Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Perfect Summer Meal

RHYS: I don't know about you but picnics are my favorite meals. To sit amid the beauties of nature nibbling at good food and sipping good wine is my idea of heaven. Sometimes when I'm on a hike with my friends and we find a spot high on Mount Tamalpais overlooking the Bay and the ocean we look at each other and agree that life doesn't get any better than this.

Since I've been stuck in the house I've been looking forward to my first picnic of summer and thinking back over the most memorable ones. And the winner is my mother's 75th birthday. She requested a picnic and my brother's family planned it. It took place on the cliffs above the Pacific just outside Sydney, Australia, a site shaded by gum trees. And spread on the table was every kind of cold seafood--oysters, lobster, Balmain bugs (a kind of crustation) jumbo prawns, and then a complete cheese board, salads and chilled champagne. We worked our way through it all afternoon, dozed, went for a swim, started eating again. That was when the desserts were produced--Pavlova, fresh fruit, a home made birthday cake, chocolates, port and liqueurs. I want the same for my 75th!

So, dear Reds--your most memorable picnic or your fantasy picnic please.

HALLIE: That sounds so fabulous, Rhys! So perfect -- and seafood and champagne, what luxury! My favorite picnic foods: cold fried chicken, homemade cole slaw and a slice of (also homemade of course) apple pie... or chocolate cake. Cold beer. Eat it anywhere.

Memorable picnics past are traveling in Nice, sitting on a bench by the water and eating a fresh baguette and brie cheese and smoked ham and peaches... huge ripe peaches.

JAN BROGAN:  I confess that as much as I'm into cooking and good meals, I am not a big picnic fan.  I love dining al fresco at home or at a restaurant, but I'm not fond of packing and transporting food and then eating it awkwardly on a lap or blanket.  It seems really messy to me, and I'm always just waiting to be done with it.

That said: Although I never think of it as a picnic,  my absolute favorite thing to do is to take a bottle of white wine, cheese and crackers or pita bread and hummus to watch the sunset at Menemsha on Martha's Vineyard. For me, it's not really about the food, but the scene - the little kids and puppies on the beach, the beauty of the fading day - and the crowd cheering together over nature's performance art. 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Picnic. Um, no. There's no place to sit, and there are bugs. And your drinks tip over and then you have to clean up. Okay, you know I am not a complainer, but...not a fan. (With ya, Jannie.) I do love when we sit in the back yard, watching the summer stars and sipping palmyras and snacking on prosciutto and's so peaceful. We picnicked (at a TABLE) in Castellina in Chianti, with wine and pecorino and fresh peaches. Does that count as a "picnic"?  (I just typed "peachful." And wish I didn't have to change it.)

RHYS: Hank, you and John should have hooked up. His idea of a picnic is eating the food in the car as we drive toward the beauty spot. And if we have to eat outside... gulp...then he needs his side plate and napkin and to sit way above any ants!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Texas in the summer is not ideal picnic land.  Start with flies, ants, and ferocious mosquitoes. Add heat, and if the sun is still shining, sunburn.

I want Rhys's picnic!!  I've always hankered after one of those very English picnic hampers you see in catalogs, and imagined a picnic like that... Champagne or chilled white wine, oysters, fruit, good cheese... overlooking the seaside or the beautiful rolling hills of somewhere like the Cotswolds or Somerset.  Big sigh. But as for real life, I think my most memorable picnics were with my parents when we took long summer car vacations when I was a child.  We'd stop at roadside parks and snack on Ritz crackers with Cracker Barrel cheddar, deviled ham, and Vienna sausages. With root beer, which was a special treat. (And sometimes, bizarrely, sardines.) I know it sounds horrible now, but I loved it then.

