I never really understood the sheer pleasure that can be enjoyed by al fresco dining until I hit my late teens and met some free-thinkers at university. ‘In the cool air’, as translated when used by Italians, was a way my friends and I could take time out from the stresses of assignments and exams by hanging out on an open green space, bringing lots of food and drinks to share together. Our stereos blared and ball games were in full swing with our cardigans used for goalposts. They were good times and I think that’s when the outdoor eating thrill ignited for me. The smell of freshly cut grass, whether that be in the park near my house or in my own back garden, is something so evocative it transports most of us back to a memory associated with laughter, great company and a deep orange sunset.
Now I have children, the excitement is even greater and it’s a real treat for us all to spend time as a family going for a picnic. Over the years, I’ve invested in cool boxes, large checked blankets of the non-itchy variety, with a bit of cushioning to ease bottoms, as well as a tiny table to keep food off the ground (very important, especially if dogs come running over to try and steal a sausage!). I have a nice set of plastic crockery, too, because I still want it to be an event! If you are thinking of planning a little excursion, my tips would be to transport food in recycled jars. I always keep my Bonne Mamans once the jam has been consumed – handy and they look cool. Also, don’t forget an old chopping board and cardboard boxes work a treat for transporting food and carrying your rubbish away.
Then there’s the good old BBQ. For years the disposable trays you pick up from the petrol station were all I knew, but last year we treated ourselves to a Weber BBQ and this was a game-changer. I simply can’t get enough of that charcoal smell wafting through the back garden. Prepping your meat and veg in advance is a small price to pay to get the taste and aroma just right.
I guess what it boils down to is that I am a foodie, inside and out… doors! There is simply no need to compromise on taste or creativity and you’re allowed to buy a tasty quiche or nibbles from your favourite supermarket to add to the menu. Why not get the children to help with the preparation too? We love making omelette bites, lamb koftas and flatbreads with pots of guacamole and houmous. For something sweet, we make rainbow fruit skewers, strawberry and lime pots (these can be made in jam jars and use the lids to keep them fresh) or even a lemon drop drizzle loaf. Just a few suggestions to put the icing on the cake to a fun day out as the weather remains warm.
Angellica Bell is a TV and radio presenter and winner of the 2017 series of Celebrity Masterchef. Her recipe book Fantastic Eats! is aimed at children aged five and upwards who are keen to explore the kitchen, and for family members who can help them cook up delicious meals.
With private patios and barbeque stands, Center Parcs lodges are equipped for outdoor eating, whatever you choose to whip up. Book your Center Parcs break here.