Not that time means anything these days, but April happened. A full month lived in quarantine. Every day feels the exact same (wake up, wash, moisturize, wash, moisturize, repeat until bedtime). They go long, and yet, perhaps because they all blend in together, feel like it went by decently quickly. Maybe it’s because we keep thinking about the past (and these days… a little less about the future). But a the turn of a new month does bring a little sense of optimism. We’ll see how long this lasts.
It seems like everyone and their mother is coming out with some kind of “corona package” whether that’s a podcast or a newsletter or a virtual event series. To be honest, I’d rather just… not even acknowledge our predicament. Which is impossible, working in media, where that’s pretty much all we’re thinking about day in and day out. But sometimes it is nice to have a cultural care package. Or at least some capsule of culture during this current reality. So here’s my cultural care package to myself.
For the past few years (well… now that I think of it, ever since the 2016 elections ha), I’ve been a loyal podcast person. I built them into my routine. I only felt productive in my day once I got through a couple podcasts. I created a sanctuary in my car on long commutes, checking in with the world, catching up on culture with my favorite podcast hosts. I was totally guilty of having podcasts basically become my personality, my opinions, doling out hot takes in conversation barely repackaged from whatever I listened to on the way over. That being said, I did still genuinely gain a lot of inspiration and knowledge from these aural stories.
These days, I’ve given myself a break from podcasts. Most of the ones I would regularly keep up with were news or politics related, and sometimes it’s just healthier (even though I feel a little guilty) to crawl into a media void. Even the non-news podcasts seem to be COVID-adjacent these days. After all, with weekly or daily programming, one has to acknowledge our current reality as they record these from home.
However, I have been able to find some palatable podcasts here and there.
The David Chang Podcast – Honoring Floyd Episode
It’s hard to think about COVID, but sometimes it helps to process everything happening with thought leaders that are also struggling to understand and cope. This episode of the David Chang podcast did that for me. It feels raw, like they’re figuring out as they go, something so vulnerable and relatable that it helps in small doses. It’s refreshing to have random perspectives that somehow make sense in the current reality, from shitting on Instant Pots to being moved to tears by scallions and potatoes with sugar. It’s interesting to think in the context of parents, grandparents, the generations that led up to now, that shape what is meaningful to each and every one of us.
The Other Latif
On a very different genre of podcasts, I listened to the entirety of The Other Latif, a longform series by Radiolab that provided an interesting escape. Even though it was published in the time of COVID, it was a product of many years before. In a way, it was a complete escape into a previous America, a different reality. Where we thought about problems at a different scale. Where we tried to understand, and had the luxury of traveling to investigate. It made me appreciate investigative journalism. It made me miss journalism. And most of all, it made me wonder what the future looks like for journalism.
Besides a lot of Terrace House and The Crown (note how both are soothingly boring, just one on the reality TV end of the spectrum and the other on the cinematic drama end of the spectrum), the one main cultural consumption I consciously tuned into this month was Tiger Tail, a new film by Alan Yang that came out on Netflix early in the month.
No spoilers here, just some conflicting opinions.
You see, I always struggle whenever there is a movie or show or anything that comes out that I feel obligated to support because I happen to be a part of the community. I hate feeling like I’m forced to like something, and I often just have a lot of issues with the way things are being presented. I guess we have less to choose from, because let’s be real, a lot of pop and indie culture is problematic, but when it hits that close to home, you can’t help but feel protective.
In the David Chang podcast interview with Alan Yang (which I listened to after watching the movie), he actually talks about how the community is the one that will be most critical. And he actually brought up my one biggest qualm about the movie, the accents (which, for the record, are pretty messed up). Granted, sure, it’s difficult to cast for a film with a very limited set of Asian American actors who speak Chinese. But by casting people with… glaringly non-Taiwanese accents, especially when the film features Taiwanese actors to play the younger versions of main characters, it’s a jarring experience for the albeit limited segment of the audience who can understand it. It’s basically if you casted a British guy in a part for a rural Alabama farmer, and then just let him play the part with a British accent. But at the same time, it’s kind of incredible to even be able to complain about accents in a trilingual movie that I can understand in full. Like, I am appreciative of the fact that a Taiwanese, Mandarin and English movie exists on a mainstream platform.
But anyways, I’m conflicted because accents aside, the story felt like it lacked a lot of development (why was the movie so short, huh Netflix??), and left me missing more plot. I don’t mind films that don’t really have a plot or story, to be honest, and I don’t expect one film to tell the immigration story in a thoughtful and realistic way, but going back and watching the trailer, I kind of liked the trailer more.
I could go on, but I won’t. The film is visually quite beautiful. Artistic. It hit the right tone for a lot of the Asian American community (who lets be real, often blindly accepts but we’ll save that for another day), and missed the mark for the Taiwanese community. What can you do? Either way, it’s coming out in an interesting time for Taiwan in the global context, and at least helps put it on the map, and show people a picture of Taiwan that isn’t just about food.
So I’ve officially moved on from my ordering in frenzy to a cooking frenzy (honestly just bc it takes up more of my empty waking hours). I haven’t quite gotten into the breadmaking part of quarantine (trust me, we’re getting there, tune back in next month once I find yeast). But I have given into some corona cooking trends.
