By Karen J. Irvine
Why does it seem like it has been such a long time for summer to arrive? I’m not sure exactly why, but all of my friends agree and they are thrilled that it is here at last.
Trouble is it’s almost the Fourth of July! Yikes! Better get moving and enjoy every bit of summer in the Two River area we can.
One of the best ways is to get away from old habits. Be spontaneous. Joie de vivre!
For something different get away from your backyards and try a no-fuss picnic barbecue on your boat or at the beach with the river or the ocean as your backdrop. It is the perfect ending to any summer day and capitalizes on the natural beauty that makes this area so unique and beautiful.
Don’t panic, picnicking is like anything else – practice makes perfect.
Repeat after me: KISS – Keep-it-simple-stupid. Low maintenance is the goal. No event planners or professional chefs needed. You don’t have to impress; you want to have fun and be comfortable. However, you do want your experience to be slightly elevated. You can make that happen by using prime ingredients with just the right amount of elegant accoutrements.
Be Ready to Roll
In the summer and early fall I keep a picnic basket handy filled with tablecloth, napkins, serving utensils, corkscrew, salt and pepper, plates, silverware and glasses for four people. While most people immediately associate picnics with disposable paper plates, plastic utensils and shatterproof glassware, I abhor the idea. For example, I have what I call my traveling wine glasses. I assure you, they are not Reidel. They are inexpensive and a bit heavier than my finest crystal, but they are glass and every bit worth the effort of wrapping them in a dishtowel, which can be used for serving as well.
I do bring along a couple of plastic cups just in case someone forgets theirs. Do use cloth tablecloth and napkins. Always, always bring a roll of paper towels, moist towelettes, and a plastic garbage bag. A cooler is nice, but not always necessary if your rendezvous takes place within an hour or so.
Where Oh Where to Have Your Barbecue?
OK, so you have the bones taken care of, now where’s the meat – the location. Really, it can be just about anywhere you would like it to be.
When walking along the beach have you ever thought, “Now that would be a lovely spot for an alfresco dinner.” Or when hiking along a trail, visiting a park, or boating into a cozy cove. I always consider the sunset as a key ingredient to a great alternative dinner picnic spot. One area that always peaks my interest is at the end of the Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook at Fort Hancock. There are picnic tables and grills on a first-come, first-served basis and it seems there is always one that is available. It is a great place to do your grilling. And as far as sunsets, you cannot find a better location to watch the show. If you remain alert you will begin to notice the many locations like the one at Sandy Hook where you can enjoy a summer supper.
Love the sound of the surf breaking? Then simply do your grilling at home and pack your picnic, beach chair and a blanket for the most spectacular barbecue settings in the world! The beach can be anywhere there is a place to park a vehicle and a path to get to the shore. My friends and I often picnicked at the northern Sea Bright public beach. It was often empty after 6 p.m. with an occasional surf fisherman trying his luck.
For boaters, the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers offer great boating with many quiet coves for either anchoring by single boat or rafting up with others.
Lance “Chick” Cunningham, a lifetime boater and owner of Carriage House Marina, Sea Bright, advises to keep it simple. He uses a marine stainless steel barbecue grill mounted on the side of his boat.
“When we are on our own we barbecue some or use it to heat up fried chicken,” he said. “When we raft up, we tend to be more casual and bring sandwiches – and always a cheeseboard and wine, but only when anchored,” Cunningham added, with the reminder that the U.S. Coast Guard and police patrol the waters aggressively with the same laws applying as for DUI.
For several weeks a state-supervised waterways cleanup of debris that Super Storm Sandy left in its wake has been under way leaving boat channels and the shores of islands pristine.
“I’ve been out quite a bit this year and they have done a very good job, but boaters should be careful because there still could be debris out there,” he cautioned.
Cunningham said that he pays attention to prevailing winds and looks for protected and quiet areas away from boat traffic to drop anchor. “Sometimes we can sneak behind a sandbar,” he added.
Remember our mantra? Keep it simple. The best way to do this is to make the meal a combination of prepared foods with some that you prepare yourself and that other picnic-goers prepare. Please don’t try to play super host. Let others contribute appetizers, side dishes and fruit for dessert. As far as beverages, it’s every man and/or woman for themselves. Do the barbecuing at home or order a rack of BBQ ribs from Sickles Market, Little Silver. If you are picnicking on board you can order takeout from Salt Creek Grille, Rumson. Dock your boat at their dock to run in to pick up mesquite grilled baby back ribs. You can also do this at any of the riverfront restaurants, but do explore docking arrangements and availability first because often finding a place to dock is extremely difficult.
Cunningham says for an elegant appetizer he and his friends order a seafood platter from Lusty Lobster to take on board. They store it on ice in a cooler along with plenty of refreshing beverages and sometimes sushi.
You do not have to get fancy and make a different side dish each time you go out. In fact if I didn’t bring my traditional fresh corn salad there would be a mutiny.
Bottom line, it is really about sharing time with friends and family that matters most. The food and drink are secondary. Be adventuresome and find new ways to experience the Two River area. I guarantee you will be glad you did.
After Super Storm Sandy, I think we all appreciate our special location not only for its unique beauty, but also mostly for the people who live and work here.
Karen J. Irvine is the principal of Culinary Communications, LLC.
Fresh Corn Salad
The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten
5 ears corn, shucked
½ cup small-diced red onion
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons good olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup chiffonade fresh basil leaves
In a pot of boiling water cook corn for 3 minutes until starchiness is gone. Drain and immerse it in ice water to stop the cooking and set the color. When the corn is cool, cut the kernels off the cob, cutting close to the cob.
Toss the kernels in a large bowl with red onions, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Just before serving toss in the fresh basil. Taste for seasonings and serve cold or at room temperature.
Note: I use leftover corn on the cob from an earlier dinner. Do not use any other vinegar than cider vinegar.
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