There’s a little park in our neighborhood, where we end up eating most of our picnics, that’s tucked away between beautiful brownstones on treelined streets. Just one block long, it’s thoughtfully laid out and landscaped. There’s a grassy knoll in the middle surrounded by a path and benches. On one end of the knoll you’ll find round picnic tables and on the other a playground for the neighborhood kids. Leafy trees shade the park while flowers and plants adorn the ground and fill in stone structures.
On any given day or evening you’ll find local residents of all ages cutting through the modest park to reach home or another destination, walking their dogs, jogging, eating a meal or snack, reading, chatting or playing. Visitors are sitting on a bench or picnic table or on a blanket brought from home. And on a few balmy weeknights each summer, you can hear live music performed.
Each summer the neighborhood association plans free weekly performances in the park and, unlike in busier parts of New York City, we don’t have to arrive in advance to battle for a spot to lay out our picnic blanket and packed dinner. We enjoy people watching as little kids run around, stopping long enough to bust a move if they’re feeling the music; others unpack their own meals; parents come from work, still in their business attire, and meet up with the rest of their family; other couples sit closely together on a bench; and the patients from the nursing home down the street sit front and center in their wheelchairs, their nurses standing behind them.
We often bring a book but usually end up just relaxing on our blanket as we loosely pay attention to the music. We always pack a picnic and sometimes a couple of cold beers. On the first night of this summer’s music series we listened to “vintage Reggae and Afrobeat rhythms with infusions of bluesy funk, soul, and R&B” by SweetCane while we drank chilled gazpacho. We’ve made this gazpacho recipe no less than three times in the past month. The obvious reason for this, in the middle of summer, is that it doesn’t involve turning on the oven or stove and is eaten chilled. It gets bonus points for being super easy to whip up and serve, using summer produce, making enough for multiple meals and for being filling while not too heavy. On this warm night we topped it with a few drops of good olive oil and diced cucumbers and tomatoes and ate sourdough bread with cheese on the side.
Any picnic in this quaint park brings a feeling of calm and community, and no more so than on these summer nights of live music accompanied by good food and good company.