During our fleeting frost-free months, Calgarians like to take their meals outdoors to eat whenever possible, as evidenced by brimming patios on sunny summer days. But picnics are making a big comeback - instead of jockeying for position on a patio, go find yourself a patch of green, luscious grass.
Of course, you’ll need something to eat. There’s always the option to stop for a roasted chicken and any number of prefab salads at almost any grocery store, or to order Chinese take-out (mu shu pork, chicken in black bean sauce, and Singapore noodles are fine even if they do cool down) or sushi to pick up en route to the park. (Bonus: Napkins and chopsticks are provided.)
But if you want to make your own meal, here are a few ideas beyond the usual sandwich and macaroni salad (not that there’s anything wrong with that):
The primary concerns when packing a picnic are temperature and portability - that is, does it need to be kept cold? Will it taste good at neutral temperature? And will it get soggy/ shatter/melt en route? Keep these things in mind when planning your picnic menu.
Legume-based dips (hummus or white bean dip, for example) travel well with baby carrots and pitas for dipping. If you love sandwiches, use sturdier crusty breads or buns - regular sandwich bread tends to have a high soggy factor. Grainy and marinated bean salads tend to be more wilt-proof than leafy ones; with fresh greens, bring the dressing along separately in a jar. Kale makes for a sturdy, substantial salad; try it with Caesar salad dressing, bacon, and croutons made from the ends of crusty bread.
If you’re a regular picnicker, stash a blanket in the trunk and pick up some cheap silver cutlery, as most plastic cutlery can’t be recycled. If anything is freezable (i.e., drinks, muffins, and other baked goods), freeze it - they will keep the rest of the picnic cool but thaw by the time you’re ready to eat. Don’t forget napkins and insulated water bottles, which are also perfect for transporting smoothies or homemade iced coffee. And if you’re going with family or friends, make it a picnic potluck - everyone loves the added element of surprise!
Julie is a best-selling cookbook author, food writer, cooking instructor, and the food and nutrition columnist on the Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio. For more information and to subscribe to Julie’s ‘Free Lunch,’ delicious deliveries right to your inbox, visit dinnerwithjulie.com.
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