Today is the day we eat outside!
Red tomato sauce handprints stained my wall. Baby crumbs littered my floor. Our English mastiff, oblivious to my cleaning dilemma, sauntered by. She is too big to notice the crumbs. Where are the kitchen fairies when you need them? I sighed in desperation.
That was the moment I decided to opt-out.
I believe in family dinners.
(My kids think dinner is a mandatory meal.)
But I’m done cleaning up the mess.
That’s why we now eat dinner outside!
Fall and winter in the Lowcountry are magical. The temperatures drop but not near the freezing point of our northern neighbors. The breeze gets a little brisker while the amphibians and reptiles move slower. There are migrating birds and butterflies. The sunrises and sunsets are gorgeous (well, they usually are no matter the weather in Charleston).
In the fall, I can take a breath. The cooler temperatures entice me to stay out longer. I might wear a sweater. Take a walk. Drink some hot chocolate. That’s why this season is the perfect time to eat outside.
There are no walls outside.
No walls mean “no bouncing off them.” It means no new Picasso-esque art installments to wipe clean. Yes, my toddler daughter can still make a mess under the table, but why else would we have a garden hose? The cleaning pressure is off me when we eat outside. And I can focus on what matters, enjoying my family.
There is so much calm eating outside.
Family dinner can be chaotic with a kindergartener and a toddler. But when we eat outside, the atmosphere of nature calms my heart, as well as the kids: The breeze dances with the clouds. The birds sing along. The trees bob to the beat. The smell of my neighbor’s charcoal grill drifts by (we pop our heads over the fence to say hello and get an invite to their dinner). They all synchronize to the calm of our hearts.
And then there are the uninvited guests that come to entertain for a bit. There’s always someone unexpected. Sometimes, if we’re quiet enough, the herd of deer that live in our woods will poke their heads out–or a flock of wild turkeys.
Eating outside forces me to keep it simple.
I’m the queen of ordinary. I like simple recipes with humble ingredients. “Throw it together and call it good” seems to be my motto. This suits eating outside. I don’t want to carry tray loads of food back and forth from the kitchen. So what do we eat? Leftover raw veggies from lunch? Yes! Soup on a cold day? Perfect. Any one-pot wonders will do.
The setup and cleanup are quicker than you’d think.
I use a tray to load and unload our food. We make sure we have all the silverware, all the napkins, all the condiments before we sit down. Once we’re sitting, unlike when I’m inside and I pop up for this and that, I sit. (As a mom, when was the last time you relaxed?) And the cleanup? I don’t want to draw any critters, so the bigger chunks I pick up (or my dog finds them) while I blast the little stuff away with the garden hose. Done.
When we eat outside, we linger.
When my kids can’t eat another bite, they help me clear the table. They find the chalk nearby or the mud-caked kitchen toys. The invitation to play is open. Yes, there are dinner dishes to wash, but the air is so inviting. So crisp. As the sun sets, I can put my feet up, grab some hot tea, and watch the kids dive into the mud hole. These are the moments I want to soak in and save in my mommy memory bank.
Fall brings the rush of school routines and work. But out our windows, nature is slowing down. Trees (eventually in the Lowcountry) are losing their leaves, shedding in preparation for the colder months. Don’t we all need more time outside? Don’t we all need that moment to breathe? Put aside our to-do list? Notice what’s happening around us? Dinner outside is the perfect opportunity for just that. So find your cozy. Snuggle up with a sweater and take the food (and cleanup) outside.