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This year has been a lot for all of us, a surreal shared experience of quarantine, more home cooking than ever before, and attempts at seeking joy in the simple things. We’ve gathered a few of the things that improved home life for us, from coffee machines to monthly cheese subscriptions. If you’re looking for holiday gift ideas or something special to upgrade your daily routine, this list has all the above. Read on for some of our favorite products we’ve cooked with, cleaned with, and enjoyed in 2020.
“I went through a massive spice purge at the beginning of the pandemic and replaced almost everything on my shelves that had been there for more than two years. Choosing from my shiny new jars of Burlap and Barrel spices has made my weeknight cooking feel more inspired. While it’s tough to choose favorites, I recommend stocking up on their Turkish Oregano Buds for sprinkling on top of potatoes, their Buffalo Ginger for curries, and their Black Urfa Chili for literally everything and anything in between.” — Oset Babür, associate print editor
“The best thing I’ve upgraded since working from home is a really solid coffee station. I went with OXO because of their high rating, precision tech, and general affordability. For two people, this setup cost about what a month of Starbucks would run. With both of us working from home, we are burning through coffee! These coffee items truly make me feel like I have a morning routine that is very normalizing and keeps me going.” — Mary-Frances Heck, senior food editor
OXO Brew 8 Cup Coffee Maker, $136 (originally $170) at amazon.com
OXO BREW Conical Burr Coffee Grinder, $80 at amazon.com
“This is just a really lovely tea kettle that looks so cute on my stove; it makes me want to make and drink tea. I’ve had electric kettles for years, but they don’t spark joy the way this one does! And it keeps the water hot for quite long.” — Maria Yagoda, digital restaurant editor
“For much of my life, I made do with whatever crappy roasting pans life happened to bring into my kitchen. They did fine-ish for the most part, inevitably meeting a scorched, dinged, twisted death after a bird, roast, or casserole they were not built to withstand. But I was mostly just feeding landfills, and I felt bad about that, so I finally ponied up and bought what I hope is the last roaster and rack I’ll ever need. This All-Clad warhorse has never met a turkey, duck, or cut of beef it couldn’t handle and bonus—it’s cleverly designed to draw drippings for basting, sauces, and gravy, thwarts spatter, and makes for easy cleanup after so I never dread using it. Foil pans and cheap roasters, you’re foiled again.” — Kat Kinsman, senior editor
“In the spring, once it became clear that we’d be homebound for a while, we realized we needed to take full advantage of the large backyard patio at our apartment building. We had a small charcoal grill but made the leap to buy a basic Weber smoker, and it has paid off in spades. It’s the perfect starter tool that does an excellent job. We rarely ordered in meals the entire summer and now have several staple recipes for smoked chicken, ribs, and brisket we’ll be using for years to come.” — Megan Soll, associate digital editor
Weber 18-inch Smokey Mountain Cooker, $329 at amazon.com
“Small joys feel more important than ever lately, and I’ve been finding a lot of them in really great bars of chocolate. My new go-to company is Madhu Chocolate, based in Austin, Texas. Founder Harshit Gupta fuses bean-to-bar chocolate with Indian flavors like saffron milk, rose, pistachio, masala chai, and cardamom. They even do single-origin Indian cacao bars, which are rare to find on the market. I love the stunning wrappers, too.” — Khushbu Shah, restaurant editor
“You don’t need me to tell you that KitchenAid stand mixers are great. But after our old hand mixer started malfunctioning earlier this year, we finally took the plunge and got a five-quart tilt-head mixer—and it was 100 percent worth it. I’ve been baking a lot over the past few months (haven’t we all?), and this mixer has helped me churn out batches of cookies, cheesecake bars, and more. Come Christmastime when I tackle our annual holiday cookies, I know it’s going to be invaluable.” — Bridget Hallinan, digital reporter
