Evening Picnic at Columbia

A few weeks ago, we received an unexpected package in the mail. It was an enormous brown cardboard box with neither a sender’s address nor any observable clues as to what might lie within. Simon immediately tore it open and inside, lo and behold, was a beautiful wicker picnic basket! It came with all the fixings—plates, wine glasses, linen napkins, silverware for two… I may have done a bit of a happy dance around the living room; I was so excited. As it turned out, the surprise gift was from Simon’s extremely thoughtful mother Amy, whom we thanked profusely over the phone. In the days afterwards, I quickly got to work planning our first fancy picnic, and yesterday, we finally made it all happen.

We began with a trip to Zabar’s, our new favorite grocery store on the Upper West Side. If you live in the area and haven’t been to this place yet, you have to try it. In addition to produce and milk and eggs and such, Zabar’s has an incredible selection of freshly baked breads, imported deli meats and cheeses, made-in-house meals and desserts, and foods you wouldn’t ever think to put on your grocery list, but nevertheless feel the need to buy at first sight. It’s the perfect place to do a bit of pre-picnic shopping, and we left having purchased a loaf of rosemary pugliese bread, some Italian pecorino cheese, and a sizeable hunk of Hungarian salami, among other things. But those were just the appetizers….

A truly wonderful place. 2245 Broadway (at 80th Street). We learned about it while watching a video guide to the Upper West Side by a fellow blogger. Check it out!

Once we got home, I got to work with the rest of the picnic menu. Now if you know me well, you know that I can be slightly overambitious when it comes to planning out meals and excursions (and really, all manner of things). But Simon keeps me in check, so I managed to limit myself to preparing just two things: Pesto potato salad, inspired by a recipe from one of my favorite cooking blogs, the Smitten Kitchen, and a classic sour cream pound cake. Because we were somewhat short on time I also convinced myself to take a few shortcuts, like using store-bought pesto instead of making my own and substituting plain old all-purpose flour for pastry flour in the pound cake. Simon cracked eggs, diced potatoes, and used his superior spatial skills to wrestle everything into our suddenly small-seeming picnic basket, and by about 8pm, we were ready to go.

The master at work.

The basket ended up being a lot heavier than it looks!

So Simon very chivalrously carried it all the way. 

Yes I know. Eight o’clock in the evening. A ridiculously late hour for starting a picnic. What can I say, life doesn’t always go as planned. Given that it was just half an hour before sunset, we decided not to head to Central Park as we had originally intended. We had a feeling it might not be the friendliest of places after dark. Instead, we walked over to Columbia’s campus, which happened to not only have plenty of green space but also street lamps and graduate students milling about. We camped out on a friendly little quad between classroom buildings, and it was simply perfect.

The humidity of the day had passed, leaving behind a lovely summer breeze. It was quiet but not too quiet, the lights ambient but not too bright. We had total privacy, yet with the grad students nearby, we didn’t feel alone. And our food was just delicious. Even with the shortcuts I had taken in the kitchen. We thoroughly enjoyed our evening picnic, even more so because it was a sort of last hurrah before Simon’s week-long conference in Maine. And my life lesson for the day? Sometimes when things don’t go as planned, they turn out even better.