Recipe of the Month:
Peppermint Stick Cocoa

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If you’re looking for a festive way to kick off the holiday season, we have the perfect cocoa recipe that is a delicious fireside treat and makes a stylish holiday gift. Prepare multiple containers at once, and you’ll never show up to a party empty-handed. Curl up with a hot mug and a blanket for a quiet night escaping the holiday rush, or enjoy with friends around the fire pit.

Ingredients

1 cup powdered milk
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy

 

preparation

In a clear mason or decorative jar, layer powdered milk, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, chocolate chips, and peppermint candy.

notes

  • This mix will fill a 1-quart jar (12 servings), but if your containers are different sizes, just keep the ratio of ingredients constant.
  • On the back of the tag, write: “Mix contents in a large bowl. For each serving, place 1/3 cup cocoa mix in a mug and stir in 1 cup boiling water. Store remaining mix in airtight container.”

Image and recipe courtesy of Sunset Magazine. Photo by David Prince.

Designing with Fire

A gas fire table can make a unique gathering spot.

A gas fire table can make a unique gathering spot.

Research continues to name fire features as one of the top “must haves” in modern outdoor living, making designing with fire a hot topic. In the early days of the trend, the fire feature was typically an add-on freestanding element, like a ceramic chiminea or metal fire bowl, which could be easily moved to other positions as needed. However, the trend has evolved over time to include more built-in permanent fixtures — such as a custom outdoor fireplace, fire pit, or gas fire table — which require more planning in terms of the overall design scheme of the outdoor living area.

Safety First

When planning a permanent fire feature, there are a number of safety issues to consider. Before beginning, check with local municipalities regarding safety codes to avoid costly design mistakes. Never underestimate the value of a professional plumber when running and installing gas lines. Also, be sure the contractor uses only non-combustible materials, and remember to include a fire-resistant liner when building a fire pit over existing hardscapes. This is especially important if the fire pit is on top of granite or limestone, which can retain water and explode when overheated.

Location Location Location

This outdoor living room incorporates several units from the Bristol Belgard Elements collection of prefabricated outdoor living features.

The design of this outdoor living room centers on the Bristol fireplace and incorporates several other pieces from the Belgard Elements Collection.

A fire feature will be the visual anchor of the design. When determining the best placement, it’s best to check for building code restrictions. Although it varies by municipality, gas-burning fire features can typically be placed just about anywhere, but most building codes require a wood-burning feature to be placed at least ten feet from any vertical structure. When using a wood-burning fire feature, it’s also a good idea to test wind patterns in the yard with a portable grill to check smoke flow direction and avoid choking out seating areas. Making the fire feature the furthest design element from the home will create a dramatic view and take into account both safety and functionality.

Integrated Design

Once placement of the fire feature has been determined, additional hardscapes can be integrated into the design to complement the feature and create a cohesive outdoor living space. Paver patterns and retaining wall designs can mimic the lines of the fire feature, delineate separate gathering areas, or direct traffic flow. One option is to create a paver pattern in front of a fireplace that mimics the look of a rug. Seat walls can also be incorporated into the design but should be placed at least four feet from the fire feature to maintain a comfortable distance from the heat source. It’s important to consider how the space will be used and remember to leave room for furniture and walking space.

A faux "area rug" of Mega-Arbel pavers break of the design of this Urbana patio to enhance the "living room" concept of this design.

A faux “area rug” of Mega-Arbel pavers in front of the hearth break up the design of this Urbana Stone patio to enhance the “living room” concept.

Finishing Touches

A number of elements can be added to the design that will make the space more functional, as well as add ambiance. Low voltage lighting can be installed directly onto the fire feature, as well as nearby walls, pillars, and around landscaping to increase both visibility and mood. Outdoor rated music speakers can be installed at various locations around the space to allow for a consistent sound level without bothering the neighbors. And, custom cushions added to seat walls will add both color and comfort.

How to Create a Cozy Outdoor Room

In order to create a cozy outdoor room, you first have to answer the question, “What makes a room cozy?” The answer will invariably include two basic components: comfort and intimacy.

