Notes on pandemic eats, March to mid-October 2020

I became vegetarian in February. It was a really, really long time coming, and becoming vegetarian before the start of a pandemic was really convenient. Few things beat having a bunch of dried beans, lentils, and veggies plus a bunch of rice on in my pantry while you're figuring out grocery delivery in NYC that doesn't exploit gig labor.

In March, April, and May, I made a lot of granola and ate it primarily with homemade almond milk. I have never been more grateful to have a powerful Vitamix blender than when we were making almond milk at least twice a week, and I can't believe I waited months before buying a nut milk bag to strain it instead of using a fine mesh sieve. I really cannot overstate how much time using a nut milk bag saves. Mexican Horchata also entered our regular drink rotation.

Toast slathered in butter that's topped with thinly sliced radishes and finished sea salt has become my favorite savory breakfast/afternoon snack. Toast slathered in one of Ayako & Family's many varieties of plum jam has become my favorite sweet breakfast/afternoon snack.

Photo of a piece of toast topped with whipped ricotta and a muted orange greengage plum jam on a plate
For my (semi-)sweet tooth: toast with whipped ricotta and greengage plum jam
Photo of a piece of toast topped with butter, halved thin French breakfast radishes, and noticeable salt crystals on a plate
For the side of me that loves sharp savory notes: toast with butter, halved French breakfast radishes, and a good helping of fleur de sel

Soy eggs are a regular snack when we realize we have accumulated too many eggs through our weekly farm share delivery. I use a regular sodium soy sauce and leave them overnight, and despite the warning in the ingredient list, they have never been excessively salty.

When I'm feeling uninspired regarding a veggie in my farm share, I decide whether it would rather be roasted or salad and just do that. Roasted veggies are always a welcome side or addition to a dish in my home. Salad tossed in any quickly homemade dressing is still an incredible and simple to prepare treat, and yes, I admit I will forever be a stock photo cliché.

Laura Wright's ginger, sweet potato, and coconut milk stew with lentils and kale is forever going to be in our regular meal rotation. We add about triple the chilli stated in the recipe. Also, her creamy corn and lemon pasta with thyme is a favorite summer treat.

It's decorative gourd season, so I made a vegan squash soup. Cooking red lentils in the spices I would usually add to a soup and adding those to the blender helped make this a full meal, alongside some crusty bread, of course.

Photo of two shallow bowls (one half cut off) of a smooth roasted squash and red lentil soup topped with drizzled olive oil and mustard sprouts, a plate with two slices of a crusty bread, and a small bowl of olive oil with ground chilli and pepper for dipping the bread in.
I (briefly) felt fancy by topping this soup with drizzling olive oil and mustard sprouts.

I've been craving mapo tofu for months. (I'm not aware of a good vegetarian version available in my part of the city.) My friends Alex and Erin sent me this very detailed recipe from Chinese Cooking Demystified, which made me feel confident I could make it if I gathered the right ingredients - though I wanted to have a minced protein instead of just omitting it to make it vegetarian. I use food processor minced fresh mushrooms instead of beef, which take longer to cook down and require more oil as mushrooms absorb it instead of releasing fat, and I replace the broth with shiitake dashi. (If you don't have another plan for the rehydrated shiitake mushrooms, they can be minced and added to the fresh ones to replace the beef.)

Photo of finished mapo tofu in a pumpkin-shaped Dutch oven, ground toasted Sichuan pepper on top but not yet mixed in.
Finished mapo tofu!
Photo of mapo tofu in progress: mushrooms fried in oil mixed with doubanjiang, douchi, ginger, garlic, and chili flakes make a paste.
The base of the sauce: mushrooms fried in oil, doubanjiang, douchi, ginger, garlic, and Sichuan chili flakes
Photo of mapo tofu in progress: mushroom broth has just been added to the paste. It's bright red.
A lovely bright red color after adding the shiitake dashi
Photo of mapo tofu in progress: tofu has been nestled into the broth.
I managed to not break too many of the soft tofu cubes.
Photo of mapo tofu in progress: chives are piled on top of the tofu with reduced and thickened sauce.
I used chives instead of green garlic or scallions because it's what I had on hand.

Tali sauce is still a fun way to transform a simple bowl of rice and beans, and it freezes beautifully. That said, a humble bowl of rice and beans is always a pleasure on its own.

Speaking of beans, I never throw out bean cooking liquid. If I don't want it as part of the beans, I save it to reheat and mix with miso paste, as a treat.

