Al Fresco

Inspired Ideas for Outdoor Living


By Julie Pointer Adams

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An Ode to Living and Gathering in Nature

A picnic on the beach. Cocktails and a snack at sunset. Sharing a potluck meal around the fire, and letting the night drift lazily along in the pleasures of roasting marshmallows and swapping stories. Getting together in nature, with food and drink, is among the most restorative rituals we can experience, fostering a kind of intimacy and ease that’s rare in any other setting.

Al Fresco, with its fresh, delicious recipes and unexpected ideas, its tips for exploring new ways to get outdoors, its interviews with dozens of kindred spirits, is an inspiring and beautiful playbook for anyone who wants to spend more time outside with friends and family. The credo is simple: Nature opens us up to ourselves, and the food we share opens us up to each other.


The rhythm of the waves and the vastness of the sea never get old for me.

—Gina Stovall

Gathering by the Water

Being close to water, where water—whether ocean, river, lake, pond, swimming hole, or trickling stream in the woods—meets land and sky always has a calming, grounding effect. Returning to our own special watering hole always feels like a homecoming, however long we've been away. Being around water gives us room to breathe, and to take in our surroundings.

Perhaps that's why gathering near the water for a meal, no matter the size of the group, feels momentous every time. Whether it's sandwiches; a cooler's worth of snacks, like chips and dip; a bowl of cut-up watermelon; or a full-on cookout, this is the kind of everyday celebration we can all use more of. Seeing others enjoy themselves by or in the water, we can't help but want to be there with them. So grab your most versatile blanket, your easiest meal (takeout will do just fine), and whoever's available. The water is waiting.

The different sounds water can make are all deeply grounding and calming to me.

Nicole Wilson

Leo Basica and Taiana Giefer

Fierce lovers of land and sea, Leo and Taiana are slowly building their dream home perched atop the foothills of Montecito, California. Leo does graphic design, and Taiana is a felt artist, model, and community ­organizer—strategically living and working where they're never more than ten minutes away from catching the next good wave. Leo gives us the lowdown on their daily life together, with Taiana providing the beautiful breakfast surfboard spread shown on the opposite page.

Where does your love of the outdoors come from?

We are both lucky to have had parents who loved being outside and appreciated open spaces. When I was growing up, my father was the head of a travel agency in Croatia, and he was always exploring new places around the world. I wanted to follow along. My mother had a passion for fishing and would spend hours sitting on the cobblestone beaches of Croatia looking for shells. As for Taiana, both her parents were and still are nomads, saying yes to any new adventure that comes their way—they are among those people who are truly young at heart and have that sparkle in their eye.

How do you define well-being? What tangible daily acts do you practice to claim it for yourself?

What well-being is to us is always changing. Sometimes just pushing yourself to jump into cold water, enjoying some simple toasted sourdough with butter with no distractions, or having a quiet moment alone walking around the property is enough to feel grounded. A whole body stretch—a head to toe wiggle—here and there does wonders as well.

How has your relationship with the outdoors affected and informed the way you live in your home?

We're currently building our own home, and as we imagine where this window will be and where that shelf should go, we're constantly keeping the outdoors in mind, whether it's the view or streaks of light, or a pine tree or island peek that we want to intentionally frame.

What in nature brings you joy?

The greatest gift of nature for us is the silence. And then a hawk shriek. Silence. And then a wave lapping the shore. It's always changing and endlessly immersive.

What are your favorite rituals around food and eating with others?

We have some friends who religiously lick their plates clean after every meal. Others who always have a cocktail before dinner. For us, it's making sure everyone has plenty of food on their plate and a full glass.

What kind of food or meal do you most enjoy sitting down to?

First thing that came to mind is a loaded farmer's salad with spiced fried chickpeas, lots of green goddess-y dressing, and a sausage, or two. Perfect dinner.

Some beautiful pieces of bread and canned sardines, a sliced Cherokee tomato with some sea salt. Perfect lunch.

Fried egg, avocado, and a little dried salami. Or a bowl of thick yogurt, with some berries and granola. Perfect breakfast.

Dried Kalamata olives (with the pits still in them, of course). Some cheese. Perfect snack.

