Our Favorite Things of the Year
Our editors’ picks for beautiful objects to give and receive.
Plus jewel-like truffles, cards that spark connection, and more things our editors loved in February.
THANKS TO VALENTINE’S DAY, February is inextricably linked to love, romance, and doing something extra special for the person you care about the most. And while I love boxes of chocolates, roses, and those little candy hearts with their cryptic romantic messages, I bristle at the notion that a month dedicated to love should focus solely on romance. How about loving ourselves? Or simply taking a moment to appreciate the things bringing a little joy to what already feels like a chaotic new year? So whether it’s a weighted housecoat, a plush new rug, a transportive novel or game, an ambrosiac scent, or, of course, that old February standby: a perfect selection of top-shelf chocolates, here’s to the things that made our hearts skip a beat over the past few weeks. Whether you are head over heels or steadfastly single, there’s a lot to love. — T. Cole Rachel
I recently cleaned out my spice cabinet to make room for Diaspora Co.’s exquisite collection of spices. While the company is based in Oakland, California, its founder, Sana Javeri Kadri, set out to improve the spice trade in India and Sri Lanka by paying farmers four times the average commodity price and investing in single-origin spices direct from their farming partners. As a result, Diaspora Co.’s spices range from the traditional (cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric) to the rare (pink garlic, Bindu black mustard, and wild ajwain). If you’re looking to add more complex flavor profiles to your cooking, check out Diaspora Co.’s masalas (spice mixes), such as the garam, tandoori, chai, and chaat. I store my spices in the company’s stunning hand-spun brass dabba (a traditional container used to store Indian spices) that doubles as a kitchen fragrance. Sometimes I just lift the top and let the aromas take over my kitchen. — Elissa Polls
'The Lost Americans' is a delicious jigsaw puzzle of a novel, one that evokes the allure of far-flung travel and the complicated fantasy of trying to disappear into a place that is not your home.
In his fifth novel, “The Lost Americans,” Christopher Bollen sets his sights on Egypt, which proves the perfect backdrop for this taut literary thriller. When an American weapons technician falls from the balcony of his Cairo hotel room, his death sets in motion a series of events involving secret police, the Egyptian military, and a slew of titular lost Americans, all with their own secrets. Much like in his excellent previous novels, “A Beautiful Crime” and “The Destroyers,” which take place in Venice and Greece, respectively, Bollen’s writing provides a vibrant and unforgettable sense of place. Despite all the danger and intrigue, and with a plot as winding and unpredictable as a map of the back streets of Cairo, my takeaway after devouring this book was that I must go to Egypt immediately. “The Lost Americans” is a delicious jigsaw puzzle of a novel, one that evokes the allure of far-flung travel and the complicated fantasy of trying to disappear into a place that is not your home. — Cole
Remember those foam pits they had at children’s gymnastics camp or Chuck E. Cheese? I’m on a quest to convert my bed into something like that — a cushy expanse that morphs to my weight like marshmallows under a graham cracker and stabilizes all movement such that my partner never wakes up when I crawl into bed an hour after him (or when he wakes up an hour before me — the scoundrel). The Earthfoam Mattress Topper is the latest addition to my plushy portfolio. And while it checks all those spine-hugging boxes, I’ve actually been most appreciative of its unexpected thermal-regulating qualities. I love my memory foam mattress, but, like all synthetic memory foam, it traps heat. Since sleeping on the Earthfoam, made of natural rubber from organic farmers in Sri Lanka, organic wool from New Zealand sheep, and organic cotton, I’ve felt noticeably less hot at night — as well as appreciative of the ways it can extend the life of the mattress below. — Sophie Mancini
My enduring love of chocolate was taken to new heights after I spent some time in Quito, Ecuador, on my way home from the Galápagos Islands. Ecuador is well known for bringing cacao to the West, so I roamed Quito’s streets in search of the best varieties and ended up taking home enough chocolate to last the average person several months. (I devoured my haul in less than two weeks.) To fill the resulting void, I turned to my local San Francisco chocolatier, Kokak, which uses a rare Ecuadorian heirloom cacao bean called “Nacional” in their beautiful, handcrafted chocolates. Inspired by the company’s owner’s Irish-Filipino heritage, these delectable chocolate truffles resemble tiny jewels, with detailed designs and flavors like chai tea, coconut pie, matcha, strawberry pistachio, and (my personal favorite) mango lemongrass. — Elissa
This graphic board contains all the charisma I’ve always loved about snowboarding: It’s colorful, brash, and most of all, cool enough to make me feel like part of the 'in crowd.'
