Just this afternoon, the governor of Illinois, my home state, announced that the shelter in place order that was originally set to expire next Thursday has been extended for another month. As a friend texted right after the news came out, “I am both fine with this and extremely sad?” Because, yeah, staying inside has flattened the curve a lot and kept us safer. On the other hand... it’s spring. The world is turning into a beautiful place again. And I won’t be able to see any of it besides my immediate neighborhood. It also means another month of vigilance on the sidewalks and in the grocery store and not being able to talk to anyone besides my partner from a distance closer than six feet.
But last night, I came across this essay by Tejal Rao in The New York Times about the Chinese YouTube and Weibo star Li Ziqi. Li lives on a farm in a remote area of Sichuan province with her grandmother. In her videos, she wordlessly demonstrates different farm activities (planting! harvesting! butchering! pickling!) and cooks sumptuous-looking meals in her traditional-style kitchen while soothing instrumental music plays in the background. This afternoon, after the extension of the stay at home order, I sat down and watched “The Life Of Garlic,” which Li posted last week.
It starts with Li hoeing her garden and planting the garlic cloves. Shoots sprout up through the soil. There is green garlic. There are scapes. There are mature bulbs, which Li and her grandmother braid together for storage. There are meals! There is B-roll of mist-covered mountains. All is peaceful, except when Li gets going with the cleaver. She is poised and precise and never breaks a sweat. This is homesteading, Chinese-style, at its most idealized. And Rao is right: it is incredibly soothing to watch this particular combination of competence and grace. Now I want to go live on a remote Chinese farm and cook with a sieve and a steamer!
(I would probably injure myself and die a horrible and lonely death. Or perhaps end up like a scene from The Egg And I, Betty MacDonald’s memoir of going back to the land with her husband in the late 1920s to run a chicken ranch. It was praised in the ’50s, when it was published, as a work of humor, but I gave it up after about 75 pages because it was one of the most depressing books I have ever read. I much prefer MacDonald’s Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series.)
Last week, Danny Palumbo wrote about being soothed and educated by Gordon Ramsay videos. What videos or podcasts or books (food-related or otherwise) have been helping you get through these extremely strange times?