July 2012 Archives

Cooking with 2 or 3 ingredients

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If it seems like my blogging frequency has reached unprecedented highs recently, it is not an illusion. While part of this increase is due to a 2-week vacation from work (booyah), it will not cease (lucky you). I'm truly fed up with Facebook hiding my own photos and videos from me, and yes, I know I hate when people say stuff like that, but I've actually spent a reasonable amount of thought and energy fighting the automated curation of my posts when I really would like to just see everything I posted because really that is why I posted it.


So, as I was saying, on my staycation I have had almost no money (hence, staycation) and spent a lot of time catching up on personal life things. Also cooking, apparently.

I'm not sure if it's a contest I've been in with myself to find the easiest and most delicious things, or if it's just worked out that way, but I have three winners that are both dead simple to prepare and legitimately enjoyable (not just in the "I cooked it, so I have to eat it" way). It does make sense that if you have good ingredients, you don't need to do much to them, but to be able to transform two or three simple things into something magical is my favorite kind of wizardry.

Banana and Nutella ice cream


  • 2 bananas
  • a glop of Nutella


  1. Slice bananas and put them on a cookie sheet, covered, in the freezer. Wait a day or two, until they're frozen solid.
  2. Add banana slices and a big glop of Nutella in a food processor.
  3. Blitz until you have ice cream. Eat immediately.

So yes, we can get pedantic and say this recipe does not really qualify as "ice cream," but really, are you going to argue with such an extraordinary two-ingredient frozen treat? If anything, it's healthier than ice cream, plus if you swap honey or fruit preserves (or frozen raspberries!) for the Nutella, it's like, vegan, gluten-free, and can be organic. I would assume that you've heard of this technique dozens of times on the internet, but then again I was too lazy to post the photos and instructions that I set up last summer, so maybe you haven't.

When I made it last summer, I used almost green bananas with orange flower honey, and they did impart a bit of tartness and raw banana taste. This time I used bananas that were so brown I would have qualified them as contenders for banana bread (ooh or Banana Cupcakes with Honey Cinnamon Frosting), but in the summer frozen things are way better than baking.

Scallion Pancakes


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • sesame seed oil (confession, I used vegetable oil)


Here I am going to be equally lazy and (I hope) informative and link you to two terrific posts on the technique and the recipe. These posts do such a wonderful job of explaining laminated dough, why a hot water dough is so perfect, and how to make amazing scallion pancakes that I see no sense in reinventing the wheel. Go read them, admire the hell out of their author, then try to avoid making scallion pancakes immediately.

The dipping sauce, I did sort of invent, using soy sauce (yep, leftover packets from Chinese takeaway), ginger, and garlic. It was perfect, went perfectly with the pancakes, everything was perfect, perfect.

Warm Tomato and Avocado Salad


  • 1 ripe avocado, sliced along the long axis
  • 2 vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced thickly
  • olive oil, salt, and black pepper


  1. Put about a tsp of olive oil in a hot skillet. Sauté avocado slices until they are slightly caramelized and crisp at the edges. Remove to paper toweling (or let's be honest, your plate).
  2. If needed, add another tsp or so of olive oil. Sauté tomato slices several minutes, until they've sort of released and then soaked up their juices again. Add to plate.
  3. Drizzle the sort of tomato-olive oil vinaigrette that forms in the skillet over the tomatoes and avocados.
  4. Season liberally with salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

This salad was one of the finest things I've ever made. Heat brings out the nuttiness and complexity of the avocado, as well as the warm spiciness of tomatoes. As you eat it, the tomatoes mush up into a sort of sauce, which melds beautifully with the olive oil and pepper. Everything about this dish is so perfect that I'm not sure I can ever go back to tomatoes and avocados raw (yes I probably can). I didn't even have to feel guilty because I would have drizzled the cold version with the same amount of olive oil anyway, but the beauty of the flavors and textures when warm was incomparable.

I forgot that the scallion pancakes had water (does that really count as an ingredient? I don't think so), or like salt and pepper (same deal), but honestly, these three recipes are about as simple as you can get. Rolling and laminating dough may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's seriously easy. While I was making my pancakes, I somehow managed to drop one in the space between my stove and the wall - so believe me, if I say a cooking technique is easy, it really, really is.

I will continue my quest to find the easiest and tastiest things to cook, and I will try to resist posting recipes that are like, "Put black plums in your fridge. Eat cold (so sweet and so cold)." I make no promises.

