What we watched, read, listened to and cooked this year.
By Melissa Kirsch
Welcome. It’s the time of year when “best of” lists proliferate, when critics look back on the previous 12 months and select their favorite stuff. The Times’s critics’ 2020 lists are splendid; I’ve already tracked down most of Manohla Dargis’s film picks and a bunch of the best podcasts and have them all ready to go in my various queues.
For many of us, if we’ve been lucky, this year has been defined by time spent at home, taking in culture and taking stock. We haven’t gone to the movies or the theater in eons, but we’re still watching, we’re still reading and listening and cultivating our tastes. We’ve found movies, books, recipes, shows, routines, sounds, smells and creature comforts that help us feel sane and connected. We’ve created our own cultural universe at home.
I’ve found my colleagues on the At Home team a rich source for recommendations for living well this year. Anticipating an expanse of unscheduled hours over the holidays, I asked them to give me their personal “best of” lists, the things that helped them lead full and cultured lives in 2020. Here’s what they told me.
Jaspal Riyait, Art Director
My husband and I watched all nine seasons of “The Office” and proceeded to nickname our foster kitten “Plop.”
Per Spotify, “F Major,” by Hania Rani, was the song that helped me get through the year.
After many failures, I finally mastered my mom’s famous daal recipe.
Camping was a form of escapism.
I spent way too many hours watching miniature cooking videos on YouTube.
Ted Kim, Director, Early Career Journalism Strategy and Recruiting
Any BioLite product. My favorite has been the small CampStove 2 cooking stove. I fired it up in the yard to brighten autumn workdays.
Beats Studio 3 noise-cancelling headphones. They’ve been helpful as I sometimes have to work alongside two remote-learning children intent on turning our basement into a lava pit or a zoo (or sometimes both at the same time).
Home theater. We’ve felt incredibly fortunate to have a large television and surround-sound system that can bring to our home a close approximation of the theater experience. The content varies, from “Snoopy in Space” to “The Mandalorian” to “Tenet.” We’ve watched “The Grinch” in 4K about 1,250 times.
Bananas. “Nature’s Snickers bar,” as I like to call them. They satisfy on their own, but also can be used on oatmeal, cereal, granola, and on and on. A perfect pandemic meal.
Coconut water. It quenches thirst like water, but feels more special. And we could all use a little more special this season.
Nick Donofrio, Staff Editor
Overcoming a lifelong, bone-deep fear, I finally watched “Jaws” this summer, and it was fantastic. Quint’s midnight monologue, about the fate of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, was scarier than any of the scenes with the shark.
Colu Henry’s creamy white beans with herb oil was, for me, the dish of 2020. Quarantine-associations notwithstanding, I think I could eat it weekly, forever.
“Ted Lasso,” a big-hearted comedy about an American football coach transplanted to London to manage a Premier League soccer team, was an utter delight. The title character — who exudes nontoxic masculinity while doling out homespun wisdom about life, love, and teamwork — is sort of like Coach Taylor, from “Friday Night Lights,” but funnier. He’s even got the twang.
Most days, around 7 p.m., I shut my laptop, crack Death & Co.’s book of modern classic cocktails, and mix myself a drink. Taking a (masked, distanced) walk around the block would probably be a healthier way to end the workday, but it would require shoes.
Waxahatchee’s “Fire” started playing on repeat in our house in late January, and never really stopped. For weeks at a time, that absolutely perfect track and the rest of the “Saint Cloud” album, released in March, seemed like the only music we listened to. It was more than enough.
Minju Pak, Managing Editor, T Mag
Dark documentaries. In the spring and summer especially, when my sleep patterns were less predictable, watching the depths of human cruelty let me drill down into the darkness of the moment. I recommend: “I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter,” “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez,”“Amanda Knox,” “Athlete A,” Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich,” “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez,” “The Vow.”
Rose water and essential oils. My sense of smell is something I rely on to feel normal, so on the limited occasions I leave the house, I spray or rub on a scent. This makes me feel like myself again, albeit moving through a very changed world.
Novellas. My reading time was almost solely confined to my subway commute to and from work. Now it’s before bed, so I went through my bookshelves and, based on size, picked out fiction I hadn’t read yet. All are less than 200 pages, and it’s been satisfying and addictive.
BCD Soon Tofu soup starter, S&B Golden Curry and processed Asian snacks. I could try and make some of these from scratch, but packaged Asian foods — especially the cubes my mom used as the base of her curry when I was young — give me comfort.
YouTube videos on how to braid hair. I started growing my hair out years before the pandemic, mostly because I was tired of visiting the hairdresser to maintain a cut. Unstyled hair presents its own challenges, so I’m so I’m learning to braid it myself, which I should have learned as a kid.
Sam Sifton, Assistant Managing Editor
James McBride’s heartful novel “Deacon King Kong.”
The dark and engrossing French police procedural “Spiral.”
Strongly brewed Barry’s Tea with milk and a drop of honey.
Ayad Akhtar’s fact-fictional memoir-novel “Homeland Elegies.”
The scarlet tanager I saw a few times.
Pork chops in lemon-caper sauce.
Crab pot fly on an 8-weight fly rod.
Frances Hannan, Director, Features Product
Reading thrillers. At the beginning of the pandemic, I found myself unable to focus on books unless they absolutely clobbered me with suspense and heightened emotions. Some suggestions: “A Good Marriage,” by Kimberly McCreight; “Take Me Apart,” by Sara Sligar; and “The Guest List,” by Lucy Foley.
Cooking while watching “Grey’s Anatomy.” There are now 17 seasons and not all of them are great. But some are, and even when it’s a bit overdone, I find Meredith Grey and the rest of the surgical crew great companions for making dinner. (Note: It takes me at least twice the suggested time to make a meal.)
Zoom workouts. A friend’s brother is a trainer who went virtual during the pandemic. Since March, a group of us who have known each other since elementary school have been doing weekend workouts with him. I struggle to keep in touch with everyone via phone or FaceTime, so the regular session keeps me feeling connected.
Tik Tok. Yeah. I did it. I’m just a lurker, though I couldn’t help but try a couple of the dog video trends.
The Dyson Airwrap. Like so many these days, I work from home and find it difficult to create boundaries between work and other parts of the day. I tend to sit on the couch in my pajamas in the morning and start working without really meaning to. One thing that helps is an occasional morning ritual of doing my hair with this crazy Dyson tool I got last holiday season. It makes me take time to myself and feel more presentable, even if only from the neck up.
And my own best of 2020:
LaCroix limoncello seltzer. I didn’t understand seltzer’s appeal until I tried this flavor. It really does taste like the Italian liqueur, lemony but also creamy. I tried to tempt Sam Sifton’s palate with it and he objected to its vanilla notes. I think those notes are precisely why I like it.
Waxahatchee, “Saint Cloud.” I recommended this album back in August, and I’m only more entranced by it now.
“My Brother, My Brother and Me.” A fake advice podcast in which three zany brothers do silly bits and crack each other up. It’s a reliable weekly escape.
A recipe for Escarole, Sausage and White Bean Stew from “The Gourmet Cookbook”. It’s a simple, flexible soup that I’ve altered a million different ways to accommodate heaps of winter greens and it’s always wonderful.
“The Painter and The Thief,” a beautiful documentary. Stream it.
What’s on your personal “best of 2020” list? What have you watched, eaten, read, listened to or done that have helped you lead a good life at home? Write to us: [email protected] Include your name, age and location, and I’ll share responses in Friday’s At Home newsletter. We’re At Home. We’ll read every letter sent. Even more ideas for how to pass the time happily appear below.
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