For North Carolina author Ashley English picnics are an integral part of family life. “My husband Glenn and I share a love of both food and nature,” she says. “Picnicking is something that we regularly do as a family. So much so, in fact, that we keep a picnic basket and blanket in our car year round!”
This penchant for picnicking led the couple to share their passion for outdoor eating in a new book, “A Year of Picnics,” featuring 20 different picnics organized around seasons and themes. Though casual by nature, English says, picnics can be infused with beauty, from an elegantly plated dish to condiments housed in lovely glass jars. “But even if all you have is the same worn out, tried-and-true picnic basket and blanket, as long as you’re passionate about the experience, the beauty will find its way to you,” she adds.
Here, English shares her recipes for a waterside picnic you can enjoy at one of the Triangle’s many lakes. But before you pack up that basket, keep in mind these tips:
Check the weather! It doesn’t mean you have to cancel things if inclement weather is coming. It just helps to know best how to dress and otherwise prep and plan for whatever nature throws your way!
Wear comfortable clothing and footwear. Summertime is all about making the most of your time outdoors, and it’s hard to enjoy that time if you’re in something restrictive.
Baskets, blankets, food—it can really add up in terms of weight. If you’ve got lots of picnic participants willing to schlep, fantastic! If not, however, you might want to consider bringing a wagon for transporting goods from your vehicle to the site.
Don’t forget the bug spray!
All-Natural Bug Spray
You’ve put so much thought into the location, food, and activities, the last thing you want is to have your planning outdone by stinging, biting insects. This easy-to-make spray will help keep them at bay.
You will need
• 1 cup of grain alcohol
• Vodka or witch hazel (see Note)
• 10 drops citronella essential oil
• 7 drops lavender essential oil
• 7 drops rose geranium essential oil
• 6 drops rosemary essential oil
Place all the ingredients into a spray bottle (I prefer metal misters around 11–12 ounces in size). Shake well. Spray liberally over any exposed skin either before venturing outdoors or as soon as you arrive at your destination. Reapply if you get wet or are sweating heavily.
Note: You’ll need enough vodka or witch hazel to fill the bottle after the grain alcohol is added; the amount will vary based on the volume of your bottle.
When I was pregnant, I nearly ate my weight in watermelon. Once, when I mentioned my recent hefty consumption of the watery fruit to a friend, right then and there, he introduced me to the glories of fruta picada, bestowing my rotund, overheated self with a heaping plateful. A com¬bination of fresh fruit, lime juice and chili seasoning, this treat is served at markets and roadsides throughout Mexico. The combination of spice and salt partnered with sweet fruit is hard to beat on a warm summer’s day. Serves 8 to 10.
You will need
For the spice blend
• 3 Tbsp chipotle powder
• 3 Tbsp smoky paprika
• 1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp sea salt
• 1 Tbsp cumin seeds
• 1 ½ tsp celery seeds
For the fruit mixture
• 1 pineapple
• 1/2 watermelon
• 1 large jicama
• 1 large papaya
• Juice from 2 limes
Grind all the spice blend ingredients together in a spice grinder or food processor or with a mortar and pestle until finely powdered. Transfer to a lidded container with a shaker screen.
Peel, seed and cut the fruit into spears. Place all the fruit spears onto a serving platter. Squeeze the fresh lime juice evenly across. Let guests serve themselves as much fruit as they’d like and then sprinkle with the spice blend.
Few flavors rival the taste of fresh seafood. Redolent of salt and sea, shrimp and crab satisfy as few things can when picnicking beach or lakeside. Here, I’ve married ceviche-inspired flavors with the ease and portability of sliders. Lime juice, fresh cilantro, a bit of olive oil and fresh vegetables let the seafood’s flavors remain at the forefront without drowning in a creamy base. A little smear of mayonnaise on the slider bun is suggested but not required. Makes two dozen.
You will need
• 1lb peeled and deveined shrimp
• 1lb crabmeat
• 3 Tbsp olive oil
• 1 red bell pepper, diced
• 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
• 2 dozen small cherry tomatoes, sliced
• 1 large stalk of celery, diced
• ½ cup bread and butter pickles, diced
• Juice from 2 ¼ limes
• 1 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
• 1 ¼ tsp sea salt
• Several grinds of black pepper
• Mayonnaise, to serve (optional)
• 24 slider buns
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Toss the shrimp with 2 Tbsp olive oil in a rimmed baking sheet, spread out evenly across the pan, and roast for 10 minutes. Let the shrimp cool for a few minutes, then slice each one in half down the center.
In a large bowl, combine the prepared shrimp, the crab, red pepper, cucumber, tomatoes, celery, pickles, the juice of 2 limes, half of the cilantro, 1 tsp sea salt and the black pepper. Stir until all ingredients are fully combined. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
At serving time, in a small bowl, toss the remaining cilantro with the remaining 1 Tbsp of olive oil, the juice from 1⁄4 lime, and the remaining 1⁄4 teaspoon sea salt.
Spread a little mayo on the bottom slider bun, if desired. Sprinkle a little cilantro salad over that. Spoon on some of the seafood mixture and then add the top bun.
Repeat until you have enough sliders for your picnic guests or until it’s all gone.
From A Year of Picnics by Ashley English © 2017 by Ashley English. Photographs © 2017 by Jen Altman. Reprinted in arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. roostbooks.com