Outdoor Entertaining Tips: Get Out and Stay Out!

Lifestyle expert James Farmer helps you maximize your outdoor quality of life.
James Farmer, Porch Living

James Farmer, Porch Living

Whether you have a gorgeous porch or small balcony, nature makes the best backdrop for outdoor entertaining. 

Photo by: Image courtesy of Helen Norman from "Porch Living" by James T. Farmer III, reprinted with permission by Gibbs Smith.

Image courtesy of Helen Norman from "Porch Living" by James T. Farmer III, reprinted with permission by Gibbs Smith.

Whether you have a gorgeous porch or small balcony, nature makes the best backdrop for outdoor entertaining. 

I love the idea of entertaining outdoors. In my mind, my backyard is a lush and beautifully manicured oasis full of places for guests to eat, drink and lounge. 

In reality, my backyard is a small space where grass may or may not grow. When I related this issue to James Farmer, lifestyle expert and author of Porch Living, he had three words of consolation: 

Get over it. 

"Don't even think about whether or not your backyard is suitable, just set a great table," Farmer says. "The best dish anyone can serve is a confident host. If you're confident in your surroundings, you can serve pizza out of the box and it'll feel like a gourmet meal. If the hedges need pruning or the grass needs mowing, get over it." 

Would anyone even notice my broken porch swing once they saw my dining room table under a tree and a chandelier hanging from a limb? I think not. Here are a few more outdoor entertaining suggests from my favorite Farmer, plus one of his best crowd-pleasing recipes. 

Green All Around – No one expects you to put out the good china for an al fresco affair—and why should you when recycled paper products are so fabulous? "Recycled plates, utensils and cups comes in great patterns colors and textures now," Farmer says. "You can set a great table and recycle it all after the meal!" 

Work With Nature – "Use blues and greens in your outdoor color palette," Farmer says. "Oranges, corals and pinks look good with them, and they're perfect for this time of year." Farmer says he's also seeing a lot of classic reds, whites and blues right now, which "look good from spring and summer into fall." 

Element of Surprise – Don't think of your serving pieces as indoor or outdoor pieces only. "Bring a silver serving dish outside or something you wouldn't normally think to set the table outdoors," Farmer says. "I love that element of surprise." 

Cover Your Bases – Who says outdoor upholstery has to be white or a solid color? "Outdoor fabrics have come so far," Farmer says. "Use cushions or pillows to add an unexpected color or pattern."

Keep It Light – Lanterns, lamps, tiki torches and string lights keep the party going once the sun goes down. "I like to start at sunset and have a cocktail to toast the day, then serve as the light fades," Farmer says. "Everything looks better by firelight."

When Farmer needs a recipe he can double or triple easily for warm-weather entertaining, he grabs a basket of peaches and makes this Peach and Pecan Chicken salad, then garnishes it with fresh grapes. 

Peach and Pecan Chicken Salad

Makes 6 to 8 sandwiches

4 tablespoons butter

1 cup pecan halves

Sea salt

6–8 peaches or 6 apples

Lemon juice, optional

1⁄2 cup good-quality mayonnaise

2 cups cooked chicken, chipped or diced

6–8 sandwich rolls, or bread

Cook 3 to 4 skinless boneless breasts in a quick stock with onions, celery, carrots, garlic, salt, pepper, parsley and chicken bouillon. Or just brown them in butter or oil with salt and pepper. Or, for fine garden flavor, roast the chicken with thyme or your favorite herb. When the chicken has cooled, chip or chop the bird.

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat and toss pecans in melted butter. If using salted butter, add only a light sprinkling of salt. Toast pecans on the stove until they begin to brown, tossing constantly so they don’t burn. Or transfer buttered and salted pecans to a baking sheet and toast in a 300-degree F oven for just a minute or two, watching carefully. If you can smell them, you may have let them go too far! Remove from heat and set aside.

Peel, pit and chop peaches or core and chop apples. If need be, squeeze on a bit of fresh lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. The mayo helps with this too.

Combine the chicken, peaches or apples, and pecans in a bowl and then bring it all together with the mayo. Mix well and serve.

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