I caught up with Kelle Hampton this week. You may know Kelle as the author of Nella Cordelia’s Birth Story, the breathtakingly honest recollection of the moment when she gave birth to her second child and realized her baby had down syndrome. The wise, lyrical, touching truths proffered by Kelle in that post are continually updated and added to weekly on her blog. Peppered with immaculate photography, and a welcome mix of musings and sagacity, life in the world of Kelle Hampton is the perfect balance of realism and idealism. Of daily doldrums and magical makings. She somehow finds a way, day after day, to capture the bliss of the ordinary moment. Here, she shares with us, her tips for creating The Perfect Picnic.
In recently perusing old photo folders on my computer, I couldn’t help but notice how many were titled “Picnic.” And, upon opening them and clicking through image after image of my little one from the time she was barely sitting up until now, perched upon checkered blankets, smiling through strawberry-stained lips and peanut buttered cheeks, I couldn’t help but be proud. Proud that I’ve managed to create a memorable tradition and put our own special spin on a family treasured classic…the Picnic.
In a day and age where the convenience of fast food meals are replacing the savory scents of a home-cooked meal and shorthand e-mails are substituting the art of a hand-written letter, I find myself longing for the comfort of old-fashioned traditions—moments which force us to leave the manic madness of schedules, phone calls and to-do lists to truly enjoy the simple things of life with our “littles.”
“Goin’ on a pink-nink,” my daughter calls it, and we do it often, toting our blanket and basket full of goodies into our woods, beside the lake a few blocks away or even simply in our backyard. And while what we pack in our picnic is not nearly as important as the moments we share, I’ve found some classic must-have treats that are simple enough to make keeping the event of a picnic an attainable repeated goal while being special enough to make it a treasured memory.
It’s in the details—choosing a pretty dish to replace a paper plate, parchment paper in place of a sandwich bag, old jelly jars to store cookies and nuts, and a few flowers for a centerpiece. Together, these meaningful elements represent not only a thoughtful mama, but they paint beautiful portraits of childhood memories for your littles to cherish.
The Picnic Basket: Everyone should own a good picnic basket. It’s an investment. Ours was a wedding gift—a bold and confident leap for the giver—to steer from the obligatory registry list—but indeed a well-appreciated leap. It’s sturdy woven wicker is padded with good insulation. Its hidden straps tuck away its own collection of plastic cups and plates. And, best of all, it fastens close with thick leather belts and gold buckles. Although it only has four years of beach and backyard picnics to its name, I look forward to the day of tarnished buckles and worn leather, of broken weave and scuffed and weathered wicker. Yes, the perfect picnic basket is a must
The Picnic Blanket: Whether it’s your grandma’s old quilt or a pretty-printed sheet, what you spread out on the ground and lay your feast on sets the scene for a memorable picnic. If you don’t have a nice blanket or aren’t comfortable with dragging one outside, a red checkered tablecloth gives a classic feeling to your event (and a plastic one with a felted bottom is compact enough to be conveniently stored inside your basket).
- The Essentials: These are the unperishable items you can leave in your picnic basket at all times—the things that make picnic dining a little easier.
A Bottle Opener
Napkins (I like cloth to make the event more special)
A Sheathed Sharp Knife
A Paper Lunch Bag (for garbage)
A Bundle of Silk Flowers: Drop them in a jar you’ve emptied cookies out of and, Voila—the perfect picnic centerpiece!
Travel-sized Bug Spray
The Sandwich: While grilled paninis and double-decker hoagies might be impressive, I like to keep my picnic sandwiches simple. My daughter loves plain ‘ole peanut butter on wheat bread that I might jazz up a bit by peeling off some crust and pressing a heart-shaped cookie cutter through its layers, but there are many fun variations you can make with simple ingredients in your kitchen for the perfect picnic sandwich. Try peanut butter & banana, cucumber and cream cheese or tuna and tomato. The final touch? I love to wrap my picnic sandwiches in parchment paper, twist the ends like a peppermint candy and tie them with a ribbon. It adds a bit of old-fashioned picnic charm—not to mention, it turns a sandwich into a present to be unwrapped.
Seasonal Fruit: By packing a fruit, I feel I meet my nutritional mama quota and make up a little for areas of my picnic where I might slack a bit (ah yes, the soda). In fall, we bring apples and slice ‘em up fresh once we get to our destination, and in summer, we pack heaps of lush strawberries and blueberries.
The Drink: My favorite drink for a picnic is an old-fashioned soda (you’ll need a bottle opener as these kinds usually don’t have twist-off caps). I keep my eye out at supermarkets and specialty stores for fun retro-looking bottles or out-of-the-ordinary treats like ginger beer or cream soda and try and keep a secret stash hidden for special occasions like picnics. Because it’s a treat we only enjoy once and awhile, my daughter is thrilled when I slip a straw in the bottle and let her enjoy her own grown-up soda. But the best part is, retro soda bottles held by pudgy little hands make for beautiful picnic photos—picked-off nail polish a plus, of course.
Nuts and Sunflower Seeds: Another nutritional bonus, a small jar of nuts and seeds packed somewhere in the basket makes for a tasty treat.
Cookies: Again, one could pull out all the stops when it comes to a picnic dessert and even go so far as towering frosted cake layers on a fluted stand. Impressive? Yes, but hardly practical. My favorite picnic treats are simple ginger snaps or shortbread wafers—even store bought—and stored in glass Ball jars to keep the nostalgic element of an old-fashioned picnic.
And, if all else fails, make it a point to bring along your camera. Photograph not just the obvious moments but the subtle ones as well—close-ups of little fingers clutching sandwich halves, strawberry juice dripping down chins, black crows that lurk behind your basket in search of leftover crumbs. Together, they represent the beauty of the moment, the importance of tradition, and the reward of spending time with your kids while they are young, completely impressionable by spontaneous decisions for backyard picnics. And someday, years later, when you’re perusing old photo folders on your computer and you land upon the images of strawberry smiles and peanut buttered cheeks, you’ll be glad you did it. You’ll be glad you took time for the perfect picnic.
Kelle Hampton is a photographer, blogger, and stay-at-home mom based in Naples, Florida. Her glass-is-half-full musings and vibrant life-as-art photos can be found at kellehampton.com.