Lemon Thyme and Ginger

Easy Picnic Food Ideas for Late Summer and Fall

Just because the days are getting shorter doesn’t mean we need to hunker down and stay inside. This time of year, the nights are cooler but the sun is still warm and shining. Even with the cooler temperatures, one can still feel the warmth of the sun on their back and soak in all the rays. Sit back on a picnic blanket with friends and family and close your eyes to the sun and relax. A late summer/early fall picnic is a wonderful way to enjoy the season. Gathered here is a collection of easy picnic food ideas and recipes to inspire you for your next outing.

Easy picnic food ideas and recipes.

Picnic food and your spread do not need to be a Martha Stewart event. In addition to serving fresh and delicious food, great picnic food should be easy to transport, have minimal prep work, and keep its freshness over time. You can make it as fancy as you want, but eating outside is a relaxing casual affair, so the food prep should be easy and relaxed too.

In my childhood, the standard picnic food was sandwiches or hot dogs cooked over an open fire. There is a reason these items are still popular. Sandwiches are perfect picnic food. You can make them gourmet, or PB and J, and they do not require plates or utensils to eat them. Wrap them up in parchment or wax paper, then later the paper performs double duty as the “plate”. You can eat half, then cover them up in the wrapping it came in. Then run off for a game of Frisbee.

I included a recipe for grilled chicken sandwiches made on focaccia, with smoked mozzarella, avocado, arugula and basil mayonnaise. Use your favorite bread, but make sure it will last for a couple of hours without getting soaked or smashed.  Smushed sandwiches are never fun to eat so pack your sandwiches carefully.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas and recipes

Grilled chicken sandwiches with smoked mozzarella, avocado, arugula and basil mayonnaise.

What is it about the fresh air that causes people to want to snack on salty food? I don’t know, all I know is I am right there with everyone else chomping down on chips when I play outside, go to the beach or hike. Nibbles or snacks are always great picnic food, but you don’t have to go crazy and buy out the store. I recommend, one item for an appetizer, and one salty crunchy snack, like chips. It is easy to go overboard with the snacks, but they are not the only food items at the picnic. No one will return home hungry.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas and recipes

Muhammara and Artichoke Tapenade

A terrific picnic appetizer is tapenade. Pictured in my picnic photographs is artichoke tapenade, a recipe I made from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz. The recipe I used from this book is a little different from the recipe on his website, but it is still delicious and easy to make.

Another great spread or dip is muhammara, roasted red pepper dip. Muhammara is one of my favorite vegetable spreads. Both spreads are gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan. Serve either with crusty bread, pita chips, or cut vegetables.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas with recipes

Fruit salad with watermelon, nectarines, herbs, and a spicy lemon honey dressing.

I believe every picnic should include some fruit. Ripe fruit is great picnic food because most fruit is naturally designed for individual servings. Fruit provides a bright and fresh taste to counterpoint the rich sandwiches and salty snacks. It is very refreshing. I am craving watermelon now so I included it for this blog post, but any fruit will suffice. You can either slice the watermelon, cut it up into chunks for easy picking, or make a fruit salad.

For this article, I decided to make a fruit salad made with watermelon, nectarines, mint, basil, with a honey lemon and chili pepper vinaigrette. I love herbs with fruit and adding the bit of hot pepper brings out the sweetness in the fruit. Included in the post is the recipe for this fruit salad. Making a fruit salad requires having serving utensils and plates, or you can bring additional beverage cups to use. Then all you need are utensils.

Dessert should be simple and there are many options. One option is a light unfrosted loaf or single layer cake like gluten-free Nifty cake. This cake is made with oat flour and has a slightly nutty flavor. It is a light sponge cake that everyone will enjoy. For ease of transporting it, make it a single layer cake, (and without the whipped cream frosting as pictured in the recipe), and serve with the watermelon fruit salad.

Kitchen Sink Oatmeal Cookies reicpe

Kitchen Sink Cookies

Easy picnic food ideas and recipes.

