How smart is this nut warning on a stack of cookies? Like a pirate flag, the lone walnut waves its warning to those on the lookout for a nut attack. Thanks to my smarty pants friend Nancy for this cute and pithy signal.
I love sharing recipes, but eclectic discovery days are my favorites here…and (yikes!) I haven’t had one since last July. I never stop collecting gems, but sometimes I get delayed sharing them.
Unloaf your banana bread
Who knew a pan shape could change everything?
Every so often I bake banana bread in a baking dish: it cooks faster, and squares of banana bread are easier to eat out of hand. But this week I made two in quick succession – a regular loaf that disappeared in two sittings, and the same in a rectangular baking pan two days later. Normally the crowd’s enthusiasm flags a bit the second round, even for a favorite, but this time everyone from my mom to my husband to my kids raved even more.
Banana bread in the baking pan was lighter and softer – so much so they actually thought I’d used a different recipe. In a loaf pan, the bread develops a thicker crust from being in the oven about 50% longer, and the center ends up denser. In the baking dish it ends up with a lighter, softer crumb and makes a great snacking cake.
My mom also loves this method because she has trouble getting the baking time right in a loaf pan. A banana bread loaf browns outside long before it is fully cooked inside, so it’s easy to end up with a gooey center, or to overcompensate by overbaking. In a baking dish there’s no deep center for raw batter to hide.
You know when you drop your makeup bag, and your favorite compact powder cracks into expensive crumbs of pigment? Grab a spatula and a few drops of rubbing alcohol and watch this video to fix it in just a few minutes. Thanks to my friend Kathleen, who knew I would love the resourcefulness of this genius fix.
Not knowing you can’t
It’s one of those old saws to say you can do the impossible if you don’t know it’s impossible. But this This American Life podcast from January, about a blind man who learned to hike, climb and ride a bike, because his parents never let anyone tell him he couldn’t, will change the way you interact with the world.
In the prologue, Ira Glass talks to NPR science reporters about an experiment in which researchers were told some arbitrary lab rats were smart and some were dumb. And the “smart” rats ended up running through the maze twice as fast as the “dumb” rats. How? Expectations are communicated not just through words, but also silently through touch and attitude.
It’s kind of like me and plants. When my mom’s around, green things feel her love and understanding, and they flourish. With me they feel my discomfort and uncertainty, and they wither. I thought maybe I was being superstitious about my brown thumb all these years, but now I’m thinking science is backing me up. (There’s also a transcript for those of you who would rather read than listen.)
Even if you don’t share my thing for hedgehogs (I relate to cute but prickly), you’ll enjoy this brief, poignant two-minute clip with Elizabeth Gilbert on the simultaneous and often conflicting human needs for both connection and independence, neatly encapsulated in psychology’s hedgehog’s dilemma.
The sky isn’t falling
Instead of the usual old-people-complaining-about-young-people tack, this Economist piece takes an encouraging look at the trends of today’s youth. We’re raising good kids. They’re going to be ok.
Legendary Vanguard Investments founder Jack Bogle, now 85, lays out practical leadership tips in this CNBC article. Bogle is no-nonsense smart, and I love when he talks about his granddaughter complaining that she hadn’t learned anything working at a curio shop for the summer. He told her she had learned how to show up and how to work – it’s much more than it seems.
Sensible vaccination schedule
This Disneyland measles outbreak only demonstrates why we took such efforts to eradicate this highly infectious disease in the first place. We may have gotten a little too aggressive on cramming four shots at a time into babies and toddlers, but endangering children by boycotting vaccines entirely is not the answer.
A sensible remedy is adopting a more gradual vaccine schedule that catches everyone up by kindergarten. Dr Robert Sears has a good alternative vaccine schedule that you can just print out and give to the pediatrician.
I love Chris Rock at all times, but I really loved this Rolling Stone interview, which was funny but also serious about creating the work you want to do.
Tina Fey always makes me laugh, and this old New Yorker piece about her “Saturday Night Live” days, “Lessons from Late Night”, was, as she always is, smart, funny and true.
Only recently did I discover Alec Baldwin’s WNYC podcast, “Here’s the Thing”, a manic version of “Fresh Air”, in which Baldwin interviews an eclectic selection of people including David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld, George Will, Billy Joel, Lena Dunham, Julianne Moore and Julie Andrews.
