While coronavirus threatens our lives and livelihoods, social distancing, isolation, and quarantine have become the new norm. Suddenly, our nation is filled with people asked to stay home and cut off most casual interactions with the world outside. In this environment, the art, hobbies, rituals, and entertainments we love have become ever more vital to our mental wellbeing. As a new, and (hopefully) limited new series on Lewton Bus, Isolation Nation aims to give our editors and contributors space to talk about the things that are giving them a little comfort in this isolated world, for your social distancing entertainment.
Dwayne Allen – Chef J. Kenji López-Alt
This is my first time being published at Lewton Bus so I thought I should quickly introduce myself. I am one of those people with a full-time job I am suddenly expected to perform from home, while simultaneously home-schooling a 1st grader. Since I have zero free time at the moment I decided why not take up writing?
The thing keeping me sane this week is one of my favorite food writer/chefs; J. Kenji López-Alt. He’s a James Beard Award-winning writer for Seriouseats.com and wrote a great cookbook called The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science. That title should give you a pretty good idea of the approach he takes to cooking. He’s a chef who loves to experiment not just in the sense of combining new ingredients, but also in the literal sense of “What’s the best way to end up with a juicy steak?”.
However, Kenji doesn’t just publish a list of steps you can take to replicate his recipes. He tells you why those steps work, and the failed steps he took along the way and why they failed, and reasons you might actually prefer to take those steps instead. But don’t think he’s just some egghead nerd who is going to explain why you need a protractor to boil an egg. His writing is very personable and he explains things so clearly, even I can understand. The obvious comparison is Alton Brown, but Kenji is Alton minus the self-righteousness.
In the past he has experimented with publishing video recipes on YouTube, but since being stuck at home he’s really come into his own averaging almost a new video every day just about whatever he is cooking for his family. These are totally no-frills. Just him and a GoPro in his home kitchen. Before this he mostly just made silent POV videos, but since the lockdown recently he’s begun talking through his recipes and it turns out he is very charismatic. Or maybe it is just his adorable dog Shabu who makes a cameo in almost every video and usually comes away with a snack.
For recommendations I would suggest starting with this Fried Rice video.
Or the video I watched last night while trying to fall asleep, Peanut and Chicken Noodle Salad
If you’d prefer something written down, he also wrote what I think is the best piece on food safety during the Coronavirus a few weeks ago.
Jared Eves – Red Dead Redemption 2
I really really like this game. I could pick some nits if I wanted or cared to, but at this moment I’m just glad I’ve got this game to jump into when I need a little break.
It’s almost meditative to climb into the saddle on my trusty steed (currently named Palpy) and go for an easy ride through the gorgeously designed and rendered countryside, occasionally stopping to help (or rob) a stranger, maybe hunt some animals, pick some herbs, or explore abandoned cabins in the woods (and drink the witches brew found boiling away inside).
Of course, there was also that time I was eaten by a bear, those times I was robbed by bandits and inbred hillbillies, and the time I accidentally rode my horse off a cliff. Not to mention the shoot outs and knife fights and brawls I’ve lost when picking fights with the wrong NPCs.
Weirdly, it is. There is an absolute order to even the most chaotic gunfight, and I guess I’ve found that reassuring lately. Or at the very least, it’s just nice to feel like I’ve gone somewhere familiar for a few hours a week.
Alfredo Marquez – Rachmaninov’s piano concerto No. 2
Talk to someone who doesn’t listen to classical music and Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto will not be one they can hum a melody from, but tell it is your fave to a classical musician and you might get called basic. In this regard it has the markings of a true classic, like Nirvana’s “Breed” is to grunge or like, i dunno, Deep Purple’s “Child in Time” is to metal?
The first movement contains those dramatic phrases by the middle that feel like righteous emotion, but the thing really enters the soul at the second movement, when the clarinet solo begins. The third one is cerebral. Like it’s trying to make sense of it all, and maybe Rachmaninov was trying to do just that. The concerto is dedicated to his psychiatrist, Dr. Nikolai Dahl, who helped him get over a depressive episode and back into writing music after the bad reception of his first symphony. So in this sense, the piece is charged with the spirit of healing. I like to think this piece is about helping each other escape despair, and it may do the trick for you as it does for me.
Here it is with Hélène Grimaud and here it is with Evgeny Kissin, and listening to several interpretations of the same piece is always a nice lateral way to go about appreciating this kind of stuff, especially over several mornings and evenings of being sheltered at home. It’s also a great mood to make yourself a drink and try to make sense of the mess we’re in.
Reinier van der Zouw – Persona 5 Royal
Persona 5 has long been one of my favorite video games – maybe even my actual all-time favorite video game, depending on my mood – so I was always going to be in the bag for the updated re-release Persona 5 Royal, that dropped at the end of March. I’d been looking forward to revisiting the game’s awesome, stylized world and its rollicking story ever since this version (that adds a lot of gameplay improvements and some additional story content) was announced about a year ago, but what I never could’ve seen coming is how strangely resonant the game would feel today.
