Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Of all winter activities, a lunchtime picnic feast doesn’t come across as an obvious outdoor family activity but it is a great way to break free from the winter blues and enjoy some quality time with the kids outside. After the holidays and too much staying inside and indulging, I desperately needed a breath of fresh air and this was a perfect excuse to get everybody out the door. Just imagine. With a little hobbit magic and a friendly forest nearby, this unusual Tolkien adventure had our children all excited and willing to brave all winter skies to lay a blanket on the forest floor and eat like hobbits.
Photos – click on thumbnails to enlarge:
For this #cbias #shop assignment, I started my picnic with a shopping trip to my neighborhood grocery store, Waitrose. There, I packed up on items I thought a hobbit larder would be full of. Oh Tolkien, what slow food pioneers and expert foragers your hobbits were. However in the dead of winter, foraging for blackberries would be tricky and the grocery store was a convenient alternative to stock up on delicious goodies for hearty eaters. That’s how my shopping basket quickly became a hog love story (with bacon and pork pies) next to thick slabs of extra mature cheddar, various crackers fit for dwarves and elves, raisin welsh cakes, honey and marmalade for second breakfasts, a hearty loaf of bread to share with friends and mulling spices and wine to warm up your winter stomach. With that I was set and told the kids we were going to organize a hobbit picnic in the forest right after the winter solstice.
“A hobbit picnic, a hobbit picnic!” they sang, prancing about as they explained to their young cousins that hobbits were very hungry little people with hairy big feet. It helped that we saw the second installment of The Hobbit movie recently and that we read the book at home. My girls are mad about hobbits and elves these days.
On the morning of the picnic, the sky looked menacing and overcast but steady. With some luck, we’d strike on a rare dry day of winter holidays. Rainy or not, we were going out. I started to make bacon chips by heating the slices in non-stick pans until the fat juices ran out and the slices became crispy (and a tad charred). As the kitchen filled with the aroma, individual bite size pork pies warmed up in the oven. Last, I filled three wicker picnic baskets with my full hobbit selection and selected earthenware, real glass tumblers and wooden cutting boards for that special rustic Shire feel.
“Time for the picnic!”
Ordinarily frilly to go out in cold weather, the children were psyched. They put on their rain boots and jackets in no time and couldn’t be on the way fast enough. As our small hobbit feast party set out, they argued over who would carry what. Err, three baskets, four kids – what do you do? It was decided that the littlest one would carry a single spoon (for marmalade), the second youngest one would carry the marmalade and welsh cakes, and the adults would carry the heavy stuff while the oldest kids showed the way.
Where to? Two days earlier, I had spotted a beautiful oak tree with ivy-covered branches that would be a perfect Ent (talking tree in The Lord of the Rings) to host our feast. Into the forest we walked. We headed straight for the tree. Winter trees are particularly beautiful and I love their bare branches but this one feels extra special as the base is completely covered in ivy and it extends a long finger-like branch high above a cover of dark green plants and autumn leaves. I say, every picnic spot should be selected under equally special trees.
The kids were super hungry and kept asking, “can we eat now?” Hold tight, what about true hobbit spirit? I lay burlap fabric on the ground and carefully arranged our picnic staples in food stations. Cheese on cutting board, pork pies in a jar, crackers in a basket, marmalade next to the spoon. Little fingers were quick to dig in the mini pork pies and the bacon chips, before running off to find some sticks to play with. Ah, the never-ending joy of sticks! There can never be enough sticks in a child’s hand, believe me. We adults enjoyed a glass of wine and toasted to the winter forest and Tolkien’s love of nature.
Ah, but we hadn’t gone the 100% hobbit yard yet. Do you remember how hobbits walk through the Mirkwood forest, up the Misty Mountains and all the way to Mount Doom? Barefoot. That’s right. In winter? Nuts. I offered whoever wanted to, to take off their shoes and take a few steps with me on the winter forest floor. I’d practiced a couple days before and knew it’d be quite fun, safe and leafy – no brambles or spiky stuff underfoot. Just damp and squishy.
Unsurprisingly, I was left alone on my own two bare feet to go all hobbit with the forest floor but hey, at least the kids thought I was hilarious and winked at each other. I was quite happy taking the hobbit feast to unchartered toes and heels territories, munching on crackers.
Now, I should say something about the crackers as it might inspire you for your own hobbit feast. I selected two types of crackers. First, charcoal crackers (with 1% real charcoal powder) thinking about the dwarves and the mines of Moria. Second, seed crackers thinking about the elves and Rivendell. I guess you could find a variety of crackers or breads that would please Bilbo Baggins, Legolas, Aragon and Gimli.
Drops of rain sounded the end of our winter outdoors activity and by the time we came home, the kids were excitingly talking about the picnic, my bare feet and how Tauriel is an awesome female elf archer. That picnic had definitely worked its hobbit magic. Never underestimate the power of imagination for things as mundane as eating lunch out in the woods!