Mark really likes a good picnic, and I’m always willing to indulge him when we travel. We carry food, after all. We usually have two food tubs with us, and they can hold more than snacks. We have a cooler, too, even if it’s small.
Making you own food can save you time and money. In fact, it is frequently necessary for us. As vegetarians, Mark and I run into situations all of the time where there is just not a good place for us to stop and eat. In addition, it is much nicer to be able to get Ripley out of the car and let her run around on her tie-out line. It’s also a bonus where Ripley is concerned when it ‘s hot outside, because we wouldn’t want to leave her in the car in weather like that.
Picnicking does require that you carry some extra stuff, in a lot of cases. We’ve gotten around this by having a tub that we’ve devoted to kitchen items. We usually carry plastic cutlery, paper plates, bowls, cups, and a knife. Our tub has hand sanitizer in case we can’t wash our hands, and soap if we get the chance to do our dishes. We pack seasonings like salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and others depending on the food we have planed. The tub has Ziploc bags, twist ties, clothes pins, and grocery bags to pack leftovers. I try to have papers towels on hand, and bottled water. If you plan ahead when you are still packing at home, and think about the meals you’d like to carry, it is easy to plan the other things you’ll need for your picnic.
When I pack the cooler and the food tubs for picnics, my favorite things to bring are fruits and vegetables. Things like apples, clementines, tomatoes, and strawberries (among other things) can be safely packed in the tubs and remain at room temperature for several days. The hotter the weather is, the shorter this time period will be. For a while, I was carrying dry packed strawberries all of the time. In the morning, I would get some of the strawberries out, slice them, and put them in a tupperware with a little sugar. Then, before we left for the day, I’d pop them in the cooler. Cold strawberry slices make a delicious side to lunch or a wonderful snack on the road. And motels almost always have sugar packets for coffee, so I didn’t even need to carry sugar.
Chips, bread, and crackers can all go in the food tubs at room temperature. You really have to watch bread, as it will mold quickly in hot weather, especially if it is older or particularly moist. We sometimes carry peanut butter, bottles of unsweet tea, nuts, granola bars, cereal, or fruit leathers. Frequently I bake things to take along, like cookies or a breakfast bread. Eventually those run out, and we need to replace them with store equivalents. A lot of what we take depends on what we’ve been snacking on at home beforehand, because that is usually what we will want on the trip as well. Most of the time, grocery stores aren’t terribly difficult to find, so common things can be easily restocked.
The cold things that go in our cooler can vary. I always pack mayonnaise and mustard. They are staples. Sometimes we will carry milk or yogurt. I like to take baby carrots and hummus. Mark really likes cheese sticks or cheese slices. We carry two 6-egg holders for hard boiled eggs. Mark puts two teas in the cooler every morning (if we have them with us) so we can have a cold tea later in the day instead of just water. We like to carry lettuce and spinach, but they are harder to pack. If you let leafy greens come into contact with the ice, they are usually damaged. To stop this, I like to pack small sandwich bags full of slightly wet greens and put them in a tupperware in the cooler. They stay fresh longer, and they don’t get ice burns.
I guess now the question is, what sort of things do we make? Well, as you can imagine, we make a lot of sandwiches. They are so convenient to carry the fixings for (forgive me, I’m from Texas). We’ve made tomato sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches, and hummus sandwiches to name a few. Usually we carry regular old sliced bread for them, but we do carry rolls occasionally. All of these are really easy to put together.
We have carried precooked pasta salad before, too. We made it, packed it in the cooler, and took it along with us so we didn’t have to cook it later on. Basically anything small enough to fit in the cooler that will keep for a couple of days is a great idea.
We’ve had hummus meals in the past, too. What’s a hummus meal? Well, it is when you make a meal out of everything you can dip in hummus. Carrots? Pita chips? Baby tomatoes? Celery? Cucumber? It’s a wonderful meal, and it is light. You can even eat that one without a picnic table, if you have to. There’s really no slicing or mixing or making to it. You just pull everything out of the cooler and food tubs and go to town. A couple of times, when we couldn’t find a picnic table to stop at, we’ve eaten that one while driving. It isn’t ideal, but it works.
Actually, one of the most interesting things we’ve ever taken was powdered hummus. We took it on a camping trip in California, I believe. I hadn’t ever seen it before when we stumbled across it at a Whole Foods before we left. We decided on the spot to take it along. It wasn’t as good as fresh or homemade hummus, but it was delightfully easy to mix up and very convenient.
Snack meals are great for picnics too. Cheese sticks, apples, crackers, carrot sticks and chips can make a fun meal when you are in a hurry. On our honeymoon, we had baggies of leftover olives and pickles from our reception that made wonderful snacks in the first few days of our drive. We drove to Florida for our honeymoon, because that’s how dedicated we are to road trips (our parents were a little surprised). I promise we aren’t crazy, though.
Ripley likes to have her meal before we eat, because otherwise she feels neglected. As always, she gets kibble. I usually secure her to a post of some sort or the table by her old leash or her tie-out line. It depends on how far she is allowed to go. With Ripley, we like to choose isolated picnic tables so she can’t bother neighboring tables. Ripley doesn’t steal food or cry, but she definitely makes some soulful begging eyes. She sometimes sits down and stares at you while you eat, willing you to feed whatever it is to her. Mostly, though, watching us eat bores her, so she entertains herself by playing around at the end of her leash.
Actually, Ripley is a little strange about food. Since she is the child of vegetarians, she will eat any fruit or vegetable offered to her. We are careful, of course, as things like onions and grapes are dangerous to dogs. When we visit my parents sometimes, I toss out a piece of carrot or apple to the dogs. My parents’ two dogs just look at it, wondering what I expect them to do with it. Ripley scarfs it down like it is candy. She ends up getting the firm bits of lettuce and the trimmed ends of vegetables a lot on vacation. The only thing I have seen her turn down was a sliced lemon that Mark jokingly tossed to her after making lemonade. Honestly, she tried to eat it, but she kept spitting it out and backing away over and over.
Picnicking is a lot of fun. We’ve done it on the beach, in the mountains, on the road, and everywhere in between. It can get everyone out of the car, and it can solve time and location dilemmas. It is often cheaper and usually healthier than anything you’d find on the road. I can’t recommend it enough when you have the space to pack for it.