What a year this week has been. We postponed this column from its usual slot to keep tabs on Wednesday's extraordinary events at the US Capitol (check out some of our coverage here). But now, the weekend is here, and you probably want to turn your attention toward something that has nothing to do with the present fragility of our republic. On that front? We've got you covered. Here's what's helped steady us in this extraordinary first act of 2021.
Li Ziqi makes my favorite genre of food YouTube videos. No annoying YouTuber dude’s voiceovers, none of this excessive, whirlwind “I visited ten restaurants in one day.” These videos are simply Li cooking—and often foraging, fishing, and harvesting—for her and her grandmother in rural Sichuan, complete with calming music, superb cinematography, and romantic images of self-sufficiency. I’ve enjoyed several of Li’s videos in the past, including this one on making luosifen (river snail soup).
After the chaos of this week, Li’s video on preparing dried persimmons for good luck in the new year helped calm and cleanse my brain. Li climbs trees to harvest persimmons,, placing them into her homemade sack. She tucks a tiny persimmon into her hair for decoration, then peels each persimmon with a knife and hangs them to dry. Seasons change from fall to winter. Watching her tear open one of those dried persimmons, coated in its natural sugar and tender and juicy inside, I frantically Googled “Chinese dried persimmon where to buy.”But my favorite part of all is the grilling scene at the end, where Li grills mushrooms and slices of meat garnished with green onion atop a hot stone. One of her dinner guests stares at the sizzling meat, her tongue poking out from her mouth. Li then exquisitely plates everything on slabs of stone, garnished with purplish greens and caramelized to a perfect char. If Li Ziqi ever decides to open a restaurant, it’ll be on the top of my list. —Katherine Chew Hamilton, food editor
In the waning days of 2020, I flirted with a melodramatic project: no music by straight people until June 2021. Spurred my steadily increasing consumption of AIDS-era stories (and a Christmas day viewing of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom), I became more and more curious about the queer musical pioneers whose legacies were cut short by disease or buried by time.
Ultimately, Playboi Carti dropped an album shortly after this thought entered my head and I loosened my restrictions, but still, the heart of the project persists, and it's brought me some incredible finds. I've finally dug all the way into the catalogue of Arthur Russell, the disco/cello downtown genius who dated Allen Ginsberg in the ’70s before succumbing to complications from AIDS. I've rabbit holed deep into the story of Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington's best friend and chief collaborator, who was openly gay, friends with MLK Jr., and responsible for classics like "Take the A Train" and "Lush Life."
One of my favorite discoveries so far has been Love Is a Drag, a mysterious 1962 release from an uncredited vocalist. Sporting only the subtitle "For adult listeners only," the record is a straightforward lounge affair, with lush, well-sung renditions of standards like "Bill," "Bewitched," and "Mad About the Boy." The twist? They're all sung, with requisite passion and the appropriate pronouns, by a male crooner.
Liberace identified Love Is a Drag as his all-time favorite record, and before a repressing in 2016, copies sold for as much as $200. Without falling victim to Ryan Murphy levels of rose-colored historical revisionism, putting it on the speakers feels like entering a slightly separate history—a velvet-draped, smoke-choked ’60s club with a strong-jawed man on the mic, singing about the experience of a male lover turning you into a "whimpering, simpering child again." Escapism's great in appropriate doses, and this week, this has taken me the perfect level out of today and into a past I wish there was. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor