On the topic of picnics.

I meant to tell you about picnics last night, but somewhere in the hours between the time I dropped Grace off at home and then slumped into bed, I ate something mildly poisonous that left me almost certain I would die there on the bathroom floor, cat licking my face and who-knows-what stuck to it. I seem to have survived, which is kind of nice, so I took the day off because I still don’t feel or look particularly pleasant. I’m a little leery of the way the cat seems so intent on having her mouth (and teeth and tongue) on my face, so I will stay conscious as long as possible, and tell you about picnics today instead.

I had two picnics in four days last week, the first last Thursday at English Bay with take-out fish and chips, and the second yesterday, at a park beside Westham Island, with pink wine and everything you could possibly think of to eat.

I think that picnicking is what people are talking about when they’re trying to convince me that camping is fun. But how wonderful it is when you take it away from tents and the terror of being eaten by bears or mountain lions! A picnic is officially the most civilized thing you can do outdoors.

And never mind that on Thursday I was devastated at the tarragon that afflicted my tartar sauce (it tasted like potpourri), or that we’d opted to drive instead of bike and almost missed the last half-hour of Raincity Grill’s take-out operations. One of the intrinsic lessons of picnicking is that it doesn’t always go according to plan, which is something some of us need to become a lot more comfortable with. Funny how a spot of sunshine and a view of sparkles on the water can make even the worst tartar sauce, mislaid plan, or oversight be taken in stride.

Sunday’s effort was more coordinated, and full of flavour and style in a manner that is distinctly Grace’s. We sat on an elevated pier beside the water, watching birds and boats and feeling a little smug when another group of picnickers arrived, Tim Hortons’ sandwiches and bottled water in hand. While spontaneous take-out picnics can be fun, nothing trumps a fabulous spread paired beautifully with Spanish rosé and served on proper dishes.

I now know that food eaten in fresh air and above the water-level tastes better, and that sunshine does life-changing things to cold wine. These are important lessons, also intrinsic to picnicking, and how sad would it be to never have learned them? Of course, taking my word for it is cheating, and you must go out and discover (or rediscover) these facts for yourself.

There is no reason not to. You’ll need to prepare a bit ahead of time, unless you know of a good take-out window near the beach, and you’ll need an hour and a spot to sit on. Everything else is at your discretion, though I recommend Francis Lam’s ginger-scallion sauce on cold poached chicken, Smitten Kitchen’s mango slaw, some buns to pile both onto, and a selection of other treats – pickles, salads, watermelon (don’t forget the salt), baked goods – and, obviously, wine.

You can do this alone, but it’s better with friends. Four hours and optional napping is better than one hour, and more wine is better than none, but it’s like starting with the world’s easiest recipe and over time making it your own. My personal goal is to perfect the art of picnicking before the end of summer, which means at least seven more picnics (one for each remaining summer weekend), likely more.

If you live in Vancouver (or the valley, or Whistler or the island, or Seattle or Portland or anyplace in between here and there), where do you recommend we go? And what do you recommend we bring? It would be best if perfecting the art of picnicking was a group effort. Perhaps we should all go together?

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8 thoughts on “On the topic of picnics.

  1. Ooooh tempting! So pretty!

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one salting my watermelon this year… I’ve never done it before, but it’s my #1 pregnant-girl craving!

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  2. Remember Whytecliff park? We used to go there on rare occasion. Also, I’m afraid it isn’t a picnic if there isn’t a lovely cake topped with fudge icing. Really, that’s how it’s done.

    Also Kanaka Creek in Maple Ridge is beautiful.

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  3. Well, if you come to Seattle for a picnic, I hope that you will invite me to your picnic. Shameless, I know. I recommend Gasworks Park, with a stop by PCC (a local co-op, about a mile away) to pick up provisions.

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  4. The thing I’ve always hated about picnics is how they always tend to take place in weather that is much warmer than I would prefer to be out in, while sitting in direct (overly hot, eye-glarey) sunlight. I just can’t get behind that as a concept. Now, a nice autumn picnic where sweaters are necessary to be comfortable sitting still outdoors, or a summer day that is overcast and breezy enough to make it not feel like my skin is going to broil off in crispy layers, and I could then be 100% in favour of delicious food and wine consumed outdoors.

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