Moules frites!

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When summer days are as extraordinarily hot and humid as they've been, I can think of few things more pleasant to do on a Tuesday evening than meet with friends at an outdoor bistro and close the kitchen down eating rounds of moules frites and drinking several bottles of pinot grigio.

My dear friend Penelope and I happened across Chez Oskar several years ago when we were working together in Brooklyn, and since then, we've fallen madly in love with their Tuesday night all-you-can-eat mussels special.

Penelope and our friend Agnes, a brilliant physicist (and now filmmaker too!), have been keeping up the Tuesday night mussels tradition, but I haven't been able to join them until this week (yet another reason to be glad I am no longer in school!). It was such a treat to spend hours talking, drinking, laughing, and quite literally catching up on the universe.

I think about how lucky I have been in life to have met so many astonishingly brilliant, talented, charming, funny, warm, and truly lovely women, and I feel even luckier to call them friends. I am also damn impressed with their ability to put away mussels - nine rounds!

Really, a perfect summer night.

I am perhaps problematically fearless in my kitchen. When encountered with almost any type of food, I basically know how to cook it, and I'm not afraid to experiment (jelly chicken, sigh). This tendency has resulted in some awesome triumphs, as well as some shudder-worthy failures (soup biscuits), but it generally serves me well.

So a little while ago, I bought a bag of quinoa (I realize you've probably heard of it all over the internet before). I must admit to having something of a food crush and/or fundamental amazement when it comes to quinoa. It's one of those foods that I will always order, request as a side-dish at my parents' house, and muse about, usually at great length. I mean, how can a superfood be so enjoyable to eat?!

Until this evening, I was vaguely aware that quinoa could be prepared in a rice cooker, but I didn't really have the specifics. I had my mom's really good stovetop recipe, but nowhere near the patience or inclination to stand by the stove stirring. 30 seconds of Googling suggested treating it just like rice in the rice cooker, and that was enough for me. I combined my idea to cook it with a mirepoix with this method, and my oh my, it was perfect!

Rice Cooker Quinoa with Mirepoix


  • 1.5 cups red quinoa
  • 1-2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into about 1/8" pennies
  • 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 bunch scallions / green onions, sliced
  • 2-3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • salt, pepper, herbs to taste


  1. Slice the scallions, carrots, and celery into thin slices. You should have roughly even proportions of each on your cutting board. Toss all of those into the rice cooker, along with the garlic.
  2. If quinoa is not pre-rinsed, rinse it for a few minutes. Then toss it into the rice cooker with the vegetables.
  3. Add vegetable broth and water, and give everything a good stir. Unlike rice, it's good to stir the quinoa occasionally to ensure it doesn't stick to the rice cooker or burn. You can use all vegetable broth or all water, but keep the ratio of fluid to grain about 2:1.
  4. Turn rice cooker on, wander off and do whatever you want. Check on it once or twice and stir. The quinoa is done when it's fluffy, tender to the teeth, and the cool spirally casings have popped off the grains. Mine took about 45 min.

That's it! It's really as easy as throwing everything in the rice cooker and stirring once or twice. It came out exactly how I wanted it, and it was spectacularly delicious. The vegetables were supple and soft and imparted their flavors to the broth, the quinoa was nutty and fluffy - I couldn't be happier.

You can of course get fancier and make a proper mirepoix in place of vegetable broth, but I wanted something basically effortless. You can eat it as a side (goes delightfully with chicken), or as its own meal because it's super high in protein (superfood, hello?). Perfect in the summer, and I imagine it will be even better on one of those cold autumn or winter nights when I want something earthy and substantive that isn't macaroni and cheese.

If you have suggestions or tips, I would of course welcome them. And if you make it this way, enjoy!

One of my great fixations lately is in developing and maintaining a new daily routine. I have a natural tendency to seek optimization in everything I do: make everything faster, more efficient, more cost-effective, or just plain lovelier. While I can't pretend I've solved all my problems or found some ideal way to live, I am really quite happy most of the time and basically enjoy my entire day, every day. The past 30 years (and especially the past month) have helped me identify 50 things you can have or do that make every day more pleasant. Some of them are admittedly quite lady-specific, but that is the only perspective I have.

