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Incredibly Fun Parks
& Pic-A-Nic Baskets!

Picnic on the Grass of Lockhart State Park Le déjeuner sur l'herbe
By Cheryl Hill-Burrier

Summer after summer, it's the same old story of "been there – done that", so this year let's do something other than the usual cow tipping and snipe hunting. In fact, let's go picnicking at a state or national park! Seriously, these aren't your parents' parks anymore with their incredible events and activities that are really turning up the competitive heat on major theme parks and country clubs.

After all, has Yogi, "the smarter than average bear," ever left Jellystone for greener grass or more fun? Well, "Hello, Mr. Ranger, Sir!" I don't think so! So, let's make some plans and pack up a pic-a-nic meal using some popular recipes, and a great checklist that will keep you from forgetting the important stuff, like bear repellent.

If you're an average family like us, you probably hit the water, movie theaters and theme parks every summer, as opposed to the incredibly affordable state and national parks. After all, telling your kiddos that you're heading out to enjoy the beauty of nature and outdoor walks doesn't exactly inspire a whole lotta jumpin' up and down.

Well, get ready to be set back on your heels, because things have changed at the ol' park sites and they've become THE PLACE TO BE!

Do you like unique scavenger hunts or geocaching? How about adventure races, hayrides, summer camps, fishing, swimming, archery and gardening lessons, picnic parties with classic games, fireworks displays, outdoor movies, canoeing and country club activities like tennis and golf? Well, these types of activities and more are available at parks like our State Park in Lockhart, where my husband Larry is the Lead Ranger, and lemme tell ya, this guy is so good at his job he can even talk to the wild turkeys roamin' around! Plus, most of these locations have large accommodations for group gatherings like family or class reunions and even weddings, as well as numerous playgrounds, barbecue pits, restroom and shower facilities, camping, and RV hookups.

Even better, you can travel as close or far away from home as you want because there are nearly 7,000 State Parks, and over 400 National Parks in the U.S., so believe me, there's bound to be one close to where you live. The entry fees are minimal, and safety and cleanliness are definitely five-star. Just phone or get onto the following websites for all the info you need like fees, amenities, events, etc., then pack up the posse and head out for the fun of your life! National Parks / State Parks.

US National Parks vs. State Parks

Has Yogi ever left Jellystone for greener grass or more fun? I don't think so!
Now, you're probably asking yourself what the difference is between a National and State park. Well, National Parks and Trails have some type of national or historic interest and are protected by the Federal Government under the National Park Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Federal Bureau of Land Management or the Federal Bureau of Reclamation. Some of the more notable parks are the Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the Big Bend in Texas, which covers 300,000 acres that will transport you back to the Old West with scores of trails through canyons, rivers, badlands, mountains and desserts. Other National Trails include the Selma to Montgomery Trail, Trail of Tears and much more.

State Parks highlight regions of state interest, and are cared for by the individual states, generally under the Department of Natural Resources or Conservation. Some of the more famous state parks are Niagara Reservation, Diamond Head, Huntington Beach, and our own Garner State Park in Uvalde County, Texas, that covers 1,419 acres with ten acres of water for swimming or riding the rapids, and most notably the dances held every night during the summer season. For our family, it's off to the Gulf Coast at Goose Island for fishing and tropical beaching on Mustang Island with its five beautiful miles of beach and seawater sunsets.

Both National and State Parks generally charge entry fees, and many offer annual passes or permits with discounts to veterans, non-profit youth groups, seniors and disabled citizens, as well as discounts for camping, canoe rental or other amenities. One thing to remember is that a National Park pass won't get you in to a State Park, and vice versa.

Picnic Recipes

So, now that we've got some great destinations in mind, let's move on to making those pic-a-nic meals, and planning out what else we'll need to pack in our baskets.

Foods to pack include sandwiches (which means less time cooking and more time having fun), side dishes, drinks, desserts and snacks, all of which can be made the day before. So, I've listed the most popular picnic foods below that'll please everyone, and believe it or not, the classic ham sandwich still holds the number one rating with Americans. But, if you want to impress family and friends, press the ham sandwiches on a food press or skillet, and you'll have created the (recently popularized) Cuban sandwich.

