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Finally Discovering Down House

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Make Seating Comfortable

No one wants to sit outside in the heat in a hard, uncomfortable chair, wishing he was back inside where it's nice and cool. Place pillows in the seats or use pretty seat cushions to add a little splash of color to the table setting.

Besides making the table where you'll be having dinner comfortable, create a space for guests to lounge before and after. Serve appetizers with cocktails before the meal, and let guests mingle and chat with one another. Afterward, use that same space to enjoy desserts and drinks. The more comfortable your guests are, the longer they'll stay outside and enjoy it.

Keep It Cool Outside

This is probably the most difficult thing to do when the temperature outside is scorching, but the easiest solution is to schedule your dinner for later in the evening. Don't have guests come over at 4 p.m. when it's blazing hot. The sun doesn't go down until much later, so invite everyone to show up for drinks and appetizers around 6, then sit down to eat around 7:30, followed by desserts at sunset. Not only does the setting sun create a beautiful backdrop to your dinner, but your guests will be happy they aren't sitting underneath the bright sun.

If you have a patio or a covered deck, then there's no need to use a tent or umbrellas to keep your guests covered. But if you have wide-open spaces in your backyard, then set up a tailgating tent or several umbrellas above the tables to keep everyone in the shade. It doesn't hurt to place a few fans around the area so there's always a light breeze.

Keep guests refreshed with cold towels in an ice chest when it gets a little too hot.

Cook Something Simple

No need to toil away in the kitchen to make a five-star meal utilizing innovative techniques and daring ingredients. Your guests want something familiar, something easy and something tasty. Here are a few ideas sure to satisfy all appetites.

Appetizers

• Guacamole and chips

• Crostini — tomatoes, hummus, sliced meats

• Grilled shrimp on skewers

• Mini cheese/chicken quesadillas

• Spiced pecans/cashews/almonds

• Smoked salmon

Side Dishes

• Cold corn and tomato salad

• Texas caviar

• Watermelon and tomato salad

• Pickled carrots/cucumber salad

• Small baked potatoes

• Stuffed tomatoes with blue cheese

Meat

• Grilled skirt steak

• Chicken kebabs

• Crab cakes

• Lobster rolls

• Burgers

• Pulled pork sandwiches

• Fish tacos

Desserts

• Fruit sorbet

• Strawberry shortcake

• S'mores

• Panna cotta

• Grilled fruit (peaches, pears, pineapple, figs)

Drinks

• Lemonade

• Peach sangria

• Wine coolers and beers

• Margaritas

• Mojitos
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SWEETS

TOP 5 FROZEN CANDY BARS
Better eaten frozen than at room temperature.

JOANNA O'LEARY

The heat has managed to squelch my appetite, yet I still hunger for chocolate. Go figure. Usually, I would bake up a batch of brownies to satisfy my craving, but lately I can't bear to turn on the oven. A candy bar is an easy, cheap and even cooling way to appease my sweet tooth, especially if I stick it in the freezer first. Here are five candy "bars" I actually prefer to eat frozen.

Snickers. At room temperature, Snickers bars definitely satisfy, but the individual components tend to blend together into one uniform sugary taste. A few degrees cooler, and the nuts are crunchier and saltier, the chocolate sharper in cocoa flavor, and the caramel more buttery than syrupy.

4. Peanut Butter Cups. Some may argue that cold temperatures mute the nutty flavor of peanut butter cups. A reasonable concern; however, the overall improvement in texture, I believe, trumps the slight change in taste. When eating a frozen PB cup, you appreciate more the hard ridges of the perimeter, the supple chocolate surfaces and the gritty nut interior. Almost makes you slow down to enjoy the experience.

3. Charleston Chews. I'm pretty sure that if hard-pressed, most Charleston Chew fans would admit that masticating the hell out of this candy bar grows tedious and even painful after the first few bites. Frozen Charleston Chews are still chewy but more manageable, having lost their goopy stringiness. And the nougat flavor (be it vanilla, chocolate or strawberry) is more vibrant.

2. Peppermint Patties. Given that most of the commercials for peppermint patties involve snow and ice, why would you ever think this product was designed to be eaten in a temperate climate? The wonderful cool mint effect of a peppermint patty increases exponentially if you pre-chill it. Plus, I swear, breaking apart a frozen peppermint patty actually creates a visible burst of cold air.

1. Heath Bars. Warning: There is a small, small chance that eating frozen Heath Bars too quickly will chip your teeth. Then again, eating them at room temperature too slowly probably increases your chance of tooth decay by allowing the sugar to linger on your molars. Therefore, the more healthful — not to mention more enjoyable — means of consuming Heath Bars is to eat them very, very cold, at which point they taste like chocolate-covered sticks of frozen butter. Or better yet, crumble them into chilly little bits and sprinkle over ice cream.
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