The Lunch Lady

Who doesn’t love a picnic?

by Cindy Lazarenko


Kids are great. They get you to do things you would not normally do. I could spend hours on a lazy Sunday morning skimming over Instagram and reading cookbooks, but when a 9-year-old rushes in and exclaims she’s going on a picnic with her bestie in 45 minutes, well, it’s time to put inspiration into action.

In a little over 20 minutes we have: found containers with matching lids; not enough apple cider in the jug for two so why not add some Lipton Iced Tea crystals, a top-off of water and squeeze of lemon; where is the funnel? ‘It’s ok mom, I’ll make one out of paper.’ (I would not have thought of that).

In no time at all we have buttered bread slices, hard-boiled eggs from yesterday sliced up and sprinkled with salt, Havarti cheese and slices of porchetta. A banana and a few granola bars and she’s all set. Off she goes. I am left to clean off the chopping block and sweep up some iced-tea powder off the floor.

I love that she’s going on a picnic.

I hop on my Electra Koa 3i Ladies old-school bike with my wicker basket secured nicely on the back rack. In it is my perfect picnic. Thick slices of salty, glazed smoked ham sandwiched between fresh buttered Bonjour Bakery baguette with a smear of the Jam Lady’s red pepper curry mustard. The sandwiches, of course, are wrapped in Abeego bees wax wrap (Sabrina Butterfly). There are Gala apples (Steve and Dan), Brie cheese (Cavern). Big green Cerignola olives (Italian Centre Shop). Crunchy vegetable salad (Culina Muttart Café). Seasonal fruit. A chilled bottle of Costaripa Rosé (Color di Vino) wrapped in a locally made Mezzaluna hand towel along with jam jars for drinking it in.

And now I’m awake. I must have gone back to bed to look at more Instagram photos and dozed off. While that is definitely my dream picnic—woven baskets complete with checkered tablecloths and champagne flutes, the reality is more like this—tacky plastic tablecloths to cover up the pigeon poop on the sun-bleached, worn out public picnic tables chained to the ground. Coleman coolers and brightly coloured beverage containers. The Big Red Cup and Royal Chinet. While a patchwork blanket is charming and makes for a great Instagram picture, I’ve yet to attend a picnic gathering that didn’t involve a folding chair of some type; much easier on the back.

I love to be spontaneous about a picnic, simple with minimal preparation. When we have good picnic weather we have to grab the opportunity because everything tastes better outside with sunshine and a cool breeze. To help you be spontaneous, stock the pantry with lemonade, bags of salty snacks, kettle chips, roasted cashews or pistachios; olives, pickles, canned fish, crackers or crispbreads, and the fridge with cheese, triangles of brie, smoked cheddar or a wedge of Manchego.

There are so many wonderful bakeries in Edmonton to help you simplify, offering much more than bread to make it a one-stop shop. Bon Ton Bakery sells mini baguettes, which would be great to keep stocked in your freezer. Sunbake Pita offers freshly made fatayers with meat, sausage, cheese and spinach in ready-to- go 12 packs. While you’re there, grab a bag of mixed nuts and a cold drink to wash them down.

Stop at your neighbourhood deli for German butter cheese and a good chicken liver pâté. Slather it onto a fresh slice of dark rye, you’ll be glad you did. A few crunchy pickles wouldn’t hurt either.

My oldest daughter says her ideal picnic basket would include pulled pork sandwiches and lots of veggies and dip. Pulled pork is super easy to make in the slow cooker and freezes well. Make some marinated onions. No time to cook? Victoria Fancy Sausage sells pulled pork every Wednesday, and you can also pick up a bag of Portuguese buns while you’re there.

Marinated Onions
My mom never served pork to guests without marinated onions. These are great on any sandwich or with any type of roasted meat and will last for a week or so in the fridge.

4-6 white onions – sliced very thin
2 c sugar
1 c vinegar
1 T mayonnaise
½ t celery seeds
salt and pepper to taste

Put the onions in a large mixing bowl. Pour sugar and vinegar and mix thoroughly. Marinate in fridge for 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Drain. Add mayonnaise, celery seeds and salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.

Cindy Lazarenko is the co-owner of OnOurTable Ltd. and the catering manager for Culina Restaurants. In her spare time she feeds the Highlands/Bellevue Besties youth group every Friday night and is getting ready for the 4th Annual Highlandia Neighbourhood Music Festival.