On the July 27 will be Normita’s birthday and since on the first time we met, when she visited Canada back in 1998, I brought her on a picnic, I decided to make a nice picnic for her and a few of her friends next Saturday. I am somewhat a traditionalist when it comes to picnics. In my book a picnic should be made with some nice cold food, some nice wines, and preferably served by your staff from a huge wicker basket from the back of your Rolls, but since we have neither staff nor a Rolls Royce, we will have to settle for doing it ourselves out of a cooler and a big plastic bin, from the back of our little VW Lupo.
In the past we normally stuck to two types of picnics, the active ones where we either drove somewhere with all the stuff, or cycled somewhere with a more restricted lunch and no wine, or drove somewhere with the ATV with a decent spread. The other type, and some of my favorites, was the lazy ones we did on our pontoon boat on the lake. We only had to bring whatever we wanted from the house down to the boat, and then lazily putter around the lake for hours at the slowest speed the boat could manage, while listening to nice music on the boat’s stereo, and enjoying the view.
On the more active picnics we normally brought a more restricted menu, normally either sandwiches, or cold cuts, some nice fruits and cheeses, with some nice bread. Of course, depending on how we got to the picnic site, we would bring some wine or juices. One of our favorite ways of doing those types of picnics was the cycling picnics. When we were living in the mountains in QuÃ©bec, we used to cycle regularly from late spring to early fall. There is a stunningly beautiful bicycle track that they built on a reclaimed train track. It goes from MontrÃ©al to Mont-Laurier a few hundred kilometers north. During the week we normally drove to the track where it passed near the village we lived, and cycled to the next village and back. On weekends we would drive to St-Jovite and park there, then cycle either towards Mont-Tremblant, or towards St-Faustin. The ride to St-Faustin was our favorite for picnics, as it was uphill all the way, but we stopped before arriving at the village at a nice ‘pisciculture’ where they raised various species of trout. They had a great picnic area with nice tables in the shade under huge pine trees, and after a hearty meal we could race back downhill to the car without having to exert ourselves too much. We normally brought lighter stuff, from a simple sandwich to some sushi from the supermarket, whatever could conveniently fit in our handlebar bags.
The boat picnics were normally more involved and fancy. We would prepare quite a spread with some nice caviar, foie gras, smoked salmon, small cold water shrimps from Matane, some cheeses from a runny Epoisse to a nice piece of Stilton, assorted cold cuts, and whatever else we fancied. Of course we would probably have a nice cold glass of Fino Sherry like my favorite La Ina, then follow up with some champagne or some other variety of sparkling wine, and maybe a robust red or a port for the end of the meal. The usual peasant fare…
Last weekend we went to Xochimilco, the famous floating gardens at the south of the city, and it reminded me a lot of the days living at the lake. The ‘trajineras’, the long flat bottomed boats that evolved from the traditional indigenous wooden canoes used to navigate the canals, are designed with a long table down the middle, and you can bring your food for a picnic, and also buy food from various sellers in other ‘trajineras’. We did not eat there last weekend, but we plan to go back eventually and bring a nice picnic spread with us. Some pictures of our day in Xochimilco are posted at The Sassquatch’s Lair.
I will not go into the exact menu for next weekend’s picnic as I want to keep it somewhat of a surprise (don’t worry I will post the recipes next week), but I will go a bit into the planning of it.
This time I might forego my normal traditionalist ways and make a hot course for the picnic, as Normita gave me a nice little portable gas grill for my birthday last year, and I have not had a chance of really using it.
The first step was to find a place to have the picnic. Although there are some places with picnic areas in various parks throughout the city, and we can also have a picnic anywhere we can put a blanket down, I felt that we should go a bit more toward the periphery of the city, even if it is just to get a bit of fresh air as a relief to the pollution. I looked around a bit and found a few promising places, and we might just go to some national park at the south of the city called ‘El Ajusco’. It is in and around a mountain peak that towers over the valley, and abounds with hiking trails and picnic areas. Hopefully the place will be worth it, and if the pollution level is down, the views should be stunning.
Next on the list is what to bring with us. In Canada we have a nice wicker picnic basket with all the basics we needed for picnics. Of course it is in storage over there with the rest of our things, so it is not of much help to us now. Yesterday, while we were doing our groceries, we had decided to pick up paper plates and plastic cutlery and glasses, but we both never liked eating out of those. We were looking around the store and we came across some nice very cheap plastic dinnerware sets for 4, and cheap cutlery sets. The total cost was not very much more than a few sets of the disposable stuff, so we splurged and invested in a 4 place setting with cutlery and picked up a few plastic glasses and a serving tray. We also picked up a big plastic bin with a locking lid where we can store everything, and we already cleaned and packed it up with our new stuff. Other essentials we will add are some clothe napkins, a roll of paper towels, salt and pepper shakers, some wine glasses wrapped in dish clothes, a tablecloth, a blanket, some serving tools, a carving knife, a paring knife, and let’s not forget the most important a champagne bottle stopper and a corkscrew.
Since I planned the meal to be a little more formal than the typical picnic, I decided to plan it like a regular meal, with some starters including some patÃ© and salad, followed by a cold soup. The main course will be cooked on the spot, but the side dishes will be prepared ahead and reheated to simplify my life. The main goal is to make it as easy to prepare and to eat, with most food already cut into pieces so that you can easily hold your plate in one hand and eat with the other. I also want to bring some dessert, but I have not had any inspiration yet on something that would be nice and easily served at a picnic. I am sure that the week will bring some inspiration.