Though summer is starting to feel the elbow of fall, I’m still in a picnic kind of mood (to be honest, I’m ALWAYS in a picnic mood). I’m sure we have at least a few more of these soft, blowsy days left here in Seattle, where we’re enjoying the height of Northwest summer time. It’s the kind of sultry, seductive weather that makes it a sin not to take your food into the garden or onto the water.
And why do we make the effort to serve food and drink on a sandy towel at the beach, out of the trunk of the car, or anywhere except from the convenience of the kitchen? The answer lies in the alchemy. All food tastes better seasoned with fresh air and the dappled light of a shade tree.
Another reason I love picnics is the way they encourage slower paced socializing. Slow food for sure. Once you’ve staked out a patch of sandy beach or soft meadow, or the table in the backyard, you don’t need to do anything more challenging than adjusting the umbrella and manning the corkscrew.
And the focus isn’t on fancy food. The picnic meal that fits well into my hand is crafted of simple recipes and great ingredients from the farmer’s market: a crescent of melon-scented Mimolette cheese, crusty nut bread, my tahini roasted chicken and plums dipped in dark, dark Theo chocolate. Avec Rosé, bien sur.
20 tips for the Pro Piquenique-iste !
Equipment and Decor
- “The Essential Picnic Kit” (things every picnic basket should include): Salt, pepper, sugar, a small all-purpose knife, a corkscrew, a can opener, matches, paper towels, trash bags, wet wipes, bug repellent and sunscreen.
- Coolers: Lightweight, soft-sided coolers are the most convenient. My favorites have a metal frame on wheels. They keep the food just as cold as the heavy, rigid ones and they are lighter and fold up for storage! I’ve found nice ones at club stores.
- Umbrellas: Since picnics are rarely held in cool weather (intentionally), a lightweight, folding umbrella is a must. At the very least, to shade the food and, at the very best, some of the guests as well.
- Ice-packs: Purchase several flexible, re-usable ones—they’re the best for picnics (and also useful for sprained ankles.) . These are filled with a re-freezable gel and are most common in a 4”x 8” size that has a chilling effect equal to a 2-pound bag of ice. This is a very sustainable choice for chilling.
- Cell Phone: Essential for any well-organized picnic planner (as if it would ever be out of your pocket, anyway)
- Flexible Cutting Board: Always pack two. They take up practically no room and will prove indispensable.
- Lightweight, Folding Chairs: Great for anyone who isn’t comfortable sitting on the ground. Since it’s not practical to tote one for everyone, they are a VIP item.
- A plastic, child’s game table or two. You will use them over and over as a small buffet or worktable whether on the beach or in a park.
- Good looking, re-usable plastic tumblers and stemmed wine glasses. Glass is often impractical and flimsy plastic glassware can sap the elegance right out of a special meal. This is also the most sustainable choice.
- A basket of pretty paper or lace fans is a practical décor element. Paper umbrellas are nice touch,too. All of these can be used over and over.
- Build a collection of lengths of washable fabric in beautiful patterns (at least 4 yards each) to drape around tables or coolers and from tree to tree to create privacy. Find this at tag sales.
- Purchase used comforters at tag sales or rummage sales that may not be good enough for a bedroom but that make sweet picnic blankets.
- Pack condiments in small containers rather than taking whole jars.
- Pack everything possible in light, flexible, heavy-duty Ziploc bags. Take them home to rinse and re-use.
- Pre-cut easy finger-food sized portions. Perfect picnic food is easy to eat without utensils.
- Take citronella candles to ward off flying insects.
- Food tents or covers (a rigid frame covered with net, large enough to cover 1 platter or bowl) are excellent to keep flies and hornets out of the potato salad. With these you won’t be tempted to use toxic sprays. These are available in various sizes, either rigid or collapsible, at kitchenware and hardware stores such as Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma.
- Pack the ice for beverages in heavy-duty plastic bags and tuck it around the food. That way it serves double duty—chilling the food until you need it for drinks.
- Put the cooler inside the car (where the air conditioning is running) not in the hot trunk.
- If the picnic is being held in a private area, a portable iPod player is a wonderful way to add Chopin or Miles Davis to lunch. Skip this touch if others might be disturbed by your tunes.