Q1 2020 Reading List

After a great 2019, and a middling 2020 for reading, I’m back with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for books in the new year. Having a reading list helps me make decisions about getting in quality reading without falling into decision making slumps.

I aim to have a large percentage of my reading written by women, POC, and international writers; and typically read a handful of Man Booker short list titles. I typically make a list of my favorite categories, and then will supplement or swap as I find reading that calls out to me. I make room for the synchronicity of just picking up any random title, but I always have a backup! 

A few notes and observations:

Audio Books: yes, I definitely count audiobooks as reading. I process information better when on my walks and runs, and thus prefer listening to memoirs or non-fiction this way. It’s also easier for me to stay engrossed and follow along while I’m moving physically. 

Don’t forget FOOD! For the past two years, I read almost zero food memoirs, literature, or history – some of my favorite topics. So I made this one of my kitchen resolutions this year! (Again.) I’m also re-reading cookbooks. 

The library is your friend. While I always try to support local book stores – I’m also a huge fan of my local library – grabbing things off the Speed Read Shelf is my jam – I’m happy that our library is still open to grab things.

As always, still working my way through my list of Personal Leadership Development Books, and the BBC Big Read. I also read quite a few business books for work – whatever I need to expand my ideas and sharpen my skills. Last week was our engineer Danielle’s first week of work, and she asked if we could have a shared reading list in our team knowledgeable. 🙂 


  • I’ll be kicking off a round of The Artist’s Way with a group of friends.
  • Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (read!)
  • Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
  • The Other Americans by Laila Lalami (Wellesley Book Club Book) 
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  • Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson
  • Stand Out by Dorie Clark (re-reading with a friend) 

Categories to choose from: (I often choose outside these, but I find that when I’m in the mood for a particular feeling, it breaks down by this type of category.) 

Food Writing:

  • The Man Who Ate Too Much by John Birdsall. 
  • Everything is Under Control by Phyllis Grant. 
  • Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson. 
  • Dirt by Bill Buford. 
  • Rebel Chef by Dominique Crenn.

Gripping / Thrilling / Literary:

  • My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite 
  • The next in one of my Scandi crime series of choice.
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

YA fiction

  • VE Schwab – what have I not read? 
  • Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin
  • The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy) by S.A. Chakraborty
  • Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (Brooklyn Brujas) 

Leadership / Business / Finance:

  • How I Built This by Guy Raz
  • Health Design Thinking by Bon Ku and Ellen Lupton
  • Lords of Finance by Liaquat Ahamed

Fitness and Health / Mindfulness / Brains

  • The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk
  • How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
  • The Body, A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson

Audio Books:

  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (been half read for a while!)
  • A Promised Land by Barack Obama
  • Prairie Fires – by Caroline Fraser

What’s on your next up list?

xo, Sam

Good Things 2021 Week 1

Good Things 2021 Word of the Year Bloom on flowers on the Second Lunch

Thoughts on a Word of the Year. I’ve used this as a haphazard practice for the past decade. 2011: Habit, in 2017: Share, in 2018: Finish. Sometimes I hold on to my word, other years they slip away, the act of setting the intention for a few minutes enough for me. In 2021: we have BLOOM. Even if it’s just a reminder to myself to get a weekly bouquet or plant. This being a food blog, my secondary word that kept on coming to mind is “pickle” and I’m already getting started thinking about ferments.

And we commence! This week I stumbled across a wise thought from a brilliant and captivating friend, who said something to the effect of: “I survived 2020 by treating each month of the year as a new slate. And of course, tea.”  (I took liberties with the quote as it was part of a tweet thread.) I’ve always loved the idea of a rhythm for one’s life – structure to dream, build, coast, reflect, relax, and then do it all again. 

There’s the comfort of making new choices and permission to change one’s mind if something does not work out – if you hate it, you get a clean slate. If not, you continue that path. I see structure as the creative constraint to let you take bigger leaps

I have quite a bit of optimism about the year to come.  

