Friday, July 15, 2022

Rhys on the Perfect Picnic

 RHYS BOWEN: One of my favorite things about summer is picnics. The idea of sitting in a beautiful surrounding and opening a picnic basket full of goodies has always appealed to me. When I was a child we often drove to the coast, about an hour away. My mother always packed a picnic and we chose a suitable spot in a field (making sure there was no bull in residence first) or in a grove of trees. We’d spread out a blanket and out would come the sandwiches: salmon and shrimp paste, cheese and pickle, ham and mustard, egg and cress. There would be fruit from our trees and of course some good biscuits/cookies. My parents always carried a vacuum flask of hot tea so we’d round off the meal with a good British cuppa.

My dream picnic is the one described in the Wind in the Willows. Do you remember it? When the Rat takes the Mole for a boat ride. Talk about mouth-watering. I’ve always wanted one of those picnic baskets that is equipped with everything. I do have one but it’s only okay. And these days one needs a cooler for the wine!

My favorite picnic memory? When I was at the BBC two friends and I had the same day off (we worked shifts in the drama department). So we popped into Selfridges and bought a cold chicken, fresh crusty bread, some cheeses, grapes and a bottle of chilled wine. Then we took the tube out to Kew, rented a boat on the river and rowed until we found a lawn area, shaded by a willow tree. We sat in the shade, tearing off bits of cold chicken, sipping chilled wine and then sleeping in the shade. I still smile at that memory.

And it’s triggered another memory: My mother’s 75th birthday in Australia. She didn’t want to go to a restaurant but wanted a picnic on the headland overlooking the ocean. My brother and his wife’s family provided the goodies: every kind of seafood you can imagine—oysters, lobster, shrimp, Balmain bugs—a type of crab. Dipping sauces. A cheese platter, a fruit bowl. Several salads. And of course champagne and birthday cake. We sat and ate and drank and swam all day. Heaven.

Alas, I am married to a non-picnicker. He doesn’t like getting sand in his food, or bugs, or sitting uncomfortably on a blanket. If I pack a meal he wants to eat his in the car as we drive. No romance in his soul at all. I do manage to fit in a picnic when one of the kids is visiting or when we are on vacation. IN England these days it’s so easy with ready-made food at pret-a manger or Marks and Spencers who have wonderful pork pies, sausage rolls etc etc.  Hopefully we’ll be able to do that this fall when we go to England and France.

So my ideal picnic would be:

Homemade sausage rolls

Baguette and brie

Assorted olives

Assorted salami etc

Maybe a quiche

Fruit in season

Dark chocolate

Okay, what have I left out?

So are you fans of picnics? What are your must-haves?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: That sounds glamorous and wonderful, Rhys. And i do envy you! ! I, um, well, I hesitate to say, but I am not a picnic fan. Oh, I know, I am not romantic, or experimental, or flexible. Bugs, hard ground, no chairs, heat. No bathrooms, no ice. Bugs. Melty food.  Salmonella. Garbage. Unpredictable weather. Dirt, sand. Bugs.  Dirt.  May I go with your husband to a restaurant? Outdoors is fine, really, we can pretend it’s a picnic. Oh, look, it’s training! Nope, that’s just me and my wet blanket. 

RHYS: Okay, you and John can have a boring, civilized meal while we have fun with the ants and bees.

JENN McKINLAY: What lovely memories, Rhys. My parents were big picnickers when I was a kid and we usually went to lovely nature spots on Sunday afternoons and Mom wowed us all with what she could stuff into a basket and cooler. After running around for hours, we would decimate her labors like a troop of ants. 

I love a good picnic. When Hub and I were dating it was cold chicken, potato salad, and frosty beers while we sat on a blanket on the green in Prescott. Later, we incorporated the boys but, alas, kids grow up, and parents get busy so it’s been a minute since we’ve had a proper picnic. 

