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Picnics offer just enough outdoors to satisfy the inner woodsman

July 2012

Ever since families decided that a nice warm cave was superior to spending another night on the savannah, we have been romanticizing the great outdoors.

I imagine that it only took a week or two of comfortable, protected, pest-free indoor living before someone said, “Gee, why don’t we spend the weekend in the forest and get back to nature?” And then they heard a Saber-toothed tiger roar and that bright idea was forgotten for about 40,000 years.

We owe our current infatuation with camping to Baden-Powell and his brainchild, the Scouts. This was a stop-gap that gave young British men something to do between the earlier era when they might have looked forward to being pressed into naval service and WWI’s conscription. Camping became an earnest endeavor. Trench building was a fun activity and a boy’s love for the great outdoors could be measured in merit badges.

Scouting had one major benefit: The rest of the family could stay home.

Cars changed that when we were encouraged to go trekking together. Camping became a marathon endurance activity—get the tent into the car, get it out of the car, get the poles up (I thought you brought the poles), get the tent up, get the fly over the tent, sleep, take the tent down, drive to another location, repeat.

A friend, considering the camping experience, once told me that his idea of roughing it was to go to a motel and leave the windows open.

Urban foraging isn’t about making a dandelion salad. Save that for a dinner party. Painting: Émile Bernard

What made camping worthwhile was, of course, food. Food tastes better when it is eaten just before complete exhaustion.

How else could someone have successfully marketed lemon sublime gel or freeze-dried ice cream as a something you would actually look forward to eating?

Today, however, we can remove the camping and keep the food.

This is called a “picnic” and it provides just enough of the great outdoors to satisfy my inner woodsman.

The best picnics require the least amount of effort.

If you have superb fixings in the fridge, by all means take out that perfect arugula salad and slice the leftover beef Wellington; however, we are in Montreal. This city may be the summer picnic capital of the world, where all you need is a basket to hunt down lunch.

Urban foraging is not about making a fresh dandelion salad. Save that to impress friends at a dinner party: “Oh, I just plucked this from the garden.”

The Montreal picnic is a cornucopia of seasonal fruits and veggies, locally made cheeses and charcuterie, freshly made breads and even potent liquid refreshment.

Check out the free weekend tastings of Quebec wines and ciders at Jean Talon market.
Then it’s a couple of hours in the great urban, professionally designed, municipally designated outdoors (Jarry or Angrignon parks or Mount Royal or Cap St. Jacques) and frankly that’s enough. After that, it’s cinq-à-sept in Balconville with a cold one and great memories of a day well spent. With luck, you won’t even get a mosquito bite.

No Mayo, No Risk

Yugoslavian Potato Salad

Of course, you want to bring at least one homemade dish on the picnic. This validates you as a cook and implies that if you had really wanted to, you could have provided a meal for everyone on the block. I’d vote for what the Flavourguy’s family knows as “no mayo, no risk, Yugoslavian potato salad.”

Take 4 medium size potatoes and boil them until barely done in their skins. Let them cool, remove the skin, cut each in half lengthwise, slice thinly, add a quarter cup or so of thinly sliced red onion, a dressing of olive oil and cider vinegar (2:1), bacon bits and salt and pepper. What you don’t eat at the picnic will keep for several days in the fridge.



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