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Article Published October 14, 2020

How to Have Outdoor Fun in the Fall and Winter

By Pem McNerney/

The arrival of cooler weather does not mean we have to give up on outdoor entertaining. Coming up with ways to stay physically distant and masked, while staying socially engaged, will help get us through the next few months and have fun while doing so.

To stay cozy and warm while outdoor entertaining, dress for success, crank up the heat, and bring on the hot and spicy food and drink.

These keys to enjoying entertaining outside as the weather gets colder are familiar to anyone who tailgates or hikes during the winter.

When it comes to clothes, dress in layers. That might include a base layer in a performance fabric that wicks away sweat, an insulating layer to keep you warm, and a waterproof and wind layer. Sturdy, warm, and waterproof footwear is a must as well. A warm blanket to tuck around you while you are sitting is a great idea. Hats and gloves are a must.

Fire pits and propane heaters make an outdoor space more cozy. While they are in short supply at some stores, they are often restocked just as quickly, so it’s a good idea to be on the lookout for them. And make sure you use them safely. Fire pits should be used on metal, pavers, or brick, not on the grass. And they should be 10 feet away from your house and your neighbor’s house. Make sure it is also a safe distance away from branches, fences, and other structures.

Ideally, people should stay about three feet away from the fire, and that is definitely true of children and pets. Avoid burning soft woods that can pop and create flying embers, and make sure you keep a fire extinguisher or water handy. Provide plenty of outdoor lighting around the fire pit, so that people can see where they are going. Overhead string lights also can help contribute to a festive, cozy feeling on your nearby patio, porch, or along the fence.

For a propane heater, follow the same safety advice you would for a propane grill. Make sure it’s in a well ventilated area and make sure it is a safe distance away from any flammable material.

Eat, Drink, Be Merry

Priscilla Martel, an award winning chef and cookbook author who lives in Chester, says there are plenty of ways to warm people up from the inside out when it comes to food and drink.

“This is the season for wide-mouth thermoses and tabletop appliances,” she says. “Chili, of course, and soup, is a must.”

She’s dreaming of rustic roasted vegetable soups that you can eat with a spoon, but that also have a hearty texture, like minestrone, ribollita, Cuban-style black bean soup, and chowder.

She and her husband, Charles Van Over, a famous chef and food consultant in his own right, have a favorite panini grill they like to use to make hot sandwiches with the soup. Ham and gruyere, red pepper and boursin, or turkey, cheddar, and red onions are among their favorite combinations. They also love Nutella and sliced pears, which is “really delicious, if messy.”

“We have outlets on our deck and often deep fry outside,” she says.

Using small appliances outside make the gathering fun and interactive, she says.

She says that outdoor entertaining can sometimes feel like a burden because once you make everything, you have to haul it all outside. Planning ahead here is the key.

“Hearty soups, stews, and sandwiches can be made ahead. Fill the thermoses as much as an hour before friends arrive. Of course, you can just ladle the hot food into mugs, too.

She also loves serving big bowls of food that come from a crock pot or slow cooker.

‘It’s Liberating’

“And you really don’t even need an appliance,” she says. “Anything easy to eat with a fork that stays hot for a while works, too. Take lasagna, for example. Just cover it with aluminum foil and wrap the pan with a thick towel. “It’ll stay hot for an hour or more. Soup or stew in a covered ceramic pot, wrapped in a blanket, will stay hot for an hour or more, too.”

Above all, be safe. Wear your mask when you’re not eating or drinking, make sure people from different households have different areas where they can sit, and if someone wants to just sit and visit, mask on, without eating or drinking, let them be and just enjoy their company, and send them home with food and drink to go.

And have fun.

“Another thing about outdoor entertaining, it’s liberating,” says Martel. “Serve those messy chili dogs, gooey grilled cheese and tomato sliders. Let the dogs do the clean up.”

Two recipes that Martel loves for outdoor entertaining are butternut squash leek apple curry soup, and Mulled Côtes du Rhône.Priscilla Martel’s Butternut Squash Leek Apple Curry Soup

Yield: 6-7 Servings, 8 ounces each



1 leek, approximately 8 ounces

1 butternut squash, approximately 1 ¾ pounds or

1 ½ pounds prechopped squash

3 tart apples such as Cortland, Granny Smith, or Macoun,

approximately 1 pound

1 or 2 small hot chili peppers seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon chopped or grated fresh ginger

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound fresh tomatoes, diced, approximately 2 cups

1 ½ teaspoons curry powder

½ teaspoon cumin

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

1 cup coconut milk

Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley as needed for garnish



Trim the outside leaves and any tough green tops from the leek. Cut off the stem. Split the leek in half lengthwise. Rinse it under cold running water then chop the leek into ¼-inch pieces to make approximately 1 cup.

Peel squash with a vegetable peeler. Be careful because it gets slippery. Cut the round end in half. Scoop out the seeds and save them to toast if you like. Dice the squash into ½-inch pieces to make approximately 5 cups.

Peel then quarter the apples. Cut out the core and peel each piece. Chop the apples into ½-inch pieces.

Sauté the leeks, chili, garlic, and ginger in the oil over medium high heat until softened, for about 5 to 6 minutes.

Add the squash, apples, diced tomatoes, curry powder, cumin, and stock. Stir to combine. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the squash and apples are tender and the flavors blend, for 20 to 30 minutes.

Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.

To serve, heat the soup to boiling. Remove 1 cup of the soup. Place it in a blender and process until smooth. (Or insert an immersion blender into the soup and purée it slightly.) Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the coconut milk. Heat it gently if needed. Adjust the seasonings. Garnish with generous amounts of the chopped parsley.


Variation: Butternut Squash Leek Apple Curry Bisque

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spread the diced squash and apples out onto a greased paper-lined sheet pan. Roast until the squash and apples are tender, for about 15 minutes. Add the cooked mixture in Step 5 with the listed ingredients. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes to blend the flavors. Purée the soup until silky smooth before serving.

© Priscilla Martel – Living a Flavorful Life.

Priscilla Martel’s Mulled Côtes du Rhône

Serves 6


1 bottle red Cotes du Rhône or Pinot noir wine

1 cup red port wine

4 star anise pods

6 cardamom pods

1 cinnamon stick

½ teaspoon grated orange zest or several whole pieces

2-3 tablespoons honey

Sprigs fresh rosemary


Combine all the ingredients except the rosemary in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes.

Serve in heavy stem glasses or mugs garnished with sprigs of rosemary.