Spring arrives Wednesday, and with it a reminder that it's time to put away the skis and parkas and bring out the badminton set and picnic baskets. Though the ground still may be cold and the breeze a bit chilly, the first perfect day for sprawling on the grass and eating outdoors is close at hand.
Be prepared. It is not too early to plan for your first picnic of the season, whether it's a Formal Champagne Picnic, a Vest Pocket Park Picnic or a Classic American Family Barbecue Picnic (all described here). Nothing just happens. Planning is essential. These picnics are a basis for that planning. Even spontaneity can benefit from planning ahead.
The (Sort Of) Spontaneous Picnic is designed for those opportunities (such as when the first ideal day appears) that arrive unanticipated. It includes caponata, smoked chicken with apple chutney or other relish from the cupboard, whole-grain yogurt bread with walnuts, fresh fruit, vanilla cookies and the chilled drink of your choice.
The caponata can be made ahead and frozen, or purchased in many specialty shops, as can smoked chicken or turkey. If you don't make your own relishes during the summer months and keep a large supply canned and on hand, then use any of the many new relishes available in specialty shops and at many supermarkets. A cupboard with three or four relishes will make entertaining, for picnics and otherwise, easy and exciting -- the added texture and flavors of the relish enhancing the main course and adding bright color to many dishes.
The bread is just one of many that take well to freezing. If you are really in a hurry, wrap it in aluminum foil and heat it at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. It will be ready to go almost before you can get the rest of the picnic goods together. The cookies are another out-of-the-freezer item. And finally, fresh fruit and drinks that you have on hand or pick up en route, as close to the picnic site as possible.
With picnics of this sort, it is best to use paper plates and plastic forks and knives. No big hampers, no cooler (at least until the weather gets really warm), just a couple of grocery bags for carrying the food and dispensing of the trash.