Ginger Molasses Cookies

Another dessert option is cookies. Children young and old love cookies and they travel well. Kitchen sink oatmeal cookies are perfect for picnics. They are loaded with rolled oats, raisins, butterscotch chips, and chocolate chips. They can stand up to the heat of the day without melting and falling apart. Also pictured is, Ginger Molasses Cookies from Flour by Joanne Chang. Joanne is the owner of Flour Bakery in Boston. I love molasses cookies and wanted to test her recipe. In the link from the Boston Globe, her recipe is the second cookie recipe on the first page.

If you plan on bringing beer or wine, also include a non-alcoholic beverage like lemon-cucumber water or strawberry lemonade. Picnics are a time to drink responsibly, so keep your beer and wine on the low alcohol level.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas for Summer and Fall and recipes

Helpful Tips for Prep and Picnic Food :

If you are picnicking with friends, divide and conquer the food preparation. I have found people really like to participate and help.

Tapenade or Muhammara can be prepared the night before your picnic. You can also prepare the chicken and dessert the night before. This leaves making the sandwiches,  fruit salad,  and packing for the morning of. 

Along with your choice of beverage, bring water for drinking and cleaning scrapes or sticky hands. Also paper towels come in handy if something spills. They are light weight  and easy to stuff into a pocket.

Pack everything in a couple of insulated tote bags with ice packs. Keep your load light in case you need to hike to your picnic spot. Also bring a blanket to sit on. 

Don’t forget the trash bag. A lot of places are carry-in / carry-out parks, and often it is hard to find a trash can when you need one.

Bring a First-Aid Kit, especially if you are traveling with children. At a minimum bring Band-Aids and an antiseptic lotion. They are easy to carry in your wallet or zip-lock bag to store in your picnic basket.

Bee stings are common at picnics. The general advice is to get the stinger out quickly and apply ice, (or cool pack). Read the link for more bee sting information.

If you are serving alcoholic beverages, please drink responsibly.

Easy picnic food ideas and recipes.

Easy picnic food ideas and recipes.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas for Summer and Fall Grilled Chicken Sandwiches with Smoked Mozzarella, Avocado, and Basil Mayonnaise

Included are three recipes that are perfect for an afternoon lunch or light supper picnic. Grilled Chicken Sandwiches with Smoked Mozzarella, Avocado and Basil Mayonnaise. The other recipe is the Watermelon and Nectarine Fruit Salad with Spicy Honey Lemon Dressing. It may look like a long list, but there are several food items here for you to make and enjoy. In the notes is my recipe for the basil mayonnaise and a pesto. Use your favorite basil pesto recipe or follow mine, just omit the grated cheese and pinenuts. The prep time varies for each food item. The grilled chicken takes about 20 minutes to cook not counting the overnight marinating and cooling. The sandwiches take about 10 minutes once everything is cooked and prepped. The fruit salad takes about 15 - 20 minutes to make. Depending on how large your bread slices are will determine the amount of chicken, mozzarella and avocado you need to cover your bread slice. I made my sandwiches with focaccia about 4 x 4 inches in size. For the tapenade or dip, and dessert- click on recipe links in blog post. Enjoy your picnic.
Servings 4 servings
Author Ginger


Grilled Chicken Sandwiches

Grilled Chicken - Prepare the day before

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts 1.5 lbs / 750 g
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp of garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp of onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp of sweet paprika
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Lemon zest from half a lemon
  • 1 TB extra virgin olive oil

Grilled Chicken Sandwiches

  • 8 slices of good quality bread
  • About 1/2 cup 125 ml basil mayo
  • Grilled chicken sliced thin across the grain
  • About 4 oz 125 g of Smoked Mozzarella, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1-2 avocados cut into thin slices
  • Arugula

Basil Mayonnaise

  • 1- part mayonnaise
  • 1- part basil sauce*

Watermelon, Nectarine and Basil Salad with Spicy Lemon Honey Dressing

  • 1/4 Seedless watermelon cut into big bite size chunks
  • 3 ripe nectarines sliced into thin wedges
  • Small handful of Fresh Mint leaves
  • Small handful of Fresh Basil leaves
  • About 2 TB fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1/8 tsp ground chili pepper


