Spring is showing her pretty face and each morning that dawns mild and sunny makes my heart quicken and long for a picnic.
The mental image of lounging negligently on a patterned quilt laid over a soft patch of spring grass, a bit of dappled shade and slight airy breezes just barely stirring my hair while I sip chilled bone dry rosé out of a crystal glass makes me want to dash immediately into the kitchen to prepare my favorite picnic foods.
The fun thing about picnics is that they can be elaborate or casual, highly orchestrated or completely spontaneous. The formal picnics remind me of Hyacinth Bouquet’s “Afternoon of Riparian Delights” or the spreads laid out for the diehards at Opera in the Park. Casual picnics bring fond memories of feeling peckish in the car with Biggie and Luna, cruising around town to fill bags with bread, cheese, wine and fruit and finding an unoccupied table in SOMA to feast. My most favorite casual picnic is to grab a decadent sandwich from Molinari’s, some sparking wine in a paper sack from Coit Liquors and join the throngs of families, sunbathers and folks doing Tai Chi in Washington Park.
My dream picnic is a mix between the two, beautiful and elegant food, exceptional wine, a picturesque location with water and a small boat or two and good friends with nothing but lazy time ahead to lounge and chat and stare at the clouds.
The menu keeps evolving but today my dream picnic includes an emerald chilled spinach soup, creamy and fresh with a squiggle of parsley infused oil over each tiny cupful. The soup is kept perfectly iced in my S’well bottle and the parsley oil is in a tiny squeeze bottle from el cheapo Daiso.
The next course is lanky asparagus, crisp tender and reposing under a sprinkling of slivered preserved lemons and a walnut oil vinaigrette.
The savory is a glistening roasted chicken “melon”, an treasure from the files of Julia Child and Company. A plump chicken is boned and skinned and transformed into a luscious pate with cognac, shallot, batons of pale pink ham, bound up into a pouch of the skin and tied with kitchen string to form a melon shape. The “melon” is roasted until golden brown and served barely warm, slim wedges to pick up with one’s fingers to nibble on in a desultory fashion between sips of wine and buttered bites of excellent sourdough.
A small squat pot of mom’s chicken liver pâté gleams under its sheet of melted butter and sautéed scallions. A bouquet of fat red grapes laze in a basket within reach, for one to pop under the teeth between nibbles of pâté and asparagus.
Eventually our thoughts turn towards sweets. Packed away in the picnic basket are few exquisite petit fours and cannoli from Victoria Pastry and slices of chilled melon sprinkled with Riesling and flecks of mint, and a small board of cheeses.
There’s a half bottle of the wine left so we nibble on the cheeses: a button of creamy goat cheese with a pansy pressed on top, a gooey triple cream Mt. Tam and a tangy Point Reyes blue offset with brown buttered spiced pecans and crisp crackers.
After a little walk and admiring of the local gardens and spring blooms we return to cups of demitasse from the thermos and our sweet treats.
We might take a nap, go for a paddle or sail, play some croquet or perhaps get artistic with water colors or fountain pen for a haiku on the lure of spring. We chat and laugh over the remains of the afternoon before heading home to a warm bath, a stiff Scotch and a light salad and the remains of the chicken melon.
For any picnic and for the comfort and consideration of your guests please be sure to bring along these necessities:
- A blanket or seating for everyone, bring more blankets than you think you’ll need, people like to spread out and if the fog moves in an extra blanket can be handy.
- Picnic basics – plates, cups, glasses, cutlery, napkins (bring plenty!), paper towels, tea towels to lay out or cover the food, serving utensils, salt and pepper, a bottle opener and a sharp knife, wet napkins for sticky fingers, zip lock bags for leftovers, bags for recyclables, compost and waste. This doesn’t have to take up a lot of space, you can use compostable serving ware that don’t require taking home to wash. I have a basket of all these items plus a few tablecloths that store away neatly.
- Bottles of plain water and beverages for your lunch, bring extra drinks in case you have surprise guests, have a spill or get extra thirsty. You can always buy a big bag of crushed ice and let it sit in the shade somewhere for your picnic.
- Your lunch carefully stored in a cooler or chill bags with ice or freezer chillers for safety (hot foods got, cold foods cold!)
- Toys (for kids and adults) such as a frisbee, soap bubbles to blow, deck of cards, perhaps a rubber chicken. I am very fond of taking my shark shaped kite to beach picnics!
- Sun protection such as a hat, high SPF sunscreen, a scarf, sunglasses and sunscreen lip protection. These items are important no matter what the weather.
Now I need to schedule a real picnic!