Have you gotten stuck paying too much for food at outdoor events? When you can, bring your own, but keep it super-simple—three ingredients simple.
When I was 20 and lucky enough to live in New Zealand for a bit, I ran out of money while traveling around the South Island. To conserve my last few bucks, I would buy three foods wherever I went: bread, tomato, and cheap cheddar.
And I have a distinct memory of British tourists pausing to stare at me as I sliced up my tomato while sitting on a rock a few steps from a glacier, asking me how much I’d charge them for a sandwich. (They were dressed to the nines. I was in hippie hiking clothes. It was an odd exchange.)
That’s how alluring bread, tomato and cheese look together, especially al fresco. It seems so obvious—and maybe it’s your go-to, too—but an upgraded version of this picnic spread is still my approach today. A few weekends ago I drove up to Storm King, an enormous outdoor sculpture park in New York State. Before I left, I stopped for a good, crisp baguette, a hunk of soft cheese—I went with a triple-crème—and a fresh tomato at the farmer’s market. I stashed a small knife, plenty of napkins, a tiny cutting board, a light picnic blanket, and salt. It was easy enough to bundle everything together in my tote bag.
When my trio arrived at the park, the only food on the premises was expensive—like, $15 a head for a couple of tacos. I’d paid about $10 for my baguette, cheese and tomato, so we walked till we found someplace pretty to put down the blanket. When we found a lovely little tree-lined lake and I broke out my supplies, my friends treated me as some sort of genius. Over the half hour of walking, the cheese had garnered a soft, dreamy texture—messy, but deliciously so. The tomato had warmed thanks to its time in the heat, and the bread was still crisp.
It was simple enough to salt the tomato slices, bust out the cheese for each to serve herself, and tear at the baguette. I sliced my section in half neatly, spreading the oozy cheese all over it and layering tomato slices on top. As a sandwich, it was just the thing for a light lunch.
Tip: Try not to wait several hours to dig in, as the cheese would be a sloppy mess. (If you’re particular about food safety, you’re probably not accustomed to eating room-temperature cheese, but I throw caution to the wind on this front). In terms of simplicity of shopping and the beauty of good summer produce, these foods will prove a money-saver, a time-saver, and will make you feel like a fashionable French person when you bust them out somewhere beautiful.
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Gourmet.com, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.