Seize the summer. It’s a sentiment we feel with some urgency as we cram in trips to the pool and rush around packing for vacations. Marnie Hanel, a writer in Portland, Ore., suggests, though, that the best way to enjoy sunny, warm days is to slow down, sit down and have a picnic.
“I think a picnic celebrates summer in a way that nothing else can. You’re eating the food that’s the most in season and you’re doing it outside in a place where it’s the most enjoyable.” Hanel is co-author with Andrea Slonecker and Jen Stevenson of “The Picnic: Recipes and Inspiration From Basket to Blanket,” a book inspired by the Portland Picnic Society, a group that she and her friends formed. The society divides and conquers responsibilities and brings food potluck style to a park of choice. “Because you have to prepare everything at home and bring it,” Hanel says, “once you arrive at the picnic blanket, the only thing you have to do is have fun.”
We talked to Hanel — as well as Becky Finn, owner of Cape Cod store Picnic Fashion, and Hallie Burrier, co-owner of Frederick, Md., shops Relish Decor and Treaty General Store — to find out how to elevate a picnic above squished PB&Js. Using their tips and finds, you, too, can deck out a cozy quilt with gourmet treats and real flatware, whether it’s in Rock Creek Park, at a Wolf Trap show or under the Fourth of July fireworks.
●Burrier says that the best place to begin when packing is the blanket. “I always start out with a great blanket because I like to be on a good surface,” she says. The Alite Meadow Picnic Mat, which rolls up and has a carrying strap ($39, www.urbanoutfitters.com), will keep you dry with a waterproof bottom layer.
●Make picnics feel extra special with this welcome idea: Concoct lemonade or cocktails and then cap them with Chicago Brew Werks’ Capper. Because as Hanel says, “no one is going to bring a whole bar to the blanket” ($18, www.chicagobrewwerks.com).
● Separate the nonalcoholic libations from the spirits with colored Distressed Bottle Caps from the Bottle Cap Co. ($8 for 50, www.bottlecapco.com). A set of 50 should get you through a few good picnics this summer.
●Finn says that one of her top sellers is the coffee-table-height Table in a Bag, which is a hardwood table that can be rolled up and thrown over the shoulder for dignified excursions ($59, www.picnicfashion.com). “Raising the picnic fashion quotient is my mission,” she says.
●To avoid schlepping a ton of supplies, divvy up the picnic responsibilities and have everyone potluck or assign specific tasks. Crate and Barrel’s retro Red Picnic Cooler ($70, www.crateand barrel.com) would come in handy for someone bringing drinks or cold foods. “It’s tall, so you can put wine in it,” Hanel says.
●Leave the conventional plastic food storage behind and try more attractive metal tiffins or decorated glass bowls. Burrier likes Fishs Eddy’s Glass Storage Bowl Set, which comes as a set of five with lids, for prep and mixing as well as serving ($36, www.relishdecor.com).
●Hanel likes to make picnics as classy as indoor gatherings, with real glassware and flatware. For a crowd, though, she recommends compostable dinnerware, such as Bambu’s Veneerware — which is still a step above paper (prices vary; $8 for a package of eight dessert plates, $13.50 for eight dinner plates, $10 for eight sets of utensils, www.bambuhome.com). For a little more color, try Sucre Shop’s Picnic Plaid printed birch wood utensils ($12 for 20 forks, spoons or knives, www.etsy.com), also compostable.
●Dining al fresco means paying attention to the weather. If it’s nice and hot out, a soft cotton blanket is ideal to throw down; if it just rained, though, you want a blanket that’s waterproof on one side, such as Nemo Equipment’s Victory Blanket, which rolls up nicely with straps and a carrying handle, plus a pouch for keys and loops for staking ($50-$80, www.nemoequipment.com).
●Different picnic styles call for different accessories, whether elaborate twilight gatherings or impromptu play dates at the park with kids. For the latter, the 3.1-ounce, water-repellant, puncture-proof Pocket Blanket from Bespoke Post ($30, www.bespokepost.com) is compact and light enough to always keep on hand.
●Hail the Scout motto: Be prepared. As Burrier advises, you should be prepared for planned as well as impromptu picnics. “We always have a picnic basket ready to go,” she says. It’s a good idea to have ice packs ready to go, too. Food52’s Stainless Steel Ice Pack won’t take up too much freezer room ($16-$30, www.food52.com).
●“If you’re going to something casual and you’ve got a big family, then you’ll want a canvas insulated bag,” Finn says. Plus, they’re lighter to tote than wicker. The Stiff One by Scout is heat-sealed to prevent leaks and molded on the bottom to keep everything upright ($44, www.scoutbags.com). It’s available in several preppy patterns.
●There’s not much worse than bringing the wine to a picnic and forgetting a corkscrew. Hanel likes Le Creuset’s Waiter’s Friend, which has a foil-cutting blade and bottle opener in addition to a corkscrew ($35, www.lecreuset.com).
●For a big gathering, you can expect a big stash of trash — especially if you’re using paper and plastic. Make cleanup easy by using Clean Cubes, disposable trash bins that stand upright and come in a variety of patterns ($8 for three, www.wayfair.com).
●What’s a summer picnic without lawn games? The co-authors of “The Picnic” recommend looking at the offerings from Jacques London, the oldest sports and games maker in the world. Enjoy lawn bowling (called pétanque in France and bocce in Italy) with the slick Boule Set of 8, which comes with its own carrying case ($50, www.jaquesamerica.com).
●Nothing sets the mood for a picnic like sound — whether it’s the chirping of bugs and birds or the beat of your favorite jams. Play your favorite summer mix outdoors via Bluetooth on the portable, waterproof UE Roll ($100, www.ultimateears.com). The Roll is 4.3 inches wide and comes with nine-hour battery and a loop for hanging anywhere — even a tree.
●The organized picnicker will appreciate the handy straps inside the lid of the Sommar cooler bag from Ikea ($15, www.ikea.com). They can hold napkins, flatware, and Ikea’s matching Sommar ice packs — which double as drinking bottles ($1.49). “It’s an easy thing to just pick up and go grab a baguette and cheese and wine,” Burrier says.
Roberts is a freelance writer. She can be found at www.lindseymroberts.com.