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Outdoor Entertaining Made Simple

Advice from Kristin van Ogtrop (Col ’86), managing editor of Real Simple magazine

Kristin van Ogtrop (Col ’86), editor of Real Simple magazine Kim Myers Robertson, courtesy of Real Simple

Kristin van Ogtrop (Col ’86) has built a career helping people make their lives easier.

As managing editor of Real Simple magazine, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in April, van Ogtrop coordinates stories that offer tips about new trends, suggest new uses for old objects and recommend ways to carve extra minutes out of every day. “Life Made Easier” is the banner that attracts nearly 2 million readers a month to the publication.

Van Ogtrop also just completed a book tour promoting Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom (Little, Brown and Co., April 2010). In describing the art of tending to career, husband, kids and pets, she offers advice like “Kill the messenger: The action you must take in order to forget about the office for a time—that is, to remove your Blackberry/Treo/ iPhone/whatever from your person and store it as far away as your neurotic self will allow.”

Here, van Ogtrop shares some tips for making the most of outdoor entertaining.

10 Tips for Easy Outdoor Entertaining

Keep bugs away from food with an upended wire-mesh colander. Miki Duisterhof, courtesy of Real Simple
  1. Thick, comfortable cushions on the chairs will encourage guests to linger at the table.
  2. Lay brown craft paper across a table for a casually finished look―and super-easy cleanup.
  3. Don’t get overly fussy with china: An eclectic mix feels more laid-back.
  4. An umbrella not only has the obvious task of providing shade, it also helps define your outdoor dining room.
  5. Keep food simple for a backyard picnic: salads, fresh fruit, cold drinks.
  6. Set up tables in separate areas―say, drinks in one spot, dessert in another―to encourage guests to roam.
  7. Stock a bar cart with essentials: glasses, plates, ice, a cocktail shaker and swizzle sticks. Wheel it back to the kitchen if you run low.
  8. Keep bugs away from food with an upended wire-mesh colander. Use Popsicle sticks to distinguish the rare burgers from well-done ones.
  9.  At twilight, make sure you provide plenty of lighting. Paper lanterns draped from tree limbs (with dark extension cords that blend in) are charmingly festive.
  10. Circle your party area with citronella candles or incense sticks to light when night falls.