December! The end of 2020, a year none of us could have predicted (save maybe Ed Yong). We’re here, and I have no idea how to feel. It’s been tragedy upon insanity upon tragedy, and yet we’ve found plenty of joyful moments with the kids and our community of friends in our 10-block radius. It’s a year we’ll never forget, and I’m continuously grateful for all we have.
While this is a strange and sad holiday season, and it hurts my heart not to see my family, I’m vaguely optimistic about doing socially distanced celebrations with friends, seeing Lilly and Finn tumble into the living room on Christmas morning, and closing the book on 2020.
A couple ideas for pandemic-friendly festivities, plus gifting thoughts and some things to cook that aren’t cookies:
Socially distanced cookie swap: While I love and applaud Melissa Clark’s cookie boxes, there is zero chance of making that many different types of cookies with Lilly and Finn running around. Instead I’ve enlisted a group of neighborhood friends to participate in a socially distanced cookie swap: Each person makes a different cookie (coordinate to avoid dupes) and puts together individual bags/boxes for the other participants. We’ll meet in the park to swap treats, easy peasy. I’m planning on making Gingerbread Cookies so I can decorate them with Lilly, but am also going to attempt Claire Saffitz’s Pistachio Pinwheels because I love anything with almond flour in it. (Speaking of Claire Saffitz, her Kabocha Turmeric Tea Cake is a much more interesting and delicious version of pumpkin bread. Highly recommend!)
Big Band Holidays, at home: My favorite New York holiday tradition is Big Band Holidays at Jazz at Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis. Rob and I have gone the last six out of seven years, and go full Manhattan with pre-show charcuterie at Bar Boulud and post-show cocktails and people-watching at Bemelmans Bar. This year, we’ll be watching the livestream from home; the good news is that we can invite friends near and far and no one needs a babysitter. We’re setting up an intermission Zoom, sending around suggested snack and drink ideas, and dressing up just like we would if we were heading uptown.
Gifting guidelines: We’ve encouraged our very generous family to spoil Lilly and Finn via local toy and bookstores that ship or do pick up. No gifts for us — instead, we suggested donations to South Brooklyn Mutual Aid or West Brooklyn Waterfront Mutual Aid, two amazing community-based organizations. I did tell Rob that he has to wrap a few small things up for me because I’m still a child and love opening presents on Christmas morning (on the short list: a replacement for my beloved Tovolo spatula, perfect for scrambling eggs and flipping banana pancakes and literally anything from Saint Julivert’s new provisions shop).
I get a lot of joy from buying presents and, like many people, I’m trying to spend my dollars with small businesses, especially those run by women and BIPOC. Keep in mind that all businesses are experiencing shipping delays and maybe it’s ok to have presents arrive in early January (something to look forward to?). Here are a handful of ideas:
- Food gifts: One silver lining of restaurant industry crisis is that many have turned into specialty grocers and/or ship nationally. Our neighborhood favorite Poppy’s will send their amazing salted chocolate chip cookies or holiday cookie box anywhere in the country, and you can also ship Bien Cuit’s incredible bread and pastries (I sent my parents a pie for Thanksgiving and it was a huge hit!). I’ve also got my eye on Fort Defiance’s care packages. Other stocking stuffer options: Omsom Asian starters, which look so cool you don’t have to wrap them; Diaspora Co. spices (technically not shipping till January but I have thoughts on that; see below); and Red Bay coffee beans with a subscription attached). Who doesn’t love tasty treats?
- Kid stuff: We recently rediscovered our Habbi Habbi set and I think it’s such a brilliant, engaging alternative to plastic things that light up. We have also given in and the kids are getting the Ikea play kitchen that all their buddies have and love.
- Home goods: I’ve been looking for an excuse to buy some of Sunday/Monday’s gorgeous hand block-printed table linens. They’re a really nice way to make at-home meals (all of them, these days) feel special. I also love Estelle’s dreamscape colored glassware, especially the stemless glasses and cake stands. Thank you, Raisa, for reminding me about both of these!
- For more ideas, check out this old newsletter, with some amazing Black-owned businesses; also highly recommend A Thing or Two with Claire and Erica latest gift-guide episodes.
Group workouts in the time of Covid: A few months ago, my friend Elana started “Workout Club,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Each Thursday, a small group of us meets up at the park for a bootcamp-style workout led by Coach Tina, who Elana knew from her former gym. It’s been a bright spot of community, accountability, and good old fashioned endorphins, and we continue to do it even as the mornings get darker and colder. There are so many fitness and wellness professionals who aren’t able to work in their normal settings and this feels like a win on so many levels. I’m also setting up virtual yoga semi-private with a couple friends and our favorite Mala Yoga instructor. We’re scattered across boroughs and states but we can all get together via Zoom to sweat and commune.
Non-sugar things: In the latest installation of “everything’s better with labne,” I’m obsessed with Nik Sharma‘s Brussel Sprouts with Pickled Shallots and Labneh in the NYT. It’s been a long time since I’ve been excited about Brussel Sprouts and these hit all the notes: crunchy, puckery, sweet, savory. I’ve also been buying Romanesco because it’s more fun than cauliflower and broccoli, and both kids like it when it’s roasted on high heat till it’s almost burnt — this Carla Lalli Music recipe is the elevated version I’d make if I had more energy. Finally, I plan to make Hetty McKinnon’s Turmeric and Coconut-braised Cabbage with Chickpeas all winter long — comforting without being heavy, and a good way to use up the half a cabbage that’s inevitably hanging out in our fridge.
Art cart for the win! Neither Rob nor I are particularly organized but having two kids — and the stuff that goes along with them — has inspired us to add a bit more order to our lives. We also recently got this art cart from The Container Store to house all Lilly’s various supplies. Not only has it miraculously cleared off a dozen surfaces, but the art cart has also become Lilly’s point of pride, and Finn’s favorite thing to disassemble.
Kid-friendly holiday movies: We’ve been trying to wean Lilly off Trolls and so far we’ve had two wins: The Snowy Day, a beautiful mini-length movie based on Ezra Jack Keats‘ classic book, and The Muppet Christmas Carol, which also has a great soundtrack. We were also lucky to catch Brooklyn Ballet’s truly magical Nutcrackerperformed in their jewel-box storefront and since then Lilly’s been entranced by Nutcracker snippets on YouTube.
N/A, but make them inspiring: Rob and I have wine or a cocktail most evenings, and while I love the ritual of it, I also know by January I’ll be ready to take some time off. My friend Julia’s book, Good Drinks, is a gorgeous compendium of non-alcoholic drinks from experts across the country. It’s perfect for non-drinkers and drinkers alike, and a no-brainer gift.
That’s it for me. See you in January, and wishing you all a safe and happy end to the year.