Winterizing Your Outdoor Living Spaces

belair-wallExtreme weather can sometimes take a toll on your outdoor living spaces. Keep your Belgard outdoor living area looking as beautiful as the day it was installed with these tips and tricks for protecting your investment in harsh climates.

Beware Rapid Temperature Fluctuations

Belgard hardscapes are constructed to withstand natural freeze/thaw cycles, and the refractory cement materials used to manufacture Belgard fireplaces, fire pits and brick ovens are designed to withstand very high temperatures. However, rapid shifts from one extreme to the other can still have an adverse effect, and there are simple ways to prevent damage.

  • Keep brick oven and fireplace doors closed to prevent snow and ice from building up inside the unit.
  • When not in use, cover grills and fire pit openings with covers to help prevent build-up and ensure proper working order.
  • If snow or ice does build up on a fireplace, fire pit or brick oven, be careful to remove any loose snow or ice and warm the unit up and thaw it slowly.

Protect Your Outdoor Kitchen

It’s important to protect all of your pipes, appliances and equipment so that your outdoor kitchen is ready to use in the spring.

  • Shut off water to your outdoor kitchen and drain all water lines to outdoor sinks, ice makers, refrigerators and kegerators. Leave the drain valves open.
  • Turn off all of the power to appliances.
  • Clean the inside of appliances and cabinets and wipe everything down to remove residual moisture.
  • Do not cover outdoor refrigerators or ice makers, which could cause moisture to get trapped and cause electrical damage.
  • Cover any sinks to prevent debris from settling in the basin. You may want to consider removing the faucet and storing it indoors.
  • If counter tops are made of stone, consider applying a sealant to prevent leaf stains or cracks caused by freezing moisture.

Prevent Deicing Downfalls

Deicing agents can sometimes have a corrosive effect on paved surfaces. Although Belgard pavers are manufactured to be more resistant to salt absorption than asphalt or solid concrete surfaces, there are additional tips that can help ensure lasting beauty of your paver walkways, driveways and patios.

  • Mix salts with sand prior to application.
  • Don’t over-salt.
  • Use salt for melting ice only, not snow removal.
  • Once loose, remove ice to avoid salt buildup.
  • Wash residue from pavers in the spring.
  • Reseal pavers with protective sealants, such as those offered by Techniseal, every three to five years.

Setting Outdoor Makeover
Goals for 2017

During this time of year, it’s typical to take a personal assessment and set new goals regarding lifestyle, health, investments, and various other areas of our lives. Since your home is likely your most valuable asset, it’s important to factor home improvements into the mix. Those who make even small improvements each year are not only more likely to see a higher return on their overall investment over time, there’s also a sense of pride that comes from completing each task, plus the enjoyment of making each space more “livable”. As you plan your 2017 home improvement goals, keep in mind that research shows that many outdoor living improvements can increase the value of your home at a higher rate than under-beam improvements. Two outdoor living categories that typically have a high rate of return are curb appeal and entertainment spaces.

Improving Curb Appeal

As the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Even small improvements to your front yard can make an impact — both on how you feel every time you approach your own driveway, and how a potential buyer will envision the quality of your home if and when you decide to sell. Some type of curb appeal improvement should be on your “to-do” list each year, whether it’s a minor tweak to the landscaping, adding embellishments here or there (like a new mailbox or built-in planter), or a large project like a driveway renovation.

Upgrading Entertainment Spaces

By upgrading your outdoor living entertainment spaces, not only will you add to the enjoyment that you get out of your own home, every dollar you spend could earn back between 60 cents and $2 on resale, according to reports by Houzz and Realtor.com. Makeover projects should focus on making your outdoor living spaces an extension of your home. According to annual surveys by the American Society of Landscape Architects over the last five years, consistently desirable upgrades include outdoor kitchens, outdoor fireplaces and fire pits, built-in seating, lighting upgrades, and paver patios.