Baldwin, with his uncontainable enthusiasm for the spotlight, is as much participant as interviewer, and with his long history in entertainment, he also seems to know everyone in the business. Baldwin is likably curious and slightly unhinged, but his interviews – entertaining exchanges between longtime industry veterans – have given me a greater appreciation for what goes into an enduring career in any field. Listening in the car, I’m relaxed when traffic would normally have me cranky.
Have you read The Martian? Techies in Silicon Valley are cheering for first-time novelist Andy Weir, who labored cheerfully at his programming job for years as he quietly fostered dreams of writing via a website on the side. Weir’s serial about an astronaut stranded on Mars gained a spellbound following, including much of NASA, and after he self-published it as a book, he landed a major publishing deal and movie deal simultaneously.
I just took my kids to a talk Weir gave at a local high school, and his presenter pointed out that Weir’s Cinderella publishing story was far less statistically probable than the survival of Weir’s fictional astronaut Mark Watney. In person, Weir is as sweet, self-effacing, funny and chipper as the hero of his story.
More realistic fiction than science fiction, this book is about extreme problem solving – wild, creative, harrowing, comical and inspiring. It’s an adult book, but my two oldest kids, ages 13 and 11, both loved it too. Science is central to the story, but it’s conveyed in a hugely entertaining way. And ultimately it’s about the human drive for survival.
There is profanity in the book – the first sentence is “I am [screwed].” – but it’s not excessive and serves to lighten a grave situation with humor. To me, the lessons in resourcefulness and persistence (not to mention math and science) are what readers of any age will remember.
Read it before the Matt Damon movie comes out in November. It’s a guaranteed page turner, and even if the movie is great, you’ll get much more out of the book.
Tiny Beautiful Things
My friend Edie, who has a giant empathetic heart, brought this small treasure of a book into my life. Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, wrote an anonymous advice column at an online magazine for years, and Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar is a collection of some of her best.
Dear Sugar is the late-night version of daytime’s Dear Abby: it’s raw, and as readers or moviewatchers of Wild know, Strayed has made it through some rough circumstances in her life. Strayed’s generosity of heart, and her often brutal honesty in sharing her own hard times, seared a connection into her readers’ hearts and created the trust that drew in a devoted readership.
Sugar is counselor, girlfriend, rabbi, and cool mom. What Strayed reveals in Sugar’s responses is as profoundly moving as even the most personal question posed to her. Sugar is unfailingly kind and understanding, even as she dispenses tough love, and she makes everything ok because she’s been there too, survived and learned.
Living before dying
Before he died this month at age 37, Stanford neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi taught many how to live through his frank, moving essays, “How Long Have I Got Left”, published in the New York Times January 2014, and “Before I Go” from this month’s Washington Post. In the 22 months from his diagnosis of lung cancer and the time of his death, Kalanithi and his wife had a baby girl, and his last essay ends with a dedication to his infant daughter Cady.
Day to day, most of us conveniently ignore the idea that death could be imminent. If death were looking over our shoulder, would we have the bravery and clarity Kalanithi shares through his words? It takes a giant soul to leave such a gift to the public on his way out the door.
Buy the plane ticket
Are you dreaming of summer vacation? Do yourself a favor and buy the plane ticket. This spring my friend was going to make his dreams of going to Thailand come true. But he hesitated, schedule complications arose, and Thailand got downsized to Costa Rica. Then life intervened, and Costa Rica in the spring turned into try again in the fall.
If you want to make your travel dreams come true, you have to buy the plane ticket. A plane ticket is a blockade in your calendar. It’s one thing to say, “But I was going to take vacation that week” and another to say, “I have a ticket to Paris.” A plane ticket tells people to bugger off.
A plane ticket also makes you go when you might otherwise back out. My dad‘s funeral was the week before my best friend Grace got married in Hawaii. The hefty plane ticket from Ohio to Maui had been purchased long before. So I got on the plane. And though there were many tears in the next days, of grief and happiness, I was very glad the ticket made me go.
Life will always get in the way if you let it. Take a stand and get out of your home space. It’s good for your mental health.
I updated my About page a few months ago. I had a baby in the old picture, and three little kids. Today I have giant children and one adult-sized teenager. Bizarre how the world can change in a few years. But I’m grateful for it all, and for you all.