Packing the perfect picnic basket

Picnicking is the ultimate summer pastime in Charlottesville. From live outdoor concerts at night like Fridays after Five in the Downtown Mall to lounging all day at scenic vineyards like during King Family’s Sunday polo matches, there are so many reasons to get together with friends and family for some al fresco dining. (TEASER: I’ll describe these events in more detail in later a blog post.)

Now that we’re about half-way through the summer, I’ve developed a tried and true method for packing the perfect picnic basket.

Find fun finger foods

Sometimes I’ll take the time to make sandwiches and salads, but oftentimes, I go with the most simple picnic meal – a cheese and/or charcuterie plate. It’s quick yet still filling, and obviously goes well with the usual drink of choice in this region and season – wine.

Here’s an example of an array of goodies that I usually have:

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  • Variety of cheeses (check out this article from Real Simple Magazine for specific suggestions). If you’re going to be outside all day and don’t have cooler, make sure to pack some hard cheeses like Manchego that can withstand the elements better.
  • Dried sausages or other meats like prosciutto and pate
  • Fruits that aren’t messy or fussy when cut or peeled like grapes and clementines
  • Mixed nuts that act as a healthier salt/crunch substitute for chips
  • Bread or crackers to pair with those softer cheeses that spread easily like goat cheese
  • Already cut-up veggies and hummus to sneak in a little more nutritional value

Shop till you drop

The best places to pick up the above foods:

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Just a glimpse of one line of tents set up at the Charlottesville City Market. It starts to get crowded around 10:30 to 11 a.m. so try to get there early if wanting to avoid lines.

1)      Charlottesville City Market – Fresh and local with unique items not in stores, plus you can usually snag a sample before buying so you don’t blindly commit to a purchase. There are also tons of tents serving cooked food like tacos, crab cakes and omelets so this also makes for a cheap and easy brunch option. Personal preferred pick for a picnic: I’m really into Everona sheep’s milk cheese because of its nutritional value and rich flavor.

2)      Feast – Such a fun store because they have so many samples and everything here is also local (including wine!) Personal preferred picks for a picnic: Port cherry and blue cheese dip (such a decadent combo) and just-sliced salamis sold in small portions.

3)      Foods of All Nations – Pretty convenient in the fact that it’s a small grocery store with lots of local products so you can pick up everyday merchandise, along with special picnic snacks. Personal preferred pick for a picnic: Slightly creamy Appalachian cheese in the local cheese case.

4)      Trader Joe’s – Even though it’s a chain, it still has a lot of unique and healthy options. The cheese case also offers more variety than the average grocery store. Personal preferred pick for a picnic: The cheese soaked in Syrah wine.

Pack with care

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My husband and I got this picnic “basket” (actually a backpack) for a wedding gift almost three years ago. We used it maybe once or twice when we first got it and then it went into storage, yet just in our past 10 months of living in Charlottesville, we’ve used it at least five or six times. Before all the summer events popped up, we liked taking it with us to picnic on the Lawn on Grounds of the University, or as we set out on a hike in the woods.

You don’t necessarily need something fancy like ours, but the essentials are:

  • Bottles of water
  • Bottle opener/corkscrew
  • Mini cutting board and knife
  • Drinking glasses/cups
  • Plates
  • Napkins
  • Hand sanitizer and/or wipes
  • Mat or blanket

What are your favorite picnic spots in and/or around Charlottesville?

(Summer) Separation Anxiety

Before Michal left for the summer last week, we spent our last weekend in Cville together enjoying everything we love about the area: gourmet food, local craft beer and the outdoors. I wanted some quality time because we were about to embark on one of the two hardest times during B-School for couples.

These times are:
1) Recruiting season during the first year (while balancing academics and social life)
2) Spending the summer apart (including classes abroad like the Global Business Experience, GBE, and internships in another state).

Side note: Check out this hilarious blog featuring gifs illustrating life as a partner of someone in B-school. This is not a Darden blog, but I did find it through an older Darden partner.

As soon as Michal’s spring semester ended, he began a class to prepare for his GBE in Israel. When he returns from traveling abroad, he will go directly to Detroit to begin working and will stay there pretty much until fall semester starts. In our eight years as a couple (three years married), we’ve never done long-distance. (I don’t count my student teaching year in Detroit while Michal was a senior at Michigan State in Lansing because that was only an hour and half apart.)  So you can imagine the trepidation I felt.

I tried to ignore the looming absence by making the best of the unexpected free time we had due to a rare weekend void of Darden-related activities by staying outdoors in the gorgeous weather and visiting places we’ve wanted to try: Charlottesville City Market, Know Good Beer Festival and Jones Run/Doyles River in Shenandoah National Park. Below are the highlights of each adventure:

Top row from left to right: Michal and I near the Starr Hill tent at the beer fest, tacos at the farmer’s market, popsicle stand nearby. Bottom row from left to right: Waterfalls in Shenandoah, Michal and Stephen admiring art at the McGuffey Art Center during the fest, Michal hiking

On Saturday morning, strolling through all the stalls and tents, we had to taste a little bit of everything at the farmer’s market from chorizo and steak tacos with freshly made tortillas to a Thai-style strawberry and coconut milk Popsicle. Everything we tried was yummy, but my all-time fav dish from our walking “brunch” was the hearty crab cake at only $8.