  1. A clock in the shower:
    I am one of those people who cannot relax if I don't know how long I am relaxing. One of the worst feelings for me is rushing, but worse still is rushing and not knowing if I'm rushing enough. A shower clock addresses all these anxieties. Mine is a brushed stainless steel suction-cup one that adheres to the tile, and it is one of the most calming things I've ever bought.

  2. Enough time to be slightly early.
    Being early is one of the most extravagant luxuries, and it's completely free. I used to be late everywhere and frantic most of the time (ahem, I frequently still have to run for the ferry), but leaving enough time to get ready and go places without rushing is the best way to go. Bonus if you leave time for contingencies.

  3. Breakfast. Seriously.
    I used to be one of those "I don't have time for breakfast" people, and not coincidentally, I was also one of those "constantly frazzled, stressed out, and slightly dizzy" people. Also you may be surprised at how wonderful cucumbers and tomatoes are in the morning, but once you have them, you will never go back.

  4. A good book on your nightstand and/or in your bag.
    Since I was a child, I've put myself to sleep by reading. Even if it's 28 words before I drop the book on my face, I try to at least signal to my brain that we're departing reality and entering another world for a spell. Carrying that world around gives great comfort, through the constant possibility of rapid escape. It also makes times when you have to wait feel like opportunities, which is probably why I carried Life of Pi in my purse for the first six months I lived in NYC (and never got past the first chapter).

  5. Clothing that fits.
    Nothing is less stylish than clothing that fits poorly or doesn't suit the wearer's style. People who feel uncomfortable look terrible, without exception. It's tough when you're not happy with your figure or are trying to lose weight, but for better or worse, you are the size and shape you are. Wear well-made clothing that fits whatever your body currently is. (Aside: I am currently trying to learn how to sew so that I can make alterations and tailor things as I want... and make clothes to measure, of course).

  6. An arsenal of foundation garments, including properly fitted bras.
    I may err on the side of excess here, but I truly believe in slips, camisoles, just the right type and cut of bra, and all the other little foundation pieces that make your clothes fit and look right. I have a range of undergarments for all conceivable situations, and I insist on comfortable everyday underwear (judge away). I am amazed whenever I read the statistics that more than 80% of women wear the wrong size bra. It's such a basic thing, but it makes such an enormous difference. When you are 80 and everything is still where it belongs, you will thank me.

  7. Comfortable shoes (this is relative).
    I realize I may lose all credibility RE comfortable shoes when I say I wore these to work this week:

    But honestly, I believe in comfortable shoes! I have an embarrassing amount of shoes, including loads that I bought on impulse because they were cheap and shiny, and I always regret when I wear the ones that are poorly made. Because of the distance and steep hills I walk, I have a pair of Crocs Prima flats that look like Barbie shoes (my plastic hooves) that I can wear over stocking feet, slipping into dress shoes on the subway, in the manner of Tess McGill and countless other Staten Island ladies since the beginning of time.

    Being nice to one's feet is critical for staying happy, I think.

  8. An established skin care and grooming routine with reliable products.
    Some people like experimenting with new products and playing around with their regimen. I have unpredictably sensitive skin, so I am emphatically not one of those people. Taking the time to research, experiment, and find exactly the products that do what you want and feel enjoyable to use pays off every day. For women, it's important to find scents you like in the products you'll use every day (I go for clean white florals, lavender, and jasmine, and I hate almost anything that smells even remotely of fruit or vanilla).

  9. A cosmetics routine you can do in 5 min or less.
    It took me a while to nail the exact products, but having them in place is a real treat. I can do my makeup from everyday work up through and including edgy red lipstick or fancy wedding ready in minutes. One recommendation for all women is to buy an eyelash curler and use it religiously. Just trust me on this.

  10. Go-to outfits, or a "work uniform" that guides your dressing.
    I have a lot of clothing, and sometimes dressing becomes a bit of a conceptual design project. When I suddenly had to dress to work in a rather conservative, upscale office, I panicked and turned to the internet, where I found excellent advice in this article on How to Dress for Work. I've found the "work uniform" of a basic structure to your wardrobe enormously helpful, and so far I've been really happy with a pencil skirt / blouse / cardigan or dress and cardigan combination. Stockings and heels every day, and because I hate pants right now, not worrying about them. Takes all the pressure off.

