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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Honor Grandparents with a Patriotic Backyard BBQ

There are certain words that just seem to go good together: peanut butter and jelly; Simon and Garfunkel; Grandparents and patriotism. It is hard nowadays to find a person from an older generation who does not have a deep love for their country. Many have fought for their country or have had friends or family who have served. This year, National Grandparents Day falls on the anniversary of one of the most devastating days in American history: September 11th. Take the opportunity to honor both your grandparents and your country by putting together a wonderful “America” themed backyard party that they are sure to love and remember.

Pulled pork sliders dressed with coleslaw.

Pulled pork sliders dressed with coleslaw.

What to Cook

Warning: the following recommendation takes about five hours to cook, so plan ahead.  For this party, try and cook some old fashioned pulled pork. Pulled pork is relatively easy if you take away the time it takes to cook it. Start by seasoning your pork with your favorite dry rub. Try ingredients such as brown sugar, salt and pepper, celery salt, chilli powder, paprika, thyme, and onion powder. Feel free to add whatever seasoning you desire. Wrap it all up in foil, and let it sit at room temperature while you heat up the grill. You want the coals to burn to a white ash, with temperatures reaching about 200 degrees F. Place some wood chips on top of the coals. This writer recommends pecan or cherry. Then place your pork on the grill using indirect heat. To keep this temperature, add coals every two hours to the grill. Once your pork has reached an internal temperature of about 170 degrees, remove it from the grill and add more foil to it to keep those juices in. The pork will be finished when you can easily pull the pork apart by hand. This whole process should take about five or so hours.

Sides

Hopefully you have yourself a wonderful vegetable garden by now. Take advantage of the end of the season and pull the remaining veggies from the garden. You can also show off your gardening skills to grandma. Add your garden-fresh veggies to a salad, or cook them on the grill. Prior to grilling, season with salt, pepper and garlic powder and toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Entertainment

Seeing that you are going to have plenty of time to kill while you wait on that pork to cook, you should plan on some easy-to-play backyard games. A classic one that everyone knows is horseshoes. Just don’t let grandpa cheat. Croquet is another one that is fun for the whole family. A good croquet set is an inexpensive buy at your local sporting goods store. If you can, convince the kids to prepare and put on a funny skit for their grandparents. This could end up being the most memorable part of the day.

Homemade Old Fashioned CocktailCocktails

What’s a backyard BBQ without a few drinks? In addition to everyone’s favorite wine or light beer, try making some classic cocktails that grandparents surely know and love. A good old fashioned drink to serve your guests is, you guessed it, an Old Fashioned. Make it official by purchasing a few Old Fashioned glasses. Place a cube of sugar in the glass, then pour a few dashes of Angostura bitters on top. Put a splash of club soda or water into the glass. Crush the sugar with some sort of spoon or wooden muddler. Rotate the glass around so that the sugar and bitters line the glass. Place a very large ice cube in the glass. Proceed to pour in the rye, or bourbon if you prefer, then voila! You have yourself an Old Fashioned. Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry. If you like it a little sweeter, you can also add some of the cherry juice.

Dessert

For dessert, once again do something simple and classically American. Baking a batch of cookie for grandma, rather than the other way around, is sure to put a smile on her face. Perhaps whip up an apple pie. This will keep the America theme going. After all, what’s more American than apple pie?

The Secret to Restaurant-Quality Steaks at Home

Imagine this scenario: a special occasion is nearing. It’s your significant other’s birthday, or perhaps a distant relative is coming in. The point is that you want, and in some cases need, to treat them to something special. What is the first thing that comes to mind when the ole “special” word is tossed out? Why, it’s steak of course! Doesn’t just reading the word “steak” bring you to a happy place? Anyone who is a fan of steak probably already knows his or her favorite place in town to get a quality steak. Unfortunately, having a fancy chef at some restaurant cook this steak will not work for this special occasion. This one must be made from the heart by Chef You. Although grilling a steak properly can be tricky, it is well worth the effort for that special occasion. Here are a few tips to consider. For the sake of brevity, we’ll just focus on two of the most popular steaks to cook: the Tenderloin and the Ribeye.

Tenderloin

Ribeye

Also called a filet, this will be your most expensive piece of meat. However, this steak is most definitely worth the price because it is considered by many, this writer included, as the most delicious steak that can grace your palate. Sometimes with these steaks, less is more. Heat your grill to high heat, add some black pepper and coarse salt to the top of your steak, then throw it on the grill. You want to cook these steaks over high heat until they are brown, which will take about five minutes per side, depending on how “done” you prefer your steak. For a particularly thick piece of meat, you may also want to brown the sides a bit. While some people prefer their steak rare or well done, there is nothing quite like a medium-rare steak. In fact, most chefs agree that medium-rare steaks give you the maximum amount of tenderness and juiciness while ensuring that the center of the steak is actually warm. To test if your steak is medium-rare, press your finger in the middle of the steak. If your steak gives ever so slightly then bounces back, you have yourself a medium-rare steak. A mushy steak will tell you that it is still rare. Keep going until you get that bounce-back. To get that restaurant-quality flavor, before the steak is finished, liberally baste it with garlic-infused butter. Garnish the top of the steak with a sprig of one of your favorite herbs, and proceed to blow the mind of your special guest.

Ribeye

This next steak can be one of the most flavorful and juicy steaks you can find. Where most the flavor comes from is up to you. If you prefer a simple flavor, liberally applying coarse salt and black pepper to your steak, and even some garlic powder if you choose. However, to get the most out of your ribeye, make sure to marinate it in a plastic bag for a couple of hours. Once it is in the bag, pour in plenty of balsamic vinegar or red wine. Another tasty addition to a ribeye marinade is Parmesan cheese. Feel free to marinate your steak with whatever your heart desires, or whatever the person you are cooking for desires. These are only suggestions. Just remember to allow plenty of time to let the flavors sink in. Once done marinating, throw that baby on the grill over low flame for about five minutes. Flip to the other side where you will most likely cook a little longer than the first side. Again, test the doneness by pressing the meat with your finger. Ribeyes are a little harder to judge than filets because they’re not as thick, but with a little practice, you’ll quickly get the knack. Once you think it is ready, pull it off and let it rest for about five minutes. This is very important to do for all steaks! Cut in too quickly, and the juices all run out, leaving the meat a little dry.

Charcoal vs. Gas

Ah, the classic grilling debate. In this writer’s opinion, always go for charcoal over a gas grill. With charcoal, it is a slower process, but it tends to give your steaks a more distinct flavor. Also, do not be afraid to experiment with wood chips. Cherry or pecan are both particularly good choices. But don’t throw the chips directly onto the charcoal, which will cause them to burn off too quickly. Wrap the wood chips in some tin foil and place them next to the fire. This will deepen the flavor profile of your charcoal-grilled steaks.

Happy Grilling!

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.