Magazine article Sunset

The Summer of the Picnic Club

Magazine article Sunset

The Summer of the Picnic Club

Article excerpt

For a warm-weather twist on a DINNER PARTY, these PORTLAND FRIENDS take it outside. Here's their step-by-step to EATING IN THE PARK.

OR ALL THE GRIAT MEALS I've eaten in our food town, some of the best have been at picnics. Everything tastes better outside. In fact, my friends and I are so enamored with picnics that last year we formed a club around them: the Portland Picnic Society.

The club started at the suggestion of food writer Jen Stevenson, who was looking for a way to gather friends without the pressure of having to read a book or cook a big meal. When she mentioned meeting in a different park one evening each month throughout the summer, we jumped at the idea. The concept is simple: Each member brings a dish, a bottle of wine, and her own glass. We meet. We eat. We often attract groupies. (A stranger always asks for a plate.)

For most groups the planning would end there, but because we're all passionate about food, that's just the beginning. Before each club, emails ping-pong across the city as we plan a menu of bites and salads, and divide the supplies. One of us scouts the location. Two people bring the blankets plus bags for recycling and trash. I bring the plates. And we often wear bright picnic attire, although we've never discussed that.

At every gathering, I discover a new food or recipe from my friends' offerings. Mona Johnson works at the Portland Farmers Market, and her tuna Niçoise salad, packed in tiers of a tiffin tin, seems uniquely designed to show off produce. Cookbook author Andrea Slonecker tests her recipes on us. Lila Martin, who works in travel PR, brings a locally made cheese. Spirits publicist Katie Burnett is a magician with a cocktail shaker. Brenda Crow, who runs a specialtyfoods website, makes whole-grain salads, while Jen is crazy for canapés. And Michelle Cairo has no choice but to bring a charcuterie board from her salumeria, Olympic Provisions; my husband counts on the leftovers. As for me, a journalist, I use picnics as a chance to explore a new subject. My hits have included gougères, a browned butter raspberry tart, and a Spanish tortilla. …

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