One of the things I learned about living overseas is they know how to eat outside, they just do and it is not a matter of the weather being an issue because when we have nice weather in the UK we still get it wrong. Nigel Slater has an amazing description of the great British BBQ in his book Eating For England;
“I live in fear of the barbecue, it’s small talk and the awkwardness of holding glass and a plate at the same time, just as others fear being run down by a bus”
For me it comes down to a few key points. Point one standing around. Eating should be a relaxed affair so standing around does not appeal. This leads me to point two, we treat an alfresco meal/BBQ as a full on party inviting everyone we know so that standing around making small talk is the only option. I think treat it as a dinner party a few guests, a sit down affair. Point three go beyond the meat fest. Okay so I am vegetarian but I, perversely I know, enjoy cooking meat, but I loathe those giant meat packs of the cheapest burgers and sausages, the ones you wouldn’t feed the dog. Now of course f you have invited everyone from your Facebook friend list this is the only way to afford to execute this meal but at this juncture I will refer you to point two, don’t invite everyone.
Now I am a blogger and I like all things pretty and styling is key but it does not have to be taxing so let me share with you my key finds and tips so that you can enjoy some alfresco dining this summer no matter how many days of it we get to enjoy. Surely if we only have a few days we should make them count by doing a bang up job of eating outdoors.
You really have to sit down to have a relaxing meal in my opinion but you don’t have have a huge long table to create a wonderful seating area. A picnic blanket, a small table or crates on the floor to make a long and low table would all have the desired effect. Think about cushions, there are a great many showerproof cushions on the market that you can use on the grass or to protect your bottom from damp seats. Alternatively you can use a waterproof spray on cushions if you are in need of a specific look.
The main part of any alfresco dining experience is the food, if there was no food we would just be hanging out in the garden. Too often we feel that certain foods are outdoor foods, BBQ means horrid burgers and sausages, over eating white buns. Why not think outside the box. If you have successfully tackled the seating all food is back on the table, excuse the cheesy language. BBQ can be special, think of handmade burgers, local sausages, griddled vegetables. Think seafood and fish, something about fish makes people think you are fancy for serving it, I don’t make the fish rules I just report them here on my blog. You don’t have to be a great chef to serve a great feast why not fill your table with cheese, fruit, olives, antipasti, breads.
Chances are that your alfresco dining will go on into the evening. We have started to eat out in the evening as a matter of course when the weather is mild so having nice lighting is essential. So lets start with the basics, candles. Candles serve a multi purpose when is comes to alfresco dining they give off a very flattering light but they also create smoke which helps to keep the flies at bay. You could even use cintronella candles to really ramp up your anti fly campaign.You will need something other than candles to light your evening whilst you mop up the last of the wine and cheese. A few years ago I would have been a little dismissive about solar lighting but solar panel technology has improved and you can now get some great festoon lighting and lanterns that run on solar power. You can also pick up better lights, both options save you getting an electrician in to hook up exterior mains lights.
4. Plates & Utensils
Balancing a burger on a napkin whilst standing in the corner, no no no. So we have addressed seating lighting and the whole burger issue so let us now talk about the napkin. I am nearly 40 I do not want to eat off a napkin. I want a plate, or if I am in a hipster cafe I will settle for a bread board. There is always a worry about breakages, even if you and your guest are careful. Personally I tend to take the risk but between my toddler and the odd guest who does not hold their wine I am thinking I might look at some different options, less breakable options.
Plastic plates have come on a long way and there are some great designs and patterns out there. I am a bit funny with plastic and try to avoid plastic toys for the kiddos but they are long lasting and you can look for ones that will recycle when the time comes. I am leaning towards wooden or enamel plates.