Gone are the days when finding a time that fit into everyone’s packed Google cals was the most complicated part of planning a get-together with your friends: Social distancing makes socializing a bit more challenging than it used to be, but that doesn’t mean quality time with your loved ones totally has to be off the table. Over the summer, you likely attended many a picnic, park gathering, hike, or beach day, making the most of the great outdoors and staying CDC-compliant in the process. But winter is coming. And that means it’s time to strategize your socially distant soirées in a different way.
Now that temperatures are lowering and days are getting shorter, you’ll need a few necessary things in your toolkit to stay prepared and make sure everyone is having a good time. Whether you’re gearing up for a socially distant Friendsgiving or planning more pared-back get-together, here are a few ways you can be the host with the most in the season to come — even if indoors is still off-limits.
Make some heat
If you’re lucky to have a backyard, patio, or deck, now is the time to consider a new appliance: The patio heater. While coats and blankets are still a necessity, these heat-emanating devices make your outdoor space way more comfortable well into winter. If you have a lot of room to work with (and a bigger budget), you can get a standing one, similar to the kind you’d see at a restaurant or rooftop bar. If you want to warm up a smaller space, you also can find a tabletop-friendly version. Or, if you’re looking for something with a little more ambiance (and can perhaps be used to make s’mores), consider this the perfect moment to finally get that portable fire pit you’ve been dreaming about.
Sadly, buffets and family-style dinners aren’t the best options for distance-friendly dining. But you can still pack a lunch or dinner everyone can safely enjoy — just opt for meals that are naturally portioned into a single serving. Wraps, burritos, and sandwiches are a picnic go-to, but you can go above and beyond by heating them up in a panini press or pan at home, wrapping them in foil, and keeping them insulated in a lunch bag.
If you’re at home, you can still assemble a twist on your favorite cheese board. Fill disposable cones with an assortment of cheeses, meats, and veggies for a single serve treat. And don’t forget the beverages: Sicilia DOC Nero d'Avola wine is a fruity, full-bodied red, perfect for pairing with charcuterie (or just drinking on its own). Or, if you prefer a white, Sicilia DOC Grillo has a light, citrus-y taste that can transport you — at least momentarily — to the southern Italian seaside, as you’re snacking on crudités in your backyard. Just make sure everyone brings their own reusable cup!
Invest in park-friendly seating
Here’s a lesson many of us have taken away from quarantine: comfortable chairs are well worth it. That applies just as much to your work-from-home set-up as it does to your park essentials. A simple camp chair won’t set you back more than $50, and will well make up for that in the relief it will give your lower back. If you’re willing to spend a little more, consider the Lamzacs and get ready to lounge. Don’t forget to pack a blanket, and you’ll be comfy for hours, even when temperatures start to dip in the evening.
Don't forget the ambiance
When the days are shorter, you need to take lighting into your own hands. A cute portable lantern will ensure your park dinner doesn’t have to end once the sun starts to set at an unreasonably early hour. And if you’re out in a yard, patio, or deck, outdoor string lights are a must — after all, we can use a little extra festivity. Don’t forget the portable speaker and you can set your perfect vibe on your own terms.
Make one big, warm brew
Your drink choice can also help you stay extra-cozy as you hang outside. At home, whip up a big batch of hot cocoa, Hot Toddies, or mulled wine. For the wine, all you need is oranges, cloves, cinnamon, apple cider, and, of course, a versatile, medium-bodied red wine (we recommend Sicilia DOC Frappato) — it doesn’t get much easier than that. Pour your brew into a portable coffee carafe and ask your friends to bring their own mugs or thermoses. Refills are encouraged.
Clean up well
Whether you’re at the park or in someone’s yard, trash is bound to pile up, no matter how diligently you were using reusable cutlery, plates, and the like. There’s no buzzkill quite like having to dispose of all your paper towels, food packaging, and empty bottles after a picnic, so get yourself a pop-up trash bin so you can stay tidy throughout your hang-out. It’ll be way more sturdy than that plastic bag that ends up blowing around everywhere, and you can easily carry it to the nearest garbage disposal to empty it out when your get-together is over. Better yet: bring along two and use one for trash and one for recycling. Suddenly, cleaning up is a total breeze.