When I was a child, my mother would announce an outing and all seven of us would morph into little Mexican Jumping Beans, excitedly gathering supplies. My mother’s picnics weren’t fancy affairs. An old blanket or sheet was the foundation. Wonder Bread, French’s mustard and bologna were not infrequently the main course. Nutter Butters were our idea of dessert. Jars of Country Time lemonade served as libation. High mountain lakes, ice-cold fishing streams and alpine meadows formed the setting.
We intrepid explorers spent entire days outdoors, imagining sometimes that we were frontier mountain men or dukes and duchesses or that we were in fact The Boxcar Children from Gertrude Chandler Warner’s famous books. I recall that these picnics occurred regardless of the weather. I can just hear my mother scolding us to “GET OUTSIDE!”. I find myself saying this to my kids all the time. But they don’t like mosquitos, or the “sweaty weather”, as they call humidity.
Laura Boyd is the Director of Catering at Tastings Gourmet Market, a boutique European style specialty shop specializing in imports from France, Spain, Greece and Italy that is located in the Clocktower Plaza in Annapolis, Maryland.
She is an excellent planner, having managed events for Presidential inaugurations, and a fantastic cook, having recently graduated from Ireland’s famous Ballymaloe Cookery School. Laura is exceptionally beautiful, witty and smart. She is also a terrifically creative perfectionist. I love us Type A folks who have a left brain bent. Anway, you can always count on Laura for good ideas that can be executed without drama. I was busy on assignment in Baltimore, so Laura recently helped me come up with several ideas for gourmet picnic excursions in these last days of summer.
Lets start with some tips, then we can move on to menus and recipes.
LAURA BOYD’S TIPS FOR AN IDYLLIC PICNIC
1. Keep your menu simple and succinct. If you get too embroiled in details, the idea of the picnic loses its luster. As you build the menu, keep in mind that a picnic isn’t a heavy dinner. In fact, you will be quite dull and tired with too much food in the heat. Aim to be more than stingy and less than gorged.
2. Pre-roll flatware in cloth napkins that match your theme, then tie with raffia or ribbon– this way you are sure to pack exactly what you need for each guest, the utilitarian utensils look nice and they are also easy to pack.
Here is another crafty idea for organizing utensils. Kids love these easy-to-make projects, which you can do with duct tape or dashi tape. I used a Trader’s Joe’s bag to make bundles with Gemma. We have also sewn recycled totes and made them fancy with fancy with specialty fabric and trim. You don’t even have to sew the fancy settings–I let Cameron carefully use fabric glue.
3. Bring paper grocery bags or plastic garbage bags to make clean-up easy. At the end of your picnic, simply line your now empty tote with the bag and pile in your used dishes, glassware, etc.
4. Bring a large cutting board to create a “table-top” feel for food or drinks. Sam’s Club has nice sized white boards for about $10.
5. Without a tabletop, it’s important that eating is made easy for guests – be sure to package food in easy-to-hold boxes or use small plates with fork only (don’t choose foods that require both fork and knife, as eating will be cumbersome).
6. Try serving foods in jars or take-out boxes rather than on plates. Both are available at stores like Michael’s, Crate & Barrel or local art shops.
I used John Deere tractor boxes from birthdayexpress.com to make a picnic for Cameron and his friends. He still loves them and I use them for all sorts of picnicing excursions.
When we got back from Hawaii I ordered these funky shirt bags from Oriental Express for a luau themed lunch. Gemma of course loves these. They aren’t very big–perfect for a couple of items or even to hold a single serving of dessert in a jar.
These retro boxes hold quite alot. My kids like the idea of a McD’s Happy Meal, so I fill these boxes with a picnic and activites for long car rides. I can’t remember where I got them, but I suspect it was Oriental Trading or Party City. You can also try Amazon for several different styles.
7. Consider building salads in layers in a squat jar or Chinese take-out box, both available at Michael’s. Offer a tablespoon or two of dressing in separate containers. Guests can dress and “toss” their salads fresh-to-order, so the food won’t be limp or wilted.
One of my chief peeves with this method is that cooks often over-stuff the jar, so you have to awkardly dig down to get to the good stuff. Then there is no hope whatsoever of mixing things together.
Remember to leave space between layers. I like the recipes on this website, many of which can be packed for a picnic http://www.fatgirltrappedinaskinnybody.com/2011/10/salad-in-a-jar-src/
8. Go for the vinaigrette over the dairy-based dressing. Dressings made with raw eggs or mayonnaise nee to be kept cold. If you can find a way to do that, then bring the deviled eggs on. If not, skip it and save yourself the need for a barf bag and jumbo sized bottle of Tums. Not romantic!
9. For easy transport, try pre-bottling beverages in small canning jars with lids. Just fill and screw on the lid, toss in a cooler or insulated tote with ice. This way, drinks are a breeze! No need to worry about pitchers, transporting fragile glasses, or clean-up! Cocktails look wonderful in jars. Bring fun straws for a festive touch. I also like to pack crushed ice in jars or freeze water bottles to help keep foods cold AND have what you need for beverages on site.
I am going to do a post on all the fun things you can do with ice. Have some wine or cocktail left over? Pour it into an ice tray or mold and use it another time!
10. Use blankets, pillows, boxes, chairs and whatever else you need to set the mood. Take a couple of your lawn or patio cushions and enjoy a langorous nap. Lie a tarp on the ground and let the kids spread their sleeping bags. Who cares if they get a little dirty? I especially love my wool Pendleton blankets because they are durable and just retro-camo cool.
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