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A classic wicker picnic basket, complete with enamel plates, cups, and cutlery, makes easy work of picnic prep./Reed Hellman

Is your face chafing from wearing masks? Have your hands chapped from all the sanitizing? Are you constantly calculating a 6-foot distance from everyone? Well, maybe you oughta’ take it outside!

I mean, go for a picnic!

My venerable Oxford English Dictionary defines “picnic” as “A pleasure party including an excursion to some spot in the country where all partake of a repast out of doors.” We can all use a “pleasure party,” and given the current health cautions, “out of doors” can be a wise choice

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A choice venue can make the picnic superb./Reed Hellman

That definition of picnic can stretch to cover everything from a Big Mac at the “dashboard diner,” to a catered, multi-course repast served on china and linen in a backcountry paradise. The important part is the “outside,” getting out of the house, out into the open somewhere, preferably out into nature. A successful outdoor meal melds three interwoven elements: The location, the repast and the pleasure. The location, to a large extent, dictates the foods you can bring and the types of pleasures and adventures that you can expect. If you want the china and linen, transporting it and preparing an elaborate meal in a remote site requires serious resources. Conversely, a backyard or the nearby urban park may offer easy access, wash facilities, covered pavilions, picnic tables and grills, but only relatively tame adventures and scenery.

Choosing the Menu

The only “rule” governing outdoor meals is: If you want it, you’ve got to get it there, get it prepared and get it cleaned up. I imagine that every food item since mastodon tenderloins has appeared on somebody’s al fresco menu. More realistically, sandwiches and salads work well because they offer so much variety and taste good cold. Safety also governs menu choices. Raw meats, dairy products, some prepared foods and anything containing raw eggs should not be left at room temperature, let alone in the hot sun. If you plan to travel more than a few minutes away from reliable refrigeration, use a cooler with ice or a freezer pack. Cooking meats also requires some facility for washing your hands. Clean up is the final act of successful outdoors dining; so, carry dedicated trash bags and leave your site cleaner than when you found it.

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Shopping local markets can offer interesting, fresh items for your outdoors menu./Reed Hellman

Again consulting the OED tells me that “originally [picnics were] a fashionable social entertainment in which each person present contributed a share of the provisions.” An afternoon idyll spent flying kites at a local park offers very different menu possibilities than a trail break in an alpine meadow in the Tetons. However, regardless of the venue, certain recipes just seem to work well outdoors.

Trailside Guacamole

  • One large or two small ripe avocadoes
  • 1 jar of your favorite salsa, decanted into a plastic bag
  • 1 chopped tomatillo
  • 1 sprig chopped cilantro
  • 1 1/2 pita breads per person
  • 1-gallon resealable plastic bag
  • Additional chopped onion, green and red pepper, tomato or other appropriate vegetables

Peel the avocadoes and discard the seed. Place the avocado meats, salsa, tomatillo, cilantro and any additional vegetables into the plastic bag. Expel all the air from the bag and seal tightly. Squish the bag back and forth until all ingredients are mixed. Serve the guacamole on the pita breads.

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Salads and vegetable dishes, prepared in advance, work well on picnic menus./Reed Hellman

Waldorf Salad

  • 4 cups cubed apples
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon salt and white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (or to taste)

Mix all ingredients, chill well and keep chilled until used.

Grilled Tenderloin Fontaine

  • 1 5- to 7-ounce beef tenderloin, 1 inch thick, per person
  • Sandwich roll for each steak
  • Commercially prepared marinade, or make your own from apple cider vinegar seasoned with coarsely ground pepper, kosher salt, oregano, garlic, and mustard to taste.
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Available facilities, such as barbecue grills, can enhance a picnic's location./Reed Hellman

Place tenderloins in a sealable plastic bag with enough marinade to cover. Purge all the air from the bag, seal tightly, double-bag and place in the freezer. On the day of the meal, remove the frozen bagged steak from the freezer. It will be several hours before the steaks thaw if you keep them insulated, enabling you to easily transport them. You can even use the frozen steaks as cold blocks to keep other foods chilled. Spit the steaks on a skewer or forked stick and quickly grill on an open fire. Serve on the sandwich rolls.

Reed Hellman is a professional writer living in Alberton, Maryland. Email your questions and comments to RHWay2Go@gmail.com .

Olive Tapenade

  • 1/2 pound olive medley (mixed olives), pitted and drained
  • 1 roasted red pepper, fresh or jarred
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or to taste
  • Small bunch of fresh parsley, thyme, and chives, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lemon

In a food processor, add olives, garlic and red pepper. Pulse only until coarsely chopped, then transfer to a bowl. Add capers, red pepper flakes, lemon juice and herbs. Toss with enough oil to coat.

Smoked Salmon Roll-ups

Flour Tortilla bread spread with Boursin cheese (moderately thick) topped with smoked salmon, topped with very thin blanched asparagus. Roll the Tortilla into a log very tightly and slice crosswise. No cooking is required, the flavors blend beautifully, the asparagus adds a crunch and when sliced and laid on their cut side you see the white of the cheese, the pink of the salmon, and the green of the asparagus. This pinwheel effect looks like much more fuss than was required. The secret is to spread all the ingredients evenly so that every piece has all the colors.

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