Prioritizing Goals

Before you get started with planning your improvement goals for 2017, you should consider the following factors: 1) How long do you plan to live in your home?  2) What is your overall vision? If you plan to be in your home for many years, you can take a look at your overall vision and break it up into a multi-year plan that puts priority on the projects that YOU most desire. If you plan to sell within the next two years, your money would be better spent on projects that are most desirable in the marketplace. For the lowdown on the most desirable outdoor living features for your specific neighborhood or housing pricepoint, talk to some local realtors.

Getting Started

The first step is to get inspired. Look through Pinterest boards, magazine websites, online inspiration galleries…anything that will help you develop your overall vision. The free Belgard Idea Book is another excellent resource, offering page after page of gorgeous inspirational outdoor living photography. Another useful tool is the online Belgard Project Visualizer, which allows you to upload photos of your own yard to try out various paver styles and colors. You can even save and share your designs for future use. Next, consider meeting with an outdoor living contractor who can provide you with additional design ideas and help you pull together an overall plan, prioritize projects, and set a timeline. To find a Belgard Authorized contractor near you, click here. Next, decide which projects you want to accomplish this year and what you’d rather put off until a later date. Whether your 2017 goal ends up being a major makeover or a simple DIY project, set a date and stick to it. This time next year, you’ll be glad that you did.

Champagne Cocktails
to Ring in the New Year

The countdown is on, and it’s time for a new and refreshing way to ring in the New Year. At this year’s gathering, try one (or all) of these specialty champagne cocktails. To reduce or eliminate the alcohol content, you can always substitute with sparkling cider instead of sparkling wine.

Corduroy Jacket

1 fresh orange slice
1 brown sugar cube
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1/4 cup cognac
6 tablespoons chilled sparkling wine
1 (3.5-inch) strip orange peel
Fresh thyme sprig

Preparation: (1 serving)

  1. Muddle orange slice, brown sugar cube, and Angostura bitters in a cocktail shaker to release flavors.
  2. Fill shaker with ice cubes, and add cognac; cover with lid, and shake vigorously until thoroughly chilled (about 30 seconds). Strain into a stemmed 10-oz. glass.
  3. Top with sparkling wine or sparkling apple cider. Garnish with orange peel and fresh thyme sprig.

•   •   •

~ps328.tmp

Pomegranate Champagne Cocktail

1 turbinado sugar cube*
2 tablespoons pomegranate juice
1/2 cup chilled sparkling wine
*1 rock candy stirrer or granulated sugar cube may be substituted.

Preparation: (1 serving)

Place sugar cube in a Champagne flute; add 2 tablespoons pomegranate juice and 1/2 cup Champagne. Serve immediately.
•   •   •

 

Black Currant Champagne

Chilled sparkling wine
Chilled black currant nectar*
Garnish: fresh blackberries
*Other fruit nectars — such as peach, mango, tropical, or pear — may be substituted.

Preparation: (1 serving)

Fill a Champagne flute or tall glass with equal parts chilled sparkling wine and fruit nectar. Garnish, if desired.

•   •   •

 

Mint-Champagne Shrub

1 1/2 cups loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1/2 cup elderflower liqueur
1/3 cup Champagne vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Chilled sparkling wine
Garnish: fresh mint leaves

Preparation:(8 servings)

  1. Muddle first 2 ingredients in a cocktail shaker to release flavors.
  2. Add elderflower liqueur and next 3 ingredients. Fill shaker with ice; cover with lid, and shake vigorously until thoroughly chilled (about 30 seconds).
  3. Strain into 8 (8-oz.) glasses; top with sparkling wine.

•   •   •

Berry Bubbly Punch

3/4 cup raspberry syrup
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
3/4 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 (750 ml) chilled bottles sparkling wine
Garnishes: fresh, halved strawberries and blueberries

Preparation: (makes 2.5 quarts)

  1. Combine raspberry syrup, orange juice, pineapple juice, and lemon juice in a medium bowl, stirring until blended.
  2. Cover and chill 2 to 3 hours.
  3. Pour mixture into a punch bowl, and top with chilled sparkling wine.

