Where do you prefer to eat? Are you a confirmed at-the-dining-room-table kind of diner? Or are you an al fresco kind of diner?
A lot of folks dislike eating outside because of the bugs. And others just find it too much work to move dishes and cutlery and glasses and drinks and food from the kitchen to the outdoors. They don’t like the schlepping.
Alexandra Hanson-Harding, 135journals, had an interesting post the other day, about picnics. In it she posted thirty-one questions she wrote for Toastmasters. I’m not going to attempt to answer all of them, but she did inspire me to share some memories of a couple of picnics I’ve enjoyed.
They’re not very traditional, in that there was no red and white checked tablecloth involved. No wicker basket, either. No potato salad or fried chicken. No hotdogs or hamburgers. No devilled eggs. No lemon meringue pie. No big, huge watermelon cooling in a bucket of ice.
We weren’t in a bucolic country setting, either. No sheep or horses grazing nearby. No babbling brook. No big, oak trees to nap under. No rolling hills of green. No row boating, horseshoe tossing, badminton, ball tossing or croquet.
No ants, either. Or bees. Or garden snakes. Or any other little creepy crawlies. Which, in my opinion, is a good thing. A very good thing.
Well isn’t that what you think of when someone says the word “picnic”? I think most of us do. At least right off the top.
But let’s get back to mine.
The first was a yearly event. My mother was born in New York. My grandparents moved to Montreal when she and her twin sister were toddlers, but the rest of my grandfather’s family remained in the U.S. My father did business there; and so, every Easter, we’d go down to New York for about ten days. Part business for my dad, part family visit and part holiday.
For some bizarre reason, my father liked to drive there. He said he liked having the car. Why, God only knows. But that’s what we did. It was fine with my mother. She hated to fly. We’d leave at around 4:00 a.m. My father didn’t want to hit traffic. I didn’t mind because if my aunt and cousin weren’t coming I had the back seat to myself. I’d bring my pillow and a blanket and I’d be asleep by the time we got to the corner of our street.
There were no speed limits in those days. By 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. we’d be at the hotel. All we stopped for was gas and bathroom breaks.
My mother always packed a picnic. Not that we stopped to eat. We ate on the move. We liked it that way. To this day, I remember what she made. Tuna fish sandwiches. My favourite. She also had her own version of chicken mcnuggets. Long before there even was a McDonalds. Hers were SO much better. Well, to start with, they were made with real pieces of chicken breast. Let’s just leave it at that.
She’d bring carrot and celery sticks. Sliced peppers and cucumbers. Cheese and crackers. Grapes. Bananas. Apples. Pears. Oranges. Brownies. Cookies. slices of pound cake. Anything that didn’t need a knife or a fork. She even brought along thermoses of coffee. If I’m not mistaken we once went in the fall, and she brought thermoses of home made soup.
It was fabulous. We all loved it. And rarely was there any food left by the time we arrived at the hotel. For the return trip home we’d load up at the Stage Deli.
Fast forward about twenty odd years. And instead of it being spring or summer, it was winter. Yes, you can have a picnic in winter. You just can’t go outside. My boyfriend at the time and I used to do this all the time: We’d toss lots of huge pillows on the floor. Have lit candles everywhere. Stack all our favourite CDs. And have a glorious fire, raging in the fireplace.
Dinner would be beef fondue. It was one of his favourites and we created the perfect atmosphere for it. We’d lounge on the floor and cook our food, drink lots of red wine, listen to music, stare at the fire, and talk the night away. We’d spend hours and hours eating. We’d have all kinds of vegetables, as well as the steak. Carrots and several different varieties of mushrooms and peppers and zucchini. Whatever we were in the mood for. I made three or four different dipping sauces; and some steamed rice.
When it was snowing we’d open the drapes and there we’d be, cozy and warm inside looking at the snow swirling around the trees outside. It was magical. And then we’d end the evening with some really good, vintage Port.
Ant and sunburn-free picnics. What could be better than that?
As I read I could see the whole thing – from beginning to end – really good writing.
Best ‘picnic’ I ever had was in Riverside Park (NYC). There was a blanket, a wicker basket full of deli bought sandwiches and containers of cole slaw and potato salad – that never got eaten because there were no forks or spoons. There was an engagement ring and a sunset and a few onlookers that clapped for us after he got up from bended knee. 15 years later and still remember it like it was yesterday.
Thanks. Glad you liked it. WOW! Now that’s what I call an uber picnic. No topping that one. I love it. So romantic. Do you celebrate your anniversaries with picnics every year?