And then traveling in Europe with my parents when I was in my twenties we had some wonderful picnics--we bought croissants or French bread, Camenbert, salami, fresh fruit, and wine, and picnicked on the trains.  Certainly a step up from Vienna sausage! Lovely times.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: If we're defining picnics as al fresco dining that doesn't include a waiter or a menu - pb&j at the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers in Canyonlands National Park. Champagne and marmite and lettuce sandwiches on the Masai Mara. Chicken salad on the lawn at Tanglewood. Chablis and who remembers what we ate at a vineyard in Burgundy. Cold beer and chicken by the Merced river in Yosemite. Must go...I'm getting hungry.

RHYS: So it's all about location, location, isn't it? The food doesn't really matter... unless it's oysters, lobster, cheese board etc.. and then it does. Any memorable picnics to share?


  1. As a child, I spent Thanksgivings and Easters on huge family picnics at Charleton Flats, a U.S. park halfway up L.A.’s San Gabriel Mountains. We ate cold turkey or ham, breads, cheeses, apples and pears, and cooked fresh coffee, hamburgers, hot dogs, and vegetables on the park-provided grill. In the beginning there were enough boys and men to play touch football (Dad imagined we were the Kennedys), but later the contest became shooting champagne corks the farthest. For real drama, my brother would report the Rangers had seen a Grizzly bear in the area. And on Easter, my Dad would annually hand out chocolate eggs as prizes for goofy awards he made up, then drink too many toasts. Mom would complain about having to drive down the mountain. Thank you, Rhys, for making me remember all this. I miss those picnics and people.

  2. My favorite picnics have always taken place on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

    The earliest ones when I was younger and still living at home. We would sit beside the river with friends and family with a bushel of crabs. Usually crabs that had just been pulled out of that river earlier that day.

    Now it's when we go "home" to the Eastern Shore and sit by that same river with some of those very same friends, 45 years later, with a bushel of crabs. Crabs that have been pulled out of that river earlier that day.

    and now I'm homesick.

    So, yes, I think it's all about location. Along with the folks you're sharing that picnic with.

  3. What Kaye said - location, location, location. I've had string cheese on a glacier and it was as memorable as champagne!

  4. In my childhood, we spent at least one summer weekend day along a fly fishing stream, so the picnic and campfire are a well-ingrained family tradition. But Mr. Right & I live in the country, with a fabulous back deck opening on to the woods, with views of mtns, trees, and many wild animals -- brand-new fawns now -- so we don't pack up and go often. I do love once or twice a summer taking a champagne picnic to the shores of Flathead Lake.

    But most memorable: visiting a law/grad school roommate in northern VA, and going with her & her parents to Wolf Trap Farm to hear the NY City Opera traveling company perform La Boheme. My first & only opera. Her dad dug out the libretto so I could see it in advance, and her mother packed an elaborate (to me, of campfire childhood) basket of cheese, bread, salads, oysters, and champagne that we ate on those lovely grounds. (I got to see that friend after Malice, and in catching up, that perfect evening was tops in both our memories!)

  5. Another location came back to me--when I was s student, hiking in the Alps and we climbed to the snowline on the Eiger. We had brought yoghurt and peaches and put them in the snow while we climbed on, then came back to retrieve them. Ah, the wonder of sitting in an Alpine meadow, surrounded by flowers, eating ic-cold yoghurt.

  6. Okay, Rhys, now you've really made my Vienna sausages look bad:-)

  7. Rhys, that's magical! xo

    Aw, KAye...I didn't know you were from MAryland!

  8. Kaye,
    Those bushel of crabs you are talking about me are making me miss crab dinners with my brother in Maryland.

    OUtside Annapolis somewhere, I love going to those restaurants with the newspaper table clothes and eating through bushels of crabs and drinking cold beer.

  9. Leslie, you're in Montana?
    PK the Bookeemonster (in Billings, MT)

  10. I'm with Jan and Hank on picnics outside on the ground. Not really my thing. Like Deb's Texas, Kansas City's summers with triple-digit temps, humidity almost as high, blazing sun, and chiggers! make that less than desirable.

    But if we're talking alfresco dining, as Rhys suggested near the end of the post, my youngest son and I bought sandwiches made to order with assorted side dishes and desserts at the Covered Market in Oxford and shared a bench outside to eat a lovely lunch in the dry, cool air of Oxford in July.

