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Elegant picnics for opera-in-the park crowd

Peaches with your Puccini? Mojitos with Mozart?

Brewskis and a hoagie or two may suffice for a run-of-the-mill picnic, but when the venue involves arias in the park or opera in the vineyards, picnickers yearn for slightly swankier fare.

Great music sounds even better when you have a nectarine mojito in hand, and are anticipating a bright three-pea salad, perhaps, and a pork tenderloin sandwich with arugula, fresh mozzarella and a garlicky, roasted red pepper spread.

The trick, of course, lies in the preparation.

“The idea of a picnic is really romantic, but the preparation part should be really practical,” said Seattle food writer and blogger Heather Christo, who tackles the al fresco topic in a chapter of her new, seasonal, menu-centric cookbook, “Heather Christo’s Generous Table” (Kyle Books, $29.95, 208 pages).

“What can you make ahead of time, so you’re not stressing out? That’s what I really dig,” the former catering chef said. “Make it in the morning or the night before, and then throw everything in the picnic basket. I have kids and a job. I don’t have time to be slaving on a picnic all day.”

Who does? So the pork tenderloin and a batch of decadent peach-raspberry bars go into the oven the night before. The zesty red pepper mixture gets a quick puree in the food processor up to three days ahead, and everything is packed up in the easiest-to-serve manner possible – wrapped in simple parchment paper or spooned into Chinese takeout boxes or Mason jars.

Some picnic mavens, such as Annie Bell, the former food editor for British Vogue and author of “The Picnic Cookbook” (Kyle Books, $19.95, 176 pages), prefer to mix vintage china with the paper and melamine. Plastic dishes are “soulless en masse,” Bell said.

China is heavy and fragile, of course, but it heightens the “glamour and risk,” she said, if you use real serving bowls to hold Cucumber, Chile and Pumpkin Seed Salad, perhaps, or lemony Pea-Mint Salad that combines snow peas, English peas and sugar snaps.

While Christo agrees that the china approach is definitely elegant, she offers some alternatives that will make your picnic memorable without risking the good stuff. Mason jars are a happy medium. So are the colorful dish towels she uses as napkins – “If you spill mojito all over it, you can throw it in the laundry later” – and disposable bamboo silverware, which she decorates with chevron stripes.

“You want a hint of whimsy in your picnic basket. Mason jars are cute without being too,” she said. “Just screw the lids on, keep them in the refrigerator and then put them in an ice chest.

But first fill them with rum, ripe nectarines, limes and fresh mint.

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