•   •   •

Remember to drink responsibly, and have a safe and prosperous New Year!

Unique Gifts for the Outdoor Living Enthusiast

Everyone has that one person on their list who’s tough to shop for, year after year. If that person loves spending time in his or her outdoor living areas, ditch the thought of gifting yet another ugly sweater and take a look at these outdoor living gift ideas.

lanternsIndoor/Outdoor Lanterns

Whether outfitted with real candles or battery-operated flameless candles, lanterns add charm and ambiance to outdoor living spaces. For a wide variety of styles and price ranges, check out the selection at Pier 1 Imports. They also offer remote controlled LED candles, which come in handy when guests drop in unexpectedly. Press a button and voila, you’re ready for company.

.

heaterTabletop Heaters

Nope, this is not a lamp. It’s actually an outdoor-rated 1,200-watt tabletop electric patio heater. It emits a soft glow with the look and feel of a lamp, but also heats up to 115 square feet of surrounding space. Home Depot has several styles available of both electric and butane tabletop heaters, as well as larger patio heaters. For more information on the model shown, click here.

.

gms_res_bel2015_patio_walls_firepit_megalafitt_westonwall_westonfirekit_002_previewFire Pits

Various styles of metal and ceramic fire pits can be found at big box stores like Home Depot or Walmart. However, if you’re ready for something a little more permanent, Belgard’s Weston Stone® Firepit is available in five color blends, installs quickly, and will be the favorite gathering spot in the backyard for years to come. Click here to find a contractor or dealer.

.

bbq-accessoriesDeluxe Grill Accessories

Don’t get the same old barbecue tool set again this year; go for something with a little more pizzazz, like a motorized steam-cleaning grill brush, a handle-mounting grill light, and a blue-tooth connecting grill thermometer that can pair with your phone. At Brookstone, you can buy these cool grill accessories separately or in bundles. And if you hurry, you can get a discount with the promo code: THANKS.

.

santa-letter-indoor-outdoor-pillow-cSeasonal Throw Pillows

Let’s face it, outdoor living is not just for summer anymore. Now that outdoor living has become more of a year-round activity, you can actually find seasonal outdoor throw pillows. Pottery Barn has a nice selection of holiday-themed or wintry designs of both indoor/outdoor pillows and decorative seasonal pillow covers.

Planning an Outdoor Thanksgiving

southern-living-patio-fi

Incorporating your outdoor living areas into your Thanksgiving Day plans can help multiply the space you have available for entertaining and provide additional activities to help keep your guests entertained. Depending upon the weather in your part of the country, your outdoor living spaces can be used in a number of creative ways.

outdoor-kitchen-prepOutdoor Cooking

Much of the country is expecting unseasonable mild temperatures this Thanksgiving, offering a rare opportunity for outdoor dining and cooking. By either smoking or frying your turkey outdoors, you free up the inside oven for cooking side dishes or keeping prepared dishes warm. You can also use the grill for a variety of side dishes or appetizers — like roasted veggies or grilled stuffed jalapeño peppers.

The “Enclosed” Porch

If the temperature prohibits outdoor dining and entertaining, you can create additional heated space by temporarily enclosing a screened-in or open porch with heavy gauge clear vinyl sheeting. The sheeting will eliminated wind and hold in heat. The enclosed space can be heated with space heaters, but be sure to keep them a safe distance from the sheeting or anything flammable.

S’mores Bar — Yes, Please!!

Let’s face it…how many kids really like pumpkin pie? Not many. And how many like s’mores? Just about all of them. No matter what the temperature, people of all ages will love heading outdoors to roast some marshmallows after the big meal. If you want to really have some fun, take your s’mores experience to the next level by setting up a s’mores bar with some new and interesting ingredients. Here are a few ideas to get your started.