What's one significant memory or feeling from your childhood connected to eating with others?

The most vivid memories for both of us are a packed house of laughing people, some dancing, some lounging, and the sound of loud music and utensils clinking against plates.

You're both surfers and spend a lot of time in the ocean—what's something that surfing has taught you about the power of nature that you might not have learned otherwise?

A decade ago, we never thought surfing would take us to different parts of the world. Now it's hard to think of traveling without fitting a surf in somewhere along the way.

Both of you came to live in Santa Barbara when you were teens. How has your relationship to the outdoors changed since you began living here?

I came to Santa Barbara to play tennis for UCSB because of how great the weather is year-round, and I ended up staying because the city reminds me so much of my hometown of Makarska—it has the same geography and orientation with the islands and mountain range. Taiana became truly connected to the ocean and surfing after moving here from Los Angeles in middle school. Living up in the hills, being able to walk out of the house and be on a trail right away is truly special.

What gets you most excited in nature?

For me, glassy offshore conditions. For Taiana, taking endless creek dips.

What makes for a really good get-together?

Dinner with just one other couple on a warm night. Veggies and good meat from farmer friends, with a couple of bottles of wine. There's really nothing better. Both of us gravitate to the edges of parties and lean toward having intimate groups over so we can have deep conversations and really catch up with other people. What makes it a great get-together, though, is when the dishes are done before we go to sleep. Waking up not having to clean up is oh-so-nice.

Bircher Muesli

This is a classic "everything but the kitchen sink" family recipe. Throw in whatever you've got in the pantry or fridge.

Serves 6 to 8

2 apples

1 cup (240 ml) yogurt or kefir

1 cup (240 ml) citrus juice (use any citrus fruit you have)

½ cup (45 g) quick-cooking oats

Toppings (at least one, or a combination of several)

Fresh fruit—any kind

Dried fruit (we love goji berries)

Nuts and/or seeds


Bee pollen


Grate the apples into a bowl. Mix in the yogurt, citrus juice, and oats. Let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes to soften the oats. The timing is loose, as it really depends on how thick or creamy you like your muesli.

Serve with your choice of toppings.

Collections from the Outdoors

One sure way to slow down in nature is to notice what's around you, and collect what catches your eye. Here are some things that caught mine.

tiny rocks of similar size & color

pressed flowers from the river

a very gratifying gradation

unusual beauties

one perfect shell & two oddities

perfect skipping rocks or paper weights

tomatillos & fava beans- not made to last but delightful while they do

Sharon and Paul Mrozinski

Sharon and Paul split their time between the coastal isle of Vinalhaven, Maine, and the Luberon region of France, finding antique treasures near and far to sell in their Vinalhaven shop, Marston House. Here, Sharon gives us a window onto life at the waterside.

Where does your love of the outdoors come from?

My upbringing in Arizona in the desert—as a child, I was free as a bird to wander. Nature has been my lifelong caretaker, best friend, confidant, and guide.

What in nature brings you joy?

The sounds of the water, the wind, and the birds, and the smells of the earth. For us, our walks and the tides running past our island home provide us with all the meditation we need.

How do you define well-being? What tangible daily acts do you practice to claim it for yourself?

Well-being is a lifelong commitment. I was born a mover, and I have always been physically active: swimming, running, walking, and biking are all part of my life. I've added yoga to the mix over the past twenty years, and I cannot live without it. I enjoy ice cream every day—everyone needs a guilty pleasure—but mostly we eat spicy green veggies. Our forty years of love has a lot to do with our well-being too.

How has your relationship with the outdoors affected and informed the way you live in your home?

On our morning walks, we forage for greens and flowers for our big daily salad. I never come home with empty pockets. My "collections" are found and gathered in nature. I pick up stones and dead birch or sumac branches to use as sculptures, and I've covered our walkways with shells of all kinds.

We are working on our teeny-tiny bit of land between us and the rock wall at the water's edge. Paul forages for beach roses, wild peas, and ferns.

What do you find to be the true value of gathering around food with friends?

