Here’s a way to stay sunny even when the weather’s not

Posted Aug. 21, 2008, at 4:46 p.m.

I initially had planned to call this column “hot fun in the summertime.” Then it started to pour.

Oh, look, it stopped. Sun again. Hooray!

Oh, wait, now it’s hailing. And the power went out. And was that a pig that just sailed by the window?

If it weren’t for the mercurial weather, this would be the perfect time of year for a little outdoor entertaining – maybe a picnic, if you were feeling really brazen. The mosquitoes and black flies are gone, for the most part, and July’s oppressive humidity has given way to something cooler.

Besides, if that nip in the air hadn’t already convinced me that summer is fleeting, the fact that football practice has started is undeniable evidence. Which means we’ve got to cram a lot of fun into a few weeks.

Fortunately, now is the ideal time to shop for outdoor furniture and accessories. For starters, almost everything is on sale, whether you’re shopping at T.J. Maxx ‘n More (think cooler on wheels!) or Target, which has a great selection of unbreakable melamine serving ware. I bought a sleek black cafeteria tray – not only is it kitschy, it’s the best for balancing a full meal on your lap – and cool red dip bowls; nothing I bought cost more than $3.99.

While I was there, I grabbed a galvanized pail in the dollar spot to use as a votive holder. It will shield candles from the wind, but you’re on your own if it starts to rain.

Weather or not, I’m always up for having a few friends over for a delicious dinner in the summertime. From a cook’s perspective, August in Maine is the most wonderful time of the year.

There are so many fresh ingredients from the garden or the farmers market that it’s hard to decide on a menu. But I’ve discovered two cookbooks that make it a little easier: “Stonewall Kitchen Harvest” (can you say pancetta-wrapped scallops over basil risotto?) and “The New York Times Country Weekend Cookbook.” It’s not like I’m headed off to the Hamptons or the Hudson River Valley – where I live, every weekend is a country weekend. But the recipes can’t be beat. The idea of steak or pork tacos makes me want to fire up the grill right now. But I can’t, because it looks like the sky might open up at any moment.

During my search for outdoor goodies, I came across two of the coolest new items I’ve seen in quite some time. And unlike other clever creations, such as the faddish chocolate fondue fountain, these are things I would actually use on a regular basis. First, let me introduce the Knork. As the name suggests, this is a hybrid of a knife and a fork that allows you to cut through most foods quite easily. And you won’t cut your lip either. Plastic Knorks cost $2 for a four-pack at www.knork.com.

Next up are ClinQs, which I first read about in Emily Burnham’s Tidbits column here in the Bangor Daily News. This Tidbit couldn’t have come at a better time – when my brother-in-law came to visit, I resorted to wrapping colored elastic bands around people’s drinks because some glasses just aren’t small enough for a wine charm. You can imagine how classy that looked. But sisters Gila Guermian and Jennifer Khavari (Jen lives in Bangor!) came up with the brilliant idea of reusable decals for bottles and glasses. They’re stylish, practical and affordable ($5-5.50). I bought mine at Metropolitan Soul, but you can also find them at State Street Wine Cellar, Bangor Wine and Cheese and Giacomo’s, all in Bangor.

As I have stated many times before, I’m no Martha Stewart. My idea of al fresco dining usually involves reusable plastic plates that I picked up at Natural Living Center last year and lots of napkins, because I don’t have any outdoor tables to speak of. But I know that many people would scoff at this. For them, I suggest a visit to Finesthearth.com to download a $100 off coupon for patio furniture that can be redeemed in any of the store locations. I had my eye on an all-weather wicker set from Parks Hardware in Orono until my parents gave me an old wooden patio set that had been sitting in their basement for years. Right now, it puts the shabby in shabby chic, but it was free and it gets the job done. By “job,” I mean providing a place for friends and family to sit while sipping sangria.

Speaking of sipping, I draw the line at plastic cups. If I’m having a glass of wine, a mojito or a margarita, the operative word here is “glass.” To keep things a little less dangerous, I stocked up on stemless wine tumblers from CB2. Yes, you can buy these elsewhere, but you won’t be able to find them cheaper than $1.95-$2.50 each, depending on size. (www.cb2.com). That way, there’s no reason to cry if someone drops one on the patio. Or if a cloudburst flushes your picnic spread down the storm drain. Or if a tornado funnels through your backyard and carries your wineglass all the way to Oz.

Hey, it could happen. When pigs fly.

ShopGirl would love to hear from you! Send questions, comments or suggestions by e-mail to: kandresen@bangordailynews.net, by U.S. mail to Kristen Andresen, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329, or by fax to 941-9476. For exclusive online shopping tips, click on the ShopBlog icon on the bottom of the BDN home page: bangordailynews.com.

Caption/Lead: I initially had planned to call this column “hot fun in the summertime.” Then it started to pour.

Oh, look, it stopped. Sun again. Hooray!

Oh, wait, now it’s hailing. And the power went out. And was that a pig that just sailed by the window?

If it weren’t for the mercurial weather, this would be the perfect time of year for a little outdoor entertaining – maybe a picnic, if you were feeling really brazen. The mosquitoes and black flies are gone, for the most part, and July’s oppressive humidity has given way to something cooler.

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