A Picnic Finale on the Lawn with The Picnic

For more than a week now, we’ve been posting recipes from The Picnic, a charming little book by Portlanders Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonec...

Margo True

The Sunset Cookbook Club, picnicking on the lawn at our offices. Photography by Kimberley Navabpour

For more than a week now, we’ve been posting recipes from The Picnic, a charming little book by Portlanders Marnie Hanel, Andrea Slonecker, and Jen Stevenson.

However, as you’ll notice when you have your own copy, this is not just a recipe book; it’s also about attitude, joie de vivre, and the art of packing. So, as part of our review of The Picnic, it seemed only right to use it as a guide for an actual…picnic.

So! On a recent spring day, we did just that, on the lawn here at Sunset. We each brought the dish we’d tested from the book.

Before we picnicked, we contemplated the extensive guidelines in Chapter 1, “From Blanket to Basket.” You’ll get an idea of the level of detail from this sentence in the chapter introduction: “These pages will take you from picnic planning to pack-up, supplying you with the definitive picnic packing list, setting forth pivotal picnic standards and practices, and even schooling you in the art of choosing the perfect picnic site.” A tongue-twister! Also, slightly anxiety-provoking.

To keep ourselves feeling care-free—because isn’t that the best thing about picnics?— we didn’t follow each and every tip. Instead, we cherrypicked from the 30 pages of advice. The best tip: The little portioning chart, to calculate the number of items to bring.

Initially, we didn’t think we had enough food for all of us.

Will we have enough, we wondered. We threw in a batch of brownies just to be sure. Photography by Kimberley Navabpour

But we had plenty! More than enough.

(All photography below by Kimberley Navabpour)

From the Bites chapter:

Shocking-Pink Beet Hummus (recipe)

Quickle Pickles (recipe). Outrageously good!

From Salads:

Japanese Potato Salad (recipe)

Rainbow Carrot Salad with Smoky Paprika Vinaigrette (recipe)

Farro Tricolore with Balsamic-Fig Dressing (recipe)

From Plates:

Blue Ribbon Tomato Pie (recipe)

Vietnamese Noodle Bowls with Shrimp and Vegetables (recipe)

And, of course, from Sweets:

Lemon Lavender Cream Pots (recipe)

Everything looked and tasted great together on the plate—a lunch bursting with color and flavor, although we hadn’t planned it that way.

What a pretty plate! Delicious, too. To drink, we added a Mango-Cucumber Lassi.

Another fine tip from the book: To pack a common condiments kit (CCK) of salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon. We added chile flakes (indispensable!) and gomasio (Japanese sesame-seed seasoning).

Our customized “CCK.”

The third tip we have to share isn’t from the book at all—it’s from Lauren Dunec, Sunset’s Garden Design Assistant: Bring flowers! It may seem a little fussy, but flowers add an unexpected loveliness to a picnic table. She brought the delicate red poppies you see in practically every shot here. Lauren even plunked a few (short, wide, stable) vases on the picnic blankets.

The one tip we ignored—and I so wish we hadn’t: To bring a waterproof blanket. Ours were not. Some of us were quite damp by dessert.

But that wasn’t true of our spirits. We had a wonderful time. We were proud of what we’d made, and couldn’t believe it had all turned out so well. We laughed and chatted and let the stresses of work fade away for a while. It felt good to be outside, in Sunset’s gorgeous garden, soaking up spring and each other’s company.

So, take it from us: If your spring has fallen into a bit of a rut, pick up a copy of The Picnic, entice a few of your friends or co-workers into cooking from it, and head out to the park with baskets and blankets. A good picnic is, as the authors say, “a great escape from our day-to-day.”

The Sunset Cookbook Club, picnic edition.