2019 in Review
Well, here we are at the end of a decade. It’s been a big one – I’m a very different person than I was 10 years ago, in what I hope is largely a good way. I’ve got a long way to go towards being the kind of person I’d like to be, but if there’s anything I’ve learned in the 2010s, it’s that at the end of the day, all you can do is hold your present self accountable and make a genuine effort to be better next time. (Not sure I’ve fully internalized or made peace with that, but that’s part of the process.)
But 2019 specifically: a lot happened! I read 46 books, cooked over 60 new recipes, moved into a new apartment. And just a few weeks ago, I got engaged to a pretty spectacular person who’s made my life immeasurably better over the past six years.
We are thrilled and excited, and even more so after getting to spend a week or so this holiday celebrating with both our families!
2019 was a year of far fewer “new” travel destinations. Instead we stuck to old favorites, including about two weeks in Turkey in July to spend time with my whole family capped off with a wonderful weekend in Chios, Greece; a hop to Denver for a friend’s wedding; and a weekend trip to the Grand Canyon & Vegas with my parents.
We did finally make it up to Napa for a pretty epic wine weekend with family, and down to Monterey & Carmel (the best part of which was the guided elephant seal tour at Año Nuevo state park.) We also joined Sam’s brother and sister-in-law for a few days in beautiful Jenner, CA, as they finished up their honeymoon trip of cycling from Seattle to San Francisco. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the California coast.
Many of my happiest moments this year have come when I’ve been outdoors and moving: I had a brief goal in the summer of this year to hike every weekend, which quickly fell apart after we came back from Turkey. I still managed to hike Alamere Falls, Mt. Diablo, the Marin headlands, Angel Island, and Mt. Davidson, with lots of excursions out to Land’s End. All beautiful, all memorable, all done with great company. We’ll inevitably have to leave the Bay Area someday, so I’m trying to take advantage of the easy access to amazing nature while I still can.
My goal this year was, as usual, to read 52 new books – one per week. I ended up hitting 46, which I’m still really proud of given that this was a much more hectic year for me overall at work. And almost all of the books I read were really good ones! You’ll notice that there are just a handful on my list that I can’t wholeheartedly recommend, far less than in previous years.
I read so many amazing works of fiction this year that it’s tough to even know where to start. So many of them have been rattling around my mind for months and will stick with me for a long time. In particular: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, the devastating inspired-by-a-true-story account of a reform school in Florida; Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie, a retelling of Antigone among British Muslims; and The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, set in Chicago during the AIDS crisis.
There were more lighthearted reading experiences, too. I fully admit to having been one of those people who thought romance was a tired, trope-ridden genre, but Jasmine Guillory’s The Proposal busted the doors open late last year and let me discover some true gems in 2019. Even though The Expanse series didn’t make my highlights list, I really enjoyed racing through all 8 books within a few weeks, which I haven’t done with a new-to-me sci fi / fantasy series in years. (If you don’t watch the TV adaptation already, you should, it’s awesome.)
I read far more fiction than nonfiction this year, but adored the nonfiction I did read. Hotbox, a behind-the-scenes look at the wild world of catering, was a sleeper hit, as was Dreamland, about the opioid epidemic. Maid is Stephanie Land’s memoir of the years she worked cleaning houses in Oregon, and I wish it could be required reading (especially for people who would like to cut our already insufficient social safety nets.)
Cribsheet by Emily Oster is about parenting children 0-3, but even as someone without kids, I found it a compelling exercise in the right way to communicate science & expertise. Oster nonjudgmentally summarizes (and assess the quality of) research on topics like breastfeeding and childcare, empowering parents to make decisions that are evidence-based but the right fit for their family. It was a breath of fresh air that I think many in the movement to debunk junk science could learn from. I can’t wait to read Expecting Better, her earlier book on pregnancy.
You can see my full list here (and don’t dismiss those that didn’t make the highlights – this year it was incredibly difficult to choose.)
I cooked 67 new recipes this year – more than 1 per week! See here for the full list. 2019 was truly the year of Alison Roman, if perhaps more in spirit than in the raw number of recipes attempted. I haven’t yet had a chance to cook from her second book, Nothing Fancy, but could not be more in love with the tomato poached fish with a crispy chili-shallot oil situation (from her New York Times column) and the roasted tomato and anchovy pasta (from Dining In.) These crisp smashed potatoes with fried onions (also NYT) are both easy and divine. I’ve only made her lemony herb salad once, but can tell it will be a staple in 2020.
I made pasta for the first time early in the year and a few more times since, and am obsessed with how absolutely easy, satisfying and impressive it is. I also finally used my sourdough starter to make bread rather than just pancakes, with moderate success, but bread-making is time consuming and tricky enough that living in San Francisco with ample access to good sourdough, it just doesn’t feel worth the effort for me. (Plus, I finally killed my starter. RIP.)
2019 made me into a chickpea evangelist: I’d long been skeptical of canned chickpeas and really don’t like them say, just rinsed and popped in a salad, but I tried, loved and then repeatedly made Julia Turshen’s dead simple chickpea curry from Small Victories throughout most of the year, and her Most Savory Breakfast (sautéed onions, chickpeas, spicy, sausage, fried egg on top) most weekends.
At a certain point in the year (read: Open Enrollment!) I moved into survival-cooking mode, which led to a lot of Smitten Kitchen’s lemony goat cheese pasta, which has one of the best effort to reward ratios of any dish I make. But now that I’m out of the woods, I want to revisit recipes I made once and dreamed about forever after, like Smitten Kitchen’s Black Pepper Tofu and Eggplant and Alison Roman’s Anchovy Butter Roast Chicken from Dining In. The latter is worth making just for the croutons, which were probably the most pleasurable eating experience I’ve had all year.
In dessert baking adventures, Bravetart’s careful step-by-step outline guided me through a pretty killer first attempt at macarons, and a gorgeous yule log that was the centerpiece for our holiday party. Her Tate’s-style chocolate cookies (a food processor recipe!!) were a giant hit every time I made them, too.
I feel like I’ve said this in previous years, but I really think 2020 could be the year I figure out pie. Over Thanksgiving I made Bravetart’s awesome butternut pumpkin pie and something about the process just clicked, and the dough was supple and easy to roll out and baked up a charm. I’m pretty sure it was a fluke, but I want to chase that feeling!
Beyond home cooking, we also got to take some really fun cooking classes this year. We kicked things off with a basic knife skills class at 18 Reasons, which I still found incredibly valuable despite the fact that it’s (as advertised) pretty basic. We also really enjoyed Breakthrough Sushi’s brunchtime class, which was less applicable to my day to day cooking but a lot of fun and most importantly, stuffed you with more sushi than you thought possible. And finally, we celebrated Sam’s birthday with a noodle-making class at The Story of Ramen, which convinced me that I might actually be able to make ramen noodles at home! (Broth is a whole different ball game.)
And in 2020?
I haven’t yet taken the time to set formal resolutions, but I think they’ll be simple: Move your body more. Get out in nature. Make peace with the fact that you’ll never be one for late-night parties and then host more of the kind you prefer (mid-afternoon, relaxed, centered on food.) Learn to be a better listener. Cite (and check) sources. And if there’s just one thing you do, spend less time on your phone.
Oh, and plan a wedding.