It’s Family Tourney Time

It’s that time of year again. That’s right, it’s Dad’s Day. This year, celebrate that special hard-working man with a day just for him, focused on his favorite pastime: sports. Ok, so he’s not LeBron James or Mike Trout, but today he can be the “King of Insignificant Sports”. So, dig a couple of poster boards out of the school supply closet and get ready for a backyard family tournament.

Badminton
Go to your local sporting goods store and grab yourself an affordable badminton set. Just make sure to set it up yourself. We don’t want to start off Father’s Day by putting the ole man in a bad mood. Once it’s all set up, separate the family into teams, set up your “singles” and “doubles” brackets, and then have at it. Have fun with it, and if you’re feeling extra sweet, let Dad win a game or two.

Ping Pong
Ah, ping pong…the game of champions. It’s a game that anyone can play once they get the hang of it. On your way to seeing who the true ping pong master is, however, be careful with how you celebrate your wins. Too much showboating can make any lovely day turn sour really quickly, especially if Dad busts out some celebratory dance move from his college days.

Cornhole Toss Game Board Close-UpCornhole or Washers
There’s just something so peaceful about throwing objects into holes. You can play this game with washers or bean bags. Either way, it’s an easy way to spend the afternoon. It’s also a great game to play for multi-taskers. Unlike other outdoor activities, cornhole doesn’t require you to put your drink down while you are playing, which will surely be good news for Dad.

Ring & Hook
You can guarantee that Dad will be telling stories about his favorite college pub before this game is over. A carport, porch, or even a tree would all be easy places to set this one up. All you need is a string, a metal ring, an eye hook, and a screw hook. Attach the string to a rafter or tree branch with the eye hook, tie the ring to the bottom of the string at a level low enough for the kids to reach, and screw the hook into a wall, post, or tree trunk. Now, you’re ready to play! The person who makes the ring onto the hook in the least amount of swings wins. But be prepared to hear stories about how good Dad was at this game in college, despite his lack of proof.

At the end of the day, assign points to each event for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, tally up the total points, and crown someone in the family as “King (or Queen) of Insignificant Sports”. Now, hopefully it will Dad, since it’s his day, but it all depends on how competitive the family is. They may want him to actually earn the title. In any case, it’s all good fun and will surely be a day to remember. Who knows, it may just become a favorite annual tradition.

Get Ready for Backyard Waterpalooza!

There is no doubt about it, summer is here, particularly if you live in the south! As soon as the kids get out of school, the heat index climbs, and their need for stimulation increases. Well there’s no better way to beat the heat than water play. Whether you have a pool or not, there are lots of fun games with water that will keep the whole family entertained throughout the summer.

WATER BALLOON GAMES

Water Balloons

Who doesn’t love water balloons? They are quick, easy, and available just about anywhere. Over the course of a couple of days, you can fill several Rubbermaid containers with water balloons. Be cool and keep it a secret so when you make the big reveal, you will be the big hit!

  • Balloon Toss: Start out with something simple like a water balloon toss. Remember the egg toss? Well, it’s the same idea but its only water, so there’s minimal clean-up. Partners start close together and with each toss, step back until the inevitable…someone’s balloon explodes and everyone erupts into fits of laughter.
  • Balloon Volleyball: This can easily become your best sport. Each team consists of two to four people. Groups of two will each hold the end of a beach towel to launch, catch and volley the water balloon over the net. If you don’t have a net, don’t worry.  Set up a couple of chairs or simply use a broom to represent where the net would be. Be careful, though! If you launch the balloon straight up, it will likely explode on your own head.
  • Balloon Cornhole: Set two containers or bowls filled with water in the same way you would set up cornhole boards for tossing bean bags. Reward point amounts for getting the balloons into the containers.
  • Balloon Battle:  Depending on the ages of the children, you can close out the water balloon day with a good old-fashioned water balloon fight. The adults may even want to get in on this one!

WATER GUN GAMES

Water guns will always be a big hit with people of all ages. In addition to the fun of a free-for-all water gun fight, there are some fun organized games you can try.