I wish. But no – we decided NOT to buy gifts for each other – rather, every year the other person plans a date and we make sure to do fun/unique new things. Last year we went to what we thought was the Ballet but it ended up being interpretive dance from a visiting troupe from Scandinavia I think. It was interesting – first time I ever saw ‘dancers’ act as chairs for other dancers.
Love the idea of fun and unique dates. Much better than gifts in my opinion. You make wonderful memories to be enjoyed for years and years to come.
Lovely…Your description of the winter picnic makes me yearn, well almost, for winter. 🙂
Lol. Don’t get carried away 🙂
Definitely an al fresco eater! Long standing family tradition when visiting Vancouver in the summer is to hit Granville Island Market to stock up on tons of yummy food (including sushi which is really the ultimate picnic food) and then head over to Kits Beach to enjoy food, wine and the sunset…
I love your description of your winter picnic…just have to wait a few months to try one of my own 🙂
Love Granville Island Market! No wanting to rush the season by any means, but winter picnics are really nice 🙂
Love Granville Island Market. And while I’m not trying to rush the seasons, winter picnics are wonderful 🙂
This reminds me of my favorite “picnic” too: We used to attend A LOT of Texas Rangers baseball games when I was a kid. It was usually my mom, my aunt and uncle, my cousin Jason and I. In exchange for the tickets (from my uncle’s company), my mom made the food for us all–homemade fried chicken, bread and butter, carrot sticks, celery sticks, and grapes. MMMMMM. It’s best eaten in your seats behind the 3rd-base dugout at the old (and now gone) Arlington Stadium. Go, Rangers! And thanks for the memory-jogger, Fransi!
Mmmm, sounds good! Let me know the next time you go 🙂
Picnics are fun: I like to grab a loaf of French bread, a hunk of white cheese, a bunch of grapes and head for the high cliffs on a cold winter’s day. Of course, I remembered to dress in warm clothes and carried my thermo of hot tea.
I’m with you all the way, except I’d head for the beach 🙂
My favorte family dining memory from my childhood wasn’t so much a picnic as it was Thanksgiving at my grandparents. Food set out, buffet-style, and we would all load up our plates and park our butts where we could to eat. No tables. Kids would usually sit on the floor in the living room in front of the tv, adults where ever they could find a spot. Don’t recall anyone ever being messy, and the dogs were usually kept in their room when the food was out. Of course, there was always more food than everybody could eat!
I love Thanksgiving. I think it is my favourite holiday.
What wonderful memories you have of those winter picnics. Give me those over the park version any day. In Australia, it’s almost impossible to have a traditional picnic during the very seasons you’d want to, i.e. in the warmer weather. This is because of the flies. Many years ago, when I first moved to Melbourne, Australia, from Auckland, New Zealand, my then-boyfriend and I decided to take a picnic to the local park. We spent hours getting the food ready: chicken and mayo sandwiches and several different salads were included, I seem to remember. Anyway, when we got there, we spread our blanket on the grass and set out all the food, as we would at home in New Zealand. Within about one minute, the entire spread was covered in a seething, buzzing mess of flies. We had to throw it all out before we’d had one mouthful. I never had a picnic in Australia again.
What a shame! I love picnics, but not bugs.
Yes, likewise. I think my romanticised idea of picnics comes from books I read as a child: the Famous Five series, by the British writer Enid Blyton. The four children and their dog were always taking a picnic basket across the moors or to a secret island, with loads of sandwiches and “lashings of ginger beer”.
I think mine may be as well, although I haven’t read those books.
They are fabulous children’s books, already many decades old by the time I read them in the 1970s. She wrote many children’s book series, including another I loved, the Secret Seven. There was a fascinating film made about Enid Blyton in 2009—Enid, starring Helena Bonham Carter. Controversially, the books have been re-edited for the 21st century, and have lost some of their retro appeal.
It is a pity when they do that. I don’t like it when they do it with films either. I am going to see if I can get the movie on dvd. Thanks!
You’re welcome. Yes, with a very few exceptions, I’d rather read children’s books as they were written at the time, even if they’re politically incorrect today. With young readers, we can use books to point out how things have changed through history. I go back to the words of a fabulous modern history lecturer I had at university in the 1980s. He said: “Don’t read history backwards”.
What a wonderful expression. I love it.
Yes. He was a Soviet defector who had escaped and made a new life in New Zealand. He taught a subject called Twentieth Century History in the 1980s, which I loved. Unfortunately, I don’t remember his name now, but of all the undergraduate classes I took at uni, that phrase is the one that made the biggest impression on me.
Great story. :).
My partner & I are not kitchen table people, preferring the floor, couch, bed – whatever! It is much more relaxing and civil, I think 🙂
Works for me 🙂