Dining Al Fresco: Summer Picnicking in Orange County


June 19, 2012

When you'€™re lying on a blanket at one of Orange County'€™s stunning parks or beaches, gazing out over the ocean, the soggy sandwiches and lukewarm macaroni salad that have long been hauled along on picnics just won'€™t do!"  This time, you need a unique and tasty spread that matches the spectacular setting and provides you with an even more special experience.

Assembling a gourmet picnic is easy '€“ so easy that you can even put it together in your hotel room if you'€™re away from home.A quick trip to the farmer'€™s market or one of Orange County'€™s specialty food stores like Mother'€™s Market or Native Foods Café is all you'€™ll need to gather the makings of a delicious basket of goodies you can take just about anywhere.

Here are some ideas for what to bring:

Cheese & Crackers '€“ Pick one soft cheese (like goat, brie, or feta) and one harder cheese that'€™s pre-cut into cubes, to serve alongside artisan crackers or rustic breads (buy these at a bakery or specialty store like Whole Foods) torn into hunks."  Look for local cheeses or varieties you haven't tried before, to help make this seemingly ordinary snack extraordinary.

Fresh Fruit '€“ Berries, stone fruits (like plums, peaches, apricots), grapes, and Valencia oranges are all easy to eat and transport on-the-go.Also look for California dates and other dried fruits at the farmer'€™s markets '€“ they go especially well with nuts and chocolate.

Nuts '€“ Our farmer'€™s markets have candied, spiced, salted, and raw nuts for your snacking pleasure.Bring a little container of your favorite variety to accompany your gourmet cheese platter.

Chocolate '€“ A picnic wouldn'€™t be complete without something sweet!Choose a couple of chocolate bars that you can break into pieces, or try bite-sized chocolate covered toffee, dried fruit, and nuts.

Veggies with Dip '€“ Nearly every farmer'€™s market sells a wide variety of hummus, tzaziki, pesto, and tapenade that are great for veggie-dipping or spreading on bread or crackers.

Beverages '€“ Bring some sparkling water and freshly squeezed lemonade and mix them together in a glass (try a mason jar!) with a sprig of fresh mint '€“ you'€™ll feel refreshed after just one sip.

If you'€™re looking for an even lower maintenance picnic, there are lots of great take-out options that will do the prep work for you.Two of my favorites are Wahoo'€™s Fish Tacos (multiple locations) - a classic California joint offering fresh and healthy Mexican cuisine that won'€™t disappoint - and What a Dish Cafe in Dana Point: they make fantastic sandwiches, salads, and desserts that will make you feel as if you'€™ve gone to Paris to dine al fresco!

A Few Tips To Make Your Picnic a Breeze:

  • Spend a few minutes prepping your ingredients before you leave your hotel or home, so that everything is ready when you arrive at your picnic destination.
  • Bring a small cooler or insulated reusable grocery bag with a few ice packs so that the perishable items, and beverages, remain cold until they'€™re enjoyed.
  • Bring compostable utensils, paper or bamboo plates and bowls, and cloth linens so that your picnic leaves only a light eco-footprint.These items are available at Whole Foods and other specialty stores around Orange County.
  • Focus on quality not quantity.It'€™s tempting to buy and bring everything when you go on a picnic, but you will save yourself a lot of work, money, and leftovers if you just buy a few lovely items and enjoy them to the fullest, with beautiful landscape or seascape as your backdrop!

" Sources for image 1, image 2, image 3.