I think I’ve been watching too many of those lifestyle-y cookery programmes again. Dipping in and out is fine, but with television channels that insist on doing a full day of one particular programme or entire channels dedicated to one particular subject, sensory overload is common. I often find myself stopping by the food networks. Most of the time I’m just looking for meal inspiration and at other times it is just pure indulgence as I find that James Martin chap quite fetching and his recipes aren’t bad either. (Stop frowning, most men couldn’t give a toss about Nigella Lawson’s cupcake technique yet you’ll find them glued to the screen feigning interest in baking.)
I caught a few episodes of Sophie Dahl’s show over the weekend. Just like most of the other modern cooking shows it’s as much about the lifestyle as the food. There she is casually pottering around a pretty country kitchen complete with Aga; that opens out onto a sun filled garden. In the show I saw she was concentrating on afternoon tea which consisted of buttery scones, small sweet fancies and strawberry sponge cake. Shortly after that I caught another food show about picnics. Once again the lifestyle portrayed was idyllic. The angel faced children, the large bounding dog and the attractive male/husband character. In all these shows you have to wonder if the relationships or settings are real.
It is always possible that the children are hired from an agency and the ‘friends’ at the table are really the television company crew. The kitchens are more than likely sets or, again, hired for the day and the outdoor locations are, no doubt, carefully scouted out well before the day of shooting. If you were on site at the time of filming it is possible that the only square of perfection is in the shot and the larger picture would show a noisy roadway or imposing block of flats. Who knows? However, what we see is the perfection of it all and I came away longing to go on a lazy picnic the next free warm day we get.
It’s quite possible that this year will mark the return of the picnic and barbecue as a family pursuit given that everyone is looking for less expensive things to do. That’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. I have no doubt there are children out there who have never experienced one at all. Even my own picnic memories are from decades ago now, but the images are still very vivid. I remember plenty of days on Clonea Strand wrapped in sandy towels devouring egg sandwiches. I remember sunny Sunday drives punctuated with an hour or two of fresh air and the delights of a picnic basket. As children we were never taken to matches, but I have friends who can tell a tale or two involving flasks, tinfoil and marble cake on the side of the road near Thurles or Cork.
Many factors have led to the demise of the picnic and it seems to have been relegated to a rather romantic notion of a bygone era. Who packs sandwiches and a flask for any trip these days when every petrol station in the country seems to have a hot food and coffee counter? A plethora of burger vans and hot dog stands are on hand at every match, concert or festival so it would appear that there’s no need to lug your own food along and cars are also much faster today. There was a time when you packed food for a trip because the combination of bad roads and slower cars meant that you could be travelling for hours.
In the last century a trip to Dublin was a major excursion. These days I know people who throw the kids into the car at 2pm and pop to Ikea, get what they want and are back in time for the nine o’clock news. But proper picnics are about more than food; they’re about creating memories, having fun and learning to enjoy the simple things in life once more. Sustenance from a burger van is instantly forgettable, but a carefully prepared picnic is an event in itself.
Something for everybody
Everyone loves picnics; couples can make them romantic, families can enjoy them and there’s no age restriction or limitations. Make them as simple or as sophisticated as you like; swap the lemonade for champagne if you must, enjoy the wistful nostalgia of a wicker hamper, carry it in a trendy cool box or stick it all in a bag for life; just do it. Obviously in this country we have to take the weather into consideration. Just like barbeques, picnics can be difficult to plan for so it will more than likely be the case that you will just wake up to discover that the perfect summer’s day is in full swing, the kids are off school and you better get going or you’ll miss it.
Perfectionists can have great difficulty with picnics. Some are under the misguided notion that in order for it to be a proper picnic everything from the cupcakes to the lemonade must be home made and stashed in a gingham lined wicker basket with proper picnic plates.
Living in the real world
Forget about it. You are not a member of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five nor are you living in a period film. This is the real world where Centra, Tesco and Lidl et al are fairy helpers that make the picnic or barbeque simplicity itself. Fresh breads, cheese, seasonal fruits and something to drink is about as complicated as it should be. You’re only going out for a few hours, not camping for the weekend. Pick up slices of cured or cooked meats and sausages. When it comes to the sandwiches, just pack the ingredients and assemble them when you get to your destination. Maybe butter the bread at home if necessary, tinfoil it up and away you go. Remember this is about fun, not perfection. Even sitting on a blanket in your own back garden in the fresh air is still a picnic. And if you don’t have a husband, two beautiful children and a dog, don’t worry – just like the TV shows, borrow them for the day. You’d be amazed at those who will happily rent out their families for a few hours. It’s a win win for everyone.
The owner gets a few hours of peace and you get to hand them back at the end of the outing. It must be the summer if I’m thinking like this or maybe it’s just the James Martin effect; I wonder if I could borrow him for the day?