Simple Ways to Elevate the Outdoor Living Entertainment Experience ~ Your Recipe to Success!

The 1753 Italian expression ‘al fresco’ translates to ‘in the fresh air’ and outdoor living lifestyles embrace the health benefits of eating outside with the delights of “Al Fresco” dining.

It is interesting to note that both physical and mental health can be improved by eating outdoors. Stress reduction of lowered blood pressure and heart rate and less muscle tension, increase in vitamin D levels helping the immune system and the release of ‘good mood’ endorphins are all triggered by outside living, and food tastes better outdoors than indoors as all your senses are heightened when eating in the great ‘outdoors.’

Here are some tips to help you elevate your outdoor living entertainment experience in the following ways:

  • ‘Chef up’ your food offerings and provide tasty delights and ensure food is safe to eat
  • Have time to sit down and enjoy your guests’ company
  • Provide a pleasurable seating and set up arrangement for your guests
  • Keep the children entertained

Food and Food Safety, First and Foremost

 We’ve all heard or even experienced the food poisoning or tummy upsets that can come from sunbaked mayonnaise potato salads, the unappealing sweating cheese board pass around, the fly buzzed cold cuts and lukewarm or undercooked chicken or hamburgers.  Nobody wants to make their guests ill as a result of poor food safety practices at a backyard barbeque or family get together dinner. Here are a few simple rules to follow to help prevent bacterial food poisoning.

Bacteria will thrive in temperatures between 41° and 140° F. This is why you’ll hear chefs say, “Serve hot food hot and cold food cold.” Ensure that when food leaves the kitchen in any stage of preparation it is either on ice or if cooked kept on a heat source as the type of food dictates. Keep food out of direct sun and temperatures above 90°F warrant special provision for cooling and/or limited time outside. Protect food from flies and pesky flying insects with mesh covers.

Safe temperature when cooking meat is 165° F for chicken/turkey. Fish, pork, and beef (whether steaks or chops or roasts) to 145°F and ground beef/pork/lamb to 160°F. Use a thermometer to check the temperature before serving.

In Italy and other hot climate Mediterranean countries where al fresco dining is common, food is often served in multiple courses rather than all at once to ensure it is eaten quickly once set upon the table and not left out in a buffet style extravaganza for hours on end for people to pick over. This is a great idea as washing up can be completed as the meal progresses and dishes are cleared away regularly leaving the table clear of detritus and unappetizing half-finished plates and dishes of food that will attract wasps and other stinging or biting unwanted visitors.

Follow the 2-hour rule as a maximum time frame for leaving prepared foods outside and only 1 hour if the temperature is over 90°F.

The Grill Meister

Center stage for the outdoor dining production is often the grill. The variety of grills and outdoor kitchen set ups can be lavish and include everything from wood-fired pizza ovens to charcoal grills to high end gas cooktops, rotisseries and fridges safely ensconced from the weather under permanent cover of pavilions with drop down shutters.

Whatever outdoor cooking set up is available, the use of a grill or grate can add an appealing texture to the offerings. Increase flavor of the veggies or meats with the use of fresh herbs, spicy dry rubs and prevent veggies sticking to the grill by rubbing them with olive oil before placement. This will also help prevent firm texture veggies like zucchini, asparagus, eggplant, broccoli, peppers, and onions from drying out.

Prep In Advance and Enjoy More Time at the Table

 Part of the obligation of hosting or throwing a party or event, or even spending time with immediate family dining al fresco, is the endless up and down from the table and walk to and fro to the kitchen.

Alleviate the number of journeys required to the fridge by keeping multiple coolers handy well-iced or plugged in if available to source beverages. A cooler (especially a large one with wheels like luggage) also makes a great transportation unit for prepared foods that can be plated in advance and delivered in one shot out to the diners. Investigate the hot and cold food savers that are available on the market. Many are glass, that are covered with a plastic lid and are pretty enough to go straight on the table for serving with lid removed. A quick tableside dressing with a garnish of fresh herbs or squeeze of lemon can add vibrance and freshness at the last minute.

Think outside the usual barbeque fare when offering dining delights. Consider healthy alternatives and add elegance to your fare with blinis dressed with smoked salmon and chives, or a seasonal summer peach cake made from grains such as polenta or quinoa. Many foods can be prepared days in advance or even weeks in advance set in the freezer until needed. When serving alcohol, it is always advisable to offer your guests a food source whether that be hors d’oeuvres with cocktails or dessert snacks with after dinner drinks.

Set the Scene

Making the table décor pretty and attractive is not hard and does not have to be expensive. Hanging outdoor lights stretched in rows across a pergola or trees in the garden, hurricane candles on the table or more modern LED lighting options, mix and match placemat color schemes with a variety of textures and designs all add pleasure to the outdoor dining experience. Mapping out the table landscape with colorful ceramics, rustic or elegant stemware and fabrics, and including different light sources can create an ambience that relaxes guests and offers a warm welcome.

