The end of 2019 is directly upon us, bearing down like a terrifying freight train or creeping in like a tortoise on downers, depending on your perspective and experience. Whatever anyone’s personal impression, we all agree this is the time of year every media outlet obsesses over (usually) best-of year-end lists. I feel the compulsion to add my own, but am forced to confront the awareness that I’m not a professional critic of any kind, and that my intake of all things media is … uneven at best. Like, I’m just now to the middle of Season 2 of Orange is the New Black. So instead of a pure list or listicle, I’ll share with you my personal favorite things of 2019, which will veer into the written word, the viewed screen, and the eaten food.
By deliberate choice, I read a lot this year. I finished thirty-five books (I know!) and fret not, I will spare you a rundown of the entire list and only give brief mention to my absolute favorites. And yes, I’m aware some of these weren’t published in 2019. But I read them in 2019, so it counts.
I’d say Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner was my most pleasurable read. Taken down over my husband’s birthday weekend last summer under a shaded fancy pool swing because it’s the most perfect beach/poolside book ever, I was happy to declare it worth its hype.
On Writing by Stephen King was terrific and by far the most charming read of the year. You don’t usually put the words “charming” and “Stephen King” in the same sentence, but damn if Tabitha King’s husband didn’t write a charming book! Part memoir, part writing advice, fully delightful.
Kushner, Inc by Vicky Ward was the most important and terrifying read for me. Why Americans aren’t in mass protests on the streets over that spoiled child aka “First Son-in-Law” running around behind the scenes of the White House, totally unchecked and thinking he knows jack shit about national security while WhatsApping MBS is beyond me.
If you haven’t picked up The Power by Naomi Alderman, do yourself a favor and rectify immediately. This novel is about a male-dystopian world where women and only women can send electric sparks through their fingertips. Is it absurdly awesome? Yes. Do the women use this power responsibly? Reader, they do not. And it’s delicious.
My two most impactful reads were God Land by Lyz Lenz and Empty the Pews coedited by Chrissy Stroop and Lauren O’Neal. I’m still processing the brilliant analyses and heartfelt prose. Both books will inspire much writing from me in 2020.
I touched on books but we can’t forget articles, as journalism is supposedly keeping democracy alive? Or something. Despite the troubling heartbreak of shuttering Splinter, the whole Deadspin clusterfuck, and many more newspaper layoffs America could ill afford, 2019 produced some important and lovely and uncomfortable writing. My personal favorite articles were this profile of Alanis Morissette written by Nicole Cliffe for SELF Magazine (which inspired one of my own essays); You Shouldn’t Have to Be Good at Your Job by Drew Magary, published on Gen Medium; and last by certainly not least, Alone in a Cloud by Ask Molly aka Heather Havrilesky, on her Substack newsletter. Just… wait for it.
As is the case every year, I watched very little televisual in real time. I’m always at least a year late on the hottest new thing. But may I offer you the proud, vehement recommendation of Russian Doll, from Netflix? Sweet birthday baby, was that mind-blowingly brilliant! Best show I’ve seen in years.
I ate a lot of good shit this year, most of which was cooked in my kitchen as I now live in the suburbs and am kinda sad to report that transcendental restaurant meals are no longer a part of my ongoing existence. But I’m thrilled to have finally perfected Shrimp Pad Thai at home, a necessity since white suburban Thai food is … we’re not gonna go there. I’ll be sharing that one here soon. Mr. Wallace whipped up Alison Roman’s Low and Slow Rib Roast with Rosemary and Anchovy for Christmas dinner, and we were almost weeping at the damn table it was so stupendous.
Speaking of Alison Roman, this cookbook junkie would be remiss not to throw a mention to my favorite cookbooks of 2019. If you’d like a more complete list, Helen Rosner is your source. My enthusiastic nods go to Nothing Fancy, which is just vintage Alison Roman through and through: delicious and inviting and interesting and DGAF. I’ve made a number of recipes already with great success. Expect to see some show up here this next year. My second shiny medal is pinned on The Art of Escapism Cooking by Mandy Lee. This cookbook is first and foremost a heartfelt and unflinching read, but the recipes are enticing and unique, beckoning you to get lost in Lee’s homesick, kitchen-obsessed world. I’ve already fucked up her homemade ramen noodles, and I plan to not only try them again, but spend much more quality time with the work in 2020.
And last but not least, hopefully it’s not a thinly disguised non sequitur to announce my favorite newly discovered drink of 2019: this Seriously Dirty Martini I’m sharing today. Chef Alex Guarnaschelli published it in Food and Wine Magazine a few months ago. I insisted we make it immediately, to zero regrets. It’s beautiful, a real grown-ups’ drink: unapologetic and sexy and clever. I know no one asked, but you should know it pairs well with Gentleman’s Relish on Toast.
And that’s it for me and 2019. I am beyond thankful for my budding readership here, for the opportunity to spew my opinions on any number of arbitrary and not-so-arbitrary subject matter plus share what I’m cooking. I wish you peace, love, fun, and safety over this upcoming holiday, and I’ll see you all next year.
Seriously Dirty Martini
- Enough ice to fill about three quarters of your shaker
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons gin
- 2 tablespoons green olive juice from jar
- 1 tablespoon dry vermouth
- 1 tablespoon caper brine from jar
- 2 enthusiastic grinds of fresh black pepper
- 6 large pitted green olives, such as Cerignola
- Place ice in a cocktail shaker or jar with a lid. Add gin, olive juice, vermouth, and caper brine. Swirl until liquid is cold and sides of shaker have condensation, about 30 seconds. Strain the gin mixture evenly into 2 martini glasses. Stick 3 olives each onto 2 cocktail skewers. Place the skewered olives onto a small plate. Grind the black pepper over the olives, then carefully add 3 olives to each glass. If you want an extra grind of pepper onto the top of each poured martini, I won’t judge. Serve immediately.