Over the last 48 hours, the world has shifted. Originally, I was going to write a quick newsletter with a mix of belated gift ideas and festive recipes. And I’ll still share those. But I know I’m not alone in feeling shades of March 2020. My texts are full of some variation of: WTF, so exhausted, confirmed exposure, hunkering down. It’s not the way that I expected this month and year to end but maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. As Ed Yong writes, we’ve repeatedly shown that we are unprepared for this pandemic, in all its forms (note: skip this article if you’re already overwhelmed).
So what is there to do? We’re dialing back our plans, keeping the kids out of school, and testing on repeat so we can travel to Maine safely. We’re also continuing to optimize within the now-shrinking boundaries. Our kid cookie party will now be outside and distanced, with individual decorating stations, and we’ll be streaming Big Band Holidays at home, a redux to last year. We’ll do our best to be safe, and keep our news intake at a moderate level.
As promised: ideas and recommendations! Here are some favorites, new and old, to close out 2021.
Practice wellness checks: In the darkest weeks of 2020, Hayley and I started texting each other, “Wellness check?” throughout the day or week. I find it easier to answer honestly than “How are you,” and it’s a reminder to pause and take stock of how I’m actually doing. Even when my wellness check is “tired,” or “overwhelmed,” it helps to name the emotion. And right now, when I don’t see my friends as often as I would like, wellness checks help me stay connected.
Buying and gifting small brands: The brands I give are the same ones I love year-round so this list may feel a little familiar. And while they probably aren’t helpful for this year (though I do like a January gift!), I hope they’re good inspiration for the future.
- Super effective skincare for face and body: Normally, my skin sops up moisturizer and is dry an hour later. Not so with Kate McLeod’s Body Stone, which is a solid moisturizer made with cocoa butter and essential oils. I love her Grounding Stone and am equally obsessed with her brand-new Face Stone, which I smooth on after my serum.
- Fancy fishies for all: My sister had the genius idea to have a “Snacks of the Seven Fishes” on Christmas Eve (inspired by the more traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes) which means we’ll have to open my Fishwife smoked salmon stocking stuffers early. I’m also planning on picking up more Pearl Street Caviar, which is based in Brooklyn and sustainably sourced. We ordered it last year and ate it with buckwheat blinis.
- Everyday luxury spices: We’ve slowly been overhauling our spice cabinet with Diaspora and Burlap & Barrel and gifted some of our favorites to family. I can’t get over the intensity and complexity of the Burlap & Barrel vanilla and Lilly literally eats their cinnamon by the spoonful (also with apples, oatmeal). We love all Diaspora spices but especially the turmeric, cumin, and coriander (all of which get heavy usage in our house).
- Well-accessorized candles: I’m a proud angel investor in Otherland and I send their gift-ready candles throughout the year when someone needs a pick-me-up or as a thank you. But during the holidays, they’re a no-brainer, especially with this delightfully over the top Adorned collection. I also love that you can gift just a single candle or build a custom set with your favorite scents.
- Easy cooking upgrades: Another biased investor recommendation but I also gift Omsom throughout the year. Great packaging, practical but also a treat, and gives people something to look forward to cooking. They recently launched their Flight, which includes all six of their starters and a six-month subscription to your two faves. We’re making the Vietnamese Lemongrass BBQ with tofu for the kids tonight!
A just right newsletter: There’s something about Gloria, a weekly newsletter for “women who aren’t yet old, but aren’t still young,” that is both refreshing and comforting. It doesn’t make me feel stodgy because I can’t put together a TikTok (or care to figure it out) and it doesn’t make me anxious like even my favorite tech newsletters do. Instead, I get a 101 on facial lasers, essays on rage, and a useful roundup of fall flats. Definitely worth a subscribe.
Important and entertaining kid books: As the kids get older, I’m continuously grateful to all the amazing books that address big or tricky concepts more eloquently than I could. Our Skin and Being You, by Megan Madison and Jessica Ralli, are part of a series called “First Conversations” and explain race and gender in a way that is accessible and confidence-boosting for kids. I also love Aaron Slater, Illustrator, the latest in Andrea Beaty’s wonderful Ada Twist series (also now a wonderful Netflix show!). Inspired by famous artist Aaron Douglas, who was also dyslexic, the book shows how learning differently can be a superpower.
A chapter book adults will love: On the less serious front, my best friend Tam gave Lilly the first installment in the Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord and it is so fun and actually has me giggling along with Lilly. It’s also a nice change from our usual unicorn- and dragon-themed chapter books.
Fancy personalized sweatshirt: A decade ago, Hayley gifted me a sweatshirt with “Hug Dealer” (a nod to my superior hugging skills) and I wore it to pieces. I finally decided to replace it; I ordered one of The Great’s perfectly cut sweatshirts with the phrase tastefully embroidered on the collar. I can’t wait to wear it all winter.
Cookies, cookies, cookies: This weekend, we’re hosting a small, outdoor, and distanced decorating party (this 2019 newsletter has everything you need should you want to throw your own). I also have a short list of new recipes to try while we’re in Maine, thanks to my friend Raisa and her cookie intel. Rai says Sohla El-Waylly‘s Chewy Gingerbread might be the best version ever, and that these Lemon Cakes from the Game of Thrones cookbook are a sleeper hit (tip: add cardamom). She also reminded me about these Sesame Chocolate Chunk cookies from Paola Velez, pastry chef and founder of Bakers Against Racism. They look like ideal for New Year’s Eve dessert, with ice cream and amaro. Last cookie thing! There’s something about the NYT Cookie Calendar and its dancing cookies that I find so charming.
Dressed up sides: I recently rediscovered this Bon Appetit Squash and Radicchio Salad, which is perfect for a holiday dinner but also just a beautiful, tasty side. It has a crazy delicious dressing that you make in the blender (no chopping!); it would also be great on other sturdy greens, roasted cauliflower or sweet potatoes. And, as we wait for our copy of Joshua McFadden’s new Grains for Every Season, we’re revisiting his crisp and refreshing Turnip Salad with Yogurt and Herbs.
Direct-from-Africa coffee beans: While we’re long time Go Get ‘Em Tiger club members, we love trying new coffee brands. My sister-in-law gave me Kahawa 1893 beans for early Christmas and I’m so impressed by both the brand and the product. Founded by Margaret Nyamumbo, a third-generation coffee farmer from Kenya, Kahawa 1893 sources directly from women farmers in Kenya and Rwanda to ensure they are paid a fair price; you can also tip the farmers directly via their site. So far, my favorite is the Best of Africa blend and I’m looking forward to trying many more.
And that’s a wrap! Wishing you a safe and love-filled end of the year, and may 2022 bring more brightness.
P.S. Old editions live here, including last year’s holiday picks.
P.P.S. As I think about how many presents our kids are about to receive, I am also thinking of and donating to those who don’t have as much. This year, I’m donating to City Harvest, which helps feed 1.5 million New Yorkers, as well as Room to Grow, which provides essential baby and toddler items to over 1,500 families in the city.