Summer is the time for picnics. Who wants to eat sandwiches in the snow? So take advantage of the next sunny day and go on a picnic! There’s nothing better than packing up a basket, finding the perfect spot and relaxing for the afternoon, lingering over food and good conversation. Even though a picnic should be relaxed and carefree, there are some things to keep in mind so everything runs smoothly.
Picking the perfect spot. Where you have your picnic is just as important as what you eat. I like a nice, shady spot under a large tree. Being of Irish/British heritage, my skin burns at the mere suggestion of sun, so maybe that’s the reason I like shady trees. But they are very romantic, as well. Try to find a patch of grass that is even and free of rocks and dry. This will prevent 1. your drinks from tipping over and 2. ending up with a wet butt, neither of which are very relaxing. Look out for poison ivy and ants. Calamine is not part of the perfect picnic. Neither are bugs, so you may want to pack some rosemary, cinnamon or citronella oil and dab it around the edge of the picnic blanket. This will keep the bugs away without making your picnic smell like nail polish remover. While you’re scouting the perfect spot, keep an eye out for 4 rocks to hold down the corners of your picnic blanket.
The Picnic Blanket. Don’t use your best blanket and try to avoid ones that are really wooly. This will get a bunch of grass and leaves stuck to it. You may also want to consider a liner to avoid the aforementioned wet butt. Sometimes grass seems dry, but as you sit down, your butt pushes the blanket into the ground, which soon absorbs more water than a Sham-Wow (I have a thing for infomercials lately). You can make a lined blanket yourself , or you can just throw a waterproof liner under it. You can use a tarp, a garbage bag (which is great, because when you’re done, just throw any garbage in the bag!) or even a shower curtain liner.
Packing the Basket. If you are planning on a picnic after hiking for a while, you’re going to want to avoid food that doesn’t travel well. This sounds like common sense, but many sandwiches don’t really travel well. You’ll want to avoid things that spoil easily, like mayo and potato salad, and things that make the bread mushy, like ripe tomatoes. You can still have tomatoes, but a sandwich is not really the best application for tomatoes at a picnic. Try to bring some unusual salads. Here are a few of my favourite picnic items:
1. Watermelon Salad. Combine cubed watermelon, sliced red onions, cubed feta and basil cut into chiffonade. Toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper.
2. Grilled Veggie Wraps. This is a great way to use of leftovers. Grill up some veggies. I like asparagus, portobellos, onions, peppers, eggplant and zucchini. Spread some whole wheat wraps with hummus, add the veggies and some arugula. Wrap tightly and then wrap in saran wrap.
3. Fried Chicken. This is great served cold at a picnic and another great way to use up leftovers.
4. New Potato Salad. Boil new potatoes until tender. Drain and when cool enough to handle, cut into halves. You want to dress the salad while hot, so suck it up, princess, and cut them while hot. It will absorb much more dressing that way. Add sliced red onion, whatever herbs you have and diced red peppers. Dress the salad with a vinaigrette made with lemon zest and juice, Dijon and grainy mustard, olive oil and salt and pepper. This salad is better if it sits for a day or so.
5. Couscous salad. Toss cooked couscous with lots of chopped parsley, sliced green onions, diced tomatoes, grated carrot, dried cranberries and a lemon vinaigrette. I’ve also made this salad with leftover quinoa.
Don’t forget beverages! This is a great time for homemade lemonade or iced tea. Freeze some of the beverage in an ice cube tray. That way, if the ice melts into the drink during transport, your drinks won’t be watered down in any way. You could also freeze a few water bottles and throw them into the basket. This will keep everything cool and when they melt, you’ll have nice, cold water. You could also bring some sparkling wine. That would be a nice way to add some “special occasion” flare to the picnic.
Relax and have a great time! The whole point of a picnic is to relax and enjoy your dining companions and nature. While the above ideas really help make it special, sitting in the backyard with your husband eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is fun too. A few luminaries (candles in paperbags), a couple bottles of beer, a blanket and a sunset are all you need to make a warm summer evening magical.