Close-up photo of a mug of pinto bean broth miso soup with sprouts
Pinto bean broth miso I topped with sprouts (I forget the variety)
Photo of a handled mug of black bean broth miso soup with chopped scallions and a small ceramic cup without a handle with matcha
Black bean broth miso topped with scallions

Soy curls are a delightful shelf-stable protein. I often use them in Japanese or Thai curries.

Eggplant parmigiana is a lot more delicious to me when the eggplant is roasted instead of fried. I use parm instead of the romano listed and my own tomato sauce recipe, which also has onions and uses Diaspora Co.'s incredible ground chilli instead of crushed red pepper. (Diaspora Co.'s chillies are brimming with flavor. I can't be anyone's barometer for spiciness because I don't notice it until it hits my digestive system, but I hear they're somewhat milder in heat than expected. P.S. All their other spices are incredible, too.)

Photo of a casserole dish full of eggplant parmigiana on top of my stove
Small fairytale eggplants made this delicious dish quite cute.

Lekka Burger's vegan chocolate chip cookie is made entirely of shelf-stable pantry staples and is absolutely incredible. I highly recommend microwaving any cookies you don't eat the first day for 15 seconds before eating.

Footnotes

  1. This is actually quite irritating. There's a whole lot of food out there that is praised for being delicious because it's "really spicy" but actually packs no flavor behind the heat my body ignores.

A color palette preview tool for Purl Soho's Library Blanket

When I saw the Library Blanket Joelle Hoverson designed for Purl Soho, I immediately fell in love. The marled combinations of oranges, pinks, blues, and purples were calling to me, so I ordered a kit right away. Other knitters commented that while they loved the pattern, the colors used weren't quite right for them.

As the varied blocks in the blanket are made by holding different pairs of yarns together, it can be difficult to imagine how a different yarn palette would knit up. To make it easier to visualize, I created a JavaScript and Canvas tool to render a digital mockup of the Library Blanket pattern in custom color palettes:

Side by side view of the Library Blanket and my rendering in the original color scheme given in the pattern
Photo of the Library Blanket in its original colors from Purl Soho next to my rendering of the original color scheme. (Photo from Purl Soho used in compliance with the policy in their FAQ.)

The tool will also generate the color combo list for the yarn names given, so you know which two yarns are held together in each block.

I've included a few preconstructed color palettes, including the one stated in the pattern, other combinations Purl Soho provided in the comments, and a few options I discovered while testing this tool. You can also create your own palettes either by selecting Purl Soho Line Weight or Linen Quill yarns from the dropdowns or by entering custom yarns in the text and color input fields. For each of the Purl Soho yarns in the dropdowns, I selected a hex color I felt corresponded well to the photo of that colorway. (Of course, a single color doesn't fully capture the subtleties in these yarns, and you may think a different hex color better matches a colorway than the one I chose! If you'd rather use a different hex color for a yarn, you can input it like you would for a custom yarn.) To preview this pattern with different yarns than the two Purl Soho specified in the pattern, you can enter your own yarn names and hex colors.

When you update any of the fields in the tool, the Library Blanket rendering and color combo list automatically update below.

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or choose your own colors individually:

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Library Blanket rendering:

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Color combo list:

Cancel Like Everything

Tracy Jenkins's For Like Ever poster is an iconic piece of "the millenial aesthetic." I've made a new poster inspired by For Like Ever and the current need for social distance:

Cancel Like Everything poster (preview size)

The texture in the clouds below the text is made up of no symbols and small x's:

The texture in the clouds, which is made up of large no symbols and small x's

I've made an A4 paper, 300 DPI version of the Cancel Like Everything poster available for printing. The Cancel Like Everything poster is licensed under the Creative Commons - Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license, so you can print, adapt, and share it for any non-commercial purposes. By the way, I consider non-commercial purposes to include selling prints either at cost or with 100% of the profits going to COVID-19 relief.

Puffed millet and qui'nola

I've never been to Sqirl, but ever since I ordered their puffed millet 'nola on a whim, I've been obsessed. All I want for breakfast these days is a bowl of this granola with some plain yogurt. UPDATE: I no longer order from Sqirl after hearing about their jam mold and the deeper problems #moldgate revealed about Koslow and Sqirl - especially the generally unsafe working conditions and flippant attitude towards the community and places that made up the Virgil Village neighborhood of LA before Sqirl moved in.

