Keeping the Festive Season Light by Picnicking More
The South African climate is the envy of the world. But since the Southern Hemisphere is only made up of 20% landmass (including Antarctica, which is not a part of the rest of this discussion), we still tend to think of the festive season as snowclad and cosy by the fire, when really, across Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South America, the idea of labouring over a hot stove for days on end doesn’t exactly put us in a festive mood. So, why not turn that European ideal on its head? This time of year is about being together, anyway. And there are more ways to gather than around a burning hearth – yule log smouldering – while some poor soul’s day starts with the words, preheat oven to 180 °C. Enter the picnic, one of the most wonderful but underrated ways to dine. And while it’s supposed to be less fussy or formal than a classic sit-down affair, just a few tips will ensure you put the ultimate al fresco feast.
PICK A GOOD SPOT
An open lawn. An uncrowded beach. A quaint courtyard. These are all ideal picnic spots to be sure. But perhaps there’s a spot halfway up an incline that could make a great back rest. A spot halfway in the shade – or in dappled sunlight – also saves you having to bring along a gazebo or umbrella. But wherever you choose, pick somewhere beautiful and comfortable. And if the weather isn’t playing along, set up a picnic on the stoep or in the living room (with the doors and windows wide open).
STABILISE YOUR SURFACE
One of the main reasons we don’t picnic more often is because it’s not always practical. For one thing, it lacks stable surface space for placing delicate items like wine glasses and bottles. Consider bringing a chopping board or another hard surface, like a tray, that suits the look you’re going for. Having a cheese board or two on hand is always handy for minor chopping and dicing when wanting to keep things fresh. If you can’t stand to look at it, hide it under the picnic blanket. Other than that, pick a spot with a large tree trunk or large boulder to use as a serving surface if you have a big spread in mind.
A SOFT PLACE TO REST YOUR DERIÈRRE
Popular wisdom dictates that one should always take along a “picnic blanket”, which is posh for a blanket that’s been quilted or cushioned. If you don’t have a formal picnic blanket, though, take an old tablecloth or two and make sure that you’ve got enough large cushions to plump up your seating arrangements. We all know what makes us comfortable. There’s no reason to leave your creature comforts at home.
JAM IT IN A JAR
There are very few tapas and condiments that won’t go in a jar, and it remains one of your best options for transporting your nibbles from their place of origin to your picnic spot. Plus, they look every bit the part of a glamourous country picnic. On the subject of transport, separate your jars with tea towels in a cushioned cooler bag to stop them knocking against each other on the way. The tea towels, then, double up as napkins. Everyone’s happy!
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
There’s absolutely no reason why a sandwich, soggy from soaking up all the mayo, mustard and tomato juices, should be obligatory at any picnic. In fact, if you don’t want to make your sandwiches on site, think of something else. Salads are easy to assemble on a picnic blanket when you’ve got the individual components ready, washed and chopped in jars. On that note, always remember to bring a jammer lappie (wiping-up cloth) to mop up any vinaigrettes and other spillages before you put your plates and platters back in their carry bag. Quiches and soutterte are also a good, less messy option. As for dessert, go for no-bake, individually portioned options, like tiramisu, rice puddings or trifles.