Tag Archives: al fresco

Enjoy Al Fresco Dining – Even in Winter!

Fran Berger, Home Decor

What a great opportunity – to cozy up with warm drinks, hot food, and close friends.

The Italians love dining outside so much that there’s a term for it in Italian – Al Fresco; dining in the fresh air. Dining ‘al fresco’ with friends can even be more fun than dining inside. But maybe your first reaction is, “Fran? It’s winter.” And my response will be, “Yes!”

There’s something about serving meals and hanging out with friends and family outdoors that sometimes makes it feel so much more intimate than indoors. Maybe it reminds us of camping (or our idea of camping if you’ve never been) and being closer to nature. Cold weather can open up a great home entertaining opportunity that you can’t overlook.

Even if you don’t have a home with a backyard – you can entertain outside on your deck or patio. Yes, even in the winter when it’s cold! In fact, I think that a bit of cold weather makes the experience that much more intimate. And just so we’re very clear – I’m talking about “cold” weather that encourages people to huddle under blankets around a fire pit; not a freezing chill that turns lips blue! It’s only fun if no one is shivering!

If you don’t have a backyard where you can have a covered fire pit or outdoor fireplace, you can always get some outdoor gas heaters for warmth and hurricane candle holders for atmosphere. Spread groups of the holders around your deck using real candles. Make sure that the hurricane candle holders are a couple of inches taller than the actual candle – that way they won’t blow out. Vary your sizes and make your groupings odd numbers. Varying sizes of odd numbers of candles always looks more pleasing to the eye.

You’ll also want patio furniture with cushions and blankets for warmth. Find colorful and soft blankets that are washing machine safe. Get blanket sizes that encourage couples to wrap up together. All types of outdoor blankets are available – even fun faux fur!

After you warm up your guests on the outside, time to warm them up from the inside with hot beverages like your favorite hot chocolate. Or…

You can try this recipe from Bon Appetit for a hot apple cider with Calvados apple brandy – which is really tasty.

Another “cuddle to be warm” drink is hot buttered rum with 8-Year Old Bacardi or Myers Dark Rum. The recipe includes a way prepare a mix that you can use later.

If your plan is to serve dinner, then warm their hearts with big stoneware mugs filled with a hearty vegetable soup or steaming beef stew. Williams-Sonoma posted this fabulous (and taste tested) recipe for a beef stew that takes about 2 hours to cook – about 1 hour and 30 minutes in an oven. Their recipe serves 6, but it’s easily doubled or tripled for larger gatherings. I also suggest that you take the “variation” on the recipe and replace the 1-1/2 cups of beef stock with the same amount of a bold red wine. But, you always want to cook with wine that you’d be happy to drink so make sure it’s one you enjoy. Wine adds so much rich flavoring to the stew, and since the alcohol cooks off, everyone can enjoy it.

I also suggest that you use multi-colored carrots (they add color and fun) and add some crunched up bacon along with the potatoes and mushrooms. Serve it with thick slices of warm crusty bread and you’ve got the start to a wonderful evening!

Tips and Hints for your Outdoor Winter Décor

outdoor decor

Because your home should look as good on the outside as it does on the inside.

Yards look so sad this time of year, especially the backyard.  The grass goes brown and the trees are mostly bare. Add to this, the persistent gloom of cloudy grey skies.

But – that doesn’t mean you can’t fight the gloom with a little strategic outdoor décor. I’m not talking about a massive makeover. I’m just thinking about simple things that can make your front door more inviting. And everything I’m going to suggest would work great whether you live in an apartment, condo, or a single-family home – simply adjust the size and number of items for the space you have!

When thinking about the ‘curb appeal’ of your home, what do you want people to see? If you want the front door to be more inviting, get yourself an evergreen wreath. The Greeks and Romans used wreaths to celebrate just about anything worthwhile. And guests like the welcoming symbol of an evergreen wreath. Take a look at the different wreath designs on Etsy or something simple like this preserved laurel wreath I found on Wayfair.com

Maybe you have a big planter near your front door that you fill with floral annuals in the summertime. But it’s cold out now and it’s empty. Fill it with Birch branches or even wood logs. You don’t have to actually have a fireplace inside for the look to be inviting outside! A friend of mine went to a flea market and picked up an old tin bucket that she placed outside. She used it to place some branches and twigs to give her front door a nice rustic look.

