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Picnic upgrades – from humble to high-class

THERE’S something almost magical about leaving the grind behind and heading outside into nature. The open air makes even the simplest foods taste better and the dullest of moods brighten. So, it’s no wonder the versatile picnic is such a go-to when it comes to hosting anything from a get-together with friends and family, or even a romantic date.

At Spicers Sangoma Retreat, a luxe getaway in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, a little over an hour from Sydney, creating memorable alfresco feasts for guests is all part of the service.

We asked the experts for tips to help take our picnic game from humble to high-class in the comfort of our own backyards. And if you imagined five-star status just involved splashing out on expensive treats, you’d only be half right. Equally important is clever planning and forethought, says Sangoma general manager Bede Hunt. One of the most important details, he says, is deciding on the emotion you want to evoke – particularly if you’re planning something special for the one you love.

Champagne and cheese at Spicers Sangoma RetreatChampagne and cheese at Spicers Sangoma Retreat

“Love is all about knowing your other half and when it comes to a picnic experience, especially at Sangoma, we focus on the little things that trigger happy memories,” Hunt says.

This could mean anything from including a special drink you enjoyed on your first date to splurging on guilty pleasures such as caviar and vintage champagne.

Or it might be something as simple as making sure your feast includes their favourite macaron or fresh-baked pastry. “Whatever it is, it’s about uncovering and remembering what that special something is, and weaving it into the experience,” he says. “In the past we have organised rare whisky. We have organised a chef to freshly shuck oysters, organised an acoustic guitarist to serenade a loved one and we’ve even organised sky writing for a proposal.”

Putting together an indulgent outdoor feast as a way to get together with friends or family requires different strategies to ensure the day goes smoothly.

“This should be all about fun and engaging experiences that bring the group together,” says Hunt. “Try things like bocce, croquet, simple and fun card games such as Uno and grazing boards filled with tasty morsels.”

Croquet at Spicers Clovelly EstateCroquet at Spicers Sangoma Retreat

In the past, Sangoma has organised group experiences ranging from outdoor yoga and meditation, to cocktail-making classes and even an adult version of pass-the-parcel. But bringing along a bat and ball and organising an impromptu game of cricket, or soccer can be fun, too.

Whatever you do, don’t skimp on guest comfort. Styling a picnic is an opportunity to show everyone how much you appreciate them coming. “Less is more does not apply in the instance of a luxe picnic,” says Hunt. “It’s all about going over the top with pillows, cushions and blankets to ensure maximum comfort.”

“With more and more people staying home due to COVID19, picnics are so easy to do in your own backyard and it is a great way to make yourself feel like you are away from all the craziness,” says Hunt.

“Fill the space with deliciously indulgent styling elements such as oversized fluffy pillows and cushions, snuggly blankets and an enormous rug as the base. Shade cloth adds a touch of romance and beauty to the space. If shade strips are not practical, find a spot under the shade of a tree in your own garden.”

Timing is key. Autumn weather is less likely to leave guests sunburnt, but Hunt suggests heading out in the afternoon, when the sun is lower and the chance of catching a beautiful sunset is high. “Find a quiet corner, somewhere private, and most importantly, beautiful and romantic. Lush green grass is preferred. Be wary of ants nests.”

Picnic at Spicers Sangoma RetreatPicnic at Spicers Sangoma Retreat

And for the all-important snacks? Sangoma head chef Will Houia, says success is all about preparation. Tarts, unsliced fruits and hard cheeses are a struggle to cut outdoors and without the right equipment, so it’s best to tackle as much as you can before you set off. “The picnic blanket is your dinner table, so use the kitchen to prep before you leave,” he says. “Bite-sized morsels are much easier to eat picnic style. Fork food should be kept to a minimum.”

In the case of food, more is not necessarily better. At Sangoma the focus is on simplicity done well, he says.
“A grazing board-style picnic is the best option when dining picnic style. Load your basket full of quality seasonal produce, delectable shaved meats and opulent fruits. But only in-season produce on the day or the day before, if possible.”

French Cheese Master ClassCheese board at Spicers Sangoma Retreat

Even though you are only in your backyard, to make it feel like you are somewhere else enjoying a picnic overlooking some picturesque landscape, still pack your picnic basket but don’t go overboard. “If you overpack a picnic there’s more chance of ruining it,” he says. And when it comes to packaging, eco-friendly is the way to go. Nobody wants nature to suffer for our fun. Avoid single-use and non-recyclable items.

“Against popular belief, organic waste should not be disposed of (thrown) in the bush or your garden. Organics require a special environment filled with bacteria, fungi, worms and other organisms to decompose correctly and efficiently,” Hunt explains. Look after Mother Nature and odds are, she’ll return the compliment on your next outing!

WILL HOUIA’S TARAMASALATA

  • 500ml neutral oil
  • 200g smoked cod roe
  • Juice of 1 plump lemon
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place roe, lemon juice, and garlic into a blender.
Once blended, slowly add oil and season to taste.
The consistency should be thick and creamy.

HOUIA’S TOP 10 PICNIC PICKS

  • Macarons
  • Mini-baked savoury and sweet tarts
  • Tinned Ortiz anchovies
  • Green Picholine olives
  • La Luna Ring goats cheese by Holy Goat, Victoria
  • Emporium Triple Cream Brie, from Gippsland
  • Roaring Forties Blue Cheese, from King Island
  • Jamon Iberico de Bellota, or prosciutto
  • Artisan sourdough
  • Cooked wild caught tiger prawns on ice

Written by Fiona Donnelly. 

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