Dining al Fresco
Perfect Picnic Picks
When the weather (finally) turns warm, there are plenty of places for a child in Calgary to see and be seen.
Bringing your own is generally a more economical option, and ensures your brood doesn’t spend the summer eating corn dogs and screamers (slushies made into floats with a blob of soft ice cream – the orange ones are worth spending an hour at the gym).
Picnicking need not be complicated. Someone somewhere came up with a list of what could be categorized as picnic food and what could not – when really, anything you can easily transport can be labeled as picnic food. In fact, many things your kids might not eat at the dinner table could go down easier when sitting on a rock beside the river. I keep a blanket in the trunk of the car, along with some diaper wipes (if they’re gentle enough for bottoms, they are gentle enough for faces and hands), an extra bottle of sunscreen and a bunch of forks I picked up at a church sale for 10 cents apiece, so that I’m always prepared for impromptu outdoor feasts.
If you’re out and about and want to stop and pick up a picnic, the options are not limited to sandwiches and coleslaw from a grocer’s deli. At lunchtime, many Chinese take-out restaurants offer lunchboxes where you fill a box from the buffet, or call ahead and pick up an order of noodles or fried rice to go.
Here are some other picnic picks:
Chicken Shawarmas at Jimmy’s A&A Deli: Jimmy’s food isn’t a well-kept secret anymore – there’s a reason for that. Everything at the A&A Deli (1401, 20 Avenue NW) is fantastic, but especially their overstuffed shawarmas; eat yours in shorts and flip flops so you don’t have to worry about drips, and run through the sprinkler afterward to save on napkins. Small children adore the well-seasoned but not too spicy chicken; the older kids can decide what goes on their sandwiches, which are all rolled up in neat pita bread packets; pick up a container of tabuleh salad or olives; and for dessert, any of the ten types of Baklava they have to choose from.
Melton Mowbray Pork Pies from Little Jack Horner at the Calgary Farmers’ Market: There’s no need to heat up these authentic farmhouse-style pork pies – just cut the ball-shaped pie – crammed with sage-flecked, diced and ground pork, glistening in a rich pork jelly and encased in a crisp, freestanding, hand-raised pastry crust - into wedges and serve. If there are adults present, it goes well with stilton cheese, mustard and cold, cold beer. For the kids, hold on to those packets of ketchup and mustard from the drive-thru for these occasions. And while you’re at the market, pick up some fruit and veg and a bottle of Vital Green Farms chocolate milk.
BBQ Pork Buns from Logo’s Cakehouse: There’s a little Asian bakery in the Central Landmark building (which houses the K&Y Supermarket) on the corner of Centre Street and 16 Avenue that makes fantastic, pillowy buns amply filled with a sweet, finely chopped mixture of pork and onions. Being self-contained in a soft bun with no pieces big enough to pose a choking hazard makes them perfect for picnicking or car snacking. The bakery is set up a little like the bulk section of a grocery store, with plexiglass cases showing off buns stuffed with other fillings as well (there are even teeny colorful cakes and cookies, too).
Chicken and Fritters at Chicken-on-the-Way: When the family is out swimming, running, climbing and hiking, the extra activity helps justify the crunchy, mahogany fritters dipped in honey and bags of hand-cut Alberta fries from Chicken-on-the-Way (on the corner of 14 Street and Kensington Road NW). But the biggest appeal is the packaging: Everything is wrapped in a box and then in brown paper to keep your fingers out until you arrive at your destination.
Burgers at Rocky’s Burger Bus: (As seen in the 2002 issue of Gourmet Magazine!) If your schedule includes a stop at the Blackfoot Farmers’ Market, you must stop at the big red bus wedged into the gravel at the corner of 11 Street and 46 Avenue SE for the gently hand shaped AAA burgers that are thicker than they are wide, hand cut fries and onion rings. Eat it on a picnic table on the hillside or take it to go. While you wait for your order, DJ’s fruit and vegetable market right next door has some of the best produce prices in town.
And remember: if you take your bambinos for slurpees, 7-Eleven will fill any cup you bring in for a dollar. That’s good for the environment and for your pocketbook.
Julie is a best-selling cookbook author, food writer, cooking instructor and the food and nutrition columnist on the Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio. She lives in Calgary with her husband and her son, Wilem. Watch for her cooking show, It’s Just Food, with co-host Ned Bell on Access TV and CLT stations across Canada. For recipes and daily ramblings visit her blog at dinnerwithjulie.com.
Written by Julie Van Rosendaal
Jimmy’s A&A Deli 1401 20 Ave NW (403) 289-1400
Logo's Bakery & Cakehouse Ltd. 1623 Centre Street North (403) 230-1688
Calgary Farmers’ Market 510 77th Avenue SE (403) 240-9113