Picnics: Elegant Recipes for Alfresco Dining

by Barbara Scott-Goodman

Published by Chronicle Books

72 pages, 1999


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When Life Is A Picnic

Reviewed by Linda Richards


Warm weather weekend and the outdoors beckon. A zoom in the car, or a hike down the way is just the thing when you get the feeling that the cold is gone for a while and the promise of summer might actually get fulfilled. If you're in Australia or otherwise down under, of course, bookmark this page and come back in a few months. But, for most of the rest of the English-speaking world, summer finally feels close and there's very little that can bring that home as well as a meal eaten under a canopy of sky with a couple of artist's clouds floating by just to make you feel good.

In many ways, the word picnic is as individual as the word meal itself. It can mean a tub of store-bought potato salad and a couple of onion rolls; some chicken or even a burger from your favorite take-out place, driven quickly to a nice spot and consumed before the heat wears off and the grease has a chance to congeal. Or, as Barbara Scott-Goodman suggests in her book Picnics: Elegant Recipes for Alfresco Dining, with a little foresight and some careful planning, the picnic can be one of life's greatest pleasures.

Whether it's an elaborate gathering with picnic hampers filled with all of the makings of a formal picnic lunch -- good china, linen napkins, and champagne flutes -- or a simple lunch of sandwiches and fresh lemonade eaten on the back porch, just the idea of eating outside in beautiful weather makes me happy.

The recipes in Picnics run the picnic gamut. Scott-Goodman has included recipes that would be appropriate for an elegant alfresco wedding celebration; a beach barbecue or just you and your sweetie down on the sand with nothing on your mind but the good food you're about to consume. The directions for food preparation are clear and the art direction is lovely: it's easy to find your way through this book and the pages are crisp and inviting. The food is inviting as well, with a wide enough cross-section to really cover the territory as promised. Roasted Fillet of Beef and Red and Yellow Peppers with Caper Vinaigrette; Grilled Chicken Kebabs with Peach Salsa; Mussel and Potato Salad; Tomato and Dill Sandwiches with Smoked Salmon-Caper Spread: all are, of course, picnic appropriate. But they are also summer appropriate. Nice food to make because you want to and you can and you feel like it.

It's a teeny -- almost pocket-size -- book, and thus doesn't have the scope that might have been possible for this title. I would have liked, for instance, a little more background. Though without, of course, any fewer recipes. A brief history of picnics, perhaps. Or the etymology of the word: picnic. It even sounds fun, but how did we come by it?

Beyond this, the book is delightful. Scott-Goodman has managed to cram a lot into the space she was given, including a very good index, some suggested picnic menus (A Summertime Feast in the Country; A Lakeside Salad Supper and so on), a brief section on safety tips and even a fast lowdown on some of the ingredients and what to do with them.

It's a nicely executed and fun little book. It won't be the final word on picnics, but it's a happy foray into the world of outdoor eating. | May 1999


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Death was the Other Woman, will be published early in 2008 by St. Martin's Minotaur.