Tis summer, and — finally! — many of us are on the road, attending outdoor events, and starting to gather with a few friends. It’s the season for picnics.
Picnic has a simple definition: an outing or occasion that involves taking a packed meal to be eaten outdoors, ideally in scenic surroundings such as a park, lakeside, garden, or other place affording an interesting view. Picnics are especially fun in conjunction with an event such as an open-air theater performance or tailgating at the Santa Fe Opera.
The execution of such an outing can range from simple to complex. Picnics can be an elegant affair with a white tablecloth, a candelabra, china plates, and delicacies such as paté or crustless sandwiches — and Champagne! Or a picnic may be as simple as having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a packet of chips and sun tea with a friend on a park bench.
If you are on the road and find a wonderful picnic site but have no picnic supplies, find the nearest food store to easily assemble an instant spread that may not even require utensils. Hit the refrigerated aisle for a cheese or two, some sliced meat, and mixed olives or a package of cut veggies. Zip over to the snack aisle and pick up dried fruit, a package of nuts, crunchy chips or crackers, and a package of cookies or brownies.
If the store sells baguettes, add one to your basket — or you can just stick with crackers and chips. Some stores have single-serve packets of mayonnaise, mustard, or salad dressing available near the deli section — pick up a few. Be sure to grab a roll of paper towels for clean up! Choose some cold drinks, check out, and you are on your way to that inviting picnic site.
A memorable picnic is about the location, the companions, and the food, not necessarily in that order. That PB&J with your best friend on a park bench may be the highlight of your week. An evening at a spectacular outdoor concert with all the glam could be unforgettable.
Most picnics do take at least a little bit of planning since they take place away from the dining room. That requires one to pay attention to details. After all, it is difficult to drink the sun tea without a cup or to munch a crisp salad without a fork.
If you picnic often, you might develop a list of items to pack. For example, I created a travel box — actually just a shoebox — that holds a sharp knife, corkscrew, plastic utensils, napkins, and miniature salt and pepper shakers that we place in the car for any road trip. I inherited a charming picnic set fitted with plastic wine glasses, a cutting board, a knife, corkscrew, plates and cutlery, and a tablecloth, all in a small case. It’s a great travel size when I’m planning a trip to the outdoors.
The where, when, and why of many picnics are determined by you and your companions. Concerts to weddings to birthday parties to watching stunning sunsets are all great excuses to take your food outdoors. Call your friends and family and make it a potluck or showcase one person’s culinary masterpieces. Some groups may want to choose a theme for the picnic, such as French, Mexican, or Greek food, or perhaps all salads or everything with garlic. However you approach a picnic, aim for having the most fun with the least hassle.
Many excellent sites for a picnic are crowded, noisy, and busy on weekends, but if you can plan for a weekday picnic, you may have a great spot to yourselves. Some sites require permits, which may include fees and/or reservations if you have a large group.
Since picnic sites are so diverse, everyone has their own favorite spot. When I think about taking food outdoors, though, I do also think about logistics. I know I want a quiet and uncrowded space with plenty of shade. It’s always helpful to have a restroom nearby. I like to hear the sound of water or wind in the trees.
Here are a few picnic spaces I really enjoy that perhaps you will want to consider!
Percha Dam State Park, south of Truth or Consequences at exit 59 off I-25, meets my criteria and is one of my favorite outings. There are some trails along the riverbank and through a cottonwood bosque. Usually, water is coming over the dam and bouncing along the rocky riverbed, making natural music. This is a great spot for birders, too, and we like to watch the vermillion flycatchers flit about. This park has a children’s play area, picnic tables, and restrooms. There is a $5 day-use fee per car unless you have a State Parks Annual Pass.
City of Rocks State Park in Faywood between Silver City and Deming seems such an inhospitable spot that I doubt few people consider it for a picnic. Mistake! Once picnickers venture amongst the rocks, they will discover trees and native plants, along with picnic tables. There’s room for children to run around and clamber up the rocks until they are exhausted. Picnic sites are isolated from each other, so it feels like there’s no one nearby. There is a $5 day-use fee per car unless you have a State Parks Annual Pass.
White Sands National Park extends its hours past the summer closing time of 9 p.m. on full moon nights to attract families to come and play under the night sky among the gypsum dunes. Once the sun goes down in its evening display, the dunes quickly cool. With little light pollution, the night sky is awe inspiring. Picnic areas in the dunes are sheltered, and restrooms are nearby. There is an entry fee of $25 per vehicle unless you have one of the passes from the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands series.
On a hot summer day, the cool temperatures of the mountains entice us. The Cloudcroft Trestle Recreation Area provides history, short trails, and picnic areas. Of course, this will be an excellent site for birding and watching critters, too. There are restrooms and there is no fee.
I always enjoy a stop at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge south of Socorro, especially in the fall when the birds are migrating along the Rio Grande flyway. The refuge has picnic areas near the parking lot and interpretive center, and there are restrooms at the interpretive center as well as at some of the viewing areas in the park. There is no fee to stop at the interpretive center, but to enter the refuge there is a $5 fee per vehicle unless you have one of the accepted federal passes.
If you don’t want to venture far from home, Las Cruces has numerous charming pocket parks with picnic tables, children’s play areas, and cool shade. One of my favorites is Emma B. Heske Community Garden in the Mesquite Historic District (adjacent to the Munson Senior Center, 975 S. Mesquite). This public garden has picnic tables, lots of shade and flowers, and is close to large grassy sports areas.
For a quick impromptu picnic — especially toward sunset — head to a park near the Rio Grande for a leisurely nosh as the sun gently settles below the horizon. Even when there is no water in the river, you usually can find a quiet spot for birding, letting the dog get some exercise, or just hanging out with friends.
I think everything tastes better outside in the fresh air and sunshine. A sandwich, something crunchy, and a cool drink with dirt under my feet and a tree spreading overhead is my idea of a perfect meal — and if I have a few friends to chat with, so much the better!
Occasionally, one finds a book that ticks all the boxes: beautiful cover and design, practical and accurate information, and just plain fun. The Picnic: Recipes and Inspiration from Basket to Blanket by Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker, and Jen Stevenson, is just such a book.
The book’s textured cover of red strawberries, bright flowers, and green fronds springing from a picnic basket is eye-catching. Even the included red gingham bookmark takes up the picnic theme. Emily Isabelle’s brightly colored illustrations are lighthearted, reflecting the tone of this book. However, do not equate the light tone with frivolity — this is a serious book to ensure your picnic is a pleasure.
The authors’ goal is to make you a picnic pro, taking you from planning to pack up. They provide guidelines to help you navigate the process of prepping the perfect picnic and excellent checklists for packing, too. There are six major sections: From Basket to Blanket, Bites, Salads, Plates, Sweets, and Sips. I can’t resist chapters such as 99 Ways (and Counting) to Use a Mason Jar, Blanket Buying Guide, and Darling, Disaster! 10 Picnic Crises Averted.
The authors provide recipes for appetizers, main dishes, desserts, and drinks that are practical and perfect for packing. The recipes are modern with an emphasis on fresh, such as Asparagus and Fava Beans with Poppyseed Vinaigrette and Cabbage, Pineapple, and Spiced Pepita Slaw. The Picnic was published in 2015 by Artisan New York and is available on Amazon and in bookstores for $19.95.
Written by Jackye Meinecke
Originally published in Neighbors magazine
Posted by LasCruces.com