With colder temperatures and the pandemic still in full swing, it’s easy to start feeling isolated, disconnected, and just generally down. And there’s a reason why this kind of isolation feels uncomfortable or even outright painful: humans are social creatures, and life is a communal event. So with this simple truth in mind, the question becomes: how do we infuse our lives with this much-needed real-life social connection even in the thick of winter and a global pandemic? Maybe it’s time to beat the winter blues…
In episode two of my new reality series, The Flexible Life, I worked with a sweet woman named Pam who was also struggling with isolation, albeit for a different reason. Her husband passed away a few years back, and since then, Pam hasn’t had people over the way she once did. Over the course of our day together, I helped Pam slowly renew her confidence and zest for hosting and prep for a casual backyard cocktail party with a few of her closest friends.
Enter: the Small-Scale Gathering
To help alleviate those winter and pandemic blues, we need each other! Obviously this is a bit trickier in a world of social distancing, but the two-fold method of keeping the guest list small and gathering outside in the fresh air (weather permitting, of course) is a flexible compromise between respecting our physical and mental/emotional health.
In this post, you’ll find…
- My tips for seamless indoor and outdoor gatherings
- How to make small gatherings still feel special and fabulous (including my hosting must-haves!)
- A low-stress cocktail party menu your guests will love.
Hosting a Seamless Small-Scale Gathering
If you’ve already snagged your free copy of The Flexible Life Framework (if not, download it here!), you’ll know that I’m big on communicating clearly when it comes to entertaining. This includes: making a point to ask your guests ahead of time whether they have any dietary restrictions and preferences, asking them to bring anything you might need (like an extra bottle of wine or a side dish), and requesting help during the gathering if you need it! Even though hosting is all about making your guests feel comfortable and cared for, most of them actually want to feel useful and pitch in by clearing the table or bringing a cheese plate. So don’t feel like you have to do it all on your own!
Small gatherings are great because they’re easier to prepare food for (think: two cheese boards instead of about five), there’s less pressure to scrub your whole house until it sparkles beforehand, and they tend to be easier to clean up after, too. If you’re planning to host in the backyard (weather permitting), sweep the patio, wipe down furniture and chairs, and set out some blankets. If you’re hosting inside, tidy up any common areas, wipe any high-touch surfaces, and do a quick pass with the vacuum.
As for food and drinks, mix up a cocktail in a pitcher and a couple of cheese and veggie boards a couple hours ahead of time and pop them in the fridge (keep reading for my recipes!). That way, you’re not still bustling around the kitchen when guests arrive, and you can actually enjoy your own party right from the get-go!
Making Small Gatherings Feel Special (Plus My Hosting Must-Haves!)
I love small gatherings because you can pour out a little more effort and creativity into making your guests feel special – something that’s a little trickier to do if you have a packed house! Here are some ways that I love to make guests feel cared for:
- Use dry-erase window markers to write each guest’s name on their glass. It helps guests keep track of their cup throughout the party, but it’s also a simple, personal touch that makes them feel special and welcome. Wine charms are also a great way for guests to keep track of their glass (and plus they just look cute!).
- Set the mood with music, string lights, and candles. The beauty of these little touches is that they turn everyday moments into celebratory ones.. (If you’re worried about bugs bothering your guests, try citronella candles or all-natural bug-repellent incense sticks to keep the bugs away.)
- If you’re hosting a sit-down dinner rather than a stand-up cocktail party, make place cards and a seating arrangement so that guests know where to go. Using assigned seating is also a great way to facilitate convo between guests that you know have a lot in common and would get on well! (And of course, being flexible means being cool with people rearranging themselves a bit, too!)
- If any of your guests are bringing their kids and you don’t have any, consider picking up a few toys or activities to have on hand for the little ones. In the future, you can have a small box of toys that you can easily pull out on occasions just like this.
My Low-Stress Cocktail Party Menu
I’m a big believer in prepping ahead as much as possible! So whether you’re new to hosting, getting back into your groove, or are a self-proclaimed party pro, opt for drinks and snacks that you can whip up a couple hours beforehand and keep in the fridge. I showed Pam how to make my easy fresh fruit sangria, along with a couple grazing boards filled with veggies, cheese, and meats so that her guests had plenty to nibble on.
Easy Make-Ahead Sangria
For this delicious, low-sugar sangria, you’ll need:
- White wine
- Frozen fruit: pineapple, mango, peaches, and strawberries (by using frozen fruit, you can skip the ice and avoid your sangria getting watered down!)
- Fresh mint leaves
- Optional: a splash of melon liqueur, or whatever else you have on hand that you’d like to experiment with (because after all, life is a laboratory 😉)
Mix everything together in a large pitcher, and let the sangria steep in the fridge for a few hours to let all the flavors marinate. When your guests are about to arrive, all you have to do is pull it out of the fridge and let guests serve themselves!
Pam and I whipped up a few super simple charcuterie boards to give her guests lots to nibble on. I love snack platters because they take the stress off of you to host a fancy sit-down dinner, and it allows people to naturally mingle and converge around the snacks!
- Cheese board
- Crispy parmesan chips (for a little texture and crunch!)
- Caramelized pecans
- Meat board
- Sliced meats like salami, prosciutto, or turkey
- Green or black olives (or both!)
- Roasted nuts
- Arugula, cherry tomatoes, or other fruits and veg for a little color
- Veggie board
- Cucumber slices
- Cherry tomatoes
- Rainbow baby carrots
- Several kinds of dips (think: spinach-artichoke, garlic hummus, greek yogurt tzatziki, or whatever else you like – the more, the merrier!)
And that’s it! Light those candles, grab the sangria from the fridge, and get ready to have a good time. Looking for more low-stress, hosting-friendly recipes? Check out my cookbook, Food You Want: For the Life You Crave!