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Summer Series: Alfresco, Baby!

Be careful what you wish for. After living in California most of my life, I was excited to move to France so that I could experience seasons again like I did when we lived in Missouri and Aspen… Winter, spring, summer and fall. Growing up in Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Malibu and Santa Barbara… I lived in perpetual summertime all year round. It was almost too much of a good thing. I felt like I needed a snowstorm for a reality check. Life isn’t supposed to be sunny all the time, right?


Now that I’ve lived in France for a solid two years, all I want is sunshine. Like John Denver says, “Sunshine on my shoulders, makes me happy.”

At first it used to annoy me that whenever there was a glimpse of sunshine, lily white vitamin D deficient Parisians would slither out of their apartments, eyes squinting, searching for their slice of sunshine in every garden, terrace and café… And then milk it… for hours… Hogging the light. And now, two years later, I am one of them. Sunshine is my holy Grail. I actually check weather reports which is something I’ve never done, praying for sunshine on the weekends when I go outside. Now I understand (and appreciate) why the French take their August “vacances” so seriously. Jeez, Frenchies, I hear ya.

While I love my apartment, appreciate my apartment, respect my apartment… I also hate it. My apartment offers me everything a girl would dream of in a Parisian apartment… Point de hongrie hardwood floors, high ceilings, detailed molding, skyscraper French windows, three fireplaces and in the 1st arrondissement of Paris. However, it’s lacking one thing… A terrace (and a view but I can’t get greedy.) Yes, I have six little Juliet balconies just big enough for a topiary and Frances (yes, it annoys me that my cat gets more sunshine than I do) but it’s not enough… It’s just not enough! I have spent the last year searching every real estate agency for the equivalent of my apartment but with a terrace.… For the same price. Apparently, I have learned, this is just asking too much… Unless I want to spend €8000 a month and even then it’s still difficult. I have found other apartments for the same price but they lack the high ceilings, the fireplaces and the 7 feet tall French windows because usually places that have terraces are on the last and top floors of the quintessential Haussmann Parisian apartment buildings which were generally reserved for the servants. Lucky maids. (I often wonder that if architect Monsieur Haussmann had just designed these apartments on the lower floors with balconies 3 feet wider if Parisians wouldn’t be so grumpy because they would have a usable balcony with some fresh air and sunshine.) Was I willing to trade my beautiful apartment for a tiny top floor (probably no elevator) unadorned apartment that had a terrace? I went back and forth, trust me. On our weekend walks through Paris my neck is usually craned upward admiring the few lucky souls that have a terrace. I actually take pictures of stranger’s terraces. At least 300 times per walk I ask my caregivers, “Can we please walk on the sunny side of the street?” I need light!

What to do? What to do? The last thing my husband wanted to do was move to a smaller apartment so we made an agreement that the weekends were spent outdoors in the summer and in the winter my husband promised to take me at least one weekend a month to the south of France so I can spread my wings and bask in the sunshine. It’s too early to tell if he will hold up his end of the bargain.

Who knew that sunshine would become such a valuable commodity? I remember spending more than one Thanksgiving outdoors while we lived in California. Thanksgiving outdoors? That’s unheard of! I remember wanting to spend Thanksgiving somewhere that “felt like Thanksgiving,” somewhere the leaves were changing, somewhere there was a crisp breeze and somewhere I could wear a cashmere turtleneck sweater. Now all I want is to wear a T-shirt 365 days a year and I’m thinking we should probably move to the Florida Panhandle. I just want to be outside in the sunshine eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. So, this brings us to today’s blog… Alfresco dining. Glorious, glorious alfresco dining.

If we are going to have our meals outside, let’s do it right, shall we? We need the right ambience, the proper accoutrements, and the perfect menu. First let’s start with the look…

Now that we know what alfresco dining should look like… Let’s find out where we can buy everything! My favorite summer shopping is always through Mark D. Sikes, Serena & Lily, Williams-Sonoma and a few other boutiques. Take a look...

