It was the height of the pandemic in Los Angeles. Everyone was sheltering in place and grocery store shelves were scarce due to panic buying. My routine of meandering down grocery store aisles to get creative and decompress was quickly a thing of the past. The wait, the lines of people and shortages of necessities made grocery shopping an experience I quickly wanted to avoid.
This moment of depression, frustration & reflection gave light to a new wave of creativity as to how I could still find comfort in food and new (yet old) ways of approaching it. Thus my newfound passion of picnicking was born. My only picnic experiences prior were tied to events such as concerts at the Hollywood Bowl or movie night at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Never had I decided to have the picnic be the main event.
All the restaurants were closed and grocery shopping was no longer an option for me. To our luck, small business owners such as Kustaa & Kensho turned their establishments into small markets. Simple items like cheese, crackers, olives, jams, fruit, crudités and even wine were easy provisions to grab.
I'm fortunate to already have a reliable picnic basket that includes a small wooden cheese/cutting board, mini wine glasses, a wine opener, cloth napkins, table cloth and a pairing knife. I found this wonderful set up at a thrift store years ago and if you don't have one yet, I highly recommend having a well equipped basket for your dining arsenal.
A single trip to the market with basket in tow, I was ready to go anywhere to dine. First test of the quarantine was where. I thought the beach would be nice but apparently the rest of Los Angeles had the exact same idea. After 40 minutes in traffic I was losing my mind and decided to leave by going up a canyon road. We kept winding into more and more rural territory until at some point I saw a clearing on the side of the road. Lucas & I pulled over, used the table cloth as a blanket to sit on and pulled out the food & drink. We were situated right above a creek. The only sound around us was that of the creek, the birds and the wind rustling through the trees. I had a piece of butcher block in my trunk that I had received from a neighbor. This piece of wood turned into a massive plate for us.
As we sat and enjoyed the fresh air, wine and small bites we brought with us, I could feel the stress of the city and the quarantine melt away. I knew this picnicking thing was going to save me from a mundane isolation indoors.
Now I keep a picnic kit in my car at all times
In an effort to support small businesses, I started ordering and picking up my pantry items from obscure places. One of which was Urban Pie pizza. Usually a catering company/pop up, this place started offering pantry items for sale along side their fresh baked & frozen takeaway pizzas. They started operating full time out of their commercial kitchen in the industrial city of Commerce, CA. I needed the pantry items and Commerce was quite a drive so with my picnic kit in the trunk, I made a lovely date out of the errand.
Lucas and I rolled up between the warehouses and called in with our order confirmation. While we waited, I popped the trunk, pulled out the prepared salads and poured the wine. When the pizza got brought out to us, we enjoyed our "elevated dining" experience in the juxtaposition of an industrial neighborhood with views of water towers and big rigs.
Since then we have enjoyed many picnics in the backyard as well. The change of scenery is such a welcome change and a money saver. Whenever I wanted a change of scenery or a new experience out, I would look up a restaurant I had never been to. Now I think of fun/odd/amusing/obscure places that I can picnic at to add a change of pace to my routine.
I'm including below a list of items that I have found essential to easy and "elevated" picnicking. Keeping these things in the trunk of the car has made for easy & unexpected dining opportunities with loved ones and friends.