So, at this point, you’ve probably got plans for Slope Day. But if you’re still deliberating over how best to celebrate the end of the school year, let me offer a suggestion: How about a picnic?
There is something inherently hip about a picnic, provided it’s not one of those company-barbecue affairs where everyone shuffles around making awkward small talk and trying not to drip baked beans down the front of their business-casual shirts. To be fair, of course, even those could be construed as hip so long as they were celebrated ironically. But the hip picnic’s hipness (a phrase which will henceforth be shortened to “hipicnicness”) comes not from imposed irony but rather from a fundamental cheekiness and ephemerality.
In my mind, there are two genres of picnics. The first is that which is associated with childhood nostalgia: peanut butter sandwiches, flimsy paper plates, distant family members, watermelon-sticky fingers. Also, ants. These picnics draw their hipness from nostalgia, authenticity, simplicity. The tropes of the red-and-white checked gingham blanket or the straw basket full of food evoke memories of days gone by that you may or may not have actually experienced. The second is a newer sort of picnic: the kind you see in Urban Outfitters ads, where well-dressed young people lounge in forest clearings on blankets spread with silver and china, possibly while wearing animal masks and/or posing with the fixed-gear bicycles on which they presumably rode to the event. A surrealist, mad-tea-party atmosphere prevails.
We here at Hipster Kitchen, while fans of both types, like to do things a bit differently. As fun as it is to put on your finest vintage ensemble and a set of deer antlers and then sit down in the grass to eat cupcakes and take Instagram photos of yourself, it’s really not the most practical way to go about picnicking. And the childhood-nostalgia picnic can be fun, but there are far better things to eat than soggy watermelon and smushed white-bread sandwiches.
It’s best to go about planning a picnic as you would any other meal — make sure there’s a balanced spread. In my opinion, the simplest way to achieve this in picnic-form is the classic combination of bread, cheese and fruit. Keep it homespun and American with apples and cheddar cheese, or get fancy and European with a baguette, brie and a bottle of wine. This gastronomical foundation can then be expanded with any of the following:
Sandwich fixings: I think “fixings” is a hilarious word, but you know what I mean. Take along a knife, some sliced meats (or perhaps hummus) and your favorite condiments, and transform your bread-and-cheese into a transcendent sandwich.
Crudités: This is the fancy way of saying cut-up vegetables. Serve these with your favorite dip — once again, hummus is good. You know, I’m just going to go ahead and put hummus on the list because you should probably bring it.
Hummus: Yeah. You know you want to.
Salad: Potato salad! Pasta salad! Garden salad! Truly, these are the salad days of picnic season. My mother likes to make something she calls Indonesian rice salad, which involves brown rice, scallions, soy peanut sauce and sauteed vegetables. Also, it’s hard to go wrong with salad niçoise: sliced hardboiled eggs, steamed green beans, boiled potatoes, black olives and tuna fish, tossed with balsamic vinaigrette.
Beverages: You don’t want to get stuck outside on a hot day with nothing to drink. Lemonade, limeade, iced tea, wine or water — it’s all good, as long as it’s legal.
Dessert: It’s nice to eat ice cream on a hot summer day, but you know what’s not nice? Opening your carton of ice cream after a leisurely lunch only to discover that you are now in possession of a box of vanilla cream soup. Stick to sweet treats that don’t melt, or better yet, just go out for ice cream afterwards.
Utensils, plates, napkins, etc: This is no joke. Don’t forget these unless you want to wipe your grubby hands on your picnic blanket.
An umbrella: I hear there are thunderstorms in the forecast for Slope Day, but don’t let that stop you. Happy picnicking, everyone!