  11. Laying out and ironing your clothes the night before, or leaving time to do it in the morning.
    When I lived in Venice, my roommate was mystified that I would start each morning by ironing my clothes (I had brought a sort of uniform of linen and cotton skirts, dresses, and blouses). It never takes more than 10 minutes, but it's a bitch to do when you're in a rush. I also sleep better knowing I've got my clothes laid out for the next day. I might have a touch of OCD.

  12. A manageable commute.
    I basically hit the jackpot of commutes, in that I get to ride a lovely boat through New York Harbor, then take a subway. It was even better when I walked from the ferry to school, but I realize not everyone can live and work where I do. When I compare the ease and, yes, pleasantness, of my current commute with the nightmarish commute I used to do from New Jersey to Brooklyn, I feel like that change alone might account for all my current happiness.

  13. Knowledge of the mass transit system or knowing your way around wherever you live.
    Considering how frequently I used to get lost, I would not have considered myself particularly adept at navigation. Somehow, though, I've taught myself to read maps, plan routes, take advantage of the entire mass transit system, and always know where I am in relation to other things. When I speak with people who don't know their way around the city or only know one route around where they live, I realize how much anxiety unfamiliarity with one's location causes. Thankfully, understanding public transit is a transferable skill set, and once you've learned one system, you can easily pick up on another (this is why I can still give directions on the Rome Metro and Venetian vaporettos).

  14. Legible handwriting.
    I have always had handwriting that borders on serial killer levels of neatness and legibility, and people frequently comment on how much they like it. I practiced penmanship kind of obsessively as a child, so this has been the case since 3rd grade. Knowing that everything I write will be a comparable pleasure for others to read in the midst of a sea of deciphering scrawls puts me at ease. It also gives me confidence that my instructions will actually get followed, my notes understood, and anything I jot to myself will make sense days or years in the future.

  15. A clean workspace.
    Recently my supervisor spent time completely cleaning and reorganizing her office, saying she was inspired by how neatly I keep my desk. I love my job anyway, but it's immensely satisfying to let my OCD tendencies run wild and really keep that place in Bristol shape. I'm not sure if my coworkers also know that I actually clean my keyboard, counters, and phone every few days as well (which is why my office sparkles a little bit). This idea also applies to my art studio, which looks a bit like a laboratory on good days. I thrive on knowing where everything is and being able to work efficiently and precisely.

  16. A confidante.
    A parent, a friend, a sibling, a little gray cat. People need someone with whom they can be completely open and honest, say exactly what they're thinking in an unguarded way, and get honest advice they can trust. If you are reading this and you do not have a confidante, I hereby volunteer to be yours. It turns out I am astoundingly good at keeping secrets.

  17. Something to nurture.
    I have always believed that pets make better people, but where pets are not an option, even a plant can suffice. Having another living thing, for which you are solely responsible, fosters a tenderness and gentle empathy in even the most troubled heart. Seeing the things you nurture grow and thrive is one of the simplest and most beautiful pleasures in life.

  18. Aerobic activity.
    The heart wants to beat, the lungs want to breathe. Doing something every day that reminds the body it's alive has far-reaching and extraordinary benefits. I walk about 4 miles every day (sometimes 8 or 10 on weekends), but that is really the bare minimum for keeping my cardiovascular system functioning. Still, that little bit helps me run for a ferry, hike up a hill, or dash up stairs without a second thought. I look forward to incorporating more intense aerobic activity in my days very soon.

  19. A fitness plan.
    Not necessarily the same thing as a weight loss plan, I think a fitness plan is essential. Even if a person is of a healthy weight, they need a plan for how to achieve or maintain fitness, with regular exercises and general diet guidelines for health. Striving for fitness feels surprisingly terrific, and knowing the framework is in place to stay that way feels even better.

  20. At least one hobby or pastime that completely challenges you.
    I used to be intensely and constantly challenged by school. Now I am finding my challenges in making art, sailing, hiking, running, and learning to play instruments better, among other things. Usually the bigger the challenge, the better it feels to succeed. I think we need to stretch sometimes.

  21. At least one hobby or pastime that completely relaxes you. Sometimes life is challenging enough. Finding things that will always help you unwind and feel good is a pretty important pursuit. I am a big fan of knitting and crafts like needlepoint and cross-stitch because they demand almost no brainpower, have pleasing tactile and design qualities, and are always, always relaxing. No matter how tired, cranky, or upset I am, I can be soothed by knitting a few rows. Bonus: you get sweaters and stitched cushions and gifts to give your friends and family!

