By Lisa Katic, RD, CSW
It’s summer, which means picnic season is in full swing. The Washington, D.C. area is full of places to steal away and have a picturesque outing in nature, and Alexandria is brimming with nature preserves and small picnic areas near the Potomac for an easy-access mini getaway.
Picnics can be elaborate or consist of a blanket, baguette and a bottle of wine. It’s your choice and that’s the beauty of dining al fresco. The blanket is a pretty important feature of any picnic. The options in choosing an appropriate blanket for your excursion are vast. Think of something that is soft, waterproof and can be rolled up and carried like a tote. Invest in a good blanket and you will always be ready for a one-day vacation.
Here are some other ideas for packing the perfect picnic.
Start with a great container. A traditional picnic basket is always top of mind, but if you don’t have one, a snazzy cooler or larger neoprene lunch bag will work just fine. You can slip some flat freezer packs in between your food items to keep cool during your time outdoors.
Enamel plates are easy to pack and are practical — you can load them up with baked beans and various salads, and they won’t get soggy and collapse. They also look and feel cooler than plastic, and are way better for the environment than disposable dishes. If you don’t have enamel plates, then a sturdy paper plate will do, but the best approach is to pack finger foods so you can avoid plates and utensils altogether.
Foods with built-in handles, like chicken drumsticks, fruit on skewers, and corn on cob, are all inherently picnic friendly. Pinwheel sandwiches, frittata cut into small squares and cut-up veggies with easy dip are all items to consider for an easy to clean up gathering. If you want to finish with something sweet the choices are endless. Small, bite size truffles, mini brownies, cookies, pound cake that is sliced and individually wrapped or strawberries, banana chunks dipped in cream cheese fruit dip.
Easy clean up is a breeze with a package of moist towelettes or handi-wipes. Use small dish towels for napkins as they are absorbent and can double as a place mat. Pack a small garbage bag or paper bag for all disposable items at the end of your picnic. You don’t want to leave a mess for another visitor to have to clean up.
As far as beverages, a bottle of wine is always welcome, but canned wine is lighter to carry, and of course there’s no need to remember to pack a corkscrew. Lighter canned hard seltzer might be just the thing for summer, but if you like something stronger, there are lots of cocktails you can batch ahead of time and bring along in large Nalgene bottles. Most boutique wine shops carry beverages to take to outdoor events like concerts, plays and picnics. Also, think of screw top bottles of wine and sparkling wine which don’t require a corkscrew either.
We all know that connecting with the outdoors is good for our wellbeing and has restorative effects on our mood and disposition. Isn’t that a perfect reason to pack a picnic and hit the trails for a mini adventure in nature?
The writer is the owner of Wine Gallery 108 in Old Town. She is a certified wine professional, a nutritionist in a previous career and an accomplished artist.