Thursday, June 21, 2012

Lakeside Picnic

When people from out of state think of Vermont, skiing, cheese, and maple syrup usually come to mind—and by extension, Vermont’s inspiring mountains and rolling farmland. Many people forget about majestic Lake Champlain that runs the length of the northern half of western Vermont, providing the lifeblood of the fertile Champlain Valley.

The lake is edged dramatically on its New York side by the Adirondack Mountains, which provide spectacular sunsets for us Vermonters gazing west. On the lake’s eastern edge, the gentler Green Mountains rise more gradually out of rich farmland.

Several parks along the lake offer beach access, all inviting and picturesque in their own way. Our favorite spot, however, has no beach and for this reason is always much less crowded than other more well-known waterfront locations. Kingsland Bay State Park in Ferrisburgh is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places in the state. A green lawn dotted with shade trees slopes gradually to the lake’s edge, where a wide dock leads out to the water, perfect for launching yourself into its chilly depths.

There’s also a broad slab of rock that allows access, for wading or kayaking, which is what has brought us here today. We love kayaking on Lake Champlain, and this spot offers mild waters in a protected bay where it’s not uncommon to see countless turtles sunning themselves on half-submerged logs or a variety of birds dipping and diving. Where the bay opens up to the greater lake, the waters become more challenging and afford breathtaking views of the Adirondacks across the way.

The grassy lawn is an ideal spot for picnicking, and we have enjoyed many light meals here with different groups of family and friends. Particular memories stand out: when my and Chris’s extended families gathered here on the eve of the girls’ Welcoming Ceremonies, a Labor Day shared with our friends Pam and Troy and their three young boys, before cancer overcame her, and Sunday afternoons with just the four of us, the girls at varying ages, kicking around a soccer ball or playing a round of Frisbee golf.

Historic buildings, one dating back to 1790, add an interesting dimension to the grounds. They were at one point part of a French girls camp called Ecole Champlain and now provide a venue for weddings, some of which we’ve had the privilege to witness while enjoying our picnics.

Although grills are available, I prefer to make a meal by packing an assortment of cheeses, bread, summer sausage, and salads. Tabouli, a quintessential summer salad, transports well, and this time of year it showcases the abundance of fresh mint from my herb garden. 

I grow three kinds of mint—peppermint, spearmint, and lime-scented mint, each vying to take over my herb garden each spring. I prefer the classic peppermint in Tabouli and use around three times what the recipe calls for, decreasing the parsley to balance it out.

Instead of scallions, I like to use the florets of chive blossoms when they’re in season.

By simply pinching off the end of the blossom, you end up with a small handful of delicate flowers, each imparting a mild chive flavor and surprising dash of purple to the Tabouli.

Fresh-squeezed lemon juice is essential to a good Tabouli. Anything out of a bottle will be overpoweringly acidic, no matter how expensive the product is. The same goes for garlic. It must be fresh. I really like the flavor of garlic so I usually double the amount called for in this recipe from Moosewood Cookbook. This classic cookbook is one of the first I owned, and certain recipes I come back to again and again, Tabouli being one of them.

After a brisk kayak, the Tabouli makes for a refreshing lunch. Then it’s time to settle in on the blanket to read a good book and enjoy the view.

Tabouli (adapted from Moosewood Cookbook)

2 cups dry bulghar wheat
3 cups boiling water
½ t salt
½ cup fresh lemon juice
2 heaping t finely chopped fresh garlic (up to 4 t, to taste)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 medium plum tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 ½ cups cooked garbanzo beans
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup fresh chopped mint
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
10 chive blossoms, separated into florets

Combine bulghar, boiling water and salt. Cover and let stand 20 minutes or until bulghar is chewable, but firm. Transfer to a bowl and add lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate 3 hours.

Just before serving, add the remaining ingredients and mix gently.


  1. yum. I'm going to make some tabouli tomorrow, I'm inspired, thanks :)

    1. That boat in the photo above looks a lot like yours, Porter....I'm thinking up good things to make to go with that Spanish pate you mentioned.

  2. Lovely, Sheila. I had no idea you could eat chive blossoms. I'm going to try that. What a pretty touch of summer on my salads!

    1. They add a nice touch to so many dishes, Linda. I really like how mild they are. Garlic chives, which bloom a little later and are white, are similar. How are your mints doing?