Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Of open spaces and roadsides

We are doing a great deal of traveling by car lately. I find it easier with a toddler than attempting to convince her to remain in her seat on a plane. As we do, I have become increasingly concerned with the number of cars in front of every McDonald's on and just off the highway, and the relative abandonment of roadside picnic areas.

(Massachusetts offers tons of public picnicking in all sorts of pretty spots.)

It is more than just the quality of the food one is ingesting for the sake of convenience that has me worried: It is the memory of a laughter and fresh-air filled few moments outside the car. We rush as much as the next family: We need to get to Charleston and see a house. I want to get home to New York before my Mom's surgery. The kids are impatient and we have all had it.

But these moments, in these picnic areas our states have built for us are not only for the rare time when we've an extra hour or else we would chose a drive through instead. Indeed, it does take a little thinking ahead; you will want to pack the food yourself surely, in order that you can ensure it is better than what you might otherwise buy when driving. But that half an hour or so, does it really take so much time from a go-go life? Even if you must constantly live at that pace, could there be others in your immediate midst who would be well served by a few moments to sit outside, have a cold drink, and look up at the sky for a moment?

(South Carolina offers these shelters on I-95, sturdy, safe from the weather, plenty
of green grass on each side for walking dogs - responsibly, of course.

Would not so many of our road travels be greatly improved if we could plan ahead?

I find the fifteen extra minutes it takes me to prep some sandwiches or the extra hour it takes me to create a complete box lunch or packaged dinner always pays off: It is less costly financially, physically, and in peace of mind than anything offered by roadside food chains.

As you know, I am apt to picnic anywhere, I get this from my Mom's people who were championship roadside picnickers on their way to and from Cape Cod on the old road where there was no such thing as fast food.

We picnicked a great deal as children: You might guess my Mother did this because it was easier with two toddlers in tow, but I really do think looking back, that we all preferred it to any alternative because we were outdoors and free to wander about looking at things and intermittently playing.

(A shot from our Father's day picnic at the beach shelter.)

This is not simply a summer pursuit: In fact, many who would not have a roadside picnic in any weather will not think twice about packing enormous amounts of food and wearing four thermal layers head-to-toe in order to tailgate. Really, it is not that different, and I will have no excuses now as fall and spring might even be more suitable to this pastime: The temperature is more agreeable and they are inspiring seasons of showy enchantment.

(And another.)

I hope you will get out this season, if not by a roadside, then in your favorite picnic venue. With luck, these thoughts will help you to enjoy your experience.

Blushing's Picnic Tips:

1. Start small and easy: There are plenty of on line retailers who deal in picnic items but there is no reason to outfit your adventure with a truckload of gear, maybe you could begin with your cooler or a very large basket and some ice packs, and try to prepare stroller sandwiches that could just be unwrapped as well as a few portions of sliced fresh vegetables and fruit: Carrots and apples perhaps, or blanched asparagus. Take along some sweet potato chips and bottled water. This will eliminate the need for plates and utensils until you decide if you wish to take that plunge and is a good plan when you are on a road trip and out only for a picnic.

2. Keep an eye out for pretty picnic items once you decide you love it: As I mentioned, my Mom found out gorgeous picnic basket in the consignment shop she volunteers in, still in its new wrapping. Keep an eye out in your local charity shop for something like this, this oft (and sadly) unused wedding gift turn up constantly.

3. Try not to burden yourself: The kindest thing for the planet on which you are enjoying your picnic is to choose service items that can be recycled and/or reused. Your commitment to seeing that plastics are recycled and not just entered into the garbage stream is key to our continued success as a planet. To that end, my picnic basket came with real plates, utensils, and glasses. I rinse them off with a bit of water when we clean up the area then wash and re=stow them in the basket once home. I have a pretty tablecloth I store in there as well to prevent having to search for anything if the urge to picnic hits suddenly.

4. Apply the keep it simple rule: You need not feel, even when entertaining others, that you must serve a complicated and impressive menu. Josh and I have been inviting people to picnic with us since we met. We have been just everywhere: At the beach, above Newport and Charleston harbors, along the river during Head of the Charles Weekend in Boston, tailgating at big Midwest football schools and West Point, clam bakes, and on family holidays absolutely whenever and wherever and I have learned that fussy food has no place in this endeavor.

5. When it comes to picnics, less is more: This is no time for salad and dessert plates. Everyone needs to use their single set of plates and utensils for every food offered. If dessert and any extra snacks are finger-foods, all the better.

6. Keep it clean: I keep anti-bacterial wipes in the picnic basket. I think it is responsible and kind to others.

7. Leave your picnic site as you found it, if not better: Take away everything you brought. See to it the trash and recycling are disposed of thoughtfully and accurately. And if you can, although it pains even me to deal with someone else's trash, pick up any trash you see. Then use (several dozen of) those wipes you brought along.

