The joy of Winter dining al fresco

By Aimée Coates

We’re headed towards the shortest, darkest day of the year – the winter solstice is almost upon us. Everywhere we look we can feel the world exhale. The trees are already skeletal, having shed most of their leaves. And we too are anxious to let this year go.

2020 is a year many of us would like to forget. But before it entirely slips away, I invite you to spend the last weeks savouring it. We spent the entire spring, living an interior life indoors. And now with Lockdown 2.0 us, I invite you to shift some of that stagnant energy.

Let’s make up for the spring picnics which never happened and embrace winter dining al fresco! Grab your cosiest jumper, your beloved bobble hat and your camping stove and let’s head out to enjoy our meals in the great outdoors.

Everything tastes better outside

It really does! Eating among the trees transforms the most basic scrambled eggs on toast into a feast! So often when we eat at home, it’s just another part of our busy routines.  But out here, you really taste every flavour. Your senses are heightened. The simple act of stirring a glug of maple syrup into bubbling porridge and feeling the wind on your face is proof we are alive in this moment.

It’s good for you too!

It’s an urban myth that colds and flus come about from getting a chill outside. Our centrally heated homes are a breeding ground for viruses so being exposed to the elements is deeply beneficial for our immune systems. Also around this time of year, many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D) due to Vitamin D deficiency. Soaking up the winter sunshine strengthens our bones, boosts our mood and regulates our blood pressure. There’s still so much to see in winter – the birds scuffling for lunch in piles of leaves, bright red-rosehips (a memory of long-gone summer days) and waxy-blue sloes, ready to be infused into gin for a last-minute Christmas tipple!

Create a hygge vibe

Make outdoor dining into an experience, a tradition, a ritual. I’ve always loved copper saucepans but could never justify buying one as my beat-up stainless steel pans do the job just fine. This winter, I’ve treated myself to a copper frying pan, purely to cook outdoors. I visited a local craftsman and bought hand-whittled utensils too. Don’t feel like you have to spend money on lovely new things though, use whatever you have!

Whenever I’m dining out (literally), I bring a selection of woollen blankets and a hot water bottle with me because it’s miserable to be cold. I bring my little speaker so I can listen to music and set the vibe. And if its late-afternoon and I know it’ll be dark soon, I bring a lantern.  Perfectly Hygge!

Easy meal ideas

Usually. I cook at home and just use the stove to reheat. Cooking from scratch can take a long time, especially if it’s windy. Aim to find a sheltered spot to set up your cooking space. Here are some quick and easy meal ideas which you can whip up outside in no time.

Breakfast: Porridge swirled with maple syrup, a dollop of peanut butter, a dusting of cinnamon and a sprinkle of walnuts and hazelnuts.

Lunch: Gnocchi made with garlic, rosemary, tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil.

Dinner:  Winter stew with carrots, parsnips, turnip, swede, leeks and garnished with freshly chopped coriander and a chunk of crusty bread on the side.

Snacks: Hot chocolate brewed with star anise, orange zest, and topped with mallows. And what outdoors experience is complete without S’mores?!

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