It’s High Summer here in NYC and I love it. Sure, the garbage smell can be overwhelming at times and that occasional non-air-conditioned subway car can be like riding around in an easy-bake oven, but there are a lot of upsides, too! For one, you can get a dinner reservation less than one month ahead. And it feels like the manic clutch that holds the city from September to June eases a little bit. Although the weather is beautiful in June, summer doesn’t start for us until July 1st, when school is out, camp has begun, and we make our first batch of gazpacho.
With school-year schedules so demanding, the advent of July makes me yearn to be social, to stay out late, and be outside – summer evenings can be elusive once you have small children. So how does one achieve this goal when inviting people over to our back alley just seems unappealing? One heads to the big backyard, otherwise known as Central Park. Back in June, I received an email from a friend I love but see rarely, inviting all her friends to a free-for-all picnic in the Park on the last day of school. The key was: no planning, no rsvp – just show up if you can. I loved the no-pressure approach and when that day rolled around, we picked up some tacos and headed to the Sheep Meadow. It was a gorgeous evening. An intricate web of friends and acquaintances appeared with food, drinks and games. The kids roamed about and caught fireflies. It was perfectly random.
We left inspired to spend more time in the park and with six weeks of city summer stretched before us, we decided to keep the ball rolling. We set a goal of hosting a picnic every week for the month of July, weather permitting, inviting both close friends and those we love but feel like we never get to see. And to keep it interesting, we would devise a specific menu each week, making enough to feed our family and to share with whomever appeared the earliest. The first week, we went with an Asian theme:
Summer Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce
Cold Sesame Noodle Salad
Asian chicken salad with cabbage slaw
The summer rolls were inspired by my daughter who had just been to an ingenious cooking-themed birthday party (which I will post about soon). The chef got six picky-eating nine year-olds to make their own summer rolls, peanut sauce and soba noodle salad, which they then ate with gusto. Had I introduced such a thing to my children at home, I guarantee it would have gone untouched, but suddenly summer rolls and peanut sauce were all the rage and my daughter wanted to make them again. Perfect for a picnic!
Although we made most of the dishes the night before, the summer rolls needed to be made the same day. That morning, I instantly regretted having set up such a complicated task. Why did I think we could “get up early” and make something so involved? We still had to prepare breakfast, lunch for camp, and get out the door. There was no way we could also wrestle with sticky rice paper, mango slices and vermicelli noodles. But the girls were enthusiastic and so we set up an assembly line, making us late for camp, but with a plate full of summer rolls to show for it.
Later that evening, we took our handy beach cart loaded with supplies and rolled it up to the Sheep Meadow. We set up the little camping table we received as a wedding gift 14 years ago and had only used a handful of times, put a tablecloth on it and arranged our dinner. For the first half hour, we were the only ones there. Who is coming and when will they get here?, my daughter asked impatiently. I had to admit, I didn’t know – that is the risk you take when you dispense with the RSVP – and I was starting to wonder if anyone would come at all. But even if no one showed up, we would still be enjoying a lovely picnic with our family in the park, so no worries. Then slowly, people started to trickle in. A friend of a friend brought his adorable toddler, another friend I hadn’t seen in months showed up, school friends, college friends. Soon there were at least two dozen and counting – a lovely and random assortment of friends and acquaintances. More food and drink materialized. The weather was perfect. It was worth the effort.