I think we can all agree this year... wasn't the best. But somehow, through the global pandemic, murder hornets, and record-breaking hurricanes, there were enough fantastic shows, movies, books, and recipes in 2020 for me to share over two-hundred of them with you in my weekly List. In case you missed them the first time around, or are looking for an excellent album to listen to as you cook a soul-warming pasta, before sitting down to a binge-worthy show—you've come to the right place. Here are 15 of my favorite List recommendations from this year:
Note: Most of the recommendations appear as I originally wrote them, with small edits for clarity and updates. I hope you enjoy, and be sure to share your favorites of the year in the comments!
I shattered all previous binge-watching records with Pamela Adlon's show, "Better Things." Adlon plays a working actress and single mom in LA raising three girls (the character is loosely based on her, and her relationship with her daughters). Her daughters can be bratty, just as Adlon can be hot-headed, and there's plenty of messy dysfunction—but there's also a lot of love and so many relatable moments. It's as accurate a depiction I've seen of mother-daughter relationships since Saoirse Ronan rolled out of the car in Lady Bird. You'll either love it or you'll hate it—but, if you ask me, it's an excellent way to spend six hours. Also, the soundtrack is fantastic (I borrowed quite a few from it in my fall playlist!).
The Nudge, a texting service, partnered with comedian and activist Dr. Akilah Cadet to create an anti-racism program via text. The program re-starts every month, so now is the perfect time to sign up for the next session (it costs $5 and proceeds go to the NAACP). The program texts you two to three times per week, with a focus on education and activism. It's a no-excuses way to take accountability any month. To sign up, follow the instructions here.
Jonah and I rarely cook with beef outside of burgers, one of our favorite summer indulgences, but when it was the only animal protein available at our grocery store earlier this year, we looked online for guidance and landed on this bolognese from Bon Appetit. We only had about half the ingredients, so ours was a Frankenstein version (no celery or carrot, rosé instead of dry white wine, bacon instead of pancetta...), but it was unbelievable, possibly the best thing we made all year. I've since learned that many bolognese sauces, while delicious, can feel punishing in the number of hours they require to simmer, but I can't imagine this one being much better. Paired with fresh tagliatelle and rosé, it was perfect! If you're vegetarian, I also love the fennel pasta here—which I can confirm is just as delicious without the sausage.
I knew I'd love Kiley Reid's novel Such a Fun Age before I even opened the first page—it was a bestseller earlier this year, and when I asked a friend in publishing for a recommendation, it was the first on her list. At its heart is the relationship between Emira, a young Black woman, and the white mother of the toddler Emira babysits. What's already a problematic, if externally functioning, relationship gets split open after Emira is accused at a grocery store of kidnapping the child (at the "concern" of the most Karen-y Karen). The book has as many twists as a thriller, which makes it an extremely quick read, but Emira's relationship with her best friend Zara, the conversations about race and class that switch effortlessly between white and Black characters' perspectives, and rich subplots (like the mother's letter writing business) place it among my favorite books of the year.
The Chicks' new album Gaslighter came out a few months ago, and it became one of my favorites after I had time to really listen to the lyrics. In the song "Sleep at Night," Natalie Maines addresses the woman who had an affair with her husband. When she asks "How do you sleep at night?" it's not from a just-wronged Carrie Underwood-type place, but from the perspective of a self-realized woman who's in the process of her own internal work. The entire album is vulnerable, catchy, strongly written, and has a great arc.
(I also really loved Jensen McRae, Maren Morris' GIRL, Pinegrove's Marigold, Sylvan Esso's Free Love, and Taylor Swift's folklore, as well as an album I'll get to later in this List! You can listen to my 2020 playlist here, which includes all of the above.)
Nicole Cardoza calls herself "an anti-racism practictioner, not an educator," but her Anti-Racism Daily newsletter is a digest of actions, insights, and resources that keep the momentum of anti-racism education and work at the top of your inbox. It taught me about racial disparities in healthcare treatment, the biases in facial recognition software, and more recently about digital blackface through emoji use (and how to take action). Check out the archives here—as well as her new(ish) podcast!
Portrait of a Lady on Fire was so stunning I struggled to find the words for it—it's one of my favorite movies, ever. My gut review goes something like this: GAHHHH! LOVE LOVE! GAH! A painter in 1770 France is commissioned to create a portrait of a young woman to be sent to her fiancé. If he approves of the portrait (the 18th century equivalent of swiping right), she'll be sent to marry him. When the subject refuses to sit for the painting in protest of the marriage, another forbidden love story blooms. It starts slow, but the reward is so worth it. I'm honestly still wrecked from the ending. Watch it here!
A huge benefit to any recipe: Having most of the ingredients on hand at any given moment, and minimal clean-up. This One-Pan Orzo With Spinach and Feta comes together quickly, is soul-satisfying, and can be made with most of the items in your pantry and fridge (trust me, I've made many iterations at this point and each has been delicious!).
