Bonfire of the Bon Vivants

When I hosted a casual bonfire (for 55!) in my back yard, I didn’t account for it to be the coldest day of the year. But to live well, one must worry less. Les bon vivants know that all too often happy anticipation rolls into anxiety. Just look at what’s expected of brides-to-be; tears, tantrums, mood stabilizers. When in reality, brides should be planning one of the biggest bashes they’ll ever have. But I digress.

The point is, things happen, like rain, or in our case, freakish subzero temperatures that came out of nowhere. We had to concede that yes, this would be an indoor/outdoor party. I cleaned the house, lit candles and played Chet Baker. 

the blonde mafia, defrosting

How to keep the crowd circulating indoors and outdoors? That’s easy – put the bar outside! It was perfect, really. When our cooler and fridge were overstuffed with beers, the outside temps were just as cold! In addition to beer, we made a signature cocktail. It stayed hot in the crock pot, to battle the elements. It was apple cider with salted caramel whiskey, topped with whipped cream and Ghiradelli caramel sauce. 

salted caramel whiskey-spiked cider

We also borrowed a second fire pit to spread the warmth. Guests grilled their hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire, but I kicked the experience up a notch. I had a S’mores Station, where ingredients were encased in elegant glass, preventing guests from having to fumble with packaging.

We created a hot dog toppings bar, with ingredients that ranged from the expected (grilled onions, Sri Racha, homemade chili), to the adventurous (cranberry chutney, pineapple, homemade habanero sauce).

endless toppings for the hot dogs

And I can’t resist adding an activity or station, so I created a “Happy Fall, Y’all! photo wall, complete with furniture, pumpkins, colored leaves and stringed lights. 

Ryan scores the epic photo of the night

Though the kids enjoyed the outdoor ball pit, hammock, tree swing and toys, the night marched on and the air got chilly. I called to the kids out back that we would play a Christmas movie in the living room. They tore across the yard and fell stone silent in front of Stick Man, curling up on the furniture. 

a nod to Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy, guests cozied up in fresh blankets

As the crowds dwindled, so did the fire. The last few friends wandered into the living room, and the conversations went deeper. Bonfires are great because they can be woven in between major holidays, like Halloween or Christmas. Plus. people have to cook their own dinner (hot dogs) and dessert (s’mores). But then you reward them with an elaborate topping bar because the late and great Nora Ephron is still in your head reminding you that people love to play with their food. Almost as much as you love to serve it to them. 

Happy holidays.

Without the 3 on the right: Xenia, Sylvester & Nabeela, I’d have been in the kitchen all night
no matter the party, the kitchen gets cowded
devil is in the detail (or tangled in our grape vines)

Carpe Autumn.

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Autumn was a little dramatic this year. There was no “jacket weather.” A frosty night jumped out at us after a summer’s day. Acorns and walnuts are falling from trees four stories tall, pelting our cars with a metallic ting. Every time you look up, leaves are spinning in mid-air.

A year ago, I blogged about how autumn had snuck up on me. It was halfway over before I stopped to smell the pumpkin spice everything. I had just had a baby, and autumn is a very short-lived party.

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playing in a giant pit of corn kernels

Last year I was determined to enjoy autumn despite having a kid. Now I’m enjoying it because I have a kid.

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I started last weekend. We hosted a bonfire in our backyard. Like us adults, Hamilton was mesmerized by the fire, clutching his Curious George doll with eyes as wide as saucers. We sipped sarsaparilla whiskey and shared old stories.

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Other things you can do:

It may be tempting to pick up a pumpkin at the grocery store while shopping, but take a day to slow down and visit an old-fashioned pumpkin patch. Enjoy the hayride, sip on some cider and let the child run free in the fields.

Even if your toddler is too young to go trick-or-treating, it doesn’t mean you can’t dress up! Put together a clever costume (extra points if it’s not store-bought) get a great shot and share it on social media.  Get into the spirit!

Jump into leaf piles.

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at a pumpkin-carving party with fellow Pinterest-obsessed girlfriends

Toddlers are just beginning to learn color, but you can make it fun by taking walks and hunting for special leaves. Especially beautiful ones can be used to decorate their rooms or be tacked onto their mobile.

Carve a pumpkin and toast the seeds with different spices. It teaches the child to be industrious, and less wasteful. You and the family can enjoy the treat while doing an official lighting ceremony for your new jack-0-lantern.

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comfort foods like imported Danish kringles, quiche and cookies helped us stay in “the zone” while crafting

Succumb to the shameless marketing and grab a pumpkin spice latte. A sip or two won’t hurt your little one.

Carpe Autumn!

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Party tip: A dash of spicy ginger beer takes apple cider to a whole other level

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