Communing with friends and family is the most delicious part of a meal for me. We've always enjoyed making meals as a family. All four of our kids are great cooks as a result. When we moved to our 1780s sea captain's home in Maine, we had no stove or oven until early winter. Paul became a grill master, and I became a one-pot-meal expert, with the pot hanging over the fire in the fireplace. With almost no heat on the second and third floors, the fireplace became our gathering spot for everything.

What are your favorite rituals around food and eating with others?

My best memories around meals as a kid were picnics. I still love them best, probably because they are outdoors. Paul did not do picnics growing up, and I work hard to persuade him to enjoy them.

Now we have the opportunity to eat outdoors on our deck over the water on Vinalhaven, and in Bonnieux, with our dining room windows open wide, it's almost as though we are outside. We overlook the water in Maine, and in France we overlook the Luberon hills, so it is close to being on a picnic.

What kind of food or meal do you most enjoy sitting down to?

We fix fresh veggie soup for a late breakfast and a big spicy green salad for a late lunch. We get excited to make them together and share them with each other.

During our busy summer season, Paul prepares the salads for us, and we often eat them sitting out in front of our shop rather than closing for lunch. That has actually become a ritual since moving to Vinalhaven; the locals love seeing us enjoy our lunch on Main Street. When family and friends are dining with us, Paul grills fish, lobster, oysters, chicken, or lamb. I usually slice potatoes, shallots, and heads of garlic, toss them with a little sea salt and olive oil, and throw them into the oven.

You both originally came from drastically different landscapes than that of coastal Maine (Chicago for Paul, the Arizona desert for Sharon)—what drew you to the rugged beauty of this particular island?

I loved growing up in the desert but longed to live in Maine. I was always looking at picture postcards of Maine, with its water, its seasons, and its mountains.

I first visited Maine in 1974, and I had to return. I brought Paul to Maine in 1984, both of us divorced and with two kids each. He loved the early architecture and the classic simple Capes, with wooden clapboards and cedar shingles.

I refer to days that are totally free of obligations and expectations as "free-range" days. How do you two like to spend your free-range days together?

We walk in nature or sit at water's edge reading to each other, feet dangling in that cold salty tidal water, on Vinalhaven. Or we nap on the hills, surrounded by the orchards or the vineyards of the Luberon. I always bring a good old piece of homespun we can lie down on, just in case.

Big Lunch Salad

This salad is good at any time. Switch up any of the ingredients depending on what you can find and what local farmers are growing, using whatever is fresh and seasonal and never the same. Preserved lemons can also be used to garnish soups or grilled fish, either chopped or topped as thin, long strips.

Start with the juice of a half lemon in your favorite salad bowl. Add enough good olive oil (nonfiltered if possible) to make a dressing, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until emulsified (I count to 12 as I pour the olive oil). Add 4 garlic cloves, minced, or less if garlic frightens you.

Add the following roots and stems to the bowl, stirring briskly to coat.

~ A red beet, or any color beet of your choosing, thinly sliced

~ A radish-sized white turnip, thinly sliced

~ A radish or two (we prefer watermelon radishes, but your choice), thinly sliced

~ A head of broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces, including thick-sliced stems (our favorite part)

~ A thinnish crosswise slice from a head of red cabbage

Add a few handfuls of the spiciest greens and sprouts you can find and toss well with your wooden salad servers.

Top off your salad with strips of rind from Preserved Lemons (recipe follows), blueberries, and raspberries, or any fruit in season, such as strawberries and sliced or chopped cantaloupe and kiwis. Don't throw away any leftovers—eat them later or the next morning while you're fixing breakfast.

Preserved Lemons

Cut 5 to 7 lemons in half and squeeze out as much juice as possible. Save the juice for another use. Cut the bottoms off the lemon halves, completely removing the pithy parts; you want to use only the cleaned rinds.

With kitchen shears or sharp scissors, cut the lemon halves into ¼-inch-wide (6 mm) pieces, going diagonally across the rind. Transfer to a glass jar with glass lid and rubber seal.

Add 1½ teaspoons kosher salt to the lemons and enough boiling water to cover. Let cool.

