On a recent trip to Charlotte, North Carolina I had the pleasure of sitting down to a picnic while learning the origins of informally dining outdoors and the proper picnic etiquette. We sipped chilled white wine; crisp and light, in the humid heat of the south while our instructor, Carl Libonati (the etiquette guru at the Ballantyne Hotel) taught us about what one would wear, how we should sit and what we eat on a proper picnic. But most importantly he taught us that it’s really not about us at all but whoever you are dining with. That the goal of etiquette is not to be overwhelmed with the rules but to put the focus on others and make them feel comfortable.
I remember reading somewhere that people don’t often remember the specifics of meeting you but they easily remember how you made them feel. As I bit into an oatmeal cookie; soft, warm and dotted with pecans, I let his words hit me with a bit of conviction.
So often I allow my own insecurities and the concern about the impression I’m making overwhelm me that I completely overlook who it is I’m trying to impress. In my head I’m berating myself for the things I’m saying or not saying rather than focusing on who is in front of me and making them feel good. It’s nearly impossible to make someone else feel comfortable if all I’m doing is thinking about myself.
Lucky Leaf Gardens Microgreens that are grown for the hotel. Microgreens are nutrient dense sprouts of vegetable seeds that are intensely flavorful. They are used in salads and as a delicate garnish.
Carl taught us to:
“Never miss a chance to learn from someone else.”
“Always think to add.”
“The main idea of etiquette is making the other person feel wonderful.”
So in attempt to make my family feel wonderful once I returned home, I packed my idea of the perfect picnic and we headed to the park.
There was cheese; one soft and creamy the other pungent and crumbly. Cured meats laced around the cheese and soft bread and salted butter sat next to that. Watermelon slices were left to mingle with red onion, fresh mint and a salty feta. There were cubes of feta-less melon for the kids who tend to be a bit particular.
We ate a salad of quinoa, chicken and pea sprouts dressed with a bit of mustard, vinegar, olive oil and salt. A touch of honey softened the vinegar bite and diced red onion and smokey pimenton added a soft heat.
For dessert, for those who ate their quinoa (I had three servings) there were cookies. Kelli Fayard’s favorite oatmeal pecan cookies to be precise. Kelli is the pastry chef at the Ballantyne Hotel and she graciously shared her recipe for these cookies that are soft, spiced with cinnamon and clove (although I put nutmeg in mine) and loaded with chopped toasted pecans.
If kind words fail you, I find that a cookie does wonders to make any guest feel wonderful.
A picnic is not meant to be fussy. In fact you could very easily have a picnic with a few cheeses, meats, fruit and a bottle of wine quickly snatched from the store on the way to the park. The point really is about creating the space to enjoy a meal or hefty snack in a beautiful setting along with people you care about.
Oatmeal Pecan Cookies
2 dozen (or so)
This recipe was provided by Kelly Fayard, the pastry chef at The Ballantyne Hotel. It’s her favorite and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a soft cookie with a subtle bit of spice. She chose cinnamon and clove but I’m more partial to nutmeg. I also added chocolate because I can’t help myself. They really don’t NEED it but when it comes to cookies I find that chocolate always helps.
1/2 cup butter, soft
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 large egg
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (or 1/8 teaspoon clove)
1 1/4 cups oats
1 cup chopped, toasted pecans
1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips (optional)
Cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg, milk and vanilla. Mix until well incorporated.
Add all the dry ingredients, including pecans and chocolate and mix until combined.
Scoop even size balls of dough (about 1 tablespoon size) on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake at 325°F for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown.