Use your imagination and local natural resources to find spots for pleasurable outdoor eating; you need only decide what activity you'd like to do in tandem with picnicking. A hike at a nature preserve is sure to whet the appetite; for families, an ideal spot for a casual picnic with little ones is a community park, combined with a visit to a great playground. For a romantic picnic for two, have your outdoor meal with an outdoor concert. When heat is at its peak, nothing appeals more than a picnic at a beach. To get off the beaten path, try public historic homes, botanical gardens, or arboretums. Buddhist monasteries offer a serene, meditative picnic experience. Call ahead to find out the picnic policies of a particular place if you have any doubts.
A scenic locale adds much to a picnic; the experience is transformed from merely eating lunch outdoors into a refreshing lift for the spirit and senses.
As a longtime picnic aficionado, I've developed some tried and true picnic tips over the years:
When planning a meal to be taken on a hike, think of the food as parallel to the experience itself: simple, healthy, and unpretentious. The food should be easy to serve and should taste good at room temperature. I've developed a sort of formula for these portable meals: they almost invariably feature a good bread with a tasty spread that's packed separately, two or three hearty salads, a dessert, fresh fruit or fruit salad, and beverages. Marinated salads have great staying power, as do dishes that are well-seasoned and contain fresh herbs.
If the picnic is to be carried for some distance before it is eaten, the provisions can be divided among two or more hikers to carry. A logical division would be for one person to carry the main part of the meal, and another, the dessert, fruit, and beverages.
Pack almost everything into shallow plastic storage containers. That way, after the meal is eaten, the containers can nest into one another for compact storage. Don't forget paper plates (or lightweight plastic that can be washed and used again), plastic utensils (including a spreading knife or two), and napkins.
Wash fresh fruit and pack it into containers so it won't be squashed by the other food. Include small, juicy fruits that need not be cut ahead of time, and thus stay fresh longer--plums, nectarines, cherries, strawberries. As summer fruits wane, your choices can segue into grapes, small apples, and pears. Opt for organic fruit as often as possible.
If you plan to include dessert, avoid gooey treats and rich pastries. Sturdy cookies such as oatmeal-raisin or fig bars are always welcome; "blondies" and freshly baked fruit muffins are nice, too.
Common sense dictates that everything you bring in to a hiking area has to be carried out with you. Many ecologically sensitive areas do not have designated picnic areas, so do bring a plastic bag for carrying your plates and other refuse from your meal back in your knapsack, to dispose of appropriately after you leave.
Though lugging a lot of liquid is weighty, bring plenty of beverages. Everyone seems thirstier than usual when eating outdoors. I like to bring juices or juice spritzers in lightweight recyclable plastic bottles. Of course, filtered water is always welcome. Put your beverages in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes before you leave for your picnic (or freeze not-quite-full bottles overnight and fill to the top with water just before leaving), to ensure that they will stay nice and cold for a while.
While wicker baskets are romantic, and perhaps appropriate for cozy picnics for two, knapsacks are more practical for hiking picnics, and coolers are more appropriate for beach or lake picnics.
HERBED POTATO SALAD (Serves 6) Potato salad is always a welcome picnic or, ring. This one invigorates the palate with fresh herbs. 4 medium red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed, cooked, cooled, and diced 2 medium celery stalks, finely chopped 1 cup steamed fresh or thawed frozen green peas 1/2 cup minced green bell pepper 1/3 cup chopped black olives 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, or more to taste 2 Tablespoons minced fresh dill, or more to taste 1 to 2 scallions, minced 2 Tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds 1/2 cup natural, lowfat vinaigrette dressing Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and toss together thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until needed. Pack into a tightly lidded plastic container to transport. Total calories per serving: 137 Carbohydrates: 27 grams Sodium: 368 milligrams Fat: 3 grams Protein: 5 grams Fiber: 6 grams PINTO BEANS WITH WATERCRESS OR ARUGULA (Serves 6) A simple, hearty salad that packs a lot of flavor. (Shown on the front cover.) 2 cups canned or cooked pinto beans 1 cup watercress or arugula leaves, washed, stemmed, and torn into bite-sized pieces 2 firm, flavorful plum tomatoes, finely diced 1 medium celery stalk, finely diced 1/4 cup soy mayonnaise 1 Tablespoon lemon or lime juice 1 teaspoon dried oregano 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste Combine the first four ingredients in a mixing bowl. In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon or lime juice, oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper, and mix thoroughly. Pour over the salad and toss to combine. Adjust salt and pepper, if needed. Pack in a tightly lidded plastic container to transport. Total calories per serving: 122 Carbohydrates: 15 grams Sodium: 277 milligrams Fat: 5 grams Protein: 4 grams Fiber: 4 grams DRIED TOMATO TAPENADE (Makes about 1 cup (or 6 to 8 servings)) Spread this luscious concoction on flesh whole grain bread during your picnic. Use leftovers for spreading on whole grain crackers or toasted Italian bread. 3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-cured) 1/3 cup toasted slivered or sliced almonds 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice 1 Tablespoon minced fresh basil or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil 1/3 cup water, or as needed If the dried tomatoes you are using aren't moist, soak them in hot water for about 10 minutes, and drain. Combine the dried tomatoes with the remaining ingredients in a food processor. Pulse on and off until the mixture is coarsely but evenly pureed, with a texture similar to pesto. Add a few more drops of water if needed. Transfer the mixture to a small lidded container to transport. Total calories per serving: 68 Carbohydrates: 5 grams Sodium: 142 milligrams Fat: 5 grams Protein: 2 grams Fiber: 1 gram LEMONY BLUEBERRY MUFFINS (Makes 1 dozen) The subtle hint of lemon gives these classic muffins a nice twist. 