At least once a week, my fiancée and I head to the Botanic Gardens for a dinner free from distraction, and it’s a pastime I recommend everyone reading this embrace. It’s fun, it’s super romantic, and the best part about it is that it’s incredibly easy.
I’ve mentioned in the past – on numerous occasions – how much I enjoy dining outside, as well as how much I enjoy picnics. All you need is a cooler (or a fancy picnic hamper), a few tasty dishes, and a bottle of something equally delicious. In addition, I recommend taking the time to look at least a little bit nicer than you normally do, but I also recommend dressing in a way that suits the occasion. By that I mean leave both the tie and the tennis shoes at home. This is your chance to dress like a stylish gardener, or an exiled novelist, or whatever your own fantasies may entail. It’s like going out to dinner – only more celebratory. Here’s what I recommend, both in terms of wearing and eating.
Really, as long as you can make your dish of choice portable, anything goes. Just avoid ‘heavy’ foods, since they’re largely at odds with the setting. Some of my favorite options include:
- Baguette, cheese, olives, charcuterie (never forget to bring your baguette)
- Caprese salad (we grow our own tomatoes and basil, and only use a bit of good oil and some salt)
- Cold Soup – gazpacho or leek
- Chilled soba noodles with steamed vegetables (use a vegetable peeler to slice zucchini and carrot into ribbons, steam very briefly, then stir into soba noodles with a peanut vinaigrette) or stir-fried mushrooms
- Seared tuna bites (Sear, slice, wrap in individual packets of butter lettuce if you choose, top with thin-sliced jalapeno and a ponzo sauce)
- Pre-grilled chicken skewers (chicken and green onion)
- Tiramisu or creme brulée in individual ramekins – this gets you points, and both are very easy to make.
Recently, I had the very good idea of pre-mixing a pitcher of Mojito ‘concentrate’ (2 cups rum, 1 cup sugar, as much mint as you can find; blended) and bringing a bottle of sparkling water along with me. If you have access to a cheap rose you’ll love it, especially as the evenings become cooler. I tend not to bring ‘nicer’ bottles with me on picnics, just because everything tastes better when you’re outside anyway, and you also limit the chances of being disappointed if your plastic cup spills in the grass. Speaking of, a plastic cup is great to have, since it won’t shatter if you drop it. Plus, it’s not hard to can find clear plastic cups that are an elegant alternative to a wine glass (I always favor stemless) – just look for something that doesn’t have a pronounced lip. Oh, and if you’re bringing wine, don’t forget a corkscrew – and remember that something bubbly is always fun.
3. Where to Go
I’m a big fan of botanical gardens. We’re members at the one in Denver, and we tend to visit them when we travel. Of course, the nearest nice park (or beach) is also a great choice (just be surreptitious with your alcohol), and if you can drive 15 minutes out of the city to a pretty spot that’s also great. Just be sure that you’re not going to get stuck in traffic for more than 20 minutes – nothing kills romance and spontaneity like staring at the back of the same minivan for hours. If you do have a botanic garden near you – go! Especially if you’ve never been before. Strolling through beautiful gardens is a fantastic activity by itself.
4. What to Wear
As I said, if you’re picnicking with your significant other, this is a chance to look nice in a way you don’t look nice while at the office. It’s not really the time for ‘weekend’ clothes, and while you can certainly wear an odd jacket and trousers I recommend you give in to the weather and wear something more at home in the sun. I tend to favor floral prints, lightweight outerwear to fight the evening chill (which is a reality now that we’ve passed Labor Day), and loose or cropped pants that are comfortable for lounging, strolling, as well as sitting around when the sun starts to go down.
Here’s some of my recent picnic-wear:
5. Why You Should Picnic in the First Place
Because it’s fun. No, seriously: taking the time – during the week, no less – to consciously disconnect yourself from all the stress and distractions you probably don’t even know you have while you’re at home (phones, shows, computers, errands, etc.) results in a sense of profound relief, both mental and physical. The kind of relief that results in you feeling the stress leave your shoulders. Not only is the cooking and meal preparation cathartic (at least, it should be), but choosing an outfit based on no one’s expectations on your own is way more entertaining than choosing what you’ll wear to work or even to a restaurant. The older I get, the more I’ve come to cherish slow moments, especially with loved ones. A picnic – and the slight sense of celebration that goes with it – is a fantastic and intimate way to liven up your weekly grind and, I hope, start a new tradition.