The date on the calendar may be April 14, but here in our neck of the woods we have already had several days of beautiful warm weather that could fool you into thinking summer had arrived. On our daily walks around Kirby Park, Mr. Smith and I have noticed more people gathering on blankets and at picnic tables, sharing conversation and food. With large indoor gatherings still questionable, heading outdoors for a picnic has never been more enticing.
Al fresco dining is one of the great pleasures of summer and if you are looking to fancy up the experience a bit this summer, you are in good company. Yet I still long for the time when I can give an indoor dinner party complete with eye-catching tablescapes and party favors, but until then, al fresco it is!
I don’t have a footman standing by to lug rugs, pillows and hampers packed by the kitchen staff to the pastoral picnic setting, but I can still make it special. One of my first dates with Mr. Smith was a walk and picnic at Kensington Metro Park in Milford, Michigan. I did have a tablecloth, but not much else. I remember spending an inordinate amount of time in a fancy kitchen store at Kerrytown in Ann Arbor, choosing just the right cloth napkins for our outing.
Once you have your perfect napkins and have chosen the location and date for your picnic, I have just a few simple tips you may want to follow:
- In a nod to Mother Earth, forget about paper and plastic. If you are concerned about breakage or the weight of your ceramic dinnerware, you could go with enamel. I love the charm of mixing a bit of the formal – cloth tablecloth, napkins and special dishes – with the rustic atmosphere.
- Keep the food simple and picnic friendly. Points for anything that doesn’t need onsite prep. Kabobs, salads, cheeseboards, the possibilities are endless. I found several things I want to try in 22 Summer Recipes for the Perfect Picnic from The Spruce Eats. I see mini cheesecakes in a jar in my future.
- Nature = bugs. Plan for this and have a strategy. Containers with lids or mesh screen bowl covers could save the day.
- Take along a good cooler. No bad mayo or lukewarm drinks on your picnic, unless of course it’s red wine.
- Bring something to do. The scintillating conversation may lag at some point. That is the time you could pull out a simple trivia game, coloring books for adults and kids or a frisbee.
I appreciate the allure of the romantic picnic blanket. A bottle of wine, perhaps a book of poetry and of course no bugs would dare invade my fantasy. But my 65-year-old body prefers to sit in a chair, or at least a bench at a table. I also understand the attraction of a fancy picnic basket, but it is not a necessity. I owned a simple antique basket with a handle that I packed our picnics in for years. Sadly, the handle gave out last year and I haven’t replaced it yet. Last road trip, I simply put the items I wanted in a reusable wine bag that was a giveaway at our local grocery. I cut out the inside bottle separators and packed my plates, glasses, napkins and tablecloth. It worked just fine, but I am keeping my eye out for another basket.
This may be the summer of picnics, but I believe it will also be the summer of road trips. Mr. Smith and I are road warriors from way back, and whenever possible we pack a picnic to have along the way. All road trips need a break so you can stretch your legs and refresh. For me, there is nothing refreshing about being stuck with whatever fast food you might find along the way. Apps like Roadtrippers can assist you in planning your road trip and finding cool “off the beaten path” places along your route.
The English word picnic derives from the French pique nique. The meaning was similar to today’s meaning – a social gathering where everyone brings a share of the food. And we know the French know how to gather and eat. And they also know how to dress. I’ll be on the lookout for some fabulous pink picnic shoes of my own! Ooh la la…
C’est la vie.