  22. An utterly indulgent guilty pleasure that you let yourself enjoy guilt-free.
    Most television is crap, but I have a knack for finding the crappiest of all (and I don't even own a TV). Things like America's Next Top Model or Pretty Little Liars or competitive cooking shows literally just fill me with joy. That said, I can't stand reality TV in the typical pseudo-unscripted drama sense. I need a competition, or I can't watch it. Your guilty pleasures don't have to be television (or, you could consider television itself a kind of guilty pleasure). I am in the midst of a not-so-secret love affair with chillwave and other comically absurd forms of electronic music. Packed tight with a bunch of 20 year olds dancing your face off unapologetically while wearing a ridiculous sequined dress at a Neon Indian concert is a pretty awesome way to spend an evening.


  23. Something you are learning how to do.
    I am madly in love with acquiring new hobbies and skills, and I am constantly learning to do new things. Some of these are small and short-term, like perfecting crepe-making (Nutella helps), others are long-range and spanning years, like learning to speak French (also Italian and Arabic) or photography (will never stop learning). I'm big on reading and teaching myself, but lessons or classes are a great way to jump headfirst into something. I have a weird synesthetic thing that happens with the words "cooking class," which feel extraordinary in the mouth.

  24. Knowledge of the free things to do in your area.
    Cities are an embarrassment of riches in this department, but even the smallest little town in the middle of nowhere has free events and cultural establishments to enjoy. Or hell, places to take a nice walk. Doing the research, finding those things, subscribing to email lists or RSS feeds to stay updated, and connecting with your community at zero cost feels lovely. Currently, I'm obsessed with Social Gastronomy lectures and pay-as-you-wish hours at art museums, but there are literally thousands of free things to do every week and no excuse not to find and enjoy them.

  25. Something exciting or special planned every week. I don't like wishing time away, but I do like looking forward to fun things and reminiscing about recent awesome things. I've found my existential attention span is about a week or two, so having at least one exciting thing planned every week puts little gold stars all over my heart. This exciting thing doesn't have to be as awesome as, say, getting Shake Shack and having a picnic while seeing the New York Philharmonic play a concert followed by fireworks in Central Park, while sipping Prosecco and enjoying a beautiful summer evening (this Friday's plans), but just something special that is not part of your everyday routine. Special is relative, and I'll admit sometimes my special thing is reorganizing my closets or bleaching my bathroom. Whatever makes you happy.

  26. A sense of humor.
    Life seems, to me, fundamentally absurd, which I happen to find really damn funny. I believe that taking things lightly, finding the humor in them, and enjoying myself makes everything easier and more pleasant. Actually, a sense of humor feels more like a necessary survival skill than a perk, but if you feel something is missing from your days, try to amuse yourself more by observing everything truly hilarious about humanity and existence.

  27. A clean, well-organized home.
    I'm giving myself work-in-progress points here because I've struggled massively over the years and still would like to spend a few hours or a weekend massively cleaning and straightening my apartment up (yup, reorganizing closets), but I know from years of the exact opposite experience how important it is to have a relaxing, clean, peaceful home. My three year experiment in cohabitation was predominantly an extended fight over whose turn it was to do the dishes or an argument over why we lived like such slobs. When I moved to this apartment, I took a real serious appraisal of everything I owned, donated at least 2/3 of it, and set this space up the way I wanted to live. I genuinely love my apartment, and the experience of living here, knowing where everything is, and having it as a clean, calm, and orderly sanctuary will never cease to charm and delight me.

  28. Music that you love at a soul level.
    I feel truly sad when someone says they don't have a preference for music or just listen to whatever is on the radio. So many artists are making such brilliant music in so many genres, and it is more accessible than it's ever been in the history of humanity thanks to the internet. I admit I may be over the edge on how much I care about music, but I think everyone needs to find those tunes that give them shivers and charge them up from inside.

  29. Sunglasses, all year round.
    Protect your eyes and they will reward you with a lifetime full of extraordinary beauty and luscious detail. I've gotten hooked on polarized lenses and minimal frames. Substance over style on these I guess.

