A Year of Fridays

Looking back on The Action Cookbook Newsletter's 2020 and the best things we enjoyed along the way

Hello, and welcome back to the final Friday edition of The Action Cookbook Newsletter for 2020.

Wait a second, it’s not Friday.

… is it Friday?

Well, no, it’s not. But I’d like to take Christmas Eve off from writing, and judging by the slower readership so far this week, it’s safe to assume that many of you are also taking some time off. So I’m sending this two days early!

This newsletter has come a long way this year. This is the 160th (!) newsletter I’ve sent in 2020, and some quick back-of-an-envelope math puts that to be around 283,000 words, somewhere between James Joyce’s Ulysses and George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones in length. This is to say: it’s been a big undertaking! But you’ve shown up: As of current writing, over 3,100 people are on the full email list, and 522 people have taken the plunge as paid subscribers, numbers that both surprise and humble me.

I’m glad you’re here, and I hope you’ll all stick around for even bigger and better things in 2021.

Though I try to offer a wide range of things in my writing here, the true anchor of this publication is the Friday digest, where I share seven good things meant to improve your weekend ahead. The format isn’t rock-solid rigid, but generally that means a recipe, a cocktail, recommendations of music, a book, something to watch, and then reader-submitted pictures of their household animals.

Occasionally, I’ll send these Friday newsletters as free emails, but usually they go to paying subscribers only. You should consider becoming one if you’re not already, or giving a gift subscription to someone you think might enjoy this newsletter!

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Today, as we reach the end of a very long year, I’d like to look back at some of the biggest successes and audience favorites in each category.

7) Recipes

Every Friday newsletter is anchored by a recipe. Some are modest weeknight meals, others are completely bonkers all-weekend creations. All are delicious.

The signature dish of this publication, so much so that I worked with Homefield Apparel and artist Kev Roche to immortalize it in a very comfortable t-shirt. Sure, it’s just a spicy pork sandwich. But it’s also, some say, a way of life.

Pasta salad doesn’t have to be boring! Undo the damage generations of half-assed picnics have done to this much-maligned dish with the right mixture of add-ins and a killer roasted-tomato vinaigrette.

Easily the best pizza I’ve ever made, and one of the best dishes, full-stop.

A quick, simple, flavorful marinade for pork or chicken that I’ve used on an almost weekly basis this year. Give your grilling some pop.

One of the most ostentatious food stunts I’ve done, and it turned out to be remarkably good, which was really as much of a surprise to me as it was to you.

Should you wrap cheese sticks in pepperoni and grill them? Yes. Yes you should.

Beef weekend? Beef weekend.

6) Cocktails

Raise a toast to the year ending; we’ve got something for every season.

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5) Music

These are the best things I listened to in 2020. They’re not all from 2020! I refuse to be constrained by the linear concept of time.

  • Meet Me @ The Altar, “Garden”

  • Hum, Inlet

  • Otis Junior, Cool

  • Tyler Childers, Long Violent History

  • Spanish Love Songs, Brave Faces Everyone

  • Margo Price, That’s How Rumors Get Started

  • BLACKSTARKIDS, Whatever, Man

  • Phoebe Bridgers, Punisher

  • Waxahatchee, Saint Cloud

4) Books

If you’re like me, you may have found it difficult at times to focus long enough to read an entire book in 2020. The ones that did hold my Uncertain-Times-addled attention are some special books, then, and they include one brand-new one releasing in just a few weeks.

A breathtaking science-fiction debut novel that imagines the worldwide reaction to the imminent threat of an extinction-level comet’s approach; it’s expansive and thoughtful, grounded in both scientific reality and deep philosophy, more Contact than Armageddon. This book releases in January and you should pre-order it.

A fantastical, hilarious and wildly original story that follows the titular protagonist’s life from the day he was born backstage at a Broadway theater to a life of crime on the streets of 1940s New York City and beyond. It’s a terrific, breezy, escapist read.

This one’s on a number of best-of lists this year, and with good reason: it’s an incredibly inventive piece of original storytelling. More than that, though, every ten pages or so I felt like it punched the wind out of me with an observant so trenchant and beautiful I had to stop to gather myself.

An engrossing log of one man’s quest to through-hike the 2,653-mile trail that snakes from the Mexican border to Canada, it made me long for adventure and solitude. It’s beautifully written and you should also subscribe to Chuck’s wonderful newsletter.

A fascinating and well-timed history of the beloved game show Jeopardy!

The necessary rebuttal to Hillbilly Elegy.

Okay I have to do a little self-promotion. I’ve been rolling out a novel in installments here, and while the election and holidays caused me to stall a bit, I’ll be wrapping it up early in the new year. Five of eight installments (roughly 180 pages if it were a printed book) are available to read now, and you should catch up!

3) Television & Movies

  • Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)

Truly, if you watch nothing else this year, watch Ted Lasso.

  • The Repair Shop (Netflix)

The most soothing background television imaginable, this British show features master artisans repairing time-worn family heirlooms. It’s legitimately touching at times, and I find it relaxing to watch people be extremely competent at things.

  • What We Do In The Shadows (Hulu)

I was a late-comer to this, by my god is it wonderful. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s story of three ancient vampires and their human “familiar” living in present-day Staten Island is the funniest show on television, and that’s even before you get to Jackie Daytona.

  • Cobra Kai (Netflix)

There is no reason this show should be as good as it is, but somehow, it is.

  • It’s Bruno (Netflix)

A delightful and quick little show that I’ve described as Curb Your Enthusiasm for dog owners, creator and star Solvan Naim lives his life in Brooklyn with his beloved dog Bruno. The episodes are around 15 minutes each, which is great if you only have time for a quick bite. Someone should make a streaming service that only does short shows! It’d make billions! I’d call it ShortShows.

  • Down To Earth with Zac Efron (Netflix)

Efron hits the sweet spot here as mildly-clueless-but-open-minded bro who’s willing to learn about all sort of ecological and personal wellness issues.

  • Good Boys (HBO or On Demand, it’s worth the rental price)

I have not laughed as hard at any movie in years.

2) My Favorite Things That I Wrote, I’m Sorry, It’s Shameless But Here It Is

1) Animals

I’m not going to try to pick a “best of” from the pets you’ve all submitted throughout the year, because they’re all good dogs (and cats, and others). I just want to reiterate what a consistent joy it is having your best friends show up in my inbox. I mean, what a great position I’ve landed in, where people email me pictures of cute dogs and cats? It’s a blessing.

Anyways, rather than try and play favorites in this category, I’ll just sign off with my own dog, my surly but beloved office-mate, the dog that played a large part in helping me build my early online following, my corgi, Holly.

It’s hard to believe it, but Holly turns 10 years old next week, but she’s still as much of a lovable, mischievous goofball as ever. She’s got a new dog bed and a fresh bone waiting for her under the tree on Friday, and I’ll give her some good scritches for all of you. (Which will last ten seconds, at which point she’ll decide she’s had enough and leave the room. Corgis only accept attention on their terms.)

Finally,

Thank you all so much for being a part of this newsletter this year. Truly, this is nothing without the people who support it, subscribing, reading, commenting, contributing: you make this all possible, and I can only speak for myself, but for me, you’ve brought a great deal of light into what has otherwise been a very dark year.

I hope that you have a lovely holiday if you’re celebrating, and a restful, reflective end to a year that has seemed at times like it would never end. Next year will be better.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and I’ll see you all back here next week.

With genuine appreciation,

Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)

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