Sunday, December 27, 2020

Sam's Weekly Quarantine Digest #38: December 27, 2020

 Hi all,

This week has been a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stifling year for me.  I'm finally back home with Luke, and I spent the whole week working at a table set up in front of our gorgeous Christmas tree, often with the other lights out so that the room was lit only by the soft glow of the tree (and the Seahawks-colored LED lights strung around the TV).  I've baked, I've watched movies, I've binged Bridgerton in its entirety (highly recommended), I've slept in til 11am (a record for me), I've watched football with Luke, I've played video games, I've read books, and I've called friends.  Most importantly, I've started to feel a little bit more like me.

Most of our belongings are currently in boxes, which has only amplified a common theme of this year for many people - not only alternating between being grateful for and wanting to purge our belongings as staying home made us realize just how much we have, but also reveling in just how little we actually need.  I even managed to concoct a dish vaguely reminiscent of Eggs Benedict (a holiday tradition for Luke) out of the scraps we had in our fridge and pantry, replete with a homemade Hollandaise sauce I whipped up using my KitchenAid whisk attachment by hand - I felt like the winning contestant on Chopped.

The reason our stuff is all packed up is that Luke and I are preparing to close on a house in a few short weeks, which has been the light at the end of the tunnel for me this year - the thing that has been giving me focus and hope, and optimism about 2021.  I, like many of you, I'm sure, could really use a fresh start - in so many ways.  This house represents so much of what I've always envisioned my life would one day be.  There's a kitchen where I see thousands of family meals being eaten and tens of thousands of cookies being baked.  There are beautiful spaces where I see you sitting when you come to visit, and a guest room so you can stay awhile.  There's a big backyard for dogs and kids, and a gorgeous, tree-lined walking and biking path that I intend to take advantage of nearly daily.  There are bakeries and restaurants within walking distance, and even a theater and multiple nature preserves and parks.  There's room for all of our video games and board games and puzzles, our artwork, and our books, and most importantly, for all the people with whom we want to share them.

As we head into 2021 (and bid 2020 a long-overdue farewell), I hope you all find something to look forward to in the coming year.  I realize that buying a dream home is a bit dramatic, but there is so very much to look forward to for all of us.  For me, it's the hugs and smiles and laughter that I know will be in abundance once we're able to be together in person again (with occasional Zooms with those who don't live nearby), but it's also the new routines I'll settle into in the meantime, the new resolutions I will steadfastly obey for at least 2 whole weeks before sending them to the resolution graveyard with their predecessors, the new traditions I'll create, and the new memories with dear old friends, whether virtual or otherwise.  So, with that, good riddance to 2020, and here's to a wonderful new year for each of us!

As always, previous digests can be found on my blog at  If you have suggestions or would like to stop receiving these emails, just let me know.


Ringing in the New Year
  • This year's NYE celebration in Times Square might be the best ever - the ball will still drop, the year will still change, and Times Square will still be "rockin'," but the live celebration will feature only a small number of in-person honorees in lieu of the gazillions of tourists that usually leave the entire area strewn with trash for days thereafter.  To join the fun from afar, see the details here.
  • If it's not NYE without a nightclub for you, then check out Eschaton's "The Dissolution, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the End," virtual performance art that allowed you to move your Zoom avatar through various online experiences, complete with an afterparty.
  • Prefer to laugh 2020 into distant memory?  Check out "NYE Comedy Mega Show 2021" featuring Fred Armisen, Reggie Watts, Natasha Leggero, Moshe Kasher, Brent Weinbach, and Andrew Michaan.
  • If you're intent on ringing in the new year with some bubbly, please remember that there are plenty of ways to get alcohol delivered these days so that you don't need to take the risk of running to the store.  If you're in a city, you can try DrizlyMiniBar, Swill, or even FreshDirect, which has a shockingly large (and pretty good) variety of alcoholic beverages (yes, including sparkling wine).  If you're outside of those services' delivery zones, try calling your local liquor store - many of them now offer delivery (either directly or through various services, like Instacart or Uber Eats) or curbside pickup.  Since the quarantine began, NYC and other cities even began allowing patrons to order premade cocktails from various restaurants for pickup or delivery, so check with your favorite restaurants, bars, or delivery services like Seamless and DoorDash to see the options available in your area.
  • Once you've obtained champagne, why don't you try toasting with a twist this year by trying one of these champagne cocktails?
  • PopSugar has created a list of festive virtual backgrounds for your New Year's Zoom soirees, following on their lists for Christmas and Hanukkah.  See here for instructions on how to change your background.

