Author Archives: Marivi Soliven

Postcards from the Pandemic

Tits up, mask on!

After hearing horror stories about long lines of people storming Walmart to buy fabric for face masks, I decided to go shopping in my closet instead.

No sewing machine necessary, but you will have to thread a needle

I donated my Victoria Secret bras after the company was disgraced by its association with Jeffrey Epstein and the #Metoo movement, but for some reason forgot to reattach their straps before giving them away! Serendipity must be the stepmother of invention, because I realized I could upcycle the straps as the base for face masks Dr. Fauci has advised everyone to wear.

If you have a strap with two panels like the one above, pull the two hooks together as though you wanted the strap to be as short as possible. Using a sharp knife or scissors, cut the seam between the two panels until they can open wide enough for the top panel to slip over your nose, and the bottom one, under you chin.

Ujayi breath, optional

Any soft cloth will work for the mask itself – a handkerchief or a piece cut out of an old T-shirt. Since the neighborhood yoga studio is closed for the foreseeable future, I upcycled one of my Manduka headbands.

Fold the headband obliquely on itself so that it looks like a pair of parentheses lying down. Sew the outer edge of the top parenthesis to the bra strap’s top panel and the outer edge of the bottom parenthesis to the bottom panel. Stitch overlapping centers of the headband together.

If you’re using a handkerchief or T-shirt, ignore the parentheses bit and just stitch on enough fabric to cover your face. Extra points for ruching on either side of the mask.

If the mask is too tight, cut into the seams and pull the panels apart a little bit at a time until it fits comfortably over your ears without pulling on those eyebags.

Only a fool would refuse to use a face mask in this pandemic and I do not suffer fools gladly.

In other news, I did an interview last Friday on Chat And Spin Radio, a British talk show. You can listen to a recording of the full show at this link, or skip to minute 41 to catch my interview.

Postcards from the Pandemic – a Friend in Knead is a Friend Indeed

Newborn Focaccia

For the love of Bread, stay home! And we did, with the kindness of a virtual stranger. Yeast is as hard to find as hand sanitizers these days, but N. found several packets in an East Coast grocery and offered to send them out to her kneady friends. N. and I know each other through a private cooking FB group and I live on the other side of the country, but she refused to accept payment for the packets and postage. So I offered her a book instead.

Book for Bread Barter

The yeast arrived yesterday, and my daughter and I used one precious packet for our first attempt at Focaccia. I used Melissa Clark’s NYTimes recipe for Focaccia dough (sadly not allowed to share the link with non-subscribers).

Taught my daughter to knead today!

A little over an hour later, the dough had risen impressively. Yay for N’s yeast!

Rose in the oven with the light on, beside a steaming quart of just boiled water

Oddly, Clark’s focaccia dough recipe didn’t offer baking instructions. After much searching, I found them at Kevin Lee Jacobs ‘ site at this link:

You can use his dough recipe or do as I did and skip to the part where he spreads the dough on the rimmed baking sheet.

Sprinkled with fresh rosemary, parmesan and porchetta spice

In other news, Californians have been advised to wear a face mask whenever we venture outside. If you don’t have a sewing machine at home, here’s how to make one without sewing:

I’m a Catholic school survivor. Though we spent a year in 12th grade Home Ec class learning how to sew with dress patterns and sewing machines, I still can’t machine sew to save my life. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

For this no-sew PPE, I borrowed my husband’s silk pocket square and snipped up a widowed sock for the ear loops. Wore it to the post office to mail off N’s book and felt like only half a dork.

Postcards from the Pandemic

Mujadara with its toppings: parsley, spiced yogurt, lemon, caramelized onions & Aleppo pepper

When I need comfort food, Mujadara is my Mac & Cheese. This Middle Eastern lentil and rice dish is fragrant with cumin, allspice and cayenne, topped with caramelized onions and parsley.

Because I have more time to be finicky these days, I ended up drawing from three recipes. These two from Melissa Clark for the cooking:

And this one from Food52 for the spiced yogurt topping

It was so good, everyone had seconds

Following our Dinner and a Movie routine, my daughter suggested The Shining. The premise seemed particularly apt for these quarantine times – – a family is isolated in a hotel by a snowstorm, just as we and thousands of other families are isolated in our home by a virus.

We could relate.

We warned her it would be scary but she insisted, and we made it through the first half. But when Jack Nicholson began to unravel and his son Danny showed up with strangle marks on his neck, Sofia switched over to The Great British Bake Off.

There’s only so much crazy we can deal with right now, and to be honest, I’d rather eat cake.

Postcards from the Pandemic

Practicing yoga + watching MSNBC = not a good multitasking pair

Yesterday I did an hour of Youtube Yoga, forgot what day it was, cooked this soup and shakshouka and forgot to bathe.Without the Monday – Friday routine of carpools and yoga classes, I’m beginning to feel like that matriarch in Downton Abbey.

As always, cooking forced me to focus, with delicious results,. We showed the tart off at the Zoom dinner party we hosted, then ate it it all ourselves as our guests watched.