  • Target Practice: Try setting up some ping pong balls on golf tees and engage everyone in a little target practice. Or you can set up jars and see who can get the most water in the jars, or make a pyramid of disposable cups and see who can knock the most off.
  • Water Tag: Set up an obstacle course and divide everyone into teams. First person to get hit is “out”. Last man standing wins. If you want to make a really cool obstacle course, call a local appliance store and ask for some used boxes.

FUN WITH SPRINKLERS

Sprinklers

On a really hot day, there’s nothing like a sprinkler to keep you cool. Here are a couple of ideas for organized sprinkler activities.

  • Obstacle Course:  For this one, you’ll need multiple hoses and multiple sprinklers. Set the sprinklers at various locations and create an obstacle course where the kids have to try to run through without getting sprayed.
  • Homemade Slip and Slide: Get a roll of plastic sheeting from the hardware store. Roll it out and weigh it down with bean bags every few feet. You may also want to duct tape it to the grass for additional reinforcement. Drizzle a little liquid soap here and there, wet it down with a water hose, and you’re ready to slip and slide. Keep the sheeting continuously wet with sprinklers or a water hose. Or do this on a rainy day, as long as there’s no lightening.

Quick and Easy Backyard Fiesta

iStock_000023365878_MediumCinco de Mayo is on a Thursday this year, which may make you inclined to think that it will be a little hard to pull together a fabulous celebratory backyard bash. After all, it’s been a crazy week with a mile-long to-do list, plus all of those end-of-school-year activities. All the more reason to take a deep breath and relax with a mid-week margarita!

Here is a list of some easy tips for pulling off a casual backyard Cinco de Mayo fiesta like a pro — with nothing more than a quick trip to the grocery store and a peek inside the back of your hall closet.

Decorations

Ok, so you’re the type of person who typically likes to channel your inner Martha Stewart when it comes to preparing for a party. Well, it’s doubtful you’ll have time to make your own paper maché piñata in time, so it’s time to get creative with existing supplies. Unless, of course, you happen to have an old piñata in the back of your closet, in which case, dig it out!  For other decorations, think in terms of earthy textures: wooden items, wool blankets, burlap sacks left over from the 4th of July sack race (which make excellent table drapes)…you get the idea. Fruits and vegetables also make festive table decorations — for example, a glass bowl or trifle dish filled with limes, avocados, or tomatoes.

Menu

When planning your menu, think dishes with minimal prep. A slow cooker and a packet of taco seasoning can come in handy for making “crock pot chicken fajitas” or “pulled pork tacos”. Another idea is to turn meal prep into a party activity by making Mexican pizzas on the grill. For a quick-and-easy “homemade” salsa recipe, throw a large jar of cheap salsa, a can of mild Rotel, and some fresh cilantro into a food processor. Spice it up with a little cumin and garlic powder, then puree everything together. It looks and tastes like restaurant quality, and they’ll think you whipped it up from scratch.

Beverages

Of course, let’s not forget the best part of Cinco de Mayo celebrations! Obviously, you will add Mexican beer to the grocery list. But for a perfect pitcher of homemade “top shelf” margaritas on the rocks, forget the bottled mixes — instead buy frozen limeade. Mix the limeade per directions, replacing one can of water with gold tequila. Add a healthy splash of orange liqueur (like Triple Sec), salt the glass rims, and you’re good to go. If you want to add a pitcher of mojitos, use rum instead of tequila, and grab some mint from the garden for muddling in each glass as you serve it. If you want to get really fancy, muddle in some strawberries, too. For kid-friendly versions, just make the limeade per package instructions, using water only, then garnish with salt (or mint/strawberries) and lime.

Now…make a quick grocery run, and get ready to enjoy your fiesta!

Dimensional Design with Container Gardens

Catalog photography for national hardscape manufacture in Arizona for Oldcastle plant Superlite.

Pavers: Lafitt™ Rustic Slab

While driving past meticulously landscaped yards, you might wonder how to get a look like that without spending every weekend pulling weeds. Container gardens are a great way to soften the look of hardscaped areas and add character to your outdoor living spaces without all the work. Particularly if you don’t have a green bone in your body, container gardening is a low-maintenance way to add pops of color all over.

