Fantasy Picnic Writing Contest
Last month, we hosted a writing contest - we asked you to write about your fantasy picnic. We have a winner but every entry was so thoughtful, we wanted to share a few! Read some of our favorites below.
The Winning Entry
There is a kind of magic that happens when loved ones gather with the whole hearted intent to eat good food. It is the kind of joy that I have known throughout my Filipino upbringing. Multiple generations would gather with karaoke in one room and the food in the other. They would meld creating a loud and exciting chaos.
Gatherings with food are not limited to the bounds of family. That togetherness can happen with strangers. My Inay was a child when martial law took hold in the Philippines. She always told stories of how hungry she was growing up. Yet she would say of martial law time that it was when she experienced an abundance of food. Fear and distrust had filled the air yet in a small neighborhood two hours outside of Manila, a fiesta had taken place.
Strangers came together bringing their best and perhaps their only food. United they created abundance and my Inay ate well. So my #fantasypicnic would be in that neighborhood of Mariño. Rambutan from the tree that grows in the front of our family home would be brought in bounty. A bowl full of calamansi from the tree my Tatay grew would flavor our feast. Tita would bring her best sinigang hipon and Tito his caldereta.
I would bring my favorite Filipino treat palitow small rice cakes coated in freshly grated coconut sugar and sesame seeds. Neighbors would be invited. The kids who excitedly call to me “American!” The Lola who lives around the corner and bakes fresh pan de sal early in the morning to sell. The pineapple farmer. The man who walks up and down the streets with pots of taho to sell. I would buy those pots of taho. He would make his work for the day and he could rest and enjoy a meal.
Lastly my family would come. All of them even the ones whose names I can’t remember. With the banigs laid out across that street in Mariño families neighbors and strangers will picnic with our best foods and in this uncertain time and we will eat and we will be well.
He didn’t like picnics. Not once not ever. Long ago I tried hard to woo him to the idea that picnics could be fun. I made fried chicken for the first time in my life stirred up his mother’s recipe for potato salad baked my best chocolate brownies and had all the accoutrements imaginable for the “perfect” picnic.
A La Jolla beach on a beautiful sunny day. Nope. After half an hour and gobbling down food I’d spent hours making he wanted to leave. He said simply “I don’t like picnics.” Soon I realized he didn’t like eating outside period and I never tried to picnic again. We left San Diego forty years ago and that La Jolla beach is a distant memory. Oregon beckoned but not the eating outdoors part of Oregon at least not for him. We had so much else to love and explore and enjoy together I never minded.
But then Covid happened and suddenly eating outside seemed like it might be okay. I started off small. We ordered restaurant take-out meals but we ate them in our car because we didn’t want all that delicious food to get the least bit cold or grow soggy. I took to keeping an apron in the car so as not to ruin my clothes with a spontaneous car picnic. We laughed because he admitted this was his idea of a picnic. Slowly we transitioned to dining on well-ventilated patios. After a few times eating alfresco he warmed to what eating outside can sometimes offer: a calm nurturing breeze the soothing sound of bird song and whispering trees and a clarity from nature that often does not make it to the surface of our brains but washes over us in waves and brings us a peace we didn’t know we were missing.
He retired last year and we recently celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. I still have the picnic basket we received as a wedding present and he loves the ocean. Suddenly a picnic at the beach seems entirely possible and a new world is opening up! I think I might make that fried chicken again. Shhhhh don’t tell him….
By Dawn Guenther
I grew up an ocean away from my Grandma. While I ate breakfast she sat down to lunch and by the time I’d lived a day worth telling she was asleep. Time and space are surmountable in the face of our human instinct for connection (and a plane ticket) but other things separated us.
She and my father often yelled at each other. I couldn’t understand that I was witness to a thing broken long ago that hadn’t mended straight so I mistook anger as part of her character and treated her with apprehension. She was also profoundly deaf which meant that our relationship was banished to fragmented moments - days wrestled from a busy year or infrequent letters carrying “all my love”. I had more to say to her than she could hear.
