Dining Al Fresco Like A Pro
● By Kimberly Boney
Life's a Picnic
By Kimberly Bonéy
Al fresco: al fres.co /al ‘fresko - / (adverb or adjective) “in the open air” Also see: barbecue, clambake, cookout, excursion, outing
WHEN IT COMES TO picturesque places for dining al fresco, the North State is the crème de la crème. Our beautiful flora and fauna, coupled with stellar waterfalls, rivers, creeks and countryside set the tone for a lovely meal with your love(s). But there is more to a perfect meal in the great outdoors than a beautiful setting. It’s about having the proper equipment – and some good nosh – in place to make the experience as blissful as it should be.
THE PROPER EQUIPMENT
A BASKET – Obviously, this is the basis for any great outdoor meal. It’s the keeper of all of the good things. Find one that has all of the bells and whistles you are looking for. It’ll be money well spent.
A BLANKET – It’s ideal if it’s quilted for comfort, colorful for aesthetics and washable for function.
FOLDING CHAIRS – If you don’t love the idea of sitting on a blanket, that is.
UTENSILS – Skip the disposable utensils. You can’t top the durability of the real deal. Keep an inexpensive set stashed in your basket. Don’t forget a spreader, a knife and a cutting board.
PLATES – Pick up a set of melamine plates. The lightweight plastic will hold up better than paper alternatives, but you won’t run the risk of breakage. Just keep them away from direct heat, dishwashers and microwaves.
CLOTH NAPKINS – These make the meal feel like a luxurious dining experience – as it should be.
GLASSES – We can’t deny the appeal of an acrylic, shatterproof, stemless option. If you prefer glassware, consider serving your libations in a mason jar. It’ll only add to the charm of the great outdoors.
A BOTTLE OPENER – Don’t be caught without one. Imagine having the perfect bottle of wine or champagne to enjoy, but nothing with which to open it. That’s a drag.
SUNSCREEN – Nothing is more annoying than taking home a sunburn as a souvenir.
HAND SANITIZER – Dirty, sticky hands are a no-go.
BUG REPELLENT – No matter how pristine the spot, there are likely to be at least a few little unwanted guests around for the party. Sprinkle a bit of cinnamon around your blanket to ward off ants. Apply a Deet-free insect repellent for good measure and bring the bottle along to reapply as necessary. Draw flying insects away from you by placing something appealing on a plate away from your blanket.
WIPES, PAPER TOWELS, PLASTIC BAGS AND TRASH BAGS – All of these are important for easing the clean-up process. In fact, it’s a great idea to keep them in your car at all times, whether or not you have an outdoor adventure planned.
FROZEN WATER BOTTLES – Bypass the ice run. These will keep your food cool on the way, and as they melt, you’ll stay hydrated. Bring some chilled bottles along for immediate consumption.
MASON JARS – These are the perfect vehicle to transport your al fresco meal. They are reusable, provide good protection from dirt and critters and are likely to keep your food tasting better than any of their plastic counterparts.
AN EMERGENCY KIT – Just in case.
A PORTABLE PHONE CHARGER – Going off the grid is great, but being able to make a call in a pinch is a necessity.
SOME GOOD NOSH FRESH FRUIT – Grapes, blueberries, cut watermelon, tangerines, whole peaches and nectarines are ideal. Avoid fruit that will break apart or discolor before you have a chance to enjoy it.
VEGGIES – A mason jar salad (with the dressing on the very bottom and the layered vegetables on top to keep it fresh) is a fun way to get your green on while out in nature. Celery, carrots, broccoli and heirloom cherry tomatoes are great for snacking, but local olives, artichoke hearts, pickled green beans, okra and good, oldfashioned dill pickles will keep your taste buds engaged.
DIPS & SPREADS – Dips and spreads are great for pairing with, well, everything. Bring only what portion of it you can reasonably consume in one sitting, so nothing goes to waste.
DRINKS – Bring along plenty of bottled water. Canned or bottled sodas will do the trick, but we love the idea of bringing along lemonade or fruit juice in a mason jar.
A BOTTLE OF WINE, CHAMPAGNE OR BEER – Just be sure to abide by all rules and regulations regarding alcohol consumption.
CHEESE – Where there is wine, cheese is sure to follow. Individually wrapped, spreadable cheese makes it easy.
A FRENCH BAGUETTE, CRACKERS, & CHIPS – Forget about the carbohydrate counting - just this once. Your experience won’t be the same without these.
THE MAIN EVENT – It’s purely about your preference here. Sandwiches are great because you can make them ahead of time. Fried chicken is a dynamite option because it can still be served hot if you time it properly. If you are all about the grill, hot dogs and burgers are sure fire. And don’t overlook something like a freshly made sushi roll for something out of the box. Just don’t forget the wasabi, soy sauce, ginger and chopsticks.
SWEETS – Brownie bites, lemon bars, donuts or cookies – it all works! But if we had to pick a favorite, it would be chocolate-dipped strawberries. You will have to eat dessert first, though – and we couldn’t think of a more fitting mantra for dining al fresco and for life, itself.
BRING ALONG SOME EXTRA FUN A PORTABLE SPEAKER – Set the date to music. Set up a playlist of your favorites or pick a station and let the good vibes roll.
CARDS, BOARD GAMES OR DOMINOS – A little fun goes a long way. Just be sure to take all of your game pieces with you when you leave.
A FLYING DISC OR A BALL – It’s a good way to work off that meal.
COLORING BOOKS & BUBBLES – Keep the kids (big and small) entertained.
A GOOD BOOK – Nothing says relaxation more than a few quiet moments to read in nature.
ART SUPPLIES – In case inspiration strikes while you are out and about in a place this stunning. •