  30. Manners and Patience
    My mother always says it's better to be a little too polite. Having gracious manners and courtesy for others doesn't just encourage them to treat you better (though it does) -- you also get to go through life as a considerate, thoughtful person. I've also noticed that impatient people make themselves and everyone around them deeply unhappy, for no good reason. I'm not sure if it's self-importance or some weird character flaw that makes some people chronically impatient, but it baffles me. Mellow out, accept that some things take time and there's nothing to be done about it, and put your energy into something else. Times moves too quickly anyway, even at the post office.

  31. Gratitude. You are alive and sentient and you live in an exquisitely beautiful world guided by astoundingly elegant forces. Thank God, thank the Universe, thank Math, thank Anything. When people do kind things for you, thank them sincerely. When they ask you for help, be grateful you can give it to them. Be aware of your blessings and talents and the whole spectrum of experiences you've had, then thank whatever force allowed you to have them. Because wow, you know?

  32. Adequate fruits and vegetables in your diet.
    Everyone knows they're supposed to eat their vegetables, and few people actually do. Changing your diet to include loads of vegetables (the rawer the better) and fruits instead of processed sweets will make you feel and look extraordinary. Plants make some of the most powerful antioxidants and antiteratogens ever seen, and we don't even know a fraction of their benefits yet. I will have loads more to say about nutrition and plants and farming stuff soon.

  33. Vitamin C (among other multivitamins). Since I've started taking vitamin C every morning, I haven't been sick. If I've gotten the beginning of a cold or other illness, it's lasted about a day or two, and I can knock almost anything out of my system by upping my C and fluids. Linus Pauling advocated orthomolecular medicine, arguing that megadoses of vitamin C could actually treat tumors and beat cancer (it seems he was partially correct). Giving the body a surge of vitamins helps promote its healing responses, and supposedly a boost of B12 (like with a handful of cashews) is as powerful an antidepressant as Prozac. Obviously use caution and common sense in any vitamin or medicine you take.

  34. Connections with nature.
    It is important to remember that we are animals and that nature and wildness continue on all around us. Even in the heart of a city, there are birds, squirrels - hell, subway rats - scurrying around and doing all the things that nature has urged them to do. Taking even a few minutes here and there to look up at the sky, observe the patterns the shadows of trees make, watch the movements of water, smell grass, and connect, gives such a powerful feeling of vitality and well-being that I can't imagine why people don't do it as much as they can. I imagine it goes without saying that you should regularly schedule trips and outings where you can indulge in massively abundant nature (hiking, kayaking, fishing, skiing, etc.).

  35. A budget. I used to be terrified of budgeting, but every time I spent money it was with the anxiety that at any time I would run out, bills wouldn't get paid, and I'd find myself bereft and penniless. The extent to which you track your budget is up to you, but at least rough out some guidelines for how much you can spend, versus how much you need for recurring expenses. Start to implement a plan for retirement savings, more aggressively paying down debt, and whatever other responsible things you know you're supposed to do. Just putting it on the spreadsheet and knowing it's accounted for makes every day vastly less precarious, financially anyway.

  36. A balanced ledger. I've had several jobs that deal with finances and accounting, and it's amazing how many mistakes people make with other people's money. Worse, unless you actually keep track of your bills and expenses and carefully check transactions against your bank account, you will probably never know. My mother records all her spending in her checkbook ledger, down to the penny. I am a little lazier, so I clump all my receipts in my wallet and every few days (at least once a week) enter them all in a spreadsheet, compare with my bank account, and call it a day. I keep a vague idea of funds in and out in my head (like I said, I work with finances), so I know about how much money I have available at any time, working in conjunction with my budget. I never have to worry about bouncing checks, overdrawing my account, or any of the other things that used to stress me regularly.

  37. A carefully maintained calendar.
    It used to be a challenge, when I used paper calendars or day planners, to keep track of all my appointments, plans, deadlines for projects, etc. Syncing my Google Calendar with my iPhone means I have everything at my fingertips at any time. I no longer have to check back on my email or a little slip of paper what time I made an appointment or whether I am free - it's all there, in real time, and now I even have my work calendar combined so I can tell what kind of day I'll have. In addition to my calendar, I really use Reminders to make sure I do things in a certain time frame. It's so lovely I think I must have blocked out how I used to manage my time before, and honestly, I can't imagine why anyone who can wouldn't take advantage of the ease and simplicity smart phones provide.

