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Pleasure Practices with Sami Schalk: Go eat outside

A brief guide to holding a successful picnic in Madison.

Illustration by Rodney Lambright II.

Holy shit, y’all, spring is upon us. I can feel the seasonal depression leaving my body with every sunny, above-70-degree day we get. And look, I know there’s a chance we’ll have a random April/May snowstorm but I don’t care. Winter is out & spring is in. Relish it.

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Last summer, eating on my new balcony was one of my favorite pandemic pleasure practices. I did it every day, often for multiple meals a day, until it got too cold. After eating, I’d lay in my hammock in the sun watching clouds go by. After a pandemic winter of being cooped up inside and unable to go many places or see many people, this spring is an opportunity to embrace eating outdoors. Eating on your porch, balcony, patio or yard is awesome and pretty easy if you have access to outdoor space, but if you don’t have outdoor space, fear not, public parks are your friend and the Madison area has a lot of great ones.

Last summer and fall I did multiple socially distanced hangouts in parks around town where a few friends and I would bring takeout from local nearby restaurants or a bunch of snacks from home and have picnics. My favorite picnic spot in town is Olin Park because it has a few picnic tables at the top of the hill that are easily moveable to be spaced safely away from other park-goers, but really, anything with a view of the water is great for me. Consider James Madison Park, Yahara Place Park, Warner Park, or Burrows Park. Now is a great time to scope out the parks near you for good picnic spots.


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Here’s my recipe for a great picnic. You should bring:

1. Food. Obviously. It’s kind of what makes it a picnic. Food + outside. Bring food that is still tasty even if it’s not piping hot and that’s relatively easy to eat (limited need for utensils, not too messy, etc) is best. Takeout, homemade sandwiches, a tasty charcuterie board or just a random collection of snacks are all great options.

2. Bring drinks. Bring more than you think you’ll need and make sure you include water, especially if your other drinks are alcoholic. Scope the bathroom options in advance, especially with COVID. Some park facilities are closed.

3. Bring things to sit on. The simplest option is a blanket, perhaps a designated picnic blanket that’s a little moisture resistant. If you’re like me and want max comfort though, I highly suggest getting a folding chair you find comfortable and a folding table. I bought a chair from Alpha Camp which makes camping gear for fat folks. I adore it.

4. Bring other comfort and pleasure items. For me this usually means a speaker to play music, a sweatshirt or jacket, sunglasses, and bug spray. Hand sanitizer and paper towels or moist towelettes are great too. Make a pleasure space for yourself in public. Set yourself up for maximum enjoyment.

5. Bring a wagon. Seriously. Sometimes you wanna trek to a part of the park that’s far from the parking lot and a wagon makes it easier to haul your stuff in one go. I found a folding “garden wagon” last summer that fits in my Honda CRV behind the driver’s seat on the floor. I originally got it to carry food and water for protesters, but now I use that thing for everything, especially picnics.

That’s it. You probably already knew how to have a picnic, but you read this far so clearly something was holding your interest. Go eat outside and appreciate the splendor that is Madison in the spring, you badass bitch.

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