Nothing beats a picnic, especially a stay-at-home one. Recently I brought a friend a picnic after she injured her foot. We sat outside in her garden which eliminated the worry of driving, parking and accidently having her foot tousled and bumped. In truth, it was so peaceful and gave us more time together. I’m an enthusiast of the stay-at-home picnic. Let’s break it down . . .
Find a basket with firm sides to allow for stacking sealable glass containers, a thermos or bottle of wine. China plates and silverware can be folded into large linens or napkins. Short drinking glasses or jam jars are wrapped in placemats or hand towels that can also double as place mats. No plastic so far.
A variety of unique picnic baskets are easy to find at flea markets or estate sales. They range in price from $15 to $35. These three adorable baskets were found at the Alameda Point Antiques Market. Such bargains!
A cold thermos with tea or juice, or both combined, is a must for your picnic. Keep it in the refrigerator until you pack the basket. Here’s a recipe for a deliciously refreshing apple and mint punch. You choose whether to make it with caffeinated or herbal tea.
Apple & Mint Punch: (lightly adapted from Giada De Laurentiis)
2 strong cups of your favorite tea (I use dried nettle), cooled
1 1/2 cups apple juice, unfiltered
1 cup mint simple syrup:
Boil 1 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar over medium heat until sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add 1 cup packed mint leaves. Cool for at least 20 minutes or simply leave overnight. Strain before using.
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 small bottles of sparkling water (or one small bottle of champagne), chilled
Mix the tea, apple juice, mint simple syrup and lemon juice together in a glass pitcher. Refrigerate to cool. Pour into thermos before packing picnic basket. Wrap two small bottles of sparkling water in linens with small ice packs. When you lay out your picnic, pour the mint and apple tea over ice, and top with sparkling water or champagne. Garnish with mint sprigs. (And yes, the ice cubes are the one thing you will not transport. Your friend will happily provide these before you head to the patio or back yard.)
To bring out the inherent sweetness of tomatoes, try slow roasting them. Simply wash and spread out a few baskets of multi-colored cherry tomatoes on a baking sheet for 3 hours at 225°. No oil or slicing necessary. Use about a quarter to one-half of the roasted tomatoes in this pasta recipe and the other half can be stored in a container in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.
I love Weck glass containers because they are a wonderful alternative to plastic containers. They stack easily and look adorable. German-made Weck jars are formed from thick, hardy glass and made to withstand boiling, sterilizing and repeated use. BPA-free, phthalate-free, PVC-free, lead-free and recyclable! If you forget to pack the picnic plates, eat right out of the individual Weck jars because they make lovely little bowls. These bell shaped Weck jars called tulip jars are particularly fun.
If you prefer containers with plastic sealed lids, I use these square-shaped Italian-made Bormioli Rocco Frigoverre ones, especially easy for transporting larger quantities. Only the lid is plastic.
Prepare the mint syrup or the entire punch the night before. Make your pasta in the morning and pack in a sealed container to serve at room temperature upon arrival. Be sure to use a dried pasta. Fresh pasta made with eggs will get too mushy by the time you eat. Wash and core a few strawberries as a side snack. Mother nature’s best picnic toothbrush!
- ½ lb bow tie pasta
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, halved
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- ¾ cup white wine (or chicken broth)
- 1 cup roasted tomatoes (or fresh if you do not have time to slow roast)
- 2 handfuls fresh spinach
- Zest of one lemon
- ¼ cup basil leaves, chopped
- Optional: grated parmesan cheese
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but firm to the bite or al dente (about 8-10 minutes.) Drain.
- In a 12 inch skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and golden, about 1-2 minutes. Remove the garlic and discard.
- Add the white wine, tomatoes, spinach, a pinch of salt and crushed red pepper flakes.
- Cook until the spinach is wilted, about 6-8 minutes.
- Add chopped basil and toss.
- Remove from heat. Add lemon zest.
- Toss with pasta, and parmesan if desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with basil leaves.