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Rhys, your perfect picnic could be mine! In fact, all your picnics sound divine. Picnics in Texas, however, are not nearly so idyllic. (Think Hank's bugs, squared, with a dose of miserable heat.)  But my parents loved to picnic on car trips, so we stopped in many a roadside park with our Kraft Sharp Cheddar, Triscuits, and tins of sardines. Very messy but delish! But my favorite picnic memories are from traveling with them on rail passes in Europe and England. On the trains in France we had baguettes and French cheeses and wine; in England cold pork pies with bottles of cider and fresh-picked Cox apples. Yum.


LUCY BURDETTE
: Still howling from Hank’s reservations about picnics! I would say my favorite picnics are those described in THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS. I would go anywhere with these characters! Here’s one description:” There he got out the luncheon-basket and packed a simple meal, in which, remembering the stranger's origin and preferences, he took care to include a yard of long French bread, a sausage out of which the garlic sang, some cheese which lay down and cried, and a long-necked straw-covered flask wherein lay bottled sunshine shed and garnered on far Southern slopes.” Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

RHYS: Okay, if we have a Reds picnic we’ll have to remember to have a table and chair, screened in with a bug screen, for Hank! Who else has an aversion to bugs? Sand? Sitting on the ground? And who loves picnics?

39 comments:

  1. Picnic? Yes, please.
    Ours were always for the children, so it was off to the playground/park. Peanut butter was a favorite; chicken, grapes, cheese; whatever we had on hand that could go into the basket . . . .

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  2. Ok, WHAT is a sausage roll? A porkpie? (I mean, if an exotic crumpet can turn out to be a flat-ish variation on what webuy in grocery stores as an "English muffin," maybe I've had those by another name. But they sound so exotic!

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    1. A sausage roll is a bite sized English pastry with sausage rolled into pie pastry and baked. We always have them at Christmas.

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  3. I love picnics, but I no long sit comfortably on the ground, so I'll bring my own beach chair. Speaking of beaches, for a few years, starting when my older son was going off to college, our friends came up from Medford and we had an end-of-day potluck picnic on the beach. We swam, played bocce, ate, and one year we even played Scrabble on the blanket. Such lovely memories.

    Just last Saturday we were at same son's, and same friends (well, one of them, now with two little children) came for the day. We took picnic cloth and chairs and drinks (rose for the ladies) and watermelon, bought sandwiches, and picnicked in the shade next to the playground, so various grownups could watch and play with the energetic four year old on the play equipment. It was easy and perfect. The one year old just had fun crawling around and gumming a watermelon rind.

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  4. Hmmm, it's not an aversion to bugs, more like mosquitoes & midges find me yummy. I get bitten so often despite wearing insect repellant. As a kid, we did NOT do many picnics except the few times we went to Wasaga Beach. That's a popular summer getaway west of Toronto on the shores of Lake Huron.

    However, I do like eating "en plein air" on a park bench with some artisan bread & charcuterie or a huge Italian deli sandwich + cannoli for dessert.

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  5. Because we grew up eating all our meals on the screened porches at the cottages, we never went on picnics except with the Girl Scouts (which involved making a "sit-upon" and packing things I would not eat like PBJ or egg salad, drinking things I wouldn't drink like warm coke in glass bottles, and spending time with a bunch of classmates I didn't quite like.) Once one of the scout leaders hastily made us get out from under a shady elm tree. Moments later, a huge branch came crashing down where we'd been sitting, a consequence of the Dutch Elm disease that robbed our cities of their grand summer canopies.

    Nope, not a fan of picnics, I don't think.

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    1. Ellen, my grandson has a similar problem with party/picnic food. He detests pizza, always has, and nowadays that's the food of choice for most kids. Poor, poor Zak, who prefers sushi. LOL

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  6. When I was growing up in San Juan, my family and I ate most of our meals outside anyway--no screen porches, like Ellen's, but always at a table in the shade. There were lots of picnics, too, usually with cold roast chicken, bread, and fruit. We often ate on the ground sitting on a tarp or two. The most exciting picnic I can remember, though, involved a picnic table. We were in the middle of the meal at a table in a field, with the car not too far away, when it started to drizzle. My sister, my mother, and I gathered up the food, and my father ran to the car for the plastic tarps. Soon we were finishing our lunch all scrunched up, sitting on one tarp UNDER the picnic table with another one spread over the table to keep us dry. By then rain was coming down in sheets, as it often does in the tropics, and my sister and I, snuggled up to our parents in the damp half-dark, finished our food and thought it was so much fun. Needless to say, I don't remember how wet we were when we finally got back into the car; I can only remember how much the four of us were laughing.