Sandwiches
Ham, Chicken, Tuna Salad and Egg Salad
Be sure not to place the salads on bread in advance or they'll get soggy. Keep your meat sandwiches from getting soggy by placing the meat and cheese on both inner sides of the bread, then add the mustard or mayo, topped with tomatoes, lettuce, pickles or whatever. Put the two sides together and wrap in waxed paper, plastic bags or foil.
Sidedishes
Potato Salad, Pasta Salad, Sliced Vegetables, Sliced Fruits
Place these items into plastic lidded containers, or sealable plastic bags.
Drinks
Tea and Fruit Drinks like Lemonade
There are some great plastic drink containers with screw-on lids to avoid spillage, or the usual Thermos-type containers. To keep drinks even cooler, place a portion of the drink mix into an ice-cube tray and freeze overnight, then place the cubes into the drink mix.
Desserts
Brownies, Cookies, Bundt-Style Cakes, Fruit Turnovers
These desserts are less apt to fall apart or make a mess, and are easily packed.
Snacks
Popcorn, Peanuts (in the shells), Fruit
The great thing about the popcorn and peanuts is that the leftovers can be sprinkled about for the birds and wildlife.
When you're ready to pack everything up, use a picnic basket, strong tote or cooler to avoid crushing anything. Keep it light-weight so you don't have a problem carrying it, and if necessary, pack two separate containers, one with ice for the cold items, and one without.

You'll also need:
  • Paper Plates
  • Plastic or Paper Cups
  • Plastic Utensils
  • Disposable Table Cloth
  • Trash Bags (for trash and dirty containers)
  • Sharp Knife (for specific uses)
  • Cutting Board
  • Bug Spray
  • Moist Towelettes
  • Paper Towels (for spills)
  • Small First Aid Kit
  • Sunscreen
  • Allergy Medications
  • Camera
  • Blanket (to sit on or for little ones to nap)
Other items might include a can opener, bottle opener, corkscrew, and even toothpicks. Try to avoid glass containers or other breakable items. An umbrella is always good idea, as well as a flashlight.

Ham and Cheese Sandwich, Cuban-Style

  • 4 6-inch Bolillo rolls (or French bread cut into 6-inch pieces)
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 to 2 pounds ham, deli sliced
  • 1 pound Swiss cheese, deli sliced
  • 1 cup yellow, brown or Dijon mustard (Rah! Rah! Rah!)
  • 1 cup dill pickle slices
Split each roll horizontally along one side, leaving the roll attached at the spine. Open the rolls so they lie flat. Divide the cheese and meat into 4 equal portions. Place the meat and cheese on each side of the roll and spread 1/4 cup of the mustard of your choice on both sides. Top with pickle slices and sprinkle with pepper, then close the sandwich.

If you want to create the Cuban sandwich, you can do so with a sandwich press on medium-high, or a large skillet over medium-high heat, pressing the sandwiches down with another heavy skillet. When using the skillet method, be sure and turn the sandwich once for even browning, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Makes 4 Sandwiches.

Tri-Color Pasta Salad

  • 1 12-ounce bag tri-color spiral or Rotini pasta
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3/4 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • 6 ounces (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) Italian Salad Dressing or Spicy Vinaigrette Salad Dressing
  • 1 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper
Cook pasta according to the directions, drain and let cool. Place the pasta into a large plastic lidded container and stir in remaining ingredients. Blend well and refrigerate overnight to allow ingredients to marinate. Makes about 10 cups.

Strawberry Lemonade

  • 2 cups water
  • 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
  • 2 cups sparkling water or club soda (reserve until ready to serve)
Stir together the 2 cups water and the sugar in a medium-size saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Set aside to cool.

Place the strawberries into a blender or food processor and purée. Mix strawberry purée with the sugar water lemon juice, then pour through a strainer to remove seeds and pulp. Place the mixture into a drink container and refrigerate. You can also pour some of the juice into an ice cube tray and freeze, adding to the drink mixture later.

When ready to serve, pour in the sparkling water or club soda. Makes 2 Quarts.

Easy Fruit Turnovers

  • 1 can refrigerator crescent rolls
  • 1 can fruit pie filling (your choice)
  • Melted butter
  • Sugar or cinnamon-sugar mixture
Lightly knead half the dough from one can of crescent rolls and roll out into two equal squares. Place 2 tablespoons fruit pie filling in the center of the dough and fold into a triangle shape. Fold about 1/4 inch of the dough edges over and press down to seal. Using the tines of a fork, press the edges of the folded areas. Repeat the process until all of the dough is used.

Brush tops of each turnover with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar or cinnamon-sugar mixture and place on a cookie sheet in a 350°F preheated oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely. Makes about 6 turnovers.

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