Urban Picnic Advice: Cool Down, Eat Up A new book offers picnic advice for those frustrated by urban life — or by picnics themselves. The Urban Picnic has guidance about everything that can go on a blanket, from food and drink to music. Its authors say their goal is to help people have a good time, simply.
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Urban Picnic Advice: Cool Down, Eat Up

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Urban Picnic Advice: Cool Down, Eat Up

Urban Picnic Advice: Cool Down, Eat Up

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Today's holiday, Memorial Day, started as a time to put flowers on the graves of the dead after the Civil War. In more recent times, it has also become a day for parties and for picnics; except, of course, for those who despise picnics. It is partly for those people that a new book seeks to bring an outdoor tradition to life. Here's NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg.


Forget "Howards End." Think Howard Stern. That's the advice of John Burns and Elisabeth Caton in "The Urban Picnic." Its subtitle is longer than this radio program; to wit: "Being an Idiosyncratic and Lyrically Recollected Account of Menus, Recipes, History, Trivia, and Admonitions on the Subject of Alfresco Dining in Cities Both Large and Small." Whoo. Mr. Burns and Ms. Caton join us from CBC Vancouver. Hi.

Ms. ELISABETH CATON (Co-author, "The Urban Picnic"): Hello.

Mr. JOHN BURNS (Co-author, "The Urban Picnic"): Hi.

STAMBERG: So you're telling us, forget "Howards End," which means no gorgeous, big wicker hampers lined with linens, champagne flutes, and think Howard Stern. What does that mean?

Mr. BURNS: Well, I think if you're lucky enough to have a lover in your life who's going to put on the full linen deal, I think you should definitely say yes.

STAMBERG: Ah, yes.

Mr. BURNS: Howard Stern--I'm saying, you know, it's possible, find the one tree that grows in Brooklyn, sit underneath it and have a sandwich.

STAMBERG: Well, give us some examples of perfect urban picnic food, and please, something that doesn't involve hours of preparation.

Ms. CATON: There are lots of quick salads that you can chop up fairly briefly and toss with a bit of dressing and a sprig of parsley, and away you go.

STAMBERG: Well, I like what you do with the sesame potatoes. That's sort of a new riff on potato salad.

Ms. CATON: Well, it's a nice little Asian touch there; basically just very small, delicious new potatoes, lightly steamed, and I toss them with just a little hoisin sauce so that they're coated, and I mix that with a little bit of spicy black bean sauce to add a tiny zip, a bit of sesame oil. And the potatoes, while they're hot, are rolled in this mixture, just tossed in the pot, and then I pour them out onto a plate of sesame seeds, so that each one is coated with sesame seeds, and when they cool, they are so scrumptious. They're not potato salad, but they're worth trying. They're very good.

STAMBERG: Sounds good. You also give suggestions for music to be played at various kinds of picnics, and my choice--I want to go to the veggie brunch, because you're playing Morgana King and Scott Joplin piano rags.

Mr. BURNS: Well, my friend Yergin(ph), who put together the music, he and I often talk about food, and the big thing about food for both of us is that food--you know, it's a shame if food is just something you ram in your mouth on your way between meetings; that really, you should try and get some kind of sensual, holistic things happening with a meal. And the part of it for both of us is music. In a good meal, music is as much a part of the experience as conversation and wine and the setting and the food. It all goes together. And he had a lot of fun. There's a red, white and blue picnic, actually. There's a menu where the colors of the foods are all supposed to go together in red, white and blue, and he was delighted to think, OK, so what's the music going to be for that as well?

STAMBERG: And what did he choose?

Mr. BURNS: "Mood Indigo," "Red Sails in the Sunset," "Deep Purple." You can see where he's going with all of this, and I had to stop him because he actually had about eight times as much as I could put into the book.

STAMBERG: That's great. Well, look, all this sounds delicious and fun, musical even, but the bottom line is picnics mean ants, schlepping, bugs, dirt, dirty dishes, all kinds of things you have to haul to and from. Somebody always falls down. Somebody always needs a Band-Aid.

Mr. BURNS: You know, I mean, life is messy. I think you need to make a choice. You know, are you going to have low-fat scones and an Americano from Starbucks for your lunch or are you going to go the extra mile? And, sure, you have an extra five or 10 minutes of washing dishes. I say it's worth it. I say good things in life take a certain investment and picnics are one of them.

Ms. CATON: Hear! Hear!

STAMBERG: Thank you both so much. John Burns and Elisabeth Caton are the creators of "The Urban Picnic," a complete paperback guide for picnic lovers and the rest of us. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

INSKEEP: If you're headed for a picnic of your own today or any day, you can find a recipe for barbecued lemon chicken at npr.org.

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