July 26, 2009
A few weeks ago, I snapped out of bed and announced to a still-groggy Eugene that I had a plan.
"I'm going to have a picnic," I told him. "In Central Park. And I'm going to invite all the food and food writers and food people I talk to on Twitter all day long."
He gave me that look that he gives me when I come up with plans that invariably involve huge grocery bills and hours in the kitchen.
"And it will be a potluck," I quickly added. "So I won't have to do all the cooking. Everyone can bring something delicious, and we'll talk and laugh and lay around in the sun all day!"
At this he agreed that it was a good idea and went off to get ready for the day while I got to work writing up the invitation. By the time he got out of the shower, I already had my first RSVP from Anna of Very Small Anna and the plan was officially in effect.
On the morning of the party, I couldn't resist and got busy in the kitchen. I wasn't sure what the turnout was going to be, so I wanted to make sure that there was enough food for everyone. I roasted asparagus, made a simple chicken salad with sliced almonds, lemon, and green apples, and a roasted potato salad with a smoked paprika dressing. I also put together a few sandwiches with fresh mozzarella, eggplant caponata, and spicy ajvar on multigrain bread, figuring that any leftovers would be great for lunch the following week.
Given the unpredictable (and unseasonal) nature of this summer, I was a little worried about the weather. I spent the week trying to figure out what to do if it rained, and wondering if I could somehow hold the picnic on our living room floor. Fortunately, the sun came out and it actually turned out to be one of the prettiest days of the month.
Eugene and I got to the spot early and were surprised to see that the usually empty corner of the park was actually quite bustling with some kind of children's camp. There were counselors in white t-shirts and little kids playing kickball everywhere, so we had to walk a bit further down to the water's edge to find a spot. We settled in under a big willow tree, and spread out our brightly colored blankets just a few feet away from a thorny blackberry bush.
It's always a bit awkward waiting for strangers that you've only "met" virtually. Twitter profile pictures really aren't the most helpful for picking folks out in a crowd. There was another fairly large picnic being held across the way from, and since people kept arriving and walking straight towards them, we started getting a little worried that they were stealing our people. I was just about to march over to them, when it dawned on us that we should have brought a sign. Eugene grabbed a scrap of cardboard and ran up to the children's camp to borrow a marker. He came back holding a sign with the words "Nandita Tweetup!" written across it.
"Why didn't you write food blogger picnic?" I asked.
"You didn't even want a sign, and now you're complaining," he pointed out. "This will work."
We attached it (sort of) to the tripod and planted it facing the crowd (in case any of our people had been lured away). It did work, because within a few seconds, our first guests arrived. Erin, a blogger and writer whom I've chatted with on Twitter, walked over to us and set down a beautiful bowl of roasted vegetable orzo. Eugene's coworker Jan-Michael and his friend Tom also came by. Jan brought chips and a homemade buffalo-chicken dip that tasted absolutely incredible. It was like eating buffalo wings...on a chip! Tom contributed some tasty ham and cheese sandwiches cut into perfect cubes.
My friend DC, who is executive director of The LAMP, a kickass media literacy nonprofit, and his lovely wife Emily (the LAMP communications director) arrived soon after. DC shared a just-pulled from the oven pot of mouthwatering baked beans. They were sweet and smokey and absolutely perfect eaten straight from a plastic cup. He refused to share his recipe, and wouldn't even tell us what the delicious meat in it was, although we spent much of the afternoon trying to guess. All we know for sure is that it was definitely not bacon. (Or squirrel...)
The other guests quickly followed: Marc, the talented cook and blogger behind No Recipes, and his wife brought gorgeous summer rolls and a cool cucumber dip. Looney, my faithful friend and cohort brought focaccia with eggplant, onions, and garlic. Thalia, the marketing manager from our office cafe at Hearst, showed up in a brilliant Mexican peasant dress and with a bottle of sparkling apple cider. Shiv, from the ridiculously awesome blog Pithy and Cleaver contributed a chickpea salad with a cilantro-yogurt dressing; perfect for a summer picnic!
To drink we had bottles of red and white wine (carefully concealed from any passing nosy officers), Thalia's sparkling apple cider, a tequila-drenched watermelon courtesy of Anna, and an intoxicating strawberry liqueur, lemon, and thyme syrup (all homemade!!!) cocktail prepared table...er... blanket-side by master mixologist Payman.
Hermann, the lightning bolt behind the new food-focused meetup group, FeastUp, brought Polish sausage from Greenpoint, which paired perfectly with the cheeses selected by cheese monger-in-training, Francoise. Later in the afternoon, my coworker Aryanna wandered over, bringing along her friend Chimene who (like me!) wants to pursue a career in food writing and just completed a course on the subject. We compared notes on our respective classes while digging into the two-bite brownies and fruit salad that she brought.
Ironically (and despite the name of this blog), we didn't have as many desserts as I originally expected. While collecting RSVPs, several came in from bloggers who planned to bring cake or other sweet treats. Worried that we'd end up with nothing but pie, I asked all subsequent responders to bring a savory dish. But then theoriginal dessert-never showed up! Fortunately we had sweet strawberries and lavender-scented chocolate mochi chip cupcakes from Anna, who just moved to NY to start pastry school. I didn't get a chance to take a picture of them, but if they're any indication of her talent, she's definitely got some good days ahead!
It was a great time, and fantastic to have a little real-life interaction with some of the folks I talk to all week long online. I hope even more of you will join us for the next one! (And there will definitely be a next one...)
I'll be posting a few of the recipes (for the dishes I contributed) over the course of this week. If any of the other attendees blog about your dishes, let me know or leave the link in the comments.
Oh! And if you want to see the rest of the pictures (there are lots!), check them out on Flickr.
P.S. If you're wondering why I'm not in any of these pictures, it's because I was behind the camera. ;)