OH, TO BE EATING dinner outside with a view! Is there any better reward for Seattleites in the summer after making it through another rainy season? And while I love our restaurants and the multitude of patio options available, I am a sucker for a good, old-fashioned picnic. So is Ben Campbell, baker and owner of Ben’s Bread, a pop-up and bakery, scheduled to open this fall in Phinney Ridge.

Campbell is known for his expertly shaped loaves, Cheez-Isnts crackers, crackly corn cookies, and sandwiches stuffed with everything from roasted broccolini and fluffy ricotta to Italian-style hoagies piled high with tissue paper-thin slices of cured meats. He loves everything about sandwiches. “They sure are great,” he says. “They make you feel good when you eat them.”

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Even better is when those sandwiches are part of a picnic.

“It’s so easy to stock a picnic basket now. It used to be there was one weird salami you’d have to cut with a dull knife. Now there are great butcher shops and places that make cheese. You can go to a restaurant that has its own CSA; it’s just amazing,” Campbell says.

And how would one stock the perfect picnic basket?

“Collect a bunch of things that are delicious,” he says.

While that might take a few stops at specialty shops along the way, it’s an easy formula to follow to create a delightful picnic basket brimming with finger-licking foodstuffs perfect for sandwich dining al fresco.

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When formulating a list, the first thing to consider is the weather. “I think about what’s going to last, even if the sun is beating down on our picnic basket. Even though I love aioli, that would be something I would hold out on, as I don’t like it when it gets warm,” he says.

Also, don’t bring anything that’s good only when it is served hot.

“That sounds obvious, but I still feel like people try to do it. Something like fried chicken is amazing because it’s good hot, room temperature and cold,” Campbell says.

Or, grab a loaf of bread that’s sturdy enough to hold up to spreads or dips, but easy to rip or tear with your hands — think a hoagie bun instead of a crunchy baguette. Depending on size, these large, oblong rolls can work for one or shared between two people.

Next, assemble a selection of spreads. Butter can never be underestimated, but Campbell also recommends hummus — traditional or even beet hummus, which he calls “a great way to get beets on a sandwich.” There’s also harissa, a tomato-based North African condiment with chili peppers, cumin and mint that would punch up tuna or egg salad. Campbell likes the kind made by Seattle-based Villa Jerada. He also recommends the everything chili crisp from Ballard’s Rachel’s Bagels and Burritos, a crunchy, spicy condiment that pairs perfectly with cool cream cheese and veggie sandwiches topped with roasted broccoli or shaved carrots, red onion and cucumber. Whole grain or Dijon mustard is also a great picnic companion.

Next, grab an assortment of proteins: tinned seafood — tuna, sardines, salmon, even octopus — alongside thinly sliced cured meat such as soppressata, coppa or salami; thick-cut country ham, fried or rotisserie chicken, and creamy pate (mushroom, duck, pork or chicken) are all wonderful options. As for cheese, avoid anything too crumbly, like blue, and go for something aged that can stand up to hanging out in the warm outdoors — cheddar, pecorino or Gruyere. Something spreadable, like chevre or even a pub cheese, is also a great option.

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Rounding out your picnic basket should be small, snackable accoutrements that pack a lot of flavor into small bites: olives, pickled cucumbers, asparagus or green beans, roasted peppers or even dried tomatoes.  

The variety of choices should allow people to assemble full sandwiches or try Campbell’s favorite way: going “bite by bite of different sandwiches.”

Outside of sandwich-makings, don’t forget chips, crackers or large lettuce leaves for bread alternatives. Lastly, don’t forget something sweet to reward yourself for pulling together a fabulous picnic.