  • regular and pumpkin-flavored marshmallows
  • graham crackers
  • Ritz crackers
  • Vanilla wafers
  • milk, dark, and white chocolate bars
  • strawberry slices
  • Peppermint Patties
  • Grated coconut
  • peanut butter
  • Nutella

roasting-marshmallows

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

How to Cook a Cajun-Style Deep-Fried Turkey

Before we get started, don’t be intimidated by the word “Cajun” in reference to food. Many people have the mistaken impression that Cajun cooking is all about seeing how high you can get on the Scoville heat scale. That is inherently untrue. Although some dishes, like sauce piquante and boiled crawfish, will definitely leave your mouth tingly, the overwhelming majority of Cajun and Creole cooking is more about intense flavor versus intense heat. When talking about a Cajun-style deep-fried turkey, the description is more about the cooking method than the seasoning. In fact, this blogger lives in south Louisiana and regularly fries turkeys for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and we like to try different flavor profiles. A family favorite is one we call the “Casian” Turkey (which is Cajun-fried, but marinated and rubbed with Asian flavors).

The Equipment

setup

You will need a 30-quart fryer, a propane burner, a meat thermometer, a turkey rack (which goes inside the bird), and a turkey lifter (which hooks to the rack to lift it). You can buy the full setup online from Academy, Walmart, or other big-box stores. Next you will need about 3 gallons of peanut oil, which is the best choice for frying turkey because it has a high flash point (less likely to catch fire), high smoke point (ensures good flavor), and can be used multiple times before disposal — in case you’re frying more than one. In Louisiana, neighbors often like to get together and take turns using the oil. Basically, men love to cook when there’s danger involved, and there’s an excuse to get together and drink a little beer. If you’re making an event out of it and frying multiple turkeys, you may need a little extra oil.

The Bird

Your turkey should be no more than 14 lbs. If you have a lot of people to feed, you can fry more than one and can even experiment with different flavor profiles for each. Make sure every turkey is completely thawed. This is very important. Frying a frozen turkey is VERY dangerous. The ice reacts with the hot oil in an explosive manner. Once thawed, a turkey is completely safe to fry. Just be sure to remove the neck and giblets from the inside of the turkey.

The Fill Line

Remember that the turkey will displace the oil when you place it into the fryer. Do not overfill the pot with oil. You want enough oil so that it will cover the bird once submerged, but not overflow the pot and catch on fire. Many turkey fryers come with a max fill line, but you can determine the exact amount you will need by placing your thawed turkey in the empty pot and filling it with water until the top of the turkey is barely covered. Remove the turkey, allowing the water to completely drain out of the turkey and back into the pot, then measure and mark the water line.

The Marinadecajun-injector-creole-butter-injector

The flavor profile is completely up to you, but you will need to generously inject your marinade into the meat of the entire bird. The recommendation is 2 oz. of marinade per pound of meat. You can create your own marinade, or for a variety of marinade flavors that each come with an injector, visit the Cajun Injector website. For our “Casian” turkey, we add a little dry sherry to a basic teriyaki marinade.

The Rub

Insert the turkey rack through the cavity of the turkey (neck side down), pat the skin of the turkey dry with paper towels, then generously rub the bird with your favorite seasonings. For our “Casian” turkey, we make a rub with salt, pepper, garlic powder, ginger, and a little bit of curry powder. Too much curry will take over, but you can be generous with the garlic and ginger.

The Fun Partslhcb_04_fry_174d

Set up your frying station OUTSIDE on a flat surface, a safe distance from structures and wooden decks. To avoid oil stains, do not place the fryer on top of concrete pavers. Heat the oil to 350° F. You can actually begin heating the oil while preparing the bird, but don’t leave the pot unattended. Hook the lifting tool to the turkey rack and slowly lower the bird into the oil. Cook the turkey about 3 to 4 minutes per pound, until the dark meat has an internal temperature of 175-180° F and the white meat has an internal temp of 165-170° F. It takes about 45-60 minutes to fry a 13-14 lb. turkey. When the turkey is done, slowly lift it from the pot and place it in a pan on paper towels to drain. Let the turkey stand for 15 minutes before carving it.

Turkey photos by Oxmoor House, courtesy of Time, Inc.