Pop Culture Care Package: Finding — And Faking — Normalcy

A sunset view from Evelyn's Drive-In, a Rhode Island clam shack. (Courtesy Evelyn's Drive-In/Facebook)
A sunset view from Evelyn's Drive-In, a Rhode Island clam shack. (Courtesy Evelyn's Drive-In/Facebook)

Sorry for the delay in our regularly scheduled care packages. We want to say it got lost in the mail, but the truth is, we didn’t quite feel up to assembling a selection of items designed to distract or soothe. With the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people at the hands of police, we wanted to give space to elevating the stories and works of people of color.

And while we’re continuing to acknowledge the disparities at the station and in our communities, we also know it’s important to take time for a bit of self-care so that we’re able to keep covering the arts and culture stories of the moment. So for this week’s pop culture care package, we’re bringing you the ways in which we’re finding a bit of normalcy — or activities we’re indulging in to fake it for a bit. From running to coffee to pickled veggies, here’s how we’re getting by.

Running and Fiction Podcasts

I am a runner. One of those annoying ones who get out the door first thing in the morning. And to top it off, I’m also a marathoner. (Extra annoying, I know.) Before the pandemic, I was training for the Boston Marathon, and we all know what happened there. I’m currently training for the virtual race slated for September and what has always kept me company during my many miles out on the road are the voices of my favorite podcast hosts. But during the pandemic, I have found myself unable to listen to the newsy shows I typically love. I feel overwhelmed by the prospect of hearing stories of how the pandemic has impacted people. And while these stories are important, and I do stay plugged in for most of the day — it’s kind of part of the whole journalism job — I have been letting myself tune out during my run. As I put one foot in front of the other, I’m able to placate my anxiety as I listen to fiction podcasts like the sci-fi show “The Left/Right Game” and the crime drama “Exeter.” I’ve also explored musicals like the 1970s-set “Little Did I Know” about a group of college grads who bring a summer theater back to life, and “Childish: The Podcast Musical,” which follows an aspiring rapper/resident assistant who wants to be the next Childish Gambino. Sometimes, I’m in the mood for a romantic comedy, and “Margaritas & Donuts” and “RomComPods” have hit the spot. Whether I’m running 5 miles or 15, finding escape in these fictional worlds as I physically transport myself somewhere else has helped me to quiet my unrest and refocus. If only for a little while.

-Dianna Bell, Producing Editor

Visiting a Local Coffee Shop

I’m one of those millennials you hear about. You know, the one who spends all her money on iced coffee and avocado toast instead of buying a house. Now that I feel more comfortable leaving my apartment for a few minutes, neighborhood businesses have become a viable option to frequent if I am feeling up for it. There are very few coffee shops around my part of Dorchester, but Honeycomb Cafe is a quick walk from my place. Grabbing a small iced or hot coffee with vanilla from a cafe seems like such a minuscule pleasure, but that would always be my treat whenever we were all allowed to move around Boston freely and without fear of contracting the coronavirus. And sure, there are at least three ways for hot coffee to get made in my own kitchen, but I love walking into Honeycomb and having owner Lara Miele know my order, making it perfectly, while I do my part in supporting a small business close to me.

-Christian Burno, Arts Reporting Fellow

Christian holds up a cup of coffee from one of her favorite local shops, Honeycomb Cafe in Dorchester.
Christian holds up a cup of coffee from one of her favorite local shops, Honeycomb Cafe in Dorchester.

Making Coffee at Home

The only thing I look forward to in the morning is my first cup of coffee. This is maybe a sad thing to admit. But I treasure this particular vice, which I call a “ritual,” so it’s OK. The first cup of coffee is a bulwark against the impending day, a warm excuse to linger. This was true before the pandemic and it’s still true now.

In the Before Times, I was making my coffee with an AeroPress, but, I later learned, doing it completely wrong. There are a few good techniques for getting optimal results from your AeroPress, each more finicky than the last. I do a modified version of this explainer from Blue Bottle Coffee. So far I haven’t actually resorted to weighing anything, but I do buy really fancy coffee beans from local roaster Barismo. It’s all very bougie. And you know what? It tastes amazing. I never thought I’d be the type of person to set a timer while my coffee steeps, but there were a lot of things I never thought I’d do before this — wear a medical mask in public, conduct my entire social life over a video conferencing app, try to understand epidemiology. At least my avoidant morning coffee ritual passes for something normal. Something worth keeping.

-Amelia Mason, Arts & Culture Reporter

Pesto And Pickles

As the pandemic stretches on I know a lot of people (including me) are feeling more whacked out than ever. Super ungrounded, scattered, foggy — almost like I don't know where I am in time or space. Summer 2020 doesn't feel like it's actually arrived yet without outdoor live music, neighborhood festivals, road trips, backyard parties and beer garden afternoons. How could I be experiencing the summertime blues in late June and early July? That said, I have managed to find a few things that help me connect to this precious time of year. For one, my backyard planter is bursting with fresh herbs — dill, cilantro, basil, tarragon, parsley. As I snipped their aromatic stems and leaves, then whirred them into a sunflower seed green sauce — which is kind of like a pesto without the cheese – I was transported to what this time of year felt like in pre-coronavirus times. The relentless stream of news and worries fell away, and there I was, spatula in hand, savoring a mash of summery flavors in my mouth as the birds sang in my backyard — and damn it felt good! Something similar happened as I thinly sliced scallions, radishes and rhubarb for a few jars of pickles. It comforted me to know the basic solution of vinegar, water, sugar and salt would capture the essence of these fleeting late-spring, early-summer veggies. I screwed the lids tightly onto their jars and felt like me again — even for a moment — also knowing I would be able return to them the next time I craved a sense of normalcy. I'm already looking forward to what I'll make with fresh corn and tomatoes in August!

-Andrea Shea, Senior Arts Reporter

A batch of Andrea's pickled veggies.
A batch of Andrea's pickled veggies.

Clam Shack Dinners

Visiting a clam shack for dinner brought the first feeling of normalcy this summer. Even after months of staying in our neighborhood, the drive to the coast felt pleasantly routine (if laced with a taste of road trip freedom). Sure, we wore masks to order at the clam shack window, but once our baskets of fried clams were ready, we unfurled blankets along the water. Sitting in the briny air, legs outstretched, let us forget everything else, just for a short while.

-Tania Ralli, Acting Senior Editor



Headshot of Dianna Bell

Dianna Bell Senior Editor, Arts & Culture
Dianna Bell is senior editor of arts and culture for WBUR.


Headshot of Christian Burno

Christian Burno Contributor
Christian Burno is a former arts reporting fellow for WBUR’s arts and culture team.


Headshot of Amelia Mason

Amelia Mason Senior Arts & Culture Reporter
Amelia Mason is an arts and culture reporter and critic for WBUR.


Headshot of Andrea Shea

Andrea Shea Correspondent, Arts & Culture
Andrea Shea is a correspondent for WBUR's arts & culture reporter.


Headshot of Tania Ralli

Tania Ralli Assistant Managing Editor, Arts & Culture
Tania Ralli is assistant managing editor of arts and culture at WBUR.



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