  38. Confidence that is based in accepting who you are and enjoying it. It may be tempting to believe that I've veered into Stuart Smalley territory here, but here's the thing: people basically are who they are, from the time they are kids until they die, and they almost never change. I think an enormous amount of insecurity and unhappiness comes from denial or confusion about who we are, and people do incredibly hurtful things when they are pushing against themselves. If you look deep in your heart, you know who you are, and you're probably a really good person with some great things about you. Maybe lots of great things (let me know if you'd like help discovering these things - years as a raving idealist have made me preternaturally talented at finding the best in other people). Accept, love, and embrace who you are, and enjoy it. Your only other option is to be unhappy, right?

  39. Something that cheers you up almost instantly in any time or place.
    Diet Coke. Literally, any time, anywhere, a nice big glug of cold bubbly Diet Coke makes me immediately, dramatically happier. Also Kermit the Frog, which is why he is on my phone, buddy icons, perched on my bookshelf, and in many other conspicuous places. Lastly, pictures of my sweet, goofy cat. What Smokey can't cure, there is no cure for.

  40. A practical, versatile handbag that you love. I used to buy cheap, poorly-made handbags every season, then watch them fall apart. A little while ago, my mother saw the sad state of my bag and asked if she could buy me a "real bag." Okay, Mom, twist my freaking arm.

    This bag has been utterly perfect and continues to delight me every day. I can keep all my OCD crap organized and still have room for my sketchbook and/or a novel. And hi, it's bright pink leather. It's like it was made for me.

  41. Long-range goals and aspirations.
    I believe the Rolling Stones said it best, "Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind." (That verse of "Ruby Tuesday" was my high school yearbook quote.) Goals and dreams don't need to be huge. I mean, sure, who wouldn't love a few Nobel Prizes and a Whitney retrospective, right? But for me, the biggest dream right now is having a family (that was the case even while I was pursuing dreams in art and chemistry). I'm putting my energy in that direction and imagining in the long term what my life might be like. I love having that dream, and I'm pretty sure it's the thing that gets me out of bed every morning and pushes me forward in life.

  42. Conviction in your politics and beliefs, and tolerance for those of others.
    I am fascinated by belief, morality, ethics, the nature of truth and reason, and how people come to the opinions they have. I love discussing ideas and debating policy with people who have really thought through all sides of an issue and worked their way toward an idea they have fully explored. I can't stand talking with people who take sides and dramatically recite a party line, be it a fundamentalist religious zealot or an ultra-liberal atheist. Every belief system has an underlying logic and system of assumptions, and any of these can be challenged, questioned, or made to appear absurd. It's taken me a while, but I can now honestly express my opinions and beliefs from careful consideration, while remaining open to letting them evolve. I know where I stand, and I don't have qualms about it.

  43. At least one liter of water kept cold in your fridge at all times.
    I have struggled my whole life to drink the prescribed amount of water you're *supposed* to drink in a day. I watched a documentary on raw foods and vitamins (I think), where one guy suggested drinking a liter of water as soon as you wake up in the morning, to get your metabolism going. If the water is sufficiently cold, it's delightful to gulp down quickly, and at the conclusion, I do indeed feel refreshed and awake. Later in the day, you can either pour glasses from the cold bottle or drink a liter straight again. It's not overwhelming, and it's a hell of a lot easier than counting glasses. And now I'm drinking enough water.

  44. A repertoire of meals you can cook in 30 minutes or less.
    I'm trying really hard to eat healthy, with more vegetables and minimally processed foods. That means the days of popping a slice of pizza in the microwave are over, so I'm working at finding quick and easy, yet delicious and interesting meals that I can cook in a short amount of time. My mother has always been the master of this, as she used to cook dinner and get it on the table in the 30 minutes after Jeopardy! each night. Summer salads are my best friends right now, but I'll admit that too frequently I revert to a bowl of cereal or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some fruit if I'm tired. Nevertheless, if I want to, I do have a stock of recipes that are healthy, fairly quick and easy to cook, and (if I'm being utterly immodest) delicious. I want to work on this.