  • Miss exploring New York City's architecture and neighborhoods?  I sure do.  Try this virtual tour of Lower Manhattan led by cultureNOW.  If you haven't already checked it out, the New York Times also posted a series of virtual architectural walking tours led by one of their architecture critics that I shared a few weeks ago.
  • The New York Times' "At Home" newsletter has provided me with tons of inspiration this year.  You can check out their editors' "Best of" lists here, featuring some of the highlights that have carried them through this crazy year.
  • Pixar recently released its newest animated movie, Soul, featuring the studio's first black protagonist.  It's only available on Disney+ for right now, but you can read the story behind the scenes here.
  • Did you know that the most-played music in 2020 was...white noise?
  • Curious how dancers see the arts evolving in 2021?  Check out this Instagram Live conversation between Misty Copeland and Alex Poots, the Artistic Director of the Shed in NYC.
  • If you live in NYC, LA, Philly, San Francisco, or Oakland, keep an eye out for gigantic tweets on billboards, murals, and more, as part of Twitter's new ad campaign intended to spotlight some of the funniest and most uplifting tweets that made the Twitter community feel connected and made people laugh over the past year.
  • The American Cornhole League's National College Cornhole Championship kicks off on December 31 on ESPN.  That's all.
  • Shonda Rhimes' latest masterpiece (and her first as part of her new deal with Netflix), Bridgerton, dropped on Christmas, and it's fabulous.  I saw a Google News alert that informed me that it was perfect for fans of both Downton Abbey and Gossip Girl, so I wasted no time devouring it this weekend.  It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me terribly sad that it was over far too soon.
  • As if we all don't have enough reasons to bid 2020 adieu and look forward to 2021 as a fresh start, check out this list of things for New Yorkers to look forward to in the coming year.

Festive Foods
  • Can't wait for the 2021 Cookie Party?  Many bakeries across the country are offering cookie boxes for the holidays this year, including some that are shipping them across the country.  Check out this long list of some of the standouts, and get clicking!
  • If you're still too nervous to try indoor dining and don't feel like wearing a parka to sit outside, there's a new quarantine trend popping up - restaurants that are teaming up with hotels to serve meals in private hotel rooms in order to minimize exposure to other patrons.
  • Ever feel sad that your dogs can't share your sweet treats when it comes time for dessert?  Well, now they can!  This new cookbook is chock full of recipes for you and your dog to share together.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Sam's Weekly Quarantine Digest #37: December 20, 2020

 Hi friends,

I hope you're all getting into the holiday spirit!  Last week, I lit the candles with my parents, my brother, and my husband (some in person, some through a screen), and our neighbors surprised us with homemade latkes - it was a much-needed Festival of Lights in this dark year.  Today, I finally reunited with my husband in NYC after a few weeks with my family, and our beautiful Christmas tree (with a Star of David on top, of course) welcomed me home with its beautiful golden glow, and I was grinning from ear to ear as I once again remembered how some of you helped me surprise Luke by setting it up last year.  Combine all of that with the myriad social media posts and TV news clips showing friends and strangers alike getting the new vaccines, and it's hard not to feel a bit more optimistic (although I really do wish they'd stop showing the actual needles!).

Today, I'm combining my somewhat-delayed Thanksgiving reflections with the upcoming holiday, because what I want to talk about for both of them is what I'm grateful for this year.  I spoke with a therapist this week for the first time in a while, and she asked me what I'd been doing to take care of myself during the quarantine.  My honest answer was that I've been sending out this Digest.  And that's really true - the messages I've received back from many of you have been the bright spot of every week this year, and they've given me the energy to keep it up.  They've reminded me of all the wonderful memories we share, and all the things I have to look forward to when this is all over.

