Who Knew: New Canaan Life Hacks


‘Who Knew?’ is sponsored by Walter Stewart’s Market.

It’s summertime and, with all due apologies to Mr. Gershwin, the living’s not that easy. Metro-North has forsaken us, traffic is brutal, there’s been an uptick in actual ticks, and between recent bouts of record-breakingly bad air quality and blowout-destroying humidity, one might feel vaguely at odds with the elements this season. Or at least that one can no longer enjoy the kind of summer that Porgy, Bess, and later, Will Smith romanticized in song. 

To be clear: these are tongue-in-cheek problems of a most suburban variety. Yes, we live in a ZIP Code of smoothed-out edges and air-conditioned SUVs, and obviously, many places on the planet have it far worse. But because this is a column about where we live, I’ll dispense with that geographical self-awareness. And anyhow, there’s good news! The tiny hurdles we face in our daily lives are all surmountable, except for the train thing, because only time can solve that one. In that spirit, I’ve rounded up a few summer livin’ life hacks to give us all the best chance possible at our best Q3 on record.

The days are longer. Fill them up with what you’ll miss most come November.

Sally Ault heartily approves of the Waveny Summer Concert series

Because it’s there for us 365 days a year, taking a park like Waveny for granted can be easy. Don’t. The Waveny summer concert series provides a life-affirming dose of small-town charm, with great bands playing each Wednesday to a lawnfull of families and fans. It’s like a compact, weeknight-friendly version of the Family 4th celebration, with better parking and nothing to scare your dog. Grab a picnic dinner (Walter Stewart’s has an excellent selection, natch) or cheese and goodies from Plum Plum’s, plus a bottle of something cold. Folks tend to bring folding chairs and picnic blankets, and the super-pro among them will show up with folding cocktail tables and rolling Yeti coolers. A simple blanket works perfectly well, too. What matters most is what follows: the truly heartwarming spectacle of multiple generations jamming to a well-programmed variety of musical styles, with a little something for everyone and a lot for anyone who likes Skynyrd.  A tip of the hat to the Parks and Recreation crew and the series’s sponsors for making this happen annually; it’s an event to treasure. 

Another super-ephemeral hot-weather miracle you can only find in New Canaan is the Land Trust Firefly Preserve. Thanks to the Land Trust and a passionate conservationist neighbor’s diligent and deliberate land stewardship, millions of these creatures emerge to do their sparkly mating dance in the early nights of July in a conserved area off Sleepy Hollow Road. When you visit, wear long pants, tall socks, and anything else you may need to protect yourself from bug bites; because a total lack of pesticides is required to ensure the fireflies’ survival, there will be other little guys in abundance, and they bite. Our household likes Avon Skin So Soft oil to repel the dread noseeums and mosquitoes, but you might need to hit the hard stuff if you’re particularly delicious. You must make a reservation to ensure crowd control for viewings.  Those reservations are available now, and they open seven days before each viewing day. It’s the best five bucks you’ll spend all summer. 

* A note: want to see more fireflies in your own yard? Cancel all pesticide applications (they’re known to not be safe for your pets and your family anyhow) and kill the excessive outdoor lighting during late June and early July. We did this last year, and we will never look back. 

The view from Pear Tree Point

If you’ve lived in New Canaan long enough, you may have cannily noticed that we’re not on the Long Island Sound. An inconvenience to some, perhaps, but I’ve also observed that we’re not on I-95. A lose-win, perhaps? One summer activity I love is to theatrically slam my laptop shut after another day of Zoom calls, take a sundowner to Pear Tree Point Beach, and mooch off the largesse of Darien taxpayers. They truck in metric tons of sand annually to transform a picturesque rocky inlet into a foot-friendly sandy one. If you go late enough, you might not have to pay the patently offensive $53 day parking fee and instead, you can just slide up, claim a pair of Adirondack chairs, and contemplate Long Island from a safe distance. Afterward, snag a table at Rowayton Seafood or return to the familiar embrace of an outdoor table at Solé. Either way, you’ll have adventured. 

Hate cooking when it’s hot? Don’t.

It’s funny; as summer ramps up and the calendar fills with houseguests and weekend friend hangs, the desire to spend any time in the kitchen to feed these people wanes to nil. Even workday lunches smack of effort you’d rather expend elsewhere. Luckily, this seems to be a mutually understood truth, and ordering takeout for dinner parties, an act that would have probably given my mom the fantods, is perfectly acceptable in the summertime. Here are, in no particular order, are some ideas for summer meals that zero out your kitchen time and support some of our small business hometown heroes:

A lobster roll from Fjords, Connecticut style for the win

Call up Fjord’s and order a lobster roll dinner for everyone under your roof. They also do a mean clambake if you’re hosting a houseful, and we’ve often ordered their sushi trays for parties to great success.

Snag quarts of that divine chilled gazpacho from Walter Stewart’s, drizzle with basil oil and serve with slices of jamón Iberico and fresh melon for lunch. You’ll feel so Spanish, it won’t even be cultural appropriation if you take a siesta afterward.