  45. Dishes, silverware, glasses, and barware you really, really like. When I moved into my first apartment 9 years ago, I had plastic dishes from college, mismatched forks and knives, and some random pint glasses and plastic tumblers. I picked out simple dishes I loved (Fiestaware in Seafoam green), a set of Jadeite bakeware, a brushed nickel flatware pattern, and glasses, and I put them all on a wish list. My lovely family indulged me for the next few birthdays and Christmases with beautiful gifts for my kitchen and apartment (they even went overboard with gorgeous champagne flutes, etched martini glasses, and serving platters and utensils). Every time I cook or eat a meal, I admire that stuff and enjoy using it. My cupboards look like an installation, and when I have people over for dinner, I feel downright civilized. Considering you use your dishes every day, you might as well like them. Ditto for my embroidered shower curtain, which was at the time prohibitively expensive (but I still love it - and how many shower curtains do you buy?) and the bathroom accessories that fancy it up in there.

  46. The ability to answer questions by Googling (preferably wherever you are).
    I have, at all times, a list of things I want to look up or research further. It's become something of a joke with one of my friends, who introduces topics with, "Well I'm sure you'll find the article I read when you're Googling this later." One of my master's degrees is basically a testament to my enthusiasm for research and answering questions, so it's an extra treat to have the entire internet accessible through my phone. It kind of blows my mind daily, still.

  47. Tissues, lip balm, and hand sanitizer in your bag.
    If you spend any amount of time in public, you will encounter situations where one or all three of these items saves you from a potentially disgusting or disastrous situation. Having a kit to tackle minor grossy emergencies puts me at ease. If you want to go one better, buy a small pill case (mine was $5 in CVS and has pretty flowers on it), in which you keep a few Advil, caffeine pills, and the Pepto Bismol capsules you can swallow. Scout Motto and all that.

  48. Giving yourself permission to relax when you need to. I know a lot of people who beat themselves up if they don't get errands or chores done in the evenings, or who can't relax if they know there is something they "ought to be" doing. I wouldn't advocate blowing off responsibilities entirely and I really wouldn't recommend procrastination, but when your body or your mind tells you you need a break and you can afford it, give it to yourself. What's the sense in suffering through life, especially if it makes you less productive and efficient anyway? And by relax, I don't mean rest. I mean actually unwind and enjoy doing something else, or nothing, until you feel calm and ready to face challenges again. It seems so easy, and yet so few people seem to give themselves permission to actually do it.

  49. A really comfortable, supportive mattress and a bedroom sanctuary. I can speak from both sides of the mattress experience, and investing in a quality, comfortable mattress is really a game changer. At the time when I moved here, I had been sleeping on a worn-out, terribly uncomfortable mattress ill fitted to an antique bed, and I slept horribly. My neck always hurt, I never woke up refreshed, and I dreaded going to sleep at night because I knew I'd wake up feeling lousy. Moving here, I bought the best mattress and box spring I could afford, at less than half price (seasonal sale plus negotiation), and my oh my, it is heavenly. Crazy supportive, pillow top with breathable fabric, the works. My brother gave me 1500 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets for my birthday, and I had a nice comforter, sham, and throw pillow set, now augmented with a hand-me-down down comforter too (heavenly). More than the stuff, I took great pains to make my bedroom an utterly peaceful sanctuary. I arranged the furniture for ideal Feng Shui (and light through the windows in the mornings and a gentle sea-scented breeze at night), I kept all the surfaces as clear or as meticulously organized as possible, and I made the rule that that room is only for sleeping, relaxing, "recreation," and getting dressed. I try to keep it as calm and clean as possible (though of course, I've broken my own rules and let things fall apart under duress), and my sleep has been better than I ever thought possible in this life. If I start stressing out or sleeping poorly, all I have to do is clean my bedroom, and I feel worlds better.

  50. The ability to breathe deeply and quiet your mind.
    One of the hardest things to learn as a baby is how to calm oneself. As humans, we are inherently needy and become inconsolable without help. I have spent years with racing thoughts and anxieties, and I've often let them overtake all peace and happiness in my life. I am a long way away from the calm and harmony I'm seeking, but it makes an incredible difference to take a few deep breaths and push my mind to a quieter place. I used to think there was some trick to it, but it seems it really is as easy as breathing and deciding to be calm.

So... I didn't realize I had so much to say, but in doing so, I think I've also outlined some of the ways my life is deeply, elaborately pleasant lately. Whenever I write things on this site, I get all self-conscious that I'm going to sound like a know-it-all or like some sort of would-be self-help guru, and I'm really not. I tend to phrase things as "you should," when I probably mean something closer to "this is what I did and it worked." But if you find this list helpful or in some way inspiring, then by all means you should implement some of these things in your life too!

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