Labor Day picnics: Make yours memorable. Tips and where to go suggestions

Katie’s post on how to turn a Labor Day barbecue into a multi-cultural affair is a mouth-watering read that gave me the feeling that the sweet Italian sausages I bought for a cook-out could use some jazzing up. Put Katie’s read together with tips I picked up this summer during a chat with one of Hip Hostess’s event planners, Amber Cleary, and Labor Day could easily be turned into an event to remember fondly when you’re back at work on Tuesday. (Hopefully, that good mood will take you all the way to the next weekend.) If you look past your backyard for a picnic location, even better..

I tried a couple of Amber’s ideas out on my last picnic when I headed to the Columbus Symphony’s outdoor Picnic with the Pops concert with Christopher Cross.

Amber’s mantra about making an event special and personal, gave me more umph when I thought of putting together the fixin’s, something that Katie touched upon when she suggested dressing up Labor Day fare with a cultural twist.

Here are the ideas, plus suggestions for simple places to take your picnic for the last holiday of summer. (This photo was taken last Labor Day as Yourdon strolled around Central Park in Manhattan.)

Amber’s Tip #1 (plus my interpretation): Depending upon the number of people in the group, pack salads and side dishes in Chinese food carry-out boxes–the small size. Each person gets his or her own box (or boxes) depending upon what you put in them. This makes food transportable, and once the food is eaten, you can throw the box away. An advantage is that there won’t be a bowl to take home, and you won’t need to bring plates or serving spoons.

For my Picnic with the Pops outing, I made Amber’s Shrimp and Orzo Salad and Fruit Salad with Lime Dressing. Here’s a fruit salad recipe from the Food Network that has a tropical twist and another version served up in a martini glass here. For a version of a shrimp and orzo salad from Cooking Light, click here.

More food container suggestions:

Tip # 2. Here’s a tip that I found on Amber’s blog. Desserts like pudding can be served in a jar. She’s done this with chocolate mousse. Each person get his or her own jar. Jars can be recycled or taken back home for the next picnic.

Tip # 3. Put dry type eats in origami containers. I was at a party once where a snack mix was served in a handmade paper bowl. Very cool, and a Japanese tradition that adds a cultural flair. Amber has served individual packages of cookies in handmade boxes. If the bowl interests you, here’s a link to a how to make one.

Tip #4. How about flat bottomed ice-cream cones? Then you can eat the container. Trail mix would be great, I think. Each could be wrapped in Saran wrap or paper to keep the goods from falling out.

Tip # 5. For beverages, consider individual water bottles. When I met Amber, she handed me a Camelback water bottle filled with a Sauza Peach Margarita, a lovely concoction of DeKuyper Luscious Peachtree Schnapps Liqueur, DeKuyper Signature Triple Sec, Sauza Tequila, sour mix and lime. It was absolutely yummy.

Think of any cold beverage and water bottle pairing. This would save on cups. Water bottles could be labeled with people’s names. Better yet, tell people to bring their water bottles to the picnic and you’ll fill it with something special. It doesn’t need to be an alcoholic version of something special, but. if you’re looking for spiked drink suggestions, check out the DeKuyper’s Web site Mix Master page.

With drinks and food in hand, don’t forget the details that can make your Labor Day picnic more personal and special.

  • A cloth table cloth, either to spread on the ground or put over a table. Mine is from India. It’s colorful, lightweight and easy to carry.
  • A real basket. It doesn’t have to be a picnic basket, but is large enough to hold the tablecloth, utensils and whatever else you want to bring along to set the scene. (At Picnic with the Pops, I’ve seen candles and flowers.)
  • A cooler to hold whatever food you’re bringing along. The older I get, the more a cooler with wheels sounds like a good idea.
  • Something to sit on that offers back support. The older I get, the more I want something to sit on.

For a hiking picnic, divide up food into individual cold pack type lunch bags for each person to carry his or her own, or divide up the food so each person is carrying part of the meal.

Instead of staying in your backyard for Labor Day, consider these options that are possibly close to home. The more portable your picnic, the more travel friendly:

  • A cemetery. No, don’t eat on a grave. Many older cemeteries are equipped with ponds and grassy areas for spreading out a blanket, eating a meal and enjoying solitude. Many, like Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, where writer James Thurber is buried, have become bird sanctuaries thanks to the urban sprawl that has taken up swatches of their habitat..
  • A city or a metro park. Many metropolitan areas have parks that serve as an oasis for bike riders, roller bladers and nature hounds. Often the shelter houses and picnic tables are first come, first serve, but even without a shelter find a shade tree, spread out your tablecloth and settle down for an afternoon of leisure.
  • A college campus. Many universities have public spaces edged with massive, leafy trees and grassy lawns.
  • The grounds of an historic site. Many tourist attractions have picnic areas attached. Bring your picnic along while you learn more about the background of the area. Before you go, make sure the site is open. Many sites have had to cut back hours due to budget woes.
  • A lake shore-From The Great Lakes to a small lake that not many people know about, a lake shore picnic offers views of the sky as well as the water.
  • A river bank. Scope out a spot where the foliage is less dense and get comfortable.
  • A beach–These are the days when the water may be too cold for a swim, but perfect for a long walk on the sand after a meal.
  • A field in the middle of nowhere— Drive out of town until you get to the middle of nowhere, most probably on a country road and look for a spot that calls to you.
  • Along a trail. Divide your meal into various spots along the trail to give you motivation to keep going to as far as you want to head and back.

And here’s a Web site dedicated to picnic spots across the United States.

Whatever you do this Labor Day, take a tip from Amber and make it personal and fun.