Roasted Mushroom Butternut Squash Tart

This NY Times cooking recipe was much improved by those who reviewed it. I added anchovies to the topping and minced rosemary to the dough as suggested by cooks in the Comments section. My personal riff on the recipe was to roast the vegetables before making the tart pastry, so that the 1-2 hours rising time it needed could happen in the cooling oven.

At the end of a fraught day, this healthy vegetarian version of pizza was welcome junk food.

Postcards from the Pandemic


Fusion Shakshouka is what happens when your family has eaten all the lamb shanks, leaving gravy to delicious to toss, and a dozen quail eggs too small to fry one by one.

Pinoy Shakshouka with Quail Eggs & Kaldereta gravy

Breadcrumbs from last week’s home baked whole wheat loaf stood in for tomatoes to thicken the gravy.

And as a special shield against the big C word, I made vegetable soup, fortified with ginger, garlic, chili and miso.

Spicy Ginger Miso Vegetable Soup

A nesting Turtle Dove shelters in place in our hanging planter

And as if to remind us that it’s best to shelter in place, a turtle dove has taken up residence in our hanging planter.

Postcards from the Pandemic


Culinary Therapy for Covid days

Rishia Zimmern’s Chicken with Tarragon

I’m not sure which is more stressful — losing audio on a Zoom Yoga class in the middle of a vinyasa,

Ohm at Home

or producing less than a page of decent writing between calls on the day job.

Dinner was today’s sole success.

Roasted Bagna Cauda Broccoli

This article explains my heightened obsession with cooking

Recipes from the New York Times and Food52 saved my day from turning into an epic fail.

Postcards from the Pandemic


I found eggs  at Trader Joe’s for the first time today after a two week absence.


Why I love Trader Joe’s

We stood in line the way folks do for a  hot new club or the best Sunday brunch place but spaced farther apart. One TJ employee ushered an old lady in a purple bathrobe to the front of the line. She was pushing what looked to be her own wheelchair that doubled as a grocery cart. Another TJ person manning the door offered to some hand sanitizer spray, explaining it smelled really good.  (It did). I took a twelve pack of eggs and enough alcohol to cover this week’s virtual Happy Hour and dinner parties on Zoom.


Umami Garlic Noodles

And because today

Postcards From the Pandemic


Ignorance is bliss.

Unaware that Mayor Faulconer had ordered the closure of all beaches, parks and boardwalks in San Diego yesterday, we took what turned out to be our last walk in Balboa Park this afternoon.

Why I Love Trader Joe’s

Unaware that Trader Joe’s has shortened its store hours , we arrived 45 minutes before it closed at 7 and stood in line with other last minute shoppers, as though it were the hottest new club or brunch spot. TJ store associates were unfailingly kind, and the woman manning the door offered a squirt of hand sanitizer to everyone she let through.

And finally, there were eggs! I bought the usual dozen, plus enough alcohol to get us through this week’s virtual dinner parties and Happy Hours on Zoom.

Umami Garlic Noodles

The last thing I didn’t know until today? That MSG and butter could conspire to make such a satisfying vegetarian dinner. Found this genius recipe in the NY Times collection.

Postcards from the Pandemic




Slow Cooker Collards

It took nearly two weeks and three groceries to assemble ingredients for Sunday dinner.  One night, smoked ham hocks were all that remained in the meat section at Vons. I froze them and hoped. Several days later, collards showed up  at the halal grocery  I grabbed 5 bunches. The salmon came from a third store.  Doing the groceries has turned into a scavenger hunt.

Recipes here:


Salmon with Anchovy Caper Butter 

In all other respects, Covid-19 has slowed everything down. In place of the regular morning routine of carpool duties and  yoga classes, I rise before 7 to disinfect kitchen counters, feed the cats and find some quiet time to write before the rest of the family gets going. Because now the three of us are in each other’s space all day, every day.

Yesterday Sofia laughed when I said  I was “going to yoga.” I wasn’t going anywhere but downstairs to the living room to follow a free class on Youtube.

Yoga with Kassandra seems particularly apt these days, given that her namesake was the Greek goddess of catastrophic prophecies that no one believed.

Postcards from the Pandemic


Welcome to my blog within a blog, which combines the need to write with the compulsion to  procrasti-bake/cook in times of  stress.

March 21

Teeny Tiny Egg In a Hole

Saturday brunch was  Quail Eggs in a Hole with home cured lox and home-baked whole wheat bread. As expected, brunch looked adorable.

To crack open a quail egg, click on this link.  I skipped the pouring into the ramekin part and poured them directly into the hole.

March 20

Home-baked Whole Wheat Bread & Home-Cured Lox

Eggs, regular flour  and bread are nowhere to be found, so I made do with what was available – egg-free whole wheat bread.  And because the xenophobe in the White House loves to talk smack about the Chinese Virus, the Asian groceries are relatively empty and salmon is more abundant than hand sanitizer. However bad things sound, you can still scavenge for  food amid scarcity. Here’s how:

Vegan dinner with Family

Most of the food was prepared by a member of our yoga family, but I brought the asparagus dish at bottom.  The only thing the Food52 recipe below needed were garlic cloves grated into the shallots.