With that, I start with my first Good Things of the year – the short notes from my weekly personal Retro. (A retrospective is an exercise where you cap each work cycle with three questions, usually a version of: what worked well? what should we improve? what will we commit to improving in the next work cycle?) My personal retro includes my “what worked well” which is also, incidentally – my gratitude practice. You’ll notice that many of my good things are small things that may seem inconsequential to others, or even something that we are taught to be ashamed about.

Two moments about this for both myself and for you.

In 2021, I want to celebrate the small things. While big accomplishments should always be celebrated, the small things that seem inconsequential may literally be the thing that keeps you going in any particular day – are in my opinion the most important things. So if you want to show me your microwaved broccoli that you managed to feed yourself, of that you got of the couch and showered for the first time in weeks, I want to CELEBRATE you for that.

Fredrik Backman Anxious People Book on The Second Lunch

This week: I took time to relax and write. 

  • I wrote about food, cooking, and my vision for the upcoming year.
  • I wrote my kitchen resolutions.
  • I wrote my intentions for the month.
  • I wrote my reading list for the next few months.
  • I participated in a vision board session with friends – everyone else cut out magazine images, I just sat around dreaming in community.

Movement: I ran an accidental 5k PR on January 1st! I ended the year with a beautiful Yin class with Yasmene on Ompractice, and started with Jane subbing for Jess in her Decompress and Rest class. I contributed miles to my Circumpolar Race Around the World with my BattleDucks team!

Creative input:

  • Reading: Fredrik Backman’s Anxious People.
  • Watching: Bridgerton, Lucifer, kicking off my 2021 movie watching with Class Action Park.
  • Creative Dates: I kicked off a large puzzle this week – Ducks of North America. Even though I found my table to be a little bit too small. 
Rancho Gordo Super Lucky 2021 Black Eyed Peas on The Second Lunch

{Good Food}: a solid start to the year – cooking meals rather than just assembling.

Marcus Samuelsson’s Black Eyed Pea Curry. From Food and Wine. This is a recipe that has some notoriety in the Rancho Gordo Bean Club facebook group (of course there’s a group). At the last glance, I’d note that more than 250 people acknowledged cooking this recipe over the New Year (there was a poll). It’s definitely one to keep in your back pocket. Even  if you don’t like black eyed peas, it’s a handy base for a variety of bean swaps. The coconut milk, the berbere, the turmeric – are wonderful.

A Stone and Skillet English Muffin with chicken liver pâté. Almost a match for last week’s superlative Elephantine Parker House Roll breakfast sandwich with Egg and Cheddar.

New Year’s Eve Super Fusion 2: seafood avocado salad, beef tataki, a California roll, tamago sushi. 

My Italian neighbor roasted chestnuts in her fireplace, doused them in rum, and gave me a small bowl of them.

Cheater’s Sicilian Seafood Stew with Swordfish, rao’s, pine nuts, garlic, orange zest, and sherry.

Honey Aleppo pork tenderloin with air-fryer cauliflower and sweet potato, green goddess dip, and spicy mayo.

Cottage cheese with blueberries and maple syrup.

Here’s to a very good YEAR of eating, creativity, and joy in the small things ahead.

xo Sam

The Second Lunch Kitchen Resolutions 2021

julia child in her kitchen

Welcome Back, old friend. I was tempted this year to just re-post last year’s Kitchen Resolutions as a bit of a re-do, but as I mentioned this week in my annual review, 2020 was not many things, but proved to be a good year for eating things out of my kitchen. I was truly surprised that the variety of things that I ate and cooked for myself. There were a lot of simple meals. That said, a lot of this is just copy-paste of years past. I’ll go ahead and make notes about what I’m updating.

One of my favorite lists to come back to each year is my Kitchen Resolutions: my commitment to spending more time doing the things I love: cooking, reading about food, talking about food, and eating…. all of the food.  

I’ve been writing these resolutions for more than a decade, and some of them pop up year after year – affirm doing good things that work – and a handful are new each year. You can take a peek through previous years here:  (2012) (2016) (2017)  (2018) (2019)

Here’s a list of my resolutions, some old, some new!

My weekly meal planning process – it took me more than a decade of meal planning to realize that I don’t love this process because I’m obsessed with food – I mean, I am, but that’s not the point – I love the process because it’s an anchor habit that helps me do everything else in my life. It keeps me fed, energized, and provides me joy and novelty. It helps me connect with friends, culture, and tap into my creativity.

