In Defense of Food
We’ve got to start with what makes a picnic a picnic: the spread! In our calorie-conscious society that can be guilty of favoring nutrients over foods, it may feel frivolous to plan an entire social outing around what we’re putting in our mouths—but that’s where Pollan’s manifesto for eaters is so necessary. He advocates that we re-familiarize ourselves with the food chain and follow this simple edict: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. We’d like to add: Outside!
Madison’s beloved cookbook—recently released for the first time in paperback—is key for the pre-picnic preparation: Once you’ve visited your local farmers’ market, or picked up your weekly CSA, flip it open and get ready for inspiration. From inventive ways to use seasonal ingredients to hundreds of useful reference photos, you get that rare combination of great meal ideas and the ability to whip them up in one morning so that you can get outside faster.
It’s a popular trope—most of your favorite TV shows have the quintessential “picnic episode”: The characters pack up a yummy lunch and attempt to enjoy the weather, only to be thwarted by ants or storm clouds. While playing matchmaker, Emma finds herself at not one but two disastrous picnics, the good cheer sabotaged by high-strung participants and uncooperative weather. Anyone who has had an outing go sideways will appreciate the less-than-idyllic picnics in Austen’s novel.
“A book of verse beneath the bough
A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Ah, wilderness were paradise now!”
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Omar Kháyyám praised the simple pleasure of eating and relaxing outside in his 12th-century poem Rubáiyát; the English caught on about five centuries later. Regardless of when it began, picnicking has become ingrained in our culture, mostly because it’s so easy yet so rewarding: put together a light meal, grab a book and a blanket, and go to town (or rather, to country).
Now that it’s warm enough for you to plan your own outings, check out these books; they’ll help you scour the farmers’ market for the best seasonal ingredients, make everything from snacks to feasts, locate the best picnic spot…and, of course, give you a book or two to bury your nose in while you enjoy the lovely weather outdoors.
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