Grilled Chicken

  1. The day/night before pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness then season both sides of the breasts with the salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, dried oregano, and lemon zest. Place the seasoned chicken on a plate or container and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  2. There should be a light and even coating of seasoning over the chicken breast, but not too heavy. Use your judgement about how much seasoning you want.
  3. Bring the chicken out of the refrigerator and rest on the counter 30 minutes before you want to grill it.
  4. Prepare your grill and proceed as you like, or use a grill pan on the stove top. Heat the pan to medium high.
  5. When the grill or grill pan is hot, add the chicken breasts skin side down at a diagonal to get nice grill marks. Cook for three minutes, then adjust the chicken breasts to the opposite diagonal position and grill for another 3 minutes. Turn over to the other side and repeat. If the chicken is not done cooking move the breasts to an indirect heat source on your grill and cook until done. If using a grill pan, turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook until done. About 5 minutes more depending on how big the chicken breasts are. The chicken breasts are done when the juices run clear after being pierced with a fork. Internal temperature is 170°F ( 77°C). Remove from the pan or grill and rest the chicken for 10 -15 minutes. Cool before making sandwiches.

Assemble the Sandwiches

  1. Smear and good coating of the basil mayonnaise (see recipe in notes) on both pieces of bread. Evenly cover one piece of bread with chicken slices, then add one slice of smoked mozzarella, or to cover the chicken if your bread slices are large. Layer the sliced avocado over the mozzarella. Add a small handful of arugula to the top and cover with the top piece of bread. If your sandwiches are large cut in half and wrap in parchment paper or wax paper. Refrigerate until ready to eat or go on your picnic. Pack in an insulated bag with a cool pack or ice to keep cool and fresh for your picnic.

Watermelon Nectarine and Basil Fruit Salad

  1. Mix the fresh lemon juice, honey, and ground chili powder in a small bowl. Keep stirring until the honey is completely dissolved. Taste and add a small pinch of Kosher salt. Set aside.
  2. Add the prepared watermelon and nectarines to a mixing bowl and gently stir to combine. Tear or snip the leaves of the basil and mint and mix together. Add the honey lemon dressing and stir. Taste and add more herbs if needed. Place in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid and keep in an insulated bag with cold pack, or refrigerator. The fruit salad is the last thing to make for your picnic, because fruit releases a lot of juice after it is sliced and with dressing.

Recipe Notes

To make the basil mayonnaise, I use a 1 - 1 ratio of mayonnaise to basil sauce. The basil sauce is essentially basil pesto without the cheese and pine nuts. Use your favorite pesto recipe without the grated cheese and pinenuts and mix together 3-4 TB of mayonnaise with 3-4 TB basil sauce until combined.

My general basil pesto recipe is 2 cups of basil leaves, 1 cup arugula or spinach leaves, 1 garlic clove - minced, 1 TB lemon juice, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, and 1/3 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. In a food processor, process the basil, arugula, garlic, lemon juice, and salt until the basil and arugula are finely minced and combined. Use a thin rubber spatula to scrape everything off the sides of the bowl. With the motor running slowly add in the extra virgin olive oil. You might not use the whole amount. I do not want it too oily or runny so I stop adding the olive oil when I reach a smooth and slightly thick consistency. I do this because I store the pesto in a container with an additional layer of olive oil over the top of the pesto.
If you want traditional pesto, add 1/2 cup grated roman cheese and 1/4 cup pinenuts before you add the olive oil, and process until smooth. Then add the olive oil. Pesto is best used the same day it is made, but will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Use can freeze pesto without the nuts and cheese, for up to 3 months. Pour a layer of olive oil over the pesto before freezing.

Where is your favorite place to picnic? Please share in the comment section below.

© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Here Comes the Sun: Papaya, Cucumber and Feta Salad

Sunshine salad with Papaya cucumber and feta recipe

Is it June? Cold and damp air surround me, along with dark grey clouds and constant rain showers. It’s so damp and chilly, I’m wearing my fleece jacket inside. This is not typical seasonal weather in New York. When will the warm days of summer arrive? Wrapped in my winter sweater, I gaze out my window and feel dreary about the looming storms. This past weekend, I got a rare 24 hours of warm glorious sunshine, but it was nothing but a tease. I am craving warmth and sunshine in any form.

