A Campfire Christmas

Warm guests' hearts with an outdoor party

A campfire is even cozier in the winter. photography by Neal Bruns
Bring the outdoor theme in with rustic accents and a touch of glamour. photography by Neal Bruns
Tree branch coasters from Hedgehog Press, photography by Neal Bruns
Baked ham & cheese sliders, photography by Neal Bruns
Potato, corn & bacon chowder, photography by Neal Bruns
Create one-of-a-kind s'mores with unique ingredients. photography by Neal Bruns
Gooey s'mores are a delightful treat. photography by Neal Bruns
Campfire Martini, photography by Neal Bruns

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! You know, when the snow blankets the city in soft radiance, setting the mood for the joyous festivities ahead. This is December, the enchanting month of cocktail and dinner parties, school recitals, ice skating at Headwaters Park, community events downtown, train rides with Santa in the countryside, holiday shopping markets and nights with Fort Wayne’s oh-so-talented performing artists. The biting chill and threats of consecutive school closings are (hopefully) still a few weeks away, so embrace the pretty snow before it turns to gray slush in the streets.

While the comfort of central heating is undeniable, there’s something refreshing about taking in the crisp scenery of early winter. The tree branches glisten with sparkling frost, and the streets are aglow in a dazzling display of shimmering lights, imparting a jubilant lightheartedness. Couple that feeling with a convivial outdoor party (yes, outdoor), the shared laughter of loved ones and an enticing meal, and you’ve got the makings for a new tradition – a Christmastime campfire. The festivities begin indoors, where guests are welcomed and warmed with wintry cocktails and savory sustenance. After everyone’s been sated, the party moves outside to gather around a roaring fire, where marshmallows and friends get toasted at the same time. Visit FortWayneMonthly.com for your own printable welcome sign.

Send a digital invite to your guest list, featuring a fireplace GIF graphic (go to www.giphy.com and type fireplace into the search bar) to set the mood. Make sure your guests are well aware there’ll be an outdoor portion of your party. Have them bundle up and bring hats, scarves and warm woolen mittens. This is a casual affair, perfect for jeans and boots and those chunky knit sweaters – some hilariously hideous – every closet seems to have.

DECOR

OUTDOOR
When it comes to the out-of-doors, the evening centers around the roaring campfire. Build your own or use a metal fire pit or a Swedish Flame, a one-time bonfire log. Set out plenty of seating in advance. A few log-stump stools keep the theme going, but benches, camp chairs and your summer outdoor furniture offer more comfortable options. If you have a camp tent, set it up a little bit away from the fire pit, but stock it with tons of blankets, floor pillows and flashlights to encourage cuddly shadow puppet shows for the kids. Swag twinkle lights from house to garage, over porticos, along fences and wrapped around trees. As you usher your guests outside (it might take a wee bit of convincing), encourage guests to grab a blanket from a large basket you’ve set up next to the door, pass them a drink and tell them to snuggle up for warmth. Happy holidays!

INDOOR
Bring the outdoor theme in with rustic accents and a touch of glamour throughout your party spaces. Slices of wood make a great canvas for welcome signs, place settings and custom coasters, the latter of which can be found at local hands-on boutique, Hedgehog Press. Eucalyptus and evergreens look merry on banisters, mantels and over doorways, especially when dotted with baby’s breath, perhaps spray-painted copper, or branches of bittersweet for some warm color. Burlap table runners or red plaid tablecloths are festive backdrops for gold-dipped pinecones and votive candles that sit inside small birch stumps. The bonfire-scented Flaire candles by Creative Co-Op, available at Opal & Ruby Gift Emporium, (shown front right) are fantastically scented, burn strong for hours and can be used well beyond your party. Set up the serving area with chalkboard signs so your guests know what they’re dipping into. Sprigs of rosemary tucked into silverware rolls or draped around the serving areas provide texture and the most delicious aroma. String twinkle lights of various sizes across ceilings to mimic the stars, and play that cheesy but charming continuous loop of a crackling fireplace on the television screen. A flameless campfire makes for a fun indoor display the kids will adore – and can help make.

OUTDOOR ACTIVITY
Keep your guests warm and engaged while outside by playing a few group games. Glow Stick Ring Toss, using glow stick bracelet kits, is fun for all ages. Use a large glow stick wand as the stake. In the light of the campfire, play charades or Tell Me a Story, where each person contributes one sentence to form a ridiculous tale. Group guests into couples for a bracket tournament of Tic-Tac-Snow. A few days in advance of the party, paint four sticks in glow paint to create the board. Using the same glow paint on rocks or stones, make five painted X markers and five painted O markers. Remember that larger stones or rocks will be harder to lift for smaller children. Charge your painted game pieces outside during the days leading up to the party for a full glow.

