Staying home has been alright, but we really miss some of our favorite haunts – Our local cafes and restaurants with their outdoor seating and casual vibes. Our favorite spots have both food and ambiance down to a science. So, we have been experimenting in the meantime with our own version of “backyard gourmet.” Combining fresh seasonal food with outdoor ambiance makes for a pretty good impression of dining “out,” even though we are technically staying in and dining outdoors.
A Space For Dining Outdoors
The first key to dining “out” at home is finding the right spot. If you already have an outdoor dining area, you are a step ahead! If not, think about the following when setting up your dining spot – Where in your yard can you comfortably seat everyone at your table, and where has the most potential to create ambiance? Is there a shade tree you would like to set up under, or a corner that would cozily frame your table? You can use the existing elements of your space to your advantage. Making space is all about directing attention where you want it and removing distractions. Some well-placed groupings of pots can help if your dining area really needs definition. If there’s something that doesn’t go with your desired space, move it! If you can’t move it, cover it. Those inexpensive bamboo screens at the hardware store are great for hiding things you don’t want to look at. Screening can create a comfortable and defined space in just moments, and you can always move it later.
Capturing The Vibe
So how exactly do restaurants achieve that magic effect of ambiance? Depending on the style and vibe of a place, ambiance is achieved in different ways. Once you have your dining space defined, boost your ambiance for the ultimate experience of dining outdoors. Never underestimate the power of a great table arrangement! One of Cynthia’s favorite things is flower arranging with flowers from the Studio garden. With these stunning beauties gracing the brunch table, the ambiance is undeniable! For an evening outdoors, string up some café lights or place camping lanterns around your dining area (and consider some citronella candles or torches so you don’t become the bugs’ idea of dinner al fresco.)
Seasonal and Fresh
The defining themes of California-style food are simple, fresh, and seasonal. It doesn’t get fresher than straight out of the garden, so if you are growing some of the following things give one of these seasonal recipes a try! You can still make these simple and fresh recipes with ingredients from the store, of course. Enjoy~
Fresh Pea and Sprout Soup
(Shown Above – Adapted from Bon Appetite)
6 cups garden peas, shelled (or frozen peas, thawed)
4 cups vegetable broth
¼ cup pea sprouts (leaves and stems)
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
¼ cup crème fraiche or sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
Blend all ingredients until smooth, chill and serve with garnish of mint, pea sprouts and a spoonful of sour cream.
Garden Herb Grill Rub
(Try it on Chicken, White Fish or Eggplant)
1 tbsp fresh minced thyme leaf
1 tbsp fresh minced parsley leaf
1 tbsp fresh minced marjoram leaf
1 tbsp lemon zest
½ tsp coarse-ground black pepper
½ tsp coarse-ground sea salt
2 tbsp safflower or other high-heat oil
Combine all ingredients and rub into poultry or fish 30 minutes before grilling. For eggplant, slice the vegetable into rounds, apply rub and grill immediately.
Lavender Grey Cream With Berries
(also an unbeatable topping for lemony desserts!)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp lavender buds
1 tbsp Earl Grey tea (or 1 tea bag)
1 tbsp sugar (optional)
Cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer
2 cups strawberries, sliced
1 cup blueberries
1 cup blackberries
Heat cream, lavender, and tea on the stovetop for 10 minutes. Do not allow to simmer or boil! Turn off heat and strain cream into a bowl. Refrigerate until very cold, then whip, adding sugar if desired. Serve immediately over refrigerated berries.
Food brings people together, even when we find ourselves apart. We have been looking back through old family recipes and pestering our relatives for the secrets to their famous desserts. We also have the fortune of donating to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, so we can connect with all of our neighbors through the healing power of food. When we aren’t thinking about food, the J. Montgomery team is still creating landscapes. Contact our studio to book a consultation!