Hosting a Bonfire Block Party Part 2

There’s no reason an outdoor party can’t be elegant and charming even when you are entertaining an entire neighborhood.  Nor should something as simple and casual as a block party cause you undue stress or heartache to put together.  The recipes you choose should be easy and quick to cook (both for your sake and so you can utilise many different helpers), but you can add a certain flair in your presentation to make your bonfire a pleasant, vibrant occasion.

Keep it simple and warm

For a fall bonfire party, you will want extra warming comfort food, which means lots of root vegetables, sweet starches, hearty servings and full red or spicy white wines (for the adult guests).  When many hosts think of fall events, they envision lots of prep time, a lot of slow roasting and endless baking.  Don’t let Thanksgiving ideas dictate your entire fall party season!  While these labours of love certainly have a cherished place in my own and many people’s hearts, something as simple and impromptu as a bonfire party should be easy and fun to host.  You can still get all of the fall flavors we all love without lengthy kitchen times.  Instead of a long simmering beef stew, for example, try beef kebabs with root vegetables.  This will give you an excuse to use the grill and greatly cut down on clean up.  Especially if you use wooden or (better yet) rosemary skewers to add flavor and that can be tossed into the bonfire rather than washed like metal ones.  Kebab recipes can be found for almost any meat and vegetable combination and are quick to prepare.  If you choose to use softer meats for your kebab you can use your rosemary skewers as is.  However, if you decide to use a tougher meat like beef you will have to strip all but the end of the skewer’s leaves in order to slide the beef on.  Chunk up squash, potato and onion in large pieces and alternate them on the skewer (you can add mushrooms or even wrap with bacon if you like).  Lay the skewers in a large glass casserole dish and marinate with a vinaigrette of your choice (a favorite for this time of year is 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar, 1 clove minced garlic and salt and pepper to taste).  Doing this after threading the meat and veggies lets you easily turn them to coat and saves you from really messy hands.  Do this in the morning and turn the skewers every half hour or so until dinner time.  Throw them on the grill and you are done! 

Stylish desserts borrowed from a hot night spot

Many years ago, when I was in college, my friends and I haunted an upscale coffeehouse that doubled as a bar.  The place was called XandOs and it was just off the Dupont Circle exit in Washington, DC.  To survive in a culturally exciting, progressive and artistic neighborhood such as Dupont Circle was, a restaurant had to be stylish, comfortable and serve memorable food.  Though I have no idea what XandOs may be like these days, when my friends and I frequented the place, it did all of these things.  You may wonder why I’m writing about a coffee bar when the post is meant to be about a bonfire party.  The reason I mention XandOs is because of all the items they served, their most popular (and my favorite) item was their s’mores.  Don’t let the simplicity of this trick you into believing it was more than it was.  XandOs didn’t serve gourmet graham crackers or imported chocolate, it was a standard s’more, good old American chocolate, plain grocery store crackers and an average marshmallow.  It was the way XandOs presented their s’mores that made it special.  The dish came out on a pu pu platter with a lit sterno in the middle.  Each small tray held a different component, marshmallow, chocolate or graham cracker, with the graham crackers and chocolate cut to the correct size.  You were each given a skewer and you could toast your own s’mores right there while you were having your cocktail.  So if an upscale D.C. coffee house can make an impression with something as simple as s’mores, who’s to say you can’t?  Instead of pu pu platters, tapas trays, dip platters or a selection of graduated bowls arranged on a table can have the same effect.  Unwrap and precut the crackers and chocolate so your guests don’t have to fumble with irregular pieces or sticky chocolate wrappers and can get to the good stuff.  Having lit sternos with a bonfire nearby may seem redundant, but for small children especially, approaching a large fire, even when it’s been reduced to coals can be dangerous.  With small sterno pots an adult can easily supervise your young guests.  If you’d like to get fancy with your ingredients, try adding coconut shavings (or coconut coated marshmallows), thin orange slices or thin mints rather than chocolate squares.  I guarantee, your guests will love this simple treat and appreciate having all the muss and fuss taken out of it.

tray

Use a tapas tray like this (we got it from theshopperslink.com) to make a fresh, stylish version of s'mores

We’d love to hear some of your favorite casual party recipes.  If you’ve got one you’d like to share, leave us a note here or email us at dk.gould@live.com.  We’ll be happy to share it here at the garden gala!

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Fall Figures

With the days getting shorter and the gardens tilled and covered, late autumn can seem pretty dreary.  Rather than seeing only the drab shades of brown that are left after the fall foliage is all gone, November is a perfect and fleeting time to appreciate the unadorned form and figures nature offers us. 