Fire features reinforce the "room" concept and set a warm and inviting tone.

Fire features reinforce the “room” concept and set a warm and inviting tone.

Comfortable Outdoor Living

The elements needed for outdoor comfort will vary depending on the season. During hotter months, finding a way to keep cool is often a priority. During this time of year, keeping warm becomes more of an issue. In order to enjoy your outdoor rooms further into the fall and winter seasons, it’s imperative to have heat sources, such as butane heaters, comfy blankets, and fire features like a fire table, outdoor fireplace, or fire pit. Lining the perimeter of an overhang or porch with retractable ceiling-to-floor solar screens can also provide a dual purpose, by blocking the sun during the summer and providing a wind screen during the winter.

Face furniture towards each other to create "conversation areas".

Face furniture pieces towards each other to create intimate “conversation areas”.

Furniture selection can also be a big part of the equation. Many people tend to choose form over function in order to create the look they desire. When selecting outdoor furniture, choose pieces that are both comfortable and can be grouped together to create intimate conversation areas. Also keep comfort in mind when selecting accessories like throw pillows, which can sometimes be attractive but stiff. Stools and ottomans can also add to the comfort level by offering an opportunity to prop feet up into a more relaxed position.

Seat walls help define the space and provide additional seating.

Seat walls help define the space and provide additional seating.

Creating Intimacy

Creating intimacy can be a challenge in an open space. One way to do so is to group furniture into smaller conversation areas. Another option is to partition outdoor areas into specific rooms with walls. This can be done with virtual walls, such as with a folded screen or a shelved container garden, or actual walls can be built by using retaining wall block to create freestanding divider walls or seat walls.

Seat walls actually serve a dual purpose by defining or dividing rooms while simultaneously providing extra seating. In fact, according to a recent survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects, built-in seating is actually one of the hottest emerging trends in outdoor design today.

Decorative items add character and charm to an outdoor room.

Decorative items add character and charm to an outdoor room.

Finishing Touches

In order to create a truly comfortable outdoor room, decorate it as though it is an indoor room. Choose elements that reflect your personality. Ideas include container gardens, weatherproof clocks and vases, lanterns, bird houses, and baskets. If your outdoor room includes walls, you can also decorate the walls with various items that will reinforce the concept of bringing the indoors out. Lighting can also enhance the mood of the room.

For lighting ideas, read our previous blog on lighting your hardscapes.

Decorate outdoor walls similarly to how you might decorate an indoor wall.

Decorate outdoor walls similarly to how you might decorate an indoor wall.

Five Tips for Flawless Fall Outdoor Festivities

Fall can be a fabulous time to entertain outdoors. The weather can sometimes be unpredictable, but in most parts of the country, the needle hasn’t dropped quite low enough to send everyone scampering indoors yet. Here are five simple tips to help make the most of your outdoor living space during this time.

1. Decorate for the Season

Many people decorate the front of their homes or their dining rooms to coincide with the season, but never think to take the same concept to the backyard, where everyone gathers. Put away the bright summery throw pillows and exchange them for warmer tones. Place a few pumpkins in a basket to create harvest-themed centerpiece on an outdoor buffet or table. Add little touches of autumn all around your outdoor rooms.

Hardscape lights2. Light Up the Night

Nothing says “festive” like flickering lights. Who says stringed lights are only for Christmas? Now that the sun goes down earlier, you can take the opportunity to add some fun and festive lighting to your backyard. Get creative in how you light up your outdoor rooms. Look for LED lanterns, solar landscape lighting, or flameless candles that can be set on timers to light up as soon as the sun goes down.

3. Get Warm and Cozy

Provide your guests with opportunities to warm themselves on chillier evenings. Options can be as simple as a hot beverage or a comfy throw blanket or can include any variety of outdoor heaters, from permanent overhead installations to portable floor or tabletop butane heaters.

