Independence Day has arrived with it’s full regalia. That means summer is well underway. For me, Summer is all about planning outdoor adventures. The warmer temperatures are all about hikes, camping trips, and picnics in the parks. It doesn’t really matter what we’re doing as long as we are outside enjoying the great weather.
Of course, with summer temperatures that have been know to get as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit, outdoor activities in the Mojave Desert can also pose a threat to your health and safety. It’s important to ensure that you always carry plenty of water so that you will stay hydrated, apply sunscreen, wear sunglasses, and take a hat, scarf, or umbrella to provide yourself with some protection from the sun. It’s also good to avoid exertion in the warmest part of the day. For information about what you should have with you when hiking in the desert, visit the Bureau of Land Management’s site.
National Park Service has a fun PDF for teachers that you can down load and go over with your kids. It includes information about desert wildlife and unit 3 is all about safety in the desert. It’s 99 pages long, but you can read it on-line and only print out the pages that you need or want. Personally, I’m a big kid, so I really like doing the kid activities, too. Don’t tell my children. They already think I’m strange.
I seem to have gotten off of my subject. Today’s post is supposed to be about picnics. Specifically, it’s about how to pack a simple picnic so that you can get outside and enjoy yourself without spending hours in the kitchen. A picnic doesn’t have to be complicated. It just has to be something that you and your family will enjoy. With that in mind, here are a few simple suggestions for things that you can quickly pack into a small cooler and take to your local park or to one of our favorite places–Mojave Narrows Regional Park
One of the things we do in order to make it easy to pack up a quick picnic is to keep several bottles of water and boxes or pouches of juice in our freezer. These help to keep the food from getting too hot. A general rule of thumb is that picnic food shouldn’t be out for more than 2 hours, but if the weather is over 90 degrees, as it is most days here during the summer here in the high desert, that time is cut in half to one hour. Keeping things chilled with frozen drinks will help diminish the risk of food born illness. It also helps to ensure that you will have cool drinks later in the day. Of course, you should try and keep your cooler out of the sun as much as possible.
Here’s my recipe for a quick and easy picnic. Of course, you might have to make some adjustments based up on your families preferences.
First, grab something for dessert. I know this sounds strange, but we are grabbing things and packing them. What we eat last, should be on the bottom. I prefer cookies, brownies, or some type of bars because they are pretty indestructible and they don’t melt. Avoid things with frosting and pack them in a hard sided plastic container, so they won’t get crushed.
Second, grab some protein. I prefer italian dry salami because until it’s open, most brands are shelf stable, meaning they don’t require refrigeration. Likewise, hard cheeses make a good protein source as they hold up well without refrigeration. You can find a list of some of these cheeses here.
Next, we toss in something to put the cheese and salami on. Good choices are crackers, tortillas, pita bread, or even a baguette. If you will be hiking with your food in an insulated backpack, the tortillas and pita bread might be a better choice, but the crackers can handle the trip if they are packed into a hard sided container.
Raw Vegetables such as carrots, celery, zucchini sticks and even sugar snap peas and stips of bell peppers go great with hummus or this zucchini dip. Just be sure to take only as much dip as you think you’ll eat, and keep it chilled by packing it under those frozen drinks. Both of these dips are great with crackers or pieces of bread, too. Always be careful to keep your dip from getting hot and spoiling. Putting it under the ice packs or frozen drinks works best because while heat rises, cold air descends.
We never take mayonnaise on our summer picnics because of the risk of spoilage. Most of the time, we use mustard because it tolerates the heat better without spoiling. If you must have mayonnaise on your wrap or sandwich, try and take along some of the little packets you can get from the deli. You can always take along some olives, pickle spears, chips, or even nuts to add variety to your menu. It’s entirely up to you.
Toss in some fresh fruit. You could even pack a personal watermelon, but my favorites are grapes, plums, and peaches. They don’t require cutting and are very portable.
Make sure you snug your pre-chilled, and frozen drinks in around everything that you have packed into your cooler or insulated pack. Take care not to crush anything fragile. Remember that hard sided plastic containers can be your friend. Just make sure they are BPA free.
Remember to put in a knife to cut the salami and cheese with. I usually buy the pre-sliced salami, and take my cheese cutter for the cheese. There’s less chance I will slice a hole in my soft sided cooler that way. Plates, napkins, baby wipes, and hand sanitizer are all handy to have. Don’t forget to pack plastic cups if you have a large bottle of juice, wine, or homemade lemonade.
Packing a picnic doesn’t have to be complicated. Get out there and enjoy the summer sun.
Other picnic ideas can be found here.
**Patti can also be found at PattyCakesPantry.com where she tries to limit her blogging to stocking a pantry, budgeting, and recipes. She isn’t always successful.