 Sundial Side Chair from Serena & Lily. Click HERE to purchase.
 Riviera Side Chair from Serena & Lily. Click HERE to purchase.
 Garden String Lights from Serena & Lily. Click HERE to purchase.
 Rablabs Lumino Azure Agate Coasters from Barneys. Click HERE to purchase.
 Oscar de la Renta's Portuguese hand-cut glasses with blue trim available through Mark D. Sikes. Click HERE to purchase.
 Oscar de la Renta's caned tray and stand available through Mark D. Sikes. Click HERE to purchase.
 Juliska's English Country Estate Dinnerware available through Mark D. Sikes. Click HERE to purchase.
 Woven Seagrass Tray from Williams-Sonoma. Click HERE to purchase. 
 Flamingo Tapestry Weave Provençal Tablecloth by La Cigale. Click HERE to purchase.
 Unbreakable Acrylic Tumblers by Williams-Sonoma. Click HERE to purchase.
 Melamine ( these are plastic, people! ) Bumblebee Dinner Plates by Mary Lake-Thompson. Click HERE to purchase.
Melamine (yep, plastic) Le Cadeaux Provence Dinner Plates. Click HERE to purchase.
Now, what are we going to eat? I have am some ideas…

 Grilled Shrimp and Lemon Skewers with Feta Dill Sauce. Click HERE for recipe.

 Soy Lemon Flank Steak with Arugula. Click HERE for recipe.
Oven Roasted Tomatoes by David Lebovitz. Click HERE for recipe.
 Endless Summer Cookbook by Katie Lee. Click HERE to purchase.

For more inspiration, follow my Pinterest Alfresco board HERE. It has everything you need to create a perfect alfresco environment from the overall look to the details… the furniture, the lighting, the tablecloths, the serving pieces, the plates, the glasses, the recipes… Alfresco heaven.

In the meantime, your little sun deprived friend Ellie will “do as the Parisians do” and milk the summer sunshine for all it’s worth.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s summer series. Hint: “faux plage.”
A toute!


  1. oh I don't blame you! You need a terrace. Or a tanning bed. You could sneak one into your apartment by cover of night and no one would ever have to know. Most of my friends from my old life in the tanning world are dead or in jail (the only things tanning salon owners like more than a healthy glow are cocaine and tax evasion), but I'm sure I could still find you a special on a "scratch n dent" Ergoline bed. That and a few cases of tanning lotion, you'll be on your way to nirvana. Don't go buying any tube tops for the panhandle just yet!

    1. Dear Stephen Andrew,
      Je t'adore.
      Signed your pal,

  2. You can have my sunshine. :) Today in Arizona the temperature will be 108. Woot.

  3. Your photos KNOCK ME OUT. I always say" Oh WOW!" "OH Man!!!" I just want to climb into this computer screen and BE THERE! (With you hopefully!) . BAD week for HORRIBLE and in a big way, not kidding. Somehow reading your post has given me some calm and taken my mind off of my calamity for a few precious minutes. I love your posts, love you and want you to know that you are helping us all with your blog. Thank you!!!

  4. Dear Ellie, What a wonderful theme and title for a book: do as the Parisians do! Think about!
    Hugs from Brazil - Lenice

  5. after the god-awful winter we had in Northeastern US, I am with you on the alfresco dining. we have a great deck and try to eat most of our meals outside. Because the alfresco dining season is miserably short, we savor every minute.
    South of France v Florida panhandle? Stick to France - no alligators, roaches, day-glow tank tops or bible-thumpers.

    1. Well, Ellie can go to the more elegant side of the Panhandle . . . Destin . . . and live at Seaside, Watercolor, Rosemary Beach, Watersound, Allys Beach, or any of the upscale communities of Hwy 30-A. It not all day-glow tank tops. Also the Panhandle has the most gorgeous beaches in all of Florida. Sand of white quartz and emerald clear water.

  6. Ellie how can we get you a terrace. I don't know and it does seem like you've thought through every possible angle. I have one but I don't live in Paris, still I love ours because it is south facing and gets hot as hell, when we drink enough rose honest to God it feels like we're in Provence. So I guess you know what we're doing during our very short Canadian summer. Also I only allow fabrics from France on the terrace which helps that rose induced Provence feeling immensely.
    Going to look at your pinterest board now XO

  7. gosh- first we had the flamingo pool float in common- now the bug heart desires a Santa Barbara Umbrella for summer but I can't decide which...any thoughts??!!