Sunshine Salad of Papaya Cucumber and Feta recipe

In good conscious I cannot complain about rain. I value its importance too much. Yet, we all have a fickle relationship with rain. It is something that you want when you don’t have it, and something you hate when you do. However, this weather is getting me down. Desperate times call for the unexpected and if I cannot feel the sun on my back, I must taste it in my food.

This recipe for papaya, cucumber and feta cheese salad is a bowl of sunshine and a party of different flavors and textures mixed together. The ingredients include sweet tropical fruit, crisp vegetables, crumbly cheese, brined olives, and a citrus dressing. This is what happens when tropical paradise invites the Greek Islands over for a party. You are not sure how everyone will get along, but delightfully they harmoniously mingle and create a festive atmosphere. Even the cured Greek olives add a welcome note into the party.

Sunshine Salad with Papaya, cucumber and Feta recipe

Sunshine Salad with Papaya, Cucumber and Feta reicpe

Learn more about Papaya here.

I first discovered this papaya salad from one of my brothers in law. Tom made this salad for my mother in law’s 85th birthday party. I was curious how the papaya would taste with all the ingredients because papaya is not a fruit I typically eat or cook with. Tom took great care making the salad and arranged each layer like a sculptor attentive to every detail. We placed his salad on the table like a work of art, almost too beautiful to eat.

Sunshine Salad with Papaya, cucumber and feta recipe

As expected, the papaya salad was a huge success. Each guest stopped and admired the salad before they helped themselves. A lot of love went into making the salad, and in return love was given in appreciation. The fresh flavor of papaya and cucumber complemented the saltiness of the feta and olives. This unexpected pairing brought a delightful and subtle sensory experience. They say opposites attract, yet they also harmoniously blend and make for some of the best tasting foods.

Tom made this salad from a recipe in, The Inspired Vegetarian by Louise Pickford with photographs by Gus Filgate. This cookbook was first published in 1992 and Louise Pickford is a British cook and food stylist. Her intention was to inspire vegetarian cooking to mean more than sprouts and tofu. She certainly succeeded with this recipe.

Sunshine Salad with Papaya cucumber and feta recipe

Tips for making Papaya, Cucumber and Feta Salad

I slightly adapted Louise Pickford’s recipe, which she adapted from a feta salad recipe she first tasted in Astipalaia, Greece. First, I increased the amount of cucumber, then decreased the amount of feta. The contrast of the crisp cucumber with the soft papaya is refreshing. Adding more cucumber helps with the dryness of the feta cheese as well.

I also added fresh mint and eliminated the ground nutmeg. I am sure the nutmeg is nice, but I was hoping to create a fresh and sunny salad. The flavors of fresh herbs with a hint of spice from ground red chilies brought forward the flavors of the sun I dream of.

Papaya is ripe when the skin is yellow. The riper it is, the sweeter the taste. Like avocados, it is rare to find ripe papaya in the store. So plan to buy your papaya at least 3 days in advance. Hopefully, 3 days is enough time for the papaya to ripen.

If you cannot get papaya (or not a fan), substitute the papaya with ripe cantaloupe or watermelon. The olives might not pair as well with the watermelon, but they are easily removed.

I also like to serve this salad on greens dressed in extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. This papaya salad tastes great on peppery arugula or other slightly bitter greens.

Sunshine salad with papaya, cucumber and feta recipe

Sunshine salad with papaya, cucumber and feta recipe

Here comes the sun and summer fun with Papaya, Cucumber and Feta Salad. It is an unexpected and delicious salad and delight for the senses. And I say, “It’s all right.”