Persona 5 is a JRPG at heart, so there’s all the heavily anime-inspired bonkers storytelling and over the top combat you’d expect. But the key selling point to the Persona franchise is that it also has life simulator elements. So, between venturing into people’s minds to murder the demons that manifest as projections of their desires in the world (the game’s lore gets… complicated), you can hang out with your friends on the streets of Tokyo, or take place in all manner of social activities, all of which give you bonuses that help you on the JRPG side of things.
This has always been a very fun and rewarding combination of flavors, but playing this game while essentially being stuck in your house adds a whole new layer to it. I haven’t seen most of my real life friends in weeks, but tonight during a lengthy P5R session I forced the diabolical gym teacher at my high school to confess his sins via beating his demonic inner self, then had ramen with my best friend, worked a part-time job at a bustling flower shop and watched a dvd of a (hilarious) in-universe X-Files knock-off with my magical talking cat before going to bed. So, you know, that’s something.
David Hoh – Foxy Shazam’s “Gonzo”
Sometimes a song you know, but maybe haven’t listened to in a while, will come back ‘round to you and open itself up more like the petals of a layered flower. The other night, after getting off a FaceTime chat with a friend, I lay on my bed, tired, and a slow, steady rhythm floated into my head. My brain either translated that into, or remembered that it was, the beat to the Foxy Shazam song, “In This Life,” the 8th track off their 5th album, Gonzo.
I hadn’t listened to Gonzo in quite some time, and “In This Life” wormed its way into my head and just fit like a glass slipper for the moment I was having. So I’ve been listening to the album this week. And I’m about it: I love revisiting music and deepening my relationship to an album. And I am proud of my relationship to Gonzo: I’d been a fan of the band for about four years (I think their 2010 self-titled album is a masterpiece,1 and it remains one of my favorite albums of all time) when it was released in April of 2014, which was right before I went on a road trip to Nebraska with my mom and grandmother. So I loaded it fresh on my iPod and listened to it many times on that interstate trip.
It sounded very different from their prior albums, as the band recorded it all at the same time in the same room, vocals and instruments. It’s stripped-down and off-label; they released it independently, for free, on Bandcamp. As a fairly nascent “music listener,” whatever that means, I found it to be an acquired taste: slightly put off at first… but I grew to love it. It’s so free, and raw, not only in production, but emotionally. It’s like an exposed nerve. An album about self-examination that also implores you, the listener, to ask yourself who you are. When this hit, I had just graduated college, and it became a good companion piece for entering adulthood, much in the way that Foxy Shazam (2010) gave my last year in high school some formative anthems. Gonzo is, to me, about growing up. Give it a spin, do some self-reflection, and rock out a little. It’s free to own, for gosh sakes!
Ryan Roch – The Gourds
Just music. That’s how I’m dealing. I’m not at liberty to do much else these days, but work and sleep and try not to drink all the bourbon. So I’ve got time to dig back through the vinyls and the old cds and the memories of bands that helped create the person I am today. I truly believe the music playing through the big parts of your life, is your life. It’s the sense-memory that ties you to the specific times in your life where you became a version closer to what you are now.
The Gourds have been one of the most important groups that fit this description. The Gourds were a big part of the soundtrack of me leaving everything I’d ever known (Desert. Petroleum. Bitterness. Sun-bleached bones and scrub), and setting out to the Texas Hill Country to discover the solitary, untethered freedom to decide (Grass. Summer rain. Cookouts in No-Man’s-Land) exactly what I needed from the life I’d been handed. Their Bluegrass-influenced mix of Country, Soul, and Rock-Gospel, rife with lit-references and paean to culinary delight, was the bridge from the disaffected and angry desert metalhead to the free-wheeling, river-floating ne’er-do-well, who needed to get his shit together, but at least wasn’t such a dick about it.
Happenstance in a quarantine reminded me it’d been a minute since I caught up with them Gourds, and sent me down a rabbit hole that honestly changed my entire mood today, pulling me back to a sense of open road, dance-hall doings, and beer-and-assorted-fueled river floats of summers deep in history. That mix of a melancholy for the left-behind, hazy fumes of booze and cigarettes while you spin around the sawdust, and the freedom to be both well-read and half in the bag at all times. And because the key joy of this group was always their absolutely electric live shows, you can have one more of that song we started with.
That’s it for this week’s edition! We hope you enjoyed it and found some new direction to point that endlessly turning cranium of yours. We also hope you’ll check back as we publish new pieces in this regular column, and give some inspiration back to us in the comments!
Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay happy.