In our book, the potluck section comes along bright and early. That's because we're obsessed with potlucks--they're practical, cheap, and fun. And picnics are the best kind of potluck, at least come summer. When it's light late, we like to picnic for dinner on weeknights, though weekends are obvious picnic time too. Gather your friends, grab a blanket, a frisbee, and some paper plates. Head to the park. Eat. Don't forget to don a floral skirt!
For even more tips, read on!
**Tips and Tricks**
Plan everything. Since you'll be out in the urban wilderness, far from your fridge and your kitchen drawers, it pays to think ahead. Be particular; make a list; check it twice; etc. The picnic chapter in our book details everything you'll need, from salt and pepper to a corkscrew/bottle opener, to a umbrella. See page 63!
Make ahead. This goes without saying, unless you've brought a barbecue and are going the hot dog-hamburger route. In which case, you're on your own. Salads that get better with age are a good bet (here are two), as is our Sexy Ugly Caramelized Onion Tart.
Delegate. If you're making all the food, coordinate with your friends to ensure that there will be a blanket, forks and knives, and napkins. Remember--you're planning everything here! Even if you don't bring everything yourself, account for it anyway.
Serve Courses. Sure, you want to reserve time for playing frisbee and making trouble, but it's easy to make a picnic feel refined by adding in an appetizer and dessert, and thereby elongating the time you sit around outdoors on a beautiful summer night with your friends. Appetizers can be as simple as sliced baguette and cheese or dip; side dishes can mean bags of potato chips; and desserts should unequivocally be cookies, usually, unless you want to spring for a durable cake.
Make sandwiches. Sandwiches are quintessential picnic food, whether you're eating lunch or dinner. But you don't have to stick to dull deli standards. We've got creative hoagies, subs, and wraps. Some great choices include: Crunchy Chicken Salad Sandwiches with Bacon (pictured), Roasted Eggplant Sandwiches with White Bean Spread and Chive Pesto, Lamb Meatball Banh Mi Sandwiches, and Crunchy Spicy Hummus Wraps.
Garnish in the park. Depending on how long sandwiches or other food will have to sit before it gets eaten, consider adding certain condiments like mayo, mustard, and tomato once you've planted your blanket and are ready to go.
Check the rules. Read up on wherever you plan to picnic. Sometimes outdoor concerts don't allow outside food in. (We hate that, and sometimes we subversively sneak dinner in anyway.) Al fresco drinking tends to be banned, at least in our city. Follow the rules, or at least be aware of them. Get crafty as needed.
Go shopping. If you're harried, hassled, and it's a weeknight, you can have a lovely picnic without even getting near the kitchen. Hit up a gourmet grocery together, and buy bread, cheese, fruit, crudités, prepared salads, sliced cured meats, olives, sundried tomatoes, and more. Get creative, and branch out beyond the typical pita and hummus (which everyone is likely to bring if you're not careful!).