Lack of Pinterest

A good picnic is about more than creating the perfect charcuterie board, explains Lindsay Zier-Vogel.

Summer, 2020 / No. 45
Thomas Blanchard

Lindsay Zier-Vogel takes her analogue activities seriously. For years, the writer and soon-to-be children’s author—her books Letters to Amelia and Dear Street are both upcoming—has crafted and anonymously distributed handwritten notes of admiration to her hometown of Toronto (and encouraged others to do the same) through the Love Lettering Project. She’s also one of the voices behind Swimming Holes We Have Known, a blog aimed at spreading a love for aquatics.

Zier-Vogel’s other obsession is something she shares on a more intimate level: the art of picnicking. “I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t picnicking,” Zier-Vogel told Taddle Creek recently. “When I was a kid, with my family, we took whatever salami sandwich we had and ate it outside.”

After an ill-fated move to Vancouver, in 2007, Zier- Vogel returned to Toronto and found herself living near several friends for the first time in her adult life. “I didn’t live in residence during university. I’d never had that everyone-lives-in-the-same-place sort of feeling before, and then suddenly I did,” she said. “So, I would lead the charge on these picnics. I would bake and get everyone to bring their beverages of choice, and we would go to Trinity Bellwoods Park. And I realized how much fun it was to be able to have a meal with a whole bunch of people without having to do a million dishes afterward or to not have enough space for everyone. I remember one time we picnicked for ten hours.” Winter was not a deterrent to Zier-Vogel’s newfound hobby. “I was like, You can’t picnic in the winter, until one morning I was like, Wait, what if you could picnic in the winter. And that was when I realized, Oh, I think that I love this a lot. A lot more than just a thing I do once a year. This is how I want to spend time with people that I love.”

Plenty of people enjoy a picnic, but not everyone has the knowhow to host a really great one. So Taddle Creek asked the photographer Thomas Blanchard to tag along on a food-centric outing with Zier-Vogel and two of her friends, the author Teri Vlassopoulos and the dance artist Kate Holden, to see how it’s done. Zier-Vogel also offered to share some expert picnic tips with the magazine’s readers.

Teri Vlassopoulos and Kate Holden share the literal fruits of Lindsay Zier-Vogel’s labour—and some afternoon conversation—in the park.

Tip 1: “My favourite thing to bring to a picnic is Mason jars. Here’s the first tip: You put ice in one Mason jar and then, if you’re bringing some sort of alcoholic beverage, you put that in another Mason jar, and then you bring a third Mason jar with lemonade. And bring however many Mason jars you need to drink out of. Always bring extras. That way, you have ice, and instead of drinking lukewarm whatever, you’re drinking fancy cold drinks. It’s genius.”

Tip 2: “My other favourite thing is to make fruit crumbles or cakes in little Mason jars, because, again, you just put the lid on and you don’t worry about things spilling or anything going astray.”

Tip 3: “I think it’s nice to invite someone you don’t see often, especially in an outdoor context. People are always so delighted to be invited to a picnic. ‘I don’t think I can make it.’ I’ve never received that response.”

Tip 4: “I feel like people get really freaked out about making some Pinterest-level charcuterie board. It looks lovely, but I don’t think it’s necessary. [Magazine photo shoots excepted. —Editor] You can just open your fridge, open your pantry, and grab a bunch of stuff. It will still taste better, and it will still be lovely.”

Tip 5: “I usually plan one thing, whether it’s a special cocktail or a special dessert. I usually do one baked thing, and then the rest is a bit of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants situation.”

Tip 6: “Soft cheeses on a hot day—not advisable.”

Tip 7: “I have designed the perfect picnic blanket. It has a canvas fabric on top—gingham, because it’s the most photogenic of the picnic blankets—and then, underneath, I used that plastic you line your cutlery drawers with. I sewed that to the bottom, because even if you’re sitting on the grass, moisture soaks through the blanket. This blanket is key to a winter picnic, because then you can just put it on the snow and not get wet.”

Tip 8: “The other key to a winter picnic is to dress more warmly than you would otherwise, because you’re just going to be sitting around. Also: food you can eat with mittens on. Like, empanadas are great. Things you don’t need dexterity for. And a hot beverage. No ice!”

Transporting a chocolate cherry cake with cream cheese icing (top) isn’t easy, but your guests will appreciate the effort. A mess-free dessert that’s easy to carry is peach crumble baked in a Mason jar (middle). Lidded jars are also perfect for holding drinks and ice, like this raspberry lemonade (above).