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.
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.
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.