Chicken Salad with Dried Cranberries and Almonds & Summer Picnic Lemonade Cocktail

During the summer my kids swim on a summer swim team.  I did also as a child and again in High School.  It’s a very fun summer sport with families setting up personal tents side by side to shield the beastly sun and catch up after the long chilly months of no contact.

There is a lot of waiting at swim meets.  This past weekend my crew began a nostalgic chat about favorite childhood sandwiches of all things.  I’m not sure what happens exactly between childhood and adulthood but there seems to be an invisible door that once passed through specific dishes are left behind to reside in the distant memories only occasionally to be recalled.

It’s 98 degrees as I write this. Not to drag YOU to a swim meet but I could not resist the look of this water and the mention of an Otter Pop!

My all time favorite sandwich was Peanut Butter and Banana with Mayo.  I know it sounds completely revolting but it’s not.  Something about the tang of the mayo interwoven with the sweet banana and chunky peanut butter made me swoon (and sometimes got caught in a huge wad in my throat but I overlooked that part).  I’m sure all the peanut butter we ate had sugar added which probably deepened the flavor saturation of sweet, salty and tangy making it all the more perfect.

My step dad remembers Fried Egg Sandwiches his mother would make in the farmlands of Kansas, and pack neatly in his lunchbox for school.  My first thought was ‘what was it like by lunchtime?’  Cold, of course but he described them with such fondness it almost made them sound edible.  My mother remembered Lettuce Sandwiches with Sugar.  I’m sure a bi-product of my Depression Era Grandparents.  It reminded me of a frequent phrase used in a High Tech company where I was once employed ‘if you can’t fix it, feature it’.  The company shall remain nameless and the sandwich lost in the annals of culinary history.
My husband evoked a favorite of Ernest Hemingway cited in ‘Big Two-Hearted River’.  The Onion Sandwich.  Bread, butter and onion slices.  When I visited Hemingway’s home in Key West Florida years ago I saw the descendants of his beloved 6 toed cats.  I now wonder if their deformity might have been caused by ingestion of leftover Onion Sandwiches?  Overall, it struck me how everyone else’s sandwich sounded gross (as I’m sure mine did to them) however we each waxed nostalgic about our own.  Perhaps merely a comforting vestige of childhood, as I’m unsure any of us would eat them now.

I moved to Northern California to go to college at the University of California Santa Cruz.  Home of the Banana Slugs.  Made famous by John Travolta in the movie ‘Pulp Fiction’ wearing an alma mater t-shirt.  I was fortunate to live relatively close to my maternal Grandparents who by that time lived in the heart of Carmel Valley.  We loved to take picnics on the windswept beaches in Carmel and Pebble Beach.  

Some time after college I worked fairly near a fantastic local market in San Jose called Cosentino’s.  It was a precursor to Whole Foods in that is was stocked with the freshest of foods and exotic canned goods with a deli that would knock your socks off.  I discovered there my all time favorite Chicken Salad made with beautiful, succulent chunks of white chicken and elevated by the addition of dried cranberries and slivered almonds.  My Grandfather in particular loved it and every time we’d have an outing or even just a visit I’d bring him some.

This recipe just popped back up on my radar about 4 months ago.  I was thinking about it sure I could recreate it but feeling foggy about all the ingredients.  In the last week I decided to call the store to see if they might share the recipe and key ingredients so I might relive the fantastic and unique chicken salad.  Sadly I learned they’d closed in 2007.  I’m sure with the onslaught of larger stores they just could not complete.

Being summer, a time for light eats, lots of outings, and a ‘season for sandwiches’ I decided I’d give the Chicken Salad a whirl and I must say with great results.  I simply love the depth of flavor from the roast chicken, to the sweet cranberries and crunch from the almonds, green apple (my addition) and celery.  It tastes light and fresh and is perfect for a summer sandwich.


This recipe offers the perfect use for leftover roast chicken or for a rotisserie chicken from your supermarket.  My market roasts free range chickens daily so I love the ease of picking one up for all sorts of dishes.  I use dried cranberries sweetened with fruit juice which I buy in bulk in local healthier stores.  Their texture is semi soft and the sweetness tastes more natural to me still allowing some tartness.