Pavers: Catalina Slate™

Pavers: Catalina Slate™

Most likely, you have a couple of planters or even random containers that you can repurpose as vessels for this project. Think of each container as a piece of art that will display your garden. Instead of scattering single containers around the area, consider grouping together multiple containers of varying heights. The initial planting stage starts out with smaller plants that will become fuller as they grow. By grouping them, you will give the illusion that they are more substantial than they are, creating a finished garden look immediately.

One of the key elements in container gardening is drainage. Make sure your containers have holes in the bottom where water can easily flow. Aeration is probably the most important part of container gardening. Creating a mixture of topsoil and peat moss is a fine recipe to grow a healthy garden. Peat moss is less dense than soil alone, which allows the water and air to move through rather than collecting in a puddle at the top of your planter. Fill the bottom of your container with a couple of handfuls of rocks before adding the soil mixture, which will keep the roots from staying too moist and rotting.

Consider using a large Rubbermaid container to create your soil mixture. Pour both the peat moss and the soil into the container and mix them well. Go ahead and dig in; this is your chance to connect with the earth without getting too dirty. Make sure the soil you are using doesn’t have sand in it unless you are growing strawberries.

Recycled Window

Pavers: Mega-Arbel®  Wall: Weston Stone®

Mixing multiple plant varieties in a single pot is a way to add a little texture and interest. Choose plants that bloom all year for the outer rim of your container. Pathos, English ivy, or even spider plants can surround a couple of annuals. Your local garden center will have plenty of flowers and other plants to choose from, as well as containers of all shapes and sizes. You may also want to visit your local antique mall, consignment shop, or reclaimed building materials store for interesting items that you can repurpose as garden containers — like barrels, vintage pots or antique milk cans.

Bringing container gardens into your outdoor living area will bring color and serve many other functions as well. Choosing plants that attract butterflies, like Buddleia, is a great way to add an ethereal quality to your seating and kitchen spaces. Also, hummingbirds are attracted to Bee Balm, Larkspur, and Hibiscus, to name a few. The farmer’s almanac is a great resource for types of plants for your area, as well as time to plant.

Container gardening around your outdoor space can also be functional. Start out with some simple easy-to-grow vegetables such as kale, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash. One idea is to use metal wash tubs to create an herb garden. Herbs like basil, rosemary, and chives will add so much to just about any dish. Instead of the farm-to-table movement, be a part of the container-to-table movement!

Unplug and Unwind in Your Outdoor Space

Turn off the TV, leave the phones inside, and have some make-your-own pizza family time.

Turn off the TV, leave the phones inside, and have some make-your-own pizza family time in your outdoor kitchen.

Magazines and websites are full of articles that talk about unplugging for a day or a weekend. Making it a reality, however, is a different story. Find a date and mark it down on a calendar. That is a sure fire way to make it happen.

The outdoor kitchen space is a great way to move the family out of the house. Not only is it a place to enjoy fresh air and soak in some Vitamin D, it is the ultimate floor plan. Choosing recipes to utilize amenities like a brick oven are always a big hit and do not require endless prep time. For example, kids love to create fun designs with pizza ingredients — like swirls, flower designs or smiley faces — which makes the prep time a fun family activity. And if you don’t have a brick oven, you can actually cook pizza on the grill.

Mix fruit moctails drink - vintage filter Let the kids mix and match various fresh fruits and juices for creative "mocktails".

Let the kids mix and match various fresh fruits and juices for creative “mocktails”.

Stocking the outdoor refrigerator and kitchen ahead of time is a great way to make your outdoor space self-sufficient. Having everything in one place also saves time and makes the preparation a lot smoother.

Vote on what kind of cuisine to prepare and shop for ingredients during the week, which will save time later. Or, visit the local farmers’ market for fresh produce and make the outing part of the day’s “unplugged” experience.

