The Tiger King series is undoubtedly the universal quarantine past–time, but watching con men with five teeth attempt to murder each other can get disheartening, at least for me.

So what do we do when we’re tired of watching Netflix? 

My "creative" outlet has been reading the Harry Potter series late at night with a headlamp on (haven't read them yet, no spoilers). In pursuit of my next quarantine endeavor, I spoke with three Penn students who took it a step further. 

Here are their unique hobbies to fill the time in quarantine:

Alaina Chou, C’22: Established Baker and Aspiring Food Media Writer 

Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Major: Fine Arts


Alaina Chou is running a food media company from her kitchen.

Aspiring to one day work for Bon Appétit Magazine, the photographer for Penn Appétit launched her website, Crumbs & Nibbles, when she was 13 years old. Now she is using social media to reach a wider audience—combining her studied love of art with her insatiable love for baking.

“I get inspiration from a lot of the big food media giants, and I like to put my own spin on their recipes. I then shoot whatever I make—I have my camera at home with me.” 

Brown butter sage caramel apple galettes, vanilla layer cake with raspberry buttercream, and oatmeal banana chocolate chip cookies (reminiscent of Magic Carpet food truck's treats) are just some of Alaina's latest creations, as she transforms often inaccessible gourmet pastries into recipes crafted for the non–baker. 

“I started doing these live baking demos on my Instagram during quarantine. I focus on recipes with simple ingredients that everybody would have.” 

In addition to being featured by other food–focused publications, Alaina’s recipes have been welcomed by an eager, self–isolating audience (I’ve been sent her cookie recipe three separate times by different people). “People will message me and say how much their family loved it… My last recipe for banana bread got 20 responses which was really nice to see.”

“My blog is a way to connect with people and encourage them to do something with their time. I think it’s created a fun little community.” 

From naming competitions for her sourdough starter to an endless supply of satisfying food pictures, join the Crumbs & Nibbles community and tune into Alaina’s demos to sweeten up this otherwise dark time.

Amos Armony, C’20: Makeshift Kombucha Brewer

Hometown: Arlington, Mass.

Major: Biological Basis of Behavior

“Every drink is based on a different Penn experience that I’ll miss.” 

Amos Armony is grappling with the sudden loss of his senior year, and he’s brewing kombucha to deal with it. “Walnut Walkermelon” is a watermelon–flavored play on the classic senior year pub crawl, Walnut Walk. “Latin BBQ Blackout” commemorates a touted Spring Fling event, with blackberry essence. “Blarney's Phizzo” references the classic college bar trivia game, Quizzo.

“It takes me around ten days to make a single batch, so it definitely passes the time,” Amos reflects as he sits in his off–campus Philly apartment where he's living until his lease ends. “Anyone could do it really... It’s black tea with a lot of sugar.” The pre–med student comes from a long line of kombucha brewers, and takes time to thoughtfully explain to me the science behind the fermentation process. I now know that bacteria like to eat sugar. 

“You need a starter kombucha, something called a SCOBY. My mom and my brother brew kombucha, so I got the SCOBY from her. I’m the worst in my family actually. There’s an art to it.”

The drink takes two fermentations—both of which occur in his bedroom closet. On the second fermentation, carbonation occurs and flavors can be added. “‘Magic Gardens Mojito’ was made by combining mint, lime chunks, and brown sugar.”

“I named the brand ‘Bootleg Bucha.’ I was so bored that I spent a whole day designing labels.” Amos has brewed 12 bottles so far, but he does not intend to sell them.

See recipe below for how to start your own quarantine-inspired kombucha.

INGREDIENTS

  • Two–gallon jar
  • Black tea
  • Sugar
  • SCOBY (any kind of leftover kombucha)
  • Fruit, herbs, syrups, or other flavoring (optional)
  • Dark space
  • Time
  • Patience

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Combine black tea and sugar in a two–gallon jar.
  2. Close jar and store in dark space.
  3. Wait 10 days...
  4. Your first fermentation is done! Partition into smaller bottles, add some flavors, and, again, store in dark space.
  5. Wait 1-3 days…
  6. Enjoy kombucha.
  7. Repeat.

Jessi Olarsch, C’21: Entrepreneurial Artist

Hometown: Harrington Park, N.J.

Major: Fine Arts 

“I wake up, eat breakfast, and start my art project for the day. Today was Shrinky Dinks modeled after famous paintings,” Jessi Olarsch motions at the portrait art that fills her bedroom floor–to–ceiling. She laughs. “I spend 80 percent of my waking hours painting.”

The art history–obsessed, David Hockney–inspired artist uses nontraditional colors to create nontraditional pieces. Her most recent painting is a large-scale oil and watercolor piece that she describes as “a recreation of a recreation of a Van Gogh painting.”

Working from reference photos, Jessi began creating commissioned portraits in high school after taking an Introduction to Art class that brought her into the world of painting. She has used her quarantine time to expand her business. “I have so much free time, and I’m able to take on a lot more projects now.”

“I always paint in my room. When working on a commission, I first sketch the portrait on my iPad to figure out the composition, then I redraw the image on paper with pencil, and lastly, I fill the sketch in with paint. It usually takes me one to two days to finish a piece.”

“You don’t have to be good at painting to start painting,” Jessi says, adding that she never thought that she would pursue art. Check out @jessioart for some inspiration.


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