Four Ways to Foray into the Perfect Picnicking
Whether you’re on vacation or just decompressing at home, nothing quite beats a day of activity rewarded by a dinner out—some drinks, some filling food, perhaps a little dessert. With the unique feel of a nice restaurant or a favorite local dive off limits these days, many of us are trying to find different and interesting ways to wrap up a day on the trails or on a bike with a bang. Take-out is a nice treat, but bringing it back to eat out of Styrofoam trays on the couch at home can be a bit deflating. And cooking up an intricate spread is never a waste of time, but if you can’t host a dinner party to enjoy it, there is hardly the same reward. But what if you could build an extraordinary meal into your day outdoors? With a little bit of preparation and a touch of nice weather, picnicking outside can be an unbeatable dining experience and maybe the perfect way to wind down after a winding day.
Get off the Beaten Track: But Not Too Far Off It
The ideal picnic spot should be both beautiful and accessible. There might be the most spectacular view on that little rocky outcropping way up on the Matterhorn, but if the kids and Grandma can’t get there, it’s hardly a workable picnic spot; and vice versa, the back of a gas station might be a really convenient meeting spot, but hardly the spectacular setting for a romantic evening. Look for prearranged picnic areas along your hiking or biking route or scope out the route a few days before and find a nice clearing or a sweet open vista to set up at. Be sure there’s at least some flat ground, and enough space for folks to physically distance themselves if need be!
Be Seated, or Bring Your Own Seating
Many of the best spots for outdoor dining have already been discovered; in which case, there will likely be picnic tables, benches, grills and the various large equipment and accoutrement you might need. If you are feeling a tad more adventurous though, get down to earth and pack a large, thick blanket on which to eat. Or, if you want to raise the game a little, perhaps bring some folding chairs. Most folding camp chairs will tuck nicely into a large backpack—but be sure to plan ahead. If it is a serious trek to your picnic spot, maybe opt for the lighter blanket option. If it’s a short little jaunt, go all out, and bring chairs and maybe even a folding table!
Setting the Table: Think Small, Live Large
Both in the interest of packing light and of not contributing to the waste stream, consider using bamboo flatware for your outdoor mise en place, plus compostable plastic or hot paper cups. The right variety of disposable plates and utensils can look wonderfully grand on a simple white paper tablecloth. If the picnic is an evening affair, don’t forget to pack some light sources. An electric lantern is a functional tool, but some bug repelling candles, tiki torches or a classic campfire shed light, keep away critters, and lend your meal a special outdoor ambiance.
Finding the Food: Follow your Gut
The carry out food scene during this pandemic is a surprisingly exciting and wide-ranging field of options. Since we don’t have space to cover it all here, be sure to look into the specific offerings near your picnic spot for great deals, delivery options or other ideas!
Restaurants have transformed their standard menus into take-out and delivery menus, which means an unprecedented availability of top-notch picnic food. Do think about which of your desired dishes travel best: pasta, steak and potatoes, a vegetable ratatouille or chicken and rice can all get jostled without worry, but something like a sandwich, tacos or an ornate layer cake is likely to have some dings by the time you dig in. Soup is also a wonderful option but be sure to relocate it from the flimsy plastic take-out container to a more hike or bike-worthy thermos. Consider calling your favorite eatery and asking for your meal to be hot upon pickup, so that it will be pleasantly warm when you bite into it. Also consider an insulated tote bag for hauling your goodies: though restaurants will sometimes provide these, they are a worthwhile investment for both summer and winter food-carrying.
Or, of course, you can prepare and pack your own food! A simple rice or pasta salad might be a good cold dish on a hot day, and, crucially, is quick to make and easy to transport. Appetizers like a cheese board, crackers and olives or sausage also go a long way to jazzing up a picnic table and are guaranteed crowd pleasers.
And last but not least, let’s talk liquids. It’s a hot day and you’ve worked your body and covered some serious ground, so don’t forget to hydrate. Pack as much water as you can fit, and then some. But, don’t forget you need to reward yourself too! Pack a few crisp wheat beers or ice-cold summer shandies, some sparkling wine, or the fixings for your favorite cocktail. Some ice and a small cooler or lunchbox should be plenty to keep a few drinks cool.