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    1. Great memory, Kim! Sometimes the rainy days are the best ones!

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  7. Growing up in the US, my family didn't have a tradition of romantic picnics, but stuff like weenie roasts with potato chips, pickles and occasionally a potato salad and slaw. Or prosaic ham sandwiches on white bread. Reading this post, I envision a lovely English tea transported. Cucumber, cress & cream cheese tea sandwiches, and yes! salmon or shrimp paste. Custard tarts? Raised chicken and ham pies with apricots, served cold? Madeleines? Scones! Tea in a thermos. I've never had such a picnic. At 73 maybe it's time! (Let's invite the bugs to stay home, and - I am too old to crawl around on the ground, or to get up after sitting on a blanket more than 10 minutes. :D ) A nice picnic table in the shade, please, for the mature lady. (Only problem is, I need a servant to cook all this food and pack it up. That's not happening. LOL).

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  8. Great description of picnics past, Rhys! I am a huge fan of picnics and dining "en plein air."

    As a child, my mother couldn't sit on a blanket because of her crippling disease, but nevertheless, she would drive us to the beach a few times each summer. My brother who was strong as an ox even as a small boy, carried the cooler and a beach chair for her, and we'd bring a blanket and towels. We'd stay all day. I can't remember what we ate, but it's a great memory.

    Irwin and I tent camped with the kids for a week or two each summer. We would hike up a White Mountain or Adirondack trail to get a great view, and eat sandwiches and gorp and fruit and cookies. In cooler weather I would bring a thermos of coffee or tea but most picnics we drank water.

    When we began to travel without the kids, our vacations all included hikes and picnics. We have hilarious stories of deer and squirrels and other "visitors" to our private mountainside picnics, probably attracted by the smell of the nuts in the gorp. These memories make me feel nostalgic.
    A nice picnic is my idea of heaven.

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  9. Hallie here - I’m dying to come to Rhys’s picnic! I have zero memories of any picnics growing up - as a young married I went to Shakespeare in the (central) Park always picnicking between waiting online for one of their free seats and curtain time … can’t remember what we ate only the magnificent productions. (one night it was Taming of the Shrew with Raoul Julia and Meryl Streep. Talk about mesmerizing performances, and they were within reaching distance!)

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    1. Wow, Hallie! I would have loved to see those two.

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  10. Hank Phillippi RyanJuly 15, 2022 at 8:26 AM

    Oh yes, well I forgot another kind of picnic which I do love… We always eat outdoors in the summer, in our backyard, strung with twinkly lights and candles and all the flowers, and it is absolutely gorgeous! I mean… Transporting. But there is a table and chairs, so does that count? And when we go to Tanglewood, we picnic on the lawn waiting to hear the Boston symphony, and that can be pretty great. (Somehow there are no bugs at Tanglewood.) People set up tables even, with candles and table cloths and flowers, it’s incredibly elegant, and truly fun!

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  11. I love the idea of a picnic (with Rhy's menu!) more than I love an actual picnic. Like Hank, I'm not big on bugs or ants crawling up my bare leg while I'm pretzled on a blanket trying to balance a drink and a plate of food. But I do love spending time on our front patio, screened by the flower beds and comfortable at the small table and chairs, enjoying afternoon tea and chocolate biscuits!

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  12. Love picnicking. As a child my mom had one of those baskets where everything straps in. She would stuff it full of foods and off we would go - shrimp, potato, macaroni salads (no one ever got sick, wonder what her secret was) breads and crackers, and iced chocolate cake for dessert. We loved it. When I moved from home my brother's gift to me was a fully stocked picnic basket with a wine wrap cooler. By then picnics had morphed to baguettes, cheeses, and sausages. Is there anything better than brie on a chunk of fresh baguette with a side of champagne? Yum!

