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Grab some picnic fixings

Spring in the Rogue Valley turns my thoughts to picnics.

Blooms are bursting out all over. It's prime time for Table Rock hiking. And the announcement of the Britt Festivals line-up always sets me dreaming about music and meals on the hillside.

But ... this being spring in the Rogue Valley, the weather can be a little unpredictable, to say the least. Anyone who wants to get in some outdoor eating had better move fast when the sun breaks through.

Fortunately, the area has some great places to pick up quick and tasty sandwiches and salads that are perfect for outings.

Allyson's Kitchen, known as Allyson's of Ashland until the popular kitchen store extended its reach online and with plans for a branch in Bend, has a top-notch deli. Tucked in the basement at 115 E. Main St., Ashland, Allyson's deli makes sandwiches with specialty meats and cheeses and tops them off with Shakespeare-inspired names.

My favorite is the Lucetta — fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and onions, layered in a ciabatta roll with a smear of pesto and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Like all the sandwiches — from vegetarian options to those loaded with excellent, imported meats — on Allyson's menu, it costs $4.49 for a half sandwich and $6.95 for a whole sandwich.

The deli sells its wide variety of gourmet meats and cheeses in bulk too, so you can assemble your own picnic delights or stock the fridge with special treats.

Anyone with a sweet tooth should cap off their picnic shopping with Allyson's espresso brownie, an exceptional confection, rich and chewy, with a subtle coffee flavor and loads of chocolate ($1.95).

Medford's Black Oak Deli and Bagel, 721 Black Oak Drive, builds flavorful sandwiches on fresh-baked bagels. Each day, Monday through Saturday, they make 17 varieties of bagels that can be loaded with simple toppings like cream cheese or peanut butter or stacked high with deli meats, cheeses and sandwich veggies. The dense, slightly sweet bagels with an authentic crust hold up to all the goodness piled on them, even when you're on the go.

My top choice here is the Hungry Hippo — any bagel stuffed with hummus, avocado, lettuce, tomato, red onion and melted Swiss cheese ($5.25). However, the Lox Ness Monster — double layers of cream cheese, a mound of minced lox, tomato, onion, lettuce and the option of capers ($6.25) — always tastes good, too.

Black Oak also makes sandwiches on sliced bread and serves them with chips and a pickle, but really, the bagels are the main attraction.

Zach's Deli & Catering Co.,1310-F Center Drive in Harry and David's Country Village, Medford, is another of my top picks for portable meals.

It offers more than a dozen cold sandwiches, the best bet for picnicking, I think, and nearly as many hot sandwiches. Prices range from $4.75 for peanut butter and jelly to $8.95 for a hot ham and turkey sandwich.

The deli also has a great selection of salads — potato salad, pasta salads, a signature cabbage salad, chicken salad, fruit salad and seasonal offerings, such as tabbouleh and a broccoli and grape salad. Every whole sandwich comes with a side of the salad of the day and you can buy the salads by the pound. Meats and cheeses, including some quality Italian options, also are available by the pound from the deli case.

Zach's "outrageous cookies" — organic chocolate chunk or oatmeal ginger — are thick and chewy and loaded with chunks of chocolate and ginger, respectively. They cost $1.95.

Now shake out the picnic blanket, check the weather report, and remember that all these delis have inside seating, too.

— Anita Burke