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Food and Drink

Kick off a summer of love



Long summer days. Sultry summer nights. What's summer, if not romantic? And with newly-weds Kate and Will's high-flying visit still in full swing, at least some of Canada is basking in the power of love.

So why not spread the lightheartedness and plan the summer event that comes with a full pedigree of pleasure, good cheer and, if you do it right, good simple food. Plan a jolly good picnic!

When it comes to fun and entertainment value, picnics have changed in form and function but stood the test of time - almost. These days as I sit on my picnic blanket and gaze out over parks and beaches, I think that way too many of us have forgotten the art of picnics. Either that or we're too busy shopping and texting.

While pinning down the history of picnicking is about as elusive as pinning down Puck and his magic potions in Midsummer Night's Dream, no doubt the concept originated in France. We can track the origins of "picnic" to "piquenique," probably a playful reduplication stemming from the French "piquer" meaning "to pick."

So even the term "picnic" stems from fun, something like other reduplications we use playfully, like "riff-raff," "helter-skelter" and even "hip hop."

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary states that "picnic" historically described "an entertainment" where each person brought a dish of something or other to contribute to the common whole. These "entertainments" were often held indoors.

Sounds more like what we'd think of today as potluck, which in itself is a strange enough term when you think about it. Nonetheless, both terms allude to the idea of "picking" something that will add to a whole bigger than the sum of its parts. Then you get to pick again when it comes time to eat. If you're lucky both times, your choice will satisfy at least most appetites.

Sure, you could take some cold crispy-fried chicken, a sinfully rich potato salad or a whopper of a fragrant, juicy melon on its own and have a pretty decent time of it. But put them all together under a shady tree on a sky-blue, diamond afternoon and you've got a sensual, sensational feast. Add a few good companions - ideally everyone contributes something - et voilĂ  , some real fun.

This may well have been what ...Edourd Manet had in mind when he painted his sumptuous and best-known painting, Le déjeuner sur l'herbe , or Luncheon on the Grass, as it translates.

It features a gorgeously natural, nude woman front and centre, sitting in polite repose while in conversation with two dapperly clad men in a shady glen. The scatterings of a picnic - a wicker basket, bread, some fruit and perhaps brioche - are scattered beside her amidst crumpled blue linens, which could be her clothing, picnic tablecloth, or both. Above the luncheon group, a second, semi-nude woman dabbling in a stream hovers like an apparition.

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