The Solo Picnic

Cooking for One

We often forget that a picnic is an excellent way to eat a solo meal, probably due to the fact that picnics are usually associated with romantic interludes or family reunions. But of course the picnic equally belongs to the single diner who may find inspiration and appreciation in a change of scenery and a few quiet moments spent in nature.

The solo picnic is not so very different than a picnic for two or more. The food is chosen for appetite and portability, the location for its grassy carpet or at the very least a close proximity to a few trees. Perhaps the most rudimentary solo picnic is a lunch of a store-bought sandwich eaten on a park bench but it's not much more of an effort to take this a few steps further and create a simple but memorable meal. Here is a list of my basic picnic-for-one essentials:

• Try to find a location with as much nature as possible. City people will have to seek out a favorite park; suburban and county people have a wider selection. Grass is nice but optional.

• A blanket or tablecloth to spread out on the grass or picnic table or bench if that's all you have. A cushion is a good thing to have to sit on or use as a pillow if a post-prandial urge to nap strikes.

• At least three separate things to eat, often more. With a solo picnic, it's good to have several small tastes to keep it interesting, given you won't be distracted by company. This can include seasonal fruit, a cup of nuts, a slice of quiche or fritatta, a salad. My favorite picnic dessert is a brownie. The food can be homemade or not, although homemade is preferable. That said, splurging on some really delicious high-end deli items is a great way to treat yourself.

• Two kinds of beverage. If it's dinner or a lunch on a quiet afternoon, a 1/2 bottle of wine is nice, plus something stimulating, like a little tea for afterwards. If alcohol and caffeine aren't on your list, then lemonade and water will do.

• Try to use real cutlery and tableware as opposed to disposables. It's not that much extra work to do this and it adds a touch of elegance to your meal. Roll your glass up in a cloth napkin, your plate in the tablecloth or blanket and tuck the silverware around the edges of your carryall.

• Finally, a book for company and a notebook for noting.

The main purpose of a solo picnic is to get yourself out of the house and away from your usual dining ruts. A picnic has an air of celebration, too, and can lift the spirits. Anything eaten in the open air, surrounded by sunshine and greenery, is going to taste better. Plus, for most of us, the picnic season is all to brief, so waiting for a dining companion or a group effort just leads to too many missed opportunities. So the next time you're facing a solo meal, toss everything into a hamper and get yourself to a grassy knoll. You will no doubt be very happy you did.

Related: The Best Picnic Knives

(Image: Dana Velden)