Passover? Check. Easter? Check. Let the games begin. I have an unfailing, infallible, city-boy barometer that tells me every year when Spring has truly sprung: my eyes itch, my nose runs, and my throat gets raspy—a timbre somewhere between the earthiness of Bea Arthur and the pan-pipe squeak of Walter Brennan. Appealing.
No, this isn’t one of those city-boy rants about disliking nature, for Spring is to be celebrated. Even after the mild Winter we had, I still get the drift of the whole reborn/renew thing. It’s nice, right? I get it.
The change can be jarring though. Just about a week ago I was up in Massachusetts actually shivering and freezing my gougères. Today is warm and sunny. Spring weather makes me want to go on a picnic. I’ve always loved picnics since I was a tot in front of the TV watching Yogi Bear steal “pic-a-nic” baskets. Just how die-hard of a city boy can I be if I like picnics?
The key is that I believe the word “picnic” can be very broadly defined.
When you mention the word picnic most people’s minds go straight to the image of the classic wicker picnic hamper. One summer during college I worked in a store that sold very elaborate (and very overpriced) picnic hampers fitted out with china, flatware, drinking glasses, gingham napkins, and a wet bar. (Kidding about the latter; just wanted to see if you’re paying attention.)
All that frippery is nice, but I think it is totally unnecessary. Admittedly the dishes and flatware were eco-green before their time, but that’s a sidebar to the main conversation.
My favorite picnic was a very New York experience, and while I do not remember the cost, I doubt it would be much of a stretch to call it dirt cheap. No wicker hamper. No blanket set out on the ground– in fact, no ground…but more about that in a moment.
First, I must cop to an embarrassing problem: I am rather prissy about washing my hands. If I eat something messy I am usually compelled to immediately wash my hands. Even too much vinegar in my salad triggers this compulsion. When I say “wash my hands” I mean wash my hands—little wet wipes usually will not satisfy. Obviously on a picnic this could present a problem, but I have it well under control via menu choices that support my apparent hand-related OCD.
Even under the best of circumstances it can be a trial to watch me eat a sandwich. No, I’m not messy. What I am is: annoyingly fastidious about everything staying in the sandwich. If anything falls out, then the entire operation must revert to fork and knife, except for the bread which at that point may be too soaked through with whatever for me to enjoy.
The other popular choice for picnic time is cold chicken. Based on my sandwich travails outlined above, how well do you think I’d do gnawing on a cold chicken wing? (Actually, this is a trick question. I just don’t like cold chicken. Put me next to a sink generously supplied with fluffy towels and skin nourishing soap and I’ll still be indifferent to cold chicken.)
By now you are likely under the impression that I am completely averse to eating anything without a utensil, but that it far from true.
Okay, enough of my soap and water blues; on with the picnic, city-boy style.
Let’s stop by Zabar’s on the way. While there we’ll be grabbing a baguette and avail ourselves of their slicing services.
We shall also step back into the cracker aisle (it’s next to the coffee). Any cracker is fine as long as the label is in a foreign language (and not ridiculously overpriced.) An alternative to crackers are my beloved Ines Rosales Tortas. I’d recommend getting both, but we’re going on a picnic and I like to travel light.
Next, depending on the weight of our purse (don’t you carry a purse? Mine is flat, plastic, and bears my name and a bank logo) we will choose a selection of thinly sliced meats and cheese. I’m a fan of Parma ham. (Sounds like a bumper sticker…) There’s also salami, speck, prosciutto—the beauty of a place like Zabar’s is that they’ll give you a little taste before you buy.
Let’s reverse course into the cheese aisle…a bit of razor-thin sliced Jarlsberg before we make our final and most important stop: the selection of chocolate bars up front near the cashier. I’m taking Damak pistachio-studded milk chocolate from Turkey, long my favorite , but go ahead and pick a dark chocolate so we can tell ourselves it’s actually health food, and then we’ll be on our way. (Grab a couple of bottles of water and I’ll meet you at the cashier.)
Because this is a city-boy picnic the first leg of the trip is—natch—the subway. We’ll jump on the 1 train and take it all the way down to South Ferry where we’ll meet our picnic destination: the Staten Island Ferry.
And I have a little surprise for you: hidden in my backpack are Lemon Bars that I baked just for this occasion. Is there anything that sings warm weather and sunny days better than a homemade Lemon Bar?
No, no, they’re all for you. Too messy for me…
Here’s the Lemon Bar recipe.
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