Forks in the Road: Food and Travel in Central PA - A Community Blog

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How to Throw the Perfect Picnic

Written by Adrienne Wolter, Community Blogger | Jun 9, 2014 8:12 AM

Ah yes, the most picturesque spot in the park. You're overlooking a babbling brook, surrounded by pretty purple flowers, relaxing under the shade of a giant oak tree... completely tranquil. Birds are chirping, you hear children's laughter as they play nearby, and kites are floating between puffy, white clouds as tiny little sailboats launch from the water's edge. A slight breeze wisps cool air through your hair as you close your eyes, inhale and take in the most amazing picnic you've ever experienced.

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Photo by Izabela Pawlicka

Um, hello? Wake up from that fantasy world you're living in! As much as we'd like our picnics and outings to resemble that of the perfect, Hollywood imagined picnic, think again. Mother Nature can definitely be something to contend with, especially when the late spring and summertime weather tends to be a bit unpredictable. Plus, you're out in the elements, dealing with insects, animals, landscape, and many other factors.

Your seemingly picturesque spot may actually be a little wet when you lay the blanket down. Oh, and that babbling brook over there? Yeah, it smells pretty fishy. The oak tree doesn't even begin to cover you from the blazing hot sun above and guess what? You've forgotten your sunscreen. Those kids playing nearby? They've increased in volume and have planned a water balloon ambush near your blanket. Let's not even begin to talk about the breeze...it looks like a storm is coming the way your hair is whipping back and forth. Hopefully, your little field trip won't rain out; you really don't want to have to go hide out in any of those used school buses instead of playing in the sun.

Okay, so maybe I've exaggerated a little, but it's important to be prepared for a picnic, especially because it's not something we do every day. Here are four great tips for throwing the perfect picnic.

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Photo by Jeremy Noble

1. Store and Go: Packing the Right "Basket"

Contrary to the popular picnic stereotype, wicker baskets are not a necessity to have a memorable outing. In fact, it doesn't even need to be a basket. Shocking, I know. Instead, find a cooler, insulated back pack or any variety of storage that fits your situation. Are you going with your significant other? Packing for a double date? Or, serving up a large family? It's important to match your gear with your lifestyle.

"Strapped In" for Casual Dining

Believe it or not, but some picnic backpacks come fully equipped with cups, plates and utensils. All you need is to add food. Or, if you're planning on a little wining and dining, many kits have corkscrews and stemmed wine glasses. What's great about this option is the versatility with which you can travel. Say you'd like to bike or kayak to your destination. This lightweight option lets you put your meal right on your back. While it may be limited to smaller portioned food like cheese and grapes, this is a great option for an adventurous getaway.

A Touch of Old-World Charm

Maybe wicker baskets are your thing. There's nothing wrong with creating a little nostalgia. Whether it's a Longaberger Basket or a hand-me-down from grandma, any basket is suitable for a picnic. However, if you like to have your food organized, look to some of the pre-set picnic baskets complete with the necessary flatware and glasses. You can have a little character in your life while being fully prepared and functional on your picnic. Just don't forget that checkered blanket!

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Photo by Dagwald

2. The Perfect Meal Plan: What to Pack for a Picnic

Why does packing a lunch always seem like such a burden? Well, it doesn't have to be such a big stress. Just know that for a picnic outing, you want to keep thing simple.

The "Brown Bag" Lunch

As one of the easiest picnic lunches, grab some bread, lunch meat or a little pb&j for a classic picnic feast. Find great foods that pair well with these sandwiches like carrots, celery, apples, bananas, oranges, chips and pretzels. Not only do these foods keep well, but let's face it, they taste amazing together. Plus, you can save a lot of money this way and enjoy the great outdoors. Just remember to be careful with perishable items. Try to avoid fixings like mayo or cheese.

A Little Cheese with That Wine

It's a known fact that cheese, crackers and grapes go well with wine. So, why not pack lightly and serve up some spirits? After all, the wine bottle may be a little heavy, so it's important to pack light. Also, wine can be very filling, so you may not need a lot of food. Try some simple appetizers like bruschetta or mozzarella and tomatoes. This is perfect for an evening picnic or romantic date in the park.

Serving Up Comfort

Looking for something a little more hearty? Well then, bring out the pasta salad, potato salad, fried chicken and watermelon. As some of the perfect summer eats, this will keep your family and children happy. So, go ahead and fill up until you have to lay on the blanket for a nice nap before playing some horseshoes.

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Photo by Gabriel Li

3. Chill Out: Keeping Your Food Cool

In actuality, there's an endless amount of foods that can travel well. The trick is knowing where you're going, how you're going to get there and how the food will be stored. Then, figure out what will be served first and go from there. You'll want your snacks or main course on the top while your desserts rest on the bottom. That way, the food towards the bottom will not always be exposed to the warm air and your basket or bag being opened frequently.

Sure, ice packs will do well at the top and bottom of your travel basket or bag. Yet, why not save space and use your drinks as a way to keep your food cool. On especially hot days, put some water bottles in the freezer the night before, leaving the bottle only 3/4 full. Then, before you leave, fill the rest of the bottle up with cold water. Not only do you have a makeshift ice pack, but you will also have a drink that will stay cool for a long time.

Avoid packing coolers with loose ice. It's a great option if you're going a short distance, but all of that ice can melt quickly, leak and be a heavy burden to carry. Try to keep things simple and bring only what you need and focus on keeping that food cool.

4. Think Ahead: Essentials to Never Leave Home Without

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Photo by Corey Seeman

At this point, it might be time to give up and go home.

All packed and ready to go? Think again.

Brave the Elements

Before you even think about leaving the house, check the weather. If you know it's going to be a scorcher, pack sunscreen and bring extra water. If there is a chance of rain, bring a poncho or clothing that will dry easily and bring a bag that will withstand water to keep your food and things dry. If you're going out in the evening, bring the bug spray. If it will be chilly, bring a jacket. Just be prepared.

Anticipate the Worst

Okay, so we typically don't say that, but it's important to be prepared for any situation. Always pack a first-aid kit just in case you cut yourself with a knife, someone skins their knee or there is poison next to the tree. Bring a fully-charged cell phone in case of emergencies and stay in a somewhat trafficked area. If you're going on a date, inform some friends of your whereabouts. Just be safe.

Cleaning Up

Remember to store away your food safely in case you are around animals. Use Tupperware and other storage containers. Bring napkins, baby wipes, or disinfectant wipes to clean up your area and yourself. Be conscious of your surroundings and pack extra trash bags to pick up your mess. When it's all said and done, use some unscented hand sanitizer to clean yourself up.

No matter your preference, it's important to have fun and appreciate the beauty of nature. With that said, always be prepared for any situation and follow some of these great tips for a picnic success!

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