my wish list : the perfect green picnic
We can eat just about anywhere and anytime, but picnicking has a certain etiquette that’s been around since the days of “nomadic dining,” when Manet was shocking Parisians with his depictions of women in states of undress in Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe. And nowadays, since we are also all aware of the impact of our modern lives on our health and on the planet, having an ethical picnic is more satisfying and uplifting. Gather your loved ones to enjoy delicious treats on sun-warmed sand, on a rock perched above tumultuous waves, in a new-to-you park tucked between two skyscrapers, in a rowboat, in a flowering orchard or on your own balcony. If the scene is suitable, and you happen to know French, you can read a selection from Détester les pique-niques mais y aller quand même. I quite enjoyed it. It’s been described as “baroque, perturbing, original, funny, tragic and sometimes astonishing. It goes down smooth as tenderized lamb chops.”
Know the history
Picnic comes from the French pique-nique. The first part is related to words like pick and peck – like chickens, or light eaters at a buffet. The second part of the word, nique, refers to something of little importance. So to picnic is to peck at a collection of simple morsels. And that’s exactly what makes it so delightful.
Set the mood
Expecting two dozen cousins and their 22 offspring? Auntie Anna and Uncle Lou, too? Or will it just be you and your sweetheart? Or maybe just you: why not? In any case, set the right mood with some tunes!
01. “Via Con Me” – Paolo Conte
02. “Walk on the Wild Side” – Lou Reed
03. “Lemonade” – Dave Moisan
04. “Wild World” – Cat Stevens
05. “They Say It’s Spring” – Blossom Dearie
06. “Hit the Roads” – Joe Bel
07. “La Madrague” – Brigitte Bardot
08. “La Bicyclette” – Yves Montand
09. “These Boots Are Made for Walking” – Nancy Sinatra
10. “On n’est pas là pour se faire engueuler” – Boris Vian
11. “Happy” – Pharrell Williams
12. “Celebration” – Kool and the Gang
13. “Happy” – Never Shout Never
14. “L’eau à la bouche” – Serge Gainsbourg
15. “Bésame Mucho” – Cesária Évora
Do it waste-free
dishware – Plastic is out, no question. Washable dishes are a better, albeit heavier, choice. Or, why not try dishware made of bamboo, sugar cane fibre, starch or palm leaves, which can be turned into fertilizer in under a year. But they still have to be composted. The best choice: edible plates, like corn tortillas or rice cakes. Dishware made of recycled boxes, without industrial ink, is considered green because it’s biodegradable, but it can only be used once, so I’d think twice about using it.
utensils – The best option is a long-lasting item that's made once and then handed down from generation to generation, like a fine Opinel or Laguiole knife. But your day-to-day utensils will do just as nicely.
napkins – We’ve become far too dependent on disposable paper napkins. Logic dictates that we reverse course and go back to linen or cotton cloths. First of all, we’re not as messy or clumsy as the ads make us think. And, hard-wearing natural fabric does the job just as well, but much more elegantly. Cloth napkins and towels are perfect for protecting breakables in your basket, and they won’t get blown away by the wind after your meal.
tablecloths – Even if one side is cotton, so-called “waxed cloths” are actually coated in PVC, which smothers the little square of grass it’s placed on. And that also means that phthalates (tiny chemical plasticizers) can migrate into the salad or sausage on your plate. Natural fibres like organic cotton, hemp or linen are, yet again, a much better choice.
packing – We love to use the Furoshiki wrapping method whenever possible. This Japanese technique involves creating totable packages, knotted in squares of fabric.
liquids – No more plastic bottles, no more cardboard packaging… only reusable items, please! Think flasks, thermoses, reusable bottles. For wine, we’re hoping returnable wine bottles will soon become an option. And, obviously, straws are a no-no. They typically end up among the 8 million tons of plastic dumped into our oceans every year. That’s one dumpster’s worth of garbage every minute!
solids – What about the waste from your hard-boiled eggs, bananas, cheese and citrus fruit? Discarded banana peels and apple cores decompose in about three months. Citrus peels take double that time. A finely crushed eggshell delivers useful nutrients to the soil, but takes an eternity to compost. A cheese rind doesn’t offer many benefits, except to hungry insects. So just bring home all your extra bits.
What are we eating? The first choice is anything we can eat with our fingers: raw vegetables, spring rolls, focaccia, bread, pâté, cheese, tapenade, dips, rillettes, hummus and tortillas. Savoury quiches, cakes and pies are easy to share. Add some salads. Bring water – lots of water when it’s hot out. And use seasonal fruits and veggies. Try to leave those avocados from Peru and kiwis from New Zealand in the store. But do toss in a few macarons to end the event on a sweet note.
