Picnics tend to get a bad rap, I think. I’m in love with them, but if I suggest one, the response veers towards an analysis of what sort of wildlife we’d have to endure. “Oh no, let’s not do that! What if there are ants? Or mosquitos? West Nile virus is still a threat. We should be careful.” This is why I invest in crates of Cutter bug spray. And here’s the thing. I’ve never noticed all that many ants at picnics, no more so than sharks when I’ve gone swimming in the ocean. Granted, this is a positive fact. And it is true that when venturing into open water, it’s a better idea to avoid it during “feeding time”, although I’ve never been certain what that term of art references. Is it the time when all living creatures get cranky, a sure sign of hunger, and go hunting for something to whip up for dinner? Or is it the time when certain of the animal kingdom look around and say, “hey, I’m going to go find a tasty human to”: (pick one)
Δ Siphon their blood
Δ Assuage my hunger pangs with discrete nibbles
Δ Munch and/or devour without reservation
It’s accurate to say that the true meaning of “feeding time”, even if you happen to be visiting the zoo, occurs when those little invisible gnats on the beach, the no-see-ums, start biting me. Quite truthfully, I’ve had more run-ins with gnats than sharks. Many more so than ants at picnics, who I suspect don’t adhere to any sort of dining schedule.
There is something exhilarating about the life al fresco. Particularly when it involves a well-thought out meal and a quilt that you wouldn’t dare put on the bed any longer. For me, a picnic involves sitting on the grass. Or at least there is the requirement of some unusual seating arrangement which cannot be classified as a dinner table. The choice of said quilt can be left up to you; I’ve been using the one I had in the dorm back in my college days for years now, after my first “picnic” quilt was stolen. A more accurate term would be “acquired”. We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves with friends, pre-Shakespeare performance in the Quadrangle on the University of Colorado’s arbored campus. Wine flowed, stories were shared, and we’d spent time analyzing the play of the evening with the Bard-in-residence (conveniently named “Will”,) whose perennial appearance making the rounds amongst merry picnickers is part of what makes those evenings particularly special. Nevertheless, there are times when the fun goes on too long, such as when you’ve left too little time to return picnic implements and other assorted gear to your car before the show begins. Needless to say, it’s not a great idea to stuff said items behind a bush in the Quadrangle, if you’ve got a hope of ever using them for another picnic.
Picnics may be hot or cold. I’m referring less to food temperatures than I am to season. Summer brings opportunities to leisurely indulge in the great outdoors, during concerts, before plays, or just because it’s nice to get outside. Winter picnics have equal charm, and we’ve had great ones snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or between downhill runs tail-gate style in the back of our car. The snowflakes that collected in my plastic wine cup enhanced the Merlot’s depth, if only for their novelty.
What you eat is the star of any picnic, and whatever theme you select, McDonald’s isn’t it. There are times for fast food, and then there are not. When I’m driving along I-80 headed east, the meal selections along that windy, 18 wheeler-littered corridor are not all that plentiful, if the goal is to make good time. A Whopper and fries are useful; I wouldn’t recommend a Frosty from Wendy’s unless you’re a pro at hands-free driving. For some reason, fast food fried chicken has escaped culinary censure as applied to picnicking; it appears to be as staple and expected as potato salad and ants.
I’ve learned a lot over the years about food preparation; we’re a far cry from the day when, wanting to emulate my mother’s annual picnic at Elitch Gardens, a local amusement park, I informed Dr. K that I would broil chicken. He looked at me cock-eyed, because we’d only been married a week or so, and I hadn’t ventured into the kitchen yet; it wasn’t something I did much growing up because my mom always cooked. We were just back from the honeymoon, and it was time to get things rolling. How difficult could broiled chicken be? Seriously.
Three batches of black, charred poultry later, I stuffed it all in a Tupperware and informed Dr. K that we were going to eat it anyway. Since then, I’ve learned a bit, particularly about watching what you’re up to.
But, picnicking doesn’t have to be standard, routine or rote. I looked it up in the dictionary, only to find that the definition fits my whimsical take on the activity: “a pleasant or amusing experience; a time free of ordinary cares and responsibilities.” A picnic, according to Merriam-Webster Unabridged, is “child’s play.” The only thing a picnic cannot be is wet; a good hearty thunderstorm dampens everyone’s enthusiasm, even mine.
Which is why, just last night, instead of getting soaked outside, we “picnicked” with my friend Elle and her husband on their living room floor. Child’s play? Possibly. If having a lot of fun qualifies.
Check out my picnic suggestions in Recipes. You can serve them all year round, anytime, anywhere. Let me know where your next picnic is!
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