Become a summer picnic expert before it’s too late

by DGO Web Administrator

Last year, we moved a few miles down the road from Trimble Hot Springs. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to buy a season pass. After all, we lived so close to the springs that we could drive up in our bathrobes (ahem, it’s worth noting that we also have no shame). Our six-month membership expired right before the summertime began and we debated whether we should renew. Going to the hot springs in the wintertime was a no brainer, but would we use it as much during the summer months? Would we really want to get into 100-plus-degree water when the ambient temperature almost matched those temps?

In the end, we renewed. I wish I could say I was motivated because the membership came with a handful of guest passes and I wanted to give my friends and family something for free. Noble, yes, but simply not true. I had also just started kickboxing and I was pretty much sore all the time. I didn’t care how hot it was outside, I could barely move, and the only thing that helped was those healing waters.

As it turned out, a summer membership to the hot springs is almost better than the winter one! Yes, the water is hot, but you get to hang out on the lawn, soak in the rays, and frolic in the cold pool when you overheat in the warm ones. The icing on the cake is Trimble’s Summer of Sundays Music Series. A different band plays every week, and they’re free with regular admission. It created the perfect opportunity to enjoy a weekend picnic on the lawn.

The weather is cooling off a bit these days, but it’s still perfect weather for picnicking. We learned a few things along the way about how to plan (and execute) the perfect picnic.

Don’t forget the essentialsPicnic essentials go further than a good blanket to sit on. Don’t forget paper plates and utensils (or, better yet, go all-in with funky-colored, reusable melamine dishware). You’ll also need a cutting board and knife if you’re planning to chop anything, along with napkins and a bunch of condiment packets. OK, that last one isn’t exactly essential, but it does make your life a hell of a lot easier than bringing a bottle of mayonnaise. A place like Trimble has trash cans, so you don’t need to worry about packing anything out, but you should also pack a trash bag for sites without trash service.

Get creative with packagingYou don’t need an adorable picnic basket to make this work… but it certainly never hurts. If you don’t have one, load up your goodies in a plastic bin, a backpack, or a spare cooler. I especially like those thermal totes with a shoulder strap (you can fit more than three cases of beer in those things, too… not that I’d know anything about that).

I don’t know why, but everything tastes better outdoorsThis concept is so simple it HAS to be true. Think about the last time you had a pasta salad and thought, “Wow, this blows my mind.” Maybe never. Now, think about that same pasta salad, but sit yourself down on a red-and-white checkered picnic blanket and imagine eating it while soaking in the sun and listening to the birds chirp. That same exact salad totally tastes better. So, don’t sweat the menu too much. Everything is going to taste great.

Keep the food simpleI’m the first person who wants to make everything from scratch, but the art of picnicking doesn’t require that you make anything. All you need is a bag of chips, packaged string cheese, baguette, some deli meats, and a store-bought fruit and veggie tray (and, probably all of those condiment packets). So long as you can open the cooler and eat, the event will be a hit.

Don’t plan leftoversA picnic is not the time or the place for leftovers. You don’t want to have to lug all that food in and out! Count the number of people you’ll be feeding and try to plan accordingly.

Watch your temperaturesNothing ruins a picnic more than giving everyone food poisoning. Keep your cold foods cold (and safe) by storing them in a cooler until you’re ready to eat. Fill that cooler with at least 25 percent ice and keep it out of the sun. Room temperature foods are fine, but try to avoid hot food at a picnic unless there’s a grill around. It’s hard to hot-hold them at the right temperatures.

That’s it. Now you’re a picnicking expert! Grab your bathing suit, hit up your favorite watering hole (whether that’s a hot spring, the lake, or somewhere in the woods), and take advantage of the last few weeks of summer.

Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and food writer living in Durango. She enjoys long walks in the woods, the simplicity of New York-style cheese pizza, and she’s completely addicted to Chapstick. Contact her at [email protected].

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