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Dining Al Fresco Can Be a Recipe for Risk


From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

Temperatures in the 90s, even the 100s, have driven many people to seek air-conditioned refuge for the duration of the heat wave. Some hardy souls undoubtedly still insist on holding picnics. After all, 'tis the season for al fresco dining.

For those who insist on eating outdoors, WEEKEND EDITION food essayist Bonny Wolf has some advice.

BONNY WOLF reporting:

It's all about the table. Eating outdoors is appealing, but do we have to sit on the ground? The idealized picnic is splendor in the grass, lush parks, shade trees, blue skies, big blankets, wicker baskets, children playing Frisbee as grownups put out the spread. But the lush parks are dotted with hidden rocks, clumps of dirt, and bug condos. The shade trees drop leaves, twigs, and pine needles in your hair and in the potato salad.

Blue skies one minute yield to thunderstorms the next. The blanket instantly becomes a rumpled mess the moment the first person attempts to sit down on it. And the wicker basket is too heavy to lift, let alone carry. Oh, and you forgot the corkscrew. If you're at the beach, add a little sand in your food, the flavor of suntan lotion with your watermelon, and, of course, the promise of a painful sunburn.

To be honest, a picnic without a table is no picnic. Some places are worse than others. You'll long for regular black ants if you picnic anywhere but a high porch in Texas, home of the fire ant. Fire ants are aggressive, stinging insects, and they work in gangs. They swarm up your leg and attack. It feels like you're on fire. Fire ants can kill small animals, so leave the pets at home. Then there are mosquitoes, gnats, flies and yellow jackets. Let's face it. This is insect party time.

The picnic discomfort doesn't stop with the bugs. There is the food, too. Gooey barbecued chicken slides off the soggy paper plate on to your white pants. Your cup of wine, if you get the bottle opened, inevitably spills on the disheveled blanket. And a wayward Frisbee knocks over the just opened jar of pickles.

The Victorians were major picnickers. Like today, picnics were casual. They only took two or three servants who went ahead with the joint of cold roast beef, the iced champagne, and the kerosene burner for tea. There was sometimes a tent to provide shade from the sun and protect from tree droppings, and other droppings. The feast was served on fine china and silver candlesticks adorned the table. Yes, the table. Now that's a picnic.

HANSEN: Bonny Wolf is a contributing editor of NPR's online food column, Kitchen Window. Check it out for more summer food ideas at npr.org/kitchenwindow. Wolf's book, Talking With My Mouth Full, will be published this fall. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bonny Wolf
NPR commentator Bonny Wolf grew up in Minnesota and has worked as a reporter and editor at newspapers in New Jersey and Texas. She taught journalism at Texas A&M University where she encouraged her student, Lyle Lovett, to give up music and get a real job. Wolf gives better advice about cooking and eating, and contributes her monthly food essay to NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday. She is also a contributing editor to "Kitchen Window," NPR's Web-only, weekly food column.