The rules may be changing just as quickly as the weather, but there’s no reason not to continue enjoying good food with your loved ones. Here’s how to do it safely as the weather gets colder.
Recently it’s felt as though the rules about what we can and cannot do when it comes to dining together and entertaining change just as quickly as the Scottish weather. But practising good hygeine and social distancing need not put a dampner on your spirits with our guide to the creative ways you can entertain in your garden as the weather gets a bit colder.
As October is upon us, so are the pumkin spice lattes, the orange-yellow leaves, the crispier weather and the shorter days. But as we are currently not allowed to visit other people in their homes, nor can more than six people from a total of two households meet each other outdoors, entertaining need not be a thing of the past.
Ultimately staying warm is the goal here, for the food and the diners, so we’ve brought together a few top tips and some hacks that will help you dine with your loved ones, almost like it was 2019 again.
1. Think about your garden set-up
First thing’s first, you need to think about how your diners are going to interact with each other and the food – having everyone sitting together is not necessarily possible as it won’t allow for the proper social distancing rules to be in place. Consider whether you have any camping tables or chairs that are easy to move around the garden, meaning one household could sit the appropriate two-metres away from the other, while still enjoying the food.
Divide your garden into different “zones” that contain an array of seating areas – some traditional garden furniture near the house, some washable giant floor cushions set around the base of a tree, camping chairs by the side gate – or why not ask your guests to bring their own camping chairs or cushions with them, so you can be sure they are safe for them to use?
Though you don’t have to go as far as hiring the “dining domes” as shown above, take a look through your garage, shed and in the attic to see if you have any gazebos or even groundsheets that can be tied up between trees.
Another thing to consider, in terms of set up, is how everyone is going to access the food. Will you have it set up on a table under a gazebo, with a one-in-one-out rule? Will there be a one-way system around the garden, so that diners aren’t having to cross paths? Will you be using paper plates and disposable cutlery or will guests have to bring their own? Think about what works best for you and inform your guests in advance so they have enough time to prepare.
Don’t forget about a designated “Covid station” which has hand sanitiser, antibacterial wipes and optional latex gloves for people to use throughout the afternoon or evening.
2. Finger-foods are a no-go
Traditional dining and entertaining allowed for us to produce our favourite sausage rolls, carrot sticks and dip, cheese cubes and cocktail sausages at a moment’s notice, but with new rules in place discouraging us to put our hands all over things that other people might also be touching, finger foods and their associated cocktail sticks are a no-go.
The days of the buffet are potentially over, so instead, think about providing everyone with their own set of cutlery and having food that can be transferred onto their plates with the swift scoop of a spoon or stab of a fork.
If you have opted for things like dips, soups or stews, keep them in individual containers so that diners have their own pot to help themselves from, a la carte style, rather than sharing with others and potentially using cutlery that someone else has touched.
3. Keep your food warm
The Americans have had it sussed for years when it comes to keeping food warm, particularly with their four-hour tailgating parties. One hack often used by tailgaters (when they set up barbecues and picnics from the back of their trucks and cars in the carpark before a football game starts) is turning a cool box into a warm box.
One way to do this is to set your oven to 150C, wrap some bricks in heavy-duty foil, pop them in the oven for 20 minutes then line the bottom of your cool box with them. Once you’ve put your food on top, cover with some insulation and the food will stay piping hot for hours.
If you have a slow cooker, use it to make the main dish, as food can stay warm in a slow cooker up to five hours after it’s been unplugged.
Liquids can also stay warm in insulated metal containers, so utilise these if you have them. And, remember, tin foil is your friend.
4. Keep the people warm
Not only does the food need to stay warm, but so do the people, particularly as the weather gets a bit colder and we’re confined to dining with guests outdoors.
Invest in blankets and an outdoor heater and check whether your barbecue can also be used as a heat source – meaning it can double-up as a way of cooking food and also keeping people warm.
Hot drinks will also be welcome, so why not make a cask of mulled wine or ask guests to bring their own flasks with their favourite hot drink?
Before the event be sure everyone is aware of the dress code too – gilets, waterproof coats, layers and blankets are a must and will ensure you have no grumpy guests.
5. Don’t scrimp on the atmosphere
When it’s cold outside, the last thing many people want to do is sit in it for a prolonged amount of time. But, if you get the atmosphere right, your Covid-safe garden party will be too tempting to resist.
Regardless of the size of your garden, there will always be ways to make it work. Buy a cheap bluetooth speaker and prepare a playlist of chilled out songs to listen to throughout the meal and sprinkle your garden with fairy lights and LED candles or lanterns for an extra cosy feeling.