SKC Abroad: A French Picnic

As I quickly realized while studying abroad in Denmark, farmer’s markets are not a universal concept. In the harsh Scandinavian climate, little besides root vegetables and apples are in season from November to April. As much as I love beets and apples, after three months of them, I’m about ready for some spinach or strawberries. But they are still a long way off in Denmark, so I have to settle for the imported versions, found at the grocery store, not at a farmer’s market.

Luckily, on my spring break, I had the opportunity to travel to France, which is a lot more produce friendly. There not only were markets, but local strawberries, artichokes, and asparagus. After a long winter of root veggies, I went just a bit overboard, visiting at least one market a day and selecting beautiful fruits and vegetables. But with no kitchen access, I got creative, and crafted some pretty fabulous picnics.

Now that I’m back in Copenhagen, where it is 40 degrees and rainy, it’s hard not to miss all the sun-drenched produce. But with summer just around the corner, I’m anticipating a lot of farmer’s market shopping and picnics back in the U.S. Luckily, my new picnic strategy works anywhere there’s a good market, so I can bring a little bit of France back home.

Are you now craving a picnic and some quality sun time? Follow these tips to ensure a perfect afternoon.

**How to Make a French Picnic**

1. Dirt is your friend. If you’re going straight from a market to your picnic spot, you probably won’t get a chance to wash off your produce. Don’t worry too much—a little bit of dirt won’t harm you. After all, you’re eating on grass.

2. Carry utensils with you. As I quickly learned, it’s hard to eat salami or cheese with without a knife. So make sure to pack a couple of forks, spoons, and knives, since you never know when you’ll need them.

3. Make a salad. A salad is one of the best ways to incorporate a lot of fresh produce into one meal. Most markets have some form of lettuce, but if you find a mesclun mix or arugula, go for that option. It’s a lot easier when you don’t have the ability to wash and tear lettuce leaves. After you select your lettuce, pick your other vegetables. If tomatoes are in season, they’re always great in a salad. But if it’s earlier in the year, radishes are a nice, crunchy alternative.  Feel free to add in green beans, carrots, cucumbers—whatever you find that looks good.

For dressing, you don’t need to carry a bottle of oil with you. Often a squeeze of lemon juice can do wonders for really fresh produce. But if your market stocks any sort of oil-based spread like pesto or tapenade, this makes a very flavorful dressing. In France, I found that oil-packed sun dried tomatoes or olives were perfect dressing substitutes.

Don’t have a bowl? You don’t need one! Just toss everything into a plastic bag, mix it all up, and you have your salad. Forks, though, are a good idea unless you like messy salad hands.

4. Add in some protein. Like any well balanced meal, your picnic should include a bit of protein. Cured meats or cheese are always nice options, as is a side of hummus. For these, bread is a good accompaniment.

5. Dessert. In my mind, every meal needs a little bit of dessert. If fresh fruit is in season, this is a lovely and healthy option. Local strawberries, peaches, or berries are so good that you can just eat them plain. A number of markets also have bakery stands, so you can also pick up a cookie or piece of cake. You might think you don’t need it, but it’ll make your picnic a whole lot sweeter.

6. Take a nap. After a good picnic, there’s nothing better than a little sun nap. So go ahead—it might even help you digest your meal.

Hillary Pollak is a junior at New York Univeristy, studying sustainable food. If you couldn’t tell, she love’s farmer’s markets, especially when they involve samples.

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Originally posted on Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

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