Picnic ideas for summer outings

Summer is the season for eating outdoors, many calendars are dotted with large picnics of various kinds: church picnics, block parties, barbecues, family reunions,  or outdoor theater, such as  our Maryland actor blogger Jana Stambaugh performing with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company at Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park in Ellicott City.

I always ask myself is, “What do I take?”

If I take something cold, will it stay cold enough on the way there? If I take a hot dish, will it stay warm enough until we eat? Is it too hot to take anything with mayo in it? (I’ve gone to a lot of these in my short 20-odd years, but I’ve learned to always be leery of mayo-based anything set out on a sunny picnic table.)  Most of the time I would cop-out and take a dessert. However, having grown up (but only a little!) to gain the understanding that we shouldn’t make an entire meal of sweets (easy as that would be), and for the sake of everyone’s dental bills, I should start contributing real sides to the gatherings.

So this week, I’m sharing some mayonnaise-free sides to accompany any outdoor feeding frenzy.  The first of which is a new try for me, and it sure was an experience.  I’m not sure how the original dressing was supposed to come together, but I have learned that sugar will not melt in oil, no matter how long you boil it as instructed.  After turning the heat off of said pot, the oil and sugar will separate, and the sugar will solidify to the bottom of the pan in a rock-hard mass.  Since the veggies in the recipe work with any seasoning, I whipped up a basic vinaigrette (recommended for any salad) to work with today’s flavors.


Great salad without the worry of wilting lettuce.
  • 1 can white corn
  • 1 can French sliced green beans
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, grated
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup green onion (about three), chopped
  • ½ cup chopped tomatoes (or halved grape or cherry tomatoes)
  • Drain cans, prep non-canned veggies and combine, set aside


And now let’s dress up the salad.


Crystallized sugar in boiled oil couldn’t possibly dress any salad, but it wouldn’t be an adventure if everything went right.



  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. Italian red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. basil

Pour over veggies, refrigerate to let flavors meld.  An important note, don’t refrigerate it overnight, the vinegars in the dressing run a small risk of pickling the veggies a little.  If eaten within an hour or so of combining, it tastes great.

Being a half of a one-car family presents challenges.  When I run out of an ingredient, I thank heaven for quick wits and find a replacement.  In this recipe (something else I’ve made my own) there was a lot of lime juice in the dressing.  However, I had forgotten I’d used all my lime juice and wondered what else I had to give the dressing a light, citrus feel.

I had a bit of ginger waiting to be put out of its misery, but I had never used it in a sweet context – it’s a potent root, so a little does a lot.  I love the spicy tang the ginger added to the honey (every good cook tastes as she goes along), but the guinea pig (my husband) and I add a little kick wherever we can.  In hindsight, I could have probably used orange juice or lemon juice on its own, but I was feeling adventurous this morning.  For the fruit salad itself, you can use any fruits you want, I was working with what was on sale this week.

Fruit is nature’s candy.

Yield: enough for a crowd

  • 1 pt. container strawberries
  • 1 pt. container blueberries
  • 2 Bartlett pears, chopped
  • 1 pt. container raspberries
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • ½ tbsp. grated ginger
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • Rinse fruit, and gently pat dry.  Hull strawberries, then cut each in half; if large, cut into quarters, chop pears.  Gently combine  all three in a large bowl or aluminum tray.  Set aside.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together honey, ginger and lemon juice.
  • Pour over fruit.
  • Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Coring fruit made easy.

I love using pears and apples in recipes, but I hate using a corer because there’s always a lot of fruit that gets wasted.  A trick I’ve picked up recently is to cut the fruit in half, then use a  tomato stem remover to scoop out the seeds and stem – easy fix!

Side note:  If you don’t buy a fresh pineapple this summer, you’re truly missing out.  Don’t be intimidated by the spiky outside to get to the delightful insides.  Simply cut off the leafy top, slice off the peel, cut out the woody core, then slice the rest into chunks of your choosing.  To ramp up the flavor even more, throw a slice or two on the grill for about a minute on each side.