Enjoy the barbecue, ice-cold drinks, and freshly baked pie at this summery smorgasbord.
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canoe upcycled for an outdoor buffet
Credit: Ashley Poskin

Dining al fresco is homebound, especially if you've been in the kitchen cooking every meal since quarantine started. We're all missing the restaurant scene, but, for a lot of us, it's just too risky. As most states move into phases that allow for small gatherings, it's the perfect time to surprise and delight your family with an outdoor dining experience that will help them miss those beautifully-designed restaurants just a little bit less.

To come up with a theme for our dinner, we thought about the best part of childhood—summer camp. A vintage canoe, enamelware dishes, a beautiful ​camp blanket​ (we love Pendleton's Glacier National Park Blanket ($245, overstock.com), and some hay bales help to evoke summers of nostalgia. Serve typical concessions stand fare—burgers, sides, and apple pie, along with cold seltzer and soda on ice in the back of the boat. Lay out a few picnic blankets (befitting of social distancing) and ask a friend to bring their guitar to serenade everyone with all of your favorite camp songs, and you're on your way to a memorable evening.

Our spread here is perfect for a small, immediate family gathering, but a larger gathering could be formatted with contained grab-and-go meals to cut down on the risk of too many people coming into contact with the food. Skip single-use boxes and package meals in DIY beeswax wraps, cloth-lined baskets, or lunch pails that can be sanitized for reuse later. Here's how we used a canoe to set the scene.

Preparing the Canoe

Start by positioning two bales of hay side by side, and another two bales about six feet apart, depending on the length of your canoe. Be sure that the hay bales are directly underneath the portion of the canoe where you're going to eventually pour the ice (you don't want your canoe to tip over). Use bricks or extra pieces of cut plywood as shims to place under the hay bales if your yard is uneven.

Each canoe is different; with ours, the seat in the front of the canoe (bow seat) sits higher than the seat in the back (stern seat). The back seat is perfectly level with the crossbeams (thwart and yoke) sitting about half-inch lower than the front seat; we purchased a half-inch thick panel of plywood ($44.75, homedepot.com), so that it would fit against the front seat and sit perfectly level over the crossbeams. To find the shape, measure the distance from the back end of the front seat, to the back end of the back seat, and the narrowest width within the canoe within the length measurement. You could lay out a large piece of paper over the opening to trace the shape, if you wanted a board to fit perfectly inside, but we like the idea of keeping it simple and showing the inside of the canoe.

Lining the Canoe's Interior

After setting the plywood in place, prepare the area behind the back seat to hold ice by lining it with a shower liner; we used the Room Essentials Solid Super Soft PEVA Shower Liner Clear Shower Liner ($3, target.com). Lay the shower liner inside the portion of the canoe and let the excess plastic liner drape over the sides. Secure one end of the shower liner to the end of the cut plywood using tacks or a staple gun. Pour the ice into the liner (we used five 21-pound bags of ice) and drinks are in place you can fold the plastic sides over the top to keep the area clean and somewhat insulated. Trim just below the inside rim of the canoe shortly before guests arrive.

We covered the plywood with a paper table runner, but you could use any kind of tablecloth or camp blanket​. Add a beautiful vintage coffee pot full of fresh wildflowers, delicious food, and you're all set to entertain. Just don't forget the campfire.


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