Beat the heat with an easy, fun picnic

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By Margi Lenga Kahn, Special to the Jewish Light

If these hot summer days have you thinking that no one will join you for a picnic, think again. Pick a shady spot in your yard or a park and invite friends and family to a potluck picnic party that includes some of the ideas below. 

I guarantee that the heat will be just a minor distraction and that everyone will enjoy contributing a delicious dish, activity, or decoration. 

Why? There is something magical about dining outdoors. Just think about the excitement of a meal in a sukkah on Sukkot. And what about Lag B’Omer, the best reason for Israelis to host a beach picnic and bonfire. Come to think of it, Israeli’s don’t need a reason to picnic. They do it all the time.

Whether it’s the joy of a relaxed social gathering or the delight of natural surroundings, picnicking just feels good. The experience makes the simplest meal memorable and the event a treasured memory.

 For example, you could spread peanut butter on bread and encourage the kids to create their own “bug colony” with a variety of toppings, such as chocolate minichips, snipped dried fruits, fresh berries and pretzel sticks. What could be simpler than that? What kid wouldn’t love the experience? And what an easy potluck contribution for one of your guests.

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For more mature palettes, here’s an idea for a customized main course salad: Set out a serving bowl of cooked grains or pasta, such as quinoa, barley, faro, brown rice or whole wheat penne pasta. Invite guests to mix their grain with any combination of “mix-ins,” which could include halved cherry tomatoes, baby spinach or arugula, chopped pistachios or walnuts, poached or grilled salmon or chicken breast or canned tuna, dried blueberries or cranberries, and cubed cheeses or cheese crumbles. 

Let everyone toss their salad with a selection of one or two sauces or vinaigrettes and garnish them with fresh, crisp breadcrumbs or fresh-snipped herbs. Voila, a main course salad to satisfy everyone.

For those guests less inclined to contribute a main course or elaborate dessert, they can bring something easy, such as cookies, brownies, cupcakes or a fresh-fruit salad.

For those who don’t cook, delegate decorations. For example, have someone bring a variety of different size jars, along with glue, colored paper or foil, and a big bunch of fresh cut flowers or greens. Each family or group can create a unique floral centerpiece.

To keep the little ones busy, bring a roll of butcher paper and have the kids color or paint a tablecloth. Or let children design their own placemat from a piece of white construction paper. Provide crayons, markers, stickers and glue. Encourage the kids to find interesting leaves and twigs to add to their design.

For a pre-dinner nosh, have kids put together their own trail mix in zip-lock sandwich bags. Let them choose from bowls of nuts, pretzel sticks, Cheerios, dried fruit and unsweetened coconut flakes. 

For those a bit more adventurous, provide a big basket of bruschetta and either herbed goat cheese or ricotta cheese for spreading on top. Guests can top the cheese with roasted grape tomatoes, fruit or vegetable salsas, sautéed greens or herbed cannellini beans. Again, everyone gets to create his or her own.

Picnic activities could include a game of soccer or whiffle ball. For something more unusual, have one of your guests put together a fun scavenger hunt. Divide into groups, give each a page of simple directions with five or six clues and hide some fun dime-store trinkets for the kids to discover along the way. You will delight in their joy and enthusiasm.

Another possibility: relay games. Adults love doing kids stuff, and kids love watching their parents being silly. Back in the days when I was the director at Camp Pegnita in Kirkwood, one of our more popular activities was Relay Day. Events included human wheelbarrow and potato sack races (ask your grocer’s produce department to set aside a few sacks for you), crab walks, spoon balancing challenges and bubble gum blowing contests. This is fun stuff for everyone and guaranteed to make lasting memories.

The options are endless and they keep popping up as I write this. So here are a few other potluck picnic ideas, along with a handful of recipes. Enjoy!

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of five. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected]