Details Make Outdoor Family Movie Nights Memorable

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Story and Photos By Amanda Causey Baity

When the weather starts to warm up, I always think of movie nights, which my family loves. Movie nights are even more fun when you bring them outdoors. My family only does this a few times a year since it takes a little extra effort, but the results and memories are worth it.

On the day of movie night, we prepare the yard and start setting up. First, you need a projector. Prices for new top-of-the-line projectors can start well into the thousands of dollars. However, along with newer models, many electronics stores carry a range of cheaper, refurbished projectors, and you can find used models starting at around $200. There are also several websites that will rent projectors to you for less than $100, or you may be able to borrow one from a friend.

Next, you will need a DVD player. Laptops or popular game consoles, such as Xbox or Wii, can serve this
purpose, too. You will need A/V cables to hook your player to the projector just like you would with your television. Follow your projector’s instruction manual if you have any difficulties. You will also need sound since the projector will not provide that. If you don’t have stereo speakers, you may find them at yard sales or thrift stores.

Now on to the screen. You can show your movies on anything from a purchased or rented screen to a smooth outdoor wall. I use my photography backdrop stand with a thick white sheet. You could also secure the sheet along a fence or clotheslines.

Then, of course, the atmosphere is vital. There are so many ways to create the perfect movie theater feel. I hang string lights for a soft glow. Candles and lanterns will do this as well. For seating, my family uses beanbag and lounge chairs, blankets and even tents. If you are feeling ambitious, you can pull the couch or a futon outside like my dad used to do.

Another critical component is food. No movie night is complete without snacks. Popcorn, candy and soda
are requirements. I also like to get creative. “Buttered Popcorn Cupcakes” is one of our favorite outdoor
movie treats.

Buttered Popcorn Cupcakes
I have created a special #pwliving version of the recipe.
About 8 egg yolks or 6 ounces (room temperature)
8 1⁄2 ounces milk
1/8 ounce vanilla extract
10 1⁄2 ounces all-purpose flour (approximately 1 1/3 cups)
10 1⁄2 ounces granulated sugar (approximately 1 1/3 cups)
19.5 grams baking powder (1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon)
Pinch of salt
6 ounces unsalted butter (room temperature)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and place liners in cupcake pan.
2. Combine the yolks, vanilla and two ounces of milk in a bowl and whisk lightly.
3. Place all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and combine on low speed.
4. Add the butter and remaining milk. Mix on low speed until all ingredients are moistened.
5. Increase to medium speed and beat for one to two minutes. Scrape down the sides.
6. Gradually add the egg mixture in three batches, mixing for about 20 seconds and scraping between
each addition.
7. Fill cupcake liners halfway and bake for about 25 to 35 minutes until finished. Let cool before decorating.

Simple Buttercream Icing
This easy-to-make, egg-free frosting recipe has been in my family for generations. It’s not only great on
cupcakes, but also for decorating cookies for holidays, birthdays and parties. To add coloring to the icing, use color paste.
1⁄2 cup shortening
1⁄2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, shortening and vanilla.
2. Blend in the sugar, one cup at a time, beating well after each addition.
3. Beat in the milk, and continue mixing until light and fluffy.
4. Keep icing covered until ready to decorate.

Marshmallow “Popcorn”
For cupcake topping, you can get creative with marshmallow “popcorn.” You will need regular-size marshmallows, yellow food coloring and a little powdered sugar.

First, color half of your batch of marshmallows yellow and let them dry. Next, make a small cut in the middle of each marshmallow and then make three small cuts in their tops. Twist the marshmallows lightly at the middle. Then press the three “petal” shapes made from the three cuts lightly until they begin to fan out. Voila! Your marshmallows look like popcorn.

The more shapes you make, the better the “popcorn” will look. If the marshmallows get sticky while you are manipulating them, dust them lightly with powdered sugar. Be aware that the sugar will dull the yellow color of the marshmallows. So, use it sparingly.

Visit our website ( and download these custom Popcorn Cupcake Wrappers that I created exclusively for Prince William Living. Download, print on cardstock, cut along the lines and tape them together. Drop your cupcakes in after you have decorated them.

I forgot about the movie! Picking the perfect movie is key. Keep your audience in mind. Depending on the
quality of the equipment you have, selecting a family favorite may be better than choosing a new release as it could be hard to hear and the projector quality may not be up to movie theater standards. The Prince William Public Library System has a large selection of DVDs you can check out for free. Visit

Another option is Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center’s Movies Under the Stars, a free summer movie
series on Saturday nights. Visit for the schedule. Historic Manassas also hosts free summer movies on Saturday nights. Check for details.

Amanda Causey Baity (abaity@princewilliamliving.comis Prince William Living’s director of operations and photo editor.


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