I’ve been a skier my whole life, but I remain drawn to the hipper style and rebellious spirit of snowboarding. So at the ripe age of 36, after years of feeling too anxious to strap on a board, I decided it was time to give the sport a spin. I took my first-ever run during a recent trip to Aspen. I wasn’t good, but I was able to get to the bottom of the bunny slope. More importantly, I’m pretty sure I looked good doing it, even when I face-planted. I was wearing Burton, the O.G. outfitters of the sport — the brand’s founder, Jake Burton, basically invented the modern snowboard. The brand’s gear has that slouchy, slightly oversized snow-hippie vibe that has always been appealing to me, and best of all: Burton still makes boards that feel creative, even artistic. The Free Thinker Camber’s aesthetic is half “boho 1960s” and half “grungy 1990s.” Which is to say: Here, in this graphic board, is all the charisma I’ve always loved about snowboarding: It’s colorful, brash, and most of all, cool enough to make me feel like part of the “in crowd.” — Alex Frank
Prior to visiting the beautifully renovated Tierra Luna Spa at the Waldorf Astoria in Phoenix last month, I was intrigued by the property’s website, which promised that I would experience “a sense of cosmic wonder.” Now that I’ve been there, I get it. Tierra Luna has flawlessly paired the Sonoran Desert with restorative luxury. My visit began with a Chakra and Sound Massage accompanied by Palo Santo and sage incense. My therapist, Raymond, walked me through each of the seven essential oils intended to awaken my chakra energies and placed crystals in my hands for the duration of the massage — one for individuality (solar plexus) and one for grounding (root). As I emerged, serene and sleepy-eyed, he gifted me the individuality crystal and led me to my next service, a Luminous Quartz Cryo and Thermal Facial with Lisa. Lisa gently removed buildup from my very sensitive skin, leaving it glowing, calm, and hydrated. From there, it was straight to the goddess bath ritual: I soaked in Epsom salt, ate vegan chocolate truffles, and sipped sweet herbal tea in a private, heated indoor-outdoor room. My final treatment was halotherapy, which is performed in a small space with aerated salt for optimized stress reduction, immunity, and skin. Take me back, please. — Hailey Andresen
A friend once told me that she had an easier time choosing an engagement ring than she did trying to buy rugs for her new house. I thought she was being dramatic until I tried to buy some rugs for our silly little Brooklyn apartment and found myself totally overwhelmed. As it turns out, the world of rugs is vast and complicated. In search of something nice that I wouldn’t be too paranoid about ruining, I discovered these amazing rugs from Pappelina. The brainchild of Swedish designer and weaver Lina Rickardsson, they are loom-woven from phthalate-free PVC ribbon, making them easy to clean — most can be run through a washing machine, so I don’t worry about tracking the filth of New York City onto them. They are also practically indestructible, making them the perfect addition to my spill-prone apartment. — Cole
Renowned couples therapist Esther Perel created this relationship-boosting card game, but you don’t need a partner to experience its benefits.
I recently met my fast track to hygge: Where Should We Begin, the relationship-boosting card game created by renowned couples therapist Esther Perel. But you don’t have to have a partner to experience its benefits: When my parents recently visited, we spent hours answering pointed questions about relationships, unpacking issues we hadn’t discussed before in a gentle and approachable way. The game is structured so that you select which questions you want to answer, allowing you to be vulnerable on your own terms. It was a highlight of our time together, and when they headed back to Brooklyn, we were all a little closer. — Hailey
If you’ve ever dreamed of wearing a weighted blanket around the house, look no further than the Homecoat. This luxurious garment got me through those New York City winter chills, the ones seeping through the walls of my apartment and frosting over my windows. Large enough to swaddle me into a burrito, yet cardigan-like enough to wear on workday video calls, the Homecoat falls somewhere between a robe and a duster jacket. I also loved transitioning it into a leg blanket when I was too lazy to roll over to the chair mere yards away to grab an actual blanket. I probably should’ve gotten the petite size, but I can share the regular size with my 6-foot-2 partner, which somehow makes the piece feel even warmer. — Sophie
One of the saddest realizations I had after coming to terms with my own advancing baldness was the knowledge that I would have less of a reason to haunt the old-school barber shops in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Mondial’s Gentlemen's Barber collection is inspired by the sights and sounds of just such places, particularly their own luxury grooming outpost and concept store overlooking the Arno River near the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy. And the brand’s new men’s cologne, Cuir Zeste Eau de Parfum, hits the olfactory sweet spot between nostalgia (leather, patchouli) and something altogether brighter and more modern (notes of lemon, grapefruit, and bergamot). Unlike some of the more unusual fragrances I’ve come to love in recent years (things that smell like grass, incense, or wet cement), this fragrance feels traditional in the best kind of way. It’s stately, refined, and remarkably clean. — Cole
T. Cole Rachel is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and teacher with over 20 years of experience working in print and digital media. He is currently an editor-at-large at Departures.
Elissa Polls is the senior director of content production for Departures. A producer who typically stays behind the scenes, she has worked with creatives from around the world, helping bring their ideas to life. Polls has over 15 years of production experience and lives in Berkeley, California.
Sophie Mancini is an editor at Departures. Born and raised in New York City, she holds a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and has a background as a writer in brand and editorial.
Hailey Andresen is the guides editor at Departures. A New York–based writer and editor, she founded the digital lifestyle publication Household Mag and has spent more than a decade in the hospitality industry.
Alex Frank is a contributing editor at Departures. Based in Manhattan, Frank previously worked at Vogue.com as deputy culture editor. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, Pitchfork, New York Magazine, Fantastic Man, and the Village Voice.
Jess Rotter is a Los Angeles–based illustrator and artist. Rotter’s work has frequently featured in the Washington Post. Her clients range from Natalie Portman to Questlove.
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