My Favorite Books of 2020 - Plus Complete List and Links!

I can't believe I'm starting my third annual reading challenge. Shifting from a goal of 100 to 52 last year helped make it a little less stressful and a lot more fun.

As I write this on the first day of February, I'm way above pace and have already read a lot of great books. One of my tips from 2018 (and 2019) is that I generally listen to non-fiction on audio (in the car, on the subway, while cleaning up around the house, etc.) and then I read fiction in print (usually when I wake up in the morning with a cup of coffee in bed or as I wind down to head to sleep and try to ignore the allure of my phone.)

My favorite so far is The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Tara Jenkins Reid. She authored Daisy Jones and The Six, my favorite book of 2019 and for whatever reason, I just kept putting this one off. Well, I finally got it from the library and started flipping the pages. I got so into it that I downloaded it on audio so that I could keep going while I went on walks and worked at my laptop. Don't let anyone tell you the plot. It pays to not know what's coming.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Complete List of Books Read in 2020

  1. My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress by Rachel DeLoache Williams: I remember being gobsmacked when I read about this story in the actual news, so I loved digging in deeper. I listened on audio because I wanted to hear the author who actually lived it tell it in her voice. Still can't believe this happened on so many different levels. But here we are, 2020.
  2. Natural Wine for the People by Alice Feiring: I've been studying wine for the past couple of years and between restaurants like Reveler's Hour, wine stores like Cru Cellars (in Tampa) and Domestique (in DC) and Marissa Ross' book last year, I've been super interested in learning more about natural wines. The skinny: there's no real definition. But, reading this book helped me learn more about terms, types, what to look for when buying or tasting. And opened my eyes to some things that I don't love about previous faves (looking at you mass-produced-and-colored-by-chemicals-rosรฉ.) I still need to connect with Julia Coney to talk about the flip side to this natural movement and what I need to know to learn more.
  3. The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates: Another book everyone (especially my friend Jamie) recommended and told me that I would love, but for whatever reason, I just kept putting it off. Maybe I thought, why do I want to hear from Bill Gates wife? Maybe I just thought it would be more Lean In porn. But, damn, this one got me. I was crying in the first chapter. Highly recommend the audio version where you can hear in her voice the impact of these people she meets along the way to finding her passion for changing the world.
  4. The Clasp by Sloane Crosley: Shannon Sheridan evangelized that I needed to read this one and she was right. Such a fun caper involving an aging band of college friends spanning Florida, New York City, Los Angeles and Paris. Great to read when you need a break from the heavy news. 
  5. The Beautiful No by Sheri Salata: I had followed Sheri for years as she helped Oprah build her TV empire. She was goals. But, I read this book at the direction of my friend Christiana. She thought I would identify and holy hell, yes, I did. This is for those of us who spent our 20s and 30s building radically up at an insane pace, and ignoring a lot of other stuff. Sheri may have written this aimed at 40-50 year old peers, but I think it should be required reading at 30. Learn how to say no remains a great goal.
  6. More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth: I've followed Elaine for years on social media and have been inspired by her trajectory as she lead Teen Vogue through the tumult of the publishing (and political) years of late. This was a good personal take about what was happening to her leading up to and through that point. A good reminder that social media shows you the gloss, the glory, but not always the guts of what's happening. Inspired to continue to watch her lead ahead.
  7. She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey: I knew this would be a gut wrenching read, but I felt like it was important to bear witness. I listened to them tell the behind-the-scenes of them breaking open the #MeToo stories across so many industries (and a reminder that we have only scracthed the surface) just as the Weinstein trial began. It's really worth a read on many levels, but mostly because this is so formulaic. Once you see it, you can't un-see it.
  8. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Tara Jenkins Reid: I know, I said it all up there. But, definitely read this one. Don't ask why or what it's about. Just read.
  9. Burn The Place by Iliana Regan: I love me a good chef's memoir, but they are mostly written by men (aside from Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, which is a great read.) This one is as much a tale of growing up on a farm in the Midwest, surrounded by sisters and lots of alcohol. Trying to figure out who you are and your place in the world - if you even have one. And finally the hard work of getting sober, figuring out relationships and love -- and yep, scoring your first Michelin star. Elizabeth, Kitsune and Milkweed Inn are now on my bucket list to eat at.
I've got an enormous stack of to-reads from my local library, the Book of the Month Club subscription my friend Raashee gave me, and bookstore splurges. Follow my reads on Instagram and help me pick my next one by sharing your favorites (and what to avoid!)


