The pleasurable portability of summertime’s most simple form of al fresco dining
Words Ellie Shortt X Photos Lia Crowe
It’s a warm sunny afternoon. You’ve been cooped up inside for what feels like days, weeks, even months now. You look longingly out your window, watching the trees sway in a gentle breeze. Wouldn’t this be a perfect day to take your next meal outdoors? The answer is, “yes”—an enthusiastic and resounding “yes!”
To me there’s nothing quite like eating al fresco. Whether on a patio, beside a campfire, perhaps lounging next to a pool or dining on a deck, the combination of good food and fresh air seems to check off all the boxes. It can be luxuriously vacation-like or profoundly primal. It can be fastidiously organized or wonderfully spontaneous. No matter the vibe, the location, the complexity or simplicity, it always seems to be a deeply satisfying experience.
Not everyone has access to a poolside vista or even a deck of their own, but one thing that is remarkably accessible, and equally as delightful, are outdoor picnic spots. Head to a park or hop on over to a beach—you choose your backdrop, your budget and what’s included in your scrumptious spread. There’s something timeless, even nostalgic, about laying out a blanket and haphazardly arranging your assortment of snacks, and then nibbling, tasting and slowly savouring as you soak in the sunshine and care-free conversation. There’s no rush, no agenda, no ceremony nor unnecessary stiffness. You are exactly where you need to be, and doing exactly what you’re meant to be doing.
While there are few requirements for a fun and successful picnic, there are some potential considerations for comfort and ease. Namely, the portability of the elements involved. I love a super-sized summer salad, but if you’re looking for finger-friendly foods, it can be more challenging.
Collard wraps or a colourful crudité selection coupled with a simple dip can provide some veggie love in a transport-friendly and snack-appropriate format. Charcuterie and cheese is a shareable delight that is a personal favourite of mine, but with certain recommendations of the moment, it might not be a COVID-safe option if you’re enjoying your picnic with a friend or two. (Not to mention the fact that to orchestrate a comprehensive meat and cheese board with all the lovely accompaniments of cornichons, mustards, preserves etc. requires ample equipment including knives, spoons, ramekins, even a heavy wood platter that can be a nuisance to pack and carry.) But bundling up all those beloved flavours in a baguette (or bread of your choosing) is an easy and delicious solution as shown in these charcuterie-inspired sandwiches.
Fresh fruit is always a refreshing addition to a picnic, and simply serving some grapes, a few apples or a bowl of strawberries is an easy option. However, if you’re looking for a funkier flavour combination, these skewers, motivated by a strawberry-watermelon margarita, make for a light and lovely dessert.
These are solely potential ideas, suggestions and considerations when planning your next basket-borne feast, so know that no matter how you do it and no matter where you do it, there’s no wrong way to have a picnic. Allow the process of choosing your flavours and finding a spot to be part of the adventure. And once you’ve arrived, physically, mentally, even emotionally, let any worries, stresses, or feelings of confined isolation float away with that sweet gentle breeze.
Simple Greek Yogurt Dip with Fresh Herbs + Lemon
What you’ll need:
1 cup Greek yogurt (I used local favourite Tree Island)
2-3 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped
1 tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp chives, finely chopped
1 tsp sea salt (or to taste)
½ tsp fresh cracked black pepper (or to taste)
How to do it:
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Gently stir in the herbs, and let it sit refrigerated for about 10 minutes for the flavours to settle and the herbs to soften. Serve with vegetables, chips, collard wraps, or even as a dollop on your favourite summer salad.
Collard Veggie Wraps
What you’ll need:
Collard greens (you’re looking for large, flat, evenly textured leaves without any holes or rips)
Spread (the Greek yogurt dip shown here is a great choice, but I also love hummus, fromage frais or simply some smashed avocado)
An assortment of vegetables (pictured here is thinly sliced bell pepper and cucumber, as well as grated carrot, and mixed baby greens)
*Note: you can add in whatever your heart desires. Some tuna or egg salad, or even deli meat are all great choices!
How to do it:
Trim the stems off the collard leaves, and lay out some paper towel or cloth near your stovetop. Fill a deep-dish frying pan with about one inch of water. On high heat, bring the water to a low boil, then turn down the heat to simmer. Using tongs, place a collard leaf in the simmering water for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. If the water isn’t deep enough to cover the whole collard leaf, you may need to flip it halfway through. You’re simply blanching the leaf—you want it to be soft enough so that you can fold and wrap it up easily, but not so overcooked that it loses its integrity and falls apart. Once blanched, transfer to the paper towel.
Repeat with all your leaves, patting each one dry as you go. Take a dry leaf, turn it so that the trimmed stem is on the left, and the leaf is pointing to the right (so, longways if the leaf isn’t evenly round). Disperse a small amount of your spread in a narrow strip, north-to-south down the centre. Top with a small amount of prepared veggies or filling of your choosing.
Now wrap it up like a burrito: fold in the top and bottom of the leaf, and then starting from the left side, roll overtop of the filling. Roll carefully but tightly, so that it’s tidy and compact. Either enjoy as is, or slice on the diagonal for serving. Repeat with remaining leaves and ingredients, and enjoy!
What you’ll need for two sandwiches:
1 French baguette (or another bread
of your choosing)
2 tbsp grainy mustard (I used the Charcuterie Mustard by Saltspring Kitchen Co.)
2 tbsp fig preserve (I used the Fig + Walnut Wine Preserve by The Preservatory)
About 100 g brie cheese (I used the grass-fed Island Brie by Little Qualicum Cheeseworks)
About 100 g prosciutto (I sourced mine from local favourite artisanal salumeria The Whole Beast)
About 100 g salami (I sourced mine from The Whole Beast)
About 4-6 cornichons (or baby dills),
A handful of baby greens (arugula, romaine or some sort of mix)
How to assemble it:
Trim the top and bottom of your baguette and cut in half. Slice each piece down the centre. Spread the bottom piece of each baguette half with about 1 tbsp of fig preserve, and then the top of each baguette half with about 1 tbsp grainy mustard. Evenly disperse about 50 g of brie cheese over each bottom half (the fig preserve one). Top each of the cheese layers with about 50 g of prosciutto, followed by about 50 g of salami, half the cornichon slices and some baby greens. Finally, add the top layer of the baguette halves, and enjoy!
Strawberry Watermelon Margarita Skewers
What you’ll need:
2 loose cups of strawberries, trimmed and cut in half
2 loose cups of watermelon, cut into cubes (about the same
size as the strawberry halves)
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 oz tequila (optional)
A handful of mint
Sea salt for sprinkling
How to put it all together:
In a large mixing bowl, toss your strawberry halves and watermelon cubes with the lime juice and tequila (if you’re going for it). Starting and ending with a strawberry half, stack your skewer with a strawberry, followed by a mint leaf, followed by watermelon cube, followed by another mint leaf etc. Once you’re out of fruit, line up your skewers, sprinkle with a small pinch of salt, and enjoy!