“The so-called ‘universal’ wine glass has been an accelerating trend in the wine world. Why, after all, invest in seventeen different glasses for an equal number of different grape varieties when you could have one glass that works extremely well with both red and white wines of all types? The hitch is that some of the best of them—the Jancis Robinson+Richard Brendon glass, for instance, which I love—are not inexpensive ($60 a stem). Enter NY-based Glasvin, which makes a lovely, all-purpose, hand-blown universal glass at about half that. Hard to argue with as a gift for the wine-lover you know.” — Ray Isle, executive wine editor
Glasvin Universal Wine Glass, $70 for 2 at glas.vin
“Our pantry is a hallway closet with shelving but had never had a light of its own. Being at home all day and needing three meals made from pantry staples meant that hunting in the darkness for pasta noodles and spice jars was a problem. Thankfully, the Luminoodle solved that without needing to call an electrician during a pandemic. A set of click lights that run on battery power, easily installed into any tight space (cabinets included), have entirely changed the game. I’m ordering more for the area underneath our kitchen sink as well.” — Megan Soll
Luminoodle Click AA Battery Powered LED Push Lights – 3-Pack, $35 at amazon.com
“I don’t like store-bought corn tortillas that are laced with preservatives and all sorts of things that mute the great corn flavor. So I started making my own using Masienda’s incredible masa harina, and I cook them off quickly on the beautiful carbon steel comal from their collaboration with cookware maker Made In. The flat cooking surface also means the comal is great for frying up eggs too, and I also like to use it to make pancakes. I honestly can’t believe I’ve gone this long without a comal.” — Khushbu Shah
“Let’s rip off the band-aid: A friend of mine ended up in urgent care when she used this knife but still came out of the experience loving the dang thing. She noted the wound was incredibly clean because the blade is unfailingly sharp and precise—and yes, that applies to food. I’ve got an 8-inch chef’s knife myself (they also make a serrated 6-inch knife and an “almost 4-inch” paring knife as well as a sharpener and stand), and it’s the first one I (carefully) grab when I’m slicing and chopping vegetables, fruit, meat, and hopefully none of my own digits.” — Kat Kinsman
“Well, technically my husband was the one who bought our cheese subscription, but it was a gift for me, so I reaped the benefits, namely: for three months, I could look forward to a box filled with an assortment of cheeses with my name on it dropped off by the UPS truck. The fancied-up snack lunches and snack dinners with my family (turns out the 5-year-old digs marinated goat cheese) elevated my evening retreat-from-the-world ritual of a glass of wine and a few episodes of Schitt’s Creek. It generally made 2020 a little easier on my nerves through the magic of well-matured milk. I’m putting it on my wish-list again, for Christmas.” — Karen Shimizu, executive editor
“I initially didn’t really see the point of a very fancy vacuum –– adopting a (wonderful!) rescue pup changed that, and now I cannot imagine life without one. This cordless vacuum is especially appealing for small apartments with a lot of awkward corners and tight hallways, plus it has an attachment that we use to get the fur out of the corners of our dog’s beds. I can’t emphasize how satisfying it is to watch fur and dust pile up in the transparent bin.” — Oset Babür
Dyson V8 Animal Cordless Stick Vacuum Cleaner, $399 at amazon.com
“Until 2020 I had never been one to care much about which, if any, liquor I have at home. But needless to say, this year is different, and a well-stocked liquor cabinet has become a big priority. As a devoted mezcal drinker, one of my number one go-to bottles to always keep around is Ilegal Mezcal Joven. Perfectly smooth and lightly smokey, this mezcal is excellent for drinking on-the-rocks but also makes for a great cocktail. A personal favorite is using it in place of tequila in a Margarita, both classic and frozen, or in this Mezcal Negroni.” — Elsa Säätelä, senior producer
“My enthusiasm for cooking has never ebbed and flowed more dramatically than it has amid this pandemic. When I can’t think of what to feed myself, I turn to my freezer stash of Caramelo Tortillas, which are wafer-thin, supremely tender, perfectly chewy flour tortillas. (I am partial to the version made with avocado oil because it works for all dietary preferences!) I heat two up on a pan and wrap it around whatever I can find in my fridge: leftovers, a glob of cheese, some scrambled eggs with hot sauce. Sometimes though, if I am just really ravenous and impatient, I spread a layer of good quality butter on the hot tortillas and sprinkle on some salt, and suddenly I’m happy again.” — Khushbu Shah
