The joy of picnics

I love picnics.  There’s something about eating outdoors in a very lazy fashion that is appealing.  Relaxing.  And as much as I love going on picnics, I also like the planning.  What to eat? Recently I’ve had a hankering for corned beef.  I thought of cooking it as a traditional meal (complete with boiled bbaby carrots, cabbage, mashed potatoes and a horseradish/mustard sauce) but then decided it would be much better served in sandwiches – a là Reuben (the best version of this is from Katz’s deli in New York) – with mustard, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut.  On rye bread of course.

The other day in Melbourne I met a friend for a drink and bite to eat at the Gertrude St Enoteca – Brigitte Hafner’s little place. Always delightful with its small menu of sandwiches, baguettes, salads, vitello tonnato and cheese platters, and its tiny list of exceptional wines by the glass.  And I remembered that there was usually a corned beef sandwich on the list so that was what I was going to have.  It was with great disappointment that there was no corned beef on the menu that day.  I voiced my disappointment and was met by a look of utter astonishment.   Corned beef?  Isn’t that rather down market?  It was my turn to look astonished?  Downmarket?  Where have you been?  And have you never had a Reuben?  Who doesn’t like/love Reuben sandwiches?  Sigh.  Clearly we had very different ideas about food.  But my desire for corned beef with sauerkraut and mustard has not waivered and so I checked the weekend weather report and found that Sunday was going to be a gorgeous sunny day with a top of around 27 degrees.  Just right for a picnic.  And perfect to take our bikes out for a spin and find a lovely place along the river and sit and eat our lovely sandwiches and drink a bottle of wine.

As luck would have it (or not), the short bike ride to the river turned into a bit of a marathon.  M found that there was a nice spot by the lake near the Noosa Botanical gardens which was just up the road (about 10k away).  Sounded good.  Nice easy ride, lake-side picnic.  Perfect.  Except that the map didn’t show that there was a fence along the road which prohibited you from going around the lake.  So back we rode and then on along the road till finally we found a turn-off to the gardens and then rode along even further.  I wasn’t very happy.  We had now been riding for 90 minutes.  That wasn’t part of my picnic plan.  Eventually though we did find the gardens and a lovely spot by the lake to spread out our picnic and laze away the afternoon.  As for the picnic itself:  a triumph!  Not only home made corned beef and sauerkraut but also mustard and rye bread.  All thoroughly delicious and washed down with a bottle of sparkling red.

Picnics

I love picnics. There’s something festive and relaxing about eating outdoors – especially on the grass on a warm sunny day. Our picnics were often quite spontaneous: we would just go to the local Italian deli and pick up some baby boconcini, prosciutto, stuffed little capsicums, some white anchovies, some good bread from the local bakery (Italian) and some fresh fruit – strawberries, peaches, figs or whatever is in season; a bottle of wine and perhaps some good cheese and we were set.  Other times we’d get some oysters and cooked prawns and I’d make a coriander and chilli salsa to go with them.

Picnics are about enjoying the great outdoors in simple style (although I do like to take proper plates, linen napkins and proper wine glasses; makes the picnic basket a bit heavier but it’s well worth it). Nothing fancy, just good produce and great flavours: fresh watermelon and peaches or strawbs with vino cotto. In summer this year with a good friend staying we went to Neilson Park to laze about and swim. I decided on schnitzel in bread rolls accompanied with a wonderful fresh coleslaw (finely shredded cabbage, radish, mint, red onion, caraway seeds and a lemon dressing), dill cucumbers and homemade habanero mustard. Simple but utterly more-ish. I was surprised at how many people passed by and asked if they could have our leftovers!  A Petit Chablis and then a moscato to accompany the food. Fresh juicy big cherries and a mango to finish.

On Sunday we went to the Royal National Park for a picnic and swim. We went primarily because my daughter needs to get her driving hours in. What a blessing that was; we otherwise wouldn’t have gone and it’s such a beautiful spot; it was glorious: sun, sand and sea. And a lagoon where people jumped from great heights off a cliff into the water below. A family friendly place – casual and relaxed. I made steak tartare burgers (finely chopped beef with chopped onion, cornichons, capers, parsley, tobasco, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard and egg yolks) freshly cooked in situ on a little portable burner and inserted into fresh Italian bread rolls spread with some homemade mustard on one side and hummus on the other and topped with rocket, slices of home grown tomatoes and dill pickles (I don’t think you can have picnics without dill cucumbers ). Then watermelon. That was it.  Simple but delicious – and good fun to eat, trying to keep all the filling from falling out (as is the way with hamburgers) and all those juices running down our hands and onto our legs.  Necessitated a dip in the water to clean ourselves up, but we really didn’t mind. Picnic perfect.