I've discovered some very useful, thoroughly original, new products ideally suited for beach-goers, backpackers, picnic lovers, and even backyard party planners. See all five summer gear finds after the jump.
Expandable Table: While I don't actually have the space for anything but a small cafe table outside my back door, I found this expanding table to be a great idea. Sometimes it's just you and a friend sitting around enjoying a meal al fresco, but when company comes, where do you seat all your guests? Most of the outdoor tables I've seen don't expand, but the Ana table has a leaf insert, just like many indoor dining tables, that'll take it from 63 inches to 86 and 1/2 inches long. And to make you feel extra-good about your purchase, the table is made from certified sustainable eucalyptus wood and coated with a bring-on-the-elements, durable, all-weather finish.
Ana Expanding Outdoor table, $699 (chairs sold separately); Grandinroad.com
Drink Holder: Picture this: You are sitting in Central Park sipping a glass, okay a plastic tumbler, of wine and listening to the NY Philharmonic perform Tchaikovsky. You put down your "glass" in the grass, it tips over, and spills onto the blanket of the uptight yuppie next to you just as he is lying back to enjoy the stars...The Drink Daddy solves the problem of spills on uneven surfaces. Stick the pole right into the grass and, voila, you have a sturdy table on which to hold drinks and plates steady. Plus, it'll keep ants and other crawling insects at bay. The height adjusts from picnic blanket to folding chair level and when the concert is over, it folds and packs away with ease.
Iola Global Design Drink Daddy, $250; mydrinkdaddy.com
Table Weights: Summer breezes make the stifling seasonal heat somewhat bearable. But when they blow, they can pick up your meal and hurl it across a back yard or beach. Now you can hold down the fort, or just the fork, with these adorable table weights from DIY guru Katie Brown. Set one at each corner of the tablecloth and everything will stay in place, except maybe the last serving of barbecued chicken.
Katie Brown Don't Fly Away Bean Bag Table Weights, $15 set of 4; shopkatiebrown.com
SandwichWrapper: Imagine all the plastic sandwich bags you've ever used over the span of your life in a landfill somewhere, still able to hold dirt within their folds. As we all become more aware of these issues, and other environmental concerns, it's time we all took little steps. For example, you could wrap your lunch or picnic panini in this reusable coated fabric wrapper. Fold it around the sandwich using the Velcro closure to secure it. When hunger strikes, undo the fastener and use the handy wrapper for a placemat. It wipes clean for your next meal. One little bag for each sandwich-toting person, every lunch...just do the math. Sometimes little steps can take you far.
SandwichWrapper, $8; Kingarthurflour.com
Melamine Dinnerware: I really dislike the idea of paper plates. They're wasteful and often not sturdy enough for anything that needs a knife. But lugging down the heavy china dinner plates is equally annoying (I live on the third floor). It can also be risky: If they fall, they break. Luckily, there are some really great melamine options out there. This set caught my eye because of its simplicity. Solid colors mean your food won't compete with a pattern (I am a visual person after all). And they have a shiny finish that'll fool guests into thinking you brought out your finest china.
They're based on the iconic Provencal stoneware dinner plates, and have the same gently scalloped edge, and lovely beaded detailing around the rim. Light enough to carry on a picnic, backpacking, or even down the back door fire escape, the plates are unbreakable and dishwasher safe. You can get them in red or blue and in salad- or dinner-plate size.
Provence Melamine Plates, $79 set of 6 salad plates and $98 set of 6 dinner plates; orvis.com
Gina Provenzano has worn many hats, including that of a stylist, producer, writer, and editor. With experience both on staff at national consumer magazines such as Bon Appétit and Family Circle and as a freelance contributor for independent companies, Gina is recognized as an industry expert in entertaining, kitchens, tabletop design, and home decorating. In addition to print and Internet media, Gina has appeared on many national and regional programs, including Weekend Today, Today in New York, and Fox News, and on CNN, Fox, WCBS, and Lifetime Networks.
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