Al Fresco Made Easy

It’s finally arrived!  Warm weather, sunshine, and beach-boat-BBQ season! Sadly, for many of us, our only real chance to enjoy this longed-for summer weather during the workweek is while waiting for the morning train, walking from the car to the office, or through a rolled down car window whilst running numerous errands.

Dinnertime may be the only time of day Monday through Friday that we have a real chance to relax and linger in the warm weather and fresh air – which makes reveling in an al fresco meal all the more appealing and important.

Photo: A well-stocked, ready-to-go Dinner Caddy makes dining al fresco a breeze.

And yet, after a long workday, it can seem like even the smallest of extra steps to get dinner on the table is simply one too many.

In my household, I kick off the season by re-stocking our grab-n-go dinner caddy –  a utensil caddy that fits all of our outdoor dining essentials in one easy-to-carry bin. Having everything we need to wipe down, set, and dine on our backyard picnic table ready to go and in a convenient spot makes sitting down to a meal there just as easy as plopping down at the kitchen table or in front of the TV.

If you don’t have a utensil caddy, any manner of sturdy container will work – a large pail, basket, or even a drinks bin will do the job.  Just make sure it comfortably fits all of the items you need so you needn’t make any extra trips in and out of the house.  My list of Al Fresco Essentials includes:

• Wet Wipes to wipe down the table

• Citronella Candles & a lighter to deter pesky biters

• Heavy Cotton/Linen Dinner Napkins that won’t blow away – I keep 3 dinner’s worth in our caddy, so I’m not forever re-stocking it.

• Salt & Pepper Shakers – I keep an extra set in my caddy.

• 2 Meal’s Worth of Cutlery – I use our real flatware instead of plastic, so it won’t blow away.  When I unload the dishwasher, I simply put a few meal’s worth directly back into the caddy.

Where you keep your al fresco caddy is just as important as how well you stock it, so   keep it where you’ll use it!  In my house, that means we clear a space in the cupboard closest to the back door, so it’s a breeze to grab it on our way out.

Obviously, grilling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors while you’re preparing a meal, but if you’re interested in a hands-off sort of dinner, consider letting your slow cooker do the cooking while you sip an iced tea and enjoy the sunset.  Most people think of the old-fashioned crockpot as a fall and winter staple ideal for cooking up hearty stews and heavy comfort food, but you can employ this old standby to make some surprisingly lighter, more summer-y fare.  A few of my summertime favorites include Spicy Pork Tacos* (served with salsa verde and ice-cold margaritas, of course!) and “SkinnyTaste” chef Gina Homolka’s super-simple Lemon Feta Chicken or Morrocan Chicken Tangine which both work beautifully with quick-cooking cous cous and a fresh green salad. (For slow cooker fans like me, her website and “SkinnyTaste Fast and Slow” cookbook are great resources!) Let your slow cooker do the work for you during the day, and come home to a dinner practically ready to just carry outside.

Whatever you decide to dine on, be sure to enjoy it out of doors!

Summertime Slow-Cooker Pork Tacos

1 lb pork tenderloin

12 oz jar of salsa

1 Tbsp Chili Powder

1 Tbsp cumin

1 Tbsp Brown Sugar

1 tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp salt

3 garlic cloves, minced

Place tenderloin in slow cooker and mix all other ingredients together.  Pour mixture over tenderloin so it is coated entirely, then cook on lowest possible setting for 6-8 hours or 4 hours on high.  Remove pork and shred, then toss meat with sauce from the crock pot to taste.  Serve on soft tortillas or hard shells with your favorite toppings – my household loves shredded cabbage, queso fresco, and a squeeze of lime.

Kitty Burruss is an interior designer, wife, and mother. Follow her at

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