In the spirit of all those TV morning shows and newspapers touting the best and worst of the previous year, I present to you my own best and worst list of 2007:
Best Culinary Arts Discovery: Learning that one can freeze garlic right in the bulb, with no special preparation. Earlier this year, after canning salsa, we found ourselves with about a half pound of lovely, locally grown hardnecked garlic that we feared would sprout or go bad. Enter Ina Garten, of Barefoot Contessa fame, with this revelation. Thank you,Ina, for tipping us off to this great storage option. I keep a bulb in the freezer door and just pull off cloves as needed.
Best Beverage Discoveries: Republic of Tea White Jasmine tea, which is like a gentle shiatzu massage for your mind and tummy, and viognier, a most lovely white wine with the added charm of being a varietal underdog brought back from near-extinction.
Best Household Luxury Discovery: Flannel sheets for the wintertime at Cold Conmfort Cottage. There's no going back after spending a blizzardy night between toasty flannel.
Best Television Discovery: Just the other day, while randomly clicking up the TV remote, I found The Deadliest Catch, a Discovery Channel series that follows real deep-sea fishermen on the job. Having loved Jon Krakauer's The Perfect Storm and Linda Greenlaw's books about the fishing life, I was immediately intrigued by this real reality television. When I told Fellow Traveler -- a former Mainer familiar with the fishing industry there -- about the show her initial reaction was "It's a show about what?"...but as soon as she began watching she got hooked (so to speak) too.
Best Meat Analog Discovery: As I've blogged in the past, I often dislike meat analogs; as a general rule I've found that one food trying to pretend it's another food just isn't very good. But we've been being Quorn brand chicken-ish cutlets at the food coop, and we just love them. Both the box and the product look unpromising at first -- the box design is rather industrial and boring, and when you open it the ugly frozen cutlets just tumble out sans benefit of plastic lining -- but these babies are the best substitute for chicken breast we've found. They're great in pasta, fajitas, marinated and grilled -- any recipe calling for chicken breast.
Best Middle-Aged, Lazy-Day Background Music: I love my Putumayo world music compilations. I am aware that music snobs find these albums very bland and superficial...but I like them.
Best Housekeeping Innovation: Automated bathtub/shower-stall cleaners. They are worth every penny of the initial investment for the machines, which hang on your showerhead and, at the push of a button, squirt cleaning solution all over your tub and tile. That is, unless you enjoy cleaning grout with a nail brush.
Best Sock Discovery: Elder brand cotton socks, which we buy at the Amish hardware store. They'e a kind of lofty, coarse-knit cotton sock that is so warm and comfy -- we love them. And they're pretty cheap.
Best Blue Jean Discovery: L.L. Bean jeans, which are stylin' while still comfortable for a broad-in-the-beam perimenopausal body.
Best "Hidden Jewel" Discovery in Our Neck of the Woods: The county recreational area just around the block from my house. Oh, we visited it the year previous, but we really grew to love it this year.
Best Destinational Discovery: The greater Empire/Glen Arbor area. Oh, we'd buzzed through before; but we really came to appreciate it during our long weekend there. We love everything about it: the eclectic, bohemian feel of it (despite the yuppie tourist presence); the local commitment to community-supported agriculture and plethora of farm markets, roadside stands and cottage-industry foodie businesses; the local commitment to recycling -- something we could desperately use in our neck of the woods; the natural beauty of the Leelanau Peninsula and Sleeping Bear Dunes area. Honestly, if I could find a job that paid a living wage up north, I think we'd move there immediately, do-not-pass-go.
Best Familial Discovery: A triple-play here: It was delightful to have our nephew, T, up from Florida for the holidays; he's such a nice young man, and we enjoyed his presence so much. It was fun to re-meet a great-niece at an age where she's starting to talk; this weekend I read Winter Friends to her, a nice little kids' book from the Michigan wildlife photographers/authors who created the wonderful Stranger in the Woods, and her comments were priceless. (Upon seeing a photo of a deer approaching the snowman in the story I asked, "Do you know what animal that is?" the little girl -- who isn't even two yet -- furrowed her brow, thought for a moment and responded, "It's....oh, I just can't think of it." "It's a deer." "Oh! Yeah! Waindeeh!") And -- we have discovered that Mollie, a cat who heretofore behaved like a largely absentee roommate, is actually very sweet and affectionate, and craves our companionship. After spending a couple of days in exile at the Cottage in deference to the kids' allergy issues back at the Big House, Mollie has been right in the middle of the family circle here...and spent much of the night sleeping next to my head.
Best Rediscovery: I always used to be a magazine junkie, ever since I was a little kiddo reading the household Family Circles and Newsweeks from cover to cover and begging my parents for change to buy a copy of Jack and Jill. For whatever reason I'd gotten away from that. But this past couple of months FT and I have subscribed to several magazines -- everything from Traverse to Body and Soul. Sometimes it's nice to turn off the 'puter and enjoy the visual and tactile experience of reading a magazine outside the context of a doctor's-office waiting room.
Hmmmm....no "worsts." Well, that's a good thing, right?