Sarah Potter, owner of cooking, lifestyle, and travel blog The Pastiche, is here to share what to keep in mind in order to pack the perfect summer picnic- and to invite you to A Picnic with The Pastiche on Sunday, July 23rd!
I don’t think I have to explain to anyone around these parts the sacredness of a Rochester summer. It’s criminally short in stature, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in spirit. Every minute of warm daylight is precious, and every sunny day is worth celebrating. In fact, speaking for myself, whenever a perfect summer day comes along, it alone feels like cause enough to forget all responsibilities and just enjoy being outside. It feels as though we’ve earned it, by golly, and we deserve to simply revel in it. Just me? I highly doubt it. That’s why there’s no greater Rochester summer activity on earth than a leisurely afternoon picnic.
However, I understand that while picnics sound incredible in theory, sometimes there’s breakdown in the actual execution because what should be fun and easy ends up feeling stressful and planning-intensive. Overly complicated foods can make it tough, as can coordinating who is bringing what materials and utensils. But I’ve come to learn exactly what kinds of things help to make a picnic low-stress and high-success, without having to resort to sub sandwiches every time (although there’s no shame in that). Here are a few of my tips and go-to’s for picnicking like a pro this summer.
Do the leg work
I’ve found that more meals can be turned picnic-friendly than you might initially think; it’s just a matter of prep. In other words, you don’t want to be doing any chopping or mixing while laying in the grass, but you (or your grocery store) can certainly do that stuff beforehand. The key is to avoid needing to do anything overly complicated at the time of eating, and to avoid anything that needs to stay hot in transit. One of my very favorite picnics last summer was grilling ahi tuna tacos at Canandaigua Lake using the public park grills, and for as decadent and flavorful as the tacos tasted, they were simple to transport and throw together lakeside. In the day leading up to it, we marinated the tuna, made jicama slaw and spicy crema, and sliced some limes. I’ve also found that keeping ice packs in the freezer all the time make for easy, last minute transport of items that you’d like to keep cold in a cooler or cooler bag.
Think about the whole package
Try to think of a meal from start to finish to make sure you’re including everything you need when you’re packing up for a picnic. This means appropriate utensils and materials (do you need a sharp knife, or cups for wine, or bowls and spoons?), as well as extras like napkins or wet-naps, a small garbage bag or two, or a bottle opener. There’s nothing worse than forgetting something once you’re already at the park and sprawled out on your picnic blanket, so thinking things through beforehand is key.
Decide whether to take home or leave behind
I’ve found that it’s helpful to decide beforehand whether all of your materials are to be disposed of after picnicking, or brought back home to wash and reuse. In other words, are you bringing disposable plates, cups, utensils, and containers, or are you bringing glass containers, silverware, and cloth napkins? Both are great options, both have perks, and both are easy–it’s just a matter of consistency. I have found that, say, going with large glass to-go containers and reusable utensils is nice because you can put all of your used utensils inside the containers, along with the used cloth napkins, and close them up and neatly pack them away without any mess or fuss. Then at home, everything is ready to be washed. Alternatively, if you’re using disposable stuff (and there are now so many good recycled options for this), everything can be tossed into a garbage bag when the picnic is over, and pack up is, again, without any mess or fuss.
Bring just the right amount
The last thing anyone wants to do after a picnic is divvy up the leftover food and repackage it for bringing home. It’s just anticlimactic at that point and sometimes can seem like a lot of (messy) effort. So, in order to not be wasteful, I’ve found that bringing the right amount of food to begin with is well worth it. This might mean portioning or re-portioning some pre-packaged items before heading out the door (chips, fruit, buns, etc.), or being mindful when picking out portion sizes (ex. cheese) at the grocery store or market.
Use vessels to your advantage
Being smart about the containers you carry things in is a great tactic. As I mentioned above, I love packing foods in large glass or plastic containers that can also be used as the plates, as well as corral used utensils after the picnic. It’s a great shortcut. Similarly, I’m a stickler about using containers (whether disposable or reusable) that are leak and spill proof. Pro-tip: if you’re going the reusable route, mason jars are great for anything and everything.
Take the right shortcuts for you
You don’t have to make everything yourself, nor do you have to spend a lot of money buying everything pre-made. Decide which shortcuts make the most sense for you, and take them. If you’re going to tackle the main menu item but want to buy bags of chips and pre-sliced veggies and dip as the sides, go for it. Grocery stores have made some meal prep tasks shockingly easy (pre-cut celery, pre-mixed fruit salad, fresh guacamole, pesto, etc., pre-portioned salad mixes). Don’t be afraid to take the store-bought route or the homemade shortcuts when they make a picnic easier for you to tackle. The point isn’t to be stressed by the prospect of a picnic, it’s to enjoy being outside!
And lastly, a few picnic ideas
Grilled Fish Tacos: Using park grills for fish tacos is a great option with chips and guacamole or Mexican street corn salad. Field greens salad with gorgonzola and steak (or any protein for that matter), with the steak and dressing packaged separately – it’s the easiest thing to build ahead of time in pre-portioned containers, and simply dress and toss when you’re ready to eat. I also love heartier, non-green salads that can withstand being dressed ahead of time (quinoa, barley, pasta, tabbouleh – Ina’s is my very favorite). Roasted veggies are great eaten at room temperature–what about in wraps with basil pesto and goat cheese, on the park grill?! A Cool Thai sesame noodles with beef would be perfect on its own (or even better, with beers) and is so low maintenance. Fresh baguette and easy, spreadable brie tastes even better than usual when eaten on a picnic blanket, especially since my dad always said bread should always be torn and never cut. What about chicken salad with sweet corn and blackberries on a croissant? Skewered shrimp and pineapple on a park grill would feel elevated with very little effort (as would any shish kebob, for that matter). Storebought hummus is perfectly sized for a small group outing, and alongside pita bread, chips, or sliced veggies, it’s a great picnic snack. Small fruits, such as cherries, berries, or grapes, are a no-brainer add-on. And for dessert, you can’t beat cookies or slices of homemade pie.
Speaking of picnic ideas, I’m teaming up with Hart’s to make elevated picnicking easy and enjoyable for you. We’ll be holding a picnic on Sunday, July 23rd starting at 1pm on the beautiful lawn at Christ Church on the corner of East Ave. and Scio St. Pre-order from one of three fantastic picnic baskets we created! There’s a fried chicken basket, a cheese basket, and a vegan basket featuring BBQ tofu, Scratch Bakeshop cookies, and more. Each basket will be equipped with recycled bamboo plates, sweet hand painted wooden utensils that certainly won’t hurt your Instagram game, and summery napkins. RSVP to our event to let us know you’ll be joining us.