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  13. We had picnics on a regular basis when I was a child, especially on Labor Day--the last big celebration before school started. I don't really remember the food although I think it included chicken. I remember how fun it was to go to a park (picnic tables, play equipment) or when we were with our friends, the Peases, Dabney State Park on the Sandy River.

    Our church regularly holds a summer Eucharist and picnic in a local park. The meal includes hot dogs and hamburgers and a variety of delicious dishes from all the parishioners. Folks can really cook! One year I made my sneaky mac-n-cheese (sneaky because it contains pureed butternut squash) and was delighted to find an empty pan at the end of the picnic. I'm very excited that we will be picnicking again on July 31.

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  14. When we were kids, we would go and visit my grandmother twice a year. She lived in Prince Edward Island and we lived in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia so it was a very long 8-hour drive involving three kids, a station wagon (no seatbelt, no ipad), and two ferry rides which usually involving missing at least one of them and requiring an hour long wait for the next.
    In the late 50’s - early 60’s there were no McDonalds to stop for food and a break, so we packed a picnic and stopped along the side of the road, usually by the pipe that spewed out the best cold water from a spring somewhere up the ‘mountain’ that you ever tasted. My mother would roast a chicken and boil some eggs as the main part of the picnic. Then there were the sandwiches.
    I have discovered that no one else except my mother made these sandwiches. Picture yourself undoing the wax paper on two slices of bread. Open the bread. Lots of butter – my mother loved butter! Salt and pepper. There - you are done – a salt and pepper sandwich!
    There was method to her madness. She expected you to take a piece of chicken or some slices of egg (she usually forgot to bring a knife) and put it between the two slices of bread. I preferred my protein straight, and there was no mayonnaise anyway, so I always had a chunk of chicken, a boiled egg, and ate that semi-horrible salt and pepper sandwich, washed down with that absolutely delicious water.
    Then back in the car for the rest of the interminable ride to PEI – are we there yet?

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    1. Road-trip food! Are we there yet? We were a road trip family, four kids (unless some had other obligations), our parents, our grandmother (except for the one time she stayed home with our youngest sister). A box of prepared sandwiches (sliced chicken or canned salmon mainly) on hard rolls or bakery bread, never any butter or mayo or even mustard, what you grabbed was what you ate. All kinds of fruit. Home-made cookies. And you pulled it out of the cardboard box it was packed in and started eating (and asking "Are we there yet?") within blocks of home. I'm still more comfortable eating in the car than, say, in front of the TV.

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  15. Every once in a while we'd go to a local park during the summer but there was usually a picnic table. Cold sandwiches, chips, fruit, and cookies/biscuits. If it was an exceptionally hot weekend, we would head to one of the smaller beaches on the Sonoma Coast, where dad would barbeque a chicken in a small pit in the sand. Sitting on old army blankets, trying to keep sand out of the potato salad and walking up and down those narrow, steep paths from the parking lot to the beach was all part of the adventure.

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  16. Oh, good grief, I can't believe I missed adding on to this. Although I wouldn't have much to say, as I agree 100% with Hank. My idea of a picnic is a delightful selection of finger foods and little sandwiches served on a deck overlooking water. Waiters are a nice touch, as is cold prosecco.

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    1. May I come to your picnic? I’ll bring the adult beverages

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  17. Rhys, I don't you have chiggers in England. The scourge of Texas picnics that you will carry with you for weeks!

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    1. Chiggers! Help. I haven’t thought of those monsters in years. I remember having one near my ankle once and scratching until I bled.

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    2. This is Kim, BTW.

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  18. I haven't picnicked much in the last few decades, save for an annual large group outing to "Picnic With the Pops," where each couple brings their own adult beverages and one appetizer or other food to share. For years we did that in the lawn seats, meaning a real picnic on a blanket, but a few years ago decided it was time to upgrade to the area with tables.

