharves and the A & P parking lot and greened up the Elephant and Mad Hatter topiaries (created by Brad Brooks) every spring. A few years prior to this, Mrs. Jean MacAusland had started a beautification project with the Nantucket Garden Club. Anyone could have a large bag of daffodil bulbs to plant on their own property. The only rule was that the flowers had to be visible to everyone from a public way. Sherburne became involved in ’83. We took all of the leftover bulbs, and, along with other volunteers, planted the road to ‘Sconset, the Rotary, and Polpis Road. This was during the early years of the Daffodil Parade.

What began as a local celebration and annual parade has now become a full blown and well-known festival, with visitors making reservations a year or more in advance. This is one of those “something for everyone” weekends. The antique car parade is definitely a destination event for classic car enthusiasts. Not only is the location a draw, the incredible eclectic mix of cars makes it vastly different from other car parades. The Children’s Daffodil Parade on Main Street is always a blast. The Hat Pageant gives everyone a chance to strut their stuff. The Garden Club’s Daffodil Show showcases the hard work and effort that the members of the garden club, so often behind the scenes, puts into this yearly event. As part of the big picture, these events are incredible, but they are just as impressive and enjoyable on their own.
The roadside picnics have become legendary as well, with Waterford Crystal, Clos du Mesnil, and caviar lavishly served from the back of a Bentley, which may be parked next to a 1980 CJ5 using paper plates, with homemade ham sandwiches and paper cups full of seltzer. Each picnic is unique and wonderful.

For many restaurants, this is the start of the season. Everyone knows full well that there will be a significant drop after the weekend, with business slowly building back up to the summer frenzy. Still, for many places, it’s a great shakedown weekend. Time to try out new dishes, assess the staff, and shake off the cobwebs. This is the time of year that those of us who live here year-round should take advantage of the less than full dining rooms. Nantucket has some of the best restaurants and creative kitchens around. Having the privilege of a leisurely evening out is a treat in itself. Regardless of where we work, I don’t think there’s a job on island that isn’t affected by the influx of visitors in the summer. Before the onslaught, call those folks that you last saw in October. (Remember? In the grocery store? You made a tentative date for dinner or lunch, but then you had to go off island, they left for vacation, and you had a dentist appointment? Call them!) Make a reservation at any of the incredible restaurants that are open and get out of your house and off the couch. It will still be there when you get home!

And keep in mind that picnics aren’t limited to Daffodil Weekend. I do believe that the weather will warm up and that the sun does still exist. Given the grey, somewhat dreary spring we’ve had, any chance of sun on your face should be met with enthusiasm and the sound of the door slamming behind you as you head outside. A basket isn’t mandatory, nor is a full picnic spread. All you really need is a small piece of ground and some good picnic fare. Successful picnics can be spontaneous. This is not the time to fret over a balanced meal. The best picnic grub is probably in your pantry already. Good bread, cheese, a tin of sardines or potted meat (for my husband, not my favorite), a piece of fresh fruit, and a beverage of choice are all you need. Grab a sack…brown paper is fine. Load it up, grab a garbage bag for your scraps, and head out the door. If you’re a die-hard cold chicken picnic gal or guy, here is the only successful recipe for fried chicken that I’ve ever used.

Fried Chicken
1 fryer, cut into 8 pieces
(if you’re a drumstick person, just do drumsticks.)
2 cups buttermilk (or yogurt if you can’t find buttermilk)
salt & pepper, garlic powder, paprika
Always rinse your chicken in cold water and pat it dry. This goes for all poultry, whether it’s for frying or roasting or baking. Place chicken pieces in a bowl or resealable bag, and refrigerate overnight.
Drain the chicken and set it aside. In a resealable bag, dump 4 cups all purpose flour. (I like to use a resealable bag for the coating. Easier cleanup, less messy.) Add 1 tablespoon of salt, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, 1 tablespoon paprika, and 1 teaspoon of cracked black pepper. You can really season it with anything that strikes your fancy. Some of the salt substitutes are wonderful, and would make a great chicken seasoning.
Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mix, and lay them out in single layer until they’re all coated.

In Grandma’s cast iron skillet, bring about ½ inch of oil up to about 325 degrees. If you go higher with the temp, your chicken will fry too quickly on the outside and still be raw on the inside. If you find yourself in this quandary, don’t despair!! Heat your oven to 350, put your chicken in, and bake it for about 20 to 25 minutes. Now’s the time for me to chat about thermometers. A good one can be your best friend in the kitchen. I have an assortment; a candy thermometer (my husband makes the best peanut brittle!), a frying thermometer, and a meat thermometer. I use them all. A good thermometer is a smart investment.
When the fat is up to temp, add the chicken pieces one by one. Always drop away from you, so you won’t get splattered with hot fat. Place the chicken skin side down. After about 10 minutes, turn the chicken over, and cook for another 12 to 15 minutes. Check the internal temp of the chicken. It should be right about 180 degrees. Fried chicken is a labor of love. Make it for dinner, along with oven roasted potatoes and green beans. As you’re packing up your leftovers after dinner, cut your potatoes and green beans in bite size pieces and toss with your favorite vinaigrette or salad dressing. After sitting overnight, you’ll have the most delicious potato salad. A piece of fruit, a bottle of wine and you’ll be ready for Daffodil weekend…or a picnic any day!


-Written by Maryjane Mojer

Originally printed in Yesterday’s Island, May 2007

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