One of the joys of summer is the opportunity to eat al fresco. Yes, the deck at Blue Sky is fun for spring skiing, but there’s nothing like packing a picnic and relaxing on the lawn for Bud Light’s Hot Summer Nights, a Bravo! Vail performance or the Beaver Creek Music Experience. However, there’s more to a lawn party than just cheese and crackers. When prepping for a picnic, it’s time to step outside of the traditional fare and get creative — it’s easier than you think.
All in the presentation
There’s an old culinary proverb that says, “You eat with your eyes first.” An outdoor dining event is no different. Instead of settling for the paper plates and napkins which are serviceable but lacking in aesthetic appeal, pack actual dishes and real napkins. Bring silverware instead of plastic utensils and proper wineglasses.
“One of my friends packed a picnic for a Hot Summer Nights concert, and I remember how beautiful it was,” said Jules Wallace, who lives in Edwards and is a regular at the summer concert series. “She had real dishes and linen napkins; she also had those wine glass holders that you can stick right into the lawn. The food was simple and delicious, but it was such a nice presentation that it really made the experience.”
It’s not necessary to break out the crystal (though it’s certainly an option), but eschewing disposable products is an easy option for elevating an outdoor eating situation. Yes, it may add some weight to the bag, but it’s worth the effort.
Pick a theme
Take your picnic enjoyment to a whole new level by incorporating a theme that complements whatever performance you’ll be attending. Attending the Fourth of July festivities? Create a red, white and blue theme and each guest will have to get creative to adhere to the theme. (Think about it — there’s a scarcity of blue food out there.) The Soul Mountain Music Festival takes place Aug. 15–17 at Strawberry Park in Beaver Creek, so pack fried chicken, biscuits, collard greens and any other soul food your heart desires.
Bravo! performances provide some of the most varied options for getting creative with a themed picnic. From Ravel’s “Bolero” with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (Spanish tapas; dancing flamenco garners extra points) to Russian classics with the New York Philharmonic (goulash and pirogi for a peasant feel or blini and caviar if you’re feeling particularly czar-ish), the possibilities are almost endless. Challenge your friends to make the most arcane or convoluted connection and everyone wins.
One of the most common assumptions with a picnic is that the fare needs to be simple: simple to prepare, simple to share and simple to eat. While there’s nothing wrong with convenience (cheese and crackers, I’m talking to you), many foods that are perfect for a picnic are prepared with a minimum of fuss.
Take truffle popcorn, for example. A favorite bar snack of patrons at Dish! restaurant in Edwards, this easy-to-prepare, hard-to-put-down snack can be made ahead of time and enjoyed all through the concert. While there are several different versions using truffle butter, truffle salt or truffle oil, one of the easiest ways to get make this savory snack is to pop your popcorn as usual (classic or microwave versions both work well) and toss it with a mixture of truffle oil, Parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of salt.
Summer, with its hot days, is the season for cold soups, which are also perfect for picnics. From chilled cucumber soup to gazpacho, these colorful treats are wonderful for eating outside. Make ahead and store in a thermos — not only does it keep the soup chilled, but it makes serving much easier, too.
Looking for something fresh and healthy to serve? Try Tracy Miller’s cool corn lobster salad. Miller, who teaches cooking classes and is the in-house chef for Vail’s TV8, said that even though it requires a bit of prep work, it’s worth the time. It’s light, low in calories and fat and adds a bit of class to any outdoor soiree.
From free concerts to dance performances, festivals to afternoons at Piney Lake, there are almost limitless opportunities to pack a picnic and enjoy the weather. After all, summer’s too short for boring.