Yield:  Enough for 3-4 sandwiches or approximately 3 cups


·         2 cups cooked chicken (preferably roasted and cooled to room temperature or chilled), chopped into bite size chunks

·         ¼ cup dried sweetened cranberries

·         ¼ cup slivered almonds, rough chopped

·         ¼ cup Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped

·         ¼ cup celery, finely chopped

·         ¼ cup mayonnaise

·         Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.  Adjust seasoning to your personal taste.  Pile on slices of your favorite sandwich bread and dig in!

My bread of choice is Gluten Free Pantry’s ‘Favorite Sandwich Bread’ with added chia seeds, diced sunflower seeds and diced pumpkin seeds.  I make it a few times a week in my home bread maker and have found it the perfect sandwich size gluten free bread.

Lazy summer lunches certainly call for more colorful, festive but also simple food to me.  With my sandwich I enjoyed Lazy Girl’s Cole Slaw, a cool, healthy, flavorful dish easily whipped up in minutes.  Perfect for the hot weather.  And a Lemonade Cocktail!


It doesn’t get any fresher than this and if you don’t care for the Lemon Vodka, just stick to the sparkling lemonade.  Could be easily pre-mixed in mason jars for outings; just add ice and a straw.

Serves:  1 cocktail

·         1 ½ ounce of Homemade Lemon-Infused Vodka (click here for recipe) OR if you can’t wait, store purchased

·         Sparkling Lemonade
Fill a Highball glass with ice.  Pour in the Homemade Lemon-Infused Vodka and fill with sparkling lemonade.


  1. says

    Love seeing the pics of your little swimmers! I remember eating peanutbutter and pickle sandwiches with my grandma when I was little.
    I think the chix salad will have to make an appearance in our picnic basket next weekend when we hit the KC Shakespeare festival- a yearly tradition for us out here..It looks perfect!

    • says

      Aww, thanks Jennifer. I also ate Peanut Butter and Raisin sandwiches and someone told me about PB and Bacon. Funny those sandwiches we ate!

      I think you'd love the Chicken Salad. I love the moistness of the chicken chunks, the sweet cranberries and the texture. The festival sound like great fun. Hope you'll post about it!

  2. says

    Toni, It's been a long while since I've visited here…the makeover of your place is lovely! I can't say, however, which looks more refreshing — the swim, the chicken salad, or the summer lemonade cocktail. The best bet is all three, and the bright, sunny imagery of this post will leave positively indelible memories on your readers AND your children. Brava!

    • says

      Brooks! So great to have a visit from you! Funny you'd pop in on a post talking about my G'parents again sharing your locality. You must be psychic. I popped onto your website and it's spectacular! I'm so delighted you pursued taking your craft 'public' in a different way. I'm sure you have elevated so many people's events with your incredible cakes! Please don't be a stranger.

  3. Anna G says

    Why yes … it's a bit warm here in Boulder! We just moved here but I grew up on the Monterey Peninsula — we absolutely love it here but your post made me a little homesick. 🙂
    The local markets were wonderful back then — I miss Troia's …
    Chicken salad sounds perfect for tonight … with the Lemon vodka straight up!

    • says

      Welcome to Boulder! I must admit this is by far the hottest June I've experienced in the 10+ years we've been here. It's beastly and frankly makes me wonder what to expect for August temps when it is in the mid 90's several times this week!

      I love the Monterey Penninsula. In the 60's my grandparents built a house in Pebble Beach before it had the prestige it does now. We'd visit in the summer and I have so many memories of the beach and the surroundings. Little restaurants in Carmel. Monarch butterflies in Pacfic Grove. It's endless. When my grandmother passed away, the latest of the two of them I recall feeling that broke a tie I'd had to that area for years. It was like losing a friend to know I would not have a regular need to visit. I'm thinking this is probably really helping out your homesickness! Sorry!

      I miss all the little markets that have gone by the wayside though that interest seems back so maybe new ones will pop up. I'm pleased to shop at a darling small market in North Boulder that features lots of organics (without feeling like a health food store, now having a farm that supplies them, real butchers you can consult with, great high end and novelty products as well as fabulous customer service (Lucky's Market if you are interested). It's close to my neighborhood so it has a bit of that nostalgic feeling to 'shop small and local'.