Seal the jar and let the lemons stand in a cupboard or other cool, dark place for 4 days or so, then transfer to your fridge and enjoy on most everything.

Gina Stovall

Gina, a former geologist, is the designer of Two Days Off, a carbon-neutral lifestyle brand she developed while still working as a scientist by day. She and her architect partner, Adham, live close to the beach in Los Angeles. Gina shares how she stays grounded amid the busyness of owning and running her own company.

Where does your love of the outdoors come from?

When I was a child, my favorite place was Central Park's Conservatory Garden. My parents or grandmother would take me to play at its Burnett Fountain nearly every day after school. I called it my secret garden; I am not sure if I knew at the time that the fountain was named for Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden. After our family moved from New York City to the South, I spent my days playing in the woods, collecting caterpillars, and reading on grassy patches in the sun.

What's your relationship with the sun?

Reverent. Being in the sun is how I recharge and ground myself when life feels hectic. When I was living in New York City in my early twenties, I came to realize that I suffered from seasonal depression, triggered by a lack of sunshine and vitamin D. That was in part why I moved to Southern California, and to this day, I thoroughly take advantage of basking in the sun outside all year round.

What part of, or activity in, the natural world do you find most healing or grounding?

Being on the beach. The rhythm of the waves and the vastness of the sea never get old for me. The beach is the only place where my mind can slow down and I can be present without any effort.

How do you define well-being? What tangible daily acts do you practice to claim it for yourself?

Well-being, to me, is being nourished physically, mentally, and spiritually. I've found that I tend to sacrifice my well-being for the sake of being productive, so I have developed daily practices that force me to check in with myself each morning. I start my days slowly and never schedule anything before ten o'clock. That way, I have the time to meditate, journal, take a long walk, or just sleep in a bit—whatever my body tells me I need for that day.

How has your relationship with the outdoors affected and informed the way you live in your home?

My concern for the planet, specifically about climate change, heavily influences my lifestyle. I try to buy less and surround myself with only beautifully crafted objects that inspire me whenever I look at them. As I have begun to think holistically about the things I acquire and use daily, I've naturally gravitated toward things with stories and purpose, often made from materials found in nature.

What in nature brings you joy?

The quiet busyness of it all. What goes unseen day-to-day are the processes of plants growing, insects going about their daily routines, winds moving through the landscape. These little miracles bring me so much joy.

What kind of food or meal do you most enjoy sitting down to?

Breakfast on the weekend—slow, and often indulgent.

What's one significant memory or feeling from your childhood connected to eating with others?

I have such visceral memories of my late grandmother serving us fried rice after school. She'd make a huge wok of food and serve it on enormous plates. I always imagined she bought her plates from a special store because they were almost the size of serving platters, and yet only just large enough to accommodate her oversized portions!

How has your background as an earth scientist shifted the way you think about and interact with nature on a daily basis?

I have great respect for nature and natural systems from studying them in so much depth over the years. Humankind works very hard to conquer nature in one way or another, forgetting the fact that we are part of natural systems, not outside of them. I think acknowledging this reality allows me to appreciate my environment more each day.

How did you find your way to being a clothing designer and entrepreneur, running your own company? Was this something you ever imagined doing as a child?

I never envisioned myself as an entrepreneur when I was young. I always figured I'd be a scientist, conducting interesting experiments and doing essential research. As my career progressed, though, I needed to express myself creatively. Eventually what was just a hobby, making my own clothing, became a thought experiment for me. I wondered if there was a way to create sustainable, climate-positive clothing and still make a profit. That experiment became Two Days Off, and I found myself a business owner. Some days I still wonder how I got here, but as I think back, it is no surprise to realize that my curiosity was the catalyst for it all.

How has your own family experience growing up shaped the way you gather with others and what you choose to do outside with friends?

I have a huge family and grew up with lots of siblings and cousins around. So many of my childhood memories are centered on family barbecues, fish fries, and birthdays, almost all taking place outdoors to accommodate all that energy!

Rosemary, Mushroom, and Potato Frittata

A frittata is one of my go-to dishes for gatherings or a quick meal. It is easy to make and can be eaten at any time of day, and you can fill it with anything you wish! This one has been a favorite for years because of its heartiness and the mix of sweet and savory flavors. I make a simple green salad to serve with it when I'm feeling fancy.

