The Virus Diaries: Self-Sufficiency

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This week, I experienced something rather new: Having the house to myself for most of the day. It was very… quiet. But it was nice to have time truly alone, without having to worry that they’d be back in twenty minutes from a walk, and I was happy to have my family back in the house at the end of the day. It’s interesting to feel a bit like things are returning to “normal” while still recognizing that things are still completely different than they were in the Before Times.

One thing that I didn’t realize I was miss so terribly are all the little things that I associate with being out and about, running errands, or seeing friends, or just going out to eat. And the most prominent of these things is bubble tea.

Yes, bubble tea. Let me explain.

You see, I almost never actually go out for bubble tea. It’s something that we get when we’re out somewhere for another reason and end up seeing a bubble tea place and I decide I also want bubble tea. I got bubble tea when we went to see a movie a year and a half ago, or when we go to our favorite local ramen place, or when we met some friends for Korean BBQ. But I never just think “Oh, I want to go out just for some bubble tea.” Which meant that bubble tea was something that basically disappeared from my life once I stopped going out. There were no incidentals. Even though there is a bubble tea place near the grocery store, it’s not something I’m going to ask Dan to go out of his way to bring back on one of his biweekly shopping trips. Grocery shopping is all business now.

And at the same time, while we’ve relaxed our concerns about delivery food, I haven’t felt like it was worth the frivolous expenditure to get delivery bubble tea. Maybe if the place we get dinner from occasionally had my preferred drink (milk oolong, with brown sugar and tapioca pearls), it would have been different, but paying the service charge, delivery fee, and a tip for a $4 bubble tea just seemed too excessive, even for me.

So that meant I had to learn how to make it myself. Having done some research on the history of bubble tea (yup, future historical video will be forthcoming), I knew I wanted a Taiwanese-owned company, so I consulted my friend and Taiwanese-American extraordinaire, Jude Chao of Fifty Shades of Snails, who directed me to Teaspoons Co., a Canadian-based business that sells bubble tea necessities and kits. I decided to buy a la carte, instead of getting one of their inclusive kits, so I could get exactly what I wanted: tapioca pearls, roasted oolong tea, black sugar syrup, powdered creamer, and a reusable thick bubble tea straw (rose gold because I’m fancy).

It was surprisingly quick to get to me, given that it was coming from Canada, and Canada Post and USPS have spent most of the last six months in a grand competition to see who can be the slowest, but it arrived pretty quickly, and I was able to dive in. It comes with extensive instructions for preparing everything, with measurements down to the gram if you’re ridiculous like me and own a gram scale to measure what you make.

And it’s easy! The only tricky part is that you can’t save cooked tapioca pearls, so you have to make them when you know you want bubble tea, but they also take a little less than an hour to cook, so you basically have to decide you want boba and then wait an hour. But it’s mostly inactive time. I’ll probably do a video where I make it on camera so you can see how I do things, but the short answer is that I learned that the best way to get that lovely frothy, bubble-y tea is to shake the prepared tea, syrup, creamer powder, and ice in a mason jar until it gets cold, and then top it with your tapioca pearls, which promptly sink to the bottom.

Then, just slurp it up and pretend you’re out with friends and just happened to stop into a bubble tea place. It’s a little less spontaneous, but no less delicious.

NB: Nothing to disclose. If you are interested in collaborating with me, please see my contact and collaboration information.

The Virus Diaries: Let the Light In

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The days are bright and long, but the isolation is wearing on us. I find myself more and more alone in a room with the curtains drawn. Perhaps some part of me hopes that this is a dream, that if I let myself fall asleep I will awake back into the normal world. The world before we went into isolation. The world before we awoke en masse to the pain of the world.

But that is just it. We are awake. This is the world. It is messy and constantly changing, and life is an unexpected journey. You never know when you will end up taking that one step that leads you further from your comfortable home than ever before. But this is it. This is the journey.

I am grateful.

I am grateful for the connections I’ve forged over the years and that I have tempered and strengthened in the last few months. For friends, present and far away, who have made my isolation less isolating. For conversation and shared cups of tea, if only over a screen rather than a table.

And I am grateful for friends who remind me of the light in my life. Of the small sparks and glimmers that shine through. Of cups of tea providing a sanctuary during the day. Of stolen moments of conversation in the early mornings or late nights.

Thank you to all my friends, whether I’ve known you since childhood or have never met you in person, you have made the last few months more than bearable, but special and enjoyable.

