Picnic season.

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There comes a point in May where it is no longer possible to wait to eat watermelon outside, and that point came today. Having been confined to our quarters for too long, we decided last week that we would spend our holiday Monday in a park with bocce balls and picnic foods and blankets laid out on the grass no matter what the sky looked like, even if there was a hint of rain.

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And though it was cloudy, the rain held off. There was a breeze but it wasn’t chilly, and it was warm enough for cold drinks and salads. So we sat on our blankets, and played bocce ball and badminton and chased bunnies, and some people grilled chicken wings and skewers and it was exactly how a picnic ought to be – makeshift, haphazardly planned, with the kind of foods that do not require a lot of packaging or waste to be left behind. Hours passed and we barely noticed, except toward the end when the light began to fade.

Trying to rejoin the sea.

Small boys ruin bocce ball.

Bocce.

Friends on blankets.

Eating outside is messy and important. There is something very freeing about your toddler pouring a liter of pineapple juice all over himself and the ground and it not mattering. There is something very lovely about eating while not wearing shoes. And the first picnic you take delineates the grey and the green parts of the year; a picnic is a celebration of the few glorious months when the rain falls a little less and the nights get long. It is important to celebrate.

Watermelon.

Potato salad.

Picnicky.

So gather up some fresh fruit, some sandwiches, a blanket, and some people you like and celebrate. The winter is over, the light is back, and badminton is more fun than you remember. Some time outside will restore you, and it will tucker you out. Go. Eat watermelon outside.

Tuckered.You will sleep so well.

What’s in your picnic basket?

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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?