When the weather is like this, everyone loves a picnic – however, some are better at organising them than others.
I have a reputation among my friends as being “the prepared one” when it comes to eating outside. Perhaps it’s just the nature of my job as a food stylist, but I’ve always had bits and bobs for all culinary occasions, and this is one of the secret to throwing a really great picnic.
One of the wedding gifts my husband and I received nearly three years ago was a super-cute picnic basket, lined with fabric and decorated with little buckles and a briefcase handle. It makes such a difference when preparing for an afternoon of outdoor dining.
It is really helpful to have something to make carrying and storing things easier – summer picnics should be about having fun and relaxing, not lugging loads of bags around! I have even been known to pack my leopard-print “granny trolley” and wheel it to the park – it looks ridiculous, but is the perfect way to transport a mass of goodies.
What you park yourselves on might seem inconsequential, but it can make a big difference, too. We have a beautiful yellow and red Brora rug that Ginny, head stylist in the food team, gave to me – it’s such a delight, and makes me smile every time we shake it open in our local park in Hackney to chill with friends, or just on our own after work.
Let’s be honest, though – the real difference between a good picnic and a half-baked one lies in what’s in the basket.
For me, standard picnic staples include a few essential items. It might sound geeky but as a couple we have become known for bringing these things, which everyone laughs about but secretly loves and uses, too. Often it’s more of a “What do we have in the fridge?” situation, but I always make the effort to have those extra little bits that really do make a difference:
1. A jam jar in which to make simple shaken salad dressings like balsamic, olive oil, sea salt and pepper.
2. Ice cubes in a Thermos flask, so you can chill your drinks as you go and not worry about them melting.
3. Wet wipes and bin bags. You never think you’ll need them, but you always do – picnics are messy!
4. Enamel plates – light, unbreakable and much more practical than paper ones. For a start, they don’t go soggy when you put dressed salad on them.
5. Chilled juice/wine/beer/cider (whatever is your tipple). Homemade flavoured water can be especially lovely, and won’t add much sugar to the meal.
6. A big bowl of hand-prepped mixed salad, ready to dress in situ.
7. Something a bit healthy – a tub of homemade houmous or yoghurt dip and chopped-up crudités – carrots, peppers, celery (whatever veg you have in the fridge).
8. A large tray of some sort of roasted veg with garlic, some herbs, salt, pepper and oil – usually butternut squash, beetroots etc (again, use whatever you have to hand).
9. A homemade slaw is a million miles better than shop-bought – fact. Check out Jamie’s slaw with these lovely chicken baps. For veggies, I just use what I have left in the fridge, so you don’t have to stick exactly to this.
10. If you’re super organised you can try to bake some sort of sweet treat – cakes for all diets, cheeky old-school tarts or naughty brownies always go down a treat and are easy to eat with your hands.
I hope this gives you a few ideas as to what to take to your next picnic and also a little insight into my world and how I do picnics…
Hamper images by Simon Mackenzie