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Anatomy of a Picnic Basket

By Rebecca Turchan

August is a great time to pack your basket and stake out the perfect spot on the grass. We’ve assembled perfect picnics for any occasion, so read on to get ideas for your next outing.

Date Night

Choose something romantic but simple, so you can focus on each other instead of worrying about messy or complex dishes. Channel the French and stick to basic, but high quality staples such as fresh bread, cheese and local wine. To begin, pick up a French baguette (3.50) from one of Breadsmith’s two Appleton stores, then move on to cheeses. When picking cheese, think about the time of day you’ll be having your picnic and the weather conditions.

Julie Poburka from Simon’s Specialty Cheese in Appleton says that while cheese is best eaten at room temperature, it should be kept cool until ready to eat. Fresh cheese curds (4.49) and string cheese (4.89) may seem unconventional for a picnic, but their versatility makes them great choices. These young cheeses don’t need refrigeration if eaten soon after purchase, but also hold up well when frozen.

“String cheese, or really any fresh, young cheese, can act as an ice pack. You can throw it in your cooler and a few hours later it will be thawed and ready to eat,” Poburka says. Any wine with a milder flavor profile, such as vonStiehl Winery’s Titletown (15.49)(a sparkling muscat), pairs well with a young, fresh cheese. For a tried and true classic, white sharp cheddar (6.99) is pleasing to many palates and pairs well with a variety of red and white wines, hitting many different flavor notes. Sallie Marquardt from vonStiehl’s recommends a Merlot    or their Tranquility Lookout (12.79), a fumé.

Of course you’ll want something sweet, and a cupcake from Carmella’s (3.50) in Appleton is the perfect choice. Call ahead if you’re curious about their flavor for the day, or keep it a surprise! Or, if your cheese craving hasn’t been satisfied, end your evening with some of Simon’s chocolate cheese fudge, made with chocolate, cream cheese, and cheddar (11.99/lb)

Weekday Lunch Break

Who says you can’t have a quick picnic on your lunch break? Zuppas in Neenah has a wide variety of fresh deli salads that can satisfy any craving. Choose something without mayonnaise that can beat the heat, such as bok choy slaw (6.95/lb), Szechuan noodle salad (7.50/lb), or wild rice salad with dried fruit and nuts. Pick it up the day before and bring it to work in a cooler so you can get up and go, spending as much time in the sun as possible. Green Gecko Grocer & Deli in Appleton has many other sandwich and salad options as well. Head chef and owner Bob Wall recommends the Billy Goat Veg Wrap (5.50), comprised of roasted red pepper goat cheese, tomatoes, spinach, and curried olive relish.

“Goat cheese doesn’t get volatile for about four hours, so it’s okay to leave it the wrap out for a little while,” Wall explains. Other picnic worthy options are their daily grain salads and pasta salads, which use oil and vinegar as a base instead of mayonnaise or dairy products, allowing them to stay fresher at room temperature.

For a caffeine boost to get you through the rest of the work day, finish off your lunch with an iced latte (2.75) or mocha (3.25) from Copper Rock Coffee Company in Appleton.

Family Outing

A picnic is a great way for families to bond and spend quality time together. Kids can be picky, so keep everyone happy by making sandwiches on the spot. New York Deli in Appleton has a variety of meat and cheese available by the pound, from prosciutto to pastrami and muenster to monterey jack. Put it together with bread from Great Harvest Bread Company and you’re ready to go.

Melissa Lisowe, owner of the Neenah Great Harvest store, says any of their breads are hearty enough to hold up well in a picnic lunch. “I’m a fan of the Honey Whole Wheat,” she adds. “It stays moist for a long time without getting soggy.”

Lisowe also has a word of advice about the role of condiments in the sandwich assembly process. “We do our condiments within, not on the bread. If you put meat and lettuce on the outside, it keeps any condiments from actually touching the bread and making it soggy.”

To quench your thirst, pick up some Flavor 8 Soda, made right in New London and available at many area liquor stores, such as Flanagan’s in Appleton, Club Liquor in Menasha, and Cellars Wine & Spirits in Neenah. Made with natural ingredients, the soda comes in a variety of wild flavors such as lime, black cherry, and blue raspberry.

If you’re more of a traditionalist, try Stone Cellar’s homemade root beer instead, sold at the brewery in six packs ($5.00) or by the growler ($5.00 if you have your own, $4.50 to purchase an empty growler). For dessert, stop by Manderfield’s Bakery in either Menasha or Appleton for some portable, handheld desserts, no forks necessary. Choose from a variety of cookies (starting at 3.50/dozen), or pick up a package of mini pies (pies are 1.35 each), available in apple, blueberry, and cherry.

—FC

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