Extreme Picnicking

June 18, 2012

by Madeline Nusser, TimeOut Chicago

You’ve seen them before. They wield real silverware. They cover fold-out tables with the best wine, cheese and charcuterie—making your stomach grumble. They’re super-picnickers. And as summer progresses, they flood the Pritzker Pavilion lawn to take in Grant Park Music Festival concerts. We talk to one such super-picnicker, Veronica Hastings, who gives us tips on how to go from envious onlooker to picnic pro.

Best time to picnic Last year, Hastings—a wine distributor and importer living in Austin—picnicked during Pritzker Pavilion concerts about eight times, only avoiding windy and cold weather. “I send out an e-mail to several people,” Hastings says. “Everyone gets on the e-mail chain, and before you know it, we’ve got some pretty complex food and wine.”

Necessary accoutrements An easy-to-pack roll-up table from Crate and Barrel is Hastings’s requisite item. She covers it with a tablecloth, scalloped plastic plates from Target, full sets of silverware and stemless wineglasses (less apt to blow over in the wind). Other must-brings: sea salt, a pepper mill, electric Coleman lanterns for late summer, and an assortment of small plastic bowls for condiments and olives. “When we have our picnic table laid out, people walk by and they’re like, ‘Wow, can we join you?’ ” Hastings says. “It looks like it’s in my backyard.”

Wine recommendations “In the summer it’s all about dry, spicy rosé,” says Hastings, suggesting organic Mas De Gourgonnier and Más Amor Rosado. “You can walk into Binny’s and look to their Spanish and French rosés. You can’t go wrong with anything $8 to $10.”

Summertime feast An avid summertime gardener, Hastings brings several homegrown-vegetable-infused dishes, including zucchini with fresh mint, eggplant with mint and garlic, and tomatoes and basil. She purchases cheese and charcuterie from Pastoral or Oak Park’s Marion Street Cheese Market. Occasionally she picks up fried chicken from West Loop’s Ina’s and Austin’s the Depot American Diner. “Those places are great because they know how to pack it up good for you—that’s pretty important for a picnic.”

Avoiding picnic faux pas “If we’re going to be a bigger group and talk a lot, I try to sit further out,” says Hastings, who avoids socializing near ardent listeners, noting that she’s endured only a few stern glances over the years. “When people are in those situations, they’re a pretty happy lot. There’s nothing more wonderful than to sit out and look around as 10,000 people gather on a hot summer night—it’s happy humanity.”

Practice your picnicking! On August 11, 6:30–7:30pm, judges deem one picnicker winner of the Grant Park Music Festival 2012 Picnic Contest. Register by calling 312-742-7638.

Best Picnicking Concerts

The Paris Opéra Ballet hooves it on the big screen while Grant Park Orchestra provides the tunes. Jun 27 at 7:30pm; free.

Composer Sebastian Currier debuts a world-premier piece, “Sleepers and Dreamers,” which, reportedly, does not shy away from those sexual dreams. Jul 6 at 6:30pm and Jul 7 at 7:30pm; free.

BBC/Discovery Channel’s Frozen Planet gets scored by the GPO, led by guest conductor and composer George Fenton. Jul 11 at 8:30pm; free.