Summer Sunday: How to Pack a Perfect Picnic

Summer Sunday: How to Pack a Perfect Picnic

Summer in the Rockies is short. Getting outside and dining alfresco is one of best ways to savor the heat of summer before it’s gone. But what are the best things to pack in your picnic basket? Should you order out or make sandwiches? Should you grill on the barbeque or make fried chicken?

The answer is yes. It doesn’t really matter what you take as long as you’re taking it outside. Sometimes, Andy and I will just pile the kids and whatever we just made into the Chariot and bike down to Town Park. We’ll grab a picnic table, pour some white wine and watch the river flow. Afterwards, the kids throw rocks in the river and we peddle through town and get ice creams. Just because we can. The streets are free of ice, and it isn’t snowing. We’re biking through town at 9 o’clock at night, and there’s no school tomorrow. It’s summer. A picnic can be the best way to celebrate that.

Settling into a picnic at Bluegrass

Settling into a picnic at Bluegrass

But while there aren’t set rules to follow for a picnic, there are things that pack well and impress a crowd. We always pack finger food that’s fresh and easy to prepare. Things like slices of watermelon and chunks of pineapple. Kale chips. Grilled asparagus. Caprese salad. (A few years ago, my sister-in-law discovered “caprese on a stick”, threading cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls, and basil on a skewer and drizzling the whole kabob in olive oil and now it’s one of our mainstays.)

We take drinks that are light and easily transportable. A good canned beer like Telluride Brewing’s Brown Ale or Kona Brewing’s giant 24 oz Longboard Ale for us. Pink “cocktails” for the girls—pink lemonade, sparkling water, and mint from our garden—shaken and carried down to picnic in a big water bottle.

For our main course, we often take a quiche or a tart. They’re simple to make and when you arrive at your picnic, there’s no work to be done. (Check out the recipe at the bottom for one of my favorite dishes to make this time of year—leek tart.)

Dessert, if it’s not ice cream, follows the easy to pack/ easy to pick up theme. Brownies or lemon squares. Cookies or small galettes. If I’ve really got time, and there’s a crowd, I’ll make a pie.

imagesWe keep a soft sided cooler that we picked up from REI packed with the essentials—silverware, bottle opener, metal camping plates, metal camping cups (the ones Planet Bluegrass sells are great!), paper towels, hand sanitizer, and a trash bag. We find if we keep it clean and ready, we use it. We freeze water bottles and take them along for the picnic, where they serve doubly as a way to keep things cool and when you arrive, water. Most of our food fits in the cooler, with the exception of the tart, which often goes in a lap on route to the picnic.


With two young girls, we often also take other fun items like hula-hoops, bubbles, and glow sticks. When the kids are having fun, the adults are too. And when everyone’s having fun, you know it’s summer. Enjoy your picnic.

Leek Tart

Galette Dough (adapted from Julia Childs’s Baking With Julia)

3 tablespoons sour cream (or yogurt or buttermilk)
½ cup ice water
1 cup flour
¼ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons of cold salted butter, cut into 7 or 8 pieces

Mix together dry ingredients with a fork. Mix the butter into the dry mixture, being careful not to overwork the butter. Whisk together the sour cream and ice water and add to dry ingredients. Kneed the dough a few times just to combine. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill thoroughly (1/2 half in the freezer or 2 hours in the fridge).

Leek Filling (adapted from Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook)

In Europe, leeks are often referred to as the “poor man’s asparagus”, but I love when they starting popping up in our farmer’s market. Milder than onions, but zestier than asparagus, they mix beautifully with goat cheese in this tart.

3 to 4 pounds leeks (12-14 small leeks)
4 tablespoons of melted butter
salt and pepper
¼ pound of bacon, finely chopped
1 egg
½ cup of heavy cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ pound of goat cheese
1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs

Trim the roots and stems of the leeks. Clean and julienne the leeks, making sure clean all of the mud out of the folds. Cook the bacon and remove bacon bits with a slotted spoon. Reserve the bacon grease and cook the leeks in the bacon grease over medium high heat until soft, about 10 minutes and then pour into a dish to cool. Whisk together the egg, melted butter, cream, mustard, salt and pepper and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Roll out galette dough and place in tart pan. Stir leeks into egg mixture and pour into tart pan. Crumble goat cheese and bread crumbs on top and bake leek tart for 35-40 minutes. Place a drip pan on the rack below—sometimes the cream bubbles over. Serve the tart warm or cool—it’s great either way!

1 Comment
  • Bob
    Posted at 19:14h, 30 June

    Can I join you on your next picnic? The leek tart sounds WONDERFUL!!!!!!!