    1. Hi Mary. I just thought those bug plates were so charming. I looked at Santa Barbara umbrella and I really like the blue and white striped one. But depending on the style of your house, not sure the color would work. Do you want to send me a picture of your house and maybe we can choose one together. I also like the orange. XOXO Ellie

    I have the lights you pictured here..........had been hinting for ONE YEAR and it finally happened this past month!WE haven't had the right weather to EAT outside since he put them UP.......GO FIGURE!But I am READY!Sounds like a plan the SOUTH OF FRANCE once a long does that trip take?ME thinks 6 hours then with traffic>>>>>>>>HE is a good MAN but you know it!HUGS to YOU..........XOXOOX

  9. Love, love, love everything about this post! I must have sun as well. Winters are very hard on me for that reason. Love the recipes and shopping recommendations! You are just THE BEST! Thanks so much! Have a great week and I hope you get out in the sun a bit! xx Valorie from Colorado

    1. Thanks Valorie! I love a Colorado summer. Hope you're having a great summer. :-)

    2. I wish I could send you some of the relentless sun, heat and humidity we're having in NE Georgia. I'm more that ready for a nice cool, overcast, rainy day!

    3. You've inspired me - maybe my daughter and I will eat out on the deck tonight! Those bee plates are adorable - my husband just started raising bees this summer and would get a kick out of them. Last year was my first Ohio winter and it just about did me in, so cold and so long. I was used to spending the winters with my mom in FL but we had just moved her up here. Now she died a couple of weeks ago so it's going to be totally different.

  10. I'm a New Englander so I completely understand missing the 4 seasons thing. But I've grown to love and need sun, so get that completely. I do miss a New England Fall (Halloween :-). But we are blessed with hot dry weather in Charente for much of May through October so I feel lucky here. I hope you're getting some beautiful sunshine at the moment, Ellie, and that you'll find it whenever you need it.

  11. Texas with a heat index of 105-108 F. You can have all that sunshine. Thank our lucky stars for air conditioning! On the other hand I dream of 70F and being able to be outside without becoming toast. To actually have a meal outside would be wonderful. Thank you for the inspiration to day dream about a beautiful terrace with champagne in hand!

  12. I am SO holding David accountable for that promise. And I need to get back to work on finding you the ultimate weekend rental to ease the way! Because something tells me that it is not an accident that nearly all of the al fresco dining spots that you chose appear to be in Provence...

    It goes without saying that every single thing that you featured is simply perfect. Voila. :)
    Sending you the Love of a million teenagers making that little heart symbol with their hands,

  13. Love the four season, mostly Autumn, Ellie, don't consider Florida, you will not like the horrid heat and humidity in spite of the sun. The south of France, yes!!

    The Arts by Karena
    Ceramic Artist Leah Bowring

  14. Some of those melamine plates are incredible. We have ones that look like Provencal patterns and ones from Winterthur Museum that look like delft-ware.

  15. It's been raining here in Normandy for days, I really need to see the sun again soon. I have family arriving on Thursday and have thoughts of diner en plein air during le weekend. Hope you find your place in the sun this week. Going to check out the links now, time for some retail therapy.

  16. This is the right post to read at the right time--I am in Texas and around mid-July start to get a bit grumpy about the sun. But you are right. It's a beautiful thing to bask in--and with enough zinc oxide and sun hat I can even do it here. I have a nice covered front porch and have been trying to figure out how to furnish it in a way that we can use it more. I have a big green glazed ceramic planter which adds something and a couple of cedar chairs with blue and white cushions. Mostly there is a gang of neighborhood six-year-old out there but I could sweep them off sometimes and go have a south-of-France moment now and then.

  17. Well, I live in the south of France, and served those shrimp (sans sauce) on Sunday to friends in my outdoor summer kitchen. I am so lucky. But alfresco dining at Thanksgiving? Maybe not. It may be the south of France but it still gets cold in the winter, and dark early. As a lifelong southern Californian also, I do insist on the sun.

  18. Another Texas girl here who is covered in a fine "glow head to toe" from just being outside for a minute to water. The heat & humidity go with all this sunshine! Envy those pictures of outdoor husband would rather be shot than eat outside. Thank God for air conditioning....ours went out about a week ago and I spent one brutal night with four fans.
    Love your blog & wish I could send you a big old bottle of Texas sunshine!

  19. Ellie, please find me the those outside lights in France. I just love them. Ii think that between Heather and I, we should be able to find you and David a charming Southern France weekend rental.