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Opinion | Finding Inspiration in an Otherwise Dull Year

I spent a lot of time this year thinking about testing and college admissions. The most comprehensive and well-reported book on the topic comes from Daniel Golden, a senior editor at ProPublica. His book, which was recently updated to include an introduction about Operation Varsity Blues, the infamous 2019 cheating and bribery scandal, is the most honest and carefully argued text I’ve found on the subject. Golden is unafraid to call elite college admissions what it is: a processing mill for the children of the wealthy masquerading as a meritocracy.

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What will work and life look like after the pandemic?

Yoshi’s Crafted World

This was the video game my daughter and I enjoyed playing the most this year. If you’re hunkered down again for the holiday, Yoshi’s Crafted World is a perfect way to spend some hours with your young child. The characters are easy to control, it’s hard to die, and there’s a pleasant and simple narrative that threads through the levels. But the real treat is the world itself, which looks like it was made out of cut-out construction paper, egg cartons and random stuff you can find in the craft aisles at Michael’s. You can feel the fun the game’s designers must have had with each detail, which, in turn, gives you something to look at while your child repeatedly fails to jump over a rock and then starts screaming with frustration.

Alice Waters’s $425 Egg Spoon

Please watch this Instagram video from Alice Waters, famed chef, restaurateur, author and selecter of the freshest vegetables.

As far as I can tell, the video shows Alice Waters and a large copper spoon whose primary function is to cook an egg over a wood fire. (You can buy your own copper spoon for $425 from a company owned, in part, by Waters’s daughter Fanny Singer.) For reasons that are a bit unclear to me, I’ve watched this video about 50 times since it came out. There’s something almost comforting and hypnotic about the spoon’s opulence while it pretends to be understated and pragmatic and not what it actually is: a $425 mini frying pan. There are a lot of things one can say about Alice Waters’s egg spoon, some of which might not be particularly positive, but I ultimately respect the ingenuity it takes to come up with such an expensive, inefficient and frankly dangerous way to cook one egg at a time.

Daifuku Original Korean Pancake

Korean food in America has changed a lot in the past 20 or so years. The standard barbecue restaurants have been supplemented with a wider range of foods, including fancy corn dogs, desserts and the Kogi Taco, which fuses traditional Korean food with Mexican elements. Perhaps no change has been more monumental, however, than the proliferation of prepared, frozen meals you can pick up at Korean grocery stores. You can now buy nearly every type of Korean staple in frozen form, dump it into a bowl and heat it up in the microwave or oven.

This has been a godsend to people like me who still want to eat the food we grew up with but don’t always have the time to make ourselves. I’ve tried all these products and the best one I’ve found is Daifuku frozen Korean pancakes, which come in every flavor from taro to cinnamon to scallion. Just out of the freezer, they look like flat, white coasters, but after five minutes in a toaster oven, they fluff up into crispy, airy treats that can be a late night snack or a satisfying appetizer.

In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin

RV-ing has traditionally been a retirement activity. But #vanlife, a lifestyle trend I wrote about in August, centers on young people who buy a camper van, or convert a cargo van, ditch their homes and set off on the road. Some combination of the pandemic, the economy and the creation of so-called “Class B” homes on wheels, which can provide a kitchen, bathroom and bed on a much smaller chassis, has sent RV sales skyward over the past few years. The smaller, more nimble Class B vans mean you no longer have to teeter on the edge of mountain roads in a 30-foot-long monstrosity while still avoiding all the hassles of setting up and breaking down camp every day.

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