With everyone’s schedules all over the place this summer, when the planets align and the opportunity to hang out arises, you just have to jump on it. Such was the case this past weekend for me and Laura (Rina otherwise tied up). After 15 minutes of messaging back and forth, we decided to pack up the kids (Laura) and a picnic (me) and head to the California Academy of Sciences for (hopefully) a day of fun. I hadn’t been there in years, probably not since they revamped the exhibits, and certainly longer since I was actually there for my own pleasure–my last memory being of me catering an event and passing hors d’oeuvres of skewered meat to guests in front of a taxidermy tableaux depicting a cheetah hunting down a gazelle!
We decided to go in one car, which gave me just under 90 minutes to pull together a kid-friendly picnic with what I had on hand. As usual, I went straight to the pantry first to see what I had to bake with, because I knew that would be an easy sell for the kids, not to mention Laura. I found a bag of sweet dried mandarin orange segments from Trader Joe’s and some dried currants–an inspired flavor combination for scones. Luckily I also had butter, nonfat Greek yogurt, eggs, and sour cream in the frig, which made whipping up the scone dough a quick task.
While the scone dough firmed up in the freezer, I rummaged through the frig further to see what I could make for the main course and came up with pasta salad. I figured I had just enough rainbow radiatore pasta to cook off, which I could then bulk up with cherry tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, red bell peppers, green onion, and a little frozen corn, all prepped while the pasta was cooking. To add protein, I browned some chopped thick-cut bacon, then used a little of the residual pan drippings to sauté some thawed frozen shrimp. For the dressing I mixed a little of the rendered bacon fat with mayonnaise and dijon mustard to amplify that savory smokey flavor.
Once I put together the pasta salad, all I had to do was bake off the scones and mix up a small batch of blackberry Earl Grey iced tea before Laura pulled into my driveway. With the GPS set for the Academy of Science, we drove off into the fog towards Golden Gate Park.
Not surprisingly, given the weather, the place was packed–locals and tourists alike opting for an indoor adventure. Bubbling with excitement, Vivi made a beeline to her favorite attraction, the “Shake House” at the Earthquake exhibit. What is it about kids and simulated earthquakes? She was mildly discouraged by sight of the long line to get in, though once Vivi and Milton tucked in to a bit of light snacking on freshly baked scones they were all good.
Vivi road the “Shake House” like a seasoned thrill seeker. Not sure if Milton was all that impressed. He did however, seem to enjoy all the sights and sounds of the Rainforest exhibit, from the colorful birds and butterflies to the underwater creatures.
Maybe just not the slithering variety…
Like Indiana Jones, Milton does not do snakes.
But give the kid something he can lay his little hands on…well that’s a whole different story.
In fact, the best moments of the day were when Vivi and Milton really engaged themselves in the whole experience, the adventure of it all…and taking us grown-ups along for the ride.
Of course, if Laura and I were to use our imaginations, momentarily ignore the fact that we were pushing around an overloaded stroller and wrangling two little kids inside a crowded museum, Laura would probably fancy herself in the jungle, playing out a scene from Romancing the Stone (1984).
While I’d probably find myself playing hide and seek with the Indominus Rex from Jurassic World (2015).
Or on second thought…maybe I should just stick to the dinosaur bones and imagine myself as Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby (1938). After all, she does end up with Cary Grant.
Mandarin Orange-Currant Scones
Yield: 12 scones
- 2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 4 oz. cold butter, cut into 8 pieces
- 2/3 cup chopped dried mandarin orange segments
- 1/2 cup dried currants
- 1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt (or buttermilk)
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tsp. almond extract
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 Tbsp. heavy cream (or 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water) for brushing tops
- raw turbinado sugar for sprinkling
Whisk together all the dry ingredients, then cut in the cold butter with two forks or a pastry blender. If using a food processor (with dough blade), pulse the dry ingredients together a few times then pulse in the butter until the butter is broken down into the size of a grain of rice. Stir in the dried fruit. Whisk together the wet ingredients, then stir into the dry mixture to form a dough. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, then fold over the sides to form a flat rectangular shape about 1″ thick. Place the dough in the freezer for about 15 mins. to firm up.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the chilled dough onto a floured surface. Pat and shape the dough out to about 6″x 10″. Cut the dough in half horizontally, then into thirds vertically. Cut each square in half diagonally so that there are 12 triangles. Transfer the pieces onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and brush the surfaces with heavy cream or egg wash, then sprinkle liberally with turbinado sugar. Bake the scones for about 18-20 mins., until golden brown and tested done.
Blackberry Earl Grey Tea
Yield: 1 quart
- 3 cups boiling water
- 2 Earl Grey tea bags
- 1 cup blackberry syrup
- 4 lime slices
Steep the tea bags in the hot water for about 5-8 mins. Remove the tea bags and let the tea cool to room temperature. Stir in the blackberry syrup. Add a good amount of ice to thoroughly chill down the mixture. Serve with lime slices.
Oh yes…and I did have flashbacks about that catering job.