So, thank you.  Thank you for giving me an outlet and a purpose this year, and a place to focus my nervous energy.  Thank you for allowing me to be vulnerable and completely honest.  Thank you for giving me a way to truly be myself, and for giving me a chance to talk to you for a few hours each week, even if it is through a keyboard and a bcc list.  Thank you for the years of memories you've built with me before the quarantine, and for the years of memories yet to come.  Thank you for giving me so many reasons to smile every single time I look at your names while sending out this email.  Thank you for sharing fun articles with me and for trusting me enough to click a link or test a recipe every now and then.  Thank you for all of the support, for the texts and the calls and the emails and the cards.  Thank you for making me excited for 2021 and confident that things will continue to get better.

Happy holidays, everyone!


Holiday Spirit
  • Is there anything better than dancing around your apartment singing holiday songs at the top of your lungs?  Is that just me?  Either way, here is a playlist of my favorites.
  • Looking for a new way to celebrate?  Check out the Slay Ride: A holiday drag brunch featuring Manila Luzon, Monet X Change, and Ritzy Bitz.  The event was livestreamed earlier today, but it's still available on YouTube, so you can enjoy this brunch any day of the week.
  • The holiday season would not be complete for me without The Nutcracker.  Although I'll miss Lincoln Center this year, there are plenty of ways to enjoy it from home.
    • The New York City Ballet (my favorite - I've been a subscriber for over a decade) performs George Balanchine's classic choreography that made The Nutcracker so popular in modern times, and this year you can stream a performance on Marquee TV for $25.  It's a little steep, but it comes with a 30-day trial of Marquee TV with access to their selection of dance, theatre, opera, and music performances in case you're all caught up on (or getting sick of) Hulu and Netflix.
    • The "Virtual Vignettes" from New York Theatre Ballet were performed at Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan.  This is a series, with the final performance being released on Wednesday.
    • American Ballet Theatre is offering a performance of Alexei Ratmansky's version of the Grand Pas de Deux for Clara and the Prince here
    • Read stories from NYCB dancers reminiscing about their first time performing The Nutcracker.
  • Make a holiday wish and a charitable donation all at once.  At Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan, the Winter Garden is currently home to a canopy of colorful lanterns above the palm trees.  There are scheduled light shows every hour on the hour, plus two touchless wishing stations that let you activate the lights with a holiday wish.  For each wish, Brookfield Place will donate $1 (up to $25,000) to ROAR (Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants).
  • Light, Hope, & Joy: The German embassy and Washington Performing Arts have teamed up to offer a virtual holiday concert featuring the internationally renowned Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, the United States Air Force Band, and the String Queens.
  • Looking to make some holiday magic with your little ones this year?  Plant some jelly bean "seeds" in a bowl of sugar, sprinkle with a little peppermint fairy dust (crushed candy canes), and then stick some full candy canes in the sugar bowl after the kids head to bed.  Final step: Get your camera ready to capture the look on their faces when they find that candy canes sprouted up overnight!  Bonus points for starting off with mini candy canes the first day and then making them "grow" each day!
  • Don't forget to look up at the sky tomorrow night to see the rare "Christmas Star," when Jupiter and Saturn appear to be closer together than they have in 400 years.  This one is very real, but still downright magical!
Holiday Treats
  • Appledoodles: This new addition to the Cookie Party this year is one of my personal favorites of all time (and I think many of you already agree)!  In a large bowl, cream together 3/4 cup unsalted butter, 3/4 cup brown sugar, and 1/4 cup granulated sugar.  Mix in 1 tsp vanilla and 1 egg until smooth.  In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour, 1 3.5-oz. box of instant vanilla pudding (dry), 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp salt, and a generous pinch of nutmeg.  Add the dry mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until well-combined.  Peel 1-2 apples and dice them very small until you have 1 cup in total.  Dry them by wrapping the diced apple in paper towels and squeezing gently until the paper towels stop soaking straight through right away (maybe 6-10 times).  Stir the apples into the dough along with 1 cup white chocolate chips.  Refrigerate for 1 hour (if skipping, make sure you've really dried out the apples!).  Form the dough into balls, then roll in a cinnamon-sugar mixture (I use 1/3 cup granulated sugar and 1 tsp ground cinnamon).  Bake on parchment-lined sheets at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes (do not overbake!).  You won't have leftovers, but if you do, they're great stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3-4 days.
  • Eggnog-Bourbon Buttercream: Transform pretty much any baked good into a festive holiday masterpiece with this boozy topper.  Try it with anything from sugar cookies to cinnamon rolls to fruitcake (yes, really).  Stir together 3 tbsp refrigerated eggnog and 1 tsp bourbon in a small bowl; set aside.  Beat 1/2 cup (4 oz.) salted butter (softened) in a medium bowl on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Gradually beat in 3 cups (12 oz.) powdered sugar, alternating with the eggnog mixture, until light and fluffy.  Add another 1-3 tsp eggnog if needed to reach your desired consistency.

