A Philadelphian’s Guide to Making the Most of a Socially Distanced Summer
Will it be the season you were expecting? Probably not. Can it still be great? Absolutely. From cocktails to playlists, street games to road trips, tips from Philly summertime pros on how to make the most of the months ahead.
Raise Your Grilling Game
Ange Branca of East Passyunk’s beloved, now-shuttered Saté Kampar is known for her perfectly grilled saté skewers and Malaysian specialties. Here are her tips for taking your grill beyond burgers and steaks.
1. Try a new charcoal.
All of Saté Kampar’s grills were powered by coconut charcoal, a clean-burning fuel that gets super-hot without producing tons of smoke. The magic, Branca says, is when the spices and marinades hit the coals, creating a fragrance that’s more delicate than that of any normal American charcoal. Buy it through Riverwards Produce or find it online.
2. Take the fear out of fish.
Branca served lots of grilled fish at the restaurant, but she knows it can be intimidating for novices. To prevent fish from sticking to the grates, she recommends wrapping fillets or whole fish in banana leaves, which create a natural nonstick surface and impart a gently smoky flavor to the finished product. Find them in the frozen section of any Asian grocery store.
3. Change up your approach to chicken.
Grilled chicken can be difficult to nail, since the lean flesh overcooks easily over too-high heat. Branca offers two pieces of advice. For a saté-style bird, cut boneless breast or thighs into equal-size pieces, then place the pieces on a skewer. The smaller pieces allow the meat to cook more equally. To successfully cook whole breasts or quarters, simmer the chicken in a flavorful sauce until partially cooked, then finish on the grill for texture and caramelization.
Turn Your House Into Summer Camp
Advice from Alisha Berry, Camp Sojourner Girls’ Leadership Camp
Summer camp is all about getting kids out of their element — giving them a chance to meet new people, try new things, get bitten by new bugs. With camp season iffy, parents looking to re-create that energy at home will need to improvise.
“They have to be willing to enter the zone, the camp zone, that’s playful and creative,” says Alisha Berry, director of the Camp Sojourner Girls’ Leadership Camp, a nonprofit for Philadelphia girls. “We’re very comfortable doing this stuff. Parents have a different range of skill sets, and this might not be their wheelhouse.”
Mom and Dad gotta get goofy with it. Theme days, wacky costumes, trivia, talent shows, singing, painting, scavenger hunts — these old camp classics could translate depending on how much space and enthusiasm you have to work with. The idea, says Berry, is to let kids lead the way while also “pushing them a little bit past their resistance” to escaping their comfort zone.
And even if you can’t make a campfire, you can still make s’mores by toasting marshmallows on a chopstick over your gas stove, says Berry. You don’t even need graham crackers: “Any cookies would do the trick.”
Pull Off a Classic Clambake at Home
At Oyster House, the clambake has been on the menu for 11 years, but second-generation owner Sam Mink says it’s easy to replicate at home.
Get your ingredients.
The backbone of a clambake is at least half a lobster per person, so grab at least two one-pounders to serve four. If you’re skittish about boiling them to death yourself, ask your fishmonger for par-cooked lobsters.You’ll also want at least a pound of clams and a pound of mussels total. Add to that some small parboiled red potatoes and an ear of corn per person, cut in half. Mink also likes to include something porky, like kielbasa. Go for one link per person, cut into one- or two-inch pieces.
Cook it up.
Place your biggest stockpot over medium heat and bring one and a half cups of salted water to boil. Add the corn, clams and sausage, putting in a little more water if the level seems low. Steam them for five minutes. Next, add the mussels and potatoes and place the par-cooked lobsters on the very top. Return the lid and steam for about five minutes.
Set aside the lobsters, dump your finished clambake into a large bowl or onto a sheet tray, and top with the lobsters. A checkered tablecloth and lobster forks are non-negotiable accessories, as are plenty of lemon wedges to squeeze over the seafood, plus butter for dipping.
Turn Your Backyard Into a Water Park
There are a lot of good reasons you might not make it to a water park this summer (pandemic, adulthood, aversion to splashing around in pee), but maybe all you need is a patch of grass and a hose. Dean Smith of JaZams, the Peddler’s Village toy store that took home a Best of Philly award last year, recommends three attachments that will leave everyone all wet. Order them at jazams.com.