      Please enjoy a lemony cocktail with lots of ice tonight!

  4. says

    Toni, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your memorable childhood story in your post. Takes me back to my childhood days, of “schmalz” sandwich…actually just on one piece of bread. My mom used to render chicken fat and saved it in a jar in the fridge, and re-use to cook with it. I loved it on a piece of fresh home baked bread slice. If that isn't strange, I don't know what is!

    Your photos, are lovely, as always, I love your chicken salad…I haven't made it like this in ages; although I did have a very similar recipe, and it called for curry powder, as well! The lemonade cocktail is awesome, and refreshing…love the pretty glasses!

    • says

      I love knowing about YOUR favorite sandwich Elisabeth! Do you ever make them now? I'm not sure why we loved them so but never make them for ourselves as adults?! I just flashed on my mother keeping bacon fat in an empty tin can to add back into other dishes. Funny how the tides have turned out of favor of those practices too.

      I think I've had a similar chicken salad as you describe and it was delicious. We in Colorado DO get temps in the 90's but usually more of a handful of days in August. This heat is making me want simple, cool food with little seasoning. Hope you are beating the heat as a heat-veteran in Florida! This cocktail would definitely help out! Thanks for popping by Elisabeth. Always love hearing from you!

  5. Cucina49 says

    Wow, that chicken salad is gorgeous and not overly mayonaisey. I swam as a teenager in the summer too–your post is making me nostalgic!

    • says

      On the swimmming I will say it does bring back alot of memories to watch children do it! I recall trying out for our neighborhood pool team between 3rd and 5th grade; diving straight into the outdoor pool early in the morning and it was completely freezing leaving me seizing for breath! Also at that time people ate jello mix (unmade) for 'energy'. Well of course we now know it was colored sugar basically. Always at a meet some kid would dump their jello into the pool leaving a colored, gelatinous glob floating underwater like an alien!

    • says

      The lettuce with sugar sandwich reminded me of my mom putting butter and sugar on white rice when I was a kid. Not as a dessert but as a dinner side dish. A memory blocked from my consciousness (with good reason). Glad times have changed and you won't be disappointed with the Chicken Salad!

  6. says

    My favorite sandwich as a kid was peanut butter, mayonnaise and bologna. I was a totally picky kid too and wouldn't try much but for some reason I tried it and loved it, not sure why my mother would have ever made it for me in the first place. Although her favorite sandwich was liverwurst and raspberry jam so I guess I just figured it out 🙂

    • says

      Very funny! I can't imagine combining bologna and PB either but clearly from the sandwich confessions it was a time with a different palate! I have not thought of liverwurst for more years than I care to admit!

  7. Cindy says

    I used to eat American cheese, green pepper and ketchup sandwiches. I think I'd rather have some of your chicken salad now! Cindy's Recipes and Writings

  8. ...... says

    my cousins use to eat a mayo banana and black pepper sammy. I thought it sounded so GROSS till i tried it then yumm. your post has me craving one. Another weird thing we ate canned pears with a dollop of mayo in the center sprinkled with parm cheese yep the stuff in the green can no less

    • says

      Ok the only think funnier than reading your comment was that when I read it aloud to my husband he perked up at the description of your 'salad' at the end and said '…..with walnuts!'. Apparently his Mom served the same thing but 'elevated it' with the nuts. I'll take my Mom's pear halves in lime jello I think!

      Do they even make the 'green can' anymore? What a great flashback, thank you!

  9. says

    First, swimming is the best! I loved it and really need to get back into it.
    Second, onion sandwich? Whattt!
    Third, I love chicken salad with cranberries and apples. The chicken salad we had growing up was tons of mayo and tiny chunks of chicken. Once I tasted the sweet tartness of cranberries in chicken salad – and way less mayo – there was no going back.

  10. says

    I'm choosing your chicken salad over the other sandwich options 😉 It sounds perfect!

    PS…my youngest sister went to the University of California Santa Cruz…somehow she found it more appealing than staying in Iowa! I can't blame her~


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