Welcome to Your Home Outdoors, our summertime series on tips and tricks that'll help you live your best life outside―no matter the size of your space! So pull up a chair, grab a glass of something icy-cold, and join us.
Can we talk honestly for a minute? About picnics? Ok, here goes: Picnics stress me out. I’ve said this before (on this very website, as a matter of fact), pointing out the ways in which picnics—unlike standard dinner party entertaining, say—make me feel like the world is conspiring against me, setting a culturally agreed-upon standard for gorgeous ease that I will never achieve.
I tried to address my picnic anxiety by creating menus that I could actually pull off...and I could pull them off, and they led to less stressful picnics. But what I’m looking for is a 100% no-stress, no-cook picnic, the kind of affair that genuinely feels spur-of-the-moment, the kind that lets me sincerely say Oh, this spread? I just threw this together! with not even a glimmer of manic terror in my eye.
At the same time, I want everything to be in line with my best fantasy version of myself. Of course I could just go to the store and buy a bag of chips and a jar of salsa and a six-pack, and eat outside and call it a picnic. But that’s not the picnic I want. The picnic I want feels more homemade than that, more thoughtful, more delightful...but with the ease of unscrewing a jar of salsa. I want to have it all, the effortlessness and the specialness. Some of you may be rolling your eyes at me (and I get it, I really do), but I also know that I am not alone in my desire for a magical day in the park with minimal sweat.
To my fellow conflicted picnickers, I am proud to announce that I have found the solution! In a word, the key to making my fantasy a reality is zhushing. You know zhushing, those small tweaks that make a big impact, like scrunching up your hair to give it extra body when the humidity has completely flattened it, or throwing on a sun hat to make your shorts and tee shirt feel more like an actual outfit. Zhushing a picnic requires a trip to the grocery store for all your (pre-made!) picnic foods and then a handful of condiments, a few clever tweaks, and a tiny upgrade or two to make your store-bought picnic feel like a picnic you’ve put real work into...without too much actual work (or cooking).
anxiety ado, here are the best ways to zhush yourself to picnic heaven.
I love to make hummus, I love to make salsa, I love to make tzatziki. But before my picnic, I do not want to spend time washing out my food processor repeatedly...or cooking at all, actually. This picnic will have dips, though, and they will be delicious.
BUY a container of pre-made hummus and ZHUSH it with a sprinkling of za’atar or dukkah.
BUY a jar of salsa and ZHUSH it with fresh chopped cilantro and lime juice.
BUY a container of tzatziki and ZHUSH it with fresh chopped mint and dill.
Cheese always seems like a good idea for a picnic, but an hour or so in, when the wedges are sweating and rubbery, not so much. The solution is to dress your cheese so that it’s not all naked in the sun.
BUY a block of feta and ZHUSH it with olive oil, thyme, and chili flakes.
BUY a log of fresh goat cheese and ZHUSH it with olive oil, orange peel, thinly sliced shallots, and black pepper.
BUY a ball of fresh mozzarella and ZHUSH it with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh chopped basil.
A plate of flat cold cuts is, objectively, depressing. But cold cuts are your picnic friend, and with about three minutes of work, they can go from dull to delightful. Choose whatever meat you like, the more thinly sliced the better, grab a package of crispy breadsticks, and get crafting.
BUY cold cuts or sliced cured meats and ZHUSH it by smearing a small amount of softened butter on the breadstick (or those extra-large pretzel sticks, yum) and wrapping the meat around.
Fruit salad is a superstar summer salad, and always a picnic pleaser. All that melon balling can be tiring, though. While pre-cut fruit salads from the grocery store can sometimes feel lacking, with the right zhush they’re bound to feel exciting.
BUY pre-cut mango and ZHUSH it with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of chili powder.
BUY pre-cut pineapple and ZHUSH it with a squeeze of lemon and shredded coconut.
BUY pre-cut melon and ZHUSH it with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of poppy seeds.
BUY pre-cut mixed fruit and ZHUSH it with a squeeze of lemon and fresh chopped mint.
Yes, you can buy a sleeve of cookies and set them out and watch them dutifully disappear. Or you can make the world’s simplest sandwich cookies and watch everyone at your party devour them with glee. Your choice.
BUY thin tea biscuits and ZHUSH it by spreading a layer of (store-bought!) lemon curd in the middle.
BUY thin ginger cookies and ZHUSH it by spreading a layer of Nutella in the middle.
BUY shortbread cookies and ZHUSH it by spreading a layer of raspberry jam in the middle.
BUY thin chocolate cookies and ZHUSH it by spreading a layer of peanut butter in the middle.
On a hot day, there’s nothing better than a cold can of seltzer. Even better is a cold can of flavored seltzer (I’m looking at you, pamplemousse LaCroix). Even better is a cold can of flavored seltzer spiked with something fruity so that it feels more like a cocktail, without any shaking or stirring required.
BUY lemon seltzer and ZHUSH it with a shot of ginger syrup.
BUY orange seltzer and ZHUSH it with a few dashes of aromatic bitters.
BUY berry-flavored seltzer and ZHUSH it with a shot of huckleberry syrup.
BUY lime seltzer and ZHUSH it with a shot of Sriracha margarita syrup.
You can tote all your zhush-able groceries to the park in plastic grocery bags and bring a roll of paper towels for cleanup, but we’re going for low-impact specialness, remember? The delight is in the details.
DITCH the grocery store bags and ZHUSH your picnic with a real life picnic basket.
DITCH the paper towels and ZHUSH your picnic with linen napkins.
DITCH the disposable forks and ZHUSH your picnic with real cutlery.
DITCH the paper plates and ZHUSH your picnic with melamine plates.
What’s your favorite way to zhush store-bought foods? Let us know in the comments!