Dash ’N Splash Rainbow Water Slide
Picture a multicolored Slip ’N Slide with a cushy cloud at the end. JaZams’s biggest seller for the past several years. $29.99.
Slip ’N Slide Wave Rider Double
Twice the fun of the original: Two kids shoot down at once and race to the end. $21.95.
Another top seller: these soft inflatable animals (whales, unicorns, octopi) that gush water from the tops of their heads. Starting at $16.99.
Refreshing Cocktails to Sip All Summer Long
At the Lunar Inn in Port Richmond, the bar program focuses on easygoing cocktails meant to be sipped and shared with friends. Co-owner Emily Kovach says you can bring these refreshing community-focused drinking habits home with two summer cocktails focusing on local ingredients and fresh flavors. Keep reading here.
Master a Philly Street Game
Advice from Len Davidson, street games aficionado
Len Davidson, who grew up in Oxford Circle in the 1950s and ’60s, may well be the city’s most esteemed Philly street games ambassador. (He’s also a sociologist and a noted collector of neon signs, but that’s a tale for another time.) “It was a significant aspect of rowhouse living,” he says of games like stickball, buck buck and deadbox. “It’s a Philly cultural tradition that I don’t want to see lost.”
That’s why he and some friends organized the Philadelphia Rowhouse Sports Olympics back in 1997, inviting people from all over the city to play. And it’s why he had some really nice deadbox mats printed up recently — so he could unroll them in a public place and play a few rounds with his fellow Philadelphians.
Coronavirus has pretty much 86’d the 2020 deadbox season, but you can still play an at-home or socially distanced version.
How to Play a (Simplified) Game of Deadbox
Find a low-traffic patch of asphalt and draw a six-foot-by-six-foot square. Inside that square, draw nine more squares — one in each corner, one in the middle of each sideline, and one big one in the middle. (That’s the titular deadbox; draw a skull and crossbones there.) Now pick a corner and, working clockwise, put numbers in each of those outer boxes in this order: 1, 7, 4, 2, 6, 8, 3, 5.
Get a nice unbent bottle cap and personalize it with some melted crayon or candle wax. Add a washer or penny to give it some weight.
You and your opponents take turns flicking your bottle caps (put the cap between your thumb and middle or pointer finger and spin it) from the 1 square to the 2, the 2 to the 3, and so on. The numbers are arranged so that you’re always crossing the deadbox; if you accidentally land there, go back to the start. Hit somebody else’s bottle cap with yours and you can advance to your next box, so try to do that. Winner is the first one to 8. Loser is a rotten egg.
Warning: This is a stripped-down version of the game. Some people will tell you that’s not how they played it on their block. They’ll be right.
Go Down the Shore
Without, you know, actually going down the Shore
Order boardwalk treats to your door, buy Shore swag, make your own funnel cakes, and more. Keep reading here.
8 Great Beach Reads for 2020
Advice from Deanna Wilson, Stone Harbor Books
You don’t necessarily need a beach to enjoy a good beach read. These light thrillers, dramas and romances satisfy no matter where you open them, says Deanna Wilson, who debuted her spacious down-the-Shore destination, Stone Harbor Books, on 96th Street in 2011. Here are the titles she thinks will be in demand this season.
28 Summers, by Elin Hilderbrand
Publisher says: Based on the classic film Same Time Next Year, 28 Summers explores the agony and romance of a one-weekend-per-year affair.
A Good Marriage, by Kimberly McCreight
Publisher says: Big Little Lies meets Presumed Innocent.
All Adults Here, by Emma Straub
Publisher says: Adult siblings, aging parents, high-school boyfriends, middle-school mean girls, the lifelong effects of birth order, and all the other stuff that follows us into adulthood.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (A Hunger Games Novel), by Suzanne Collins
Publisher says: Revisit the world of Panem 64 years before the events of the Hunger Games.
Big Summer, by Jennifer Weiner
Publisher says: Friendship and forgiveness, set during a disastrous wedding on picturesque Cape Cod (the latest from a Philly fave).