That’s my fantasy – we’re together and we talk uninterrupted by geography or history or the surprising fragility of bodies. You see I love my Grandma in vignettes. She always recommended the right book. She wore pretty skirts up the mountains that she taught my father and then me to love. She said my brother should be a politician because “he’s a performer but he’ll always be good”. She loved the colors I wore. On this picnic we put things in order and piece them together. We sit without a blanket in our mountains dappled by sun and cloud with the smell of rain somewhere close. We eat from my memory: the roast potatoes only she could get right chicken wrapped in French cheese and bacon a pear and almond tart that I’ll never re-create.
I ask her about generations. Who were your parents? When children are ready how do we leave? What keeps us close once we do? Is there a path through these mountains I don’t know about yet? I tell her I might have my own kids soon and she’s quietly convinced I’ll be good at it. By the end of her life my Grandma had no coherent sense of time. It worried her endlessly. Ironically her impression of me fragmented just as I was adult enough to build my own impression of her. In my fantasy I draw her back together; draw us together for as long as we need to talk everything through. She gets to see me as a woman. I get to tell her how much I’ll miss her because I don’t think I ever did.
By Anna Ryba
My sister’s visit to Zanzibar
Her pictures bustle with stories. Busy beaches and markets “please madam won’t you buy this kanga?” Cloves and turmeric mingle with perfume. Salty warm waves happy. Also lonely. Twin toddlers oh-so-cute in matching kanga outfits fill her arms; oh-so-busy and shes months away from her husband. And from me.
East Africa - Kenya - our shared birthplace and home but this return to Kenya and now this visit to Zanzibar is just hers. But oh how I want to meet her there finding a quiet beach and unpacking a picnic of nostalgia and dreams. Together with a basket of worlds and time. I fill mugs with hot chai and pour delicate glasses with a sparkling malbec from California. I know you like pinots Rachel but this wine you’ll love it. We clink our mugs too talking quickly catching up on all that whatsapp and facetime just can’t cover.
Missing Adam parenting twins alone we sip our chai. Parenting and working such a demanding job communities lost and how do we hold both the past and the present of East Africa and who we are anyway? We spread clotted cream and lemon curd on fresh scones. A breeze dances over the Indian ocean and I dish out pasta favorites freshly made. Fig and onion caramelles with gorgonzola fonduta and tortellini in a clear tomato brodo. A basket of words. This brodo Rachel you’ll love it.
Now we talk more slowly the weight of meaning resting between us. Making sense of the world together. Making sense of ourselves. I’ve packed extra of the brodo just for drinking and we clink together more delicate glasses.
By Sarah Hall
The corn is being handed to me from nearby, as though an arm reaches through a cloud. Bright green in its husk and grasped by a brown hand, it is a gift. I thank her and pummel the corn in my hands until it becomes a dough, and I flatten it and cook it on this large rock. The sun beams down on it and on my face as well. In this place I need not worry about that. I pull the cheese from my pockets and carefully fold everything together in a little triangle with some salt.
We gather, and everyone has brought blankets. My favourite is the woven mat my childhood friend has in her hands, with flashes of shocking pink and yellow, and then in the wind it changes to sparkling blue. Out of her hair grow tomatoes, thick and shiny, and she picks one to slice into a small bowl with a face on it. The chef is the person I love. He is quietly pitting cherries and through his ears I see that he’s thinking about swimming in the water, gliding down with his eyes open.
Sitting in a circle, we pass plates around with bunches of herbs, and bowls of beans and chiles. There are bright yellow birds in the acacia trees in their little nests that have an escape hatch. They eat tiny fingernail-sized hotdogs and tuna sandwiches. They say to each other, “she needs to breathe,” and I do. “Eat their stories,” and I do. Maybe these stories will nourish me and finally mine will radiate from my belly and fingertips, and I will know who I am.
The blueberries are warm from the sunshine and sweet in my mouth. He sits next to me, and I hold one out for him. His brother steps closer, and I give him one, too. I didn’t think I’d get to do that again, but—he’s here!