July 21, 2005
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A picnic ó itís romance with ants
But the real test of your love and devotion is how you
pack that puppy
by Amy Diaz
The picnic is the
ultimate romantic gesture.
It takes all the
just-you-and-me vibe of a restaurant and moves it into what for us in
New Hampshire this year is the rare jewel that is the sunny day. A
blanket on the ground and a few well-chosen goodies and you can have a
mini-vacation over lunch or dinner.
Amore, with flies
Key, of course, to the
picnic is picking the right time and place to have it.
Obviously, rain is a
picnic killer but so is humidity or an abundance of insects of any kind.
Pick a location away from standing water to cut down on mosquitoes and
try for a day with a light breeze. Also, keep in mind that an afternoon
picnic is most charming for its distance from dusk, when all manner of
attack-oriented bugs seem to appear. As we head into fall (I know, I
hate to bring it up but itís right there), slightly cool weather will
provide perfect picnic opportunity; just remember to bring a sweater for
you and your fellow picnicker.
Also, should you
actually be going for romance, picnics in high-traffic locations
(directly next to a playground or ballfield, a park favored by dogs) can
make an already coordination-requiring situation an extra difficult
Once you pick your
spot, make sure you have ground cover. Even if you arenít in flowy,
easily stained attire, the whole sitting-on-the-ground scenario is much
easier with a blanket. Try for something roughly the size of a full-bed
sized comforter (an old comforter is actually my picnic blanket of
choice as it allows for just an extra bit of padding).
Now, of course, comes
the basket. Personally, Iím more of a milk-crate-having person than a
basket owner. So, I improvise. Those canvas tote bags that organizations
like to give away during trade shows and pledge drives are actually good
picnic companions as they are usually sturdy, large enough to carry a
bottle of wine and washable should there be any spills. The sturdy,
nylon-handle-having shopping bags stores give out are good for one-time
use (though frequently not large enough). In addition to the obvious
(backpacks, clean gym bags, small carry-on luggage), try turning food
containers into their own, collapsible picnic baskets by tying three
Tupperwares together with enough extra string to serve as a handle
(think the old shopping boxes or book belt look). Later, when the food
is gone and the containers are empty, you can put the smaller ones
inside each other and only have to carry one out.
Whatís in your basket?
Pack for convenience.
Hereís the key with
picnic eats ó finger foods but not fast foods.
This means that, no
matter how much easier it may seem, no stopping at Burger King for your
food. Instead, focus on foods, whether homemade or bought at a
restaurant or store, that will do well at any temperature.
Pre-cut fruits (packed
near ice or cold items) work best when packed dry, thus slowing down the
mushing effect. Pack particularly juicy fruits (melons, citrus) apart
from more self-contained fruits such as berries, apples and grapes.
Salads are OK, but only
if you plan to eat shortly after arriving at the picnic site and only if
you can keep the dressing separate until right before eating (otherwise
lettuce will wilt). Also, on very hot days, stick to vinaigrettes and
light citrus-based dressings as creamy dressings will go bad sooner.
Cheese is an excellent
picnic food (especially if the basket also has room for a bottle of
chilled white, rose or Rioja wine) but minimize the work. Pre-cut hard
cheeses (parmesan, asiago, gouda) and bring soft cheeses that can be
enjoyed with just the slice of a cracker (Triscuits are a nice sturdy
Sandwiches are perfect
for picnics because of their hand-held nature. Wrap the sandwich half
way in wax or parchment paper to ensure easier, cleaner eating. Go for
heartier breads for sandwiches with more toppings and/or toast bread
lightly to avoid mushiness from oil, mayonnaise or moisture from
Your picnic, their meal
On the other hand, all
that preparation might not fit the spontaneous nature of your picnic.
In that case, look for
For the lunchtime
picnic (a great way to have a mid-day date that really gets you away
from the worries of the office), try subs or wraps (which are usually
freshly made and easy to eat sans plate or utensils). To avoid the salad
wilt, try a plate of vegetables instead. Most lunch places that sell
salads might also be talked into creating a highly totable arrangement
of pre-cut vegetables and dip.
