Picnic Essentials

It's officially picnic season! Eating al fresco in the grass is one of my favorite simple pleasures. Fresh air, fresh food, and open space, what's not to love? Merle demands to go on a picnic almost every weekend and I'm happy to oblige. Picnics can be elaborate, Ina Garten style affairs (which is fun for parties), but I generally prefer to keep it low key. I toss a picnic blanket and a bottle of water or two in the diaper bag plus a butter knife wrapped in a linen napkin (if I remember) and pick up the rest of the picnic supplies at the farmers market en route. Here are the essential elements of a picnic.

Picnic Blanket: Cotton twill, the fabric that makes utility vests, is my go-to picnic blanket. The fabric is thick enough to protect food and bare legs from any irritants that may be in the grass below it. It is also durable and less expensive than traditional picnic blankets. Two to three yards work best for a family picnic.

Drinks: Keep it simple with water or fruit/herb infused water. For grown-up audiences, a bottle of wine or pre-mixed cocktails are nice additions, but opt for plastic stemware. It's light to carry and less fragile than the real deal.

Carbs: Picnics and baguettes go together like cold weather and hot chocolate. Baguettes are narrow enough that they can be torn by hand without the need to pack a sharp bread knife. Crackers also work for less intimate picnics where you might not want to share a hand torn loaf.

Fruits and Vegetables: Hand fruit and veggies are best for picnics because they don't require preparation and usually make less of a mess. If buying the ingredients en route to the picnic, make sure to have a linen napkin and extra water on hand to gently clean the fruits and vegetables prior to eating.

Cheese: Cheese may be my biggest guilty pleasure. It's a must have for me, even at the most basic of picnics. I like to pick it up from a cheese monger at the farmer's market, so I don't have to worry about keeping it cold for long. My other tip is to not buy more than you can eat in one sitting. Trying to keep the leftover cheese cold for the duration of the trip home is asking for trouble unless you plan on packing a cooler.

Protein: Protein can be tricky at a picnic without advance preparation. For meat eaters, I suggest jerky (there are a ton of gourmet flavors available these days) and/or cured meats like prosciutto. For vegetarians, I suggest bean dip or baked tofu, both of which can be purchased pre-made. There's also vegan jerky, which I haven't tried but I'm intrigued by the concept.

Location: Our favorite spot to picnic in Philadelphia is the Woodlands Cemetery. It may sound crude, but it's the largest spot of open grass in the area and I like to think we keep the dead company. Merle loves running around and practicing her letters by reading names on tombstones. It's away from busy streets and softens the city noises, making picnics feel more relaxing.

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