A Social Distancing Survival Guide

I keep having these dreams about mundane outings: 1 A.M. trips through the McDonald’s thru-thru; leisurely runs on a trail near my apartment (currently closed because mobs of people have the same idea); and impromptu trips to visit friends. I hope I don’t take any of these conveniences for granted once “normalcy” is restored.

Shockingly, my social life has never been busier. I have Zoom hangouts scheduled for practically every day of the week (sometimes several hangouts a day), now that all of my friends are holed up at home. And it’s been nice having sympathetic ears behind a screen, because:


As someone who normally sleeps soundly through the night, I’ve been jolting awake at 3 A.M. these last few weeks, then find myself unable to fall back to sleep. And poor sleep is adding to my already-high stress level as I find myself with a much shorter fuse than usual. The other day, while on the phone with a coworker known for their general carelessness, I was snippy and couldn’t help raising my voice repeatedly, surprising even myself.

So I am committed to sleeping more, even if I have to take a nap during the work day to recharge. I also plan to be more mindful of my diet, level of exercise, and screen time–none of which are currently in a good place.

Further, because few things improve mental health more effectively than volunteering: I plan to volunteer at a food bank or deliver essentials to the elderly. Check your local COVID-19 response website for ways to help.


MasterClass is currently running a “buy one, share one” annual membership offer (so two passes for $180). If you aren’t sure where to start, the class that I look forward to taking next, at a friend’s recommendation, is Gabriela Cámara’s Mexican Cooking class, which looks incredible.

♥ As someone who regrets giving up on piano lessons early in life, and who lacks the discipline to play without supervision, I recently downloaded Yousician, which is a music education app that is part video game. Yousician currently offers five instruments: guitar, bass, piano, ukulele, and singing.

♥ Find course material for thousands of MIT classes online through MIT OpenCourseWare, including video lectures for hundreds of courses. I’d recommend the Introduction to Computer Science and Programming in Python course, which is fairly accessible and a good primer for those with almost no programming experience.


CGP Grey

CGP Grey is one educational YouTuber that I consistently find engaging and interesting (Vihart was also great when she posted consistently). The pace of the videos always feels just-right, and the editing is sharp.

Bon Appétit

The BACU (Bon Appétit Cinematic Universe) is some of the best YouTube content ever made. From Claire Saffitz’s enormously popular Gourmet Makes, to Chris Morocco’s Reverse Engineering, to Molly Baz’s Molly Tries, all of the BA personalities shine through in their respective shows, and they also make YouTube magic in the all-hands-on-deck “Making Perfect” (Pizza and Thanksgiving feast). If you don’t already watch this show, do so immediately!

Buzzfeed: Worth It

A few years ago, I went to Vegas for a few days (for the purpose of eating all the buffets) after watching a Worth It episode about buffets (“$7 Buffet Vs. $95 Buffet“). It remains, to date, one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. In addition to whetting my appetite, this show also nourishes my wanderlust.

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: Between the Scenes

While I don’t particularly enjoy Trevor Noah’s stand-up comedy specials, I do really enjoy him as the host of TDS. And his “between-the-scenes” segment for YouTube is particularly delightful.


Until June 30, 2020 (or whenever the end of the U.S. national emergency is), access 1.4 million books for free through the Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library. Browsing the catalog is actually more fun than any shopping I have done.

(The three books recommended below are not available through the NEL, but are ones I highly recommend reading.)

No Visible Bruises

Advocates warn that domestic violence is surging and exacerbated during social distancing, as victims are quarantined with their abusers in a pressure-cooker situation that gives victims no escape. In No Visible Bruises, Rachel Louise Snyder explores “intimate partner terrorism,” a serious public health problem that receives far too little attention relative to the harm and cycle of suffering it wreaks on society. Snyder is an effective, engaging writer who writes empathetically about the people behind the statistics (“… fifty thousand women around the world were killed by partners or family member sin 2017 alone … the UNODC report called home ‘the most dangerous place for women’ … for every woman killed in the United States from domestic violence homicide, nearly nine are almost killed”).

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (the Kindle version is currently on sale for $3.99)

Truth is stranger than fiction (or is actually fiction) in Bad Blood, one of the best books about charming scammers that I’ve ever read. I enjoyed it so much that I wish I hadn’t followed the Theranos story closely–what a gift it is to read this story as someone who doesn’t know what to expect?! Incredible source material aside, what’s unique about Bad Blood is that its author, John Carreyrou, broke the Theranos story as a journalist for the WSJ, and played a part in facilitating the Theranos’s implosion. But as amazing as Bad Blood is, I found Carreyrou’s casual employment of stereotypes (at worst a dog-whistle) in describing some of the characters off-putting (“accented English“; “built like an NFL lineman, but his physique belied a sharp intellect“; “habit common among native Chinese speakers who learn English as a second language of always speaking in the present tense“; “only about five foot five and portly, he made up for his diminutive stature with an aggressive, in-your-face management style“).

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes [Box Set]

I recently replaced my Complete Calvin and Hobbes Set, as the publisher finally fixed the binding on these, so you can disregard most of the negative reviews that have been left on Amazon. If you are even a casual fan of Calvin and Hobbes (or know anyone who is), this is a great set to own.


I have been doing a lot of cleaning: sanitizing the same surfaces over and over to quell the ennui that perfuse every minute. And I am so grateful for the myriad podcasts that are readily available, often for free, to accompany me when I wipe down my doorknobs for the nth time.

