Picnic Gear Guide

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To me, summer is synonymous with picnic. Sure, there are barbecues. There’s abundance in the garden too. But summer—warm weather of any sort as a matter of fact—makes me crave a picnic more than just about anything.

For Christopher and me, that used to mean an elaborate spread paired to both the wines and ambiance of a certain place (ah, the rigors of living in wine country). Just as often now, though, it means we raid the fridge and head to the Plaza where we can nibble while our daughter roams. It can even mean throwing down a blanket in the garden, as I do with Noemi when she’s cranky; it’s amazing how ‘declaring’ a picnic can lift a mood.

In terms of gear, picnics can run the spectrum. I’ve pulled together a few of my favorite options, whatever your style may be, for our first ever Summer Picnic Gear Guide:

The Basics

  • Fold-up Blanket — We keep one of these stashed in the truck at all times for impromptu picnics. All that’s needed is wine, cheese, bread and friends and you’ve got yourself an afternoon to remember.
  • Recliner – Our friends had one of these at a concert in the Plaza recently and I’ve been coveting them ever since. They’re super-sturdy, adjust to six different positions and fold flat to carry.
  • Mini Grill Grilling — These adorable little grills are small enough to keep in your trunk (along with your Impromptu blanket) with a bag of charcoal. Have sausage, will picnic.


  • Minimalistic — Another impromptu winner. Glasses, plates, flatware and a cooler built into a nifty-looking sling-on.
  • Simple and whimsical — There’s something about this sprightly tote that screams BEACH to me. It’s got a lightweight aluminum frame with an insulated, waterproof interior and canvas exterior.
  • Everything-you-need on your back — If you’re more apt to bring a picnic on a hike in the mountains than a jaunt to the beach, then this is the backpack for you. It’s made of 600 denier polycanvas and has plates, utensils, napkins, a cutting board and even a fleece blanket. Just pack it up, pop it on and go.
  • A roller to goAnother has-everything-you-need combo, only on wheels. It’s even got salt and pepper shakers.
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Corn and Quinoa Pasta Salad

This pasta salad was a hit when Alison and I made up a giant batch of it to serve at the Taste of Sonoma event a few years ago. I first made this for a potluck picnic at church and no less than five people came up to me and said, “Did you by chance make that quinoa salad? It was de-LICOUS!” (when pondering what to name it, Sierra even recommended Really Yummy Pasta Salad). And here I was afraid the quinoa would freak people out. Truth is, there’s a lot to love about this salad: a healthy dose of whole grains in the form of quinoa and whole grain penne, a break from basil with chives and parsley, and a lip-smacking tart-sweet balance from the corn and lime juice combo. This pasta salad is a potluck winner, whether you’re making it for a backyard barbecue or a high-end event. And, yep, you can make this pasta salad a day in advance — in fact it tastes even better when you do because the flavors have time to develop.

Corn and Quinoa Pasta Salad


Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Yield: Serves 6

Corn and Quinoa Pasta Salad


  1. 1-1/2 cups water
  2. 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  3. 2 tablespoons snipped chives
  4. Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  5. 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  6. 2 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lime juice
  7. 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  8. 1 garlic clove, minced
  9. 1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
  10. 1 cup mixed cherry tomatoes, sliced cross-wise into 1/4-inch slices
  11. 1 cup squash or zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch wedges
  12. 4 ounces whole grain penne, cooked and drained
  13. 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  14. 1/4 cup pitted Nicoise olives, halved lengthwise
  15. 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese


Combine 1-1/2 cups water and quinoa in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

While quinoa is cooking, pound the chives to a paste in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk in olive oil and scoop into a small bowl. Whisk in lime juice, vinegar and garlic, and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine quinoa, corn, tomatoes, squash, pasta, parsley, olives and feta. Pour dressing over top and toss well to coat. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.