In France we just love to eat outdoors; al fresco dining is definitely my favourite and when I look through my book, I can see that we included quite a few al fresco meals while visiting with my girlfriends.
Here in Normandy, we like to think that by March we’ll be having our first lunches outside and by late April hopefully, we’ll be able to have dinner in the garden too, although we’ll probably still need to cover up. Which is why I am so impatient to start laying those tables and using the different parts of the garden for entertaining and for family meals.
Even just a meal for two can take on a whole new significance when the table is laid outside. Sometimes I lay the table for my husband and I, way down the garden, so we get to enjoy a different view of the flowers and the house, and it sort of feels more special, as if an ordinary meal becomes a celebration.
I find it has the same effect on friends. After a winter of meals in front of the fire and in the warm, we are all ready for a change of scenery and menu. Out go the stews and the warm soups and in come the grilled fish, the big mixed salads and the barbecued vegetables.
So what are the basic tips for a successful dinner outdoors. Here is my check list, I wonder if it varies much for you?
~ keep it simple ~
I try not to make al fresco dinners too complicated or heavy. We tend to spend longer over the aperitif, with a nice mix of bite sized treats, accompanied by a glass of wine or champagne. In fact, sometimes the aperitif will replace a first course, as we linger on easy chairs, or wander around the garden with a glass in hand.
~ keep it beautiful~
I love to wow my guests with a beautiful table scape, and generally this means flowers from the garden, and the table carefully laid with out being too grand. A table may be quite simple, but if it is well laid table it is the promise of a carefully prepared meal, and those elements combined with good conversation and the right wine, often mean a love dinner that stretches into the small hours.
~ keep it fresh ~
Spring and summer menus should be all about fresh, vibrant food that doesn’t leave us worrying about our waistlines.
~ keep it warm ~
Sometimes temperatures don’t live up to expectations, especially if the meal continues into the small hours. I always have a couple of shawls to hand for guests to wrap around their shoulders, and of course the big barbecue fire is kept burning long after the meal is cooked
~ keep it safe ~
we are lucky here not to have many bugs or mosquitoes but, if ever they do make an appearance, we burn bug-repellent candles on the ground around the table
So how about you, do you love to eat outside and entertain your friends beneath the stars?
All photos by Franck Schmitt
from the book My Stylish French Girlfriends