Discovering Diverse Talent in the DC Food Scene

Recently, Laura Hayes of Washington City Paper penned a piece about how there are ZERO restaurant critics of color at any of the DC-area media outlets. ZERO.

That means we aren't hearing about a slew of great food, restaurants and talent that we may not pass in our news outlets or neighborhoods.

But, what it also means is that readers aren't getting a true look at how service is executed for non-white diners. I loved that Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post talked about how he tries to dine with people who are not like him - kids, people with disabilities, different ages, different races - and sends them in ahead of time to see if their experience is different. But, what would it look like to have a black food writer on the Post team who regularly goes into the best restaurants in town and gets sat at the crappiest table. Or experiences passive (and let's face it, overt) racism. Would that change how service and training is handled?

I don't know. Here's where I feel like I can start to play a part in this puzzle. I've made a concerted effort over the last few years to find and follow food talent that doesn't look like me. I'm going to use Instagram as my navigator for you because it's simple to follow people and discover new ones. And, what I'll ask in return is that you tell me who I should be tasting, reading and following that I'm not (yet.)

Chef Paola Velez at Kith/Kin
Don't ask me how I discovered Paola, but my eyes were transfixed by her desserts when she was the pastry chef at Iron Gate. I followed her on Instagram back then and have loved watching her flourish as she joined Chef Kwame Onwuachi's team at Kith/Kin. Not only has she upped their dessert game, but it's been so cool to get to watch Paola travel to Hong Kong for pop-ups and raise her profile/career. All that and, now that I've gotten the chance to meet her in person, I can tell you she is the nicest human.

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Julia Coney
Full disclosure, Julia Coney is a friend of mine. That aside, she's also the leading voice for more black women in the wine industry. Her stories of being asked for a refill at events where she has been invited as an expert will raise your blood pressure. But, she's also your go-to for discovering new wine regions vicariously through her travels and the person you can walk down and taste with (she also is a manager at Wardman Wines in Brookland.)

A post shared by Julia Coney | Wine & Travel (@juliaconey) on

Lauren Paylor
I've been meaning to meet Lauren in real life for months. Most recently, she's taken the helm of one of my favorite bars, Dos Mamis in Petworth. I've been following her Instagram cocktails and fun vibes for a while.

Black Girls Eat
A while back, I realized almost all of the "food influencers" I was following were white. So, I did some searching to find new voices. One of my favorites is Black Girls Eat, where the duo Cornelia & B eat their way across the DMV. Check them out and make sure they are on your DC food PR lists for invites.

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DMV Black Restaurant Week
One of the coolest new events that has evolved over the past year or two is Black Restaurant Week. It's designed to put the spotlight on black-owned restaurants, which is kind of the whole point of this post. Of course, it's happening this week and I'm in Florida. But, follow them and go check out some places you haven't been yet.

White Plates Black Faces
Another great account that highlights leading black restaurants and talent in the industry. Follow them to meet new people and discover events outside of DMV Black Restaurant Week (which their founders, professor, Dr. Erinn Tucker and bartender, Andra "AJ" Johnson manage.)

Beverage has always been my way of connecting with the world. From coffee to liquor, beer, and wine, I've always felt that I've been at my best when I can present what I have curated and cultivated to friends, family, and guests. I think that's why I've enjoyed working on @serenatadc so much. No experience I've ever had in my career beats spending hours on end crafting cocktails with @juaningaround or doing menu design and R&D with @daniellasenior. @supermario_m and @morauniverse have opened my eyes to all new flavors from a culinary standpoint and have shown me where they come from through food and that's just dope. I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone professionally and admit everyday that I had very little to give to the concept in the beginning. Im used to leading projects, not being led. But listening and engulfing myself in the unknown is possibly the best thing I've ever done. Now as I lead a freaking amazing team of bartenders I can genuinely pass down the tools that were graciously bestowed upon me. Best of all, they have the ability to keep me from being stagnant and hold me accountable. So I know it's late. And I know I'm crazy busy. But no one is ever too busy to just say thank you. Thank you for the opportunity. Thank you for the lessons learned. Thank you for the constant knowledge. And thank you for supporting me and the @serenatadc team ✊๐Ÿพ❤๐Ÿธ๐Ÿน ๐Ÿ“ท: Maya Oren * * * * * * * * #weouthere #lacosecha #dcdrinks #dceats #dcbars #dc #cocktails #acreativedc #zumodc #serenatadc
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Fabian Malone
One of my long-time favorite bartenders (from places like Dino Cleveland Park, Lupo Verde and Lucky Buns) has started doing pop-ups called Dougie's Backyard where he cooks his grandfather's Jamaican faves. Stay tuned to get the details on the next one (November 20.)