Not gonna lie, it’s a fun thing to make even though I don’t actually appreciate the taste (I prefer my coffee without sugar). Who doesn’t like whipping things? It was a little weird to me though, as someone who loves whipped cream, to see something that looks like it would taste like whipped cream but doesn’t. It was also interesting to see how it moved through the internet. It definitely took over Asian American internet long before it hit the western internet (where it become the “tiktok coffee” – bet the Koreans are mad about that) and swept through Asian internet way back when. Also funny because dalgona in Korea is more of a sugar cookie-ish type of snack, but is now associated purely with whipped instant coffee. Would I make it again? Maybe, just because I have instant coffee. But until then, will continue to drink my coffee straight.
I mean, the stew has been internet famous for a couple years now, but I’m only just now making it for the first time. True to my I-hate-following-directions tendencies, I took creative liberty with the recipe and added in miso for a little extra umami. I also halved the recipe bc let’s be real, I have all the time in the world to cook meals from scratch every day and don’t need to freeze 4 servings ahead. The verdict: on a rainy day stuck at home, it definitely hits the spot.
With all the at home lunches, I’ve been making a lot of grain bowls. After all, this is what I’d usually order out, and with so much time, why not spend it roasting small amounts of vegetables and toasting nuts and documenting the journey.
BREAKFAST DONE RIGHT
Probably what I’ll miss most about working from home is the ability to make a full breakfast while muted on a morning Zoom. It started off with just nicely plated yogurt and fruit plates (with my favorite Purely Elizabeth granola). After impulse-buying a loaf of bread from Butcher’s Daughter, I started going off the deep end with fresh baked French-ish toast thing. By the end of the month I was full on in the world of Spanish-ish tortillas….frittata situation. We’re all or nothing here.
TURMERIC FRIED RICE
One of the last meals I had before leaving LA was at Bowery Bungalow. There, they had a turmeric fried rice with chickpeas, which inspired me to make my own version. Not quite the same, but still pretty good to pull something together using pantry ingredients. Am I embarrassed of just how many meals I ate this month that involved some version of this? Only slightly.
Random Desserts I Do Not Deserve (TM)
Because when you’re bored and feeling snacky (and have no snacks in the house because you naively thought that would keep you from snacking), why not whip up a no-recipe chocolate cake (seriously had no idea how it would turn out, just added random amounts of ingredients until it looked a cake batter consistency), brew a fresh pot of coffee and live life the right way on that 3pm Zoom?
These days, it’s the little things that get me through the day.
I discovered last summer, while I was in Chicago, that Philz coffee shops have a very distinct smell. And that smell is something that feels so familiar to me, that it actually was startlingly comforting. It brought back nostalgia from college years, driving out to Santa Monica during finals week to treat ourselves to mint mojitos. Philz has over the years been a reliable stop for me, and one that I miss dearly in New York. Lucky me, they have free shipping right now so I was able to stock up on some of my favorites. Lately, I’ve been more drawn to dark roasts (I used to be an adamant light roast person…).
I am not one to usually make coffee every day. After all, I love going to coffee shops, especially sneaking out mid-workday. But being at home means I’m saving the $4-6 I’d spend on coffee and brewing my own batch (french press, sadly I left my Chemex in California) every morning. I do appreciate the ritual though, going through the motions of measuring out the beans, grinding them and heating up the kettle became a morning routine I’d look forward to. It also meant I went through an entire 1lb bag of coffee by myself in a matter of 3 weeks. Which is concerning. But alas, what can we do.
Taiwanese High Mountain Oolong Tea
As much as I love coffee, I am at heart a tea person. True to my heritage, I drink it like water from morning to night. And nothing brings me more comfort than high quality oolong tea. Maybe it’s because it’s harder to find outside of Asia, less popular than black tea or green tea or herbal teas. The aroma of oolong teas just smells like home to me, and if I can brew myself a cup of comfort every day, you bet I will be. After going through most of my flavored teas, I finally let myself order more tea. I went all out and ordered 3 different kinds of Taiwanese oolong teas from this random but somehow endearing company called Beautiful Taiwan Tea. Needless to say, it hit the spot and as I haven’t gotten around to ordering a tea pot yet, I’ve been appreciating the tea leaves unfurling right there in my cup.
I have been trying to consciously upgrade my lifestyle in little ways. Purchasing something a little nicer here and there. One of these luxuries was a Grown Alchemist Body Wash. I fell in love with the brand last year when I was staying at the Eaton DC. After a long day of sitting on the couch staring at multiple screens, it’s nice to unwind with some aromatherapy.
Armchair Traveling, A Quarantine Project
Speaking of comforts, I decided if I can’t go where I want to go, be where I want to be, I might as well do the closest thing and pretend, virtually, to be visiting my favorite places. I’ve been wanting to do a revamped Taiwan Guide for a while now and I figured, what better quarantine project than this? So tomorrow (May 1) marks the official launch of Taiwan Guide. In the beta phase it’ll be living on Instagram, but eventually we’ll circle back. Baby steps. See you in May.