The Best Meals of 2020 and a much needed break
Plus, a staycation across the bridge in Manhattan
This is the last newsletter of 2020 and I am tired. You might be too. One downside of freelance/entrepreneurial life is no PTO and I’ve definitely struggled to take time off while stuck at home. I’ve loved this post from Rachel Cargle about winter rest and am going to give it a shot for the rest of the year. I hope you are able to rest as well.
I want to say a huge thank you for spending some time with me in 2020. We’ve been through a lot, from limiting grocery runs to reckoning with whiteness in food media to the crisis facing restaurant workers to an endless election cycle to the rising hunger facing families. We’ve also gotten really good at appreciating small moments and good news, like a picnic with friends, a Substack grant and a new logo, a beach day, a delicious takeout order, and the chance to help our neighbors. I love our community so much and appreciate your ideas, honesty, and enthusiasm for This Needs Hot Sauce. It’s made this year SO much better.
Dale and I took a staycation this weekend, spending two nights in Manhattan (we booked via Hotel Tonight, get $25 off your first reservation with code ABKOFFLER). We ate all our meals in our hotel room (read on for the full recap), visited the delightfully uncrowded Whitney, and walked around Soho poking into shops. This year, we lost many of our typical coping mechanisms and it felt so good to have some space to (safely) explore, try something new, and be somewhere else. The change of year isn’t going to magically fix anything, but I hope we have better days ahead. And I hope we remember to be kind to ourselves after all we’ve experienced this year. It’s been rough, to say the least.
Now, let’s dive in. It’s a long one so make sure to click “View Entire Message” to see the whole thing or open in your browser. Read to the end for the best meals of 2020.
Something to cook:
I did a lot of Hanukkah cooking, making these baked cinnamon sugar donuts with my students over Zoom. I used a muffin tin and made a smaller batch of the topping.
Obviously, I had to make latkes, both regular and zucchini. The potato latkes were a delicious production and I might prefer the zucchini ones—they’re so much easier and leave less of a lingering smell in a small apartment. Potato latkes are best at parties, which I hope we can host and attend next Hanukkah.
Last night, I made a classic dinner of crispy tofu with peanut sauce, broccoli, and rice. Tofu keeps for ages in the fridge so I can usually pull this meal together without a trip to the store.
The cold weather last week called for cozy meals. I made chickpea pasta, which comes together so fast. I always add some spinach (fresh or frozen).
On Friday morning, my browning bananas needed to be transformed. I quickly got a loaf of banana bread in the oven and brought some of it on our staycation for easy breakfasts and snacks.
Something to order:
We’ve been riveted by the end of the Bachelorette and got Los Tacos for one night of viewing. I ordered the mini nachos for the first time, which are perfect for sharing or one person’s dinner. It’s a delightful mess of textures, which some pickled jalapeños for good measure.
For our Staycation, we stayed at the CitizenM Bowery, a modular hotel (every room is the same size and layout) with easy digital checkins. The room is small, but well set up and the location is great. Everywhere we got food was a short walk away and we barely scratched the surface.
On Friday, I picked up dinner from Thai Diner, which is owned by the Uncle Boons team. Tilden recommended the mushroom larb, which was great and I couldn’t resist the Khao Soi, one of my favorite dishes. I got the veg version and Dale got the one with chicken. So good and flavorful. The menu is very exciting and I’d love to go back post Covid with a group and share a lot of stuff.
After a visit to the Whitney, we grabbed Tacombi for lunch. First, the Whitney was lovely. You have to reserve timed tickets in advance and capacity is limited. I loved getting to see Liza Lou’s Kitchen, which took 5 years to assemble and there’s a compelling exhibit about Mexican muralists and their influence on American art. Highly recommend visiting.
Tacombi never disappoints. They had great packaging for the takeout, labeling each item as vegetarian or carne. I always get the black bean avocado tostada and Dale loves their sweet potato tacos.
For dinner, we picked up cacio e pepe from Vic’s along with their rainbow cookies, which I love. We ate there earlier this fall for Dale’s birthday and it was freezing! Since we got takeout, it was nice and cozy this time.
Something to read:
I published my first story for Zagat, on Sibte Hassan, who survived Covid and is now dedicated to feeding others. I hope you’ll read it!
Hassan mentioned langar, the Sikh practice of feeding others at temples. Many Sikhs around the world are feeding people during the pandemic.
Nisha Chittal, who has a great newsletter, wrote about Instagrammable cookware, which was everywhere this year.
The Vittles newsletter is wonderful and very different than most UK food media. Study Hall did a Q&A with Jonathan Nunn, the creator.
An oral history of the Folger’s incest ad (from last year but still great)
Sohla made this tostada version of matzo toffee and it looks so good
Loved this essay: My beautiful Black family’s life in crumbs
I’m going to be on a panel at the Substack Writer’s Conference! Sign up for free here.
And I created a year end thread on twitter, sharing some of my favorite pieces.
