THIS IS A PAID POST IN ASSOCIATION WITH ZIPCAR

I’ve come to the conclusion that people who vehemently hate picnics probably already live in the country. And, I get it: if you live in bucolic bliss really there’s little or no need to transport your meal to somewhere green and leafy if you already live in the middle of fields.

But spare a thought for us metropolitan dwellers: few people have gardens, and barely anyone has air conditioning in the United Kingdom. So picnicking becomes an absolute joy, a chance to eat outdoors surrounded by something other than chip wrappers and concrete.

Of course, lugging your lunch or supper to the chosen picnic destination can be a chore but I have a solution for those people who, like me, think a picnic should be more than a sandwich and a smoothie, and should definitely involve real cutlery, picnic rugs, tablecloths and old fashioned hampers.

Pick up a one-way Zipcar Flex, load up your wonderful picnic, collect your friends and family, and head to one of the eleven London boroughs that allow you to drop off a Flex in the Zipzone – which is a large chunk of London.

You only pay for the exact time you drive, meaning you can travel one-way, spend a few hours at a destination and then book another car to head home. You don’t have to pay for parking, so long as it’s in an approved spot: you can literally just leave the car there, and then picnic at your leisure without worrying about time constraints on a booking. Then, when it’s time to go home, you simply look for a car parked near you, and book that for the return journey via the app.

Long term readers will know that this enthusiasm for Zipcars is no recent thing. i.e. motivated by money. No, I signed up in America back in 2009 when Zipcar was still run out of an office near Macy’s in Herald Square, Manhattan and you popped in to pick up your membership card.

I used Zips to make exploring New York’s Five Boroughs with Rach back in 2010 a doddle, once memorably managing to squeeze in a trip to the Cloisters, north of Harlem on Manhattan, Chinese lunch in Flushing, Queens, and a trip to Green Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn in a single day, and still having time to drop Rach home in Chelsea, before returning across the East River again to Red Hook in Brookyn for an IKEA run with another girlfriend.

When I finally left New York for good, I used a series of Zipcars to empty out my huge Manhattan Mini Storage unit on the West Side, doing shuttle runs between my temporary home in Williamsburg and the unit in Chelsea late at night when the traffic was clear, donating my worldly possessions at the Goodwill on 26th & 6th and leaving my furniture on street corners in Brooklyn for New Yorkers to re-home.

Zipcar Primrose Hill Shetlerbox Charity Dinner
My regular Zipcar wheels in Primrose Hill

Once back in London, they have been a Godsend. Sure, I have my own car but, take it from me, two seater roadsters fit myself, my sister, the sausages and a few bags. That’s it. (And, to be honest, if it wasn’t for my disabled sister and her needs, I would be relying wholly on Zipcars in London. I like their environmental credentials and, above all, the absolute ease of use.)

For all other endeavours, it’s a Zip for me, from the Zipvan at the end of my road which I used to move house two years ago, to the regular trips to the Camden Council tip with the recycling and garden waste in the several Zipcars which live a few blocks away.

Until now those trips have always been in a roundtrip Zipcar, (pick the car up from the same spot, return it to the same spot) so I was pretty pleased to see the introduction of Zipcar Flex cars (the one-way service).

It’s remarkably easy to use: you simply open the app, look for the blue pins which indicate Flex cars (there are thousands of them), reserve it and Zipcar will hold it for up to 15 minutes until you arrive at the car. When you’re done with your journey, you simply drop the Flex car off in the Zipzone, which covers eleven boroughs in London and Heathrow T5. (It’s the largest in the world.)

So last week Zipcar asked me if I would like to test the Flex service out for the first time, picking up a car down the road from me in King’s Cross, a short walk away, and then heading off for a picnic anywhere that I chose in London.

Clearly I said yes. So last Friday evening, after a day of very enjoyable picnic preparation in my kitchen, I collected a Flex car, nipped home to load it up with all of the supplies, and headed South of the River towards Battersea Park.

hello the lovely capacious boot for all my extremely heavy picnicking needs

I chose Battersea because, quite simply, I never go there. With no easy public transport connection to Camden there are other, easier places to get to. But it’s close to Putney where Hannah and Mark live, so it seemed a good midway destination for all of us. En route I drove through Mayfair to pick up Rach from a meeting, a treat in itself, as I can’t normally transport food AND give people lifts.

