Wednesday, July 13, 2016

You're Invited to my Perfect Picnic

The following post appeared three years ago, but bears reposting as I share some of my foolproof picnic tips.  Everything is included for that perfect déjeuner ou dîner sur l'herbe, except the naked models.  You'll have to supply those yourselves. 

Déjeuner sur l'Herbe by Edouard Manet
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

Whether you choose to lounge on a bright blanket and eat from colorful, woven baskets, à la YSL or….

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 into 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;
Cheese knife;
Cork screw;
Citronella candles;
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.) 


Intimate Weddings Blog

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. 

Bon appétit. 


  1. What an elegant picnic I would have enjoyed! I love the picnic hamper. Love the French painting also, which I've had the good fortune is seeing up close years ago.

    1. I would love to have you as a picnic guest. Isn't that painting wonderful? The Musée d'Orsay is always a must stop for us when we're in Paris. It has the most wonderful collection of Impressionists, and the building itself is a stunner.

      Thanks for taking the time to stop by.

      Chees, M-T

    2. Dear Marie-Thérèse,

      If you allow such familiarity, I wish to your french half (the best of course!!!) a very beautiful and lovely Bastille Day! Here close to Paris weather is mild and grey with rains that threatens. Et le défilé du 14 juillet avec l'Australie en invité d'honneur sur les Champs Elysées.

    3. Ma chère Eveange66,

      Not only do I allow such familiarity, but I welcome it. Je vous remercie beaucoup des bons voeux du 14. Force est d'admettre que la belle France et surtout Paris me manquent beaucoup le 14.

      Actually, my "best" half comme vous dites is actually three-quarters. I'm a big fan of the Aussies and so glad to hear that Australia is being honored on the Champs-Elysées today. Bravo!

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Cheers, M-T

  2. Dearest Marie Thérèse,
    You truly are quite an expert in packing and also for preparing delicious food for a picnic.
    Yes, we too would prefer sitting at a table!
    Thanks for your useful and practical posts.

    1. Dearest Mariette,

      As w/most things in life -- practice makes perfect. I can just see the two of us sitting at a beautifully laid picnic table holding our lace parasols. Wouldn't that be such fun?

      Gros bisous,


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