A Movable Feast
MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
Summertime is the best time for a picnic, but the essentials of this casual, usually outdoors, meal can bring magic to any old day. Start with easy-to-eat treats you’ve prepared ahead and throw down a blanket or quilt. Spend time sitting cross-legged and nibbling healthy foods with your kids and let the fun begin!
Follow these basic dos and don’ts:
• Do pack sunscreen and insect repellant.
• Don’t plan to take pets on your first outing as they will add a layer of complexity.
• Do choose a picnic location that is nearby—you don’t have to go far to have an adventure.
• Don’t worry about things being perfect when just being interesting and fun will work!
What Makes a Picnic?
Whether you pack your picnic gear in a fashionable wicker basket, a plastic tote or a small backpack, the key is to keep things simple and be prepared. One of the pleasures of picnics is the idea that things are already ready, easy to serve and fun to eat.
Make a variety of sandwiches at home and cut them into quarters so kids can sample different flavors. Or be creative and make the cool picnic meal ideas below. Choose a few non-perishable snack items for nibbling, like carrot sticks with ranch dip, crackers and cheese, or dried fruit to round out your main course.
If picnicking outdoors, you can revive childhood games like “Red Light, Green Light” or freeze tag. Indoors, try “Simon Says” or “20 Questions.” Even when weather keeps the picnic indoors, you’ll have a memorable afternoon.
Whether you grill out for your picnic or not, having a substantial main course is important. Although you can make a picnic out of a variety of snack foods, the idea of a hearty entrée will make the meal more appealing. Try delicious summer sandwiches, with an assortment of favorites: egg salad, tuna salad, asparagus or cucumber, or a foot-long Italian sub that you make at home and cut to serve.
Health alert! Most fresh foods will spoil if left out of refrigeration too long and if exposed to airborne bacteria. Take care to keep all fresh foods in a cooler or packed with ice packs. Eating them early in the day and discarding leftovers will help keep the picnic party healthy and safe.
Make sure you have these indispensable items:
Picnic tote: Even if you don’t have a traditional wicker basket, just about any lightweight, roomy tote will work. Try using a cloth grocery bag or a plastic storage crate.
Blanket or quilt to throw on the ground: Choose something thick or padded to take the edge off hard ground and small stones. Clear the area of rocks and watch out for anthills or other critters on the ground.
Cooler for storing fresh foods: Don’t stress about the freshness of your food by ensuring that it stays cool right up until you serve it. Pack refreezable ice packs or fill zip-top bags with ice cubes that can be plopped into cold drinks. Save the empty bags in your freezer for next time.
Tableware: Opt for sturdy reusable plastic cups, plates and utensils. After the picnic, store them in your picnic tote and you’ll be ready for next time.
Utensils: Bring a knife and small cutting board, serving spoons or spatula, corkscrew or bottle opener. Don’t forget the napkins; if you prefer not to use cloth, look for ones made from recycled paper.
Cleanup: Bring a kitchen-sized garbage bag to take home all trash. Never leave litter in your picnic spot. Moist towelettes get small hands ready for eating and cleanup afterward. Bring a roll of paper towels for quick cleanups.
Environmentally yours: Just because you have a meal away from home doesn’t mean you have to go through a ton of disposables. Choose reusable plastic plates and utensils then toss them (after you’ve scraped leftovers into the trash) into a plastic grocery bag when you’re done to keep them from dirtying your picnic container on the ride home. A simple wash-up at home will get them ready for next time.
Plain and simple, a picnic is a meal eaten out of doors, but you can make a picnic out of any old meal, whether indoors or out.
Picnic menu ideas
These tasty morsels cut and serve like brownies for a savory addition to any picnic menu.
1 can creamed corn
1 can corn, drained
1 or 2 green onions/scallions, white bulb and green tops, thinly sliced
1 8 ounce carton sour cream or plain yogurt
1 stick butter, melted
1 box Jiffy corn bread mix
1 cup sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
Combine all ingredients except cheese and stir until blended. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees in 9-by-13-inch pan. Top with cheese and bake 5 to 10 minutes more, just to melt the cheese. Let cool slightly before cutting into squares.
Easy to prepare, these pastries will make any picnic special. Fill with your family’s favorite protein (meat, legume or tofu) or vegetable.
1 can of refrigerator biscuits (like Pillsbury, or use your own recipe for rolled biscuits)
1 pound ground beef, pork, sausage or combination (can substitute same amount of cooked beans, crumbled hard tofu, or diced vegetables, like carrots, potatoes, broccoli)
1 small onion, diced
Salt or pepper to taste
Pinch or two of spices, like Italian herbs, Mexican seasoning, if desired
1 beaten egg
Saute onion and meat until browned (or vegetables until tender. If using beans, mash them slightly). Add spices and salt or pepper to taste. Drain excess liquids and set aside to cool.
Remove biscuits from can and separate. Roll each biscuit on a floured cutting board or counter. (If you don’t have a rolling pin, use an empty glass bottle that has been dusted with flour.) Each biscuit should be rolled until it is about the size of a slice of bread.
Place a scoop of filling onto half of the rolled biscuit and fold over in half to cover filling. The pastry will resemble a half-circle. Using the tines of a fork press firmly along the circular edge to seal. Brush with the beaten egg and bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 350 degrees until golden brown. Set aside to cool, then pack.
Cool and sweet, this tossed salad uses seasonal fruits and berries for a delicious finish to a picnic meal. Use a combination of at least three of the fruits below.
1 pint strawberries
½ pint blueberries, raspberries or blackberries, if desired
3 to 4 bananas
½ cantaloupe or honeydew melon
2 apples, peeled and cored
Grapes, cut in half
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Dried cranberries or raisins, about a handful
The night before the picnic, wash and cut strawberries then freeze them in a shallow layer in a freezer-proof container. The morning of the picnic, rinse other berries, drain and set aside. Peel and cut bananas or apples into bite-sized pieces and toss in a bowl with lemon juice, then drain, reserving about a tablespoon of juice. Cut melon into bite-sized chunks and drain. Combine all fruits, except frozen strawberries in a large plastic bowl with lid. Stir brown sugar with lemon juice then drizzle onto the fruit mixture. Place frozen strawberries on other fruit and toss dried fruit on top. At the picnic, stir well to combine and serve. Strawberries should be thawed and will keep the fruit salad cool until ready to serve.
Sami Arseculeratne Martinez, who has a grown son and daughter, lives in Hamilton with her husband, three cats and assorted backyard wildlife.