Flowers from the garden can be plucked and placed in any style garden container or vase. Herb plants like oregano placed up and down the table offer a fragrance that guests will love and provide some protection from bug attraction to the table. Oregano plants placed on tables are widely used in Greece for the purpose of mitigating bug traffic around diners at tavernas up and down the country and across their beautiful islands.

Ensure the table is also set to be functional with everything in easy reach for every diner. Set multiple salt/pepper, serving cutlery options, stemware including water jugs and an ice bucket kept handy is always a good plan.

Don’t make the mistake of making guests feel uncomfortable by sitting them close together unless your visitors know each other well. Careful selection of the size of the chairs and the size and shape of the table is essential if the outdoor patio or level space is restricted. Elbow room for use of utensils is needed to eat. You don’t want to seat people so close together they can hear their neighbor swallowing.

It is important to allow sufficient room around the seating area of the table for guests to be served food and for them to leave the table without upsetting other guests with requests for moving chairs or squeezing by. For ease of movement armless chairs are excellent. A 36” space behind each chair is usually sufficient to allow both actions, with a distance of 24” between the center of one chair to another to facilitate companionship without feeling confined.

Obviously, family gatherings especially those that include children can be less constrained, and it can even be helpful to sit closer to young children to help them navigate their dining experience.

As a rule, round tables are best for conversation, narrow tables with bench seating offer intimacy for conversation and food sharing. If you are seating your guests at a rectangular or long table, try and place the conversationalists in the middle seats opposite each other, and the quieter guests at the end if you want to maximize the flow of conversation.

A Word About Glass

The use of throwaway cups and plates and cutlery for outdoor use does save on the washing up after the event, but it also does not elevate the taste or presentation of the food or drinks served.

Pool side use of glass stemware and china/ceramics should be carefully considered for the obvious reason of the chance of breakage occurring that could result in injury to bare feet of patrons around the pool or actual broken shards or pieces of glass or china entering the water itself.

Modern materials utilize innovative glass feel products that are guaranteed not to shatter or chip. These items offer a good compromise for use around the pool where it is wished to avoid the use of plastic, non-recyclable, or paper products.

 Final Note: Keep the Kids Entertained

Multi-generational gatherings offer the very best type of meaningful memory making opportunities. Where young and old mix together, much pleasure can be derived from the outdoor living entertainment of watching the interaction between the two. However, it is not easy to keep kids’ high energy levels at bay for long periods, so distractions to occupy their inquiring minds and divert their high jinks is an essential part of making your event a happy time for all parties.

Consider providing age-appropriate board games, pool toys, football or sport activity like a quick and easy set up badminton court where the shuttlecock won’t hurt the windows, crafts, playset or other distractions in your backyard where kids can mingle and let off steam. If you have a brick wall or side of a garage or building handy it makes a great movie screen for projection from a tablet or other device with the simple hanging of a large white or light-colored sheet.

The addition of a kids’ table is often employed for younger children, although my British self always enjoyed being part of the main party and sitting with the grown-ups sampling the same food they did and enjoying their repartee during mealtimes. With permission to leave the table early, the adults were still able to enjoy their own conversations after the meal while my young compatriots and I would be allowed to run about the garden and play.

Memories are made today, and your backyard offers many opportunities to make plenty of good outdoor living experiences!

How to Use a Kennel to Train a New Puppy

Too often, people think about a kennel as somewhere to put a dog when you don’t have time for them. However, an outdoor kennel can be an invaluable training aid for a new puppy.

When used properly, a kennel can help you train your puppy so that they’ll get to spend more time in the house with you without destroying your things or making you crazy. Here are some tips on how to use an outside crate/kennel to train your new puppy:

What Do We Mean By “Kennel”?

When we talk about training your puppy with a kennel, we’re talking about a kennel that is separate from your home and has an indoor and outdoor portion. We don’t mean a wire or plastic crate.

The indoor and outdoor portions of the kennel should be separated by a dog door. The outer portion should be covered and protected from bad weather. The inside portion should be small enough that a puppy will see it as a bed.

It should be just big enough to turn around in and stretch out when lying down, but no bigger. If you’re buying a kennel for the size your dog will be as an adult, you may need to block off part of the interior portion to make it small enough to be useful for potty training a puppy.

Train Your Puppy to Chew on Appropriate Things

For most people, one of the most challenging aspects of training a puppy is preventing them from chewing on everything in the house. Puppies explore the world with their mouths, so it’s perfectly natural for a puppy to put their teeth on everything. As puppies teethe, all sorts of unexpected things can be soothing to their sore gums.

If puppies are allowed to chew on inappropriate objects, it is much more difficult to teach them to chew on the right things. Therefore, training a puppy what’s OK and what not OK to chew requires constant supervision. However, you probably need to work, eat, and take a shower, which can leave your puppy with the opportunity to chew on something they shouldn’t.

