My husband lives for picnics. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s the fresh air. Perhaps it’s the change of scenery. Perhaps it’s the lack of washing up afterward.
Whatever the reason, this is my ideal picnic, complete with fun lights and an amazing dessert.
Eat your greens
First, there is an enormous salad. Our farmer's market sells pre-made organic salads complete with marigolds and other pretty, pretty flowers. They tend to add a bit of a peppery taste to the salad, which is nice, but it is the wonderful burst of color that grabs me. So I always buy one.
Of course, if your market doesn’t sell pre-made salad, you'll have to make your own. I suggest you just grab whatever greens pique your attention: Boston, red leaf, Bibb, romaine, spinach, and so on (if you are interested, of these, I am on a bit of a romaine kick these days — I like the peppery under taste). Then, to this, I add one or two speciality greens for more flavor, such as arugula (which is even more peppery than romaine) or watercress.
Next, throw in anything else that looks good. Mushrooms, of course, are always wonderful, as are red peppers, cucumbers, and all the usual suspects. But don’t stop there. I’ve added silvered almonds and thinly sliced oranges to some salads. Quartered apples (rinsed in a bit of lemon juice to keep them from turning brown) and seedless purple grapes to others. And everything from chopped fennel and walnuts to shredded fresh basil, feta, olives, onions and so on to other salads.
(As a matter of fact, salads are a great place to use up odd bits of vegetables, just as long as they are still nicely fresh.)
As for dressing, these days, I’m happy with just a splash of balsamic vinegar. But, whatever you use, I recommend you don't put it on until you are ready to eat otherwise everything will get soggy.
Big on bread
Our market also sells a pear, blue cheese, walnut bread that is so good it may very well make it into my your-last-meal-ever list. Failing that, however, I’d go with the freshest, crustiest baguette I can find. A local bakery makes a seeded version that is so fresh it sends shards of crust flying through the air every time you rip off a piece.
Cheese away your hunger
A creamy goat cheese, a smooth Jarlsberg, an extra sharp cheddar, a stinky blue cheese . . . whatever you are in the mood for, add to your pile of goodies (just make sure it gets a prized place next to the ice pack in your picnic basket so it stays nice and cool).
God is in the details
A small bottle of fruity olive oil, a tiny container of sea salt and another of freshly ground pepper (well, freshly ground when I was packing!), a tiny container of capers (marvelous sprinkled on the salad), and, again, any other goodies that look nice and tasty.
Yeah, it may be excessive, but I believe a thing worth doing is worth doing well. And we like to eat.
The best deserts, for me, are fresh fruit and sweet bread. Fresh fruit you can often find at a roadside stand. Berries are my first choice. As for sweet breads, I just discovered an amazing family bakery based in Atlanta. Called Breadwinner, they deliver loaves that are incredibly moist and delicious and, hey, just look at that ingredient list. Not a chemical or a preservative or even the merest hint of that nasty high fructose corn syrup to be found. Woo hoo!
My favorite so far is the pumpkin bread (ingredient list: Flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, spices, vegetable oil, water, eggs, pumpkin).
Sure, you can make your own, but, hey, who wants to turn on the oven in this heat?
And finally . . .
With the setting sun, you will certainly need a light source, and while candles are divine, they are impossible to keep lit if there is any breeze at all and hurricane lanterns are so breakable and ... well, let me introduce you to the sun jar.
A sun jar is this neat light you make with a mason jar and a battery and . . . erm, other stuff . . . that collects light during the day and emits a wonderful hazy light at night (can you say romantic?). If you're up for the challenge, you can certainly make your own. But, if you're more like me (erm, challenged), you can buy a truly wonderful version of this at SuckUK (the Sun Jar, with it's rustic mason jar look, seems thematically perfect to me for an almost vegetarian picnic, but if you prefer something a bit edgier, try their Glow Brick which also recharges with sunlight, but which has either a blue or a green light).
Finally, I always bring a thermos of coffee that has been pre-doctored with sugar and cream (ideal as the ocean breezes start coming ashore), cloth napkins (they work much better than paper and are better for the environment), paper plates made from recycled materials, a knife or two for the cheeses, and a paper bag for any litter.
Now doesn't that sound like a lovely way to spend the last days of summer?