Think about fun recipes everyone can enjoy. Instead of having cocktails, enjoy some “mocktails” with fresh citrus, berries, and carbonated water or sprite. Serve them in some fancy plastic glasses designed to create the same look as glass without the potential of shattering.

Horse Shoes

Find or make old-fashioned backyard games for some great “unplugged” memories.

Look around and see what kinds of items are available to make fun outdoor games the whole family can enjoy. For example, cut a couple of 2×4’s and make them in to an oversized Jenga game. Pinterest has numerous ideas for outdoor games and old-fashioned family fun. And believe it or not, old standards like horse shoes and badminton will keep your family entertained for hours.

So, corral and turn off all electronics and technology, with the possible exception of  a little music. Making memories in your outdoor living space is a fabulous way of enjoying life’s simplicity and creating the life you love with the people that mean the most: family.

Rise of the Outdoor Chef

Remember the days when outdoor cooking basically referred to your father grilling up a few burgers? Perhaps he went the fancier route and threw some steaks on the grill, or even a tuna steak if he wanted to get really fancy. The rest of the family prepared the sides inside or just waited patiently for the ole’ man to finish. Well it’s 2016 now, and while some traditionalists choose to keep their sacred bygone grilling rituals intact, the rest of us are moving forward into a new generation of gourmet outdoor cooking. With outdoor kitchens gaining in popularity, it’s no longer just dad out there by himself. Meal preparation has become a community event with a team of chefs prepping, grilling, or just hanging out to enjoy a glass of wine and camaraderie. Yes, outdoor cooking has become a team sport, and why shouldn’t it be? Everyone likes a good party, and this year, you can be the envy of the neighborhood with some exciting cooking techniques you can use in 2016.

cedar-planked-salmon-ck-x

Photo: Johnny Autry; Styling: Mary Clayton Carl (Courtesy Time, Inc.)

YOU WOOD NOT BELIEVE

Puns aside, if you have never grilled with a wood plank, you’re missing out. Paul Bunyon should have been a chef. He would have been a great addition to your All-Star grilling team. At your next gathering, enhance the flavor of your favorite meats by grilling them on top of a wood plank made of hickory or maple. If you truly want an unforgettable experience, try grilling a fillet of redfish or salmon on top of a cedar plank. It may become your favorite meal. However, feel free to experiment with different seasonings and wood planks to find your next signature dish. Make it your own, or check out this recipe for Cedar Plank Salmon with Mango Kiwi Salsa to get you started.

HIMALAYAN VACATION

While it may be impractical to pop over to Tibet, you can bring the taste of Himalayan minerals to your next party by purchasing yourself a Himalayan salt block. This is another easy tool you can use to show off to that neighbor who always wants to one-up you. All you do is place the salt block on your grill, let it heat up to the desired temperature, and throw your food on top. Your meal will come out with a hint of salt that goes well with so many different foods. Let’s see Susan top that.

sos_trio

Photo: SOS Shells

CHARGRILLIN’ TIME

While raw oysters may not be everyone’s cup of tea, chargrilled oysters are amazing. Made famous in New Orleans, it can be a real pain to chargrill your own oysters on the half shell. Luckily, thanks to SOS Shells, you and your new team of outdoor chefs can channel your inner Cajun. These reusable, stainless steel shells are perfect for chargrilling oysters, shrimp, scallops, vegetables or more. They are extremely easy to use and are great gadget to break out at your next grill party. For more information on chargrilling, check out our chargrilling blog.

GADGETS GALORE

While we’re on the gadget subject, in order to truly become a gourmet outdoor chef, you’re going to need to invest in some additional tools of the trade. It’s hard to make smoked almond and honey brie without a cast iron brie baker. And if you’re going to make bacon-wrapped goat cheese-stuffed jalapeno peppers, it’s a whole lot easier with a chili pepper grill rack and pepper corer. You can certainly use foil to cook both of those gourmet appetizers, but it gets a little messy. Luckily, there are no shortage of companies that offer great gadgets for the outdoor chef. For a plethora of gourmet outdoor cooking gadgets, check out Sur La Table or Crate & Barrel.