Kitchen Focus

When the weather turns warmer and the great outdoors are calling to me, I love being able to answer at a moment's notice with a walk in the park, a scenic bike ride, or an impromptu picnic. Of course, making sure that those things can happen at a moment's notice means having a good pair of walking shoes at the ready, having a bicycle that's in good working order and getting picnic ready.

What's picnic ready? Simply put, it's making sure that some essential elements of a picnic -- and some fun extras that make summer fun -- are readily available when the picnicking mood strikes you. It can be as simple as carrying a good picnic blanket in the back of the car to having a wicker basket packed with everything from utensils to bug repellent. It really is up to you how prepared you want to be ... the most important thing is to make sure you have prepared enough to make a short notice picnic a joy rather than a mess.

In an effort to fuel more spontaneous outdoor dining, let me share with you the "package" that I put together each spring to make sure I'm picnic ready. While I split mine into an indoor component that I store in the house and an outdoor component that I store in my vehicle, you can certainly combine yours and keep it where it's most likely to inspire. Since I'm more likely to put together the makings of a picnic meal at home, I keep several of my picnic ready package in the home where I'm going to be preparing my food. If you think you're more likely to go the picnic route if you simply stop by your favorite deli or sandwich stop, you might want to consider keeping your picnic ready package together in the trunk of your vehicle. It really depends on your desires and what will work with your lifestyle.

Since my "package" is split into two components, let me describe each separately. I'll begin with my outdoor component that is at the ready in the trunk of my vehicle by May and stays there until late fall each year. It consists of:

  • 1 heavy blanket for sitting on and placing food on
  • 2 simple stadium seats to provide back support for long outings
  • 1 fanny pack containing inspect repellent, napkins, bandaids, antiseptic, Wet Ones, sunscreen and a pocket knife
  • 1 plastic bag containing various plastic utensils, paper plates, salt and pepper packets

Since these items don't require much in the way of maintenance, I usually just take stock of what's there after each outing and replenish things as needed. The fanny pack, by the way, is also on hand for spontaneous walks and hikes!

The indoor component of my picnic ready package is a little more involved, but makes putting together a quick picnic easy and quick. As a result, when the weather's beautiful and the mood strikes, I can make a lovely picnic part of a daily routine! Here is my list of "must-haves" for my indoor component:

  • 1 picnic basket or insulated cooler
  • 2-3 bottles of water (16 oz. each) stored in the freezer to be used as cold packs and cold beverages
  • Assorted chilled individually bottled or canned beverages
  • Bread, bagels or English muffins for quick sandwiches
  • Meats, cheeses and other sandwich fixings
  • Grapes, cherries or other "popable" fruit for snacking
  • Assorted varieties of granola bars or snack bars
  • Pretzels or other crunchy snacks
  • Wide variety of resealable plastic containers for carrying food items
  • Several sizes of resealable plastic bags -- especially useful when hiking and such

While the particular types of items I might have on hand at a given time vary, I try to have at least one of each of these things on hand to make picnicking easier. I often will keep a few bags and plastic containers right in my cooler, along with some granola bars and a bag of pretzels. That way, in a pinch, I can simply grab the cooler, throw a couple of frozen bottles of water into it and stop by a deli on my way to a favorite picnic spot. It makes the "job" of picnicking a pleasure that you will look forward to often.

If there's a topic that you'd like to see covered in this column, let me know. You can always post comments in the discussion board using the forms provided in the articles or email me directly at .

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