How I love a good picnic. September is the perfect time to go exploring, so whether you favor a walk on the beach, hiking, biking, kayaking or a drive to your favorite orchard, all these activities are just a stone’s throw away. I have the perfect lunch to make your little sojourn a true holiday.

Forget about those bland takeout sandwiches and take the time to make an Italian pressed sandwich. With just a bit of time and effort, you can have something truly special for your picnic basket or backpack. To go with this elegant sandwich, make this colorful beet and goat cheese salad and add a bottle of sparkling water. I’ve never counted up all the wonderful nutrients this meal offers, plus the Vitamin D from enjoying it outdoors, but the health benefits have got to be tremendous.

Of course, you could stop off for ice cream cones on the way home from this robust al fresco lunch, but why be ordinary when you can be fabulous? With a bit of planning, you can make a Pavlova to enjoy back home once all the picnic things are put away and your tummy has made room for dessert.

This gluten-free confection consisting of meringue, whipped cream and berries was first created in New Zealand in the late 1920s when Anna Pavlova, the famous ballerina visited there.

To garnish my Pavlova, I simply used what I had on hand, which was a half-pint of blackberries and a jar of homemade strawberry jam. I warmed the jam to make it runny and drizzled it over the top and added a few berries.

Having that dessert to look forward to made it a whole lot easier to leave the beach.

Pressed Italian Sandwich
1 large loaf of round rustic bread

1/2 cup black olive tapenade

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 pound thinly sliced Genoa salami

1/4 pound thinly sliced prosciutto

1/4 pound thinly sliced spicy Italian cold cuts

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly

2 roasted red bell peppers, sliced thinly

6 fresh basil leaves, torn into bite-size pieces

Pepper to taste

Cut bread in half horizontally. Spread bottom half with tapenade. Drizzle cut side of top half with vinegar and oil. Arrange salami on top of tapenade, followed by prosciutto, cold cuts, mozzarella, red pepper and basil. Sprinkle with pepper to taste and place top half of loaf on filling.

Wrap sandwich tightly in plastic wrap. Wrap again in foil. Place a heavy object, like a few cook books placed on a cutting board, to squish the sandwich down. Leave the weight on the sandwich for 1-2 hours. Unwrap, cut into slices and serve at room temperature. Yield: 4-6 servings

Salad with Roasted Beets & Goat Cheese
2 cups medium beets, peeled and diced

3 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 tsp. sea salt

6 cups salad greens

1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

3 tbsp. fresh herbs of your choice

1/3 cup fresh goat cheese, crumbled

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss beets with 2 tbsp. oil and salt and roast on a baking sheet until tender for 20 minutes. Cool.

Toss salad greens in a salad bowl with the remaining oil, balsamic vinegar, herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper. Top with beets and goat cheese. Yield: 4-6 servings

Chocolate Pavlova
6 large egg whites

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 tsp. sea salt

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted

1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Topping:

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

2 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Fresh berries

Shaved chocolate, chocolate syrup or warmed jam for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large sheet pan, big enough to hold a 12-inch circle of meringue, with parchment paper.

Beat egg whites with a mixer until peaks form. Beat in sugar a small amount at a time until the meringue is stiff. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in salt, cocoa, vinegar and chocolate.

Mound the meringue onto the baking sheet and smooth into a flat circle, leaving room for the meringue to expand.

Place the meringue in the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 300 degrees and bake for 60 to 90 minutes. When done, it should be crisp and dry on top, but the middle should feel a bit wriggly when you touch it. Turn the oven off and leave the door slightly ajar for the meringue to cool completely in the oven. It can be left overnight then kept at room temperature until time to serve.

Meanwhile, whip cream, adding sugar and vanilla. Chill.

Just before serving, place a large plate over the meringue and invert onto the plate. Peel off the parchment. Don’t worry if the meringue cracks. Just pile whipped cream onto it. Add berries and garnish with chocolate or jam. Cut and serve in wedges. Refrigerate leftovers. Yield: 10 servings