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Picnics are a prime setting for adventurous dining. The senses are enhanced and the appetite heightened by the sunshine, the breeze, and the smells of salt air, lilacs, mimosa, and pine. Even indoors by the fire, the change of scene, the smell of burning wood, the tablecloth and china laid unexpectedly on the carpet, gently transport you to a place out of the ordinary.
In my most vivid picnic memory, an unwanted guest interrupted the meal. I was ten years old and lunching with my parents and younger brother in Yellowstone Park. We had spread our blanket in the woods near a trailer camp and unpacked our grocery store repast of sliced bread, bologna, American cheese, milk, and cookies, when an enormous bear lumbered from behind a nearby group of trees. He stationed himself between us and our car. We were terrified. The bear slowly inched toward our food. We had to move. Silently we followed my father, who crept toward the only visible sign of civilization, a mobile home fifty feet away. Frantically, we banged on the door. After too long, a woman clad in a bathrobe, her hair in curlers, answered. We breathlessly explained the situation and asked to come inside until the bear left. She informed us that the beds were not made and the dishes were still in the sink. The door slammed shut. We were on our own. Looking back at our bear, we saw him fastidiously eating first the bread, then the bologna, then the cheese, one slice at a time. Slowly and methodically, he devoured our entire lunch, item by item, enjoying it thoroughly until he came to the mustard. He picked up the open jar and dipped in his tongue. With one swat of a huge paw, the hated yellow condiment went flyinginto the woods. The bear moseyed off as lazily as he'd arrived. The intruder gone, we made a beeline for the car. Ravenous by then, we drove to the nearest diner and were thrilled to eat our burgers and fries indoors.
Much about outdoor eating cannot be controlled. Don't panic. When weather turns bad, a rooftop picnic moves inside or a dinner by the lake is eaten in a gazebo. Flexibility is of paramount importance for the serious picnicker. Nonetheless, much can and should be planned ahead. Before a picnic, review everything carefully. Make a list of what will be needed to serve, eat, and clean up each item on the menu. Do as much as possible the day before. There is no pleasure in hiking halfway up a mountain carrying a bottle of Bordeaux only to discover the corkscrew has been left on the kitchen counter.
When packing, make sure liquids, sauces, and other leaky foods are tightly capped. Place any questionable container inside a sealed plastic bag. Use masking tape when in doubt. Carry easily damaged foods in sturdy containers. Protect delicate glassware, dishes, and platters, with picnic napkins, tablecloth, or blanket. Keep iced cakes and delicate pastries in boxes. To prevent spoilage, keep highly perishable food refrigerated until the last minute.
The formality of each meal will depend upon the guests, location, and menu. As with an indoor party, the layout of a picnic should be visually pleasing. Candles and flowers are as welcome at a picnic as in a dining room. Real glassware and china add style. However, if inappropriate, attractive nonbreakable tableware and glasses are readily available. If numerous picnics seem likely, invest in a picnic basket complete with its own fittings.
The recipes in this book are intended as a beginning. They are relatively easy to prepare and transport. Use them and experiment to develop your own personal picnic repertoire. Many of your favorite recipes can be adapted for outdoor use. When pressed for time, don't worry. Rely on prepared foods from markets, bakeries, and gourmet shops. Above all, embark upon each picnic with a spirit of enthusiasm and high adventure.
Below is a checklist to scan before each picnic. Not every item will be applicable all the time, but the list is a useful reference.
Plates or bowls for each course; Flatware for each course; Napkins and extra napkins: Tablecloth: Waterproof ground cover or blanket for under the tablecloth; Glasses; Cups, milk, and sugar for coffee; Butter or olive oil for the bread; Salt and pepper; Any other necessary condiments; Garnishes; Corkscrew, bottle opener, and can opener; Thermos for hot or cold drinks or soups; Matches; Candles; Flowers and something to put them in; Serving bowls and platters; Serving utensils; Garbage bags for trash; Garbage bags to store dirty dishes and flatware; Paper towels; Disposable wipes; Bread knife; Carving knives; Cutting boards; Camera and film; Marshmallows for roasting; Skewers; Beverages; Ice; Sun umbrella; Sun hats; Flashlight; Insect repellent and/or citronella candles; Sunscreen.