Blogging my weekly Good Things: Good Things also has a dual purpose – I find myself living more fully when I know that I’m accountable to having it written down at the end of the week!

Read (More) Excellent Food Writing. I’m loving Bettina’s work in Vice (and on Twitter). Soleil Ho’s restaurant coverage in SF. Write something as riveting as: The Bucatini Shortage of 2020.

100(0) fruits, nuts, and seed to try – here’s my list; I was surprised to see this as one of my most viewed web pages of 2020. It seems like a lot of folks out there were interested in a challenge.

[New] Intentional Culinary Novelty: I get a lot of joy from the quest for the best (chocolate, sandwich, chestnut spread, bean, etc.) In 2020 I had some fun with my Rancho Gordo Bean Club subscription, a box from Mozzerella Co., treats from Elephantine, and mail-order of individual ingredients such as Xi’an Chile Oil. I’d like to continue this trend! Do you have any favorite mail order items for me to add?

Revise my backup list: (a version of it here) even when I meal plan, some days, I just want comfort food that requires little effort and really only muscle memory. There’s the food I plan, and then the food I eat when I can’t stick to what I’ve planned – and it always helps to have something in between that provides some sense of nutrition: I’m looking at you, microwaved bag of broccoli or cauliflower gnocchi. I’d also like to add a short list of global 10-15 minute meals.

Minimize the amount of stuff on the counter in my kitchen: this seems like a yearly aspiration, but I find myself updating and iterating every time. I really like having quick access to ALL THE THINGS. One of the things I need to tackle this year though is finding extra space for clutter on the countertops, and paring down dishes and Tupperware because if everything is clean there isn’t… actually space for it all put away.

Cooking recipes from cookbooks – in addition to (I think) a weekly Turkish recipe, I’ll make an effort to add at least one cookbook recipe to my weekly meal plans, add a few new cookbooks to my collection, and combine this with some favorite cookbook re-reads. I’m not set on these; they are a starting point:

  • January – Nothing Fancy: Recipes and Recollections of Soul-Satisfying Food by Diana Kennedy
  • February – Cook, Eat, Repeat – Nigella Lawson
  • March – What We Eat When We Eat Alone: Stories and 100 Recipes by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin
  • April – The Flavor Equation – Nik Sharma
  • May – The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth by Roy Andries de Groot
  • June – The New Portuguese Table: Exciting Flavors from Europe’s Western Coast by David Leite
  • July – My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl
  • August – Saffron in the Souks – John Gregory-Smith
  • September – Chetna’s Healthy Indian: Everyday Meals, Effortlessly Good for You by Chetna Makan
  • October – A Work in Progress: Notes on Food, Cooking and Creativity by René Redzepi
  • November – Olives, Lemons & Za’atar: The Best Middle Eastern Home Cooking by Rawia Bishara
  • December – Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater

Collaborative Dinners + Cooking Classes: With Zoom becoming just a normal part of every day life for EVERYONE, and dinner parties currently impossible, I’d like to host three this year. Starting with a small friend Alta Strada meal. I’d also like to take at least (1) online Zoom cooking class – something I’m unlikely to have made myself at home.

Food memoirs and literature: more from my favorite genre, that I’ve not paid nearly enough attention to this year. Next on the docket: The Man Who Ate Too Much by John Birdsall. Everything is Under Control by Phyllis Grant. Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson. Dirt by Bill Buford. Rebel Chef by Dominique Crenn.

Garden 2021: this year I opted for the front garden in pots. I think I’d like to plant FLOWERS in the back garden next year so I have blooms ready to go.

Bucket list restaurants – this one is on pause for some of this year! I dream of a time where we’re all vaccinated and I can travel and eat at some of my dream restaurants around the world. Where I can eat through all the local places with Eater 38 as a guide. For now, I’m set on enjoying some local takeout every so often as a treat.

Other notes: taking a new stab at a Kitchen Projects list, updating my Turkish Meals list, and baking pumpkin chocolate chip cake.

Do you have any kitchen resolutions this year? I’d love to hear about them!