WHAT TO BRING
Al fresco might be an Italian phrase, but leave it to the French for picnic tips. The advice from a French writer for the UK’s Guardian website: small, easy-to-eat foods (salads, tarts), fruit (washed or cut up), charcuterie (cured meats, pre-sliced for convenience), cheese and bread (and we’d suggest something pickled, like asparagus spears). Include a cutting board and knife for prep work and serving. And to both chill your chow and give you something to drink as it melts, freeze a nearly full plastic water bottle, with a lemon slice or sprig of mint.
How about picnic brunch? Croissants and jam, bagels and lox, yogurt with fresh fruit and granola, coffee (Iced? Maybe a side of Bailey’s Irish Cream). Or pick a theme, like Mexican fiesta: burritos, guacamole, chips and salsa (the ultimate finger food), churros for dessert.
Other sources offer practical advice: a can opener (huh?) and wet naps (definitely), a tarp (goes under the blanket, or if it rains unexpectedly, over everything) and plastic bags (for cleanup).
You’ll need a way to haul your movable feast. Canvas bags, backpacks, soft coolers, even plastic bags work. For panache — and a hard, level surface from which to cut, pour and serve — traditional baskets like the Capitola ($99, World Market, 6125 N. Division St.) include cutting board, fabric napkins, corkscrew and wine glasses. The Piedmont ($130), with plates, flatware and strap-on blanket, is large enough to carry all that… and your little dog, too (not really, but it looks like Dorothy’s from Wizard of Oz).
Not much of a cook? Impress your dining partner with a gourmet meal from a local market like Huckleberry’s. At Main Market (44 W. Main Ave.), supplement pesto pasta or quinoa salad with fresh-made sandwiches (vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options). They’ll even box up the ingredients separately, so the bread doesn’t get soggy. All you have to do is just assemble and enjoy.
WHERE TO GO
Bordered by lovely old South Hill homes and lush greenery, Spokane’s Manito Park (1702 S. Grand Blvd.) is a 90-acre treasure that caters to nature lovers of all kinds. Classicists love Rose Hill with its heady perfume of flowers. Colorists will appreciate Duncan Gardens. And peace-lovers seek the tranquility of Nishinomiya Japanese Garden, tucked into sloping greenery and surrounded by a wood fence.
Sit by the koi pond, contemplate the mysteries of life and nibble quietly on your sushi rolls from Ginger Asian Bistro (1228 S. Grand Blvd.). The Las Vegas is popular, or try the Pearl — tuna and yellowtail in cucumber and Ponzu sauce. Chopsticks included.
Still hungry? Manito’s Park Bench Cafe is open daily, 8 am-7 pm, through September. Wednesday during lunchtime and Friday evening, enjoy free music and No-Li beer on tap. (Technically not a picnic, but close enough.)
Want to add music to the mix? Bring your picnic basket to Arbor Crest Wine Cellars (4705 N. Fruit Hill Rd.) for Thursday “Performers on the Patio.” Of course, chairs might be more comfortable (reserve a table for $30-$50 depending on the number in your party), and you really can’t go wrong with Arbor Crest wines (available for purchase).
For an extra challenge, work up an appetite by first riding (or walking) around Lake Coeur d’Alene. Go hard-core, the full 84 miles, or start slow; it’s about 5 miles from City Park to Bennett Bay (where the trail climbs upward) on Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive.
Fuel up first at Pilgrim’s Market (1316 N. Fourth St.) with to-go salads, small plates, organic fruit and cold beverages — they have a gourmet selection of beer, wine and sake. The beauty of this picnic is you can stop anywhere along the trail. On the way back, cool down with ice cream from Rogers Ice Cream & Burgers (1224 E. Sherman Ave.), which tastes even better outdoors.