A new tradition for 2016, an opportunity to look back and reflect, take some pleasure in positive experiences of the year concluding, and pass along some recommendations to others who appreciate such things: sharing my top ten books, tv , meals and hikes.
This is a list of of my favorite “non-professional” titles read in 2016, drawn from a list of something over 80 books read in total (every May or June I publish a post of the top ten summer reading recommendations for educators, and it makes no sense to duplicate that here.)
The top three on the list below do stand apart as the very best: McEwan’s Nutshell, so short as to be effectively a novella, I adored and couldn’t put down, amusing and sexy and bizarre as it is. Wulf’s biography of Alexander von Humboldt, The Invention of Nature, told the story of an early nineteenth century polymath who first deeply recognized and appreciated the interconnectedness of all living creatures, and is gorgeously written (the accompanying title by the same author isn’t quite as great but still very worthy.) And the third title is the the story of Quanah Parker, who has to be among the very most fascinating creatures ever to exist on the North American continent, and whose story deserves to be as well known and as deeply considered as that of almost any other American.
- Nutshell (McEwan)
- Invention of Nature and Chasing Venus (Wulf)
- Empire of the Summer Moon (Gwynn)
- When Breath Becomes Air (Kalanithi)
- Eligible (Sittenfeld) and Emma (Smith)
- Modern Romance (Straub)
- Underground Airlines (Winters)
- Underground Railroad (Whitehead)
- The Wright Brothers (McCullogh)
- TV: The Book (Sepinwall and Zollar-Seitz)
Honorable Mention: Night Life (Taylor), The Girls (Cline), American Heiress (Toobin), Sapiens (Harrari), The Terranauts (Boyle), Hero of France (Furst), Commonwealth (Patchett), The Innovators (Isaacson).
I watched a fair number of seasons of television in 2016, as embarrassing as this is to admit. I think there is a reasonably good case to be made this is a golden age for the television medium, and that we can learn as much from, and/or be moved as much by, the narrative rendered in a three to twelve hour television season as we can by a novel or a film– so I’ll try not to be too ashamed.
Twelve shows made it to my top “ten;” the top two, Fleabag and Happy Valley, both British imports, stand well above the rest. Both feature phenomenally fascinating English women: complex, flawed, sometimes unlikeable, sometimes funny, sometimes vulgar, sometimes raunchy, passionate about life and wrestling with its pain and unfairness.
Westworld certainly had its flaws, but I thought it was entirely engaging, gorgeously filmed, and featured stunning performances. I enjoyed its meditations upon a eccentric non-scholarly intellectual exercise that I read in the early nineties and found fascinating, the Origin of Consciousness in the Evolution of the Bicameral Brain.
Girlfriend Experience isn’t for everyone, and has its disturbing elements, but for those who are curious, see the review by one of my favorite critics, Matt Zoller Seitz. And about High Maintenance: if nothing else, try to see the Dog POV episode, which is spectacular.
Occupied is likely the least watched and least familiar show on this list, but it is excellent, and is, in wake of recent current events, disturbingly too close to home, the story of an insidious Russian incursion into the sovereignty of a seemingly strong and independent Western nation. Very much worth watching, (and, perhaps, panicking about).
- Fleabag (1) (Amazon)
- Happy Valley (Seasons 1 & 2) (Netflix)
- Catastrophe (1&2) (Amazon)
- Westworld (1) (HBO)
- People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)
- Halt and Catch Fire (1, 2, 3) (AMC)
- Girlfriend Experience (1) (Starz)
- Atlanta (1) (FX)
- High Maintenance (HBO)
- Occupied (Netflix)
- The Americans (5) (FX)
- Stranger Things (Netflix)
HM: Survivor’s Remorse (Starz), Insecure (HBO), Transparent (Amazon), Pitch (Fox), Shameless (Showtime), Silicon Valley (HBO), Better Things (FX), One Mississippi (Amazon), BoJack Horseman (Netflix), Vikings (History), Togetherness (HBO), Better Call Saul (AMC), Outlander (Starz).
