Fact about me: I absolutely love finding reasons to celebrate or throw a party. Almost anything will do, and sometimes the more unusual, quirky or obscure, the better.
Throw a party for Bastille Day? Check. Pop open (several) corks in celebration of Global Champagne Day? Done. In fact, I'm just waiting for someone to invent "International Bubbly, Bourbon, Oysters, Frites, Cheese & Chocolate on the Beach Day." But I digress.
That aside, my next excuse . . . er reason . . . to break out the confetti provides the perfect opportunity to get outdoors. Today (June 18th) is International Picnic Day!
Don't let the fact that this "food holiday" falls on a weekday deter you. There's nothing like leaving your office behind to treat yourself to a bit of fresh air and a bite of fresh food.
If you're in or near downtown, grab a gourmet burger or a hotdog at Lake House in Discovery Green, or head over to Market Square Park where you can get some great Greek grub from Niko Niko's. All that's left to do is grab a bench (or plop right down in the middle of park if you like), inhale deeply, relax and enjoy. If you're near Memorial Park, you can always eat at Beck's Prime and take in the beautiful golf course scenery.
If you're not constricted by time however, why not go all out and host a picnic to end all picnics with gorgeous dish ware, lux linens and gourmet, delectable cuisine? Host a "Lunch on the Grass" that even Claude Monet would envy with these great tips and ideas:
If you're preparing food at home, avoid soggy sandwiches and make them with crustier bread that can withstand juicy toppings, like ciabatta. To prevent sad, wilted salads skip lettuce and consider using more substantial items like quinoa or garbanzo beans as a base. If you have your heart set on having a green salad, Wendy Weston, owner of Perfect Picnic NYC, offers a great tip: use kale. Because it is a hearty leaf, "it won't end up tragic" in your salad.
If you're more interested in picking up prepared foods, our fair city has a ton of options for exquisite to-go fare. Here are some great picks:
Phoenicia Specialty Foods
Phoenicia has legions of devotees, and for good reason: With all of its global food options, it is a epicurean paradise. This gourmet food emporium has everything you could possibly want, and few things you never knew you always wanted, to prepare a picnic fit for a gastronome.
From soppressata to Mediterranean flatbreads to grilled meats to veggies, this place has got you covered.
Up for a little adventurous imbibing for your picnic? Try one of their wines from Armenia, Romania or Turkey.
One look at the menu of this locavore hotspot and you would almost swear they planned it with picnics in mind. My absolute faves are the Tuscan kale salad with golden raisins and the shrimp and crab salad sandwich served on ciabatta. Other picnic friendly sides and sandwiches include an orzo salad, a garbanzo side and a delish quinoa- butternut squash side.
Picnic-ready bread options for sandwiches include bagels and a baguette.
There's something very glorious about walking through the doors of Revival Market. The intoxicatingly delicious smells and visual appeal draw you in immediately and seduce you instantly.
Make your first selection from the spectacular charcuterie case. Pick up some artisan cheese from local dairy darling Houston Dairy Maids and a loaf of freshly baked bread from hometown favorite Slow Dough Bread Co. and you’ll have the “fixins” to make your own incredible sandwiches right at you picnic destination.
Revival also has a revolving selection that respects freshness and seasonality, but some current picnic perfect favorites from the prepared foods case include the corn salad with chili and queso fresco, the vine bean salad, roasted veggies, polenta cakes and Creole BBQ shrimp.
This gem of a spot on Westheimer is a terrific spot to pick up prepared hot and cold sandwiches, salad and sweets. This is essentially the place to go if you want to purchase goodies to pack into your picnic basket right on the spot because you plan to head directly to the park.
Opt for the veggie or turkey paninis, the pesto pasta salad, and the beet salad with pumpkins seeds and goat cheese. And don't forget the sweet treats! Caramel brownies with Fleur de sel and Meyer lemon cookies are sure to satiate almost any sweet tooth.
We're pretty fortunate here in Houston: The city has a good amount of picnic friendly green space all around the city such as Discovery Green, Hermann, Memorial, Tom Bass and Bear Creek parks, but there are also some other excellent, verdant locales that are ideal spots as well.
Here are a few highlights:
The Menil is a wonderful, peaceful green respite in the middle of the bustling city. Lay out your blanket, have your meal and bask in the sun. You'll be so relaxed that a nap will be in order.
River Oaks Park is just off of Westheimer on Locke Lane. Towering oak trees, grassy plots, picnic tables with benches and plenty if shade are just a few of the numerous draws to this sweet, nostalgia-filled park.
Helen's Garden: League City is housing a bit of a little secret just off of FM 518, and it is a beautiful and quaint picnic spot. Filled with fragrant flowers, winding paths, flowing fountains, lovely statuary and lush landscaping, it is a wonderful little oasis.
Evelyn's Park (coming soon): Guess what? Houston's gettin' greener y'all, and I am truly excited about this new lush space that's on the horizon.
Housed in Bellaire where the storied Teas Nursery used to operate will soon be a gorgeous, bucolic, iconic five-acre destination-style park. This visionary park will house flower gardens and trails, community event space, a food service area and a lake.
As far as dishes to dine on go, in my opinion, there are none more exquisite than John Derian's new line of gorgeous melamine plates. I am currently swooning over the "Faience a la Corne" and "Faience Fleurs Isolees" patterns featuring floral and butterfly designs inspired by images found in a 19th century book. Although they are difficult to find in Houston, you can make a trip to Kuhl Linscomb to order a set.
If you're looking for immediate gratification, stop by Sur la Table for pretty, Tuscan-inspired "Floreale" melamine plates and some colorful, ornate plastic wine glasses.
Lay It All Out
Dining out of doors definitely requires a great blanket to lounge and relax on. Look for softness, thickness, size and a durable material that will withstand stains. If you're looking for the ultimate in high-style al fresco dining however, you can always opt for a luxurious blanket from Hermes.
Take the luxury quotient a step further and buy the company's new nautical-themed picnic set that has enameled dishes, stainless steel flatware and a tablecloth all housed in a chic cotton-toile tote bag. Although a tote bag may not be your typical vehicle for your picnic spread it does allow for more dexterity as you amble about hunting for the perfect picnic spot.
For you traditionalists, there are some great picnic baskets to be had. My favorite is a set by Kim Seybert at Neiman Marcus. The pretty, coral-designed basket has everything you need: Plates, acrylic glasses, utensils, napkins, a bottle holder and opener, insulated food bag and even a cotton blanket. Just add food and drink and you're ready to go.
One of the joys of summer is definitely al fresco dining, and with these tips and ideas you can fabulously celebrate great picnic days all summer long.