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It's Picnic Time 

Go casual or classy - just go outdoors

It's not officially summer for another couple of weeks, but for all intents and purposes, summer started on Memorial Day. And summertime means picnics. The word "picnic" comes from the French word picque-nique, which first appeared at the end of the 17th century. The "picque" part comes from the verb piquer - to pick, as in "pick up a basket and stuff it with food." The "nique" part is probably just a rhyming appendage, kind of like the English "hoity-toity" and the American "tighty-whitey." Originally, a picnic was a party to which every guest brought some food, a pot-luck dinner of sorts. This carried over to the term "picnic society," which described gatherings of educated people where everyone was expected to perform at the picnic or contribute in some other way to the success of the event. It was not until the 19th century that picnics became associated with meals eaten outdoors.

Today, a picnic can be almost any outdoor meal, usually informal. It can range from a New England clambake to a Southern barbecue to some slapped together sandwiches and potato chips. Picnic prerequisites include at least one dish people are afraid to eat because it contains mayonnaise that just might have spoiled from being out in the sun too long, having to scrape bird doo off the picnic benches before you can sit down, and forgetting a vital tool like a corkscrew or lighter fluid. And, most important, leaving a plate of food off to the side in the hopes that the inevitable parade of hundreds of ants will march there instead of onto the food you're trying to eat.

Some people elevate picnicking to a fine art. On Sundays in June, Symphony Park near SouthPark Mall is the place for free concerts and fancy picnics. You can see Hawaiian-themed luaus, linen-draped, candelabra-topped tables and everything in between. Folks arrive early to stake out their spot on the lawn, and many of them come toting picnic baskets that can cost hundreds of dollars — without any food or drinks. For that crowd, the days of paper plates, cups and napkins and plastic knives and forks are long gone. Now it's de rigueur to carry a European hand-woven willow basket loaded with imported ceramic plates, crystal stemware, linen napkins, and polished stainless steel flatware.

Whether your picnic consists of hot dogs, potato salad, lemonade, watermelon and Chips Ahoy or sliced beef tenderloin, asparagus frittata, chilled pinot grigio and strawberry-kiwi tart, pack your Styrofoam cooler or your rattan basket and get outside and enjoy. The ants won't care if they're eating off of Chinet or china plates, and neither should you.

linda.vespa@creativeloafing.com

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