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Create a perfect, last-minute romantic picnic

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Often the best times are those that just come together spontaneously with minimal planning.

That could be the case with a last-minute romantic picnic.

Maybe you and your sweetie find yourselves with a weekday off while the kids are at school. Maybe your other weekend plans fell through. Maybe you want to enjoy the outdoors while the weather is still warm.

Maybe you just woke up feeling the need for a little amorous adventure.

Here are a few ideas for a no-muss, no-fuss interlude that can come together in a snap.

But first of all, you might want to check the weather report. Nothing dampens the mood faster — or more literally — than a rain shower.

Keep it simple

Picnic food doesn’t have to be elaborate to be good. In fact, it’s probably best to keep it simple, with foods that are easy to carry and to eat — especially when your picnic is coming together on the spur of the moment.

Nothing kills romance like some kind of sticky sauce running down the chin. (Or does it? But that’s a topic for a different kind of story.)

Charcuterie boards are all the rage lately, and the cured meats, cheeses and extras they feature travel well. They also don’t require much in the way of plates or cutlery.

From humble peasant origins, charcuterie has in recent years become an elegant, trendy dining experience.

Pick a few favorites from among hams or other thinly sliced muscle meats, sausages and pates; hard and semi-soft cheeses; acidic and salty bites like baby gherkins, olives and raw or pickled vegetables; and something sweet like fruit or jam.

Add a hearty bread or two, some crackers, and you’re ready to go.

Vegetarians can skip the meats and double up on the cheeses. Vegans can triple up on the fruits and veggies, add vegan cheeses, hummus and a mushroom or other vegetable pate.

Charcuterie is typically presented on a wooden board, and a board also makes for a nice table top if you’ll be sitting on the ground. But a paper plate will do in a pinch. After all, it’s a picnic.

Other quick and easy picnic foods: wraps, vegetable or fruit salads, cold noodle or pasta salads with oil-and-vinegar dressings (no mayo to spoil), sandwiches, chips and dip. In a pinch, stop at your favorite fast food place.

Sips and sweets

For drinks, take whatever suits your fancy. For daytime, iced tea, lemonade and sparkling water make nice choices. You can always fancy them up with some colorful sliced fruits or fresh mint. For evening, a favorite craft beer or bottle of wine sets the mood (just keep it to a sip or two if you’re driving, and don’t forget the corkscrew or bottle opener).

For dessert, nothing says romance like chocolate. Even better, heart-shaped chocolates. Or fruit dipped in chocolate.

Other simple sweets for your sweetie: cookies, candy bars and hard candy. Anything you can feed to each other in little bite-sized pieces.

Grab an old tablecloth, blanket or sheet for a ground cover or table covering, depending on where you’re going. Throw some paper plates or durable old dishes, cutlery, napkins or paper towels into a picnic hamper or other basket, if you have one. A shopping bag will do in a pinch.

Remember a garbage bag to clean up after yourselves.

What’s next?

What to do after the food is eaten?

Take a romantic walk, hand in hand. Take a deck of cards for a quick game of war or rummy. Take turns reading a romantic novel or some poetry. Take some selfies.

Do you like to sing? Harmonize on “your song.”

Or just talk. Make up some sweet, silly nicknames for each other.

Before you can pull this all off, though, you have to decide where you’ll be having this unforgettable outdoor tete-a-tete.

Perfect picnic places

Oh, the places you can go in Western Pennsylvania!

Our towns and cities have a wealth of parks that might be just a few blocks away. Pittsburgh has big, beautiful green spaces like Frick Park and Schenley Park. There are pocket parks in many neighborhoods.

Greensburg has the rolling, wooded hillside of Saint Clair Park.

In Tarentum, you have a view of the Allegheny River from side-by-side Riverview and Brackenridge memorial parks, both great places for an after-picnic stroll.

Allegheny County has nine parks covering more than 12,000 acres. No doubt there’s a picnic spot in the one closest to you.

Westmoreland County has its own park system , stretching from Northmoreland Park in Washington Township to Cedar Creek Park in Rostraver. Twin Lakes Park in Hempfield and Unity townships is a favorite for outings, with a paved walk around the lakes and plenty of benches, pavilions and picnic tables.

If you like more seclusion and rugged scenery, try Linn Run State Park or Forbes State Forest in Ligonier Township. There are spectacular Laurel Highlands views from both the Wolf Rocks and Beam Rocks overlooks — but you’d have to wear your hiking boots and carry your picnic in a backpack.

Ohiopyle State Park in Fayette County is another spot with breathtaking beauty. Spread your picnic out on the grass next to the roiling Youghiogheny River right in the middle of town, or once again, pack it in to a wooded vista overlooking the river.

The options are limited only by your imagination, time constraints and personal preferences.

And, in a pinch, there’s always the backyard.

Vive la romance!

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter @shirley_trib.

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