    I have one special picnic memory from high school. My friends set me up with a boy because he had his driver's license first and they all wanted him to have a girlfriend so they could double date. He was PAINFULLY shy, and they chose me figuring I could talk enough for the both of us. By the time he asked me out, I was scheduled to work the night he suggested, but I counterproposed a picnic the next day. I packed the meal and we went out, and it was the perfect way to get him to open up, as there was no other entertainment. We were a couple for more than a year -- a long-term relationship in teen time!

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  19. What wonderful memories, Rhys! And what wonderful memories this has unleashed, both my own and others'.

    I was thinking my family never picnicked, but that's not true. We always went to my mom's work's annual picnic at a local amusement park, and sat at picnic tables with hundreds of others under a shady grove. And on Sundays in the summer we went to my grandparents' after church, along with gobs of cousins, aunts and uncles, sitting outside in their huge, shady backyard, listening to the uncles playing music, with another uncle doing crazy magic tricks for us kids.

    I have one of those fitted picnic baskets, a wedding gift 40 years ago, but it has not gotten a ton of use, I have to admit. Coolers are far more practical, and we have several sizes that accommodate different levels of picnics and other plein aire dining. My favorite, which we haven't done in years, was to take a chilled bottle of white and some snacks to an outdoor concert or play in the park. We should really revisit that idea! We have done plenty of roadside dining on long car trips, too. Rest areas with picnic tables are the best.

    Just this past weekend I went to a friend's for a picnic. He and his wife were traveling, but his three kids invited us and some other friends to join them and their younger friends, which was really fun. The "kids" (in their late 30s, one who is a chef) cooked and played music, and we sat like pashas, waiting for the food to be ready, just enjoying a lovely evening.

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  20. The last picnics we did on a regular basis were at Blossom Music Festival (summer home of the Cleveland SO) in NE Ohio. We would arrive early and snag a table for a wonderful supper packed--not in a wicker hamper--but a red and white igloo cooler. Chicken salad sandwiches in croissants, fresh fruit salad, whole strawberries dipped in chocolate, and brownies for dessert. Champagne or a rose wine. I wore a special dress--chintz, with a full skirt.

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  21. Deb's French train picnic is a memory of mine too, with the extra part of sharing our food with an Algerian family in the same car (I tried to book a private berth on le train bleu but made a hash of it with my terrible French). Turned out to be a charming trip - their kids were adorable, their food was delish, and a grand time was had by all except my then-husband, who wasn't into sharing so much! (Susan Shea)

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  22. Kathy Boone ReelJuly 15, 2022 at 1:44 PM

    I'll be joining Hank and John at the outdoor cafe for my picnic. I know that I won't have to fight them for my food like I would ants and flies and gnats and any other icky bugs. And there will be those lovely things called chairs to sit on. Oh, I've been to picnics, family picnics, where there's lots of good food, but those were at picnic tables. They were fine, as a kid, as I was used to running the outdoors then. Oh, and way back in the day when my mother packed us food on a trip, we'd stop at a roadside picnic table or shelter, and that was great for my siblings and me, but I think about my mother having to get it all prepared. But somewhere along in young adulthood, the rose-colored glasses came off about picnics and my eyes were opened to more comfortable eating and seating arrangements. I'm plenty romantic, but it just doesn't involve dirt, sand, bugs, heat, or sitting on the ground. Waiter, I'll have another glass of wine, please.

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  23. I love picnics. I have fond memories of Grammy packing grape jelly and cream cheese sandwiches to the beach. I also love beaches. Growing up summer picnics were always potlucks at our house with hot dogs and burgers grilled on the fireplace. Wonderful memories

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  24. Rhys- you forgot the wine! We had a picnic in the grounds of Versailles that I will always remember. We booked a bicycle tour and as part of it we stopped at little shops to get aged ham, cheeses, fresh baguettes and wine. Then we stopped at one of the long pools under the trees and had a picnic.

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