Keep food safe
Bacteria like moist, protein-rich foods. When the temperature hits 35 degrees, bacteria can double every 15 minutes. Thousands of Canadians suffer from food poisoning every year. Keep your food cool, in the shade, and don’t ever leave it in the sun-baked trunk of your car. Take along a cooler and some cold packs. There are even sturdy recycled-cardboard coolers made right here in Quebec.
For the perfect Instagrammable picnic, hang lanterns from tree branches, suspend paper spheres by a thread or drape netting. And don’t forget the Frisbee, the soccer ball, the bocce balls, a hat, the Ray-Bans and sunscreen. With the tiny tweezers in your WOODEN (not plastic) Swiss knife, carefully scatter violets on your salad of baby greens. Add a cool white beach umbrella and let the bubbly flow! A print tablecloth hides any spills or oopsies. The perfect picnic planner knows that June 18 is International Picnic Day. It also happens to be Paul McCartney’s birthday, so this can serve as inspiration for your playlist!
Find the right spot
Parks are like the enormous backyard our little two-bedroom apartment is lacking. Here are our top 10 suggestions for when you’re out of ideas.
01. Parc Jarry Its lake, pretty covered gazebo and jumble of mixed-ethnicity barbecues infuse charm throughout the 89 acres of this hip, urban park.
02. Lachine Canal A gorgeous 14-km cycling and walking path stretches from the Old Port to Lake Saint-Louis along the banks of the Saint Lawrence River. It should be a piece of cake to find a lovely spot for a picnic!
03. Clock Tower Beach A beach you can walk to from the metro? Yes, please! The shimmering beach at the foot of the Clock Tower is the perfect spot to catch the fireworks. It’s a great investment for your five bucks.
04. Le Centre de la nature de Laval One hundred and twenty-three acres of beautiful grounds, including a dozen gardens, a farm and a lake you can kayak in. The city will feel a million miles away, and kids absolutely love it.
05. Parc-nature du Cap-Saint-Jacques Pierrefonds has acres and acres of greenery teeming with life. It’s an ideal spot to savour that perfect ham-and-cheese sandwich and to sample products from the eco-farm.
06. Parc de la Gatineau I suggest taking a break along the meromictic Pink Lake (its bottom never mixes with the surface). But no, it isn’t pink, it’s turquoise, and it’s as lovely as can be! A hiking trail circles the lake.
07. Parc Sir-Wilfrid-Laurier Not much of a secret, I know. But we never tire of its horseshoe and pétanque pits, outdoor pool and wading pool, surrounded by a host of tasteful stores, all right in the heart of the Plateau.
08. Parc National des Îles-de-Boucherville Whether you get there by bus or by bike and river shuttle, you can feast at twilight beside a cozy campfire, especially when you’ve gone with the ready-to-camp choice. Now that’s a beautiful picnic!
09. Jardin universitaire Roger-Van den Hende It’s late May, and the lilac, crabapple and cherry trees are flowering. Spread your tablecloth in the garden at the Université Laval campus in Québec City and enjoy. It’s a real gem!
10. Parc de la Petite-Italie Craving a picnic but don’t have anything ready and your lunch hour is timed to the minute? The Dinette Triple Crown has you covered. Kitty-corner to the park, it provides the basket, red-checked tablecloth and smoked brisket.
Bring a different type of friend
Books are friends too. A solo picnic offers the advantage of secluding the picnicker and banishing the notion of time.
01. Détester les pique-niques mais y aller quand même
— Claire Antonowicz
To be read in small bites, like fine appetizers. This literary fantasy is without compare! Read it almost out loud – to someone else perhaps.
02. Picasso/Manet Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe
— Guy Cogeval
Remember the Hitchcock and Art and Picasso Érotique exhibitions at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts? It was spearheaded by Guy Cogeval. In this catalogue that accompanied the eponymous exhibition in 2008, Cogeval (director of the Musée d’Orsay for nine years) explores and describes Picasso’s long and rich fascination with Manet’s masterpiece.
03. Viande froide cornichons
— Édouard Launet
True stories, funny and dark. The nearly 50 improbable anecdotes will make you raise your eyebrows and giggle at their absurdity. It’s not high literature, but it is an effective anti-depressant that won’t take up much space in your basket.
04. Picnic Comma Lightning: In Search of a New Reality
— Laurence Scott
What’s real? What isn’t? Laurence Scott gives us an insightful look at modern society by questioning our perception of reality. Confrontational, fascinating, edifying.
— Claude Simon
This one is just the opposite. Nostalgia, impressions and sensory experiences take shape through stylish wording. Nature takes her place as a fully fledged character.
Illustrations by Nathalie Dion