Some of my favorite summer memories took place in the curve of a cul-de-sac. That’s where we gathered each year for our neighborhood Fourth of July block party. Mom and Dad would cruise up the street. She always brought a side dish hot from the oven, and he always carried a cooler brimming with cold beverages and meats for the grill. I would be pedaling my two-wheeler decked out in full Fourth flair right beside them.
As soon as we made it to the loop at the end of the street, the festivities began. It was like happening upon a secret celebration just for our neighborhood. The grill kept sizzling until every belly was full, and the crowd buzzed well past dark. Hot dogs and deviled eggs and all those recipes kids love stretched as far as my eyes could see, and my bedtime was nowhere in sight — I couldn’t imagine my life any better.
Now that I’m the mom in the picture, I appreciate the block party for all new reasons. I look forward to the pop-up restaurant that it is — where everybody brings to the (collapsible card) table their signature party recipe for zippy beans, crunchy slaw or fruit salad. Now I know that, for the grown-ups, the party happens around the food. So, while my kids wrap their wheels in crepe paper, I make a plan for the big neighborhood party. Here are my best tips for making family friendly recipes that make a real splash.
Bring Enough to Share
When attending their first block party, the uninitiated bring just what they can carry from home. After that first experience, they are willing to drive a trailer down the street if it means they’ll have plenty of food for tasting, sharing and trading for the duration of the party. A double portion of chips and dip, an extra rack of ribs, a couple dozen more cookies — make extra portions of your favorite party recipes to err on the side of bringing too much. Not only will you get to take a bigger bite out of the night, there’s a good chance you’ll get to play hero to an unprepared rookie.
Plan a Make-Ahead Meat
Build your menu around a main course that requires little work once you get to the party. Marinate chicken the night before the party, and then put it on the grill for about five minutes. Roast tenderloin of pork or beef, give it a kiss from the grill and slice it up for sandwiches. Or shred a barbecued brisket at home and have it ready to scoop up in forkfuls as soon as you arrive.
Limit Your Time on the Grill
Assume the grill will be in high demand during the party. I recommend doing as much prep as possible at home before you even get there. Try to coordinate the timing of your food, especially the main course, so that you bring it hot or warm and it needs only to be unwrapped or touched by the grill before serving. Also, be thoughtful about the containers you use; make sure they can be put directly onto the grates of a hot grill.
Keep the Sweets Simple
By the time anyone’s looking for dessert, the ice in the cooler is half melted, the kids are dirty from top to toes and all the adults are pretty darn full. I recommend purchasing your desserts from the pastry shop down the street or opting for semi-homemade recipes kids love. At that point in the night, one last taste of sweet is just what the doctor ordered. Two-bite bakery confections, store-bought popsicles and homemade elephant ears are yummy and easy to pull together.
Everyone knows that memories are made wherever lawn chairs are unfolded. Make those memories downright delicious with a full-fledged spread of sweet and savory summertime favorites. For one last hurrah (and a cherry on top those memories), forgo before-bed baths in favor of a family sprint through the sprinklers.