Eat, Play, Read

Vietnam, April 2010.
Crossing on train track from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, Vietnam, April 2010. See a larger image.
(This article has been cross-posted to simongriffee.com.)

Lucky enough to have relatively good health, a roof, a kitchen, a computer, and an internet connection? If so, here are some things that could help keep your spirits up during a quarantine caused by a virus pandemic.

Rice & Beans or Lentils With a Side of Vegetables

Beans take some planning ahead as you need to soak them for some hours before cooking them. If you use lentils, however, you can skip the soaking and planning ahead. Both taste good, contain lots of protein, and will give you plenty of gas to keep fellow passengers away from you should you need to use the metro (if you prefer less gas, try pasta).

  1. Soak 1 cup of beans in 4 cups of water for around 5 hours (skip this if using lentils).
  2. Boil beans or lentils in the same amount of water they soaked in for an hour or so for beans, 20–30 minutes for lentils.
  3. In a deep pan with some olive oil or any other vegetable oil in it, sauté some onion until it begins turning brown, then add whatever you like, like nothing at all, or carrots and celery, a jalapeño if you want it spicy, tomato if available, maybe a tea spoon of ground cumin, one of oregano, and maybe one of chilli powder.
  4. Pour the beans with the water they were boiling in into the deep pan with the onions and friends, and mix everything, then turn the heat to low.
  5. Periodically stir and taste beans for tenderness. The longer you cook the beans, the tastier they will get. Black or brown beans usually take 1 to 2 hours to cook. Lentils 30 minutes to 1 hour. If the water is getting low, add more, half a cup at a time, so the level of beans or lentils reaches at least half way up the pan. Tip: Only add salt when the beans are tender yet firm — “al dente”, and almost ready. If you add salt too early, the bean shells become tougher.

Rice, especially white basmati or jasmine, is a tasty companion to beans. For brown rice, follow the same instructions as below, but add 1.5 to 2 cups of water in step 4.

  1. Rinse 1 cup of white basmati or jasmine rice well in a bowl of water or under the tap, rubbing rice with your fingers so a milky water runs off the rice, drain the water using a thin metal colander.
  2. Peel then finely mince 1 clove of garlic and put it in a deepish pan with a glug or two of olive oil, turn heat on medium and wait until the garlic starts sizzling (don’t let it turn brown i.e. don’t burn the garlic.)
  3. Put the cup of rice in the pan, mix it with the garlic and olive oil and cook it for 30 seconds or so while stirring continuously.
  4. Put 1 cup of cold water in the pan and 1 teaspoon of salt and mix the rice and the water around the pan so none is sticking to the bottom.
  5. When the water begins to boil, turn the heat to very low and put a lid on the pan. Set a timer to 20 minutes.
  6. Taste if rice is ready (not mushy and not too hard — al dente), and if it is, turn heat off, remove lid, and, optionally, put a cloth towel over the pan (remembering to have turned the heat off so you don’t set fire to your apartment and upset or kill all your neighbors), put the lid back on, and let it sit for 5 mins.
  7. Enjoy with beans, lentils, etc! My favorite part is the burned rice bits on the bottom of the pan (you may need to let them cook longer for these to appear).

Buy some vegetables, whatever is in season, especially if you are lucky enough to have a farmers market nearby. Kale is good. So are dandelion greens, which often grow like a weed. Wash and chop up your veggies, sauté in olive oil with garlic, then add some salt, a little water and cover the pan for a while. Check and move it around every 5 minutes until it is tender enough for you to eat as a nice accompaniment to your rice and beans.

This meal has a rewarding taste, feeds around 4 people, keeps well, and is even more delicious when re-heated the following day. You can usually buy a sack of rice and a sack of beans for relatively little money.

Division, Redemption, & Rogue Characters

Play cooperatively with your friends and family to catch up with them and stay in touch remotely by visiting hand-crafted digital worlds together. Headphones with microphones are recommended, as well as the free voice over internet protocol (VOIP) application that also runs in your web browser called Discord, to easily chat with many people at once both in and out of games. All of the following can also be played alone, if you prefer.

A screenshot of Red Dead Redemption 2 Online. Click to see the image in a larger size.

