Picnic Baskets

"Rain, rain, go away; come again some other day," I said, staring at the puddles in my saturated front yard. This was maybe the third time this year I'd planned a picnic, a proper outdoor meal with husband Patrick and friends Bernice and Frank. Wine, bread, cheese, pâté, and cold salmon -- all ready to go the night before, all eaten indoors as we watched the rain fall outside. I like preparing food, but I'd had enough. I decided to search out premade picnic baskets, the sort that would be ready to go at a moment's notice on a surprise sunny day.

Linda Gorin at The Best to You (858-578-2740; www.thebesttoyou.com) told me, "We have all kinds of picnic baskets. Right now, we have a spring special on The Sunday Picnic [$100]." The large, double-handled, dark wicker basket includes cheese, crackers, sausage, black olive tapenade, wine biscuits, cookies, chocolate, nuts, and more. "We buy our gourmet goodies from all over the country," said Gorin. "We have a hickory-maple-smoked cheese that won Best Cheese in America. And we can customize any basket. If you're on a diet, we can put in healthy snacks, or make it sugar-free, or low-carb. We can make it kosher, or add more chocolate. Sometimes a really big family is going on an outing, and they want more food. Sometimes people want a scaled-down version." (Prices vary with various upgrades.)

These days, Gorin said, there's a trend toward "picnic baskets that come with all the accessories. They're lined, with pockets for silverware. They include the plates, the cutting board and knife, the corkscrew, the napkins, and the salt and pepper shakers." Along these lines, The Best to You offers a Romantic Picnic Basket ($70, no food included) and a Family Celebration Basket, a pull-style tote ($165, food included). Also, "Coffee backpacks, which can come with a stainless steel coffee service, two stainless steel mugs, containers for cream and sugar, spoons, napkins, and a compartment to put your baguette or bagels or goodies [$57 and up]. You could have breakfast in the park. There are also wine carriers, which are really popular. You just add the bottle of wine; it comes with two glasses, a bottle stopper and a bottle opener, a cutting board and knife, and a place for your cheese and baguette."

"For workaholics, we have something called Picnic at Your Desk. It's a basket with a cutting board, knife, and cheese -- and other foods that are easy to open. We put in some silk leaves, so they maybe feel like they're outside [$50-$150], depending on customization."

All local orders are hand-delivered, with rates varying by zip code. "Central San Diego, La Jolla, or Mission Valley are about $10. A little further east or north, the price may go up to $12 or $12.50."

A Gifted Basket (619-698-3226; www.agiftedbasket.com) owner Pam Monroe suggested "the deluxe picnic basket for four [$140, delivery $7.50-$17.50 depending on zip code]. It's gorgeous, it's lined, and it comes with a blanket, melamine plates, eight-ounce wine glasses, stainless steel utensils, corkscrew, cutting board, and salt and pepper shakers. For $60 more, we can add food. All the food can be opened up; there's nothing to prepare -- things like cheeses, crackers, caviar, salsa and chips, salmon pâté, dried fruit, cookies, and really good candy. We can customize it when it's hand-delivered."

Amy Lind, owner of The Basket Corner (619-722-6893; www.thebasketcorner.com), described a few of her original creations. "People call and let us know what they're looking for and their budget. Last week, I designed a basket for a couple with twin two-year-old daughters. The budget was $200, including tax and delivery. I used a large cooler, three by four feet, and got sand pails and towels with a preschool theme. There were animal crackers, juices, and kids' snacks. We also had a few gourmet snacks for the parents. And we received a design award for Picnic in the Park [$124.95], which includes sparkling cider, flutes, a bottle opener, napkins, cutting board and cheese carver, plus gourmet finger foods like cheeses, chocolates, sausages, and nuts." Lind offers cooler/basket designs starting from $49.97; baskets can be picked up at the studio or delivered ($5-$20, depending on zip code).

Last, in a fit of optimism, I called Jose Rojano at Bon Vivant Catering (619-442-4563, www.bvcatering.com). I hadn't come across many catering companies that catered picnics. "We had a couple of clients who were going to the Starlight to catch a show," Rojano told me, "and they asked us to do a picnic basket for them." Now, it's a regular offering. "We feature three different baskets -- and you get to keep the basket. The lower end, which we call the Lunch Basket [$65], is a regular basket with a little throw blanket. It comes with Brie, fruit, and crackers, red potato-dill salad, gourmet sandwiches, and a Caesar salad. We have three different options for the sandwiches: a grilled vegetable sandwich, a grilled chicken sandwich, or a turkey/bacon sandwich on a croissant with alfalfa sprouts."

The Double-Lid Basket ($85) includes "domestic and imported cheeses, crackers, fruit, a baby-greens salad, a chilled roasted game hen, and chilled asparagus." And the Deluxe Basket ($125) features "plastic plates, cups, and utensils, a salad of mozzarella, tomato, and basil, chilled filet of beef on a bed of caramelized sweet onions, grilled seasonal vegetables in a light vinaigrette, shrimp cocktail, and a salmon pâté." All baskets offer two bottles of water.

"For an extra charge, we can custom-make you a menu, if you like," added Rojano. "Any special request. We could always make you a hot meal. Or, if you wanted it to be extremely special, we could arrange for the picnic to be set up at your choice of locations, with the blanket, candles, and music. Depending on what you want, we can go really expensive or inexpensive. Our prices include delivery, and we can meet you at the park."

1. Coffee backpack

2. Picnic basket tote

3. Sunday picnic basket

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