Other Fun Facts
  • Is your day making too much sense?  Let me help you out with this tidbit, courtesy of my husband: Mincemeat is fruit, sweetbreads are meat, and sweetmeats are candy.  Chew on that one for a bit!
  • I think the headline of this article from the New York Times says it all!  Feeling Socially Awkward?  Even Extroverts Are a Little Rusty.  Don't worry, you're not alone.
  • The American Ballet Theatre has teamed up with the Collective Conservatory, an immersive online music-making initiative, to create a collaboration called Visceral Harmonies.  This past summer, students from across the country gathered in an online collaboration to create music.  For one week, these young artists captured recordings from their daily lives and improvised together to generate content for a collective composition.  It was then choreographed by Amy Hall Garner, and ABT Studio Company dancers filmed their performances from locations in the US, South Korea, and the Philippines.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Sam's Weekly Quarantine Digest #36: December 6, 2020

 Hi all,

It has been yet another extremely difficult week, but this one extends far beyond my own household.  My husband's hometown of Haines, Alaska, was hit with an intense rainstorm (called an "atmospheric river") following a deep freeze that had left the ground frozen and non-absorbent.  The result was massive flooding and mudslides, with two people still missing, half a dozen homes destroyed or severely damaged, a number of roads in town broken up, and several neighborhoods evacuated, all in the dark of winter.

It's hard to comprehend that something like this could happen in this beautiful, idyllic little community that I've come to know so well and to love so much over the past 13 years.  When Luke and I got married, we had a second celebration at the fairgrounds in Haines, and hundreds of local residents came to celebrate the occasion and wish us well, including many who had welcomed me with open arms over the preceding years.  Some of our friends who flew up from the lower 48 to celebrate with us hiked the mountain where the worst landslide occurred this week (also the site of one of my very first true Alaskan adventures when Luke first brought me to visit in 2008).  I remember Mt. Riley as the place where I first learned about devil's club and muskeg and what to do if we encounter a bear in the wilderness, and where my breath caught in my throat as the clouds parted at the summit to reveal endless rows of blue and purple mountains stretching into the distance.  I remember hiking up Mt. Ripinski from one of the neighborhoods that's been evacuated, and encountering a magical, snowy lake en route to the summit - in July.  (My Facebook profile photo was taken at the summit.)  Haines is where I learned to chop wood, to identify myriad animals and plants I've never seen anywhere else before or since, to say "Thank you" in Tlingit (Gunałchéesh), to wade through a tidal inlet in rubber boots, to dig up carrots and garlic and pick blueberries and rose hips straight from the bush, to snowshoe and cross-country ski and to truly hike, to look up at the mountains and the trees and the eagles and the sky and to breathe deeply in the fresh air when we arrived from NYC.  Haines is a place that's so beautiful that the day after a big hike, when my quads are screaming in pain and every part of me is exhausted, I still desperately want to go out anyway just to be able to see all those sights again.  Haines is where I started to understand how my husband came to be the man he is.  It's difficult to reconcile the images in the media this week as being these same places, and my heart aches for all the amazing people who live there and have taught me all of these things.

I love Haines - even though Luke and I live here in NY, I consider Haines one of my homes, and I truly hope that everyone reading this email gets to visit that incredible place one day.  All week, I sat helplessly, staring at the computer, praying and trying to think of ways to help from afar.  I was so inspired by the immediate and powerful reaction of the community - it didn't surprise me, but I felt so lucky to know a place like this, and people like this, and to know that each person was in good hands with all of the other townspeople to help them.  Within hours (minutes?), there were hot meals and baked goods for the search and rescue teams and the evacuees; by nightfall, they had to ask people to stop dropping off blankets and clothing and other items because they had more than they needed; one woman even offered to catch and transport any livestock at the evacuees' homes and to house them at her property until they could return home.  Messages of support poured in from all over the surrounding area - from "neighbors" in Juneau and Fairbanks in Alaska, to Whitehorse and Haines Junction in Canada - and from friends of Haines all over the country and the world.  I cried both tears of sorrow, for the destruction and loss I was hearing about, and tears of gratitude for all the amazing things people were doing to help each other. 

