It was on kind of a whim that I submitted my application to join the city of Woodway Parks and Recreation Commission. We were in a pandemic and at home pretty much all the time, but by that point, outdoor activities were deemed safe, as long as you didn’t interact with anyone outside of your immediate household.
With that safety protocol in mind, we started playing disc golf at Woodway Park, located on the banks of Lake Waco at the very end of Estates Drive. We didn’t keep score and we weren’t very good, but it sure felt nice to be able to get out of the house for a while.
On some evenings, before our round of disc golf, we would pack a picnic basket and have dinner at one of the many picnic tables in the park.
Even before the pandemic, we were active users of the parks and rec facilities in Woodway. The first boot camp class I joined met in one of the parks, and on the days that I go on long runs (or walks now … stupid knees), I head from our house to the park and do two or three laps there and then come back up Estates, past city hall and the Woodway Family Center — where our kids played baseball, basketball and flag football — to our neighborhood.
So when I saw a notice on Facebook that the city needed folks to serve on the commission, I decided to apply. As avid park-goers, I figured it was just the right thing to do, to help oversee the spaces that we love. I didn’t even tell Abby that I had applied until I received a letter in the mail telling me that I had been accepted.
It’s a pretty low-key kind of position. The commission meets once a month or so and receives updates from city staff on changes and improvements to the parks and family center. The current Woodway Family Center has been in use for about 30 years, and it’s starting to show its age. Plans are underway to replace it. I’ve seen designs for the new facility, and it’s going to be a big improvement over the current, well-loved and well-used, center.
So for our recipes this month, we’ve included everything you need for a fun picnic, including a wonderful sandwich, a fun dessert, a light and crunchy salad, and a drink that can be made with or without alcohol.
If Woodway Park is too far of a drive, there are dozens and dozens of places to have a picnic in Cameron Park. For another article in this month’s magazine, I drove through Cameron Park on my way to Miss Nellie’s Pretty Place. It was early on a Thursday afternoon, and there were people everywhere. Some folks were running. Others were watching kids play on a splash pad. Lots of families were, indeed, enjoying a picnic on that lovely afternoon. I’ve run a few Bearathons that wind through Cameron Park, and my pace is so slow that I can enjoy the beauty of the park in spite of the hills that I’m having to run. It’s got to be one of the prettiest parks in the state.
Spicy-Sweet Club Sandwich
- 8 slices English bread (recipe follows)
- 4 slices cheese, your choice
- 1/2 pound sliced turkey
- Sweet bacon (recipe follows)
- 1 avocado, sliced
- 1 tomato, sliced
- Sweet candied jalapenos, to taste
- 1/2 pound sliced ham
To assemble the sandwiches, spread a little mayonnaise on one side of each slice of bread. On four slices of bread, place a slice of cheese, some turkey, a slice of bacon, a couple of slices of avocado and tomato, a bit of lettuce, jalapenos (if using) and ham. Top with another slice of bread.
Makes 4 sandwiches.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast
- 1 cup milk
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
- Cornmeal, to sprinkle in pan
In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and yeast.
In a saucepan set over medium heat, combine the milk, water and oil. Heat until the mixture is between 120 F and 130 F. Stir the liquid well before measuring its temperature to ensure an accurate reading. If you don’t have a thermometer, the liquid will feel uncomfortably hot if you quickly dip your finger into it.
Pour the hot liquid over the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.
Using an electric beater or stand mixer with beater attachment, beat at high speed for 1 minute. The dough will be smooth and very soft.
Lightly grease an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan, and sprinkle the bottom and sides with cornmeal.
Scoop the dough into the pan, leveling it in the pan as much as possible.
Cover the pan with a clean kitchen towel, and let the dough rise until it’s barely crowned over the rim of the pan, about 45-60 minutes. While the dough is rising, heat the oven to 400 F.
Remove the towel and bake the bread for 22-27 minutes or until it’s golden brown and its interior temperature is about 200 F.
Remove the bread from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Turn it out onto a rack to cool. Let the bread cool completely before slicing.
Makes 1 loaf.
- 12-ounce package thick-sliced bacon
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
Heat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil and place a wire rack on the sheet. Lay the bacon strips on the rack. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the bacon and gently press the sugar into the bacon. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the bacon is golden and crispy.
Makes 3-4 servings.
Sugar Cookie Bars
For the bars:
- 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
For the frosting:
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), at room temperature
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream, plus more as needed
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus more as needed
- 1 teaspoon vanilla, plus more as needed
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- A drop or two of gel food coloring (optional)
- Assorted sprinkles, for decorating (optional)
Heat oven to 350 F. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper, running it up the two long sides of the pan and letting it extend past the rim by about 2 inches.
To make the bars, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and cream cheese on medium speed until well blended, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on low until well combined, about 1 minute. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing on low just until blended, about 1 minute.
Using a spatula, scrape the dough into the prepared baking pan and spread it into an even layer. Bake just until the edges are starting to turn light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle has moist crumbs, 20-25 minutes. The bars should be quite moist and almost slightly underbaked in the center. Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a wire rack. Let cool completely. When fully cooled, remove the bars from the pan using the overhanging parchment paper.
To make the frosting, place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the butter on medium until creamy, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup powdered sugar, beating on low until fully combined, then repeat with remaining 1 cup powdered sugar. Add the 1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, the vanilla, salt and food coloring, if using, and beat on medium until the frosting is light and fluffy, scraping down the sides halfway through, about 4 minutes. Add more milk if needed to thin out the mixture. Add lemon juice and vanilla to taste.
Using a spatula, spread the frosting on top of the bars. Then decorate with sprinkles, if using.
Makes about 20 servings.
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- 1/3 cup cider vinegar
- 3/4 cup white vinegar
- 2/3 cup sugar
- Two 3-ounce packages chicken ramen noodles, broken apart
- 10 ounces broccoli coleslaw mix
- 3/4 cup sliced almonds
- 3/4 cup golden raisins (optional)
- 1/2 cup sliced green onions
- 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
To make the dressing, in a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, sugar and 1 package of the ramen noodles. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the broccoli coleslaw mix, ramen noodles, almonds, raisins (if using), green onion and green bell pepper. Mix together well and fold in the dressing. Refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to overnight, before serving. Stir again just before serving.
Makes about 8 servings.
- 1 1/2 ounces coconut syrup (equal parts coconut milk and simple syrup)
- 3/4 ounce lime juice
- 3 ounces sparkling water, like Topo Chico
- 1 1/2 ounces rum (optional)
- Bitters, to taste
- Fresh mint leaves, for garnish (optional)
- Pineapple slice, for garnish (optional)
In a Collins glass, combine the coconut syrup and lime juice. Top with 1 cup crushed ice. Mix with a long spoon until combined, about 10 seconds. Add sparkling water and mix briefly again. Add the rum, if using.
Fill the glass with more crushed ice. Dot the top of the drink with bitters, covering the surface and creating a “halo” effect on top.
Lightly crush the mint leaves to release aromatic oils. Garnish with the mint and pineapple.
Makes 1 drink.