Picnics are a fabulous way to have a meal with friends and family. Sure, there can be challenges – ants, wasps, mosquitoes, maybe a bit of the beach ends up in your sandwich – but with wonderful weather and a pretty location, picnicking has a lot going for it. Even picnicking in your own garden or on a balcony has a romantic feel.
As with hosting any meal, there are ways to ensure the outing is a success.
Be kind to the environment and use sustainable, disposable plates or plates from home. I love fancy wicker picnic baskets, but they are not practical. Carrying a heavy picnic basket may be good for your arms, but it means you cannot go far. Use a cooler. It will keep everything chilled and has two handles so you can share the carrying. Put bulkier items on the bottom and more fragile items on top. Pack the tablecloth last – it looks good and helps protect the food. And don’t forget to pack a cloth or wet napkins for spills and sticky hands. Bring a knife and a cutting board. Limit what you carry by using containers that double as serving dishes.
Provide an eclectic mix of food. Bring dishes that can be eaten with fingers or a fork only. Nobody wants to have to cut food while balancing a plate on their lap.
Buy interesting breads. I love sourdough baguettes for picnics. Tortilla wraps also work, as do crackers. Bring sandwich fillings, such as egg and tuna, but don’t make the sandwiches ahead. They can become soggy.
Make things easy by using some store-bought picnic fare. Buy grilled vegetables and toss with in-season cherry tomatoes (yellow sun gold are wonderful). Buy pesto or eggplant dip and mix to taste with mayonnaise or yogurt for a dip or to slather on your sandwiches.
Cheese and charcuterie platters are another great option. Everything travels well, makes a great sandwich on a baguette and is easy to buy. Avoid creamy cheeses for a picnic because they can become very soft.
Salad greens wilt so marinated vegetables and dips are a better choice. If you are taking salad dressing or other condiments, package them separately and add them at the picnic site.
Mason jars are excellent for picnics. You can make an interesting combination with grains, yogurt and fruit to both carry and serve in small mason jars.
Freeze drinks the day before. The containers will act as ice packs and by the time you sit down to eat, the drinks will be defrosted but chilly. If you’re bringing wine, wrap the bottle in newspaper to hold its temperature. Buy screw top wine for easier use.
Stay away from foods that spoil easily. Anything with whipping cream is a problem. Avoid dishes with raw eggs, but don't worry too much about store-bought mayonnaise – it does not spoil easily. Precooked meats and fish should be well chilled. Refrigerate all food for two to four hours before packing. At the picnic, keep food out of direct sunlight.
To avoid wasps, keep food covered or, when the first one arrives, trap it under a glass. It cannot go back to its home to tell other wasps about the food. Simple but true. And don’t forget mosquito repellent.
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