Maya Oren
If I was hiring someone to shoot social media videos for my restaurant, it would be Maya Oren. She's got an eye for what works well online and what looks delicious. I've been dying to find a way to work together since she moved to town and someone recommended her.

Farrah Skeiky
Farrah Skeiky is one of the reasons everyone thinks The Line Hotel is so cool. Her events, photography and friend circle keeps the hotel and all of it's restaurants in the height of the creative scene. All that and I love her live concert photography.

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So who else? Who should I be following? Where should I be eating and drinking? Let me know in the comments, on Twitter @Tammy or via carrier pigeon. 

Hayes closes her "The DC Region Doesn't Have Full-Time Food Critic of Color. Why That Matters." with a list of industry talent and storytellers. 


Traveling to Tulum: Where to Stay, Eat & Play

I just got back from my second visit to Tulum (about an hour south of Cancun) and now feel like I know enough to be dangerous and offer recommendations.
The view from the bar at Papaya Playa Project
If you're like me, before going to Tulum, you'd mostly only seen it via Instagram. Via Insta-lens, Tulum looks beautiful... and it is... but there are a few things to think through as you plan your trip. There's not a ton of infrastructure and not every hotel has things you traditionally expect, so you'll need to ask basic questions about accommodations (if they matter to you)... things like:
  • Is there potable water to drink?
  • Does this place have beach access?
  • Is there air conditioning in the rooms?
Where to Stay
The first time I visited, we stayed at this fantastic AirBNB in the Artia neighborhood mid-way between the town and the beach. Free bikes came with the rental - and passes to Papaya Playa Project Beach Club, so we just biked down to the beach. The small complex had a great little pool, a concierge who was so helpful in calling taxis and giving advice, and was close to groceries (which rocked for quick ATM access and restocking bottled water.) I would definitely recommend this condo for four people, provided you're sharing rooms. (The two bathrooms came in handy when one of our team got sick also.) The condo was three levels: kitchen/dining/living/balcony; then two bedrooms and two bathrooms on the next level, then a rooftop with hammock, wine fridge and plunge pool.)

Booking through AirBNB was seamless and we were met on-site by the concierge. You may see several similar condos in Artia. They all seem to be similar and I believe have the same management. We had a brief lockout issue and they solved it with an on-site manager, which is a nice option.
The AirBNB is designed gorgeously and great for four people.
The second time, we stayed at Posada Margherita which is known as one of the top restaurants on the beach. What's not known well is that they have a handful of little villas and rooms tucked around the quaint Italian slice of paradise in Mexico.
The view our first morning at Posada Margherita
Service was so nice, with coffee appearing promptly as we emerged in the morning and focaccia and cocktails on the beach in the afternoon. The on-site restaurant remains one of my favorites in the entire town: simple grilled fish and pasta with fresh ingredients on the brief menu are a welcome break after a couple of days living on tacos and ceviche. They have a nice wine list when you're ready for a break from tequila and mezcal. And, house dog Feliche becomes one of your favorite parts of the stay.

Side Note: Posada Margherita only accepts pesos, cash or Zelle to pre-pay for your reservation. Don't let this cause you stress. They are legit and that's pretty normal for Tulum businesses. 
Feliche, stealing my seat

Other options on the beach that I've seen in person and would recommend to check out for your stays: ZamasTata TulumPapaya Playa Project, Be TulumNomade, Ahau TulumCasa Malca, Azulik, and Jashita (stunning and lux, but not walkable to anything besides Chamico's)

Where to Eat on the Beach
The Holy Trinity of Food on Tulum Beach includes Hartwood, Arca and Posada Margherita, in my opinion. Arca and Hartwood only accept reservations 30 days out, so set a reminder. Posada Margherita is walk-ins only. These three are not cheap, and all only take cash or pesos. All are worth every peso and every bite.

Hartwood has a nightly hand-written menu based on what is fresh, local and available. Things do sell out, so there is a slight incentive to take an earlier reservation. But, you won't be disappointed. I don't have a lot of food photos because it was dark and candle-lit and I didn't want to disturb anyone with a flash. If it's on the menu, definitely order the pulpo, the beet, and the sweet potato. That, plus one of the grilled fish options.
Menu at Hartwood, August 2019
The cocktails looked fun, but our server steered us to a great bottle of Mexican rosรฉ - yes, such a thing exists! Tulum introduced me to a little bit of the burgeoning Mexican wine talent and now I want to visit vineyards and taste more in the years to come.

We were celebrating a birthday and our server sent us an amazing honey cake, which I would recommend saving room for!

