I Love 2011...

Last year, when it came time to evaluate the highlights of my year, I discovered that while much personal growth had been achieved, I had slacked off somewhat in the getting out and doing stuff department. Now that I'm securely ensconced in healthy relationships not only with myself, but with a fantastic boyfriend, it was time to make the most of life again.

In 2011, I addressed all the shortcomings I felt I had in 2010: I went to the theater 15 times, saw 20 movies (many of which were independent or foreign films at the Gene Siskel Film Center, where I got a membership this year, so I didn't blog about them), tried 10 new savory recipes, only two short of my goal for trying a new one every month, and tested a whopping 35 new dessert recipes -- it's clear where my priorities are!

I sought out some new music this year, and even managed to find the time to read two books, which may not sound like a lot, but I believe that's two more than I read last year. I just don't make a lot of time for reading anymore. I traveled domestically and internationally, neither of which I did last year, and I've already planned a couple of exciting trips for next year. I feel like I've really hit my groove this year.

Furthermore, I tackled almost everything on my 2011 to-do list. I went to cooking classes, took a food-related city tour, finally made it to both the Pierogi Festival and Starved Rock State Park, and saw the Soviet wartime propaganda exhibit at the Art Institute. The only things I didn't accomplish were going to the Chinatown Dragon Boat Race in July (year after year, I just can't seem to get out of bed early enough to make their ludicrously early start time), and seeing West Side Story when it came through town. Since I'd seen it before, I wasn't willing to pay full price for tickets, but I was never able to find a deal on them. You can't win 'em all.

It was a year that was mostly full of win, however, so with no further ado, I hereby present to you my favorite things from the last year:
  • Favorite Album of 2011: By the start of this year, I was finally getting tired of listening to the same music all the time, so I decided to branch out. Though none of the things I fell in love with this year were actually released this year, they did provide the soundtrack to my 2011. First, I'm going to give an honorable mention to Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Though rap never used to be my thing, I inexplicably got really into Kanye this year, and the Pandora playlist I created around him is what I listen to most of the day at work. Not only is he a fellow Chicagoan, he's undeniably talented, even if he's a douchebag in real life. Still, his masterpiece of an album was not my favorite jam of the year; that honor goes to Mumford and Sons' Sigh No More. I don't know how I missed out on this album when it was released two years ago, but a friend recommended them to me, thinking I might like them, and he was dead on. I am obsessed with this album, which doesn't have a single bad song as far as I'm concerned. There are rumors they're going to release a new album in 2012, and I am pumped!
  • Favorite Movie of 2011: With such a crowded field, it's hard to say what movie I enjoyed most this year. I saw a lot of interesting films at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and skipped a lot of the blockbusters and mainstream fare that Hollywood released. That's why my pick in this category is going to a dark-horse contender: My Dog Tulip. Not only did this film appeal to my inner dog-lover, I think it speaks to anyone who has ever loved unconditionally. I saw it in the theater, and as soon as it became available, I got it on Netflix and watched it again with Justin, then passed it along to my mom for her to watch. Everyone should see this film, truly.
  • Favorite Theatrical Experience of 2011: I'm particularly proud to have been to the theater an average of 1.25 times a month this year. Not only can I consider myself a supporter of the arts, which is important to me, but I feel like a more cultured person for it. I saw a lot of interesting productions this year, and a few clunkers, but one stood out as being far and away the best: Next To Normal. I saw it on a whim in May, when I spotted some discounted tickets on Hot Tix, and it may have been the best impulse decision I made all year. The music was deeply affecting, and the performers who delivered it were incredibly talented, even though I saw the understudy for the main role. It was the only show I saw all year that made me want to run home and download the soundtrack. My only regret is having seen it so early in the year, as little that came after was able to measure up to the high standards created by Next To Normal.
  • Favorite New Recipe of 2011, Entree: I didn't end up trying quite as many new recipes as I wanted in this category in 2011, but I ended up with a close call for my favorite nonetheless. I'm fairly evenly divided between the Boursin mac and cheese I tried back in March, and the sweet potato and sausage hash I discovered just this month, but have already made again since then, and am planning on making tomorrow to ring in the first meal of 2012. There are few food products that I love as much as Boursin cheese, but I think maybe the fact that the first thing I wanted to eat in the new year were those sweet potatoes gives that dish a slight advantage.
  • Favorite New Recipe of 2011, Dessert: Even with the vast variety of new desserts I tried this year, it was still relatively simple for me to pick a favorite. That honor goes to the macadamia-maple sticky bars that I first made with Katherine in May, and then recreated for my Cookie Bonanza. They went straight into my highly-selective hand-written cookbook almost as soon as I made them, and I honestly think they're one of the best things I've ever made. Maple sugar might be tricky to find in the Midwest, but it's totally worth the extra effort just so you can sample these cookies. I mean, they smell exactly like Garrett's popcorn, the much-beloved Chicago treat. What else do I need to say?
2011 has been very, very good to me, and I'm excited to see where the next year will take me. Justin and I got our first place together this year, and I hope to be moved in by the end of January. 2012 will bring us change, but I'm looking forward to all of the adventures that are in store for us in the year to come. Happy New Year!

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