Two bowls of puffed millet and qui'nola with yogurt

As it turns out, it's the second version of their turmeric-spiced puffed millet 'nola, and Sqirl's Jessica Koslow posted the recipe for their first version, which contains nuts and uses different sweeteners, on Instagram a few years ago. The humble but mighty millet 'nola has since made its way around the internet. I've never had the previous version, but between looking at the current ingredient lists alongside the recipe for the previous version, I figured I could come up with something close to the new version. UPDATE: There was no attribution on this recipe in Koslow's post, which implies that she created it, but given everything that came out after #moldgate, I can't be sure who created this recipe.

Instead of using a base of just puffed millet, I also use puffed quinoa because quinoa is a complete protein. I include pumpkin seeds along with sunflower seeds because I love them both. Instead of adding glucose to my pantry, I chose to make the liquid part like one does for Eleven Madison Park's granola recipe, another granola I adore. The ratio of liquid to dry ingredients is a tad lower here than in EMP's granola as there are 4 teaspoons fewer dry ingredients, but the puffed grains don't seem to want as much syrup as denser oats do.

Puffed millet and qui'nola

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup, preferably dark color
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric powder (I used Diaspora Co's excellent turmeric powder.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt (You can use other brands, but know that Diamond Crystal is less dense than other kosher salts.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, optional (if you want to caramelize the brown sugar)
  • 2 cups puffed millet
  • 2 cups puffed quinoa
  • 1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup white sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons brown flax seeds
  • 1 cup freeze-dried fruit of your choice (I used a mix of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries because that's what I found most easily, but I'm excited to use some blackberries and cranberries the next time I make this!)

Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a half-sheet jelly roll pan or two quarter-sheet jelly roll pans with tin foil.
  2. In a large stockpot (doesn't need to be huge, I used a 5 1/2-quart pot) set over low heat, stir and warm the brown sugar, maple syrup, and olive oil until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Add turmeric, cardamom, and kosher salt. Stir until combined and bubbles. If you want to make a deeper caramel coating, let bubble a bit, add baking soda, and stir until combined. Remove from heat.
  4. Add puffed millet, puffed quinoa, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and flax seeds to the stockpot. Stir until everything is well coated.
  5. Spread granola onto the jelly roll pan(s). Bake for 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Remove granola from the oven and let it cool completely (about 30 minutes).
  6. Add freeze-dried fruit to granola (or just top granola with freeze-dried fruit when you eat it). Transfer to an airtight storage container.

Yields about 6 cups of granola. Total preparation time is about 55 minutes: 25 minutes of active preparation time plus 30 minutes for the granola to cool.

Footnotes

  1. Sqirl's puffed millet 'nola is a caramel brown color because they cook the liquid part of the granola as though it's a caramel. I don't think it's essential to caramelize the sugars because I find that doing so pushes some of the flavors from the spices to the background without adding a clear caramel flavor. If you do want to treat the liquid component as more of a caramel, you should bubble it a little longer as described in step 3 and make sure to add baking soda - it will react with the acid in the dark brown sugar to create tiny carbon dioxide air bubbles to keep the caramel light and airy.

Has Baby Yoda been engaging in Twitter 'platform manipulation?' and the broad brush of Twitter's spam policies and its decentralized future

Popular Twitter parody account @BabyYodaBaby is currently suspended for "platform manipulation and spam" according to their Instagram. Twitter's policy on platform manipulation and spam allows for "using Twitter pseudonymously or as a parody, commentary, or fan account," as @BabyYodaBaby is doing. This is the second time @BabyYodaBaby has been suspended, and they've mentioned they've appealed the decision. However, despite being an extremely popular account with over 200,000 followers, they've stayed suspended for a week.

First, a brief (unrelated) tale of a Twitter suspension

Last December, I created a new Twitter account for a festive holiday birb, @BeakMidwinter, to test whether or not you could create a Twitter account without giving Twitter a phone number. Beak Midwinter is a fictional persona I created for a delightful holiday bird decoration to spread general winter joy and also likely falls into the broad "parody account" category. When you create an account, you can either use an email address or a phone number, and I opted to use an email address. After creating the account, I immediately added basic profile information, a first tweet which I then pinned, and set up two-factor authentication via both an authenticator app and a security key. Beak followed a few accounts, and some of those accounts, not just me, followed them back. Their first tweet was liked. All in all, @BeakMidwinter started off like many other accounts - parody or real person - would.