If you’re looking for some good books, check out the reading material section of my gift guide. I love cozying up to a book when things are quiet and love all of the options there. And I got In Bibi’s Kitchen for Hanukkah and loved reading it. Next up is cooking from it, which I hope to do during my break.
Best Meals of 2020:
Making my list was harder than usual. Every memorable meal had an undertone of grief: the Rosh Hashana dinner where we found out RBG died, the brunch with friends that would be the last time I saw them for months, the visit to a bar on its last ever day of business, and so on. Here’s my best shot:
Scarr’s Pizza in June with Dale. I love Scarr’s and I loved eating this on a bench after my first subway ride since March. I never thought merely going to another borough would feel so exciting.
Arepas at Caracas after Joe Biden won the presidency. And anytime I splurged on guac when ordering tacos.
Udon noodles from Raku. Truly you have to try it and you have to get the agedashi tofu to start. If they opened in Brooklyn, I’d order too often.
At home, this flatbread situation, which Julia and I made one Saturday night. I believe we watched Mamma Mia while we ate and I can’t wait to make this again next spring. I also loved making challah, broccoli fritters, caprese salads, cherry tomato pasta, nachos, mashed potatoes, fried rice, and so much banana bread. The meals do blur together, but I cooked more than ever and enjoyed most of it.
Now, let’s look at yours!
Rachael celebrated the new year so beautifully: Several years ago I started hosting dinner on the first night of Rosh HaShanah for as many people as I could fit around my table - including the two chairs I left open for my synagogue to use for people who needed a place for the festive meal. Obviously I couldn’t do that this year. But my friend H lives alone two blocks from me, and my roommate S and I agreed that we were comfortable with the risk of bringing her into our apartment for meals during the holiday. I baked a ton of challah, I roasted a chicken (from Grow and Behold, kosher ethically raised meat, my 5781 resolution!), I baked an apple cake. And I got to have a friend in my home for a meal, and hug her, for the first time in months.
Isa moved across the country and ate well along the way: Ate so many delicious things at home but if I had to choose two highlights: pork kakuni that Noah made from his days at Morimoto (slow roasted pork belly over a scallop rice porridge) - a bowl of pure umami. And a peach and raspberry galette I made during peak pandemic summer that was a burst of sunshine in every bite.
Nikki couldn’t resist shallot pasta, which was also the NYT’s most popular recipe of the year: I hate to say it. But Alison Roman shallot pasta (veganized) for the win.
Gracie supported her local restaurants: fried chicken bun from Ekiben Baltimore
Hilary smartly focused on condiments and flavor boosts: Maybe this year more than any, when many meals were repeat ingredients with a slight riff, or bottomless leftovers, or the n-th in an endless line cooked in a row, homemade condiments and extras were my stars. Condiments filled in flavor cracks and boosted dishes (or a pile of cut veggies) to heart-eyes level. I also adore their dual ability to add the perfect punch while being versatile. This year I have memorably prepared and enjoyed (many times over) fresh mint pesto, brown butter beet poppyseed sauce, Iranian lime pickles, and most memorably: hot HOT chili oil. As much a delight to eat as they are to prepare- over and over as I perfect them.
Leah let the rain fall down and wake her dreams: Pizza and salad from both Ops and Robertas for one of Lizzi’s last nights in New York with Abigail and Julia eaten in McCarren Park in the pouring rain while listening to rain themed music. (this was an extremely 2020 night)
My parents had some memorable meals and I’m glad I was able to join them for a few: January brunch at Shuka with Leah’s “big,” Miranda, who was visiting from out of town. We had a leisurely brunch, ordered all or most of the menu and must have had dessert pancakes or French toast. Always a treat. Who would have known that would be our last brunch get together with our girls pre pandemic.
Third week of February dinner in LA at Din Tai Fung with Shireen & Anjali. The dumplings!! The dear friends, 3/4 visiting LA from Queens at the same time by coincidence. Last time that happened, Paris was the destination! Truly our last special meal out before the shut down.
Pandemic: endless delicious home cooked meals. My favorite new recipe to date: penne arrabiata
Favorite found tacos during the pandemic (keep the tacos coming, always): Taco Azul in Whitestone, Queens. Generous portions, amazing mango salsa, smoky flavors, lovely presentation, underpopulated outdoor dining and stunning views: right next to a gas station!
All of the food Thanksgiving weekend, simply because we were together. Food is special because of who we share it with. Can’t wait to gather at a table with family and friends as soon as it is safe to do so. Having amazing meals and even mediocre ones will be cherished because of the company we keep.
Hillary is a newly minted pasta queen: I spent 3.5 months living with my family again and cooking for them (instead of my usual life of cooking for one) was a bright spot this year. I discovered Ina Garten’s weeknight bolognese and it instantly became a family favorite after I made it. I’m also only a week into my new fresh pasta-making hobby but it’s already one of my favorite things!
Thank you for sharing these bright spots with me! You’ve really helped me get through this year and I hope I did the same for you!
See you next year! Big hugs! Eat well and take care!