“Does anyone really need a set of titanium chopsticks? Oh, you might think not, but as it happens—especially for anyone who loves to cook—these aerospace-grade metal chopsticks are extraordinarily versatile, not to mention indestructible. Flipping small pieces of meat as they sear? Ideal. Retrieve a tempura shrimp from a pot of boiling oil? Also ideal. Stir a Manhattan because you lost your bar spoon? Sure. Traveling the world and need something to eat with that’s easy to clean, gorgeous, and takes up almost no space? Same. Plus they’re beautiful (especially the “supernova” version, produced together with artist Alan Folts). The only trick is giving them to someone else as opposed to keeping them for yourself. “ — Ray Isle
“At the beginning of the lockdown in March, when offices (and daycares) were closing, I realized my world was about to shrink down to the four walls of our apartment. I made the typical panic buys—hand sanitizer and toilet paper—and the one that felt right for me: this impressive armada of Sichuan spices, condiments, and seasonings from Mala Market. Being able to cook my favorite Sichuan recipes at home helped me feel a little less house-bound, and I swear the euphoric mala buzzing of chiles and Sichuan peppercorns helped my mood. I’ve cooked down to the dregs of most of these must-haves—it’s almost time for my next order.” —Adina Steiman, deputy digital editor
“Between all the cooking, cleaning, and occasional takeout, our trash can has become as essential as our refrigerator. I’ve been a Simplehuman convert for years, and their trash cans are the ultimate upgrade for a busy household. Having two compartments keeps separating our trash and recycling easy, and the can itself looks sleek and minimalist in our kitchen. The soft-close lid is great for keeping the noise down when one of us is in Zoom meetings during lunch, and the step makes it easy to pop it open with messy hands during baking or cooking. The investment is well worth the price.” — Megan Soll
Simplehuman Hands-Free Dual Compartment Recycling Trash Can, $200 at amazon.com
“Sometime this summer, I briefly lost my mind and rented an RV through Outdoorsy, an online, Airbnb-style RV-sharing site. I booked it for 35 days—enough time to drive from Birmingham Alabama, where I live, to see my siblings and parents on the West Coast, who I had not seen since February and who I missed deeply. It cost the equivalent of several mortgage payments, but with no end in sight to the pandemic, I did not care. Would it allow us to continue to isolate ourselves from other people? It would. Would it take up two parking spaces and guzzle more gas than I thought imaginable? It would indeed. Would it allow us to meet a new nephew, check on an ailing parent, work and remote-school from the road, and take control of our circumstances, however briefly—and bring our 14-year-old cat along for the ride? It would do all of that, too.
I spent a month plotting and re-plotting our route on RoadTrippers.com. [roadtrippers.com] I booked a free stay at a goat farm in Iowa through HarvestHosts. I reserved campsites at National Parks. And I planned COVID-testing at crucial points to confirm we weren’t turning our adventure into a super-spreader event. When the RV was dropped off, we crammed four season’s worth of clothing into the overhead cabins and the contents of our refrigerator and pantry into the thing, and off we went. For a month, we drove. There were bored kids, more “are we there yet”s than I could have imagined and some nights in RV campsites with all the charm of Wawa parking lots. There were also amazing sunsets, grasshoppers for the kids to catch, and days getting drunk on the ever-changing landscape and seasons rolling past outside the windows. The RV was not exactly luxe. It actually fell apart as we drove it like we were in a Chevy Chase movie. Rain started coming in through the ceiling in Oregon. A mirror fell off during a snowstorm in Texas. It started leaking gasoline on our last day of driving home. But that RV gave us memories this year that we’ll savor for the rest of our lives—and an exhilarating reminder of why we still love to travel, in spite of everything. And I would rent it again in a heartbeat, leaks and all.” — Karen Shimizu
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