There he stood with a wicker basket, a checkered blanket, and a bottle of wine; and it was so picture-perfect I couldn’t wreck even one moment of it by taking out my camera. I fell a little more in love… in love with him, in love with summertime in the Finger Lakes, and in love with the timeless, classic picnic. Is there anything more playful or fanciful than enjoying a delicious spread on the lawn, carried in by basket?
I think the whimsical can become a lost art when we forget to return to simplicity. Did you know picnic is a synonym for the word simple?
Simple, however, doesn’t have to mean the opposite of imaginative and involved. Simple sometimes means easy, but we’ve likely all experienced simple truths that turned out to be difficult to live out, for example. Simple can also mean minimalistic, but it doesn’t always need to. If it’s possible, maybe many of us tend to oversimplify the word “simple.” Meaningless pragmatism and religious impotence come about this way, I think. It narrows the mind and instills a poverty spirit. Is there anything so wrong with lavishness and complexity and creativity that we feel we must favor simplicity above all, at all times?
I bet the word “simple” has a broader scope of meaning than most of us imagine. My conviction is that simplicity just means returning to the basics, but it doesn’t mean things always ought to stay basic from there. It may not be very popular to say in my circles (so maybe keep it hushed between you & me, okay?), but to me, the beauty of simplicity is regularly returning to the ground level, where maybe it becomes a fresh platform for creativity to build upon once again. After all, simplicity is a bright and fresh starting point – brilliant for constantly returning to for renewal and advancement
…but it can be a rather gray and stifling constant.
He could have packed bread & water in our basket that afternoon, in the name of picnic (I mean, simplicity). But there was red wine in real crystal stemware, glass bottles of vintage Coca-Cola, hot fried-chicken from our local nostalgic dairyette, and specialty chocolate bonbons. Still simple enough to find bright and dreamy, but much more indulgent and thoughtful than bread & water.
It was because of this outing that I began dreaming of what other levels and variations picnics can achieve, from family-style sandwiches and lemonade on a blanket in the backyard… to Italian-bistro-in-a-basket by the lake… to lavish and elegant lawn picnics complete with decorative pillows, lanterns, and pallet furniture.
Here’s my recipe for creating The Perfect Picnic:
The Perfect Picnic
Ingredients: Decide how you want it to FEEL + Choose a THEME + Go the EXTRA mile with a few of the details
Method: (Let’s break this down a little more.)
- The FEELS. It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, you’re creating a memory filled with different feelings, and not merely planning a meal. What is the emotional goal of the picnic? Romance? Nostalgia? Carefreeness? Whatever you come up with, use this as a “base flavor” to guide the next two ingredients.
- The THEME. How will the details about the food, location, and aesthetic setting string together into an overall theme, and how will this theme complement the feels? Stir this creativity into the base flavor, mixing well.
- The EXTRA mile. Make the little details just a touch more special. Did you plan to pack lemonade? -Why not infuse strawberries, mint, or bubbles into the pitcher? Having grape juice? -Why not pack a few stemless wine glasses to serve it in? Plan 2-5 little touches like this, and gently fold them into your flavor/creativity mixture.
Voila! There you have a perfect little picnic. As simple as an outdoor meal on the ground, but whimsical as ever.
Here are some picnics I’m currently dreaming up . . . .
Chic-Italian (at the lake or on a dock):
-Large wicker basket
-Breakfast-in-bed style serving tray
-Small stemless wine glasses
-Wine/grape juice/sparkling juice
-Fancy cheese (sharp cheddar, goat, etc)
-Crackers or sliced baguette
-Sea Salt Chocolate Caramels/gourmet red licorice
Traditional Family Style (at the park, backyard, or living room floor!):
-Big wicker basket
-Large sheet or outdoor blanket
-Your favorite sandwiches OR subs!
-Lemonade infused with strawberries
-Crunchy snacks (veggies, chips, etc)
Elegant Picnic (on home property or spacious porch):
-Lavishly decorate porch, garden, lawn, balcony, or deck (ideas: bistro lights, pallet “table,” decorative throw pillows from inside, lanterns and candles)
-Cocktails (need ice box!)
-Serve more exotic, or foreign dishes (Indian curry, Asian-inspired cuisine, salmon avocado toast, etc)
-Cultural or seasonal dessert
“Drive-In Movie” Picnic (backyard):
-Set up a screen & speakers for a movie in the backyard
-Extra large blanket & some outdoor pillows
-Burgers/hot dogs + basic fixings
-Popcorn (or nachos) served in striped cardboard sleeves
-Glass-bottled sodas + paper straws
-Several 99c boxes of “theater” candy to choose from (Milk Duds, Sour Patch, Twizzlers, etc)
Picnics are just one way to transform the simple into the whimsical, but this time of year they seem the perfect reminder to ask ourselves this question: Are economics and pragmatism the stuff of connection and creativity, or are memories made and life truly lived when we make the simple, ordinary things extra-special?
What about you: What is the value & meaning of simplicity to you? What style picnic are you seeing in your mind’s eye right now, and what are two ways you’re taking it the extra mile? Please let us all know in the comments below!