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Basket Cases 

A complete guide to staging the perfect picnic.

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I’ll never forget the embarrassment of my first Red Butte Garden concert a decade or so ago. I’d heard concert goers at Red Butte could pack in their own food and beverages, so I loaded up my backpack. I knew I was in trouble when I spotted Tony Caputo and “The Gabby Gourmet” Fred Wix and their families a few rows in front of me. Their picnic baskets were loaded with gourmet goodies, and they were pouring fine wine into glass stemware. A couple of blankets over, a hoity-toity group were having their picnic catered. The gal in front of me was drinking Champagne and nibbling on chocolate covered strawberries. So you can imagine the horror when I cracked open the first Pabst Blue Ribbon (perhaps the first in the history of Red Butte Garden) and opened a cardboard box of Domino’s Pizza. Not exactly a scene out of The Great Gatsby. My picnic blanket was vinyl with a leopard spot print. Oops. Faster than you can say white trash, I knew I’d committed a picnic faux pas.

I’m happy to say I’ve come a long way since then, and I wouldn’t think of showing up at Red Butte Garden or Deer Valley Resort or even Oldies Fest at Franklin Covey Field without chilled shrimp, fancy cheeses, good wine and a picnic blanket that would turn even Martha Stewart’s head.

As we embark on the summer season, shame on you if you don’t plan for at least one picnic. The word “plan” is intentional, because success in any picnic—large or small—is dependent first and foremost on planning. Preparation is the key. Something as simple as forgetting to pack a corkscrew or mosquito repellant can ruin an otherwise perfect day. So write out a list if you need to, but be sure to prepare a game plan in order to execute the perfect picnic.

I like to kick off a picnic with a chilled soup or appetizer. I’d make my way over to Liberty Heights fresh for the ripest tomatoes and other top-quality veggies and fruits for picnic gazpacho, or perhaps cold cucumber and avocado soup, or maybe a simple chilled fruit soup. Just prepare your chilled soup or gazpacho at home and store it in a Thermos for easy serving on the spot. Don’t forget to pack plastic bowls or perhaps tin cups to serve your soup in.

Ceviche is another cool and refreshing option for picnics. Just be sure to scout out the freshest seafood for your ceviche at a store with good turnover, like Aquarius Seafood Co., Market Street Fish markets or Park City Seafood. While you’re at it, pick up a couple of pounds of shrimp and a can of Old Bay Seasoning. Steam the shrimp in their shells and then let them chill for a while in the fridge. I always make extra as I inevitably wind up sharing my shrimp with my concert-going neighbors. And don’t forget to pack napkins; steamed shrimp with Old Bay seasoning are pretty messy.

Finger foods are an essential ingredient to any good picnic—and that doesn’t mean a can of Pringles. At local purveyors like the Greek Market, Pirate O’s, Mediterranean Market & Deli and Adriatic International Market Place, you’ll discover a plethora of exotic gourmet goodies with which to spice up your outdoor affair. Stuffed grape leaves, fresh olives, pates and all sorts of marinated vegetables await you and your picnic basket at these well-stocked markets. An important reminder: Be sure to bring along a box of toothpicks. Toothpicks are the perfect all-purpose picnic utensil.

I can’t imagine a summer picnic without cheese, cured meats and crusty bread. For those items, I head to Juhl Haus Market & Deli, Granato’s, Liberty Heights Fresh or Tony Caputo’s, where I stock up on spicy Italian salami, Serrano ham from Spain, all manner of exotic cheeses and a fresh baguette or two. These are also good spots to pick up prepared pasta salads for your picnic basket if you don’t feel like doing it yourself. Piñon Market & Café is another smart pre-picnic shopping stop, a good place to buy everything from ready made gourmet sandwiches and salads to takeaway desserts.

In the dessert department, Carlucci’s Bakery is where I shop for sensuous sweets. Their single-serving slices of cheesecake and tarts are essential for putting the finishing touches on a picnic. Carlucci’s is located next to Tony Caputo’s and Aquarius Seafood Co., making it easy to hit all three during your picnic preparations.

You can always pick up plastic cups and utensils and a Styrofoam cooler at Wal-Mart, but when I picnic I like to do it in style. To put a little pizzazz in your picnic, do some shopping for attractive picnic baskets and quality utensils at Sur La Table, Steinmart or Spoons & Spice. Each of these stores is equipped with everything you’ll need to stage the perfect picnic, from shocking pink plastic martini glasses and corkscrews, to colorful linens and picnic-sized cutting boards.

By the way, don’t let a little rain (or for that matter, a little snow) prevent you from enjoying a picnic. Once a year, in the dead of winter or during a raging summer thunderstorm, I like to stage a picnic right in my living room. I just spread a blanket out and eat on the floor! The kids love it.

Of course, if you’re pressed for time, there’s always another option: If you’re with the right person, a six-pack of beer and a box of pizza can still make for a sensational picnic.

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More by Ted Scheffler

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