As humans, we crave social interaction. Whether it’s sharing a big accomplishment with your family, cheering on your favorite sports team, or having a best friend’s shoulder to cry on, sharing experiences with others and staying in touch with friends, make us happier, healthier, and live longer.
We’ve been wired to be social, and our brains are the perfect example of this.
Compared to other mammals, proportionately, our brains are massive. They’re way too big for our body’s size. But neuroscientist and author of Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, Matthew Lieberman, explains that our ability to think socially is so essential to our survival that evolution gave us a separate system in our brain to process these thoughts.
Over the past few decades, we’ve become less social and dependent on others and more individualistic. We’re getting married less. We don’t interact in person with friends as frequently as we used to. And there are fewer people we’re willing to open up to.
But if this year has taught us anything, maintaining these social connections and ties might be our saving grace. Even if it means making changes to the way we meet, socialize, and stay in touch with friends and family.
With the holidays around the corner, I’ve come up with five activities that will help fill the void you might experience due to canceled family gatherings and festive parties with your friends.
Sure, they will take more organization and logistics for them to work. But, the rewards will 100% be worth it.
You have nothing to lose but time (which seems to be in excess these days), so cozy up, start planning, and feed your brain with some social connection it so desperately craves.
1. Sharing Is Caring: Try a Soup Exchange.
If you’ve ever participated in a cookie exchange, this soup exchange is similar. Every participant makes a big batch of soup and shares an equal amount with each person. You end up with a stack of delicious homemade soups you can enjoy whenever you want.
Before the pandemic cases surged here in Vancouver, I hosted a soup exchange with friends. It turned out to be a great way to stay in touch with friends and share our love for cooking (and soup).
First, I sent out invitations over text. I asked everyone to let me know in advance what soup they were making so we didn’t double up. Sure enough, two friends forgot to send me theirs, and I forgot to remind them, so we had two pumpkin soups! In the end, they tasted completely different and we were all happy to have two unique pumpkin soup recipes.
I made a big batch of vegetarian chili, invited friends to come over for lunch, and each person divided their soups into clean, 500ml containers I had picked up for a few dollars from a local supermarket.
Looking back, we should have made more soup. 500ml was enough for a hearty lunch for one, but not a meal for two.
For your soup exchange I recommend asking your friends to make 1L each per person (double what we made).
Tip: To make this entirely covid-friendly, skip lunch to avoid face-to-face contact. Have your friends drop their soup off at your place on a specific day, divide them up (add labels if you want), and have them come back the next day to pick up their selection of soup. Share the recipes over email just like we did.
2. Follow an Online Recipe Tutorial With Friends.
Following a recipe online is fun, but it can also be intimidating and isolating.
Share the joy of cooking and stay in touch with friends or family by following a recipe online, together!
It’s probably easiest done with just one other person, but I don’t see why a group of three wouldn’t work. Decide on a recipe you both can agree on (whether it’s from a cookbook or from a chef you like), pick a date and time, and work backward. Buy the ingredients in advance, and ensure everyone has the necessary components for the recipe.
Tip: To avoid setting foot in supermarkets, order from a local grocery that has online delivery. If you’re in Vancouver, check out Legends Haul who supports local producers and makers.
While the dish doesn’t have to be fancy, it could be a great excuse to try something a little more adventurous. By building up some anticipation around an activity (which are few and far between these days), this event will be far more memorable than just ordering in and hopping on yet another Zoom or Facetime call. Yawn.
This idea came from a chef at a restaurant I used to work at in Vancouver. Angus An from Maenam recently posted a recipe for Thai black pepper fried wings. He made them in his home, made them look easy (and delicious), and I am dying to make them.
Who’s up for making these wings together?
3. Stay in Touch With Friends With a Holiday Recipe Exchange.
“Forward this email to 10 of your friends and your crush automatically will fall in love with you.”
Do you remember chain emails? Well, they made a comeback this year.
Back in March, I received an email from a friend. It was a chain email with the subject “Quarantine Recipe Exchange.” I was already tired of my recipes and was excited by the idea of receiving handpicked recipes from friends.
That was until I scrolled further down the email. Apparently, I had five days to send a recipe to twenty people.
Yes, twenty people!
I had to take a moment to think about which recipe I’d wanted to share and if I even had twenty friends that wanted to participate in this sort of activity. But then, just like every email I open and tell myself I’ll get back, I forgot about it. And I never ended up participating.
But the recipe exchange idea stuck!
Here are my suggestions for a more successful email chain.
