Tag Archives: outdoor fireplaces

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!

Outdoor Dining for (almost) anywhere.

s'mores and an outdoor fire pit

Just because it’s a little chilly outside doesn’t mean you can’t have your party outdoors.

I’m not talking about freezing weather. Let’s be sensible! And – yes – I know: “chilly” weather in California isn’t the same kind of “chilly” in Michigan. What I’m talking about is pleasantly calm weather that lets us enjoy winter! Tell your guests that the party is outside and they’ll know to dress accordingly!

No matter where you are and how well people dress, warmth for your outdoor dining party is an absolute must. Depending on where you live, an open campfire on the ground may not be a good idea. In fact, in some places, it might even be illegal. Either way, covered fire pits and outdoor fireplaces (chimenea) may be the safer alternative.

My search turned up a few helpful ideas.

Lowe’s has several styles of covered fire pits that will meet all budgets – like this round one.

Home Depot has this square one with a cooking grill and tile edge – very nice, and it has a bit of style to it.  And, with the cooking grill you can keep your pot of chili warm for the whole party without ever having to leave your guests and go to the kitchen for ‘seconds’.

I like this one from Amazon. It’s a lovely rustic looking cast iron bowl that keeps the fire off the ground, but some places may not like the fact that it is an “open pit” and not covered.

A friend of mine swears by his cast iron chimenea – they come in all different sizes – but his stands about 5 feet tall and looks like something you’d find out in the desert somewhere. If there are local restrictions against outdoor fires (open or covered), don’t give up! Outdoor gas heaters are not as pretty as outdoor fireplaces, but they will give your guests a place to warm up.

The next big item on your list – a big basket of blankets, all different sizes. Make sure that there are at least a few that’ll allow couples or kids to snuggle up under together.

Just an outdoor décor suggestion. If you have bright colored outdoor cushions, maybe replace them with dark-colored cushions (to help set the theme), or cover them up with faux fur or heavy knit throws.

Another must for your outdoor dining party: hot cocktails. Think apple cider with Calvados – an apple brandy. You can also serve these ‘virgin’ without the Calvados.

But, my favorite outdoor dining drink is hot buttered rum. This hot buttered rum mix can be made in bulk. It produces an 8oz jar of mix that’s enough for about 12 drinks, if you just use about 1 tablespoon per ‘drink’ mug.  I use Bacardi (8-year-old) or Myers Dark Rum.

The best thing to serve for dinner is what folks call “one pot meals.” It’s a big pot of chili or a hearty beef stew that can stay warm near the fire pit (or even on the fire pit if there’s a grill) and guests get to wrap their fingers around the warm bowls. Here’s a great recipe from one of my favorite places – Williams-Sonoma. This recipe will feed about 6 guests. You can easily double or even triple the recipe. Take the “variation” on the recipe and replace 1-1/2 cups of the stock with the same amount of a bold red wine to add richness to the stew (the alcohol cooks off, and you’re left with the wonderful flavor of the wine). I also use multi-color carrots, and I add some of the crisped bacon back in with the potatoes and mushrooms. And, as with any “big” stew like this, serve with crusty bread!

The best thing to finish off an outdoor dinner with your guests?  Old fashioned S’mores for dessert. Nobody needs a recipe for that, right? Enjoy!