Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Best of 2008

Now that 2009 has arrived, I thought I'd share my personal list of favorites from 2008. Not all of these things were new last year, but they were new to Matt and I, so we thought we'd share with you.

Best Nonfiction Book:
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan.
Reading this book was like a food conversion experience. Pollan, a UC Berkeley professor and New York Times Magazine writer (aka crazy genius), traces four food chains that produce food we eat in America: industrial (McDonalds/ grocery chains), industrial organic (Whole Foods), sustainable local organic (Polyface Farms), and hunted/ foraged. He exposes the oddity of a nation obsessed with eating healthily, but who leaves the production of our food to those whose first concern is profit. The result? We need a book like this just to tell us where our food comes from. Eye-opening, scientific, and well-researched.

Best Fiction Book:
The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
A novel about Henry, a librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Claire, the woman who loves him. An interesting sort of sci-fi concept without the sci-fi genre feel. The characters become real and the story is hard to put down. Beautifully written, but you'll need Kleenex before it's over.

Best Album:
The Re-Arranger, by Mates of State
An upbeat indie band consisting of a married couple who tour like rock stars with their two toddlers. Kori plays keyboard and provides heavenly vocals, Jason plays drums and shouts a great harmony. They have a hilarious blog as well called Band on the Diaper Run.

Best Restaurants:
Via Tribunali
Wood-fired Neapolitan pizza on Capitol Hill and Queen Anne. The pizza dough is thin and the perfect balance of softness on the inside and crispness on the crust. My favorite: the Calzone. They have delicious prosciutto from Italy, simple caprese salad, and limoncello at the bar, which I like by itself, or served as an infusion in a glass of cold lemonade.

Long live the gastro-tavern! Quinn's serves up a sumptuous beer menu with lots of surprising imports as well as a chef's take on traditional pub fare. Matt and I tried the rabbit gnocchi and sweetbreads, our friend Joe had the marrow bone, and Bryan had the braised oxtail. Sounds a bit crazy but it was all good and we hear the wild boar sloppy joes are incredible. If the menu scares you off, they also have fish and chips and a burger. The perfect place for the foodie and the hipster to hold hands.

Up here in A-tez (aka Anacortes), we've found our favorite restaurant. Organic, locally-grown produce and meats, grass-fed beef, and really lovingly prepared food that is consistantly delicious. The atmosphere is casual, the open-kitchen makes conversation with the chefs a given if you sit at the bar, and Matt's lucky enough to have his lunches catered from the restaurant daily. Lucky dog. We love their Skagit Burger with a local Red Barn Cider, their Beet Happening salad with candied pecans and gorgonzola, and their porter fudge over lavender icecream from Lopez Island Creamery with a homemade cookie is one of the best ways to finish an evening before walking back to our apartment. Chef-owner Nicole has catered several evening events we've attended here in the valley, and her cooking is consistently fabulous.

Best Guilty Pleasure: (Disclaimer: Matt not included here)
The Twilight Series
If you haven't heard about it by now, then you don't know any women. This young adult series has an oddly obsessive quality that just can't be quenched until every last word has been read. The premise: Girl moves to new town. Girl meets boy. Boy likes girl. Boy turns out to be a vampire, one who is trying abstain from his natural "diet". Things get complicated. It sounds really silly, and in a way, it is. But it's also a lot of good fun and a great escape from cold Maine winters, if necessary.

Best Cookbooks:
Jamie at Home
Based on UK chef Jamie Oliver's harvest from his garden and seasonal foods, this cookbook is sectioned by the four seasons and overflowing with beautiful pictures and delicious food.

The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper
This cookbook reads like a cooking class. That salad recipe is not about duplicating the ingredients, but understanding why they work together and full of suggestions for substitutions and new flavor combinations. Lynne Rosseto Kasper, host of NPR's The Splendid Table, is probably the most knowledgeable person I know of in the food industry and her cookbook is accessible to a beginner or advanced cook alike. Not to mention, great writing abounds.

Best Artist:
Nikki McClure
A Northwest artist from Olympia, Washington, Nikki creates graphic-seeming prints from cutting intricate designs in single sheets of paper with an exacto knife. Her work centers on rural life, seasons, and family, with a distictly contemporary edge. Almost all her pieces are accompanied with one-word invitations to deeper meaning.

Best Shows:
Flight of the Conchords
Follow Bret and Germaine, New Zealand's fourth most popular digi-folk band, as they try to make it big in New York city along with their inept band manager and their only fan. Unbelievably funny and their songs will be in your head for weeks--in a good way. We're particulary fond of "The Humans are Dead, aka Robo-boogie" and "The Hip-hop-ipotimus vs. The Rhyme-nocerous"

X-Files meets CSI meets Lost in JJ Abrams' new show. FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham is recruited to investigate events linked to something called fringe science, where technological advances border on the paranormal. We're into it. Our favorite theory: could Walter Bishop and William Bell be the same person?

Hope you enjoy these things as much as we do, if you get a chance to check them out.