This past weekend when we were traveling, we kept it all very simple:

Turkey, cheese, and avocado sandwiches on whole grain
Cheese wrap on whole grain tortilla (for the aforementioned toddler)
Multi Grain Chips
Sliced apples and carrots
Blushing's Mexican Chocolate cookies (which we made, only coincidentally, on Friday)

So you see, it can be just this simple, and it took me less than fifteen minutes to get this prepared and packed in a refrigerated bag. No trouble at all. Had I not had the time to get this together, I would have gone to the deli for something similar on the way out of town: I really do not care for fast food, as you can tell.

I have put together some additional menu suggestions which I hope you will find useful for your picnicking adventures this fall. Remember that if you do not find what you need here, The Minimalist has a ton of fabulous, simple recipes here.

The Elegant No-Prep Picnic

A cheese plate of a soft, semi-soft, hard, and bleu cheeses
An variety of colorful and flavorful apples, sliced
Red and green grapes
Crusty French Baguette
Assorted nuts
Sparkling water (if you are driving)
Your favorite chilled white wine (if you are not)

*For a great addition you might add pate, cornichon, hard cooked egg, capers, and a little chopped onions.

(Right, pack up all your pre-dinner noshes and call them a picnic! Why ever not? See below, these concepts travel well.)

The Little People Picnic

Blushing's Butterfly Peanut or Almond Butter Sandwiches
Blushing's Mini Cheese and Smoked Turkey Whole Grain Wraps
Carrot and apple crudite
A whole grain chip
Milk boxes

Old School and Well Loved Menu

Blushing's Cold Fried Chicken
German Potato Salad
Marinated Mushroom Salad
Sliced warm heirloom tomatoes, undressed
Chocolate chip cookies
An all-American beer, Sam Adams, perhaps

New School Menu

Grilled bbq chicken and/or pesto wraps
Blushing's Beet Salad
Blushing's Field Pea and Brown Rice Salad with Cojita
Miniature dark chocolate bars (from your market)
Sparkling water
Cabernet Sauvignon

The Cook and Run Menu

Chicken Sausage Strollers with Tri-Color Peppers, Onions, and Mozzerella
Orzo Salad with Garbanzo and Tear Drop Tomatoes
Amaretti Cookies
Espresso (from your Thermos!)

The Light Fare Menu

Canyon Ranch's Chinese 7 Vegetable Salad with Lemon Miso Dressing
Baked Wonton Chips
Fresh mango and pineapple slices

How do you picnic?

And do not forget to Follow Blushing Hostess for six weeks of giveaways for holiday entertaining beginning next week!


EntertainingMom said...

Oh we are so guilty at eating at those lovely dining establishments whose symbols and colors are recognized around the world. Truth be told we only do this once or twice a year. I do not really allow fast food and the kids know that they will be allowed such on their annual pilgrimage to Maine. Also, when we leave we pack up the house and the cars (we bring two) are filled to the gills and I spend an entire week emptying the contents of the fridge so that nothing is left to smell, grow green and furry. And truth be told, most of the rest stops (that we have frequented thus far) along our route are rather icky. But I adore a picnic. We are #1 fans. Do you know the Picnic game by eBoo? You must locate this for your little ones. What fun.

I am hoping to meet up with some friends later on this week for a picnic... on the beach... WITHOUT our kids. Oh I can hardly wait!

JBA said...

Wonderful post and a great reminder to get out with my wee ones! I am a new reader to your blog and am enjoying catching up on all the archived entries. I was hoping you would share your opinion with me on everyday flatware. I am looking for a new, classic pattern that can be used everyday but still have "presence" in a table setting. I love the look of your Crate and Barrel "Revolution" and am looking for something similar. Thank you for sharing and am looking forward to trying some of your recipes!

Suburban Princess said...

Such wonderful picnic ideas! We are planning a picnic in a few weeks so I was happy to see a fresh take on the institution!

Sweet Dreams Preppy said...

Thanks for the reminder! You are soooooooo right. I think I am going to make a picnic for THIS Saturday. I'm so excited! We were gifted a gourmet picnic basket for our wedding three and a half years ago and haven't used it once. Seriously, thanks for this post!!!

LPC said...

I love the idea of picnicking on long drives. The reality in our case was almost always fast food in King City. 101 in California isn't known for rest stops, unless you classify a gas station next to growing vegetables as restful:).

e.e. said...

THANK YOU for the wonderful menus. I love picnics, but always find I need a little inspiration to get me going. Now maybe I will get it together and take my family out more!

pink-to-green said...

I adore picnics; while living in New Zealand is was practically our favorite hobby with all the amazing parks to enjoy! I love your tips, especially about how easy it is to forgo disposable plastic. There are great reusable options! I'm going to come back to this post for menu ideas for out next picnic!!

The Countess of Nassau County said...

Another fantastic, thoughtful, thorough post.

I think you really nailed it in saying that picnics really aren't about the food, there are about the fresh air, the scenery, and the simple way that being outside makes picnicking an event in itself.

You've inspired me.

pink green & southern said...

Oh I love picnics! Thanks for sharing all those great menu ideas--I can't wait for our next picnic!

randee said...

wonderful picnic ideas.

thanks -

Fifi Flowers said...

YUM... love cheese apples and pears!!!