Let’s face it: quarantine has been a bit of a bummer. Summer festivities have looked a lot different this year, but that doesn’t mean that all chances for fun and joy are ruined. We’re doing our best to stay optimistic and bring some good vibes into our own homes, and with this in mind, we decided to consult an expert for some simple ways to lighten the mood and entertain yourself — even while we’re stuck in the house.
Creating fun at home isn’t as hard as you think says Joyce Downing Pickens, founder and interior designer at JDP interiors. “I grew up with my mom making even the smallest get together feel like an occasion,” she explains. “Something as simple as pouring a glass of wine and putting out a cheese platter made an ordinary night feel like something special. I have tried to take this concept with me in my own home, especially during COVID and even when finalizing an interiors job for a client.”
Pickens recommends focusing on little details and features when you’re trying to entertain yourself and make a night in feel like a night out. “Lighting a candle, leaving a bottle of champagne out in an ice bucket with two glasses for a toast, mood lighting, music; sometimes it’s just the little things that can set the tone. We can be in such a rush sometimes that we can forget that something small can make you feel like suddenly you’re dining in Paris, even if just in your own backyard.”
Below, we share some of her other tips for creating a good mood at home.
Make date night special.
Date night used to look like a fancy dinner at your favorite restaurant and a movie, but Pickens says staying in doesn’t have to make it any less exciting. “Choosing a meal that feels special is the first step!” she says. “Set the table with intention. Just add a bit of foraged greenery to the table, make a fun cocktail, put out a cheese platter, plan some mood music, and light a candle.” An extra bit of effort can really make it feel like a ‘date’ rather than just another meal.
Cook a fancy meal.
If you’re looking for a fancy dinner recipe that’s not too hard to whip up, Pickens shared one of her favorites with us. “I asked my mom to create a typed up cookbook of all the recipes I know and love from growing up. I think every family should do this! It’s such a fun thing to hand down,” she says. “One of my favorite (and easiest, if I may add) recipes is a baked Greek shrimp with tomatoes and feta casserole served with pearled couscous!” Doesn’t that sound heavenly? Check out the recipe below.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 3 large shallots, diced, about one cup
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- salt and pepper
- 1 box of Pomi tomatoes
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
- 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 4 oz. greek feta cheese
- 1/2 tsp. oregano
- 1 tbsp. roughly chopped mint
- Heat 4 tbsp. of olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often until softened about 5 to 8 minutes. Lower heat as necessary to keep from browning. Add Pomi tomatoes and chopped cherry tomatoes to the mixture.
- Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Return skillet to stove over medium heat. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring until mixture is juicy and tomatoes have softened, about 10 minutes. Transfer mixture into shallow glass baking dish.
- Put shrimp in a mixing bowl. Add 1 tbsp. olive oil, season shrimp with salt and pepper and stir to coat. Arrange shrimp over tomato mixture in one layer. Crumble cheese over the surface and sprinkle with oregano.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until tomatoes are bubbling and cheese has browned slightly. Remove from the oven and let the dish rest for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with mint and serve with prepared couscous.
Prepare a note-worthy cocktail.
Think you need a bartender to prepare a delicious and unique elixir? Think again. “There’s nothing like a fancy cocktail to make you feel festive,” says Pickens. “For the first time, I have had time to whip up fun cocktails in my own home, which I’m normally too busy to spend time on. It really helps you switch from day into night and turns your home into what feels like your fun, local cocktail bar.” Her favorite is a lychee martini. Enjoy this refreshing summer beverage at the dinner table or in the backyard, and you’re bound to feel like you’re out on the town.
- 1 shot Tito’s Vodka
- Canned Lychees
- Add ice cubes to a martini shaker, add one part lychee juice to 1 shot vodka, shake it all up and pour! Add a couple of lychees to an olive pick and you’re golden.
Set the mood with music.
The ambiance of your home is dictated largely by sound, and switching up the soundtrack can take you from a quiet, boring night to a jazzy, exciting one. Not only that, but you can use the right tunes to make mundane tasks into a party! “We have been really setting the tone in our house based on our mood,” Pickens says. “French music on rainy days, Buena Vista Social Club at dinner time, and Etta James while we cook! Do the same for those important events to set the mood — it really helps making staying at home feel like ‘getting out.'”
So while we’re all stuck at home and things might feel a little repetitive, take some extra time to incorporate small changes into your environment and routine. Little efforts can make all the difference to your mood and your life!