Within an hour of creating the account, @BeakMidwinter was "temporarily restricted," and Twitter gave no reason behind this action. When I logged in, I was greeted by text telling me "what happened":

A screenshot of Twitter's We've temporarily limited some of your account features screen after a successful login page

In order to make sure Twitter is as safe as possible, sometimes - like now - you may be asked to confirm you're not a robot. Easy, right? Just complete the following to get back to the Tweets … Verify your phone number.

I couldn't find anything @BeakMidwinter did in violation of the associated Twitter Rules or Twitter Terms of Service. When I tried to log into @BeakMidwinter's account, I was told I could remove the restrictions by adding a phone number, just as the help pages implied. I wasn't going to do this because I didn't want Twitter to be able to trivially link this account to my phone number's advertising profile. Plus, Twitter has a bad track record of using phone numbers that we're given for security purposes, which makes me even more suspicious of giving the company my phone number.

A few weeks later, @BeakMidwinter's temporary restriction changed to a suspension: they didn't give a reason, but I suspect it happened automatically because I didn't add a phone number to the account. I appealed the decision, stating the following as the description of the problem:

My account was banned simply because I did not want to add a phone number, which can be used for marketing purposes. This account is an account made by a real person in order to spread holiday joy through the fictional persona of a delightful felt bird who sports a decorated tree costume. I have searched the Twitter support pages extensively, especially https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/twitter-rules, and found nothing that would ban this account. This bird persona is not impersonating anyone or manipulating the platform, just attempting to spread holiday cheer.

I revealed myself, "Liz Denys, the human behind @BeakMidwinter," in the full name field and did not fill in the part of the form that (optionally) asks for a phone number. Twitter sent an email to the email on @BeakMidwinter's account requesting I "reply to this message and confirm that you have access to this email address," and I did. Twelve hours later, Twitter removed @BeakMidwinter's suspension, and the festive birb has been tweeting good winter vibes ever since.

So, you might wonder, what does a little account like @BeakMidwinter have to do with @BabyYodaBaby?

It's not clear that @BeakMidwinter was suspended for any reason other than Twitter testing how far the account would be willing to go to avoid giving the company a phone number, but if there was any section of the rules that Twitter could argue my little festive birb parody account was violating, it is the "platform manipulation and spam" section.

I'm not an expert on account policies, but some very normal Twitter behaviors are only protected through exceptions. Anyone who has a separate account for their business, organization, or project runs the risk that they "artificially amplify or disrupt conversations through the use of multiple accounts" through "coordination," save the exception for "operating multiple accounts with distinct identities, purposes, or use cases," which explicitly calls out organizations, hobbies, initiatives, and pseudonymous alt accounts. Even "engaging (Retweets, Likes, mentions, Twitter Poll votes) repeatedly with the same Tweets or accounts from multiple accounts that you operate" counts as "coordination," even though it's natural to like your project's tweets. (I already don't "like" tweets on my main Twitter account for other reasons, mainly because Twitter doesn't store like data in a way that I control, but it turns out this choice helps protect my accounts from being penalized for "coordination," too.)

This all assumes @TwitterSupport applies their rules carefully and fairly. Based on my experiences and reading those of others, suspensions happen without warning, and you are then at the mercy of Twitter Support understanding and agreeing with your appeal. Even putting Twitter's mishandling of suspensions of marginalized people aside for a moment - something very important and worth discussing - it's baffling to me that my barely active, tiny festive birb can overturn their suspension while @BabyYodaBaby, a wildly popular account that actually drives some traffic to Twitter, has been suspended without anything besides being told their account is used for "platform manipulation and spam."

One possible Twitter future

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey has recently stated a desire to decentralize the platform, which sounds a lot like Mastodon's Fediverse to me:

I have a sinking suspicion that a decentralized future for Twitter might start by removing the exceptions in their platform manipulation and spam policy. Maybe first, we'll lose harmless bots, such as those broadcasting information about the weather or code commits, because they will be relegated to their own separate site with its own set of rules. I won't be surprised if "parody accounts" follow. Then, separate instances for projects and organizations. (Maybe also, businesses, though ads from whatever Twitter instance is created for brands will be shown across instances.) Next, pseudonymous accounts, including accounts incorrectly marked as such.

I'm not going to say every account on Twitter is intrinsically valuable, but I've found value across all these very different types of accounts. Verified accounts already, fairly arbitrarily, make some of us second class citizens. I'm not intrinsically opposed to decentralization - people should have options, and I'd certainly rather be on a platform that penalizes accounts that engage in hate speech instead of accounts calling those people out - but decentralizing an established platform will require a level of care that Twitter hasn't shown on its existing, singular platform.