March 19

After a fruitless search for eggs at Vons and Trader Joes, I found these beauties at Vinh Hung the Vietnamese grocery in City Heights.


March 18

Comfort food for a cold rainy day. Ground pork cradled in rice noodles, basil and spinach, immersed in a ginger, garlic, onion broth.


March 17


Though goat meat is readily available at the neighborhood grocery, I prefer to use lamb shanks and put everything in the slow cooker soon after lunch.  By dinnertime, our house smells like a Filipino home.  

March 16

Our cats ignored the memo on social distancing.   Happy Hour means nothing to them.


March 13

Last Supper

Home-cured lox  & whipped cream cheese

Lesley’s  much anticipated 70th birthday party was canceled three days before it was set to take place. A hundred guests were flying in from out of state and from  out of the country, and  ten of us had volunteered to make cakes.  But after Covid 19 reared its ugly crowned head, she thought better of putting herself and her guests at risk and called off the celebration.

Suddenly our weekend seemed bleak. But after spending a week in Texas, I was determined to see some friends before Covid 19  laid waste to our social life. Max and Consuelo came to dinner on Friday the 13th, for what now looks to be the last dinner party I’ll be hosting for the foreseeable future.

Roasted Cauliflower
Chicken with 20 Cloves of Garlic

Chicken with 20 Cloves of Garlic

Roasted Cauliflower:

March 11


We buy most of our fresh produce and proteins at the local Vinh Hung in City Heights (recently renamed Little Saigon) and at North Park Produce, the halal grocery so I had no idea that folks had been emptying the shelves at Trader Joe’s and Ralphs.

Perhaps the sole advantage to having a xenophobe in the White House who’s decided to call  the Corona Virus the “Chinese Virus” is that Asian groceries are relatively empty of shoppers. But even they have run out of flour.

March 9

San Antonio or Bust

Tower of the Americas

By the time San Antonio’s mayor declared a state of emergency over the Covid 19 pandemic last March 2, it was too late to get a refund on our Airbnb rental. I was traveling to that city with a lawyer, a poet and a  journalist to speak on a panel at the AWP Conference & Book Fair, an annual event that draws thousands of writers, editors, publishers, and booksellers. 

I’d seen much chatter on social media about the pros and cons of attending the conference, but since none of the other speakers on my panel voiced concerns about falling ill, and because three of us had already paid for our Airbnb rental, we decided to take our chances.  Armed with three packets of travel wipes and a travel sized bottle of hand sanitizer, I met the Anne, Carolyne and Ari at the San Diego Airport for our early morning flight.

After wiping down my  tray table, arm rests, and seatbelt buckles, I settled in for what I assumed would be a routine flight. As our plane approached San Antonio, we were rocked by five minutes of the worst turbulence I’d experienced in recent memory. Fearing we would crash, I began making nervous chitchat with the bearded  man  in the window seat. Robbie was attending the same conference, was the nonfiction editor for The Rumpus. I made a mental note to pitch him a story idea, if we survived this flight.  When the plane finally landed with a teeth-jarring thud, I was actually relieved to arrive in a city gripped by the pandemic.

The exhibition hall at Henry B. Gonzalez Convention looked twice as cavernous for its rows of unoccupied booths. Out of the 11,000 expected participants, about 5,000 had canceled.  

But I was grateful for those who showed up.

Nearly all of the panels I’d planned to attend  were cancelled, giving me more time to walk down each depleted aisle and to chat with indie book sellers and editors. Slower foot traffic meant less FOMO.  We greeted each other with  jazz hands and thanked each other for showing up. Each time I picked up a pen to sign up for their newsletter, they insisted I take it with me.  I collected many pens.

2040 Books publishes Writers of Color!

On the morning of our panel, both meeting rooms on either side of ours were deserted.  I worried no one would come to ours, because despite its provocative title He Done Her Wrong: The Redemptive Value of Reframing Violence in Story — did anyone want to hear about domestic violence when the Corona virus was dominating  the news? To our surprise, the room filled up. 

With Ari Honarvar, Carolyne Ouya, and Anne Bautista

Perhaps this was because ours was among the few panels still available to attend. I prefer to think people came to listen  because domestic violence  poses the more immediate existential threat than does this new, incurable disease.

I began by explaining how a  day job interpreting  for domestic violence survivors inspired me to write  The Mango Bride. Anne the immigration lawyer, laid out the basics of the Violence Against Women Act and the U visa. Carolyne  the Kenyan poet, led a call and response session before reading a piece she’d written about the American dream. Ari the journalist,  recalled how as a child in embattled Tehran,  she would sit  on the roof with her family and  watch missiles light up the sky. She described people on the streets  and those on the rooftops calling out  lines of poetry to each other, using  Rumi’s verses to dispel their shared fear of impending death.

To put things in perspective, folks have a far greater risk of dying from intimate partner violence, mass shootings, car accidents, and plane crashes than from Covid 19. The bottom line? Life itself is a risk, and I’m going all in for mine.

Free handout from  the Creative Writing professor