The headlines about Michaela Coel's HBO show, "I May Destroy You" praised it highly as "the most sublimely unsettling show," "unforgettable, unmissable," and "the best drama of the year" so I expected to be hooked from the first episode. Instead, when the first episode ended, I felt conflicted, but intrigued enough to watch a second... and then a third, which is when all of the reviews clicked into place for me—it is truly unforgettable, but also stunningly real. [Trigger warning: The below contains material about sexual assault.] Arabella (played by Coel, who wrote 191 drafts of the show) suspects she's the victim of a sexual assault she can barely remember, despite having "just one drink." The series compassionately follows her—the victim of drugging and assault—as she pieces together the blurry events from that night through horrible flashbacks (this show may be difficult to watch for some). At the same time, the narrative includes a sweeping look at sex, dating, relationships, and technology—and the finale is one of the best I've ever seen.
Maybe it's the fact that time has so little meaning right now that made this mini-documentary about maximizing the seconds in a day so captivating. Beau Miles runs a little over a mile every hour for 24 hours to complete a marathon, while checking off long put-off tasks in between that range from the mundane (chop firewood, stitch pants) to the sweet (play Scrabble, write a poem). It's funny, endearing, and, at its heart, about human curiosity. Just when I thought Beau was going to complain about being on the brink of deep sleep before waking up to do another middle-of-the-night lap, he marvels at how alive he feels in comparison. He is all about maximizing time, but it's well-worth the 17 minutes it takes to watch!
Recommended May 11, 2020
In anticipation of a gum surgery at the beginning of the year (aka, a decade ago), I knew I would be eating a lot of ice cream (like pints, as in multiple, a day). I scoured the Whole Foods shelves for not only my favorite, Haagen Daaz Dulce de Leche, but also a few "healthier" options. My favorite, by far, turned out to be one I almost didn't purchase because I assumed it wouldn't be good: Hakuna Banana Choco Choco Chip. Let me tell you, this stuff is incredible. The main ingredient is bananas, followed by cocoa powder, coconut milk, organic chocolate, and sweetened by dates. It does have some guar and tara gum, which can be tough on stomachs, but very little so I'm counting it as 100% healthy. But also, who cares? It's a creamy, delicious, chocolatey alternative to ice creams with dairy and processed sugar, if you're into that kind of thing! I've since tried every flavor, and can confirm my original allegiance to the Choco Choco Chip, though all are great!
And if you live in Portland, I've done quite a bit of on-the-ground research and have determined Fifty Licks is the best ice cream in town. Jonah and I have already tried all of their flavors and determined 'Toasty Milk' and 'Mango and Sticky Rice' to be the winners! Do you have another Portland ice cream rec? I'd love to hear about it!
I loved the first season of "Shrill," Aidy Bryant's show on Hulu, but the second season is even better, full of hilarious insights on par with "Fleabag," with one episode in particular. Bryant's character Annie covers a female empowerment conference with the acronym WAHAM (Women Are Having a Moment). The episode pokes fun at the hypocrisy of female conferences that celebrate inclusion, "lifting up every woman" while hawking products to make your life better, at a cost encapsulated in this hilarious conversation. Watch it here!
(I also really loved the HBO series "Love Life" if you're looking for a fun, easy watch!)
Most tortillas outside of Mexico (even those made in small-batches) are made from mass-produced corn flour, but the company Masienda is working to keep the original heritage and process of making tortillas alive—and possible to make at home. As soon as Jonah adds the alkaline ingredient to nixtamalize our bag of purple heirloom corn (a traditional part of the process that softens the kernels), our kitchen begins to smell exactly the same as my family's kitchen in Guatemala. To grind the corn, we just use our food processor, which works like a charm! The tortillas are delicious, but they also make us feel empowered and connected to cultures and places that feel especially far away right now. You can find Masienda's corn and guide to making tortillas here, and read this fascinating article on why heirloom corn is worth supporting here.
Shortly after Palm Springs premiered at Sundance Film Festival last year, it broke the record for the biggest sale in the history of the festival (by 69 cents, but still!) so I knew it would be something special long before pulling it up on Hulu. The movie, which stars Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, has a distinct Groundhog Day vibe to it—after entering a time wormhole, the two wake up every single morning on the same wedding day in Palm Springs. Samberg plays the bride's best friend's boyfriend (frequently referred to as just "Misty's boyfriend") and Milioti is the bride's sister. I love Groundhog Day, but had so much fun watching this raunchier and (controversial opinion!) honestly funnier twist on the classic. (It also has a dance scene that rivals Armie's in Call Me By Your Name.) And, if you haven't watched season two of "Fargo," Milioti is fantastic in that as well!
I started making a "Stay Home" playlist but stopped when I realized all I wanted to listen to, really, was this self-titled album by the Black Pumas. Like the band's name, the retro-soul music has harbingers of the 1970s, with nods to soul and jazz artists from that era. But it's only just grabbing enough that I could still listen to it while reading on a Sunday morning, enjoying the beats and Eric Burton's voice subconsciously.
And a few of my favorite posts from this year... What a day in the life looked like for me pre-'rona, how Jonah and I split our finances, what it feels like to postpone a wedding during COVID—and then decide to just elope and call it a day (and what I wore)! A bunch of indie films to watch, filling summery salads (and a no-frills week of dinners), how to mindfully add to your wardrobe, a long weekend in Zion and the Grand Canyon, and Jonah's and my move to Portland! 2020, you kicked my ass.
P.S. Looking for more book recs? This post would have been twice as long if I'd included them all, so Kelly and I rounded up our favorites from the year here! I'll also be sharing some new recs on @shopcupcakesandcashmere today!