INDOOR ACTIVITY
Designate an art table for the kids, and stock it with colorful construction papers, markers and glitter pens, printed washi tapes, sparkly, sticky gems and foam sticker shapes like stars and snowflakes (ahem, no glue) to create their own take-home Christmas tree masterpiece. This easy and relatively mess-free activity will keep the littles busy for a few minutes before they start begging for s’mores.

HOW TO BUILD A CAMPFIRE
If you’ll be building a traditional campfire, instead of using a fire pit or a Swedish Flame, follow these basics:

Make a loose pile of tinder, made up of pinecones, dry leaves or paper. Build a teepee over the tinder with kindling of twigs and small branches. Light the fire in three spots around the base of the teepee, adding more branches as the fire grows before adding firewood logs. When it’s time to call it a night, make sure your campfire is fully extinguished and cold by smothering it with sand or dirt or dousing with water.

If a campfire is not possible, all is not lost. Create an indoor version with sterno cans placed on oven-proof trays or inside rectangular garden planters filled with stones and pebbles to camouflage the can labels for better presentation. You’ll have a trough of indoor-appropriate flames where guests can toast their marshmallows.

DISCLAIMER: Since we’re talking live flames here, take all necessary precautions to ensure a safe and fun evening. If your party involves small children, please take extra steps to keep them out of harm’s way.

SOUP & SLIDERS
 
POTATO, CORN & BACON CHOWDER
serves 8

Place 24 ounces chopped red potato and 16 ounces frozen corn into slow cooker, then sprinkle with 3 tablespoons flour and gently toss to coat. Stir in 6 cups chicken stock, 1½ teaspoons each dried thyme and dried oregano, ½ teaspoon each garlic powder, onion powder, salt and freshly cracked pepper and ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper. Cook 8 hours on low heat or 4 hours on high. During last 30 minutes of cooking, brown 6-8 slices diced bacon and blot excess grease. Add 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and ½ cup heavy cream to slow cooker and stir well. Add more salt and/or pepper to taste. Ladle chowder into oversized mugs (for maximum hand warming) and top with a few generous sprinkles of bacon and shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

BAKED HAM & CHEESE SLIDERS
Serves 12 (plan for approximately two sliders per guest).

Slice 24 King’s Hawaiian Sweet Dinner Rolls in half, placing bottoms on baking pans lined with parchment paper. Equally distribute 1½ pounds shaved Virginia ham and 12 slices Swiss cheese (when Swiss slices are quartered, each roll gets two small squares of cheese) then replace dinner roll tops. In a saucepan on low heat, mix 1 stick unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon poppy seeds and stir until melted. Brush or drizzle mixture over the tops of sandwiches – dripping is encouraged. Cover pans with foil and allow to rest in fridge for at least one hour. When ready to serve, preheat oven to 350 and bake with foil cover on for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve piping hot, room temperature or somewhere in between – it’s all good.

CHARCUTERIE BOARD
A selection of cured meats, cheeses and pickled vegetables. Choose at least three from each category and serve alongside water crackers. Feel free to add dried fruits like figs or apricots. Plan for each guest to eat 2-3 pieces of each element. Meat: salami, dry chorizo, prosciutto, coppa, Serrano ham Cheese: brie, sharp cheddar, blue, parmesan, gouda or goat cheese Pickled vegetables: gherkins, onions, mushrooms, olives or okra

BREADS & SPREADS
Serve a selection of breads such as a classic French loaf, sliced thin, and soft pita wedges accompanied by various spreads.

Whipped feta spread
In a food processor, combine 8 ounces room temperature, crumbled feta cheese with 8 ounces room temperature whipped cream cheese and puree for 1-2 minutes or until the concoction is creamy and smooth. Add 1 minced clove of garlic, ½ cup fresh, finely chopped basil and salt and pepper to taste then blend for another 1-2 minutes. This can be made a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container. It’s best served at room temperature so remove from the refrigerator an hour or so before your party begins.

Olive tapenade
In a food processor, combine 6 ounces drained black olives, 6 ounces drained green olives with pimento, 4 tablespoons fine olive oil (the lemon olive oil from The Olive Twist is perfection), 2 minced cloves garlic and pulse until olives are chopped and mixed evenly. Serve fresh.