4. Crank Up the Fire

Whether a simple chiminea or a custom outdoor fireplace, guests love to gather around a fire. The crackle and smell of an open fire warms the heart and soul as much as the body. Make the fire an interactive part of your event by roasting marshmallows or hot dogs, or just open a nice bottle of wine and relax.

coppa-ricotta-and-arugula-pizza.201408065. Make it a Tapas Night

Forgo the formal sit-down meal for a casual night of finger foods and small plates. This will keep your guests moving, create an additional fire source, and allow you to showcase your outdoor culinary skills all at the same time. Ideas include kabobs, grilled shrimp, and flatbreads or pizzas — all of which can be prepped ahead of time and ready to go on the grill or into the brick oven once the guests arrive.

Fall Recipe: Pumpkin Cake Roll

PumpkinRoll

This sweet spiced confection offers a festive twist on a seasonal favorite and can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to serve. Rolling the cake is easy with these step-by-step instructions. The end-result will look and taste so professional, your guests will want to know where you bought it!

Ingredients

  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup canned unsweetened pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, divided
  • 2 (3-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Garnishes: powdered sugar, chocolate-coated pecan halves

Preparation

  1. Coat bottom and sides of a 15- x 10-inch jelly-roll pan with cooking spray and line with wax paper. Coat wax paper with cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Beat eggs at medium speed with an electric mixer 5 minutes or until thick and lemon-colored; gradually add granulated sugar, beating until well combined. Combine flour and next 6 ingredients. Gradually add to egg mixture, beating well. Combine pumpkin, pecans, and 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and gradually add to mixture, beating well. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan.
  3. Bake at 375° for 15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
  4. Sift 1/2 cup powdered sugar in a 15- x 10-inch rectangle on a clean, dry dish towel. Run a knife around edges of pan to loosen cake, and turn cake out onto prepared towel. Peel wax paper off cake. Starting at narrow end, roll up cake and towel together; place, seam side down, on a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add remaining 1 cup powdered sugar, beating until smooth. Stir in vanilla and 1 teaspoon lemon juice.
  6. Unroll cake; remove towel. Spread cream cheese mixture on cake, leaving a 1-inch border around edges. Re-roll cake without towel, and place, seam side down, on a serving platter. Cover and chill at least 3 hours. Garnish, if desired.

Image and recipe courtesy of Southern Living.

The Warmth of a Fire

This custom site-built fireplace is flanked by built-in Celtik® Wall seat walls for additional seating.

One thing that distinguishes an event from an experience is the creation of a lasting memory. Reflecting on our lives, we flip though these memories like the well-worn pages of a favored book, calling to mind the sights, sounds, flavors and textures of the world around us at that particular moment in time.

A fireplace or fire pit can transform a backyard or patio into the family’s favorite gathering spot and become the place where memories are made. In the setting of the dancing lights and earthy aromas of a crackling fire, a cup of coffee becomes a meditative retreat; a backyard gathering becomes a lively marshmallow roast; a glass of wine becomes a romantic interlude; an event becomes an experience.

The rustic Bristol Fireplace and matching wood boxes are part of the Belgard Elements™ Collection of modular outdoor living units.

That’s why fire features have become the hottest growing trend in outdoor living. Over the last few years, the outdoor living room concept has flourished as homeowners yearn to make their outdoor spaces as warm and inviting as the interior of their homes. By doing so, a homeowner can create an outdoor living space that is a true extension of the home and reflects the personality of those who live there.

The Bordeaux Fireplace is the latest in the Belgard Elements series and features a stacked-stone appearance.

The Bordeaux Fireplace is the latest in the Belgard Elements series of modular pieces and features a stacked-stone appearance.

Just as the indoor living room often centers around a fireplace, the outdoor fireplace acts as a striking centerpiece to the visual look of an outdoor living room and goes a step further by becoming the center of outdoor life, as a whole. Young and old alike are drawn to both its figurative and literal warmth. The appeal of fire crosses all strata and knows no age or cultural boundaries. Around the fire, time stands still as stories are told, lives are shared, and experiences become memories.