A kennel can be the perfect solution. Your puppy can hang out in their kennel with an assortment of appropriate chew toys and nothing for them to chew on that they shouldn’t. Using a kennel in this way has the double advantage of keeping your puppy from chewing on anything inappropriate and teaching them to enjoy chewing on toys.

Later, when your puppy sees the same toys in your house, they’ll recognize them as desirable things to chew on. This makes it less likely that your puppy will chew on something else in the house instead of their toys.

Eliminate Biting and Overly Rambunctious Play

Just as puppies put their teeth on all sorts of things in your home, they’re also very likely to put their teeth on you. It’s perfectly natural for puppies to bite. It doesn’t mean that your puppy is aggressive or that they don’t love you.

Puppies bite one another and adult dogs in their pack. Play biting teaches puppies bite inhibition and makes a serious bite in the future less likely.

However, people have thin skin compared to dogs, and the same bites that are playful in a litter of puppies can be painful to you. When puppies get very energetic and keep biting even if they’ve been reprimanded, it can be very difficult for them to have the self-control to stop.

Techniques like physical punishment, yelping or yelling, or even biting the dog back are more likely to escalate the behavior or break the bond between you and your dog. Putting your puppy in their kennel when they can’t control their nipping is a great way to give them a chance to calm down and develop the self-control to listen the next time you tell them not to bite.

Being separated from you when your puppy is in the mood to play is an innate punishment, but it’s not the kind of punishment that will break the bond between you and your puppy. It is, however, a punishment that will make it less likely that your puppy will keep biting the next time you tell them to stop.

Potty Training

Ideally, when you’re potty training a puppy, you’ll let them out at least every 2 hours that they’re awake and after meals or periods of playing. You need to watch a puppy very closely for signs that they are about to have an accident inside so that you can get them outside to an appropriate place. Every time your puppy goes to the bathroom inside without you noticing it reinforces that it’s okay for them to do so, which will cause potty training to backslide.

You may not be able to let your puppy out this often or watch them this closely. Paper training can be a great alternative that allows your puppy to learn to eliminate in the appropriate place themselves, without you having to take them outside.

There are some issues with traditional paper training, however. For one thing, it tends to be messy. Puppies love to play with paper or newspaper at the bottom of their pen, which can make laying down the paper and keeping it down a challenge.

Furthermore, once puppies associate paper with going potty, they may try to go on any magazine they find around the house. Some puppies even associate rugs with paper and will tend to go on rugs, which of course is not what you want.

Using artificial turf in a kennel is a great alternative. You can use artificial turf in the same way you would use paper in traditional paper training. Lay artificial turf over the entire outer part of the kennel.

Your puppy will naturally leave the inside portion with their bedding to go on the outer portion on the artificial turf. Gradually reduce the amount of AstroTurf until it’s only in a corner of the outer part of the kennel.

When your puppy gets old enough to hold it until you can let them out, they’ll naturally associate artificial turf with grass and wait to go outside on the grass. This can be a great way to potty train a puppy if you don’t have time to take them out every couple of hours.

Prevent Separation Anxiety

Perhaps you’re able to be home all of the time with your puppy and you may wonder why you would even need a kennel. However, there can be some negative consequences of spending too much time with your puppy as they’re growing up.

Puppies who are allowed to spend all of their time with their families are more likely to develop separation anxiety. To prevent separation anxiety, it’s best to give puppies scheduled time away from you.

While putting your puppy into a crate or another room can be helpful, your puppy may still be able to smell and hear you in the house. If later in life you leave them entirely alone and they can’t smell or hear you, separation anxiety could be triggered.

An outside kennel can be the perfect way to prevent your puppy from developing this kind of separation anxiety. Your puppy will learn that when they are in their outside kennel they can play with their toys by themselves and that you will return soon.

By doing this from the time your puppy is very young, you can teach them that being away from you is a great time to play with a particularly desirable toy like a stuffed kong and that it isn’t a cause for concern.

Teach Self-Control

Another tip on how to crate/kennel train your puppy is to teach self-control, a skill that your dog develops, not a behavior that they are trained. Dogs with good self-control are much more pleasant companions. When used properly, a kennel can be a good way to teach your dog self-control.

By putting your puppy in their kennel with a great chew toy that they don’t always get, you can teach your puppy to focus on their toy instead of something else going on in the yard. You can try putting your puppy in the kennel and then doing some gardening.

Your puppy will learn that they can’t always get to you, but that they can find ways to occupy themselves. In time, your puppy will stop performing frantic behavior to try to get to you and instead quietly occupy themselves.

Later in life, this skill translates to a dog that can look away from something tempting when on a leash or in the yard instead of giving in to the impulse to behave erratically.

Use a Kennel Appropriately to Train Your Puppy

A kennel can be a superb training aid to make your life with your puppy a lot easier and more enjoyable. The trick is to use the kennel deliberately and consciously as a training aid, rather than just using it as somewhere to put your puppy when they’re driving you crazy. By utilizing these tips, you’ll likely find that your puppy learns to be a more pleasant and happier companion.