Red Dead Redemption 2, set a few years before the first machine protagonist of Rockstar’s other somewhat-famous game, lets you roam the North American wilderness and witness the encroaching industrial machine, either as the single-player story’s gruff, big-hearted protagonist, or as your own custom avatar, alone or together with your friends. ¶ A 75-year old person learned to play it and loved it, and maybe you should, too, to take your mind off your worries, for a while. ¶ There are not many games like this one that are also multiplayer, but you might try the wonderful single-player open world Zelda: Breath of The Wild as the closest thing to this in scope and detail, though you would need a Nintendo console, or to know your way around PC emulators.


A screenshot of The Division 2 Online. Click to see the image in a larger size.

The Division 2 and its Warlords of New York expansion has you vaulting over derelict bins and automobiles like a younger, musclier version of yourself while admiring the wildlife taking back urban spaces and pouring your anger at digital-hoodlums-with-guns in post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. and New York City, all to help rebuild a collapsed society after a virus outbreak and a hurricane. ¶ The Rock Paper Shotgun review by the grand Caldwell will make you laugh out loud, which is, along with playing good, silly action games, good in times like these. ¶ Other multiplayer “cover shooters” similar to The Division 2: The Division 1, Remnant: From The Ashes, Gears.


A screenshot of a Brogue. Click to see the image in a larger size.

Brogue has an unfortunate name as it has nothing to do with “bros.” It is really quite lovely and generates random dungeons made of ascii text that you explore with a fantasy ampersand character in a tranquil, turn-based manner, where the action happens a touch of a keyboard key at a time. ¶ Monsters are scary letters of the alphabet, and punctuation marks are mysterious items like staffs and potions, that you can wield, throw, read, quaff, pray to, or just stuff in your inventory—the bottomless magic backpack of all video games. ¶ Available for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux, it is free, and even runs on a computer that costs less than $30, unlike the other two “AAA Studio” games above, which require a PC or a video game console such as an X-Box or a Playstation. ¶ Other games in the same “Rogue-like” genre: Streets of Rogue (with online cooperative play, also available for Mac, Windows and Nintendo Switch), Noita, Dead Cells (perhaps the only game here that is also available for Android and iOS), Spelunky, Rim World, Nethack.

Women, Men, & Humanity

Briefly, three good books (and one good film):

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Feel the inner and outer lives of four sisters in the beginning of democracy in the household, shortly after the United States’ Civil War. Also warmly recommended: The film of the same title by Greta Gerwig.
  • Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse. See Medieval Germany and human nature in good and bad times through the eyes of a wondering young man.
  • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. A concise, beautifully-written history of humankind.

With kind regards, and best wishes to you, fellow humans, especially to the scientists, various doctors, nurses and others fighting the disease, to the people who are staying on to keep the infrastructure that runs society going, and to all those who are not doing so well at the moment.

Simon

PS: For good information about this pandemic crisis, see here (we need to flatten the curve, quickly), and here:

Think of the health care system capacity as a subway car that can only hold so many people at once. During rush hour, that capacity is not enough to handle the demand, so people must wait on the platform for their turn to ride. Staggering work hours diminishes the rush hour and increases the likelihood that you will get on the train and maybe even get a seat. Avoiding a surge of coronavirus cases can ensure that anyone who needs care will find it at the hospital.

PPS: Consider taking vitamin D supplements regularly for a while if you don’t get sunlight every day. In summary, for people in high latitudes or those who spend a lot of time inside, 25 mcg (1000 iu) per day of vitamin D results in ~70% less respiratory infections.

PPPS: Go for a walk outside, if you can. ¶ Wash your hands, especially after going outside and touching things in public spaces. ¶ Practice being aware of touching your face and try to make it a habit not to do it. ¶ Try spending as little time as possible in places with many people nearby until this time of trouble passes (it will pass). ¶ Consider supporting politicians who encourage a universal basic income and universal healthcare for all human beings.

PPPPS: If you smoke or vape regularly consider quitting for good!

PPPPPS: Don’t panic!

If you were addressing humankind, and all its groups were listening, what advice would you give?

Clarke: The best advice I think was given by Douglas Adams: “Don’t panic.”

And then there was the French general who told his officers: “Above all, not too much zeal.”

In other words, avoid fanaticism and intolerance. In fact intolerance and active cruelty are the two things I hate most.