One of my favorite summer activities is lazing outdoors in the afternoon sun. And even though most of the time, that means a small patch of grass in an overcrowded Central Park, I’m convinced that there’s no better way to spend a Saturday (Sundays are at their best when there’s football on TV, but that’s a story for another season).
Given my proximity to CP, I spend a good amount of time there. And after years of honing my “picnic technique,” I’ve come to realize that following a few guidelines makes for a much smoother affair, one that features max relaxation and fewer last-second grocery store runs:
1) Bring finger foods: Chips and dip, cheese and crackers, berries or cut-up fruit, cookies (bar or otherwise) — nothing that’s fussy or needs to be plated. The odds that someone will remember to bring plates is quite low, and you’re really SOL if you’re banking on there being
2) Avoid items that require refrigeration: Again, simplicity is the name of the game. Chicken salad is great, but if you’re planning to sit in the sun for a few hours, you either have to scarf down the chicken salad quickly or risk it spoiling. Same thing goes for desserts that require refrigeration to stay firm — these key lime pie bars are delicious, but they’d be a puddle of key lime pie goop if they sat in the sun for too long.
3) Have a variety of treats: People will want to munch on different things while chatting. Make sure there’s something salty and something sweet, and try to coordinate with friends ahead of time so that you don’t end up with 6 bags of tortilla chips and no chocolate chip cookies.
My go-to’s are always: one bag of either tortilla chips and guac or pita chips and dip, 2 types of cheese and 1 box of crackers, grapes or berries + 1 box of pre-cut tropical fruit (pineapple, watermelon, etc.) and 1 box of cookies or brownies. Depending on how much time I have, I’ll make the dip or the sweets at home — otherwise, Whole Foods brand it is.
4) Use your friends: Don’t be afraid to ask people to bring things. You can either assign them a category (sweets, cheese, fruit, vegetables), or just let them decide what they’ll contribute and then plan around that. Asking friends to bring utensils, napkins or cups is always fair game too.
5) Drinks: A few bottles of water are always a must. From there you can get creative. Chilled white wine, sangria or punch is always a great idea, though you should check the laws surrounding public drinking in your area first. Soda, juice or iced tea are also good options.
6) Utensils: Somehow, this always seems to be the thing that people overlook. Regardless of whether you’ve assigned the “utensils” category to a friend or are bringing them yourself, you will inevitably need: 1 24-pack of mixed cutlery (yes, you need knives — for cutting cheese), napkins, small paper plates and cups. I bought a set of reusable plastic cups a long time ago and they’re definitely worth it if you picnic frequently — they’re way better for the environment and cheaper than buying Solo cups every 2 weeks. (I also may or may not use them every day, along with a few Yankees “souvenir” cups … we keep it real classy in my apartment.) Ikea also sells cheap reusable plasticware, if you live near one.
7) Something to sit on: Not strictly a must-have, but having a blanket to sit on makes the picnic experience much more enjoyable. You could buy a designated “picnic blanket,” but in the past I’ve used fleece blankets, spare bed linens, tablecloths and even throws instead. Currently, I use a HeatSheet from an old race (foil side up), which has the added bonus of being so shiny that it’s a beacon for whoever is meeting me in the park.
Finally, it can never hurt to throw a deck of cards or a small game (I’ve gotten really into this one) into your picnic bag … though depending on how crowded your park is, people-watching is always a fail-proof way to pass the time.
If you want to get extra creative and cook something nice for your picnic, I’ve got a list of my favorite transportable recipes over here. This roasted red pepper dip inspired that list way back in 2010, when I blogged about it initially. Since then, I’ve made it a few times for myself, but hadn’t updated the original (picture-less) post. Until now.
Bask in the glow of this orangey-red beauty. Enjoy its velvety white bean base, enriched by the tangy combo of cream cheese and feta. Enjoy the way it pairs with pita chips or carrot sticks or baguette or flatbread. Eat it fast, before your friends do — I promise it won’t last long. Continue Reading →