Before the snow flies and hides the clean lines of trees and stones, take a moment to bring these simple decorations into your fall decorating.  Whether it’s taking photographs of your empty garden at dusk or collecting and drying ornamental grasses and grapevines, you can have a piece of the outdoors with you even during the coldest months. 

Decorating with fall forms can range from elaborately ornamented centerpieces to simple berry and grapevine wreaths, depending on your style.  The important thing to remember with fall decorations is not to hide the shape of your materials.  Let the bare bones shine through and give your decorating pieces the freedom to shape themselves as they will.  It’s all about working with the original form.  You will find that your pieces will be more interesting and feel more natural if you do.

Hosting a Bonfire Block Party

campfire The days between the last summer block party and the neighborhood christmas party can seem long and dull indeed.  Our weeks are filled with jobs and school and our weekends seem to be overwhelmed with yardwork and errands.  Planning a bonfire block party can help everyone get their lawns in shape for winter and break up the frenetic, cooped up,  antisocial feeling of late autumn.

After a large fall storm, most homeowners face a large clean up and disposal of yard debris.  Chances are most of your neighbors will face this before the snow  makes maintenance impossible.  Instead of having several separate dump trips, mulching days or small yard fires to dispose of everyone’s debris, invite your neighborhood to participate in a day of clean up, both for their own yards and any common areas you may share.  Instead of hauling away all the debris,  host a neighborhood bonfire as an end of day celebration.

Things to keep in mind: 

  • You will want to host a bonfire in an area where there is no risk of spreading the fire and somewhere that won’t be damaged by fire.  A neighbor with an already built firepit or a common gravel or blacktop area  all work.  Make sure you have volunteers that will help clean up afterwords!
  • Let your neighbors know this is for yard debris or fallen trees only.  Treated wood and garbage will not only smoke your party out, it will damage the air in your neighborhood
  • Make sure to get a fire permit from your town’s fire marshall.  The fire marshall will also check your burn spot and weather conditions so that everybody stays safe!
  • Make sure to have plenty of hoses and access to water just in case
  • Create a perimeter around the fire with chairs, tables, or coolers to keep small children from wandering too close to the flames

Throughout the day, your neighbors can pile their yard debris at your burn spot and at dusk you can let the festivities begin!

Warm, hearty dishes to keep everyone happy

Of course, a bonfire block party is an excellent excuse to get the grills out one last time, but there are a few menu items that make a bonfire block party truly special.  The key is to think warm!  You may be experiencing a particularly balmy day for your clean up (and we hope you are!) but when the sun sets it’s going to get pretty chilly, even with a blazing bonfire.  So skip the cold dips and salads and serve warming drinks, sweet desserts and root vegetable kabobs. 

Of course, hot chocolate and coffee are staples at any bonfire, but here is our favorite mulled cider recipe:

To make an extra large batch for your block party, try brewing the cider in a stock pot and storing it in a cooler keg (these can keep things warm as well as cold).

  • You will need 2-3 gallons of your favorite apple cider, which should be available at your local supermarket (don’t use apple juice, it has an entirely different flavor) 
  • 3 tblspns Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 tblspn Nutmeg
  • Ground clove to taste (between 1/2 tblspn and 1 tblspn)
  • 3 cups brown sugar

Begin by heating your cider over low heat just until it starts to simmer.  Add the sugar and spices and stir.  Keep over low heat and simmer about ten minutes, when you start to smell the spices (it will smell as if you are baking a pie), your cider is ready to serve.  What makes this recipe our favorite however, is an added caramel sauce:

  • You will want to combine the syrup and cider at the last moment, otherwise the syrup will harden on the bottom of your container
  • You will need 2 cups cream
  • 2 cups light karo syrup
  • 2 cups of sugar (we prefer brown, but white sugar works well too)

Pour all ingredients into a heavy saucepan.  Stir your ingredients over low to medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and then don’t stir again.  Bring your ingredients to a rolling boil until you reach the soft ball stage (if you don’t have a candy thermometer, drip some caramel from your spoon into ice water, if it forms a soft, squishy ball but doesn’t spread out, you are at the correct stage) and remove it from the heat. If you like, add one teaspoon of vanilla and stir quickly.  Store in a thermos until your party.  When serving your cider, add a nice spoonful of the caramel and stir.

In our next post we’ll share more recipes and tricks to make your bonfire block party an unforgettable annual event!

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