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The Annual BBQ Dilemma

By Barry Dougherty

            I have always enjoyed summer on Long Island, and were it not for those annual barbecues, I would survive the season totally void of anxiety. Unfortunately, my attendance at suburbia’s answer to Hawaiian luaus is always traumatic. My fears take me from Hewlett to Hampton Bays and from Baldwin to Brookville. Every town is a barbecue waiting to happen.
            I never accept an invitation to a barbecue without asking my host what I should bring. The answer is always the same, “Oh, just bring yourself.” Sure, if I ever spent a small fortune on an outdoor dinner party for 20 and not one person brought anything, I would be sneering at every guest who stuffed my free meal down their hungry little throat.
            So I am always left to my own resources to bring that perfect “little something.” Some people manage to outshine the rest with their culinary feats. Homemade pineapple upside-down cake, strawberry grape leaves, tuna pate and blueberry blintzes are all proudly displayed on top of the red-plaid paper tablecloth taped to the aluminum folding table. Admittedly, my food forte is anything but conservative, but that doesn’t negate any courtesy I may be due for bringing one of my specialties. I have a a cole slaw and blueberry yogurt dish to die for, a potato salad in peanut sauce with raspberries that would astonish you, and asparagus stalks in an orange Jell-O mold that leaves you craving for more. Yet, over the years I have been hesitant to offer my gastronomical creations after a few too many hostesses quickly whisked them away from the picnic table saying, “Oh, this is much too good to serve now. I’m saving this for later.” Later being when she runs out of Alpo and needs a quick meal for Lucky the Dachshund.
            There is always the beverage to bring. A six-pack of beer is easy but whenever I give this a shot I find my contribution added to one of three large plastic garbage cans already filled to the brim with ice and beer–and I’m the first to arrive. Wine is a good thought, until I find my bottle placed beside the wine I brought last Christmas, which is next to the one I gave them for their housewarming sometime in the 80s. I’m sure glad I gave them the wine rack as a wedding present.
            Cookies are handy but you need to get them from a really good bakery or you’ll find that of all the desserts available your cookies are the only ones left untouched by human hands. Baking wouldn’t hurt, but as you can surmise, if my cookies are not eaten hot from the oven you may as well contribute them as practice equipment for the U.S. Olympic Discus throwers.
            Last July 4th I thought I had finally hit on the perfect barbecue delicacy: marshmallows. I remember how much fun I had, growing up in Seaford, toasting marshmallows skewered on tree branches (usually “borrowed” from neighbors’ trees). No one ever seems to do this anymore, so it seemed like the perfect choice. Needless to say, I am still rethinking the “little something” idea, seeing as my marshmallows were last spotted on top of seven other packages of unused marshmallows. Apparently, last July 4th was a popular time for us Baby Boomers to relive our Long Island childhood summers.
            This summer I had planned on turning the tables on my hosts by giving some barbecues of my own. But then I realized new traumas: my fear of gas grills, what to serve vegetarians, what to do if it rains, how to hide previous gifts of wine…