We dropped off the picnic at the rendezvous point in the Park’s car park with our friends, and then easily found a spot in which to drop the car just to the left of the Park.

Battersea Park is such a treat! I’m so used to Regent’s Park which swarms with both Londoners and tourists at the first hint of beautiful weather, so the complete lack of any people at all on the choice grassy spots came as an astonishing surprise, and totally justified the twenty-five minute journey.

Look! No people apart from us at 7 o’clock on a Friday evening! Amazing!

So what did I pack to feed five very greedy people (and one tiny sausage dog)? Well, I made everything apart from the snack-y things, and I’ve added the recipe for the utterly delicious Soba Salad from my first cookbook at the end of this post.

Soba Noodle Salad with Peanuts & Tofu (vegan & GF)
Homemade Houmus
Leon’s Superfood Salad (recipe here)
Taleggio, Leek & Thyme Puff Pastry Tart
Wensleydale, Roasted Tomato and Caramelised Onion Quiche
Proscuitto, Salami, Olives, and Tortilla Chips
Homemade Banana Bread, & English Raspberries
Cheeseboard with Pont l’Eveque & Pave d’Affinois

Wensleydale, Roasted Tomato and Caramelised Onion Quiche
Taleggio, Leek & Thyme Puff Pastry Tart
Soba Noodle Salad with Peanuts & Tofu (vegan & GF)
Flatbreads to tear and share
Homemade Banana Bread (in the paper parcel), & English Raspberries
Cheeseboard with Pont l’Eveque & Pave d’Affinois
Fizzy water for me, pink wine for the others
Lettice always like to survey the perimeter from the safety of my tummy
Someone was exhausted from chasing imaginary squirrels
The Peace Pagoda at dusk

We were having such a lovely time that we stayed in the Park until it was nearly dark. Then, much to my amusement, one of my guests wandered off to book his own Flex car to go home: It turns out that he is in the habit of running to Battersea each morning to train, and then driving himself home! Such a coincidence.

Chelsea Bridge over the River Thames

We had a glorious drive home over Chelsea Bridge, along the Embankment, and through Trafalgar Square, before dropping the picnic kit at my house and heading back to King’s Cross to drop the car in a street just to the right of the station.

Big Ben in scaffolding, as seen from Parliament Square

You can read more about Flex at https://www.zipcar.com/en-gb/flex

Recipe: Soba Noodle Salad with Peanuts & Tofu

INGREDIENTS

six spring onions 
50gm peanuts 
one carrot 
200g firm tofu (I like Cauldron or Tofoo brands)
200g soba noodles  – if you need the salad to be gluten-free check the packet carefully, as many brands of soba contain wheat. You need the 100% soba ones.

For the dressing: 
150g chunky peanut butter 
Juice of ½ lime 
1 tbsp rice vinegar 
1 tbsp honey 
2 tbsp dark soy sauce 

To garnish: a small handful of chopped coriander and 25gms chopped peanuts

METHOD

Cook the soba noodles in plenty of boiling water, according to packet instructions, drain immediately, and rinse continuously in cold water until all the starch has run off and the noodles are slippery and not stuck together. 

Julienne (cut into very thin strips) the spring onions, including the green parts.  If you have a food processor, grate the carrot on the finest disc, else julienne with a sharp knife. 

Roughly chop the peanuts, and cut the tofu into thin strips. 
Combine everything in a mixing bowl. 
Pour all the dressing ingredients in a bowl, and whisk together. 

Place the drained noodles in a serving dish, and gently mix with half the dressing. Add all the vegetables and the peanuts, along with the rest of the dressing. Garnish with the chopped herbs and peanuts. 

CREDITS:

Striped Linen Tablecloth: Frescobal Carioca Linen Beach Towel
Picnic Hamper: Harvey Nichols (when bought with contents). Gifted
Corkscrew: Georg Jensen. (Gifted)
Painted Enamel Picnic Plates: Amazon
Rubberwood Bread Board: IKEA
Marble Cheese Board: Amara
Flamingo plastic glasses: TK Maxx (last year)
Vintage cutlery: eBay
Stainless Steel Water Bottle: Amazon
10cm Paring Knife: Victorinox. PR Product

Some items featured may be press samples. Some brands mentioned or pictured may have previously been commercial partners of LibertyLondonGirl over the past ten years. All current projects are always fully disclosed.

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