al fresco vs. picnic {guest post}

Before beginning, I’d like to say thanks to my sweet daughter, Cailen, for being so kind as to actually ask me to write every so often.   I must admit that I enjoy it, but I find her a hard act to follow!  Thank you, Cai.  Many of the images here are as pretty as they are because of your helping hands!  xo  Mom


We are a family of foodies.  We appreciate the nuances of fabulous fine dining, but we also relish a quiet evening at home with soup by the fire.  Happily, this time of year offers up countless possibilities for another kind of ‘dining experience’.  To this, I give you….

Picnic  - A meal eaten outdoors, as on an excursion (could involve a hike) an occasion when you take a meal with you to eat outside in an informal way, or the food itself

our picnic in beaune, france

Al fresco  -  Implies the presence of some nearby structure (one does not hike al fresco) out-of-doors; in the open air: to dine alfresco.

I’m sure you see where we’re going here, either way you’re eating outdoors.  And this generally conjures up just a bit, however small, of a festive atmosphere.  We’ve just finished May and June is upon us.  It’s a good time of year to enjoy some fresh air while enjoying your meal!

concert under the stars (craig, mom, me, dad)

We’re fortunate to have a large wrap-around porch with an old table that seats 4-6.  We take our meals out to enjoy the breezes and birds in the morning hours, the sounds of farm tractors or mowers in the afternoon, and the stars, crickets and candlelight in the evenings.  

But a porch doesn’t have to be the setting, al fresco is wonderful and memorable on a tiny deck, a patio that needs some work (candlelight glow makes all things prettier!), or on a level patch of lawn under a tree – or use a beach umbrella if you don’t have a tree!  Think about outdoor cafés…there’s a great energy about them that makes a meal more like a little event.  And most of us tend to feel relaxed and pleased about eating that tuna on rye outside. 

me (cailen) & cate

Keep your al fresco meals simple, and your picnics simpler yet.  This is not necessarily the time to try an elaborate recipe.  Assemble some of your favorites, relying on dishes that will be fine without immediate refrigeration.   A side pasta dish with olive oil is a much better choice than one with mayo.  Simple is good, yes, but with just a bit of pizzazz if possible.  A great roasted shrimp and polenta meal makes for a special night of al fresco dining, and a shrimp po’boy is quite a special picnic.

Al fresco should, in my mind, be nicely elevated to include dishes, flatware and glasses.  Not that you’re setting the table for four courses, but just that you use tableware that is non-disposable.  Just plate up your meal inside if that works best (no platters or side bowls to wash later) and carry out your yummy repast with your favorite beverage.  If you feel more inclined, and there are more than just a couple of people, platter up and take everything out.  You’ll have more to do in cleanup, but it’s nice to have your food on the table when you have guests.   And, don’t forget the candles.

my aunt, erin (my cousin) & my uncle

Picnics seem to often involve the proverbial picnic table or blanket, or both.  Finding the best table under the trees, or the comfiest looking spot in the grass becomes a hunt in earnest.  Goodies, hand-held and otherwise, are tucked away in backpacks, wicker baskets and plastic coolers.  Break out the cold bevs/brews and then begin the job of setup.  Hopefully, if you’re organized, it won’t become theatrical.  And, disposable is a good thing here.  The less you have to carry back - after eating, playing ball, drinking, flying a kite (some people still do this), eating some more and then sitting around talking and laughing - is just a gift to yourself.  And, don’t forget the ‘organic/natural’ bug spray.

picnic in beaune, france

So think about an easy meal to prepare, and get creative with your al fresco set up or your picnic accompaniments.  A vintage or retro tablecloth will make your salads look magazine worthy - and a great chutney will just make that hotdog sing!

Bon Appetit! and my best to all, Janet.