The fantasies and realities of dining al fresco
It is dinnertime, and I am getting ready to serve dinner al fresco. A breeze cools me as I arrange gorgeous platters of food on my rustic outdoor table. Wine is already breathing, awaiting the sparkling stemware I have waiting nearby. The evening sky is clear, and we can hear birds and the whirring of insects in the distance.
Everything is perfect.
In my imagination, that is. In my mind, I could be enjoying a scene from the movie Under a Tuscan Sun, bringing platters of rustic Italian fare to my adoring guests. The sun won’t stop shining, and we talk and laugh and drink over cloth napkins and fine china. There is magic in the air.
Anyone else already laughing? Time for a dose of reality, and I assure you, this time, there is no Diane Lane, no Tuscany, no endless platters of Italian delicacies. The menu leans more toward hamburgers or steak, the wine has been left indoors to prevent flies from sharing, and everything is sort of running at half-mast. We’ve already broken a glass, and the cloth napkins blew into the garden before we began eating.
Does that sound more like what happens in your backyard when you try to dine outdoors? Me too. What is that all about? I have such gracious daydreams, but the reality never seems to match them. Or, I imagine it all being so much effort to pull off properly that I never get around to trying.
What a shame.
So I have decided to try to enjoy a little more al fresco in my life, while keeping the anxiety and aggravation to a minimum. I want to take advantage of our outdoor space and stop letting the nice weather go by. Let’s have a look at a few ways we can make this easier, shall we?
First, be sure you have an outdoor space to enjoy. You’ll never get out there if you haven’t taken a bit of time to set something up, so sweep off the deck or patio, clear off the table, make sure the grill is working, and rustle up enough chairs to actually get a few people over. Don’t fuss too much – a fancy patio set is lovely, but a simple table and chairs are fine. A potting bench can become a bar, a side table can hold condiments while you grill, and a large pot or container can hold ice and drinks.
If you’re worried your yard or garden will look untidy and perhaps sully the whole image, remember that simple is best. Mow the lawn and water everything the night before, add some flowers around the deck or patio (including some in the centre of your table) and suddenly things look fresh and pretty.
My next tip, that I know I need to take to heart myself, is to find small ways to enjoy my deck without committing to a party, or a full dinner with both kids. Why not take our morning coffee outside? Or perhaps you have one or two kids not yet in school – why are they eating snacks inside? Cut up their veggies or fruit, throw some crackers on a plate, grab their water bottle and away you go. And best of all, once the kids are tucked in, grab a bottle of wine, two glasses and your partner and get outside! Take a baby monitor if you must, but an hour sipping wine outside is much better for your mental health than an hour in front of the television.
Last, let’s talk food. Again, start simple until eating outside becomes easy and natural for you. Now is not the time for multiple courses, or even a collection of dishes that all need to be grilled and cooked. The more you fuss and run around, the more fun you miss. If you feel too busy, forget about anything fancy and just take whatever you are eating outside. Pour a glass of wine, take your plate with you and just get out there. Look around your kitchen for items that might work outside or make the whole experience better – trays, pitchers, platters, food covers, stemless glasses and more.
None of these ideas take much planning, time or effort. Start small, then work your way up to more. Remember, you are the one who looked out at that deck or patio when you moved in and imagined yourself enjoying it. Most of us work hard to keep our homes and yards looking nice – so why are we hesitating to let ourselves enjoy it at every opportunity?
Just go. And bon appetit!