Instead of sending out a chain email that might give your friends anxiety (like it did for me), why not try a holiday recipe exchange instead. Pull a manageable sized group of your friends (which could mean five or eight) and ask everyone to send you two of their favorite holiday recipes.
As the organizer, put together a list of everyone’s recipes in a Google Doc and share it with the group. Organize the recipes by type (dessert, sides, mains, etc.). There, you’ll have 10+ new recipes for the holiday, which will keep you busy.
Thanks to my friend Rebecca, for this fresh take on quarantine chain emails!
4. Organize an Online Blind Taste Test.
Zoom dinners are fun, but haven’t we had enough of them already?
Turn it up a notch by organizing a blind taste test with your favorite food or drink. An online blind taste test is a great way to stay in touch with friends because a) you get to participate in an activity together and b) you have something to talk about other than small talk.
To organize this activity, follow the steps I took just this past weekend to arrange an online blind beer taste test with some friends.
Online Blind Taste Test How To:
- Pick your poison. Decide on a product you want to taste. We tried to discover the best tasting non-alcoholic beer, as my friends and I are all expecting.
- Guestlist. The larger the group, the harder it is to organize. Stick to a manageable size like five girlfriends or three couples, total.
- Decide on a date and time. We had two couples in Vancouver and one in Toronto (3 hours ahead), so we picked 5 pm on a Saturday as our meeting time. Our call lasted just under 2 hours with plenty of time for chatting afterward.
- Shop. In order for this blind taste test to work, everyone should taste the same product. For example, if you’re tasting chocolate bars, everyone should be tasting the exact same bars so make sure everyone participating has access to these. The same goes for beer. Since two of my friends weren’t here in BC, I had to make sure there were beers both they and we could purchase here.
- Schedule your taste test. Create a meeting on Zoom or just plan to call your friends over Whatsapp or Facetime at the time of the event.
- Prepare. Before you meet your friends online, ensure that everyone follows the same method for tasting and preparation. In our case, I asked everyone to set out five similar-sized tasting glasses, each labeled with a number from 1-5 on pieces of masking tape, taped to the bottom. I also created an answer key so we all knew that #1 corresponded to x beer.
- Game time. At the time of your event, call your friends, and start the tasting! I asked everyone to pour their beers in order of the answer key I created (ie beer #1 into the glass labeled #1). Once this was finished, I asked everyone to put another label (A through E) on the glasses in random order. You might be wondering, why another label? This way, the original order which you most likely already memorized, will be different as long as you don’t label 1 as A, and 2 B, and so on. This way the tasting is also a surprise to you.
- Taste but don’t tell. Once your products are labeled, taste in any order you want. Try not to talk about what you’re tasting until after you’ve written down your notes and scores. Score your products from best to worst, and feel free to write descriptions of each.
- Discuss. Once you’ve gone through the products (yes, you can re-taste), open up the discussion with your friends and start revealing the products one by one.
5. Host a winter picnic.
It’s getting chilly here in Vancouver, and with the sun setting just past 4 pm (!), a sunset dinner is almost entirely out of the question.
Unless you have access to an outdoor patio complete with standing heaters, bundle up, and head out the door to your nearest park. You can still get some human interaction at a safe distance and stay in touch with friends that aren’t as comfortable with getting together indoors.
Pick a dry day, dress for the weather, and pick warm dishes and drinks to share.
Think warm chili, soup, or a hearty stew. And wash it down with apple cider, mulled wine, or Irish coffee. You could make it a potluck or have everyone bring their own food and plates/cutlery if you’re concerned about sharing and passing around items.
And if you’re looking for activities to play at your picnic, try some of these ideas:
- Snowshoeing and packing a picnic. You can build a small fire (if you’re handy like that) to keep warm!
- Using Basecamp conversation starter cards which are both easy to pack, and waterproof!
- Bocci (bring some hand sanitizer to spray the balls after use)
- What Do You Meme Game is a not so PG game that will make you laugh, hard.
Feed Your Brain (and Friends)
Usually, the holidays are the most social time of the year. It’s often the only time of year we get to see some of our family and get together with an entire company. And like I mentioned earlier, research shows we need social interaction to feel happy and be healthy.
So make staying in touch with friends a priority this holiday season. Instead of letting the pandemic get the best of us, try organizing one of these activities instead. They’ll be sure to keep you and your friends safe, healthy, and feeling loved. And, well-fed.
Which activity are you most excited to try this holiday season? Let me know in the comments below.