One of the most vital aspects of appreciating “the good life” is sharing good times with good friends. But lower temperatures during these winter months can sometimes put a slump in our social lives. There is a way you can put some spark into your cold-weather entertaining, though: the fire pit.
Fire is one of those primal forces deep within our souls. For eons, it’s served as a natural gathering place for people. A place for song and dance. Eating and drinking. Laughing and loving. So is it any surprise we’re still instinctively drawn to fire?
This installment of The Good Life explores the magical ritual that has become the modern fire pit. It’s much more than just burning a few logs in a pile. Current renditions of this rustic ritual are beautiful, often high-tech enhancements to most contemporary outdoor living spaces. Gathering around the fire pit is a popular social event for friends and family alike. Here are some things to consider.
What Do You Want?
To watch those flames wrap around each other, twisting and writhing, seeking to find the next gasp of oxygen? To feel that true blue heat pulsing through a bed of white-hot stone, almost sterile in its purity? Warmth so deep it penetrates your core? A gas fire pit offers all that: easy, adjustable, clean, beautiful, untouchable, constant.
Or do you want to watch devils dance, each on a solitary path to the cool night air? To hear the cacophony of pops and cracks as nature surrenders, yielding byproducts of heat, ash, and cinders? To smell smoke drifting in the breeze, changing direction on a whim, responding to movement, adapting to change? Open, pungent, demanding, connected, giving, unpredictable. That’s wood fire.
(*Bon vivant note: Try adding piñon wood to your fire. This hard pine from the southwest United States burns slowly and hot, and it’s a natural mosquito repellent.)
Another wood fire essential is a sturdy fire poker. Iron works best. Just make sure it’s long enough to keep your eyebrows from getting singed off your forehead, and remember that an insulated handle also saves on fingerprints. And there are rules about who gets to use the poker. Unless given specific permission from the Host Fire Master, it’s bad form for anyone else to tend the flame. Touching another Fire Master’s poker can get you burned.
“You’re Killing Me, Smalls!”
Let’s talk about s’mores. Ask 100 people how they like their s’mores and you’ll get 100 different answers, but here are the basics — and since we’re talking about the good life, it’s the bon vivant way.
First, before you even spear the marshmallow, select your graham cracker, break it in half, and stack the halves. Next, select and break your chocolate bar to fit the cracker. Then — and this part is important— place the open-faced cracker with chocolate on a flat service near the fire. This allows the chocolate to warm and soften while you’re roasting the marshmallow.
(*Bon vivant note: For some variety, try substituting a peanut butter cup or other chocolate confection in place of the plain chocolate bar. You won’t ever switch back.)
Now it’s time for the ’mallow. Regardless of personal preference, the term is “toasted,” or “roasted” — not blackened! A properly roasted marshmallow is an art. It demands patience, endurance, and, yes, even love. The marshmallow should never be placed over an open flame, but rather gently nestled beside a softly glowing bed of ruby embers. Frequent turning and constant attention is needed to ensure even cooking and prevent combustion. As the ’mallow begins to show the slightest hint of brown along the edges, it must be moved in and out of the heat like a mother rocking her newborn child. Once the outside is evenly caramelized to a golden brown and the inner mallow begins to release its soft sweetness to the flame, gently lay the ’mallow atop the chocolate and cap with the remaining graham. S’more perfection.
Fire Pit Potables
A special event calls for some special libations. Exotic coffees and hot chocolates are a natural fit. Brandy and Cognac have recognized “warming” properties, too. Below are a couple of cocktails from two of my favorite local mixologists. These will help you shrug off that cabin fever, gather some friends, strike a match, and enjoy “the good life.”
The Grand Cafe
Cask and Crew walnut toffee whiskey
Splash of Licor 43
Combine all ingredients to your taste and enjoy!
1 1/2 ounces marshmallow vodka
3/4 ounces Bailey’s
3/4 ounces Godiva chocolate liqueur
Graham cracker rim
Mix all ingredients in a martini glass and enjoy!
We spoke with JC Parks and the Jefferson City Fire Department about alternative spots for recreational fires.
Keep the following in mind:
Designated fire rings are located at Binder Campground and the North Jefferson City primitive camping area. There are also two fire rings in the festival area at Binder Park as part of the hayride program.
City code allows for recreational fires in chimineas, outdoor fireplaces, and rings that are designed to contain the fire.
A recreational firewood is splitwood that you are attending at all times which is approved year-round with one caveat: It cannot be a brush pile. Yard waste burning is only allowed November 1 to March 1.