Jan 11, 2024

The Sun Is Calling



Make your cookout, picnic or beach trip a little easier.

By Marguerite Preston

It's June. The weather forecast is starting to look like summer, and I’m looking forward to my favorite sunny-day activity: eating outside.

I can think of few things more leisurely than dining sprawled out on the grass or around a picnic table. Grazing on potato chips and watermelon. Sharing salads out of Tupperware. Downing burgers seconds after they come off the grill.

Or at least, that's what meals outside should be like. It's a lot less pleasant if you’re swatting away mosquitoes or struggling to ignite a grill.

As the editor of kitchen coverage for Wirecutter, The Times's recommendation site, I spend a lot of time thinking about the best gear to make cooking and entertaining easier. So while I dream about perfect outdoor meals, I also know what it takes to prepare.

While all you really need to have a good time is good food and good company, you’ll enjoy it more if you have a comfortable place to sit and enough ice to keep the drinks cold. So in today's newsletter, I’ll give you tips for a little preparation work that can make your summer more satisfying.

If you like grilling, it's important to give your grill a once-over before the first big cookout of the season. Ideally you should deep-clean your grill at the end of the summer, but if you missed doing it last year, now is the time.

A clean grill means you’ll always be ready to cook as soon as the thought of a burger pops into your head. And you’ll avoid disasters like a grease pan overflowing all over your patio, or worse, catching on fire.

For gas grills, remove the grates, burner hoods and grease pan, and scrub them with hot, soapy water and a scouring pad. For charcoal grills, sweep or vacuum out any dry ash, then scour the grates and interior.

As cookout season continues, treat your grill like any other cooking implement and clean it after every use. Scrape the grates, then wipe them with a wet rag and brush them with a layer of vegetable oil — effectively seasoning them as you would a cast-iron pan — to keep them more nonstick and rustproof. Dump the ash from your charcoal grill or empty the grease pan from your gas grill.

Here's my secret to pulling off impromptu picnics, even at the end of a workday: Keep a dedicated bag packed with all the picnicware essentials. When inspiration strikes, all I have to worry about is gathering the food and drinks.

I use one of Wirecutter's favorite tote bags, the L.L. Bean Boat and Tote, in the largest size. It stands up on its own in grass or sand, and it's easy to see everything inside.

What do I put inside? A picnic blanket, of course. I also pack reusable outdoor dinnerware. Wirecutter has a guide full of gorgeous options, and my favorites are the light, bright Xenia Taler bamboo plates and Falcon Enamelware's rainbow of tumblers.

You’ll need napkins and utensils. I’ve forgotten those and regretted it as I wiped my hands on the picnic blanket. Bug spray is also essential. Throw in nonperishable condiments, or perhaps a tiny jar of salt.

Much as I love to spend the summer dining outdoors, I also look forward to escaping my neighborhood for the beach in the coming months. For visits to the shore, you could just grab the same picnic bag and some towels and chairs. But if you’re going to a place with zero shade, it's a good idea to assemble a supplemental sun protection stash.

At a minimum, check the expiration date on last year's sunscreen and replace it if you need to. At Wirecutter, we’ve tested over 80 options and found four we think are great. You might also want a spare pair of cheap sunglasses to keep in your bag.

This is going to be the year that I embrace big, silly hats and invest in a beach shade that actually stays up. That way, I can comfortably linger until the last bite of potato salad is gone.

Can you survive summer? Take The Times's quiz.

If you’re staying inside, try any of these 30 TV shows.

Rescue efforts are finished after Friday's train crash in the eastern state of Odisha. The death toll is at least 275.

Officials said the crash involved two passenger trains and an idled freight train, and they were investigating signal failure as a cause.

The trains were carrying more than 2,200 people. The Indian rail system transports more than eight billion passengers per year. Here's what we know.

Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, signed a bill to ban hormone and puberty blocking treatments, as well as surgeries, for transgender minors.

State capitals are as polarized as they have been in decades.

President Biden's age is an issue that troubles most Americans. Interviews with officials who have spent time with him paint a complex reality.

One of Donald Trump's lawyers recorded recollections of his work. Prosecutors now have the audio.

