I remember exactly where I was when I first heard the words al fresco.
It was 20 years ago, and I was volunteering for a Nashville event. Someone on staff asked, “Would you check the wording on this invitation? We need to get it right.” I looked it over and said, “What does dining ‘al fresco’ mean?” Pained silence. Crickets. Mind you, we were outside during this evening discussion, so there might have been actual crickets.
“It means eating outside,” the staffer finally answered…with a possible hint of an eye roll. “Ah. Good tip,” I said, mentally slapping myself. And then I had a sudden urge to giggle.
See—I spent my entire childhood dining al fresco. Except, we didn’t call it that. We called it “taking a meal to the field.” Because when the guys were farming and couldn’t stop long enough to get to the house, wash their hands, sit at a table, inhale a meal, return to the field, start up their tractors or trucks or combines and get back to it…they dined al fresco. Usually on the edge of a pickup, under full sun, thankful for whatever we brought them. Who knew there was such a fancy Italian term for it?
Since then, I’ve awarded that fancy phrase with dinnerware in the fancier-than-paper-plates category. “What’s wrong with paper plates?” you might ask. Well, nothing…if you’re eating on the side of a pickup. But if you’re setting up on your patio or deck, or at a winery, or for a romantic picnic, you’ll want to invest in some melamine.
Melamine is a lightweight, durable, dishwasher-safe type of plastic plate for outdoor dining. And here’s the best part: They look like real plates! They can be plain or fancy. They can be artsy. You can find sets as low as $20 and as high as $120. Go for the $20 plates. Get the matching Melamine cups and stemware. And while you’re at it, pick up some coordinating napkins. Your table will be lovely and your cleanup will be simple. And for the love of hosting…please don’t use plastic utensils. I’m begging you.
In the mid-South, our winters are so short, we can dine al fresco nearly year-round. When the weather’s a little chilly, we just gather ‘round the fire pit. We still don’t use paper plates because they’re flimsy, they’re flammable, and they never make people feel special.
And that’s what inviting people over really should be about, right?