Serves 4

½ Vidalia or other sweet onion

8 ounces (225 g) baby bella mushrooms

4 small Yukon Gold potatoes

4 large (200 g) eggs (5 or 6 if they are smaller)

Salt and pepper

¼ cup (60 ml) milk (optional)

Extra-virgin olive oil

Leaves from a couple rosemary sprigs

To prep your ingredients, thinly slice the onion and slice the mushrooms. Dice the potatoes into ¼- to ½-inch (6 to 13 mm) cubes.

Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper. For a fluffier frittata, add the milk (I often skip it).

Heat a 9-inch (23 cm) cast-iron or other ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add a tablespoon or so of olive oil, then add the onions and slowly caramelize them.

Once the onions are caramelized, add the mushrooms and sauté until tender. Season lightly with salt. Transfer the onion and mushroom mixture to a plate and set aside.

Add a bit more olive oil to the pan, and once it is hot, add the potatoes. From here, you can add up to half a cup (120 ml) of water, a little at a time, and keep the pan covered until the potatoes are tender throughout. Uncover, then add the rosemary and salt to taste and allow the potatoes to brown on at least one side.

Preheat the broiler. Add the onion and mushroom mixture to the pan and stir to distribute everything evenly. Add your whisked eggs to the pan; do not stir. Cook, still over medium heat, for 5 minutes, or until the frittata is almost set. Finish your frittata under the broiler for a few minutes, until the top begins to lightly brown.

Voilà! It's done. Let cool a bit and cut into wedges to serve.

Olivia Rae James Suárez and Blake Suárez

Olivia, Blake, and their young daughter, Agnes, fully enjoy the essence of a close-to-nature life in Charleston, South Carolina, where Olivia is a lifestyle and wedding photographer and Blake is a graphic designer.

Where does your love of the outdoors come from?

Blake: My parents did a wonderful job introducing my sister and me to the outdoors at a very young age, whether it was through books or actual experiences. They are very much "leave it better than you found it" folks, so any time spent outside was also a quick lesson in caring for Mama Earth. We grew up in southwestern Miami, close to the Everglades, so our time was filled with exploring wetlands and mangroves, climbing trees and catching tadpoles, surrounded by alligators and herons of every size and color. Such guidance and exploration were key to setting a strong foundation for the kind of parent I want to be.

What kind of environment or landscape gives you the most joy in life?



  • “[A] delectable paean to outdoor dining . . . Readers are sure to savor the stories and flavors packed within this delightful outing.”
    Publishers Weekly

    “Julie’s fuss-free approach to entertaining is refreshing, and Al Fresco homes in on why we are so moved and transformed by the simple act of eating outdoors.”
    —Sarah Britton, author and creator of My New Roots
    Al Fresco is a stunning reminder not to wait for some future date to experience the beauty and freedom that nature offers.”
    —Camille Styles, founder and editor in chief of Camille Styles
    Al Fresco reminds us of the deep healing that takes place when we get out into nature—preferably with something good to eat and share. This book urges us to be less perfectionistic about how and what we serve and instead to focus on creating connection and being present.”
    —Amy Chaplin, James Beard Award–winning author of Whole Food Cooking Every Day
    “Julie has a way of making simple everyday rituals feel beautiful and meaningful. This book is sure to inspire us to intertwine our lives a little more intentionally with nature and each other. ”
    —Amanda Jane Jones, designer and illustrator
    “With seasonal recipes and thoughtful tips for gathering, each page is a true celebration of everyday entertaining.”
    —Jenni Kayne, founder of lifestyle brand Jenni Kayne

On Sale
May 24, 2022
Page Count
320 pages

Julie Pointer Adams

Julie Pointer Adams

About the Author

Julie Pointer Adams is a photographer, writer, and creative consultant based in Santa Barbara, California, where she lives with her husband and son. Formerly the visionary behind the original series of global gatherings for Kinfolk Magazine, she has since worked as a stylist, art director, floral designer, and content creator for clients and collaborators all over the world.

Learn more about this author