S’MORES AND DRINKS

S’MORES BAR
Set out multiple building options so guests can mix and match for unique takes on this campfire classic. Reese’s peanut butter cups can take the place of the standard Hershey’s chocolate bar, as can any gourmet chocolate bar like those from hometown favorite Vosges Haut-Chocolat, available at Fresh Market. Chocolate or golden Oreo cookies can stand in for the traditional graham crackers – call them s’moreos. Set out bowls of cinnamon, jimmies, crushed rock candy and even a mug of Bailey’s Irish Cream to dip marshmallows into before sandwiching.

HOMEMADE MARSHMALLOWS
Take this basic recipe and add in ingredients like vanilla bean, cinnamon, cocoa or cayenne pepper for unique flavors.

Combine 3 packages unflavored gelatin and ½ cup cold water in bowl of electric mixer with whisk attached. Allow to sit while making the syrup (the next step). Combine 1½ cups granulated sugar, 1 cup light corn syrup, ¼ teaspoon salt and ½ cup water in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Raise heat to high and cook until mixture reaches 240 degrees, then remove from heat. Turn mixer to low speed and pour syrup into the dissolved gelatin mixture. Turn mixer to high speed and whip for 15 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon vanilla extract and mix thoroughly. Using a sieve, dust a large porcelain or glass baking dish with a generous amount of confectioner’s sugar. Pour the liquid marshmallow into the pan and generously dust the top with more confectioner’s sugar and leave uncovered overnight or 8-9 hours. You need the mixture to dry and have an airy, bouncy texture. Once dry, flip onto a cutting board and cut into squares. Pour more confectioners’ sugar into a bowl and turn each square in the bowl, ensuring all sides of each marshmallow are evenly dusted. Store in a single layer in an airtight container until serving time. Tip: Your homemade marshmallows will melt faster over a flame than store-bought marshmallows so keep an eye on them when roasting.

CAMPFIRE MARTINI
Combine 2 ounces Fluffed Marshmallow vodka, 2 ounces Tres Leches liqueur, 1 ounce White Chocolate Godiva liqueur and 1 ounce half & half in a cocktail shaker filled halfway with ice. Shake and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with a few floating mini marshmallows or perch a homemade marshmallow on the rim.

HOT CARAMEL APPLE CIDER
Heat one gallon apple cider in a large saucepan, add a few dashes ground cinnamon. Meanwhile, rim mugs with brown sugar. For each individual drink, add one or two shots (depending on size of mugs) caramel vodka then ladle heated apple cider, filling the mug. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Serve plain apple cider and hot chocolate for the under 21 set.

CRAFTY

A GREEN CHRISTMAS
Make your celebrations eco-friendly and local with just a few adjustments to your typical game plan.

• Instead of wrapping paper or gift bags, use stylish reusable shopping bags for your gifts. It’s like giving two gifts in one.

• Giving gift certificates? Support local establishments instead of national chains.

• If you aren’t a crafter, there are plenty of talented people in the region who are. Challenge yourself to shop for your gift list at local stores and craft markets.

• Save a tree! Send a paper card to those on your list who don’t use email and use an e-card version for those who do. No desire to go digital? Choose recycled papers and eco-friendly inks for your cards.

CHRISTMAS TUNES OFF THE BEATEN PATH
I’ve Got Something for You – Best Coast and Wavves
Believe in Me – fun
The Christmas Song – The Raveonettes
Get Down for the Holidays – Jenny O
Wonderful Christmastime – The Shins
Last Christmas – Ohbijou
Why Can’t It Be Christmastime All Year – Rosie Thomas
Donna & Blitzen – Badly Drawn Boy
Peppermint Winter – Owl City
We Come Back – Local Natives
Holiday Road – matt pond PA

GET CHRISTMAS CRAFTY
Welcome sign for the front door
Using a slice of wood (available in a variety of rustic styles at craft stores) paint a fun and festive welcome sign to hang on your front door or porch. Adorn with dried bittersweet or sprigs of evergreen.

Flameless fire pit centerpiece
Using materials from your own backyard, build a simple and cute centerpiece for the buffet table by placing a tangle of twinkle lights or a flickering LED flameless candle (Bed, Bath & Beyond has a wide selection) underneath a small tepee of twigs, propped up by rocks.

Natural fire starter party favor
Gather natural materials like pine cones; sprigs of dried berries; dried herbs like rosemary, lavender or sage; eucalyptus leaves and cinnamon sticks and roll into newspaper, folding or twisting both ends like a candy wrapper and securing with twine. By lighting both ends, this bundle will help to build a roaring fire. Arrange in a basket by the door for guests to take home. As they enjoy their own holiday fire, they’ll fondly remember yours.

First appeared in the December 2014 issue of Fort Wayne Monthly.

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