Later in the afternoon, we met up another friend at Darden who loves beer as much as we do, as he also brewed for the Three Notch’d competition that Michal participated in last month. We all agreed that this inaugural beer fest was one of the better we’ve attended as it focused on local brews – many that we had not tried or even heard of. Of the new ones I tried, I particularly enjoyed the smooth Wit at up and coming James River Brewing Company, the light 3 at the hip Flying Mouse Brewing Company and the refreshing Blonde Hunny at the slightly more established Wild Wolf Brewing Company. I prefer Belgian-style ales that are slightly sour, or session citrusy wheat beers that are perfect to sip and savor on a hot, sunny day. Bonus: Another unique aspect to this beer fest was the fact that it was at an art gallery.

The following day, we spent some time driving through scenic Skyline Drive and hiking through an incredible waterfall wonderland. The views, especially of the various falls throughout our hike, were breathtaking and reminded me our travels in Costa Rica and Thailand. It was a relaxing and peaceful hike, as we ran into other people sparingly. And on certain points in the mountains, we’d get respite from the heat with a cool breeze or dipping into ice water.

 

Charlottesville offers nearby hiking, biking options

Hiking (or biking) doesn’t have to be a hassle.

When the weather is way too gorgeous to pass up, but we don’t feel like making an hour-drive to Shenandoah, Michal and I find some nearby nature preserves, parks and trails that serve as a quick, outdoor workout or a convenient date. Below are the three best options for us – all within a 20-minute drive of Darden/Charlottesville.

Side note: Personally, I prefer the relaxed mode of hiking over intense mountain biking!

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Rivanna Trails <5 minutes of a drive from Darden

Located all throughout the city of Charlottesville, we found one entrance across the street from our apartment complex. We’ve tried walking as well as biking. It can actually pretty tough terrain for biking with some steep inclines. The scenery varies depending on where you start, but these are a few fav views near the river where it’s a little more flat.

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Walnut Creek Park ~20 minutes of a drive from Darden

Trails surround a huge lake with lots of people kayaking, canoeing and fishing on a warm day. Michal and I have only done mountain biking out here, which I found a bit easier than Rivanna Trails as there were longer runs that were not so steep and winding. (I am definitely not an expert biker!)

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Ivy Creek Natural Area ~10 minutes of a drive from Darden

This is my highlight as it earns points for close location and scenic views. It’s really unique in the fact that beavers used to overpopulate the area, as evidenced by trees with missing chunks of trunk. I appreciated how there were placards that we could take with us to help us note interesting flora, fauna and wildlife.

What are your favorite Charlottesville area hikes or outdoor workouts? 

Creative expression takes on new forms in Charlottesville

I’d consider myself pretty crafty more than artsy.

Example of “Crafts”

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Back in the Midwest, I loved going to scrapbook stores with friends (yes, they were also in their mid-20s like me) for lock-in nights where we’d spend hours working on piecing together the perfect pages with mementos, photos and doodads like stickers, borders and cut-outs. People have joked that I’m like Ms. Frizzle because I have a cart of items that resembles an elementary school teacher’s closet. (Think: hot glue guns, holiday-themed cardstock, iron-on letters, etc.)

A couple friends even threw me a scrapbook-themed bridal shower in the Chicago area, in which each guest created a page as an activity.

But now that I’m in a new area, I thought I’d stretch my creativity and try more “hip” projects. (Plus, there don’t seem to be any scrapbook stores around…) I found some pretty sweet LivingSocial deals for easy art lessons that were BYOB, which allowed for some quality bonding time with my Darden partners.

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Tips & Tricks

Painting: I was grateful that the instructors at Wine & Design penciled in the perspective of the winding trail in the landscape that we were painting because that would have taken me, a less experienced painter (I took one intro. class in high school), way too long to figure out. I also liked being able to eat, drink, chat and paint at a leisurely pace. Lastly, I appreciated how the business granted the Darden Partners Association a discount code for future visits, regardless of whether we were in an organized group meeting vs. going out on a date night with our student-significant other.

Glass Art: As for The Glass Palette, I was a bit intimidated as I have never worked with this medium. But the instructors again made it super easy by breaking the different colored glass into pieces beforehand. We just had to arrange them into patterns by gluing pieces on to tiles, and the instructors later put them into the kiln to make into bowls. If we wanted to get complicated, we had tools at our disposal to cut up the glass even more, but it wasn’t necessary. With this experience, definitely eat beforehand as it’s unsafe to have food near all the glass and glue.

Would you consider yourself “artsy” or “crafty”?