There are two words that make us think of summer more than any other: picnics and Tanglewood. And while we love both al fresco meals and listening to a spectacular concert at Tanglewood, the gorgeous home of a world-famous outdoor live-music series since 1937, we love them even more when they’re combined into an evening wining, dining, hanging out with friends, and soaking in the incredible scenery and art.
All this got us thinking about the elements of a great Tanglewood picnic—something with wide enough appeal that it can please the varied tastes of a group, but still offer special little tidbits that make the whole experience that much richer. So we turned to Dan Mathieu, co-owner of MAX Ultimate Food and one of Annie’s all-time favorite chefs. Keep reading for Dan’s tips on how to pack the perfect Tanglewood picnic.
1. Set aside your foundation pieces: a table, chairs, and cooler, plus a bag for collecting used items, bug repellent, and a couple of blankets. Dash & Albert’s woven cotton throws are soft, durable, and cozy, and you can toss them in the wash for quick cleanup. Keep these items as simple as possible, for easy breakdown and packing up at the end of the night. A rugged tote, like this one from Dash & Albert, will help you collect all of your smaller items in one place.
2. Stock up on cocktail foods for nibbling. Dan likes a variety of cheeses, hummus, crackers, vegetable and kettle potato chips, sliced sausages, bowls of nuts, and bowls of local, in-season fruit like cherries and blueberries. Pack enough utensils for serving, as well as for individual diners. We love these reusable sets (including chopsticks!), made from recycled plastic, from To-Go Wear—an eco-friendly (and economical) alternative to disposable plastic.
3. Don’t forget the drinks, cups, and linens. Wine’s a definite for Dan, but you can also add beer or cocktail coolers. Serve them in these adorable acrylic tumblers from World Market; they’re stemless, so you can set them on the ground without worrying about tipping, and they add a dash of cheer to your setup. Likewise, fabric napkins are a must; Pine Cone Hill’s Chevron Denim linen/cotton napkins are generously sized, absorbent, and have a luxe hand-feel.
4. Think inside the box. Years ago, Dan racked his brain to come up with a way to do a Tanglewood picnic effortlessly yet stylishly, and he hit on a brilliant idea: the bento box. With all its little, neatly organized compartments, it offers each guest his or her own personal-sized sampling of several fun dishes. Dan uses traditional bento boxes, which stack up nicely in a cooler or tote bag, but we also like these adorable and colorful boxes from Takenaka.
5. Snap up some salads. Not only is there a salad to please every palette, but most can be served chilled—perfect for picnics. For the bento box above, Dan made a shrimp and artichoke relish, a tomato salad, a potato salad, and used sliced grilled chicken to top a scrumptious corn salad. (Keep scrolling for the recipe below!) He added some nori rolls with avocado and shrimp for a tasty surprise.
By Dan Mathieu, MAX Ultimate Food
- 6 ears fresh corn
- 1 can artichoke hearts (or fresh hearts)
- 4 ounces olives
- 1 bunch scallions
- 1 red pepper
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 bunch basil, chopped
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Peel the corn and shuck the kernels off with a knife. Place in a bowl.
- Chop the artichoke hearts, olives, scallions, and red pepper to the desired size. Add the lime juice and the rice wine vinegar. Place the bowl in the fridge for a few hours, stirring the ingredients occasionally.
- When ready to serve, toss in the chopped basil, olive oil, and salt and pepper.