Schools in Russia are increasingly emphasizing the heroism of the country's army, while demonizing the West as "gangsters."

Black Americans’ historical gains offer lessons on making progress.

People in Belgrade, Serbia, are protesting a "culture of violence" and their leader's increasingly authoritarian rule.

Raw meat and moon signs: Canada's military is learning Arctic survival strategies from the Inuit.

Justice John Roberts's Supreme Court has shown contempt for other governing institutions. It should earn some contempt of its own, Josh Chafetz argues.

Beth Raymer's father celebrated his homelessness. Now, she writes, she considers it an "adaptive delusion."

Here are columns by Ross Douthat on Kevin McCarthy and Maureen Dowd on Jackie Kennedy.

The Sunday question: Did Biden win the debt-ceiling debate?

Despite his claims that Republicans’ demands were "wacko," Biden yielded, setting up Republicans to earn back their credibility on fiscal matters, Liz Peek writes for The Hill. The goal of the negotiations, however, was to make compromises, Matt Bai writes in The Washington Post. "By that standard," he argues, "Biden couldn't have done much better."

Standout design: Bees, seeds and metal were used in the New York Design Festival.

No shame, no sorrow: It is common in Mauritania to divorce many times. When they do, the women celebrate.

Life-changing honesty: Tina Turner's openness about her abusive marriage inspired other women to leave theirs.

Horezu pottery: Can these old-world ceramics survive modern tastes?

Money back: They spent $8,500 on refundable plane tickets, but the airline offered them flight credits.

Vows: He thought the date would be quick. It was so long he called in sick the next day.

Lives lived: Cynthia Weil formed one of the most potent songwriting teams of the 1960s and beyond with her husband. They wrote lyrics for hits by the Righteous Brothers, the Animals and Dolly Parton. Weil died at 82.

Find a Father's Day present in our gift guide.

Clean your bird feeder.

Visit Iceland, but read these tips from the first lady before you go.

Fill in the blank: "I am _____." How you answer can reveal where you’re from.

Summer in America: A new book of photographs captures swimming in public pools.

"The Late Americans": This novel is about envy, sex and ennui in grad school.

Our editors’ picks: "The Worst Woman in London," an angsty historical romance, and eight other books.

Times best sellers: Nora Roberts's latest thriller, "Identity," appears in the top spot on the hardcover fiction list.

The California issue: Can the West learn to live between extremes?

Heartland makeover: How do you change a place as polluted and unequal as the San Joaquin Valley?

Silicon Valley: See inside the latest hacker houses.

Read the full issue.

Officials from OPEC, Russia and other countries are meeting this weekend to weigh whether to cut production amid an oil-price slump.

Three Republicans are expected to enter the presidential race this week: Chris Christie, Mike Pence and Doug Burgum, the governor of North Dakota.

Vice President Kamala Harris will host a meeting of U.S. and Caribbean leaders in the Bahamas on Thursday.

Biden will host Britain's prime minister, Rishi Sunak, at the White House on Thursday.

In sports, the women's French Open final is on Saturday, as is the running of the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of horse racing's Triple Crown.

Easy recipes can help make you more sure-handed behind the grill, Emily Weinstein writes. Her recommendations for weeknight dinners include grilled chicken legs and, if you’re not grilling this week, rhubarb roasted salmon and spaghetti with fried eggs.

Here are today's Spelling Bee and the Bee Buddy, which helps you find remaining words.

Take the news quiz to see how well you followed the week's headlines.

And here are today's Mini Crossword, Wordle and Sudoku.

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NEWS FROM OPINION Josh Chafetz Beth Raymer Ross Douthat Maureen Dowd The Sunday question: Did Biden win the debt-ceiling debate? Standout design: No shame, no sorrow: Life-changing honesty: Horezu pottery: Money back: Vows: Lives lived: Find Clean Visit Fill BOOKS Summer in America: "The Late Americans": Our editors’ picks: Times best sellers: THE SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE The California issue: Heartland makeover: Silicon Valley: NOW TIME TO PLAY Thanks for spending part of your weekend with The Times.