Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Summer Cooking

With Memorial Day comes the start of everything summer. That means outdoor parties and backyard barbeques. In my case, it means front porch barbeques.

This past Friday was Jerome's birthday. In celebration, we had a few friends over to celebrate. But before the fun could begin, I had a lot of work to do to get the porch in party shape.

1. Lighting
Most times, adding festive string lights and tiki torchces is the easy way to transform an outdoor space for a party. If you only have a porch, like me, torches aren't an option. Neither are string lights if you don't have electricity on the porch. My alternitive, solar powered outdoor lights. Normally, you'd stick these around the edge of your lawn or walkway. Instead, I filled planter boxes with soil and rocks to hold the lights. Now for $40 I have eight, earth-friendly lights to keep the party going long into the night.

2. The Grill
Many cities have rules about the use of gas and charcoal grills on porches or rental spaces. One way around it, buy electric. My old roommates had the George Forman Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill ($70, Lowes). Like the original Forman countertop cooker, this grill is great at cooking and is easy to clean. If you're willing to spend a little more, check out the Perfect Flame Dual Purpose Electric Grill ($200, Lowes). With extra cooking space and fold-down prep tables, this is a great grill for anyone planning to host a few BBQs this summer.

3. The Silverware
If you're looking to impress without making a mess, try First Impressions Plastic Silverware. It's just like regular, stainless steel silverware until you pick it up and realize how lightweight it is. Jerome's family used it for an event. I was truly convinced it was the real thing. His mom ended up giving me a pack...you know you're in when your future mother-in-law gives you the good silver!

If you're looking for a green (in color and eco-friendliness) option, try Diamond's Renew Dinnerware made of 100% recycled plastic. Even the box is made of recycled materials. The silverware features a unique cut-out design on the handle that uses 10% less plastic than normal disposable flatware. I don't know about you, but I'm all over any green idea that also allows me to party in style!

*Renter's Tip: Nowadays you can get everything from champagne glasses to dishes in paper or plastic for easy disposal. Many options look like their real counterpart. If you don't find what you're looking for at your local grocer, check online, at the wine store, or at a party supply store.

4. Flooring
A nice way to spruce up any porch party? Add a rug! Not only will you give the deck that comfy, warm feel, but you'll also provide a nice place for guests to hang out flip-flop free! I used a rug to cover up some paint marks and give the porch some style. Make sure to keep the rug away from the grill and any open flames! Pottery Barn's Palm Leaf rug ($99-399) is my favorite...gotta love a little tropical flair!

6. Furniture
Outdoor furniture is a must for any summer soiree. My tip, go for something out of the ordinary. Can't afford to get anything special? Don't underestimate the power of paint. Krylon makes a paint just for plastics that will transform your ugly white plastic lawn chairs into colorful pieces. If you have wood or metal furniture, make sure to use a paint that keeps the rust out and protects wood. If you're still looking for the perfect chair, don't forget second-hand options. Craigslist is full of people practically begging you to take their patio sets off their hands. They're usually in great condition with little work needing to be done. You can find anything from cool picnic tables to cool retro chairs. We were able to get our metal cabinet for free on craigslist. With a couple coats of spray paint, it's now the perfect place to store our grill accessories.

5. The Little Things
Now that you've got everything else you need for a party, it's time to add the important thing: decorations! Lanterns, candles, sconses, and outdoor fireplaces are great options. Hanging plants are great for summer, though be careful to read the care directions before buying anything. I bought a gorgeous Fuscia plant and didn't realize till I got it home how difficult it is to take care of. For color mix in a few bowls of lemons or limes or put out frozen berries. If you're looking for some real fun, add a few glowsticks to the ice chests for a neat glow that looks great bouncing off the ice.

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