habit shift: dinner outside.

April 24, 2017

picnics | reading my tea leaves
Spring is always pretty fitful around here. There are blazing hot summery days where it feels as if the whole of Brooklyn is trying to find shade under the same young trees in the park, followed by days that are blustery and cold with that feel-it-in-your-bones kind of dampness. Oh, well. That just makes it all the more imperative to seize the moment on the days when weather cooperates. For us, that means staying outside through dinnertime. I like to joke about there being a special warm weather food tax in New York City, namely, those extra dollars that you might be tempted to spend on foods and drinks because you’d rather wile away the hours before sunset outside than inside a dimly lit apartment. The tax, I’ve found, is greatly lessened by a simple embrace of a fairly humble mid-week picnic. In other words, we embrace the philosophy that picnics aren’t for weekends and newlyweds, only.picnics | reading my tea leaves 

There’s a sidebar in my book about our picnic routine, but here are a few other tips that help shift our habit toward eating dinner outside whenever possible:

+ Pack a basket (or a backpack). Entrenched as we are in the stroller-stage-of-life, a picnic basket is a thing that makes sense for our family. We stick ours in the stroller’s undercarriage and rumble our way to the park. Whatever you use to tote your supplies in, I’ve found it to be helpful, if not truly necessary, to have a devoted basket or bag for the purpose. I keep our reusable picnic plates, two travel sets of flatware, and “picnic” napkins stored in our picnic basket. When we return home, we wash everything that needs washing and then stash it in the basket again. And while it gets tucked into deeper storage above our closet during the winter months, this spring and summer I’m keeping the whole basket on top of our fridge for even easier access.

+ Bring a blanket. Whether it’s a tablecloth, an old sheet, or a bona fide picnic blanket, having something to sit on makes a picnic far more enjoyable. To cut down on bulk, we use a thin tapestry that I’ve had since college. Faye likes to help with spreading it, but no, I don’t have any foolproof tips for getting a toddler to refrain from trampling through the middle of a picnic spread.

+ Plan ahead. Most of my favorites foods are those that can be easily transported. Spend Sunday morning preparing a spring-vegetable tart and la di da, you’ve got a picnic dinner sorted. Sturdy salads filled with veggies and beans and nuts makes for easy mid-week dinners outside and with a bit of planning can usually come together fairly quickly in the morning before work. When there’s less time, we’ll call dinner an an assortment of cut-up veggies paired with a big scoop of hummus or baba ghanoush and pita from a local market. Other nights, it’s veggies and olives and other briny things with hunks of cheese and crusty bread. When we’re too tired or unprepared, pizza or pre-made quiches from a local baker always work.

+ Embrace a bit of disorder : Perhaps the most important thing is to remember that a picnic is an opportunity to eschew business as usual. In our experience, Faye is sometimes very into sitting quietly on the blanket eating every scrap from her plate and other times she’s very into running around the park making friends with every young couple trying to have a romantic dinner out. (Sorry!) Sometimes our picnics look like Martha Stewart herself packed them, and sometimes they look like, well, not at all that way. But who the hell’s watching? The point is to eat outside, as often as possible. Everything else is secondary.picnics | reading my tea leaves

For the curious:

+ Our picnic and camping utensils.

+ Our picnic plates.

+ Our picnic knife (+ corkscrew).

+ Our picnic basket is unmarked, from a thrift store. Here’s a similar one.

+ Our pie plate is my mom’s, saved from a local pie place some thirty years ago.

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  • Reply Tereza April 24, 2017 at 8:39 am

    What a wonderful idea – it’s mostly rainy here in the UK but we’ve already managed to get the picnic blanket out once this year – which is an immense success haha! x

  • Reply Alexandra April 24, 2017 at 9:10 am

    Spring hasn’t yet come to Copenhagen (at least not to the extent where dinners can be enjoyed outside). But this was such a good reminder for me to eat outside more often. Especially, as many of us city-dwellers here are blessed with shared green spaces/yards, so the picnic trip is really just down a set of stairs. Also – what a lovely picnic set you have assembled there, Erin!

  • Reply Christine April 24, 2017 at 10:09 am

    Although we don’t have any parks/squares nearby to easily have a true picnic, this is a good reminder that we should start taking more advantage of having a balcony and eating outside! Although I do quite like the idea of a midweek picnic date night! 🙂

  • Reply Caitlin | Our Natural Heritage April 24, 2017 at 10:45 am

    This is such a great way to reclaim the good life away from the daily grind! And you remind how us simple it can be, thank you 🙂

    And it also is sweet because I first started following your blog after seeing your hammock picnic post on Design Sponge (I think). Happy Spring!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 24, 2017 at 1:18 pm

      oh man! lo these many years!

  • Reply MissEm April 24, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    Does your Opinel picnic knife blade fall open or shut? I think I got a dud…. also, hooray for picnics!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 24, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      it stays shut! do you spin the little collar to keep it in place?

      • Reply MissEm April 24, 2017 at 2:03 pm

        Um…no. I never noticed it before. Feeling super cool right now ;). Face palm + hooray! Thank you. You have brought fresh sliced apples and cheese back to our picnic routine. Worth a sheepish moment for sure.

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 24, 2017 at 2:06 pm

          so glad you didn’t have a faulty one! cheers!

  • Reply Annabel April 24, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    Love the look of that perfect pie – could there be a recipe for this on the cards? Picnics for me have always been the best way to go out for lunch without really spending money! Plus, how chic does a picnic basket look in Summer? Am I right?

    Loving your blog as always! xxx

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 24, 2017 at 2:20 pm

      Thanks so much! If you look up savory tart in the archives, there are a few posts that give the basic framework I always use. I just swapped in asparagus and some parmesan reggiano and called it done!

      • Reply Mary Kate April 24, 2017 at 6:16 pm

        Came here to ask the same, thanks!

      • Reply Annabel Wyatt April 27, 2017 at 12:16 pm

        Amazing thank you for the direction! I’m going to try and make a vegan version 😉 bet it won’t look as nice though xx

  • Reply mado April 24, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    Thanks for the reminder! I am hoping to integrate more patio dinners/lunches into our routine, even though it’s not a far walk I might use the idea to have a basket and dedicated set of plates to make it that much easier.

  • Reply Auste April 25, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    Yes!!! When we lived in LA picnics were a year-round event. At a park, on the beach, didn’t matter. We ate outside as often as possible. Now that we’ve relocated to rainy Seattle we’re just itching for summertime and picnics along all of the waterfronts and at all of the parks. Reading this made me giddy:)

  • Reply Mun April 25, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    I just love having weekday mini picnics after work during summer time. Husband and I would pack out food and drinks in a daggy fridge bag, grab our cheap picnic blanket and head down to either the harbour or the beach for half an hour to unwind. Totally unglamorous but so appreciated.

  • Reply Raissomat April 30, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Look at you with your opinel 🙂
    I grew up fishing with my dad and he got us kids each one for killig and guttig the fish. But france is just next door for me so it’s not as special as seeig an american with one.
    A picnic is the way to my heart. I hate walkig but if you suggest a day-long hike with picnic I’m in whitout even askig about difficulty level..I’ll suck it up. The process of planning lunch and snacks and practicality and drinks and nutritional needs and calories intake is just so fun to me. Also, summertime lakeside picknicks. And celebratory park picnics. And lunch break picnics. And sunday we-have-no-outside-furniture-for-our-garden picknicks.

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