Arca was also a birthday celebration and stunned with beautiful design, creative and innovative food and wonderful service. '
Arca's gorgeous bar set in mangrove jungle
Memorable menu items at Arca remain the soft-shell crab taco and bone marrow - both of which I still think about nearly a year later! And the bar rocked everything from mezcal cocktails to grower Champagne.
Marrow and mezcal cocktails at Arca
It feels criminal that I don't have photos from the great food at Posada Margherita - after all, I've eaten dinner there three times and only been to Tulum twice. It starts with drinks and a complimentary basket of house-made focaccia. The caprese salad, shrimp pasta, and fresh grilled fish are the way to go (and some of the only options on the restaurant dinner menu.) If you're feeling more like pizza, you can pick that up at the street front - or sitting on the beach - during select hours (but, it's not offered during the dinner service in the restaurant.)
Since I don't have food photos from Posada Margherita, enjoy this gin-n-tonic photo
What I didn't know until I stayed there is that Posada Margherita also has a wonderful breakfast menu. We loved everything from the toast (fresh bread, toasted and served with Nutella, butter and jam,) fresh-squeezed juice and French toast... but my pick of them all is this gorgeous egg-in-the-hole dish. The ricotta! The avocado! The mushrooms! Swoon.
Egg in the hole at Posada Margherita
Beyond those three, there is still a ton of talent to check out:

  • There are juice shops and fresh fruit bowls at Matcha Mama and Raw Love at Ahau
  • Beachfront ceviche, guacamole, juices, coffees and cocktails at Papaya Playa Project (you can reserve beach palapas for a minimum tab of 1,000 pesos or about $50 per person between 10am and 5pm... which is an awesome way to spend the day because they also have a DJ and a pool.)
  • Tacos and beers on the beach at Taqueria Eufemia (note, if you feel like you are walking down a long, weird corridor and wondering if you're in the wrong place, you're about to emerge into the taqueria, keep going.)
  • In town, don't miss Taquerรญa Honario which had my favorite lunchtime tacos - with live music. Just run the menu and order one of each to decide what your favorite is. For traditional al pastor tacos, visit Antojitos La Chiapaneca - just get there early, they do run out and when it's done it's done. I was forced to have the chicken taco and feel like I missed out! Make sure you walk around town, there are cute shops, fun bars to pop into and it's a nice anecdote to the beachfront Instagram vibes.
  • Tempura avocado tacos at Tata Talum - and then stay and hang at their pool and beach. Wonderfully welcoming. 
  • For breakfast tacos, my favorite ones are at Zamas Beach. I've ordered them twice and only want more. It's also fun for sunset (and probably any other time.)

Breakfast Tacos at Zamas
Where to Play
I've mostly done restaurants, but a couple of favorite bars have also emerged:

  • Mateo's is a great spot to sit down and chat up the bartenders. They took me on a bit of a mid-day mezcal tour when I mentioned to him that Tulum had made me a fan. 
  • MurMur has swing seats, great cocktails and fun bartenders. It's a great spot to go before or after Hartwood and Arca, which area also nearby. To be fair, the food is actually great here also, I've just never sat down for dinner (yet.)
  • Rosa Negra will draw your interest with their fiery celebrations -- and the drinks and atmosphere are magnetic and fun. I just would waive you off of the food there. But, hit up the bar, particularly after 9pm.

Is it terrible that I still haven't done cenotes or ruins? Part of me just loves the beach and food... part of me knows that the glut of tourism is bad for the environment and historic architecture... part of me is just... lazy on vacation? Let me know if there's one that I've missed that you'd recommend. There are also things like sound baths, yoga classes, full moon parties, a gym completely made out of the jungle and more. A couple things I've actually done and loved:

  • I had a private tarot card reading via a relationship therapist (that I found on Instagram.) She was great - so inviting about learning more. It's only the second time I'd ever had it done and she explained it to me along the way. She's also a relationship therapist, so you know, really these two skills go hand in hand. Highly recommend if you're interested in checking it out, or for a girls weekend activity. She just came to our villa. 
  • We took a taxi to Chamico's to spend a laid back day snorkeling Solimon Bay and eating ceviche. You can also rent campsites here. It is a nice getaway from the overproduced experiences on the beach... if that's your thing... and it's mine.

Now that I've been to Tulum, would I go back? Sure. I really do love it. Great food, chill atmosphere and stunning beaches. I'd pick it over Cancun any day. But, I also am ready to explore more of Mexico - especially Merida, Mexico City and Isla Holbox. So, we'll see what 2020 brings.

Got other faves? Advice? Hit me in the comments below.

Until next time, Mexico...