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 teaspoons egg replacer dissolved in 2 Tablespoons water 1/2 cup vegan granulated sweetener (see note on page 8) One 6-ounce container lemon soy yogurt 1/4 cup soymilk 1 Tablespoon lemon juice 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest 1 cup fresh blueberries Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. In another bowl, combine the egg replacer, sweetener, yogurt, soymilk, juice, and zest. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture. Stir together vigorously until smoothly combined. Gently stir in the blueberries. Divide the batter among 12 oiled or paper-lined muffin tins. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin tests clean. Total calories per muffin: 123 Carbohydrates: 27 grams Sodium: 139 milligrams Fat: 1 gram Protein: 3 grams Fiber: 3 grams CORN RELISH SALAD (Serves 6 to 8) This relish-Eke salad, pictured on the front cover, is as colorful as it is tasty. 4 cups thawed frozen or cooked fresh corn kernels (about 5 ears' worth) 1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch strips 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch strips 1 cup finely shredded cabbage 1/4 cup finely diced dill pickle 2 Tablespoons light olive oil 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar 1 Tablespoon maple or rice syrup 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard 1 teaspoon dried dill or 1/2 teaspoon dill seed Salt and freshly ground black pepper, or to taste Combine corn, peppers, cabbage, and pickles in a mixing bowl. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, syrup, mustard, dill, salt, and pepper, and stir until well blended. Pour the dressing over the corn mixture and toss well. If time allows, cover and marinate, refrigerated, for an hour or two. Stir occasionally to distribute the marinade. Pack into a tightly lidded plastic container to transport. Total calories per serving: 155 Carbohydrates: 26 grams Sodium: 103 milligrams Fat: 6 grams Protein: 4 grams Fiber: 4 grams COUSCOUS TABBOULEH (Serves 6 to 8) As a base for salads, grains lend texture, substance, and protein. Tabbouleh, a classic grain salad, is traditionally made with bulgur. For variety, I like to use whole wheat couscous. (Appears on front cover.) 1 cup raw couscous, preferably whole wheat 2 large firm, ripe tomatoes, chopped 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, or more to taste 2 or 3 scallions, finely chopped 2 Tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried mint, optional 2 Tablespoons olive oil Juice of 1 large lemon Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste Place the couscous in a heatproof dish and pour 1 1/2 cups boiling water over it. Cover tightly; let stand for 15 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork, transfer to a mixing bowl, and allow to cool to room temperature or until just slightly warm. Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. If time allows, chill for an hour or so before serving. Transfer to a lidded plastic container to transport. Total calories per serving: 199 Carbohydrates: 34 grams Sodium: 10 milligrams Fat: 5 grams Protein: 6 grams Fiber: 6 grams CHUNKY BEAN SPREAD (Makes about 3 cups for 12 servings) Delicious on flesh whole-grain or rye bread, you can use leftovers of this tasty spread as a dip for tortilla chips. If using as a dip, thin the consistency with a bit of water if necessary. 1/2 medium green or red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks 1/2 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch chunks 1/3 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives 1 or 2 scallions, green part only, chopped One 16-ounce can pink, black, or pinto beans, drained and rinsed 1 Tablespoon lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, or more to taste 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, or more to taste Combine the bell pepper, zucchini, olives, and scallions in a food processor. Pulse on and off several times, until the pepper and zucchini are chopped into approximately 1/4-inch pieces. Add the beans, lemon juice, and seasonings, and pulse the food processor on and off until everything is evenly chopped, with a chunky texture. To transport on a picnic, transfer all or part of the bean spread to a tightly lidded plastic container. Total calories per serving: 44 Fat: 1 gram Carbohydrates: 7 grams Protein: 2 grams Sodium: 251 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams CHOCOLATE CHIP-RAISIN BLONDIES (Makes 9 squares) These chunky blondies are a delightful way to finish a picnic. 1 1/2 cups unbleached or whole-wheat pastry flour 1/2 cup rolled oats 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 1/2 teaspoons egg replacer, dissolved in 2 Tablespoons water One 6-ounce container vanilla soy yogurt 1/4 cup soymilk 1/2 cup vegan granulated sweetener (see page 8) 1/2 cup vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips 2/3 cup golden raisins 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, oats, baking powder, and baking soda in a mixing bowl and stir together. Combine the egg replacer, yogurt, soymilk, and sweetener in another bowl and stir until smoothly blended. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and stir together until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips, raisins, and optional walnuts, and pour into a 9" x 9" baking pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden on top and a knife inserted into the center comes out only with melted chocolate, but not the batter. Allow to cool, then cut into 9 squares. To pack for a picnic, arrange the blondies in a single layer in a flat, lidded plastic container. Total calories per blondie: 245 Fat: 7 grams Carbohydrates: 45 grams Protein: 6 grams Sodium: 207 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams
Nava Atlas is the author of several vegetarian cookbooks, most recently The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet. You can visit her website at <www.vegkitchen.com>.
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|Date:||Mar 1, 2002|
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