Summer is here! That means we all get to go on vacation! Sort of!
As it turns out, adult life isn’t nearly as full of vacation time as the National Lampoon’s movies would lead you to believe. But chances are you’ll make it to the beach at least once this season, and if and when you get there, you’ll probably want to have a bite to eat. All that swimming and lotion application can work up an appetite.
Just a heads up, no matter how “perfect” your particular picnic, sand is inevitable. It doesn’t matter if you’ve brought a formal dining room furniture and set it up right there on the beach. Sand will find its way into your food. If we just accept that from the get-go, we might avoid future frustration. Not that we can’t deter the sand—washing our hands, using plates, not building a sandcastle between bites, all good ways to keep those pesky, hard little granules from your delicious beach picnic. Seagulls are also inevitable. They will crowd around you. They will caw for food scraps. They will generally be jerks, bird-style. Don’t feed the seagulls. They will seriously never leave you alone.
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OK, environmental hazards aside. Onto the picnic itself. What should you bring? Clearly we can’t guess exactly what kind of foods you like to eat, and certainly not the kind of foods you like to eat outdoors while staring at the majesty of a massive body of water. But we can make some recommendations, on food, drink, and even equipment to set you up for some good picnicking.
Keep (the right) things cold. You’ll want either a cooler or a picnic basket with cold packs (or, fun hack, frozen water balloons!). Nobody wants to eat a steaming hot bunch of grapes and warm, sweaty cheese with a glass of luke warm Riesling. An insulated bag like this might be easier than lugging around a cooler, and could easily fit a few bottles.
Bring extra silverware. Assuming your picnic involves some kind of silverware—even finger food picnics will probably require a knife or two for spreading cheese—you’ll want to bring back-ups. If and when that first fork or knife falls into the sand (which, you’re just noticing, is studded with cigarette butts), you’ll have a backup ready. And don’t necessarily make it plastic; plastic forks and knives break pretty easily.
Speaking of extra, bring extra cups. If you’re bringing something to drink, and it’s not quite legal to be drinking publically (unless you’re at one of these beaches), it’s a good idea to go opaque. And, once again, bring extra—not just in the event of a dropped glass, but because everyone may want water with their wine or beer.
Sturdy paper plates are your best friend. When you’re going for a beach picnic, you want to spring for the good stuff—the kind of paper plates that you could almost mistake for the real thing. It’s one small defense in the Battle Against Sand Contamination.
Class it up with cloth napkins. Even if you’re eating fried chicken and Sour Patch Kids, you should go for cloth napkins over paper. Not only will you minimize waste—or be the jerk chasing yet another fly-away napkin down the beach—but it’s easier to shake any sand out of a cloth napkin. As long as you keep it relatively dry, that is.
Hand-held food is always a good bet. The fewer things you have to pack to serve or eat with, the more room you’ll have for food and beverage. And, come on, you’re at the beach—who wants to whip out a knife and fork? If you’re careful to avoid sand-contamination, you should be able to enjoy everything from fried chicken to veggie wraps to a full on charcuterie board.
Make one giant sandwich. Ever heard of the Muffaletta? No? Your beach picnic is a good time to try it out. Basically a giant sandwich made with a hollowed out loaf of bread stuffed with Italian meats and cheese, olives, giardinera, and capers. You can do the same with a baguette and ingredients of your choice. Pro tip: slice your mega sandwich into wedges before you hit the beach.
Divide up portions before packing the picnic. Especially if you do end up bringing something that requires portioning—pasta salad, say, or sautéed kale. If you divvy up everyone’s portions into separate, smaller Tupperware containers, you’ll avoid the need to serve folks at the beach—once more decreasing the opportunity for sand to contaminate your delicious meal.
Cheese is wonderful, but remember, beach. Cheese is a picnic staple. But you’re at the beach. Temperatures are gonna soar. So unless you have extremely reliable cold packs, or plan on eating your picnic earlier on in the day, leave harder cheeses like cheddar behind (they’ll get all oily in the heat) and go for a softer cheese instead. Just be prepared for the gooeyness.
Don’t eat fish. It just seems weird, right? You’re at the beach, eating something that was once alive in the water right in front of you? Cold, man. That’s cold.
Don’t assume you can legally drink at the beach. Or, for the matter, get away with drinking illegally. Though again, if you plan on bringing some booze to your beach day, be sure to keep it wrapped up and in the cooler at all times (or disguise it, see below).
When in doubt, go lighter. Not as in “lite” lighter, but lighter colors and ABVs. You’ll be sweating out a lot of your hydration, and sticking to wines or beers that are both lighter bodied and lower ABV is a good way to help yourself avoid the deep personal shame and lasting sunburn of the “beach pass out.” Sure, Malibu Coconut Rum seems beachy, but after a couple shots of it, you’ll go from functioning adult to newly passed out seagull bait. Good bets are pale ales, rosés and dry white wines (maybe something Spanish or Alsatian?), and fruit beers.
Bring a bottle opener. Seems simple enough, but how many beach picnics have been ruined when somebody realized there was no way to get the wine out of the bottle? Not that there aren’t some hacks, but if you’re drinking at the beach, chances are you want to remain fairly inconspicuous. Unless you feel like going from blanket to blanket asking people if they can help you open your illegal booze, just remember to pack this essential item.
Screw cap wine is also your best friend. One way to avoid the bottle opener issue: screw cap wines, which are becoming more and more commonplace. They also draw a bit less attention than someone yanking a cork out of a bottle.
Pre-mix your drink. OK, so if you must have a cocktail on the beach (and it does kind of seem like the height of luxury), do your mixing at home. Not only does this mean you can spend less time squeezing lemons and more time handing out drinks, but you’ll be able to transport your cocktail in something super innocent-looking, like a bottle of juice or this beverage cooler.
Make some fancy ice. Unless you’re a soccer mom/dad, you’re probably not generally lugging around bags of citrus slices. An easier, and functional, way to get garnishes into your drink is by freezing them into ice cubes. This simple recipe uses lemon and mint, but you can go with whatever garnish works. Just ’cause we picnicking doesn’t mean we can’t be fancy.