By Elizabeth Myllenbeck
I just cleared out the last remains of holiday lighting from my house only to discover a new crop of weeds – whatever they are – growing under mulch. Although COVID-19 is ever present, the dreariness of winter is lifting, daffodils are starting to pop their little yellow buds and birds have begun to rejoice.
This week, I could not be more ecstatic to see the temperatures rise into the 60s and 70s. It seems as though our year-long nightmare may be coming to an end – in six or so months – and it feels good. Getting out into the fresh air and enjoying sunshine is a must on the list of things to do and so is enjoying that with great food and drink.
The pandemic might still be going on, but one spring and summer tradition is here to stay: the picnic. It’s time to sit on the grass and warm your soul. Watch the dogs scamper at Founder’s Park and throw a blanket down for a Vitamin D break.
Put down the phone, chat, read and rest your brain. Celebrate the coming of spring with pastel ribbons wrapping your favorite cheeses, charcuterie, strawberries and raspberries and a boule of crunchy sourdough. And cupcakes. You must have cupcakes. You do not have to dream it – you can do it.
It is simple to make a delightful picnic basket. Must-have supplies include a small cutting board, sharp paring knife, glasses, napkins and plates, if you want to be fancy.
Stock your basket or tote with some of the usual suspects. Get your favorite crackers or crunchy bread, your favorite cheeses such as a sharp cheddar or Gruyere and any of your favorite salamis or cold cuts. Then you can start to make your spring nosh magical with a few extra special touches.
Make your picnic exceptional by adding a soft brie or goat cheese topped with honey or fig jam. If you want to go spicy, add a jalapeño jelly.
Any berry is lovely, but chocolate covered strawberries are a notch above and easy to make. Sliced apples are healthy and satisfying as a cracker substitute, or if you want to go a bit crazy with the calories, get the caramel dip. Olive tapenade and cornichons, or pickled cucumbers, add some savory flavor and a bite. For dessert, treat yourself to chocolates, cakes and brownies in bite size bits to savor and share.
Of course, no picnic is complete without some drinks, so it’s time to discuss the beverages – the ones for adults.
Once it gets warmer, there are those wines that are endearingly called “porch pounders” and for good reason – the weather is hot and they go down easy. With those, the usual suspects are rosé and sangria.
Sangria is easy to make with lots of chopped fruits, but be careful if you decide to add the brandy. I like to add port for the extra fruitiness, and it’s easier on the tipsiness scale. Rosé wines have seriously become very good, and winemakers are crafting fantastic rosés that may cost a few additional dollars but are well worth it.
You may want to consider something a bit different than what you ordinarily drink. Try starting with an apple or pear cider, or consider my favorite – a chilled pinot noir, syrah or merlot. Put that delicious bottle on ice for 20 or so minutes, uncork it, give it a pour and a good swirl. It will warm up a bit and blossom into something special.
No matter what, where or how, getting those sunshiny negative ions will do you a world of good after a dreary, cold winter mostly spent indoors. There’s no need to be fancy, but making your picnic even a bit more special will make it a spring day to remember.
The writer is the CEO of Sonoma Cellar located in Old Town.