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When the occasion for a picnic is a bit special -- a concert on the grass, Shakespeare under the stars, fireworks in the park -- it seems only fitting that the food match. We devised this menu, an update on picnic favorites, for just such events.
Sandwiches, salads, cookies, and iced tea are all here, only dressed up. We also give the outdoor meal an environmentally friendly spin wherever possible. We don't pack our finest china, but we do bring real dishes and find other ways to reduce trash -- one more way to celebrate the setting.
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Choose dishes that travel well, can be made mostly in advance, are served at room temperature, and don't involve lots of sauces or other ingredients that will make the fare soggy. Avoid foods that require cutting; opt for those that need only a fork -- or better yet, can be held in hand.
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Assemble portable servings of bite-size snacks, such as small bags of pistachios, to offer people as they arrive. Nuts are a healthy alternative to potato chips and are less likely to be crushed.
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Choose a hardy bread, such as a baguette, for sandwiches. (Making open-faced sandwiches, such as the beef ones here, keeps the bread-to-filling ratio balanced.) Bring a vegetarian main course, such as tomato hand pies, as well.
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In place of lettuce-based salads, serve ones built on sturdy sliced vegetables or grains (such as quinoa). Avoid tender lettuces because they tend to fade in the heat.
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Do all the cutting at home. Don't plan on chopping things at the picnic.
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Parchment and twine, lightweight serving bowls, and baking dishes and tins are environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic wrap and throwaway containers. They look nicer, too.
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Forgo disposable goods when possible, and use break-resistant plates, cutlery, and glasses. Enamelware dishes, a camping favorite, are sturdy but not heavy.
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Use two big canvas bags, one for room-temperature food and an insulated one for anything that needs to stay chilled. After you pack a layer of food in the bottom of a bag, place a small cutting board over it. Then add another layer of food. The board will act as a shelf and prevent the food from toppling over.
When you get to the picnic area, place the cutting board in the middle of the serving area and use it as a makeshift table for drinks. Pack a large paper bag, and use it to line one of the canvas bags when toting home dirty dishes.
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Other useful things include napkins (cloth if possible), tea towels (to use as an added layer around packed foods or to lay down as place mats), salt and pepper shakers, and serving utensils. Don't forget a large tablecloth or sheet to use as your "table."