NPR: Planet Money–which tackles topics of both gravity and levity, and undertakes unusual projects, like buying crude oil and launching satellites–is made for casual fans of economics (i.e., the Freakonomics crowd). The show asks (and answers in a fun and productive way) questions that its listeners may have wondered about, but which a Google search couldn’t satisfy, or fully answer. Whatever the topic, it’s always a journey. And this ~20-minute-long, twice-a-week show is very easy to keep up with. And if you like Planet Money, you will likely also like its spin-off, The Indicator from Planet Money, which updates every day during the week and is less than 10 minutes in length. Some of my favorite episodes: All In, A Locked Door, A Secret Meeting And The Birth Of The Fed, T-Shirt Project, Can You Patent A Steak?, Jubilee! (?), The Kansas Experiment, Should We Kill The Dollar Bill?, and The Student Loan Whistleblower.

Freakonomics Radio: Freakonomics was at one time one of my favorite books, so naturally I subscribed to the spin-off radio program faithfully, as one does. But over the years my interest in the program ebbed, as Levitt’s disappearance is felt (which isn’t a criticism of Dubner, just that the duo was greater than the sum of their parts). If you are a behavioral economics fan, you will undoubtedly enjoy this program. One of my favorite episodes: The Stupidest Thing You Can Do With Your Money

Serial is a groundbreaking show in the true crime genre. I grew up watching anthology true crime television series (and still consume a lot of legal dramas and police procedurals), so I loved the first season of Serial (I lost interest in the second season just one episode in, but did tune in for the third season, which explores the criminal justice system in Cleveland). The host, Sarah Koenig, has a voice made for radio. If you like Serial, you might also like S-Town (much grittier but also gripping).

Slate Money: My massive girl crush on Anna Szymanski aside, Slate Money is an entertaining show about current events with a focus on finance news (which is also why I wouldn’t recommend burrowing too deep into the archives); it’s best to just subscribe and listen. Emily Peck and Anna (two of the show’s three hosts) are super delightful.

Reply All: I recommended Reply All in the first Social Distancing guide, but want to mention it again because it is my favorite podcast. Some episodes have a satisfying conclusion and others leave lingering questions (which is not indicative of how enthralling the process is). If you are someone who wonders often about the weirdness of the internet, this is the podcast for you. p.s. I also love the “yes-yes-no” segment, which has since devolved into “sports-sports-sports,” which is equally delightful. My favorite episodes: The Case of the Missing Hit, Long Distance, Boy in Photo, In the Desert, and The Russian Passenger (and follow-ups: Beware All and The Return of the Russian Passenger).

An aside: Alex and PJ recently went on the Partners podcast; if you enjoy their bromance, I’d recommend giving that a listen.


Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Watch with Hulu subscription)

A beautiful beautiful film with an all-female cast that explores the power of looking. A rare film about the female gaze. It’s got romance, art, and a touch of fatalism.

Bad Boys for Life (Buy on Amazon)

Bad Boys for Life was the last movie I saw in theaters (back in February, which feels like a lifetime ago). While it doesn’t have much to offer in terms of thoughtful reflection (not the kind of movie you might chew on for months after, like Parasite), it is a really good time and offers the kind of thrilling escapism that we can probably all use more of right now.


Because my discretionary fashion spending has gone way down, most of my anxiety-induced shopping binges now revolve around grocery purchases (i.e., Amazon Pantry) and random kitchen utensils like this teddy bear silicone mold (which I plan to use to recreate this fruity fizzy drink that I had in Taiwan back in January).

And as my degree of social distancing deepens, I’ve also been ordering in less (my 2x a day Cheesecake Factory habit was great, but came to a sudden end because my apartment is now deemed a few miles too far for delivery). Hardest to give up is the many fried chicken fixes I used to indulge in, so I’ve been making my own copycat KFC chicken (nuggets). And as I’ve been trying to conserve cooking oil, I mostly bake or pan-fry the nuggets, instead of deep-drying, which is very (cooking) oil expensive.

And if you don’t already bake brown butter chocolate chip cookies, you must start now: the recipe I use is a blend of this In Fine Taste cookie and this Serious Eats one. Browning butter is not at all difficult: it just requires a little patience and a lot of stirring.

Source: Serious Eats


While I am still baking/cooking more than I did before social distancing, I’ve also upped my consumption of instant and frozen foods. While you shouldn’t subsist entirely on instant food (which I feel I am starting to do), in moderation this kind of convenience can be a godsend.

Sapporo Ichiban Shio Ramen Noodles, 5 Count, 3.6 Ounce

If your salt tolerance is low, the Sapporo Ichiban Shio Ramen probably isn’t for you. Saltiness aside, it is a very solid instant noodle (just don’t overcook the noodles), and can be upgraded easily. If you like the Uni-President Minced Pork Instant Noodles, definitely check this one out as the noodle textures and seasoning flavor profiles are similar.

S&B Golden Curry Sauce Mix in Hot (other levels of hotness here)

While Japanese curry is arguably less vibrant than Indian curry (legend has it curry was introduced to Japan by British soldiers), it is also much harder for a home cook to mess up the former when you use curry blocks. I think S&B’s curry bricks are the gold standard and are also offered at several levels of heat so will be accessible to a wide range of palates.

Nissin Raoh Tonkotsu Ramen

Nissin is an instant noodles juggernaut: it makes everything from Top Ramen, to Cup Noodles, to Raoh, the self-proclaimed “King of Ramen.” And the Nissin Raoh is a very solid instant noodle, especially when you complement it with a protein or two.

Nongshim Shin Ramyun Noodle Soup in Gourmet Spicy

If you’ve not had Shin ramen, you are missing out. (Unless you don’t like heat, then continue skipping it.) Add a soft boiled egg, a second protein, some veggies (I like bok choy with Shin), and you have a pretty satisfying meal here. The premium “Black” Shin is arguably better, but you can also just add some chicken bouillon powder and achieve similar results.

Stay safe and healthy, everyone! Next up is a post for where you can find household essentials online, so stay tuned.

Hi, I am Elle!

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