So this would normally be my “best of” post. But honestly I just could not write it that way. And so I kept staring at the un-published list of things I wanted to talk about until suddenly this title came to mind. So much more appropriate. Things that kept me sane (whether I actually stayed truly sane is up for debate but we’ll just set that aside). Affiliate links were used in this post to link to items I am discussing anyway.
The top of that list is pictures of vacations. Mostly past, although we were lucky enough to escape to the North Carolina coast for a few weeks in July. The above picture is from Aruba, in September 2019.
North Carolina 2020–note the socially distanced beach!
So it seems like 2020 was The Year Of Cooking/Baking for everyone else. I think precisely because cooking and baking were already my norm, it just did not provide the escape for me like it did for so many others. While everyone else was inside babysitting their sourdough starters I was actually outside. I exercised more last spring especially than I have in ages. Which was great. But after the beach it was hot, and then the cold came, and if I am honest I am probably just depressed like everyone else on the planet. So apologies for not bringing you much food to think about. Having said that, here are some things that made me happy in 2020:
I updated my camera. This was actually huge, and I am excited for the days to grow longer, because I got it right as the days got shorter, which means most of my experimenting was outside, not with food. So I guess the outside not cooking theme continues. I made the kids do photo shoots with me (but they would kill me if I shared any), and then begged John to bring Skadi out and eventually just settled on nature, because I got the camera right as autumn was entering her full glory (although the truly glorious foliage all seems to be in pictures with the kids in them!):
Quarantine means Skadi has gotten a lot of walks with training and at this point we can trust her to pose off leash, making her the perfect subject.
I have been experimenting with longer exposures for my “setting sun” food photography, but thus far have not gotten the camera steady enough–even with a tripod. I need to use the remote shutter, but since I have not successfully done it yet, this is one of the only “food” pics I have with the new camera. It was early on and for the fun of it–some kind of latte I made for Sammy:
Foodwise, the things I continue to be most excited about are fair trade, single origin spices, which I discussed here, and Wild Idea Buffalo. I keep telling myself I need to do an entire post about Wild Idea but it just has not happened yet. Their meat (they use the term buffalo because most Americans call our bison buffalo but I admit I still tend to say bison, so you may see me use either term) is incredible–incredibly healthy, incredibly tasty and so incredibly good for our environment and climate change that I have been pushing everyone I know to check them out. I have no relationship with the company, other than sending them my money happily for everything from ground buffalo meat, which has become a staple for us, to the stunning prime rib that was our Thanksgiving centerpiece (I also got tenderloin for Christmas but when Covid-19 surged and all family visits were canceled we cut it into steaks and froze a lot of it). Did you know the Plains suck more carbon than the rainforest? And their bison roam happily on huge amounts of acreage until being humanely harvested right in the field. And if those things don’t sway you, consider also they are a lynchpin species, meaning if you hunt birds like quail or pheasant, bison are crucial to maintaining those species in the wild.
More photos from playing with the new camera–of course I went straight to the bird feeders, which are now “artificial” until the replacement Serviceberry tree we planted can grow enough to replace the tree that was dying and only existed to hold bird feeders, so sadly we finally had it removed (before it fell on our house!).
What would an end of year best of list be without cookbooks–and I have remained enthused about cookbooks, even if I have done more reading and less using. As always, all that matters is I got them this year, not when they were published:
- Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking: A Cookbook by Toni Tipton-Martin; some great reading here in addition to wonderful recipes. I have used this one and been quite happy.
- Sour: The Magical Element that Will Transform Your Cooking by Mark Diacono; my mom got me this one for Christmas from my wishlist and I have already used it for several recipes. If you love citrus, vinegar, fermenting… this one is for you.
- In Bibi’s Kitchen: The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers from the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean [A Cookbook] by Hawa Hassan; this one was a pre-order I was so excited. Excellent African cookbooks are harder to find (although getting easier) and plus you know I love the grandma angle. I still need to open this one.
- Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl and Yolele! Recipes From the Heart of Senegal, I am listing these together as both are by Pierre Thiam; I have read a lot of both of these, but I needed to order certain ingredients so I have not yet tackled any recipes. As I mentioned above though, I am always on the lookout for good African cookbooks and I am very excited to dig into these.
- Five Morsels of Love; this one has been on my wishlist for a while–it can only be ordered from its website and after my husband confessed that ordering it flummoxed him (he needed PayPal and I am the one with the PayPal account!) I finally just decided it was going to be my own Christmas present to myself. Full of heirloom recipes from Andhra Pradesh (a region of India in the southeast of the country) that are based on a classic Indian (not English language) cookbook I suggest you click over to check it out!
- The Rancho Gordo Pozole Book; The Rancho Gordo Vegetarian Kitchen; I ordered both directly from Rancho Gordo, another company that I adore and will gladly throw any business their way. Dried beans were one of the great staples of 2020–they have been a staple in my house for eons. And if you are going to eat a staple, why not make it the best, tastiest and most ethically sourced staple possible? I have not yet used the vegetarian cookbook, but we have had some awesome pozole from the other.
- The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food: A Cookbook by Marcus Samuelsson; he always gets high marks from me for his writing and this one is no different.
- Feast: Food of the Islamic World by Anissa Helou; this is a huge, gorgeous book. I have not yet dived in enough to do its justice but it is at the top of my super excited to read pile, along with Middle Eastern Cookery by Arto der Haroutunian, which is an older, much plainer looking book (no pictures) but looks to be riveting nonetheless with stories of where the different recipes come from.
- Beatrix Bakes by Natalie Paull; I have not yet had a chance to dive into this one. I had to get it though when I realized (as you may have noticed) I had not really acquired any baking books this year to be excited about (not a comment on what was published, just a comment on what I have). It looks right up my homey baked goods alley.
- Ottolenghi Flavor: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi; does this one really need an explanation? The man writes a cookbook, I, and the rest of the English speaking but adventurously cooking world has to have it. And for good reasons.
- The Flavor Equation: The Science of Great Cooking Explained in More Than 100 Essential Recipes by Nik Sharma; Nik Sharma is an auto-buy (or auto wishlist at any rate) for me. I just got this one and because I tend to get so many cookbooks around the holidays I have not had a chance to check them all out yet. But this one is high on my list.
Well as you guys can probably tell, a lot of what I did was play with my camera this year–and pace in circles in my driveway. Due to said pacing, music was another sanity saver in 2020. If you have Apple Music, feel free to check out the playlist that kept me sanest. It has a lot of older music on it because I wanted music that I knew like the back of my hand and could sing at the top of my lungs. (I don’t know why it says 100 songs–it is more like 400 songs long!)
Fall had to eventually end. At which point my camera and I crawled back inside, waited for the new treadmill to be dropped off and watched a lot of TV with Sammy. The holidays were hard but one truly magical thing did happen–we had a white Christmas. I love snow, and not only did we have a white Christmas but we had the biggest snowfall I have experienced since moving to western PA, and the joy from the snowball fight with my family kept me on a high for a good four or five days. Needless to say, I did not use my new camera for this! I have some hilarious photos, but out of deference to my teenagers who no longer like their picture all over their mother’s site or social media, you get Skamp instead:
I strive to keep this a politics free zone. We can disagree about a lot of things and still be friends. But I would be remiss in discussing 2020 if I did not make clear that this is a space where Black lives matter. To quote Dolly Parton of course Black lives matter–did we think only our “little white asses” mattered? The Spiced Life stands with Black people in this country and strongly believes that the casual acceptance of police brutality against Black people must end.
Autumn flower growing out of foliage littering the ground
Where the sinkhole begins….