Make your way to Pesca post-workday for a dinner-sized serving of Salmon and Shrimp ceviche. Sit on the patio out back and watch the lights come on as night falls, or eavesdrop on Moms’ Night Out gossip. Your call. 

Get a B-E-C or a fantastic Portuguese muffin sandwich from Dolcé and tend to your morning emails while greeting the seemingly incessant parade of Labradoodles and their humans patrolling the downtown sidewalks. 

Meet an unsung hero of the New Canaan Salad Scene™: the Vietnamese green papaya salad from Ching’s Table. It’s precision-cut shreds of Napa cabbage, juliennes of green

Vietnamese salad with grilled chicken at Ching’s Table

mango or papaya, little crunchy rice noodles, peanuts, and a light, lime-studded fish sauce dressing. It’s chopped to a perfect consistency, and if you add a protein, two orders can easily feed four. A tried-and-true life hack for us is to dine in for lunch at Ching’s; $13.95 gets you a two-course meal and a chance to look out the window and wonder Exactly What Are They Doing With Those Town Hall Stairs And Why Is It Taking So Long.

Hate parking? Walk into town. 

Summer brings about a residential shift change, but it doesn’t magically free up a hundred parking spots downtown the way you want it to. While some families decamp for beach houses and dense travel itineraries, others welcome home busy returning college students. The result: you still can’t find a parking spot at the Post Office, let alone anywhere near your morning iced coffee. It’s enough to make one a bit frustrated, if not downright ragey. So I tried something different one recent Sunday: I just walked. Because I live on a road that also serves as the official Autobahn for landscaping trucks, I had to pick my route carefully, and I’d advise anyone inclined to hoof it to wear bright colors and skip the AirPods. But giving myself an afternoon to make my rounds–nail salon, iced coffee, browsing for gifts, was a true treat.

Another in-town trick: make an appointment to get your car washed at Hand Wash Car Detail, the secret car wash adjacent to Karl Chevrolet, and walk down Elm into town. They do a fantastic job, entirely by hand, and when you return at the agreed-upon hour, you’ll have a sparkling car and no migraine from trying to understand the parking machines in the Morse Court lot.

Hate walking? Drive. But just be calm about it.

We all have to drive somewhere frustrating at some point, so it’s probably best to have some kind of stress management strategy for it. I’m confident that the northbound Merritt on a summer Friday at 5 is what Dante had in mind with his 9th circle, but even places in town will routinely spike my blood pressure behind the wheel. Years of anecdotal evidence gathered from the Walter Stewart’s parking lot indicates that a devastating epidemic of Parking Spot Blindness is upon us: rather than parking

We work hard, we play hard, and we apparently also park hard.

vehicles neatly and completely between two white lines, New Canaanites would much rather vaguely point themselves in the general direction of an available space, get out of the car, turn off the engine (most of the time) and casually walk away. I used to froth at the mouth at this kind of behavior, and now it’s a game I play with friends. Whoever photographs the most egregious in-town parking job wins. If you’re not in the mood for a laugh, there are medically proven ways to cope with daily stressors, too. 

Says Paula Winicur, longtime New Canaan resident and marriage and family therapist, “mindful breath work can be an incredibly helpful tool to manage reactivity and stress. I encourage my clients to develop their own mindfulness practice by beginning simply, with 3 deep belly breaths, inhaling through the nose for the count of 3, and exhaling through the mouth for the count of 4. By noticing where in our bodies we are feeling unsettled, we can eventually get ahead of the overwhelm, retraining our bodies to instinctively take a beat, slow down, and regulate when stressful situations find us, which they inevitably will. The more we practice, the deeper that peace can grow, and the better we become at helping those around us do the same.”

I love Paula’s advice, and I plan to put it into practice the next time Main Street traffic behaves more like the Lincoln Tunnel at rush hour. It doesn’t do to go through life mad at the world, unless you’re in New Jersey or something, in which case, do you. Summer here is fleeting. Soon enough, the trains will be back at the station, chrysanthemums will be back in the nurseries, and the fireflies will be back underground. Enjoy every breath of it.

see ya Saturday!

6 thoughts on “Who Knew: New Canaan Life Hacks

  1. Another great article from Laura to remind us of all the wonderful things we have at our fingertips here in New Canaan, plus I learned a new word (fantods)! Thank you Walter Stewart’s for sponsoring this talented writer!

  2. Another fab article! A tip – make a reservation way in advance for The Restaurant at Rowayton Seafood! It’s always packed – for a good reason!

  3. Great column, as always. The best part, from my perspective, is this:
    “A note: want to see more fireflies in your own yard? Cancel all pesticide applications (they’re known to not be safe for your pets and your family anyhow) and kill the excessive outdoor lighting during late June and early July. We did this last year, and we will never look back.”

  4. Well done and you chose the perfect metaphor. ! I wonder what Mr Gershwin would have thought about The Zombies and Janis Joplin covering his iconic summertime song. A perfect melody that creates a feel of summer from the first note.

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