Simple tips and healthy recipes for an alfresco autumn soiree.
Written by Maria Allen
Photography by Kjeld Mahoney
Fall is one of the most beautiful times of year to be outdoors on the South Shore.
The air is warm but crisp and jewel-toned leaves are just beginning to pop on the maple trees. One great way to enjoy the fabulous weather is to have a picnic with family or friends. Whether you choose to host a meal in your backyard or find a scenic spot to sit at a local park, there are simple ways you can elevate your experience.
One South Shore resident who has become an expert on picnics (among other things) is Melissa Peralta, owner of Mood Food Wellness Co. in Cohasset. Established in 2019, Mood Food Wellness is a forward-thinking brand that aims to educate people on the deeply rooted connection between food, mood and wellness, and create more positive associations with healthy living. In its first year, the business (previously known as Mood Food Events) hosted numerous wellness workshops and epicurean gatherings, bringing community members together with health and nutrition experts, as well as local artisans and food purveyors.
When COVID-19 regulations went into effect in early 2020, Peralta quickly pivoted her business model. She formed a Mood Food Wellness Collective, and a Mood Food Marketplace on her website that promotes artisanal food products. This summer, Peralta launched a unique farm-to-fork picnic series. These casual, socially distant gatherings welcomed small groups to dine in a safe outdoor environment and enjoy a spread of delicious and healthy edibles, individually portioned and layered into jeweled mason jars. Peralta’s picnics are as pretty as they are tasty, which comes as no surprise considering she is also the owner of Suddenly Simple Events, a private chef service and event planning company.
We reached out to Peralta for some helpful tips and recipes to create the ultimate autumn picnic. The result was an inspired menu of healthy picnic snacks featuring fresh seasonal ingredients complemented by sensational local food products. Dishes ranged from a light and fluffy cashew creme with carrots to a pan-seared salmon from Mullaney’s Fish Market in Scituate served atop a bed of nutrient rich pea shoots from The Garden of Easton and sprinkled with Duxbury Saltworks Sea Salt. Both simple and refined, these flavorful dishes are guaranteed to turn an ordinary picnic into an enchanting evening to remember.
Cashew Creme and Carrot Parfait
This simple plant-based recipe is perfect for packing into mason jars and conscious consumption on the go. This colorful dish pleases veggie lovers and omnivores alike!
Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, a compound converted by the body into vitamin A, which helps keep your eyes.
Cashews are low in sugar and rich in both protein and fiber which help to provide the body with a stable source of energy.
Shallots contain more protein than onions and are rich in micronutrients, which include iron, potassium, and Vitamins A, B and C.
Cashew Creme Ingredients
12 ounces raw cashews (soaked)
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup sautéed shallots
1 teaspoon Duxbury Saltworks Sea Salt
1 dash white pepper
2 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
Soak the raw cashews in a blender basin with water for approximately 20-30 minutes.
Add sautéed shallots, Duxbury Saltworks Sea Salt, white pepper and lemon juice to the blender basin and puree until a smooth consistency is achieved.
Carrot Strings Ingredients
2 cups carrot strings
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon Duxbury Saltworks Sea Salt
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add coconut oil and carrots, sprinkle with Duxbury Saltworks Sea Salt and sauté for 3-5 minutes carrots are tender.
To serve, simply layer the cashew creme and carrots in a mason jar.
Leaf Peeper Salad
1 head green kale, stems removed + leaves chopped
1 whole lemon, juiced
2 small beets, boiled and chopped
1 small pear, thinly sliced
1 cup pecans, toasted
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt & black pepper to taste
Whisk together the maple syrup, mustard and cider vinegar in a medium bowl, then add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until the vinaigrette emulsifies and thickens. Set aside for serving.
Squeeze the lemon juice (about 1 tablespoon) and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt over the kale leaves and massage for roughly :30 seconds, then let rest for 10 minutes to marinate and soften the greens.
Add the chopped beets, sliced pear and toasted pecans to a salad bowl with the kale leaves.
Toss the salad with your desired amount of dressing, then finish with sea salt and cracked pepper and serve.
Maple Sweet Sprouts
2 pounds of Brussels sprouts, halved
3 tablespoons chili oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 medium red onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste
Place the Brussels sprouts in a large bowl with chili oil, maple syrup and a pinch of salt. Toss the sprouts until evenly coated, then spread evenly on a sheet pan. Roast in the preheated 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes until desired char is achieved.
While the sprouts are roasting, add olive oil and onions to a heated pan over medium high heat and sauté until onions are translucent, about 15 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking.
Add balsamic vinegar to onions, stir and sauté for another 2-3 minutes until vinegar has soaked into the onions, then remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper and combine onions and Brussels sprouts and serve.
Cape Cod Harvest Spritzer
Fresh rosemary sprig
Club Soda (or your favorite flavored seltzer)
Place 10-15 frozen cranberries and two lime wheels to a glass. Add club soda (or your favorite flavored seltzer). Clap a sprig of rosemary between your hands a few times to release the oils, then add the sprig to the glass and use it to stir the beverage.
Tip: “Take a sip and take account of how you’re feeling, then decide if you want to add a splash of vodka to your drink, while being conscious of what your body is really craving. If you find yourself craving a moment to relax and unwind more than the cocktail itself, try enjoying a quiet moment while taking a few deep breaths between sips of your first spritzer, then check in with yourself again after taking some time to tune into your senses and see if you’re still feeling up for a cocktail or are comfortable enjoying another virgin spritzer. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a cocktail when it’s what you’re craving, but it’s important to explore what that cocktail craving is rooted in before imbibing. You may find that it’s more the ritual of relaxing with your favorite beverage that brings you peace more than the alcoholic elements that you may be attributing the results to!” Melissa Peralta
A wooden board was transformed into a gorgeous serving platter featuring fresh berries, raw hazelnuts, seed crisps and a variety of tasty accoutrements from local food purveyors, including vegan cashew brie by UPrise Food’s in Weymouth, homemade jams from Kiss Flower Farm in Norwell and local wildflower honey from Jenny D’s Bees in Rockland.
Prepare recipes ahead of time and portion into jeweled mason jars. This makes packing your picnic basket or cooler a breeze, eliminates the need for plates and also keeps cleanup to a minimum. Spare canning jars can also double as glasses for your beverage of choice.
Disposable Bamboo Cutlery
Avoid using single-use plastic utensils. Instead, pack disposable and 100 percent compostable bamboo forks, knives and spoons for each of your picnic guests. They are better for the environment and will look cute when you inevitably snap photos of the picnic spread for your social media feed.
Even if you have nothing to cut, a wooden serving board can elevate the look and feel of your fall picnic spread and provide a perfect surface for setting up your picnic on uneven surfaces.
Spread a plaid blanket on the grass for soft and comfortable seating and have a couple extras on hand in case the temperature drops and you want to wrap yourself in something cozy.
Pack a few small bottles of hand sanitizer so you and the other picnic attendees can clean their hands before and after serving or eating food.