NYC Foodie Date: Planning a Picnic in Central Park

Kyle and I went on a trip to New York City recently and we filled our days with food and fun. I recapped one of of our foodie dates last week and here is another. On this day we decided to sleep in and have a leisurely tour of some of New York City’s finest food shopping and most beautiful outdoor scenery. We started our day with a couple of bagels at La Bagel Delight in Park Slope.

Hola, avocado cream cheese

Stuffed with the heavenly combination of dense crusty bagels and flavor-packed cream cheese, we got on the F train and sipped our iced coffees. We took the subway to Chelsea, a neighborhood on the west side of Manhattan. Soon we were in Chelsea Market, a gigantic food emporium filled with trendy gourmet specialty shops. This is one of my favorite places in Manhattan and I was so excited to show my good-eats-loving companion around.

While in Chelsea Market, we visited a large kitchen supply store, a very cool wine shop, a brownie bakery, a cupcake bakery, a dairy bar and more. We were planning a picnic for later in the day, so we picked up some essentials along our trip. For example, bon bons from Jacques Torres. Totally essential.

We also visited One Lucky Duck, a juice bar created by the same folks who are behind Pure Food and Wine. I ordered a Thai green juice that included greens, pineapple, cilantro and lime. It also tasted very strongly of celery. We loved it!

The guy on the right is making our juice. He kept putting more and more vegetables in there; I could tell it was packed with nutrients.

From the Chelsea Market we took a little walk towards the water and did some shopping in fancy designer stores (not buying!). Kyle loved seeing the limited edition reproductions of vintage clothing and accessories at Levi’s, and I enjoyed admiring the beautiful patterns and silhouettes at Diane von Furstenberg. After getting our shopping fix, we hopped a train to Columbus Circle and picked up the core picnic items at Whole Foods. Then we headed to a nearby wine shop that agreed to open and recork a bottle for us to take into the park. It is not legal to consume alcohol while in Central Park, so I’m not going to tell you that we did.

Also on the menu: a veggie wrap, a wedge of aged mahon, and a bag of organic Ranier cherries. And bon bons of course, how could I forget? We dined near Strawberry Fields on the west side of the park, in a small clearing between the trees. We could see other people walking by on the paths just twenty feet away from where we sat, but they never saw us due to the bushes and trees around our picnic spot. It was a great balance of liveliness and solitude.

The weather couldn’t have been better. As the sun started to set, we chatted about all kinds of things, while spitting the cherry pits into the bushes and savoring the last few crumbles of Mahon and sips of Monastrell. It was a very relaxing end to an exciting day, full of new experiences and flavors. If you are looking to expand your culinary horizons while maintaining a romantic cozy vibe, I would recommend this date for you. Throw yourself into the hustle and bustle of the gorgeous Chelsea Market and the busiest Whole Foods I have ever visited, and then relax in a hidden picnic spot in the park while you reflect on all you have learned. Possibly under a young cherry tree near Strawberry Fields.

Advertisements

When Life Hands You Lemons. . .

 

When life hands you lemons, buy yourself a bottle of blueberry vodka and make this lemonade.

I celebrated a birthday last week with a few of my closest friends. We had planned a Potluck Picnic in White, one week before my actual 25th birthday. I think a 25th birthday is a pretty big deal and I was looking forward to having a huge party. But then I ended up making work-related plans on my real birthday (don’t worry, they are really cool plans, even though I’ll be working) and the big bash was out. Summer birthday bummer.

So I opted for an intimate gathering in a local park, with guests dressed in white so we could find each other, family style shared dishes and refreshing libations, punctuated by cool music and fun backyard games. I drew inspiration from Paris’s Diner en Blanc and invited my closest Richmond friends. And then this happened.

And then it climbed. . . and climbed. . . and climbed.

On Friday night, with a Saturday evening forecast of 100 degrees F and a heat index of 116, I reconsidered the picnic idea. The weather channel warned of excessive heat and scattered thunderstorms, and I decided to move the picnic indoors. Lucky me, my guests showed up just as excited as ever.

We made lemonade. In personalized cups, with a few fresh blueberries splashed right in.

Some friends brought salads, and others brought desserts.

