"Everything tastes better outdoors. There is something about fresh air and the liberating effects of nature which sharpens the appetite and heightens the quality and intensity of sensations." Claudia Roden - Picnic
Yesterday was my birthday and since we are still not allowed to meet in each other's homes we decided on a winter picnic in our local park. Fortunately it was sunny, but it was chilly, although, to be fair, not as chilly as we expected. Half of Eltham was there, because this is the park where the miniature railway runs to the great delight of all small children, although because of COVID you have to book in advance and only a very few are allowed on at a time. So our youngest grandson missed out alas.
But I wasn't there for the train ride. I was there for the fun and the company. Here I am cutting the cake - and what a cake. It was a two layer blueberry cake sandwiched and iced with lemon icing and decorated with lemon slices. And - here's the thing - made by my two gorgeous granddaughters, who quite justifiably were very proud. And yes it really did taste as good as it looked.
A picnic in winter is not what you think of first of all in terms of birthday celebrations is it? Well a winter picnic full stop. When I started on this topic and searched for pictures I found this very cute one - obviously not taken in Australia because of the snow, but you get the idea. It's cold!
Each family contributed to the food on offer - but soup was not an option because to be honest I don't think any of my family eat soup. A major failure on my part. I should educate them.
In addition to the cake, my younger son's family contributed some cinnamon buns, also cooked by the girls, and sausage rolls - cooked by mum. None of it healthy, bit it's a party so anything goes. And we certainly didn't need any dinner that night. I brought along some crumbed chicken pieces, together with herbed mayonnaise and a spicy - too spicy really - BBQ sauce. I have a lot of it left which I suspect will just have to be thrown away eventually, due to David's chilli aversion. I also brought lettuce and wraps and pickled capsicum and also radish, because I thought that they all might to make wraps out of it all. But no. The wraps went home unused - as did the lettuce, but I have to say the mayonnaise was a hit, which I found rather surprising, even if it was home-made.
My older son brought artisan sourdough bread and cheese but forgot to bring a knife. There
s always some hiccup like this at a picnic. So we tore at the bread and used the one knife that my daughter-in-law had brought for the cheese. It worked. Indeed tearing off little chunks of bread was strangely satisfying and somehow very French.
Because the park is so popular I think all of the tables had gone, but we found three benches overlooking the completely empty sporting oval - empty because it was completely waterlogged - there was even one section just below us that was rather like a pond.
So no kicking the football there, but fortunately there is another oval where the dogs run free - and that was where the children and the dads went to kick a ball and have fiercely contested races in which several of the dogs competed too. The vast piece of green you see below is the boggy oval.
The sun shone, the moon hung high in the sky, white and mysterious as always.
We are so privileged in this beautiful part of a beautiful city, to have such parks available to us for such things. Eltham has several of them, as does virtually every suburb in Melbourne - even the inner ones. Sydney does not seem to have quite as many. And every weekend they will be full with people gathering together to celebrate something or just to have fun, whilst they cook a few sausages on the barbecues that are scattered around, or eat copious numbers of sausage rolls and meat pies.
Of course not every day is suitable for a picnic. I don't know what we would have done if it had been one of the days earlier in the week when it rained for hours, but I suspect even then people might have found a way to gather together - those barbecue areas are in small covered areas after all..
After the football it was time to cut the cake and, embarrassingly, sing Happy birthday to me followed by an even more embarrassing clapping of hands - one clap for every year of my life. It took a while.
It was all pretty much perfect, especially so in time of lockdown. Family is so important and so different now from my own children's childhood, when we were the quintessential nuclear family - no relatives at all. So next time it's a sunny day and you have nothing else to do gather your friends and/or family and meet at the local park for hot soup perhaps, definitely sausage rolls, and maybe a cooked 'snag' or two. And cake. Let there be cake. It's such a wonderful thing to do - like a mini holiday just five minutes down the road.