Bicycles, A Blanket and A Patch of Grass

The Picnic

For many islanders the concept of the picnic may seem like an elaborate activity of the past, one that sparks memories of childhood birthday parties, the egg toss, three-legged races, watermelons and water balloon fights.  But the picnic has unlimited romantic potential with its varied, secluded local location options: lakeside, ocean view, rooftop or shady tree setting.  During the coming busy summer, I suggest setting out at least once to create a simple yet sensual outdoor eating experience for someone you love with local, fresh ingredients that will leave you feeling more connected, more relaxed and ultimately thankful for life’s simple yet luxurious pleasures.

Why bother with Local Foods?

Living in Victoria, there is a wealth of locally grown and produced food possibilities as well as a bourgeoning artisan food culture at our fingertips.  By sourcing local food, not only are we getting the freshest and tastiest treats possible, but we are also minimizing our carbon footprint. In addition, with our buying power, we support those businesses and individuals in our community that care about the way food is grown, produced and prepared ensuring their continued success and presence long in to the future.  It may take me a hour on my bike to zip around to pick up ingredients in a few different places, but I can attest, when I are sitting on a blanket in the shade, eating with fingertips, the tastes this island has to offer, I am never disappointed at the preparation or money spent.  Also, nothing is more attractive to me than a partner who has arrived to a picnic having gone to the effort to resource local, fresh ingredients.

What To Get?

I recommend keeping it simple, fresh and as local as possible. Head to the farmers markets as there is no better place to pick up mixed greens, fresh breads and herbs like basil, mint or dill for salads and sandwiches. Grab a bottle of home made preserve like chutney, pickles or jam to serve with crackers, cheese and fresh bread. Don’t forget to consider bringing your own bags or basket and walking or biking to get there. If you’re not sure where to go, check the Vancouver Island Local Food website for times and locations.

I like to check in at the Fort Street Charcuterie Choux Choux , which specializes in house-made pâtés, sausages, cured and smoked meats and international cheeses. Owners Lucas and Page, as well as their staff, are passionate and highly educated about local and international food culture and are always happy to describe their fresh offerings. Using pork from Sloping Hill Farms in Qualicum Beach for their pâtés and many cured meats. I am always enticed to buy their free range smoked bacon for heirloom tomato, bacon and lettuce sandwiches on fresh baked bread.  I often pick up a slice of their local Rabbit, blueberry terrine using Hills Half Acre Farm rabbit from Mill Bay and made in house. I am absolutely addicted to their Porcini Mushroom Pâté made with local chicken liver and porcini mushrooms from local mushroom picker Eric ( I often pair this rich spread with local cracker-like yam crisps found at Café Bliss specializing in raw food.  I’ve also picked up Hilary’s Cheese from Market on Yates when I can’t get to the Moss street market where I pick up Little Qualicum Cheese. I pair these treats with bread from the artisan bakery Fol Epi (101 Harbour St.). The owner Cliff is a leader in sourcing local organic grains and ingredients for his products and I am keen to support such amazing effort and sustainable local vision for the island.

If you’ve missed your chance at a farmers’ market you might head out to one of the Ambrosio Markets and Deli locations around town (James Bay, Cook St. Village, Oak Bay Village) to find what is fresh and locally grown. You will find their staff enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the products they serve and everything that is locally resourced is clearly labeled.  Try their locally grown greenhouse heirloom tomatoes cut up with fresh basil over local greens with some olive oil.  Steam local asparagus lightly steamed then chilled with a garlic balsamic, olive oil dressing. Try roasting or steaming local golden or red beats then chilling them to go with a salads and locally made goats cheese and roasted hazelnuts for crunch. Make open face sandwiches with Kildonan Farm free range turkey, local cheese, tomato, cucumber and sprouts or cut up slices of house-made chorizo sausage paired with house-made mustard from Choux Choux for dipping.

For drinks, look for Zanatta Winery’s Damasco for a slightly effervescent white wine that’s crisp, fresh and light for the summer season or one of their other sparkling wines for a romantic sunset picnic dinner. Pick up one of the many microbrewery beers like Phillips to share with meats or flavour water and ice with fresh mint, local melon or berries for a non-alcoholic options.

In my attempt to create an intimate and romantic outdoor culinary experience for someone special, I have found it all starts with the food, as nothing is more attractive than sharing food with someone who has shown the care and taken the time to source local favourite treats to eat. In addition, take time to think of the little things when preparing. Try forgetting the cutlery “by accident” and enjoy the contact with your food while picking it up with your fingers.  Bring along one plate to share and glasses that aren’t plastic. Pack a few candles to set up in the grass and multiple blankets in case it cools off. Think of a place that won’t get too windy or cold as the sun goes down.  Ultimately, it’s just about being present together in nature, taking some time to share in one of life’s simplest yet strikingly connecting experiences this life has to offer: eating together outdoors. – by Katherine Hutchins

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