Instead of croquet, we played jenga. Like croquet, it gets increasingly difficult after a few blueberry vodka lemonades.

I served fresh white cupcakes. . . with decorations!

As usual, my co-host was a constant source of entertainment.

For the record, he had no more than a sip of this lemonade.

Blueberry Vodka Lemonade

Ingredients – one serving:

  • 2 ounces blueberry flavored vodka
  • 6 ounces fresh lemonade (not from concentrate!)
  • 4-5 fresh blueberries, washed and stems removed
  • 1/2 cup crushed ice

Ingredients – one pitcher (8 servings):

  • 2 cups blueberry flavored vodka
  • 6 cups fresh lemonade
  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries, washed and stems removed
  • 4 cups crushed ice

Preparation:

  1. Combine all ingredients (in a glass or pitcher).
  2. Add more lemonade and/or vodka to taste.
  3. Stir and enjoy!

Thank you to all my friends who made this birthday event extra special!

Non-Valentine’s Day Picnic and Hike

I don’t usually do anything special for Valentine’s Day. When I think back to the three Valentine’s Days that Kyle and I have spent as a couple, I recall quiet dinners at home, nice bottles of wine, and my choice of romantic movies from Blockbuster (OK, that is a rare thing indeed). I think in the past we may have exchanged chocolates or cards, and I’m sure I’ve received a bouquet of tulips, but no major celebration comes to mind. We just don’t ever plan anything big for February 14th.

This year, we wanted to do something. We have had a rough start to the year and both wanted to take some time out of our busy schedules to recognize how much we appreciate each other’s support and companionship through it all. Isn’t that nice? Kyle suggested a fancy restaurant, I suggested we go somewhere for the weekend, and we both considered getting into a DIY dinner project like homemade sushi or fondue. But what really made the decision for us was the weather forecast.

For a weekend, things thawed out a bit and we were blessed with clear blue skies and bright sunshine that pierced the cold February air. This time last year, we were recovering from a massive snow storm. This weekend, we ventured out to Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield County, Virginia to do an easy morning hike followed by a half-healthy, half-indulgent picnic. It was two days before Valentine’s Day, which was perfect. I’ve always been ambivalent about V-Day. Why would you need a holiday to show people you love them? I’ll take romance any day of the year, so this weekend I celebrated it on February 12th. at our Non-Valentine’s Day Picnic.

We began our hike with a beautiful view of Beaver Lake. The dark blue lake was gently moving as the bright sun cracked the thin layer of ice that slowly melted away as the day went on. We could see geese in the distance, perched on the last few sheets of thick ice that remained in a large, shady corner of the lake.

That's my valentine!

We did about two miles of the 2.5 mile loop before setting up our picnic at another point on the trail with lake access. As we meandered through the woods, the trail led us to wildlife observation areas, over a few creeks, and past some interesting landmarks that others had left before us.

We finally settled down to a picnic on the edge of the lake, and while we had to contend with strong winds throughout the meal, we enjoyed taking in the scenery with very few fellow hikers for company. I would imagine that a picnic here in the summer would be more desirable from a climate standpoint, but there is no chance we would have the lake and the trail to ourselves. It was so nice to experience the stillness and silence between the laughs and conversation that we enjoyed here.

The wine definitely helped to warm us up as we faced the chill of the breeze coming off the water. In addition to an ingeniously portable bottle/box of Bandit Merlot, we packed Azar’s roasted garlic hummus, baby carrots, a fresh baguette, Babybel cheese (more portable than a knife and a block of cheddar), green apples, and a box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

Azar’s is one of my favorite brands of hummus. I’ve probably been eating it for about six years and I just realized it is made in Virginia. I don’t know how I ever missed it before. What a special treat!

Everything was tasty and fresh. We saved the chocolates for the car ride home, and let me just say that it was a good thing we only had eight in that box. We had no intention of finishing the whole thing, but they were almost all gone before we even exited the park. It is about a five minute drive from the trailhead to the park exit. If we had been trapped in that car for the 30 minute drive with more than three Ferrero Garden coconut chocolates, Kyle would have had to roll me out of the car and up to our second floor apartment. They were the best candy I have had in a very very long time. If you love coconut, find this candy!

And then find yourself a longer hike to work it off. Yum!