Picnicking took on renewed interest in the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic kept us out of restaurants and into the great wide open to enjoy a meal. The nuances of outdoor dining were embraced more than ever, and as restrictions relax we still feel drawn to dining al fresco as a way to soak up the precious few summer days we are granted.
Bringing a meal on the boat is one way to enjoy a picnic, and who you are enjoying it with dictates what to pack. A day with friends is a prime opportunity for a charcuterie board with local cheese. Time with family means fried chicken. A sunset sail is completed with sparkling wine and chocolate-covered berries.
There are some necessities every picnic should include: cups, napkins, silverware, plates, bottle opener or corkscrew (an old-fashioned church key is recommended) and salt and pepper. Most newer picnic baskets include many of these items, but an oversized cooler or old-fashioned wicker baskets work just fine.
What is really important is how you pack them, and we have a few menu ideas for occasions on the water.
Coffee: Make your own and pour it into a big thermos to sip all morning. Try a local roaster, like Electric City Roasters.
Muffins: Morning glory muffins are a natural fit for a breakfast picnic. Load them up with shredded carrot, banana, raisins or even zucchini. Or go savory by substituting some cornmeal for flour, and add sharp cheddar cheese and cooked, crumbled bacon.
Fruit Salad: Cut up and prep fruit in whatever manner you like, but add a splash of orange juice to help keep it from turning brown and consider a little fresh grated ginger or mint leaves for a twist.
Mini quiches: Skip the pastry crust and use a muffin tin to make miniature crustless quiches, filling them with whatever roasted vegetables, meats or cheeses you like.
Cobbler bars: Breakfast is always better with a little something sweet. Cobbler bars are like a handheld pie, with a pastry bottom, fruit filling (use your favorite pie filling or recipe, or just a thick layer of jam) with a sugary, buttery crumble on top. Cut into generous bars for easy transport and eating.
Lemonade: Few things refresh like a glass of cold lemonade. To keep yours extra cold, prep a large thermos ahead of time by filling it with ice and cold water, and allow it to sit, sealed, for at least an hour or up to overnight. Dump the ice and water and fill with lemonade.
Fried chicken: Fried chicken might be the original picnic food, served just as deliciously at room temperature as fresh from the fryer. Place an order with a local soul-food restaurant, like Ya-Ya’s in Schenectady or Allie B’s Cozy Kitchen in Albany, the night before. Refrigerate until ready to pack for your picnic.
Potato chips: Fried chicken and potato chips just go together, you know? For local picnics, the only option is Saratoga Chips, available at most local grocery stores.
Watermelon wedges: Triangles of watermelon are quintessentially summer. Keep some salt and chili powder handy to sprinkle, or try Tajin, a Latin American lime-and-pepper seasoning that gives watermelon a zesty edge.
Fudgy brownies: Brownies are the perfect dessert, able to incorporate a variety of mix-ins (nuts!
Spanakopita: Spinach, egg and cheese are cooked together and wrapped into triangles of thin, crisp phyllo dough. They are light enough to leave you feeling sated but not stuffed.
Greek salad: The play on flavors — briny olives, creamy feta, crunchy lettuce — is reminiscent of the Greek Isles, so of course it should be served while on the water, albeit closer to home.
Chocolate-covered fruits: Dreamy dark chocolate coating tart, chewy dried fruit is a study in contrast, and few settings are better for enjoying them than at sunset on the water. Most local confectioners, such as Uncle Sam’s in Schenectady and Krause’s in Colonie, offer these treats year-round.
Sparkling wine: Toast the good life with a glass of bubbly as you gaze across the glistening water. Saratoga Sparkling Wine in rose and blanc styles are local favorites from Galway Rock Vineyard and Winery.
Focaccia sandwiches: Focaccia became a pandemic staple, but its appeal is lasting. Chewy with crisp edges, focaccia makes the perfect envelope for sandwiches. Fill them with your favorite deli staples or an assortment of roasted vegetables with a smear of hummus, herb tahini dip or roasted red pepper sauce.
Charcuterie board: Sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do the cooking, and local charcuterie board companies allow for that luxury. Pick and choose your favorite inclusions, like salami, olives, fruit and an assortment of cheese. Local purveyors such as Grazing 518, Saratoga Grazing Co. and Grate Expectations NY all offer many options for picnicking.
Sangria: Local, cold-hardy grapes that comprise most area wines have excellent flavor profiles for sangria, the wine, brandy and fruit drink that is basically grown-up punch. Use your favorite local wine with apple or pear brandy, like that from Harvest Spirits in Valatie.
Blondies: The butterscotch tones of a blondie might seem better suited for cold weather, but it is just enough sweetness at the end of a meal, without being cloying, to round out a delightful day on the water.
Empanadas: Handheld, flaky pastries filled with meats, cheese and beans are designed for travel. Fill them with any filling you want or order ahead from local empanada shops such as Lidia’s Empanadas at the Schenectady Greenmarket or Alotta Empanadas in Schenectady.
Black bean salad: Served best at room temperature, bean salads are classic options for picnics. Start with black beans, add red onion, seeded jalapeno, cilantro and lime juice, then riff from there.
Tostones: Tostones are flattened, fried plantains that can be made ahead and packaged for picnics. The sweet flavor of the plantain is a perfect pairing for empanadas. Top them with guacamole.
Palomas: Grapefruit constitutes the base of Palomas, the batch-made cocktail with a salty kick. Add tequila for a classic Paloma, or instead add a refreshing local lager, like Saratoga Lager from Adirondack Brewery or Get Off My Lawn lager from Paradox Brewery.
Peanut butter sandwich cookies: The salty notes of peanut butter reflect the tone of the rest of the menu here, making you rethink the versatility of the humble peanut butter cookie.