So today, my hope for all of you is that you hold your loved ones close if you're with them, or, if you're not, that you call to remind them how loved they are.  The past year has been difficult and terrifying for so many, and in so many ways.  Remember how lucky we are to have met the people we love, and to have places in the world as beautiful as Haines, Alaska.  And remember how lucky we are, no matter where we are, to be able to build homes and lives that bring us joy, no matter what a year like 2020 brings our way.

If you'd like to support Haines and those who have lost so much this week, please consider making a donation through the Tlingit and Haida tribes' Emergency Donation Request, the Chilkoot Indian Association, or the Salvation Army.  There are also separate fundraisers for each of the families of the missing residents here.

As always, previous digests can be found on my blog at  If you have suggestions or would like to stop receiving these emails, just let me know.


'Tis the season!
  • The holiday season is officially in full swing!  There are loads of incredible livestreamed theater performances coming up in the next few weeks, including a live broadcast of The Grinch Musical!, Estella Scrooge (depicting the classic character as a Wall Street villain with a taste for foreclosures), and an international Hanukkah celebration from the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene.  Check out a wonderful roundup of these performances here.
  • The Rockettes are now offering kicking classes you can take from home.  They'll be doing it weekly, and the videos will be available afterward if the timing doesn't work for you.  Check out the details here, or follow the Rockettes on Instagram for further announcements.
  • Drive-through holiday lights displays:
    • I mentioned this Jones Beach lights display last month, which is 2.5 miles long and pretty darn impressive.  If you're planning to go, advance tickets are $25/car; it's $30-35 at the gate.  Open November 13-January 2.
    • My family and I tried Westchester's Winter Wonderland at the Kensico Dam in Valhalla last week, and it was pretty enjoyable.  This one is relatively small (just set up in the plaza in front of the dam, but the path twists and turns through different areas, and they even recommend a radio station playing only holiday tunes to complete the experience.
  • Speaking of holiday music, if you're in Westchester, radio stations 106.7 and 88.7 are all holiday music, all the time.  So buckle up and get ready to sing along!
  • If you still need more holiday cheer, don't forget that 'tis the season for Hallmark and Lifetime movies galore, plus an attempt to emulate these wonderful traditions by Netflix and Hulu - both streaming services have a splash page when you arrive at the site that will offer you a one-click ticket to Tinseltown.  Oh, and once you've finally gotten over the fact that you actual love this stuff, feel free to top up your cheer gear with a festive cup (or two, or three) that publicly identifies you as the delightful holiday elf you really are inside.
Other Entertainment
  • The Anti-Defamation League organized a beautiful concert this evening, ADL in Concert Against Hate, featuring a huge number of celebrities standing up to inspire viewers to fight hate, antisemitism, and extremism across the country.  You can view the hour-long performance here; if you're inspired to, please don't forget to make a contribution along the way.
  • The Broadway musical Jagged Little Pill (featuring Alanis' Morissette's music) will be livestreaming a concert next Sunday, December 13th, at 8pm.  Purchase a ticket here to gain access to the performance either live or on-demand following the live concert.  In the spirit of the #SaveOurStages movement that has risen during the Covid-19 pandemic, this concert directly supports our nation’s most vulnerable venues experiencing catastrophic revenue loss during this time of suspension for live arts.
  • One thing I really miss is taking tours of NYC's neighborhoods and architecture.  However, New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman is filling that void from afar - check out this listing of tours you can take to transport yourself from your home office to the grittiest corners of the City.
  • Is working and playing from home suddenly making you realize that your typing skills are lacking?  Wish you could read more books?  Well, now you can solve both problems at once!

Festive Food
  • Want to learn to make your own sufganiyot (donuts) for Hanukkah?  The Boulder JCC is hosting a virtual cooking class on Wednesday, December 9 at 8:30pm EST - purchase your ticket here, and remember that the times are in Mountain Time (2 hours behind NY).
  • Since many people associate cookies with the winter holidays, I thought this might be a good time to re-circulate my Cookie Party Recipe Collection!