    They told us they were having a heat wave. It got all the way up to 70-something, and they told us Oxford was horribly humid. We were grateful for the kindness and friendliness of the people we encountered, so we forebore to mention 100+ degree days with 94% humidity and things like that.) That weather and the lack of insects are what caused my youngest to decide he needed to live in England. Well, there might have been a bit about history and literature, etc. (But it was really the lack of chiggers!)

  11. Growing up in Upstate NY, we picniced 99% of the saturdays in my childhood through teens and then maybe twice a month after I got out of school until I moved to Fla where NOone Picnic - red ants, hot weather, red ants.

    Never less than 3 families, sometimes 5,6 families. Lake George state Park for years then once Saragota opened state park, we rotated. Also sometimes it would be at one of the families house.

    Always tons of food, fun, sunburn:( more food and fun. We left before the sun was up as LGeorge was 1-1/2 hr drive back then and park opened at 7am, once in all the years we went there

    I remember the Ranger saying, Morning Mr Jacob, you aren't the first car today. Usually we were at the Ranger gate before he was.

    Yes picnic at 7am until park closed at dark, meant 3 meals cooked on the charcoal grill, didnt matter what, hamburgers, hotdogs, Spagetti& Meatballs, bfast - eggs, pancakes, Daddy and the other Dad's made awesome campground Bfast!!

    Beach (lakeG) pool (Sar park),home after dark, church Sunday am then leftover picnic food rest of week unitl it was gone

    In the fall, after church once or twice a month, we would go for a ride to VT or NH take a picnic, some lovely state parks on small lakes or just stop at a roadside picnic table and have lunch, and home by dinner time.

    I miss NewEngland so much the older I get.

    I loved rides in VT, esp in the fall, cheese and basket shops - my day off when I worked in hosp, I'd head to VT for day.

    Vt banned (at least back then) billboards, making a ride very nice.

    There were pulloffs with a picnic table in the middle of nowhere and off main roads - state placed signs with picture of Picnic Table and would give distance in feet ahead - they made it easy for anyone to have a picnic in the middle of nowhere.

    Sadly, my DH's family never heard of picnics - first time I suggested one he looked at me like I was from another planet.

    Once we had a home with a screen porch I suggested eating on screen porch - ???? why it's 5 ft from kitchen table, so I'd eat out there and he'd eat at kitchen table, the concept was just odd to him, still is. This must have something to do with blog last week about men being from some weird planet!!!

    I do miss picnicing and all the fun, so many people, badmitton, horseshoes, softball, tag, potato bag races

    growing up in summertime, neighborhood kids congregated at someones house for lunch most weekdays - you brought your own sandwich, the mom of the day supplied koolaide and papercups -

    we ate in the yard under a tree; if it was raining we usually sat on garage floor or a covered porch.

    We had a little folding table and chairs in our garage -

    you played "outside" even in the rain - once the rain stopped - we'd all gather in our bathing suits at the corner where there was always a huge puddle (mini lake to us) and play -if it was just rain, no thunder lightening, then we had our suits on and played in the rain

    So many kids now, miss out on so much "childhood fun"

    Sigh, I really do miss huge gatherings of families for picnics, slower pace of life in the 50's & 60s even as an adult in the 70's I still loved picnicing -

    My friend and I use to gooup to LGeorge and watch the ice sailboat races, we'd take charcoal, lighter, hotdogs, buns and since park was closed, we'd use a hibachi at one of the rest areas near lake george on the northway - and have a picnic - we got odd looks and i'm sure there were some who thought we were mental and thought maybe they should notify police that 2crazy women were cooking out hotdogs and having a picnic in snowy 30 degree or colder weather :o)

    Rhys, your Mom's picnic sounded lovely what a fun way to celebrate her BD !



  12. Oh, Rhys, you gave me the perfect idea on how to surprise my man this weekend! Summer is a beatiful season and we all have to celebrate it with indulging in some tasty food, great company and outdoor location! Thanks for the inspiration!