* * *

This is a positive post, but I haven’t been feeling very positive lately. Perhaps some of you have noticed that my posting has become slightly erratic, though I do enjoy taking pictures and having tea, so I have tried to keep up with Instagram at least. But I feel less than inspired much of the time, and even less motivated to create what I am inspired to do. Blaming the isolation is easy to do, but I think my depression is starting to flare off and on, like a beacon warning me of something. Sharp rocks on the edges of my life.

Ironically, part of me feels even less isolated than ever since we started staying home. I’m conversing and connecting through social media in a way I’ve never done before, as though I’ve traded the superficial contacts of my normal day for a more complex connection that spans the globe. I have people checking on me besides my mother. And people to share in my joys.

But depression doesn’t care if you have friends. It doesn’t care if you have things you love to do. It takes them away and lies to you and tells you they don’t mean anything. But having my friends, virtual or otherwise, helps me shine a light on those lies, dissipating them with support and love.

So have a cup of tea and let the light shine through. And don’t listen to depression’s lies.

The Virus Diaries: Chaxi and Strolls

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I’m back with another update from social distancing. It’s been almost eight weeks of our new normal and we’re definitely starting to get into some new routines. I think we’ve almost completely figured out the whole getting food thing, grocery shopping once every other week and getting weekly contact-free deliveries of fresh vegetables, with the occasional contact-free delivery of beer and wine, plus picking up flour as we run out (we’re about to run out again). We’ve cooked everything at home since we started staying home since my health complications make me nervous about more contact with delivery people, but we do rely frequently on frozen prepared foods to keep it simple during the day when I’m working and Dan watches Elliot.

But I’ve baked a lot of bread and sweets and I’ve gotten back into the habit of making homemade bone broth when we eat a roasted chicken. We’re definitely moving towards all of our food being produced locally, simply because it’s becoming easier to rely on local foods in a lot of ways. The other week, I made a meal of local lamb chops, with a salad of local pea shoots, radishes, and mint, and pretzels made from local flour and local milk. And I’ve joined the ranks of sourdough bakers and turned out the most amazing boule this weekend after maturing my starter last week. I must say, using really good bread flour makes a huge difference. My first loaf was almost too light and fluffy and I’m considering adding rye flour to my next batch just to make it denser!

I’ve had less success in the growing-my-own-food arena. My two planters are still pretty sparse since the squirrels keep digging things up. The basil we planted seems to have died and the parsley looks unhappy, plus the kale is hanging on, but just barely. A few of my chard and collard seeds have sprouted, but I tried to start a new batch inside, and it looks like the soil might have mold on it. I’m not entirely sure what to do about that. I’m going to replace the basil with more scallions because we have tons of scallions in our vegetable box this week, and if I could have a perpetual source of scallions to make scallion pancakes, I’d probably be happy. I’m less concerned about vegetables anyway, since the Number 1 Sons vegetable deliveries have been such a success. In addition to just getting us more fresh veggies, it’s also introduced us to new things like ramps and sunchokes, and also made me realize that I actually do like salad, but only if it’s very fresh.

But beyond our physical needs, we’ve had to work on fulfilling our emotional needs as much as possible. Besides just feeling a bit lonely and isolated, we’re also dealing with varying levels of anxiety. For me, the two biggest things that help are spending some time outside and my tea practice. Well, over the last few weeks, I’ve been taking more time to make my tea practices really beautiful and meaningful, when I have the energy to do so. And this has been helped by Rie at Tea Curious, who has started her Cha Xi Challenge. Cha xi is something I first encountered listening to Ken Cohen’s Talking Tea podcast when he interviewed Stephane Erler of Tea Masters and it is something I play with on occasion, but the combination of new flowers blooming, lots of time inside, and Rie’s challenge has made me revisit it in a more focused way, albeit with my own flair.

So taking a few minutes to put together a beautiful and cohesive tea session, where teaware, tea, and accompaniments all have particular significance and harmony, helps bring brightness to some otherwise rather dim days. And it helps me bring some of the outside world into my house, which is particularly nice on days when I don’t get out.

Speaking of getting out, the other thing that has helped lately is that, in addition to my morning yoga practice, today I was able to get out for an early morning walk around the neighborhood. My neighbors have been pretty dismal at heeding social distancing guidelines, so, with my health issue, I haven’t felt very comfortable going beyond my own fenced yard, particularly later in the days when everyone is out. But this morning, I managed to get up early enough to go out just after sunrise and walk around for twenty minutes in the quiet of the morning. It’s been over a month since I’ve just gone for a walk, and it was unimaginably wonderful. And all my neighbors’ flowers are blooming, too!

So that has been the last couple of weeks here. We’re still keeping on keeping on and staying as safe as we can. How has life been treating everyone else?