At Home and Away’s Best of 2021

Welcome. When my streaming music service of choice fed me its annual report of my most-listened-to songs from the past year, many were by the pianist Hania Rani. I was unfamiliar with Rani’s work until one of my colleagues, the art director Jaspal Riyait, included Rani’s “F Major” in her Best of 2020 picks.

This weekend, if you’re celebrating Christmas or not; if you’re gathering safely or not gathering at all; if you’re staying at home or venturing away, I hope you’ll find something to entertain or inspire or delight you in the At Home and Away team’s selections for the Best of 2021. These are the books, movies, TV shows, recipes, snacks and other stuff that helped my colleagues lead a full and cultured life over the past year. Perhaps within there’s an artist, an idea, a habit that will help you do so in the year to come.

  • “The White Lotus.” The music, the cast, the dark humor — this was everything I was craving, and it temporarily satisfied my never-ending bingeing needs.

  • New Mexico. For the first time in a while, I took a real, get-on-a-plane vacation. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed being in a completely different landscape. It was exhilarating to say the least.

  • “The French Dispatch.” This was my first and last in-theater movie experience for 2021. Loved the movie, but my biggest takeaway was how much I missed movie theater popcorn.

  • Topo Chico. OK, so it might be trendy, but I’m a sucker for bubbles in a glass bottle.

  • Ramen. I could eat ramen at any time of day and for any meal. Winter, summer. Any variety. Doesn’t matter.

  • Disney+. By day, the streaming service is a surefire way to engage our kids. By night, we escape into its other content (often the new Marvel shows). What would pandemic families do without it?

  • Any fleece from Patagonia. Fleeces are the perfect garment for at-home work. Patagonia’s are the best. They are like sweaters, but more rugged and comfortable. They are warm without being too warm and casual without being too casual.

  • Yeti mug. Another pandemic staple has been my Yeti 14-oz. Rambler mug. It’s durable in the extreme, fit for outside or in and keeps your coffee warm for well over an hour.

  • Road & Track magazine. I’ve always loved fancy cars. And at a time when fancy car prices have never seemed more out of reach, what better than to read about them and gawk at them in pictures — often while sipping from my Yeti mug and wearing my Patagonia fleece.

  • The small, overgrown garden at the Russell Street entrance to McGolrick Park in Brooklyn.

  • The soft scent of Dreft baby detergent on clean clothes.

  • Bassam Tariq’s Mogul Mowgli — an engrossing drama about a British Pakistani rapper that weaves together political history, identity crises and darkly surreal sequences — stayed in my head for weeks.

  • Grow lights. With a simple, inexpensive LED setup, I was able to grow sunflowers in my kitchen in January.

  • Finessing my take on Dorie Greenspan’s carrot cake recipe.

  • Incense. My tastes remain simple (sandalwood, nag champa), but lighting up these sticks and letting the scents slowly waft is still a meaningful ritual.

  • Korean language lessons. I signed up for remote Korean language lessons, and it felt better than expected to spend an hour a week listening to, working with, studying a language I know so well, but don’t normally have the opportunity to use in my daily life.

  • Wool leggings. There’s always a moment I’m grateful I invested in these leggings, when I discover and pull them out from the back of my dresser as the cold weather sets in.

  • Gin Gins ginger chews. I’ve always hated ginger, but my middle age has brought me just a tiny bit closer to its soothing qualities, as long as it’s mixed with sugar and this chewy candy substance (tapioca starch).

  • “History of the Eagles.” With so much talk about another band’s recent documentary, I recommend checking out this two-parter about the Eagles, which spans the long, complicated history of a band that doesn’t quit. Whatever you think of them, it’s a good character study.

  • “Like I Used To,” by Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen. This song! “Waiting inside like I used to/Avoiding big crowds like I used to.” It’s my favorite song of the year. Here’s an acoustic version.

  • Almond-scented candles. There are many varieties of almond candles out there (lots of good ones on Etsy). Some smell like biscotti, some like marzipan. Often the chandler will add a cherry accent. My ideal almond-scented candle would smell like the pink liquid hand soap you find in many airport or office bathrooms. I have found great comfort in having a home that smells like cookies.

  • Making yogurt. I watched this Sandor Katz video and couldn’t believe how easy it is.

  • Reading instead of internetting. I know I’m not alone in finding it takes a lot of effort to log off and read for extended periods, but I’ve been amazed (and alarmed) at how much I can read in an hour vs. how little I have to show for an hour gazing at my phone.

  • Stretching my quads. It turns out many other bodily aches and creaks can be remedied by deliberately stretching my thigh muscles every day.

  • Old music. It’s been strange and exciting to revisit albums I haven’t listened to in decades, like “Hunkpapa” by Throwing Muses, Tracy Chapman’s “New Beginning” and Richard Buckner’s “Bloomed.”

What’s on your best of 2021 list? Write to us: [email protected]. Include your full name and location and we might include your contribution in an upcoming newsletter. We’re At Home and Away. We’ll read every letter sent. As always, more ideas for how to pass the time this weekend appear below. I’ll be back next week.

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