Ghosts of Harvard, by Francesca Serritella
Publisher says: A Harvard freshman becomes obsessed with her schizophrenic brother’s suicide (debut novel from the Inky columnist and daughter of Lisa Scottoline).
The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel
Publisher says: A captivating portrait of greed and guilt, love and delusion, ghosts and unintended consequences.
The Guest List, by Lucy Foley
Publisher says: A wedding celebration turns dark and deadly in this deliciously wicked and atmospheric thriller reminiscent of Agatha Christie.
Call Play-by-Play of Your Family Wiffle Ball Game Like a Pro
Advice from Scott Franzke, Phillies announcer
A friendly game of wiffle ball with the fam might be the closest you’ll come to seeing in-person baseball for a while. So do it up right with these tips. Keep reading here.
Groove to the Ultimate Made-In-Philly Summer Playlist
Advice from four great Philly DJs
For a perfect Philly summer soundtrack, we tapped a few local experts, starting with DJ Jazzy Jeff, half of the duo behind the all-time classic “Summertime.” Every year, Jeff — who’s just getting over COVID — and DJ MICK release a new summertime mixtape on Mixcloud. Jeff says making him choose only a few Philly songs isn’t fair — “You’re asking me to pick my favorite children!” — but then rattles off a bunch of mood-setters to get the playlist rolling.
Here’s what he and the rest of our DJ panel came up with. But if you’d rather just listen, look up “Philly Mag Summer Mixtape 2020” on Spotify, hit shuffle, and pretend your front stoop is a big family cookout at the Plateau.
DJ Jazzy Jeff, pioneering turntablist, record producer and actor
1. McFadden and Whitehead, “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now”
2. The O’Jays,“Family Reunion”
3. The Roots, “You Got Me”
4. Freeway, “What We Do”
Robert Drake, WXPN host and producer
1. G Love, “I-76”
2. Candy Cigare77es, “Nowhere to Hide”
3. Catbite, “Sneaky Feelings”
4. &More (featuring Chill Moody and Donn T), “My Own Light”
5. Robert Hazard and the Heroes, “Change Reaction”
Diamond Kuts, Power99 host, turntablist and producer
1. Eve,“Who’s That Girl”
2. Meek Mill, “Dreams and Nightmares”
3. SimXSantana, “Flexin N’ Flashin”
4. Tierra Whack, “Clones”
J.S. Grites, host of the Sunday-night Bad Decisions Club at 700 Club
1. The Orlons, “Between 18th & 19th On Chestnut Street”
2. Photon Band, “Thinkin’ Boutchoo”
3. Marah, “Faraway You”
4. Slowey and the Boats, “Sunset at Waikiki”
5. Mazarin, “I’m With You and the Constellations”
Summer Beers for Every and Any Occasion
Christina Dowd is the executive director of Philly Loves Beer, the guiding force behind Philly Beer Week and lots of other beer-related events throughout the year. Her picks will get you equipped for every situation — from lawn-mowing to pool parties and beyond. Keep reading here.
Have a Summer Fling (Even If You’re Already in a Relationship)
Advice from Monica Mandell, relationship expert
As social distancing drags into its thousandth week, a few leitmotifs are emerging on social media: Kids are monsters. Neighbors are monsters. And quarantining with your sweetheart isn’t a 24-7 honeymoon. That’s why Philly-area relationship expert Monica Mandell, who has a doctorate in psychology, is always telling her clients to “spin positive” and look for the silver lining. “This togetherness can really be the foundation and the solidifying focus of your future,” she says. “That’s how you have to look at it.”
To re-create that summer-fling energy, Mandell recommends making a big deal of your stay-at-home date nights. Cook a nice meal together. Eat outside. “Put on that little black dress, you know, put on a nice shirt,” she says. “You have to put in a lot of effort right now. People’s moods need to be boosted.”
10 Socially Distant Getaways
These out-of-the-way inns and boutique accommodations are big on fresh air and low on guest count. Keep reading here.
Get a Taste of That Vacation You Planned
Advice from Jason Sheehan, Philly Mag food critic
So it looks like your summer vacation plans are canceled, right? But with takeout and delivery options, you can at least get a taste of foreign latitudes — from the comfort of your couch. Keep reading here.
Published as “Summer Starts Now” in the June/July 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.