Some of us are blessed with a photographic memory, patience, and a small butt. Me? I was blessed with cellulite, a sense of humour, and the picnic gene.
Ever since I can remember whenever summer hit my mom packed up salmon sandwiches, milk, and some fruit for a picnic dinner. As soon as my dad got home from work we were loaded into the car and off for an evening by the sea wall at Stanley Park. My mom, bless her culinary deficiencies, made the same old boring salmon sandwiches for every single picnic dinner I ever ate. As a little kid eating those sandwiches on a blanket, throwing rocks into the ocean (with the odd bit of sandwich) plus watching the sunset was fun. When I hit thirteen I would rather have been shot out of a cannon naked than be seen with my parental units. Looking back – those picnic nights hold some of my fondness summer memories with those same parental units.
With tutelage from my mom and many years of experience under my belt not only do I make a mean salmon sandwich, I also have some tips to help you become an el fresco fanatic.
To watch Dina and I on BT Toronto picnicking. Click here.
What to pack in the cute wicker basket you got as a gift:
First and foremost – it’s not for the food.
It may look cute and romantic but unless you want to spend the next day in the ER doing the dysentery dance only pack the stuff you don’t eat into the wicker basket. This includes:
- Non breakable dishes, plates, cups, etc. Glass breaks. It may look glamorous in a magazine, but there’s nothing like that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach at the sound of tinkling dinner plates smashing as you trip over a log. They now sell bamboo dishes – a tad expensive but if your middle name is Environmentally Friendly than these are the dishes for you. I recently used some environmentally friendly disposable plates made from sugar cane, liked them a lot.
- Cutlery- chose plastic or go with the real stuff, makes up for the not so elegant non breakable dishes
- Serviettes – paper for family, cloth for a romantic picnic
- Hand wipes – remember your mom always said to wash your hands before you eat? She was right. Either scoot off to the bathrooms for a good hand wash or bring wipes or hand sanitizer
- First Aid Kit – as a mom and a klutz I’m never too far away from a Band-aid and non stinging antiseptic wash
- Benadryl – great for after that face plant into the poison ivy or a bee sting
- Roll of toilet paper – You could make a veritable fortune selling the stuff in the women’s bathrooms around 6:00 pm on a Saturday
- Some kind of bug spray – I hate the idea of spraying stuff on my skin but I’d rather not be the entrée in a mosquitoes picnic plans. FYI – bug repellent reduces the affect of sunscreen so you might want to go higher on the SPF or wear a huge hat.
- Speaking of sun screen – apply at least 20 minutes before sun exposure and not just a little dab, apparently you need about a shot glass full per person! Reapply every 2 hours, may sound like overkill but as a person who has had skin cancer three times this is what the doctor told me, just passing on the info.
- Plastic bags for garbage pick up – if you’ve ever walked through a public park on a Monday morning before the ground crews arrive you’re well aware that many people don’t have a clue what environmentally friendly really means. Pack up your garbage, separate the recyclables and if need be bring them home and recycle them yourself.
- Can of tuna with a self opening lid, the best bug distracter I know of. Open it when you’re going to eat and leave it about 20-30 feet away from your picnic. The bugs usually are attracted to the strong tuna smell and will leave you alone, unless unfortunately you’re eating tuna sandwiches, then you might as well go sit beside the can and pray.
- Tablecloth if you like to sit at a table and a picnic blanket for all you earthy types. I have several picnic blankets but my official one is an old quilt that I bought at a garage sale, holes and all. I keep it in the trunk of my car in case the picnic mood overtakes me on the way home from work.
- Keep your wicker basket restocked all summer long so all you’ll have to do is pack the food, grab the basket, and you are out the door.
What to keep in the car:
If your picnic includes kids of all ages pack toys.
A soccer ball, baseball, Frisbee, horseshoes, badminton rackets, water guns, stuff to have fun with, a book and some Valium for you.
- Umbrella for shade
- And the picnic blanket
What goes in the insulated cooler:
- Packing for a picnic is really all about the food. It can be as simple as my mom’s salmon sandwiches or as elegant as gourmet cheeses and an antipasto platter. Regardless of what you pack, in the heat of summer, food safety is still the number one issue. The rule of thumb is to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
- You can pack whatever you want as a cold source. Both freezer packs and ice work but both are heavy, take up space and when the ice melts you’ll end up playing bobbing for the sandwiches. So pack lots of cooler packs, forget about the ice.
- Bottle of ice water: good for cooling off, squirting at your sleeping husband, or for drinking
- Put all the food into a cooler, and space the cold sources around the food leaving some to pack on top. This way all of the food will stay cold.
- Any food that does go into the cooler should be cold. Cooked roast beef, chicken, even sandwiches should be prepared the night before, and then put in the fridge overnight. The next day the food is cold going into the cooler. Warm food will raise the temperature in the cooler preventing optimal coldness. Which means buying a bucket of chicken and letting it sit in a cooler or worse in the sun is a really bad idea. Two words – bowel buster.
- Pack enough drinks so that each person will be drinking 1 cup/250 mL per hour. That may sound like a lot, but in the summer heat drinking 1 cup/250 mL per hour is easy. Freeze at least half of the drinks to keep the picnic cold. Most picnics are all day affairs, so pack at least 4 drinks per person.
