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Take-out dining; Eating outside is a nice way to enjoy the summer, and some even say the food tastes better

Whether it's hotdogs on the deck or pasta on the porch, eating outside is a summer ritual for many families.

Some say the food even tastes better in the fresh air.

"You're more relaxed; you eat slower; and you linger at the table longer," said Susan Wattle, who routinely eats meals on the family's deck with her husband, Bruce, and daughters, Meredith, 11, and Vivian, 8.

And it's not just dinner. The East Amherst family often has breakfast outside and hosts an annual breakfast barbecue for friends in July.

Joan Ess of Williamsville also enjoys eating outdoors all summer long with her husband and friends. They eat on the front porch, which has a dining table on one side and comfortable furniture on the other. Railings create the right degree of privacy -- some, but not too much.

"We eat dinner out there every night and breakfast in the morning. It's lovely. We can watch the world go by and see what is going on. People stop to talk, and we talk to them," said Ess, owner of Alexandra Gifts & Jewelry.

"Whatever we eat, we eat outdoors. Everything tastes better outside. It can be the simplest meal, but you're eating it outside and it tastes wonderful," she added.

Those who dine outside know there's a certain rhythm to the setup. As syndicated columnist Mitch Albom once wrote: "Out come the chairs, plates, glasses, silverware, napkins, place mats -- and then the food. And finally we sit. And we forgot the ice. And we go get it. And we forgot the mustard. And we go get it."

Amy and Mike Manning of the Town of Tonawanda have made eating on their porch a tradition.

"Whenever we are not running off to baseball or soccer and are having a family dinner, we pretty much eat outside," said Amy Manning, who teaches at Gilmore Elementary School in North Tonawanda.

Some days, "our neighbors stop by, and it becomes more than just family dinner," she laughed.

It's the fresh air she craves after a long winter. And she wants the boys -- Noah, 8, and Nicholas, 11 1/2 -- to appreciate all four seasons.

It doesn't necessarily have to be a barbecued meal, although they grill often. Even spaghetti can be enjoyed on the porch, she said.

"The porch is covered, so we can eat out even when it is raining," she said.

The Mannings set the table with either their regular dinner dishes or plastic -- "depending on our mood." But no paper plates.

Susan Wattle has purchased reusable outdoor dinnerware in bright pink, as well as pieces for entertaining, including a beverage tub and ice bucket. Potted flowers in shades of pink tie together the deck area, which is centered by a table and green-and-white striped market umbrella.

With casual, durable plastic dishes, you don't have to worry about breakage, she said. And she likes them for another reason:

"It gives you the chance to do something fun and flamboyant that you don't do indoors with your everyday, more formal dishes," said Wattle, who is finishing the semester as an educational aide for Williamsville schools.

Growing up in Ohio, she did not eat outdoors with her family much. "I think that's why I enjoy it so much now," she said.

Eating outside was routine for her husband, however. His family planted an organic vegetable garden on a double lot outside their Detroit home. His father even hand-crafted the picnic table and benches.

"Eating outside was all part of it," said Bruce Wattle, an air pollution scientist at Ecology & Environment.

These days, all types of products are available for outdoor dining. For comfort, outdoor chairs can compete with indoor chairs. Outdoor lighting, including landscape lighting, floor lamps and lanterns, extend hours outdoors. A new generation of outdoor curtains and shades adds privacy where -- and when -- you want it.

But there are concerns. Food safety, especially in the summer heat during daylong gatherings, is an issue. And wind, flies and mosquitoes can be a challenge.

Amy Manning said she lights candles later in the evening to repel mosquitoes, but finds not much of a problem at the dinner hour.

The Wattles own mesh "umbrella" covers to keep flies off the food. They have successfully repelled mosquitoes with Off! PowerPad lanterns. And they have used yellow jacket traps late in the summer, when the stinging insects become a nuisance.

(This is a good time to remind people not to drink sodas or other sweetened beverages in cans while outside. Yellow jackets and other stinging insects are attracted to the sugar and can crawl inside the cans, ready to sting someone's tongue.)

Yet for many, dining alfresco is a summer pleasure that extends into the fall.

As Amy Manning put it: "We eat out there until we absolutely can't anymore."

e-mail: smartin@buffnews.com

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