By Emily Kemme

Take a break from the kitchen table and head outside for a meal

Eating outside is a sure mood booster. Maybe it’s got something to do with sunshine or starlight—nature’s charms and breathing fresh air are a quick fix for workday blahs.

While the dream-like aesthetics of Jane Austen picnics might be worth emulating, al fresco dining doesn’t always have to be a grand production.

Maybe all you’ve got time for is to grab a carton of your favorite fried chicken and potato salad, paired with a roll of paper towels to dab the grease. Or you could stuff a backpack with summer sausage or charcuterie, a wheel of cheese, a French baguette and a bottle of wine.

But when time allows, get creative and prepare a meal to satisfy your inner Austen.

Victoria Bittner, owner of Taste Local in Loveland, says there’s nothing you can’t take on a picnic.

The key to enjoying it is planning ahead. It’s a guaranteed mood killer, when, after scoring the perfect spot and unpacking the summer sausage, you realize you left the knife to slice it on your kitchen counter.

Bittner has packed picnics with her kids for years and shares ideas for creating the most appetizing meals for all ages. She also provides meals and sandwiches if you don’t want to bother.

Pack perfect

For cold items: Because cold air sinks, layer ice on top of food. To keep it from getting soggy, begin by lining the bottom of the cooler with a tea towel. Put food in sealable bags, Tupperware or disposable containers and place another tea towel on top. Gallon bags of ice or frozen water bottles keep food cold—the bonus is you can drink the water. Frozen juice boxes work great for kids.

For warm items: Warm air rises so keep food hot with this trick. Place small, thin bricks in oven and heat. Wrap in foil and place on cooler bottom, placing food on top of bricks. Bricks are available at home improvement stores, like Home Depot and Lowe’s. And remember, it is important to keep hot and cold foods in separate coolers.

Stay hydrated: Fill a small, round water container with ice water. Sanitize juice boxes or bottles. Place drinks in the ice water. Drinks stay cold; the bonus is you can drink the ice water.

Over 21 beverages: Make alcohol slushees by puréeing frozen fruit in a blender with lemonade. Add vodka or the alcohol of choice once you’ve settled into your picnic spot.

Make it cute and appetizing: Kids love having their own picnic container to dig into. Invest in plastic Chinese takeout boxes (available on Amazon) and fill with individual picnic foods. Or, fill small balsa-wood berry baskets and hand them around. Cute makes smiles happen.

Don’t forget dessert: Picnic desserts are best when they’re finger foods. Keep elements separate and assemble on site, like angel food cake with cream and berries.

Remember the accessories: Bittner recommends storing picnic essentials in a picnic pack, so everything is in one place and ready to go. Must-have’s: trash bags, resealable bags, plates, utensils, kitchen knife, cutting board, kitchen towels, tablecloth or blanket to spread out on, wine and bottle openers, salt and pepper, thermoses, wet wipes, bug spray, sunscreen and hats.

Al fresco events in the area

AgriCulture Feast, September 1, Centennial Village in Greeley The Greeley Creative District’s main fundraiser and celebration of Weld County’s Ag+Culture combines locally grown ingredients with chef-prepared cuisine to present a unique al fresco evening amid historic homes and buildings.

The Farmer and Adele Farm Dinner, September 21 (tentative date) Jennifer Caldwell and Adele Work grow produce on an 18-acre farm in Berthoud. Enjoy a farm-style meal, family style including locally produced protein and veggies that are prepared by chef Annie DeCoteau of Rise Artisan Bread Bakery & Cafe. Limited to 60 people, you’ll have a true farm experience with a brief tour, live music and a beautiful place to watch the sunset.

HERE ARE SOME OF BITTNER’S TRIED AND TRUE RECIPES

Serves 4. Pack all items into a wicker picnic basket with frozen water bottles to keep cool.

Skewered Shrimp and Mango

  • 4 long skewers
  • 1 mango, seeded and chopped into large chunks
  • 1/2pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1Tbs. of your favorite spice mix

Toss shrimp with spice mix. Place shrimp and mango on skewer. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes, until shrimp are done, or grill for 15 minutes.

Tuna Pea Salad in Roma Tomato

  • 1 can tuna (Italian tuna recommended)
  • ¼ cup peas, fresh, frozen or canned, drained
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup pickles, chopped
  • ¼ tsp. pepper1
  • 1/2 tsp. wasabi
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, halved, seeded

In a bowl combine tuna, peas, 1/2 cup mayo, pickles and pepper. Set aside. In another bowl combine ¼ cup mayo with wasabi. Stir to combine. Pack tuna salad, wasabi mayo and tomatoes in separate containers in cold cooler. On site, fill tomato with tuna and top with wasabi.

Prickly Pear Martini

  • 1/2 cup prickly pear vodka
  • ¼ cup triple sec
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • ¼ cup cranberry juice
  • Sugar and lime

Mix all ingredients and pack in thermos. At the picnic, sugar rim your favorite plastic glasses and pour in martini. Decorate with lime and enjoy.

FOR THE KIDS

Parmesan Chicken Popsicles

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
  • 1cup breadcrumbs (preferably panko)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg3
  • Tbs. butter
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 6 popsicle sticks or skewers

In a small bowl combine breadcrumbs and cheese. In another bowl, whisk the milk and eggs. Dredge chicken in milk mixture, then in breadcrumbs. Heat butter and oil in pan and cook on medium heat till golden and chicken is cooked through. Cool and pack chicken in wax paper with a tie.

Watermelon Slush

  • 8 cups watermelon
  • 6 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate

Chop watermelon and freeze. In a blender, blend frozen watermelon and frozen lemon concentrate. Pack in thermos.

Fun kiddo meal ideas: Mini tortillas rolled up with ham, cream cheese and pickles. Cut into pieces and place in takeout box lined with parchment paper. For sides, peaches and yogurt, and chips.

Easy-peasy: Assemble together cut carrots, lettuce, ham, cheese and a side of ranch dressing and hand each kid their own basket.