For the backyard patio, friends of mine just added some small potted evergreen trees for color. That gave another friend a great idea. She added a few pine cones to the patio table along with some large hurricane lamps – like an airy large glass lantern or a more contemporary lantern style – both from Pottery Barn.  You can also place these hurricanes by the front door for extra warmth in the evening.

Now, the question – what to put into the lanterns? Real candles or electronic ones? I like the electronic “flameless” candles from Pottery Barn. Yes, nothing beats real candles; real flame is beautiful, but real candles require some maintenance (messy melted wax anyone?) and they’re not always safe. “Flameless” candles are battery powered and – for the most part – just need to be switched on. The technology that produces the random flickering – in my opinion – is very realistic.

Either way, candles in your lamps add a nice cozy feel to any patio or entry. They add nice intimate low light when you have a cluster of them in the corners of your patio, or even inside the house. And the newer ones also last a lot longer – some will go for 100 hours or more. Pick multiple sizes of lanterns and candles and place them in clusters – never an even number. And, look for different styles of hurricanes for visual interest.  Everything doesn’t always need to match!

I just wrote a blog post about outdoor dining during the winter months – you know: firepits, outdoor fireplaces, pillows, baskets of blankets, and s’mores. Read it for more outdoor décor ideas.

All you need now for your outdoor dinner party is to serve your guests a lovely evening aperitif to get the night started. Stay cozy, warm, and most of all, enjoy!

The Right Way to Enjoy Al Fresco Dining

al fresco dinner ware

Dining outdoors – perfect for longer, warmer nights.

Days are getting longer and the nights are warming up – a perfect combination to dine al fresco with friends or a significant other.  It’s more than simply eating outside or just two Italian words that mean “in the cool air” – it’s a whole experience when done properly.  It’s creating the perfect table setting, candle-lit ambiance, just the right amount of casual and, of course, the perfect menu.

Many people think of white paper plates and red solo cups when they think of having a picnic, but for me, it’s always more than that.  Whether it’s dinner in the backyard by the pool or in the park with a big group of friends or perhaps a concert at The Hollywood Bowl, it’s important to make every dining occasion special but also worry-free!

There are so many fantastic unbreakable options now.  Crate and Barrel has an entire selection of beautiful rustic melamine (plastic!) in several colors that all coordinate well with bowls, plates and service pieces in different patterns (also melamine).  Add their “glassware” made from different polymer materials unbreakable glasses in all shapes including stemmed wine glasses and margarita glasses. You’ll have the basics for a colorful, fun and worry-free table setting. Yesterday, on my video, I showcased other options from Williams Sonoma. Use woven placemats in a coordinating color with a white linen napkin and colorful napkin ring to complete the look.  All you need now is simple flatware (really only a fork and knife), and you’re set.

Candlelight is important to set the mood.  Hurricane lamps with candles (include some citronella candles – to keep away the flying insects) to set around.  Make sure that the top of the candle is lower than the top of the hurricane lamp otherwise even a small breeze will blow out the flame.

Create simple centerpieces for height and color. Keep it casual.  You can use flowers, but then you need to worry about vases with water that can tip over.  Some of my favorite centerpieces are just twigs with small flowers (cherry blossom branches, birch branches, manzanita branches, etc.).  And sometimes it’s even simpler than that – just a large bunch of green – even Magnolia leaves in a big enough bunch are casual and beautiful.  You don’t need water – just a fun container.

Plan the menu appropriately for wherever you will be dining and how far you will be traveling to get there.  If you’re in the backyard, your menu can include hot food straight from the kitchen or BBQ. If you’re traveling (even around the corner to the park with friends) plan a menu that only includes food that can be served room temperature – salads, grilled in season vegetables (asparagus, artichokes, broccolini, et cetera – look at the farmer’s market for ideas). Veggies can easily be added to a plate of cold pasta salad to add color and flavor, along with cold sliced roast and cold fried chicken – you get the idea.  Don’t forget an easy batch cocktail – margaritas, negronis or keep it simple and bring wine.  And don’t forget the wine-opener.

One last safety note – warm evenings and nights also bring bugs. I hate bugs, but I especially hate mosquitos that can be a real pain (literally). Some of your guests may be uncomfortable about dining outside without some protection. Remind your guests to wear their preferred insect repellent lotions (et cetera) or ask them what they prefer and bring some just in case they forget. I also burn Tiki torch fuel that’s spiked with citronella – it seems to do the trick. Start them up about an hour before your guests arrive and you’ll be bug-free for hours.

You may enjoy this so much, you’ll make it a regular event all summer!