Pasta salads are a nice
way to get some of the salad flavors without the wilt of lettuce; and
soup, well difficult in a bowl, can be a warming delicious and easy -to-
eat part of your meal if served in a large coffee cup (which is usually
about the size of a small soup cup).
For dinner, just about
any restaurant is willing to give you your favorite dishes to go. Keep
in mind, of course, that your lap will be your tablecloth so you might
want to skip the puttanesca or steak and stick to dishes that only
require a fork. A pizza can take up a lot of picnic-blanket land mass
but a calzone is compact and just as filling. Or, stick with finger
foods and get your favorite restaurant to pack a few of its appetizers.
Even in a take-home box, the presentation can be impressive and youíll
look like a gourmet even if your kitchen only features delivery menus
and ketchup packets.
And donít forget
dessert but donít worry about having to overdose on fancy either.
Cheesecakes may sweat and ice cream may melt if the wait is long enough
but the simple chocolate chip cookies and raspberries or the light sugar
wafers with wine will last forever and seem inspired.
After all, everything
tastes better outside.
Where to get the goodies
Any major supermarket
will offer containers of cut-up fruit, salads and even sandwiches to go.
But for something a little extra special head to:
Angelaís Pasta &
Cheese Shop, 815 Chestnut St., Manchester. Prepackaged entrees,
sides and salads are available daily and, bonus, Angelaís even has
plastic forks and napkins.
Trader Joeís, 440
Middlesex Road, Tynsborough, Mass. Prepackaged Middle Eastern plates
(hummus, tabouleh, pita and falafel) make for an exotic treat.
135 Main St., Nashua, 880-6200. Chilled soups, available in to-go
packaging, are a cool addition to a summer meal (call for
819 Union St., Manchester. Small and large tortes, slices of cake
and other goodies will make for a happy ending to your outing.
Kayís Bakery, 443
Lake Ave., Manchester. Have a Greek-themed picnic. Pick up some
spanakopeta (spinach and feta pastry) and baklava (nutty,
honey-filled pieces of-heaven pastry).
215 Main St., Nashua. Say it with beautifully crafted,
individual-sized chocolate or fruit tortes.
Not your average pic-a-nic basket
The difference between
just taking some food outside and a full-fledged picnic is the basket.
A brown paper sack may
be charming for elementary schoolers and that Victoriaís Secret bag is,
yes, very funny but to do up your picnic right, you really need
something a little closer to what Little Red Riding Hood was toting to
grandmaís. And while the baskets might look snazzy, their real success
is in keeping your picnic fixings from too much jostling.
For the simple, wicker
picnic basket of romantic poems and spring days, get ready to shell out
some bucks or be prepared to wait for Easter when stores feature baskets
aplenty. For a cheap but tidy version of the picnic carryall try the
Coleman Multi-Use Basket ($9.99). Itís not tremendously romantic but
itís mesh, itís collapsible and itís resilient. And itís likely to fit
the rolled up blanket and that bottle of wine.
OK, it looks a little
more like luggage than something you take your lunch in but the wicker
picnic basket for four from Gift Warehouse ($32.99) comes with sturdy
and stylish red plastic cups, plates and utensils and features the very
Mary-Anne-from-Gilliganís-Island red gingham lining. Flatter and wider
means it makes for a nice eating surface as well, though be careful when
you pack to remember that youíll be turning the basket vertical to carry
it (no putting heavy stuff near the handle).
Who knew the
old-fashioned picnic basket was such a chi-chi item? For the nostalgic,
be prepared to shell out $59.99 for the sporty striped picnic basket
from Nantucket. Apparently that 1900 look comes with a 2005 price tag,
but, hey, you do get the little flaps on either side.
Or you could really
pull out all the stops and get the Picnic Time Canterbury Willow Basket
for two ($99.99). All-singing, all-dancing, all-thermos-having, this
picnic basket might be better outfitted than your kitchen and, with all
the straps, expert at keeping all your edibles and utensils in place.
(All prices according