What are we making for dinner?


It’s relatively boring question I’ve been asking my boyfriend almost every night for the past four months. Making meals together has been a big part of our relationship, but after so many weeks of staying at home, making dinner doesn’t feel as special as it did when we first fell in love over squash blossom pizza and homemade pasta.


We went into the quarantine as a couple, and we're hoping to make it through this as one. Like many partners weathering a pandemic together, that means we’ve had to get serious about date night.


Early on in the pandemic, that meant going on walks together in the neighborhood or setting up a mosquito net and setting up a mattress outside to sleep under the stars, but as the weeks rolled on, we had to get more intentional about it.


When Ley Line, one of my partner Frank’s favorite bands, announced a livestream concert in May, he bought us tickets and invited me to join him, using email to formally ask me even though I was sitting in the next room.


On the night of the show, we got dressed up. I put on makeup, earrings and shoes that weren’t flip flops. He donned a jacket and dress shoes and opened a bottle of rosé. We cleared out a small area so we could dance along to the performance.


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Then it was my turn. During the few weeks that Austin’s city pools were open, I booked two tickets so we could swim laps, one of our favorite activities to do before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the city’s recreation facilities. An hour of quietly swimming in our own lanes followed by eating takeout burgers from a trailer while sitting on a curb in a parking lot created a Saturday night that felt as special as any we’d had, before or after the quarantine.


Now with cases of COVID-19 surging across the state, we’ve been staying home more than ever, which means every day is starting to feel like a photocopy of the one before. But we’re getting good at planning something special, even if it’s a small something special, which is making a huge difference in our relationship.


No matter if you’re building a partnership with someone else or finding new ways to love yourself, here are a few ideas for setting up a date night while staying at home.


Find a cheese pairing class: Antonelli’s Cheese Shop and Rebel Cheese are two local shops that host regular virtual pairings to guide customers through a flight of cheeses that you can pick up from each store. Rebel specializes in vegan cheese and charcuterie, and Antonelli’s offers cheese pairings classes, including some with non-alcoholic beverages.


Book a chocolate tasting: Krystal Craig, co-owner of Intero, is hosting guided chocolate tasting classes, which include a box of chocolates you can pick up from the restaurant. Intero is also hosting virtual cocktail classes that might be just what you and bae need to break out of the gin and tonic routine.


Splurge on a box of oysters: For our anniversary in May, Frank ordered a box of East Coast oysters from Island Creek Oysters in Massachusetts and had a couple of bottles of bubbly delivered through Total Wine. We sat on the back porch and ate more oysters than we’d ever had in one sitting for the same cost as a sit-down dinner at a nice restaurant. There are at least half a dozen oyster purveyors in the U.S. who will ship bivalves overnight.


Experience your favorite restaurant in a new way: I have loved every restaurant meal kit I’ve tried during this pandemic, including Buenos Aires Cafe’s empanadas, Comedor tacos from Assembly Kitchen and ceviche from Maribel Rivero, formerly of Yuyo. Page Pressley’s Foxtail Supper Club is perhaps the most elaborate of all the meal kits on the market, and it would be a great surprise for a foodie who is missing the flavors of fine dining.


Sip and learn: Many local wineries and distilleries are hosting virtual tastings that mimic the experience of their tasting rooms. William Chris Vineyard, Brennan Vineyards, Becker Vineyards and the Austin-based Wine for the People have all been hosting virtual tastings this year. Ramen Tatsu-Ya hosted its first sake tasting on Saturday night.


Host a house concert: Many bands and musicians are hosting virtual shows, some of which are free on social media and some require booking a ticket ahead of time. Take a little time to find a band you love or have been wanting to see and find out when they are playing next. Mark it on your calendar and build an evening around the show. If you have a projector, set it up so you can display the video on a larger screen or connect your speakers so you can turn up the music. When Lyle Lovett and Shawn Colvin hosted a recent livestream, we rolled up the carpet, put on our boots and turned it into a night of dancing in the living room.


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Take a dance lesson (or a yoga class): Corazon Latino Dance Studio, Esquina Tango and Dance Austin are all hosting virtual classes and lessons for people of all dance levels, and Austin Uptown Dance has a progressive four-week course that you can take from home and have something to look forward to each week. Nearly every yoga studio in the city also is offering virtual classes, which can be a healthy way to reconnect with yourself or a partner.


Laugh it up: Netflix and Comedy Central are dropping comedy specials left and right during the quarantine, and some small comedy clubs are also hosting livestreams. You might already be watching comedians on your small screen, so maybe make it special by setting up a little table with different chairs in front of the TV so you can feel like you’re in a club. Austin’s Hideout Theatre has multiple improv shows a week you can find at hideouttheatre.com.


Get creative: Many art studios, including Austin Creative Art Center and Art Garage Austin, are hosting virtual classes, some of which include kits with the materials needed to, say, paint a masterpiece or sculpt a bowl. Painting with a Twist and Art By the Glass both offer online classes that include canvas and paints that customers can have delivered or pick up from the studio.


Change up the routine: No matter what you (or you and your partner) like to do for fun, you can easily transform it into a date, just by simply putting it on the calendar or wearing an outfit and shoes you haven’t worn in a while. If you’re staying at home or keeping a secure quarantine bubble, it’s more important than ever to be intentional with how you spend your time. It’s all to easy to fall into a rut with each day running into the next, so carve out a new routine for showing appreciation for the other person and enjoying your time together. If that meant avoiding them all day so you can have a regular ol’ night together, you might be surprised how much the temporary space apart, even under the same roof, will bring you closer.