Help Fill My Vintage Picnic Basket

(Kim O'Donnel)

A bluesy/gospel concert on the grounds of Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo last week was the inspiration to dust off my vintage picnic basket and actually put it to good use (please don't tell my mother it's been hiding in the basement). Unfortunately, last week’s last-minute event left little time to plan a menu, which means said basket did little but look pretty on the lawn.

I love the idea of a picnic but never can seem to get my al fresco act together. That’s where you -- -- the savvy bunch that you are -- can lend a hand as we gear up for the long holiday weekend. Should I keep things simple and make cheese sandwiches on artisan bread, pack a few pieces of summer fruit and call it lunch-for-dinner or should I get more elaborate, with a three-course feast of cold fried chicken, a couscous salad and Szechuan-style green beans?

And then I fret about keeping things cold -- and safe to eat. In that case, should all dairy items (including cheese) stay at home? Maybe raw food is better than cooked? ( And more importantly: Have I gone completely bonkers?)

But humor me, if you don't mind; If you were the owner of a vintage picnic basket that was crying for an edible outing, what would you pack this weekend? Is there one go-to nibble or nosh that makes all the picnicking worthwhile (or should I take a chill pill and let Mister MA take over)? Help this damsel in distress, pretty please.

P.S. Have a delicious and safe Fourth of July weekend!

By Kim ODonnel |  July 3, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Backyard Cooking , Summer
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It might not work for you, but when I do cheese or butter (the only dairy I will bring) I put it in a tupperware container with ice (sometimes, in a plastic bag before putting in the container to keep things dry). Then it stays cold.

Other than that, I've done a few things like an "Anne of Green Gables" basket (did you ever read the things she ate? Jam tarts, pot pies, sandwiches... Made me wish I lived in Canada when I was 11. There's a website of recipes is you do a google search).

I've also done a "Tea Basket" where the items where things that would normally go with a high tea, but then served Ice Tea with it.

And you can't go wrong with bread, cheese, fig spread and some fruit and wine.

Once I did a New Orleans twist where I make roast beef po boys keeping the debris and gravy in a thermos to keep hot (roast beef was pre-sliced). Served with some Zapps and fried green tomatoes. It was great but a hassle.

I've also done a bento type box with oknomiyaki and rice balls and fruit (tend to make this vegan friendly - I omit things like bonito flakes and make them plain instead of with shrimp).

Posted by: LawDancer | July 3, 2009 10:22 AM

Salads are always nice:
Pasta salad with pesto sauce and peas
Watermelon with feta cheese and mint
Green beans stir-fried with tomatoes, onions and garlic, then chilled
Goat cheese with cranberry chutney (or just cranberry sauce) on toast
Melon with prosciutto or cheese
Fresh figs, if you can find 'em, with blue cheese or just plain
Fresh mixed berries, maybe with peaches or nectarines or plums cut up with 'em for a fruit salad

Posted by: Catken1 | July 3, 2009 11:37 AM

Off topic, I know, but are we ever going to hear about the date shakes?

Posted by: fltolson | July 3, 2009 11:41 AM

Well, for dessert, everyone loves good chocolate chip cookies and cherries--especially those wonderful Washington State cherries.

Posted by: Americangirl3 | July 3, 2009 11:58 AM

I have packed many a "picnic" for days when I head out on the motorcycle. I just stop when I feel like stopping and find a nice park somewhere, unpack my saddlebag lunch & book and enjoy the solitude.

I am challenged to not only find something that can be served room temperature but also something that won't spoil riding around in a saddlebag (heat from the pipe, no cooler capacity). I suppose I can strap a cooler to the back, but that's a lot of trouble. Some things are fine, but I would never attempt a mayo-based salad. I haven't noticed a problem with hard cheeses. They seem to be fairly heat-resistant. Whatever I pack also has to be sturdy enough not to be ruined by being jostled.

I have packed PB&J (can't go wrong with PB&J in my book!). I've done crisp apples, cheese, and good bread. I've done cold sesame noodle salads. The recipe you posted months ago is actually perfect for a picnic. Just pack some napkins, too! Sliced veggies with a little container of dip is also lovely. The drink is always lemonade: it is refreshing and doesn't taste horrid if it isn't perfectly cold or is shaken too much.

And of course, brownies. They travel perfectly and there is nothing like a sweet bite of chocolate at the end of a picnic.

Have fun!

Posted by: lyria2 | July 3, 2009 3:40 PM

Flavorful cheese. Good, crusty bread. Good salami. Pasta or grain salads with olive oil-based dressings. Tomatoes with fresh basil. Wine. Cookies.

Posted by: Snedly1 | July 3, 2009 8:25 PM

One of the most basic principles of keeping things cold is sometimes the hardest to remember, it seems: hot air rises, cold air falls. So, put the food in, then put the ice on TOP. Also, if you are packing for lots of people and a long picnic, separate beverages from food, so that the opening and closing of the beverage cooler doesn't let the cold air out of the food cooler.

We use ice blankets with good success. Thermos makes them, as do a few other firms. You can find them in the camping sections or in drugstores, where they are sold as a pain-relief therapy.

Have fun!

Posted by: Agathist | July 3, 2009 8:52 PM

This is coming in a little late, but I came up with bupkis early on. My thought is a tomato-basil tart. Fresh and full of the flavors of summer. By the way, the picnic basket is to die for.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | July 3, 2009 10:35 PM

I like Barbara Tropp's Tea Smoked Chicken, and sesame noodles.

The first takes about an hour of work, spread across 3 days. First you rub with chix with salt, pepper, and orange zest and let it dry for a day. Then you steam it to cook it. Then you smoke it by lining a wok & lid with tin foil, putting brown sugar, raw rice, tea and orange zest in the bottom, turn the heat up high, crimp the tin foil together to seal the "smoker" and smoke away. Save the skin and bones for stock!

Posted by: fitday19550 | July 3, 2009 10:40 PM

I just saw your note on Facebook that you are leaving the Post. I'm going to miss your daily blog updates. I've been reading and following you for years. You've really helped open up my repertoire of local foods and using new and unusual ingredients. I hope the Post keeps your recipe archive many of my favorites are here. Best of luck.

Posted by: jenrellis | July 4, 2009 12:32 AM

Kim: do EITHER ready-to-eat & easy OR elaborate & fancy depending on your mood, energy, prep time. One trick: freeze fruit juice, ice tea &/or cocktails in plastic containers & pack them. Gives you 2for1 - preserves other food 1-2 hr & gives semi-freddo drinks on arrival. Menu favorites: nicoise salad made w/home-grilled or canned ventresca tuna, chilled white wine, ripe fruit.

Posted by: imashalom | July 7, 2009 12:58 AM

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