5 easy ways to connect when you're isolated
From Instagram cookery classes and video calls, to virtual house partying and online movie nights, being social during coronavirus isolation is easier – and more fun – than you might think...
Virtual dinner party
What: forget the stuttering Skype calls of the 2000s, the best video chats take place on Zoom. The remote conferencing platform allows up to 500 people to video chat, with two display options (which intuitively switches to whoever's speaking). It’s long been used for business, but in the age of COVID19 isolation, it’s the perfect way to have a dinner party with your friends without leaving the house.
How: schedule a Zoom meeting and agree a recipe, which everyone will cook and serve for the Zoom call. Set up your laptop slightly elevated (on a shelf or stack of books, for example) so you can capture as much of you and your table as possible. Keep it simple and maximise your chat time by cooking a one-pot main dish and a pre-prepared dessert, such as this chicken & couscous one-pot, followed by these chocolate ganache and olive oil toasts.
Tips: silly hats, room decorations and a fancily laid table will all help you forget you're still at home.
Price: unlimited time on one-to-one meetings and 40 minutes free per group meeting; then £11.99 per month.
What: if you miss sinking cocktails and clowning around with your nearest and dearest, then the Houseparty app is for you. Already downloaded by over 2 million people, the virtual partying app allows you to video hangout with up to eight friends per ‘room’, host several ‘parties’ at one time, play games and screenshare. It’s enjoyed a surge in popularity during the pandemic, sparking the trend for ‘aperiTV’.
How: Houseparty will notify you when one of your friends goes into the app, so you can spontaneously ‘party’, or you can arrange a time to ‘meet’. Of course, you would never arrive at a party empty handed, so before you open the app, rustle up a pink negroni and some quick nibbles such as artichoke crostini or antipasti skewers.
Tips: adjust your settings so strangers can’t gate crash your rooms and games. Hold down the app icon to enable the ‘sneak into the house’ function, so others won’t know you’re in the app.
Price: free on iOS, android and desktop.
Happy online birthday
What: the pandemic has put an end to children’s parties but kids can still celebrate and connect with JustTalk Kids. Similar to Houseparty, but without friend requests, messaging or calls from strangers, it operates on wifi so kids don’t need a phone. Up to 16 people can talk in one call, with plenty of stickers, doodles and games to help them interact.
How: maintain the birthday rituals by sending out online invites (try papier.com for something personalised) and then, together, make a birthday buffet of open sandwiches, chocolate chip muffins, pizza and of course, a birthday cake. Get dressed up for the party, decorate the room and position the laptop near enough to your child so they can use the keyboard and eat cake.
Tips: ask everyone to wear fancy dress, silly hats or masks. Alternatively, set a task, such as junk modelling or painting, and ask each child to show their creation. Parents and grandparents can join in the party on their phones via the adult version of the app, JustTalk.
Price: from £3.99 for one month on iOS, android and desktop.
Netflix and a takeaway
What: recreate the joys of watching a film and having a takeaway with your friends with the help of Netflix Party, a Chrome extension that allows you to screen share, sync your Netflix content and group chat.
How: everyone taking part must download the Netflix Party extension for Chrome and log into their Netflix accounts. Choose a show to watch, click the NP logo in your browser and then copy the ‘party’ URL and share it with your fellow watchers. Your screens will sync, with a comment box on the right. If you’ve stopped takeaway deliveries during coronavirus, why not make your own? These fakeaway recipes, such as Turkish kebabs or easy butter chicken, are easy, healthy and you won’t have to worry about them being late or cold.
Tips: for a bigger screen, connect your laptop to your TV with an HDMI cable.
Price: free. Only available on Chrome desktop.
Live cookery classes
What: in-person cookery classes might have taken a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are several virtual alternatives. On Instagram TV, chefs at Borough Market’s Bread Ahead are doing online baking classes from the 9th of November, Monday to Friday at 6pm; food blogger Kate Ailey of Cooking Carafes is holding ad hoc Italian-inspired ‘cook alongs’; and east London restaurant Officina 00 is hosting weekly pasta masterclasses. Fine dining fans should follow Italian Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura, who is running a cookery series called Kitchen Quarantine throughout the pandemic. If you prefer a more formal structure, food teacher Angela Johnson (AKA Mrs Bun The Baker) from Oxfordshire, is running regular family-friendly cookery classes online with tickets sold through Eventbrite.
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How: make sure you have your ingredients list ready (most of these will publish a list before, or you can watch retrospectively on Instagram stories). Clear the kitchen counter or table and put your laptop (or tablet) out the way so it doesn’t get dirty.
Tips: struggling with techniques? Check out our video tutorials on BBC Good Food.
Price: IGTV free; Mrs Bun The Baker £3.90 per class.