- For added thirst quenchers pack cut up watermelon.
- Never leave the cooler in the car. It gets mighty hot in there and it wouldn’t matter if the whole picnic was frozen before hand, that much heat will melt anything. My rule of thumb – never leave kids, pets, your mother-in-law or the cooler in the car.
- Place the cooler either in the shade, under an umbrella, or under a blanket to keep everything as cold as possible.
- Don’t pack extras unless you’re independently wealthy and you don’t mind being wasteful. Taking the extra potato salad home for tomorrow night’s dinner? Here comes the old Pooh-Pooh Train.
- And finally wash out the cooler when you do get home with soapy water and store with the lid open till the next picnic attack hits you.
(A spin on the World Famous Muffaletta from New Orleans)
Make this sandwich the night before the picnic.
You will need:
2- Bricks or heavy flat weights – you need the weight to help flatten the sandwich as it sits in the fridge overnight
One – Ciabatta loaf – (570 g) preferably multigrain – note: this bread is very firm to hold up to the amount of ingredients and the brick pressing! If you like a softer bread choose a regular French or Itlaina bread, but the sandwich may become slightly soggy.
2 tbsp (30 mL) really good extra virgin olive oil or cold pressed canola oil
2 Italian eggplants, approx 1 lb (500 g)
2 large red peppers, or mixed
12 green olives, rinsed, sliced thinly
12 marinated artichoke pieces, drained well (they come in a glass jar and are usually cut into quarters) sliced thinly
12 large fresh basil leaves or enough to cover one side of the sandwich
4 oz (125 g) goat cheese, plain
Pepper to taste
- Make this sandwich the night before or at least 10-12 hours before eating it.
- If using bricks, wrap then in foil and set aside.
- Slice the Ciabatta bread in half lengthwise. Using your fingers scoop out some of the bread away from the crust but leaving the crust intact (this helps the sandwich flatten – see step 9) Using a pastry brush, brush both sides with the oil. Set aside to allow the oil to penetrate the bread.
- Preheat BBQ to high.
- Slice the eggplant, lengthwise into ¼-inch slices. Cut peppers into quarters, removing any seeds.
- Place the eggplant and the peppers on preheat grill, close lid and reduce the heat to medium. Grill until just starting to char. Flip and grill until tender on both sides. The eggplant will be cooked first, remove when it is softened and slightly charred, approx 5-8 minutes in total.
- Continue grilling the peppers until they are softened and slightly charred. Try to avoid too much blackening.
- Assemble the sandwich: sprinkle the olives evenly over one side of the bread, place eggplant evenly over, crumble goat cheese evenly over, (everything is evenly!) place basil leaves on top of the goat cheese, top with peppers, then the artichokes, sprinkle with pepper if using. Place the other side of the bread on top and press down.
- Wrap the sandwich tightly in the foil. Place in the fridge and place the 2 bricks on top. It will be ready in 10-12 hours of overnight for the best flavour and texture.
- Slice it into eight individual squares and wrap each in foil. Everyone gets their own package.
- Place in a cooler bag with plenty of cold sources.
Nutrient breakdown for one serving: 321 calories, 13 g total fat, 3.2 sat fat, 711 mg sodium, 37 g carbs, 5.8 g fibre, 3.6 g sugars, 10 g protein.
From: Healthy Starts Here!
The night before:
1 cup (250 mL) water
½ cup (125 mL) quinoa
The day of:
1 large shallot
2 cups (500 mL) loosely packed fresh finely chopped parsley – see Steps 3 & 4
½ cup (125 mL) loosely packed fresh chopped mint – see Steps 3 & 4
1 cup (250 mL) grape tomatoes, cut in half
Zest of one lemon
¼ cup (60 mL) fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp (30 mL) extra virgin olive oil
- The night before cook quinoa. Rinse quinoa in a fine wire strainer/colander under cold running water to rinse off any bitter resins. Place in a medium pot, add water, bring to the boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-18 minutes, remove from heat, and fluff with a fork and let sit for 10 minutes. After it is cooked, cool, place in a container with a lid and store in the fridge overnight.
- The day of: Make the salad: Dice shallots and toss into a large bowl.
- Wash and spin dry parsley and mint. You don’t want to have wet herbs or the salad will be soggy.
- Chop parsley into fine pieces (I like mine between a dice and a mince). Chop mint up a little bigger. Toss both herbs into the bowl.
- Add tomatoes and all of the cooked quinoa and toss well.
- Scrub lemon, dry, and using a microplane zest the lemon. Set aside.
- Whisk together lemon juice and oil in a small bowl, pour over salad and toss well. Sprinkle with zest and toss. Serve OR for a picnic place into six individual serving dishes that have a lid, I used canning jars on BT Toronto. Pack in a cooler with plenty of cold sources.
Makes – 4 cups (1 L) One serving as a side dish = ¾ cup (185 mL)
One Serving Contains: 120 Calories, 5.6 g Total fat, 0 g Sat Fat, 0 g Trans Fat, 16 mg Sodium, 14.6 g Carbs, 2.6 g Fibre, 1 g Sugars, 3.3 g Protein