Sunshine salad with papaya, cucumber and feta recipe

Papaya, Cucumber and Feta Salad

Papaya and feta cheese is not your ordinary combination, but mixed with cucumber and cured Greek olives this recipe creates a beautiful and delicious salad. The mild sweetness of the papaya with the saltiness of the feta and olives blend perfectly. This is a fresh and unexpected salad perfect for a party or BBQ. Plan ahead because papaya's take a few days to fully ripen. Best eaten the day it is made. This recipe is slightly adapted from The Inspired Vegetarian by Louise Pickford, 1992
Servings 4 servings
Author Ginger



  • 1 cup / 4 oz / 125 g feta cheese crumbled
  • 1 large cucumber (about 14 oz / 400 g) peeled, seeds removed and chopped
  • 1 TB chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tsp fresh mint chiffonade
  • 1 large about 2 lbs 11 oz / 1 K 225 g) papaya
  • Shy 1/4 cup / 1 oz / 28 g pitted black Greek olives sliced thin

Salad Dressing

  • 1 TB extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 TB lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic crushed
  • Pinch of ground chili pepper


Make the salad dressing

  1. In a small bowl, blend together the salad dressing ingredients until well incorporated.

Make the salad

  1. In a medium bowl mix together the chopped cucumber, crumbled feta cheese and fresh dill and mint. Add two thirds of the salad dressing, about 2 tablespoons (38 g) to the feta and cucumber and mix. Cover the salad with plastic wrap and let the cucumbers and feta cheese marinate at room temperature for a couple of hours. About a half hour before you want to display the salad or eat, peel the papaya, cut it in half, then remove the seeds. Cut the papaya into bite size chunks. The papaya can be peeled and chopped in advance, but not too long for it to get soggy. Pour the remaining salad dressing over the papaya and mix. Arrange the papaya around the interior rim of your serving platter, then add the cucumber and feta mixture in the middle. Sprinkle with sliced olives and more fresh mint.
  2. Serve
  3. Papaya cucumber salad is best eaten the day it is made. Leftovers will keep well in the refrigerator, in a sealed container for 24 hours.

Recipe Notes

Papaya is ripe when the skin is yellow and the flesh is somewhat soft. If you cannot find papaya in your store, ripe cantaloupe or watermelon are great substitutes. You may or may not want to add the olives with the watermelon.

© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

The Best Pineapple Stuffing

The Best Pineapple Stuffing Recipe

Most people have a favorite Thanksgiving food. If it were ever omitted from the menu, their Thanksgiving celebration would not feel complete without it. A couple of years ago I discovered pineapple stuffing is the symbolic Thanksgiving placeholder in my family. They believe Thanksgiving is just not Thanksgiving without pineapple stuffing.

The Best Pineapple Stuffing Recipe

The Best Pineapple Stuffing Recipe

My favorite Thanksgiving food is not just one food item, but the whole meal. A coming together to gather, create, and give thanks: a celebration centered around special and delicious food and family. Each composite bite of turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and all the different vegetables is a sumptuous forkful of gratitude. I am always grateful and thankful for the love of my family, good health and well-being, and our amazing diversified bounty. For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.

Pineapple stuffing may not be a traditional Thanksgiving food, but it fits right in with all the usuals.  It is a perfect side-dish to pair with ham as a sweet and buttery spoonful of comfort. When combined with the salty/meatiness of ham, it is a flavor combination that will satisfy your cravings and calm your soul. I believe no ham is complete without the pineapple stuffing. Forget the pinned pineapple rings, pineapple stuffing is a lot more satisfying an easier to manage.

Learn all about buying and cooking ham here.


© 2016 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Lemon Plums: A Hint of Summer on a Winter’s Day

Lemon Plums from Chile in season at the end of winter. Recipe for low fat granola to go with homemade yogurt with lemon plums. A healthy and nutritious breakfast that the whole family with love.

I made a new discovery this past week. As I was walking around the produce department I spotted a fruit that I had never seen before, lemon plums. The color was what first grabbed my attention, a warm vibrant yellow with a thin smooth skin. Their shape is somewhat similar to a lemon and somewhat similar to a plum, but longer and a little larger. These days anything bright and warm looking will hold the attention of any skeptical winter weary person. The end of winter is here and we North easterners no longer see the virtue in the color grey. I stared at these lemon plums as if I was watching a long summer sunrise. Entranced, I collected some plums to buy and bring home.

Lemon Plums in season in winter.

My research informed me that lemon plums are in season now and from Chile. They are rare and I was instructed to snatch them up when I saw them. Lemon plums are picked when they are yellow and unripe. As they ripen they gradually turn the color of a reddish-orange, the darker they get the riper and sweeter they will become.

Ripening lemon plums

Ripening lemon plums


© 2016 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

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