For the last few weeks, skies have been sunny and the humidity close to nil; in other words -- perfect picnic weather.
Yves Saint Laurent and Marian McEvoy, future editor of Elle Decor, in Marrakesh (1977). Fondation Pierre Bergé -Yves Saint Laurent/Guy Marineau
Sit at a table dressed with white linen and crystal, à la Downton Abbey, the perfect picnic requires careful planning and preparation.
Over many years of attending concerts and operas in the park, I’ve gotten the whole picnic thing down to a science. Here’s my take on the perfect picnic.
Since I prefer to sit at a table, the first things to get packed are the folding table and lawn chairs.
Into a lightweight, nylon hamper with zip top I put the following:
Colorful Melamine dinner plates, one for each guest (and a few extra for serving plates);
Silverware next, separated (knives, forks, spoons) into individual small zip lock bags for quick and easy access, and a large, empty zip lock bag in which I’ll throw the soiled utensils at the end of the meal;
Stemmed wine glasses go on top, individually wrapped in a large cloth napkin or tea towel, if you prefer (M-T Note: I have nothing against plastic glasses, but I find they are too easily overturned.);
The last thing to go in is the tablecloth, because that will be the first thing to go on the table.
I find the suitcase picnic hamper works best for my utility items. It’s easy to carry, and the flat top comes in handy as an extra surface. Into the hamper I put the following:
Serrated knife;Paring knife;
Wash ‘n dry handiwipes;
Plastic salt and pepper shakers;
Saran wrap (for leftovers);
Roll of paper towels (comes in handy for spills and wiping off dirty plates before they get packed away);
Plastic garbage bag with drawstring;
Crusty Baguettes wrapped in paper (cut to fit, if necessary) -- not, strictly speaking, a "utility" item, but definitely a "necessity" item. A good meal without bread? Impensable!
Wine and bottled water go into the insulated wine carrier.
Into the Igloo Playmate with sliding top go the food and condiments, which brings me to the simple, but tasty, menu.
Marinated olives and assorted nuts
Asparagus with tarragon lemon sauce (a separate course in France and always eaten with the fingers)
Cold pork loin with Dijon mustard (the tarragon lemon sauce is delicious on this, too)
Cold pasta salad
Assortment of Cheeses served with red grapes
Fresh fruit (whatever is in season)
The pork should be roasted a day or two ahead of time. I slice it right before we leave, put it on a serving plate, wrap the whole thing in saran wrap and put it right into the Playmate. You can use any recipe you like, but I find Marcella Hazan’s roasted pork loin with bay leaves, vinegar and black pepper (The Classic Italian Cookbook) is fabulous served hot or cold.
Everyone has a favorite pasta salad recipe, but if you don’t have one, give this a try from the Brooklyn Farm Girl.
Here’s the tarragon lemon sauce recipe for the chilled asparagus. It’s also delicious over fruits and vegetables in aspic.
Tarragon Lemon Sauce
½ cup mayonnaise (preferably homemade*)
½ cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
(*M-T Note: I have a “thing” about making my own mayonnaise (See "Memories of Mayonnaise"), but if you don’t have the time or the inclination, here’s an easy way to dress up any mayo from a jar. Simply whisk in some fresh lemon juice, Dijon mustard, any fresh spice you like, salt and pepper to taste and then whisk in some good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil until creamy. Et voilà! Almost homemade.)
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Don’t forget fresh flowers for the table. A simple arrangement in a mason jar looks so lovely on a picnic table. Fill the mason jar with water before you leave, then just unscrew the lid, pop in the posies and you have the perfect centerpiece for your perfect picnic.