I thought it would be fun to also share here the top meals we enjoyed in 2016, both those prepared at home and those we found especially delicious and distinctive when dining out. The top three stand above the rest as the very best of the year.
- MaPo Ragu (NYT) This was my very favorite home-prepared meal of the year, and it was also the year’s “Best Eat” by NYT Cooking editor Sam Sifton. I’ve made it twice, once with ground pork and once vegetarian, with only tofu. I can’t wait to make it many more times in 2017. Korean influenced, it’s smoky, sweet, spicy, and once you start eating you can’t get enough of it.
- Hot Chicken, Nashville Style Carman and I, with some friends, enjoyed an awesome Hot Chicken meal in June on our first ever trip to Nashville, at Hattie B’s. In December, I used the linked recipe, on Bon Appetit, to recreate it at home, and it was excellent
- Departure, Portland OR We’re big Top Chef fans, but this was the first time we sought out one of our favorite chefs from the show to attend her or, in this case, his restaurant, Chef Gregory Gourdet’s Pan-Asian. While visiting our son at college in OR, we celebrated a very special meal at this rooftop restaurant with a spectacular view of Portland.
- El Mono (Peruvian), El Cerrito, CA I greatly enjoyed excellent meals here three times in 2016, in February, June and December. Really distinctive flavors, gorgeously presented: try the Causa de Atun, Loma Saltado, or the amazing Chicken stew, Aji de Gallina.
- Tap Tap Haitian Restaurant, Miami Beach
- Lam’s Vietnamese Sioux Falls, SD A highway-side surprise, encountered on route from Mt Rushmore to the lakeside home of friends in Wisconsin: who would have thought we’d find something so delicious in eastern South Dakota? Their “Season Bowls” were, to me anyway, unique, lovely, and delicious.
- Portobello Patty Melt (NYT) Sam Sifton’s beef patty melt recipe I’m sure was also delicious, but because I’m often cooking these days for my vegetarian son, I tried the alternate, the portobello Patty melt, and it was awesome. Already have made it multiple times, and recommend it highly.
- Mi Nidito, Tucson As always, enjoyed many terrific Mexican food meals in Tucson this year, including at Penca, PocaCosa’s Little One, Benny’s, El Charro Steak, but this one, in South Tucson, famous for having hosted President Clinton in the 90s, was our favorite this year.
- Creamy Avocado Pasta. This was Carman’s favorite, her preferred comfort food meal, and she’s asking me to make it more of a regular in 2017; it is super easy and a very fun alternate use of avocado, something other than guac or salad. It’s also easy to play with; after you’ve blended the avocado with olive oil and garlic, the skies the limit for what else to throw in the blender: spinach, basil, parmesan, white beans, tofu, almonds, walnuts, breadcrumbs, shallots.
- Fresh Atlantic Shellfish and Fish Marinara Pasta, served to us by our good friend Bob Pearlman at his summer home in Wellfleet on Cape Cod, with fish fresh from the docks. Fabulous.
HM: Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili, Mushroom Paprikash, High Tea in Vancouver BC, Oven Roasted Chicken Schwarma (NYT), Bluefish Pasta at Mac’s on the Pier, and Paella with Salad and Anchovy Toast in a birthday celebrating cooking class in Tucson.
Hikes and Bike Rides
This top five list, and I hope to get it up to ten next year, doesn’t include the “regulars,” including of course Sabino Canyon, Pima Canyon, and other Santa Catalina mountain hikes which we do regularly as a family, nor my regular bike rides along the Tucson Loop trail and my commute ride to downtown Tucson.
- Cochise Trail, Dragoon Stronghold
- Stanley Park and Vancouver Bike Ride Loop
- Chicago waterfront bike ride
- Cataract Falls, Mt Tam, California
- Berkeley Stairs Hike