The Quarantine Diaries, Week Two

Saturday 21 – Friday 27 March

Watching:

Had a Mike Nichols double-bill at the weekend in the form of The Birdcage (hilarious) and Primary Colours (gripping, poignant), and plan to follow-up with an Elaine May double-bill in the form of The Heartbreak Kid and A New Leaf soon.

Blasted through Season Three of The Americans. Some really dark and grisly moments in this one, and it was particularly good at exploring the trauma that comes with being a spy. It’s not all sex and gadgets.

SXSW have made all their short films available to watch and I’ve taken the opportunity to go to town. Some highlights below…

No Crying at the Dinner Table, directed by Carol Nguyen (doc); a painful, poignant, almost uncomfortably intimate exploration of family and memory, as Carol asks her parents to recall their experiences of growing up in Vietnam and her sister’s experience of being raised by them. They cover guilt, regret, sadness and of course, there is crying at the dinner table, but all the emotional tumult there is a stillness and composure that is really beautiful to watch.

Blocks, directed by Bridget Moloney (narrative); a surreal, existential comedy/polemic about a young mother who starts vomiting lego blocks.

Still Wylde, directed by Ingrid Haas (narrative); a charming, funny, sunny (until it suddenly gets very real and very sad) short about an on-off again couple reluctantly deciding to have a baby (until it doesn’t go to plan). Some great visual flourishes and a really candid script elevate this into quite the gut-punch of a film.

Reading:

I’ve started reading The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace Wells which is as bleak as every review forewarned. I always task myself with reading these types of books, because it is urgent and vital that we stay informed, but trying to process all the figures and analogies and general notion of the Earth’s combustion isn’t easy. So I’m doing this in lots of little sips. But this passage has already left an imprint:

The climate system that raised us, and raised everything we now know as human culture and civilisation, is now, like a parent, dead. And the climate system we have been observing for the last several years, is not our bleak future in preview. It would be more precise to say that is is a product of our recent climate past, already passing behind us in a dustbin of environmental nostalgia. There is no longer any such thing as a natural disaster.

I’ve also been doing lots of thinking about how we should be reporting about the climate crisis in the same way as coronavirus. In my opinion, the pressure to wash your hands and stay home for the greater good of everyone should be the pressure you feel to live a plant-based lifestyle, or at least be making some kind of substantial change to your diet / routine / consumption that has the power to reduce carbon emissions. Emily Atkin’s HEATED newsletter sent out a particularly good edition that touches on how powerful a collective mindset that influences individual action can be, and how that might apply to our response to the climate crisis moving forward.

Ruby Tandoh’s zine on mental wellbeing, which she uploaded for people to read for free. I particularly enjoyed Anna Lenkiewicz’s essay on how culture has stigmatised the word ‘crazy’ and tended to direct that word towards women.

Plus Jia Tolentino interviews Barbara Ehrenreich on her raging feminism, her distrust of solidarity, craving connectedness, narcissism and coronavirus. Also Jia Tolentino on how writing compares to cooking pasta for Bon Appetit. I liked this:

It is the self-perpetuating solace of discovering, over and over, that you don’t need much—you hardly need any equipment, you can get it done in strange places—to be satisfied, or even, occasionally, thrilled.

Of course, the same goes for making and eating pasta.

Listening to:

In a bid to really immerse myself in the above reading material, I also listened to the Longform podcast episode with David Wallace Wells, who talks less about the content and the stats (thank god) and more about how he came to write the book and what the reception has been like.

This beautiful, meandering conversation between poet Mary Oliver and Krista Tippett about listening to the world, for On Being. It’s a spiritually, philosophically-inclined podcast and they seem to be resurfacing some of their archival episodes, including interviews with Rebecca Solnit and Ezra Klein that I plan to check out.

Grace by Jeff Buckley. God I love this album. Its shiver-inducing but feels like a blanket all at the same time. Lilac Wine is probably one of my favourite songs in the world. There’s also something really validating and certifying about returning to an album you’ve consecrated and finding that it still does something to you. I go to a different place when I listen to this music. So its ideal when you’re on day fourteen of being in your bedroom.

The episode of Table Manners with Riz Ahmed, who seems intense! Like one of those worldly, sage people who have crammed so many experiences into their life that when you sit them down to talk about it, it can be a bit overwhelming. But I liked his explanations of the Pakistani food he loves to eat, and how he grew up thinking pitta bread was Pakistani and not Greek because it was deemed a better alternative than supermarket-bought naan.

Doing:

Trying not to fall into a pit of despair. Making a list of all the films I want to to watch during quarantine. Worrying that I won’t get through them all and will have scuppered my chances of supreme cinematic literacy. Walking around the Woodberry and Watlhamstow Wetlands and listening to the ample birdsong and the breeze. Making lots of tasty food (see below). Definitely eating more calories than I’m burning and trying not to think too much about that. You need layers for quarantine like hibernation right?

Cooking:

Potato curry

Potato curry! I diced up three jacket potatoes I had in the cupboard and popped them in the slow cooker with a tin of tomatoes, a tin of coconut milk. Plus some frozen peas, some leftover green pepper and chopped coriander. I added in chilli, turmeric, fresh ginger, paprika, cumin and salt. Easy peasy and delicious.

This week I also made vegan banana bread with a made-up recipe from my head and it turned out rather brilliantly, but because I didn’t write any of the measurements down it’s a gamble as to whether that will ever happen again. If you have a sweet-tooth I would recommend adding in some dates or brown sugar, because this was fairly unsweet.

  • four browned bananas, blended with a dash of oat milk
  • about 75g of coconut flour
  • a cup of maple syrup
  • a generous dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg
  • fresh ginger
  • a tablespoon of cocoa powder
  • a teaspoon of baking powder

And on Sunday I did a roast dinner for one, which was equal parts elegant and a little bit sad. Food that good deserves to be seen and shared. I roasted my potatoes with some colourful chantenay carrots and had lots of purple sprouting broccoli. But the pièce de résistance was this marvellous nut roast, again a cupboard-fuelled concoction. I literally whacked all the ingredients in a big pot and 100ml of vegetable stock and hot water and let it simmer for about an hour, until it was soft. Then blitzed it up with a little bit of flour and popped it into a loaf tin and cooked for another 30-45 mins.

In future I would probably add a more diverse array of nuts, and I’ve seen recipes that add nut butters which I definitely wouldn’t be averse to but the apricots added a really nice bit of sweetness, so can recommend!

  • 3 chopped celery sticks
  • 2 chopped carrots
  • 250g cashew nuts
  • chopped coriander & parsley
  • 1 chopped beetroot
  • a handful of dried apricots
  • salt and pepper
  • a sprinkle of chilli flakes

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