There's something about a gorgeous summer day that calls out for a picnic . . . or a warm summer's eve . . . And there are plenty of places to enjoy an al fresco meal -- Oregon Ridge with the Baltimore Symphony playing, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, with the Orioles playing . . .
The trouble is, well, preparing for a picnic is not a lot of fun. There's all the planning and cooking and packing before you even get to the site.
Sutton Place Gourmet at the Festival at Woodholme shopping center has a solution: They'll cook and pack your picnic, and all you have to do is pick it up and head for your chosen spot. They'll even help you plan a feast and will suggest appropriate wines (not for the ball park) to go with the meal.
"The French Connection" menu, for example, includes steamed shrimp, herb-roasted Cornish hen, ratatouille, green salad with goat cheese and vinaigrette, French bread and fresh fruit, at a cost of $23.50 per person (not including wine). You can supply you own basket or pick one from the store's selection. (The basket in the picture costs $24.99.) A less elaborate "Snack Pack" includes guacamole with chips and crudites, assorted finger sandwiches, teriyaki chicken drummettes, wedge of Cheddar cheese with crackers, grapes, and large macaroon for $13.25 per person.
There are a dozen suggested menus in the "luncheon and picnics" section of the shop's extensive catering list. In fact, anything on the store's catering list can be put in picnic form, from "executive lunches" to "breakfast, brunch and breaks."
The store prefers that people order a basket 48 hours in advance. But, says Katherine Carney, customer service manager, "We can always do something. We always have grilled chicken and roasted potatoes. Really, anything in the store can be packed for a picnic."
The shop, which has been open since last November, is at 1809 Reisterstown Road, just north of Interstate 695. For more information or to order a basket, call (410) 484-5501 and ask for customer service. The people who make Lifetime low fat, low cholesterol and low sodium meltable cheeses want consumers who are contemplating grilling burgers in the back yard this Fourth of July to know there are alternatives to hamburger and Cheddar. For instance, a lean, 3-ounce burger with a 1-ounce slice of regular American cheese on a typical bun contains 538 calories, 60 percent of them from fat (twice the level recommended by the American Heart Association). But using a low-fat cheese, such as Lifetime Low Fat Cheddar, cuts 53 calories, and reduces fat by 8 percent. But making non-beef burgers can save even more: A turkey "cheeseburger" cuts 53 calories and lowers fat to 34 percent; and a fish "cheeseburger" (using a firm-fleshed fish such as salmon or swordfish) cuts 53 calories and lowers fat to 16 percent.
A software cure for garden fever
It usually strikes around the end of January -- garden fever! By February, every flat surface in the house is covered with catalogs offering stupendous produce and spectacular flowers. By March, the gardener is out in the snow, squeezing the soil. By April, there are stakes and strings enclosing grass or gravel, where this year's new beds will go.
If this sounds familiar, you could be a candidate for a new computer program that will allow you to "garden" to your heart's content, no matter how wintry the weather. It's called Sprout! and is produced by a software company called Abracadata, of Eugene, Ore.
The program, which can be used on Macintosh or PC machines, allows you to plan your garden with vegetable and garden symbols; there is a "planting tool" that positions the vegetables with correct row and space plantings. The program also provides growing information and tips, showing the size of the planted areas, spacing of rows and seeds, the number of people the garden will feed and an estimate of the number of seeds needed.
The program costs $59.95 for PCs, including laptops (they need 640K RAM and a graphics card; mouse, printer and hard drive are recommended) or $79.95 for Macintoshes (one megabyte of memory; hard drive and printer recommended). There is a small charge for shipping and handling.
To order, or for more information, call Abracadata at (800) 451-4871. For a meal that's as pleasing to the ear as it is to the palate, turn to Sony Masterworks' "Dinner Classics" recordings on CDs or cassettes. There are 15 to choose from, ranging from "A Dinner Party" (the lute suites of Bach), to "La Dolce Vita" (arias by Puccini and Verdi), to "An American Picnic" (music by Gershwin, Copland, Joplin and others).
"Of course," says Laraine Perri, Sony vice president for marketing and executive producer of the series, "our ultimate goal is to expand the basic audience for classical music. Of the million-plus buyers of this series, if several hundred discover they love Bach from enjoying 'The Dinner Party' album, we have hopefully converted those 'lifestyle' classical buyers into 'lifetime' classical buyers."
Other collections in the series are "Dinner for Two," "Breakfast in Bed," "A Cocktail Party," "A Taste of Spain," "Sunday Brunch" (Volumes 1 and 2), and French, Italian, Viennese and Japanese selections.
Prices vary from store to store, but the CDs are mid-priced, under $12, and the cassettes cost about $5 to $7. They're available at An Die Musik in Towson, Recordmasters, Sam Goody and Record World, among other places.
Tidbits welcomes interesting nuggets of food news -- new products, food-related news events, local cookbooks, mail order finds, openings and closings of restaurants and food shops.
Please send press releases to Tidbits, Attn.: Karol V. Menzie, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.