Whether in the wilderness, a local park or your own backyard, if you've deliberately chosen to dine al fresco without table service, you're well on your way to enjoying the pleasure of the picnic. These natural settings provide fabulous backdrops; now, it's up to you to create the tone of your meal, from rustic to romantic. Leaving the security of your kitchen behind, picnics require some careful planning. In preparation for glorious summertime days of outdoor dining, here are some things to consider before you venture out…
- Be realistic about transportation. If your picnic site requires some walking, pack in a comfortable backpack or a cooler with wheels and save the quaint baskets for short strolls or drive-in areas.
- Encourage interaction. Instead of preparing sandwiches, tote in a deli-bar, complete with fresh rolls, meats, cheeses and condiments. Everyone creates his or her own meal and no one complains about soggy bread.
- Remember food safety when creating your menu. It's best to leave things like mayonnaise and seafood at home on warm summer days. However, if you can't imagine a potato salad-less picnic, just make sure to keep it in a cooler or over ice until just before serving.
- Surrender to romantic natural surroundings. A simple wine, cheese and fruit spread is often the most indulgent and fanciful set-up. Mix it up with imported and domestic cheeses ranging in texture and flavor. Also don't forget your cheese board and knives to properly devour these delicacies.
- Use circumstances to your benefit. Try to construct your menu around pasta salads, salsas and other composed dishes that are dressed in vinaigrette marinades. These items, high in acidity, hold up well in the heat and continue to take on wonderful flavor with time.
- Surprise your companions with imaginative picnic items. Roasted vegetable skewers or chilled gazpacho straight from the thermos can be easily transported to any picnic setting -- after all it's not necessary to leave home all modern conveniences.
- Consider the menu when packing. Just like when you're setting the dining room table, your serving items, plates and utensils should all facilitate the meal ahead.
- Designate your domain. When heading to a site without picnic benches, a traditional picnic blanket, an exotic tapestry or even an old tablecloth becomes your home base. Not only will this create an intimate setting -- it will also protect you and your food from ants, dirt and moisture.
- Most importantly, relax and enjoy the luxury of dining in nature. Outside the confines of a dining room, strict rules of etiquette need not apply!