mardi, juillet 31, 2007

apple-ginger chicken

Leo and I made this with lemon rice and sesame green beans. The tart apple and the chicken breasts were lovely in the sauce, and the ginger in the chicken dish is echoed by the ginger in the lemon rice. The roasted (yes, roasted) green beans are awesome, as well.

Here's the timetable if you're going to make all three items (it's worth it):
  1. Preheat oven to 450F.
  2. Trim green beans.
  3. Make rice.
  4. Make chicken & apple sauté.
  5. Roast green beans.
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 TBSP finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp whole yellow mustard seeds
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
2.5 TBSP all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 tart apple, cored and cut into thin wedges
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 TBSP chopped parsley or cilantro
salt to taste

In a small bowl, stir together garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, and mustard seeds; set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix flour with salt and black pepper (to taste) and then toss chicken until evenly coated. In a large nonstick skillet or wok over high heat, heat 1 tsp of the oil. Add the chicken and sauté until well-browned on all sides, about 4 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.

Add the remaining oil and apples to the pan. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring, until apples are lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the reserved spice mixture. Stir un the apples are tender and the garlic is fragrant, 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and the reserved chicken; increase heat to high. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until the sauce is slightly thickened and the chicken is no longer pink, about 2 minutes. Season with salt. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with cilantro or parsley.

Serves 4.

183 calories per serving: 27 g protein, 4 g fat, 9 g carbohydrates; 76 mg sodium. 67 mg cholesterol.

lemon rice

Leo and I vowed that we'd never make plain rice as a side dish again, because there's no excuse for making plain rice, unless you have no onions, garlic, shallots, or scallions around. Add another flavor accent (in this case, lemon) and rice is a special side dish to be savored as much as the main course (in this case, apple-ginger chicken).
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp olive oil
1 1/3 cups basmati rice
1 tsp fresh ginger, pureed
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 3-inch strips lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt

In a medium saucepan, stir together onions and oil. Cover the pan and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Add rice and ginger, raise heat to medium and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Sitr in chicken stock, lemon juice, lemon zest, and salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to very low and cook, covered, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender, 15 to 17 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.

Serves 4.

257 calories per serving: 5 g protein, 1 g fat, 55 g carbohydrate; 271 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol.

sesame green beans

Leo, before dinner: "Have you ever roasted green beans?"
Happy: "Nope. "

Leo, after toasting sesame seeds: "Any thoughts on how to crush the seeds lightly?"
Happy: "Why crush them? Try the mortar and pestle."

Leo, after crushing them: "Smell this. Crushing them releases the awesome sesame seed oil flavor and aroma."
Happy: "mmmmmmm."

Leo after dinner: "These green beans are fucking awesome!"
Happy: (Mouth full of beans.) "Yup. Awesome."
1 lb green beans, trimmed
1 tsp olive oil
2 tsp sesame seeds
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 F. On a baking sheet with sides, toss beans with oil, then spread in a single layer. Roast the beans for about 12 minutes, stirring once, or until wrinkled, brown, and tender.

In a small, dry skillet over medium heat, stir sesame seeds until fragrant and toasted, about 1 minute. Crush the seeds lightly and toss with the beans. Season with salt and pepper.

Serves 4.
58 calories per serving: 2 g protein, 2 g fat, 9 g carbohydrate; 4 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol.

lundi, juillet 30, 2007

revenons à nos moutons

Literally, it means: "let's return to our sheep."
Figuratively, it is an idiomatic expression that roughly translates to ... "let's get back to the point / on-track."

I learned it from Alex (a guy with a master's degree in French who also works as a tutor and is learning Spanish in a restaurant kitchen) at Wine Steals tonight while visiting cousin Andrea at work.

love is the drug

So that explains it ...
This is your brain on love: When you're attracted to someone, is your gray matter talking sense — or just hooked? Scientists take a rational look.
By Susan Brink
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 30, 2007
Her front brain is telling her he's trouble. Look at the facts, it says. He's never made a commitment, he drinks too much, he can't hold down a job.

But her middle brain won't listen. Man, it swoons, he looks great in those jeans, his black hair curls onto his forehead so adorably, and when he drags on a cigarette, he's so bad he's good.

His front brain is lecturing, too: She's flirting with every guy in the place, and she can drink even you under the table, it says. His mid-brain is unresponsive, distracted by her legs, her blouse and her come-hither stare.

"What could you be thinking?" their front brains demand.

Their middle brains, each on a quest for reward, pay no heed.

Alas, when it comes to choosing mates, smart neurons can make dumb choices. Sure, if the brain's owner is in her 40s and has been around the block a few times, she might grab her bag and scram. If the guy has reached seasoned middle age, he might think twice about that cleavage-baring temptress. Wisdom -- at least a little -- does come with experience.

But if the objects of desire are in their 20s, all bets are off. A lot will depend on the influence of Mom and Dad's marriage, the gossip and urgings of friends, and whether life experience has convinced these two brains that what they're looking at is attractive. She just might sidle over to Mr. Wrong and bat her eyes. And he could well give in to temptation.

And so the dance of attraction, infatuation and ultimately love begins.

It's a dance that holds many mysteries, to psychologists as well as to the willing participants. Science is just beginning to parse the inner workings of the brain in love, examining the blissful or ruinous fall from a medley of perspectives: neural systems, chemical messengers and the biology of reward.

It was only in 2000 that two London scientists selected 70 people, all in the early sizzle of love, and rolled them into the giant cylinder of a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner, or fMRI. The images they got are thought to be science's first pictures of the brain in love.

The pictures were a revelation, and others have followed, showing that romantic love is a lot like addiction to alcohol or drugs. The brain is playing a trick, necessary for evolution, by associating something that just happened with pleasure and attributing the feeling to that magnificent specimen right before your eyes.

All animals mate: The most primitive system in the brain, one that even reptiles have, knows it needs to reproduce. Turtles do it but then lay their eggs in the sand and head back to sea, never seeing their mate again.

Human brains are considerably more complicated, with additional neural systems that seek romance, others that want comfort and companionship, and others that are just out for a roll in the hay.

Yet the chemistry between two people isn't just a matter of molecules careening around the brain, dictating feelings like some game of neuro-billiards. Attraction also involves personal history. "Our parents have an effect on us," says Helen Fisher, evolutionary anthropologist at Rutgers University who studies human attraction. "So does the school system, television, timing, mystery."

Every book ever read, and every movie ever wept through, starts charting a course toward the chosen one.

The love dance
"Love," that one small word, stands for a hodgepodge of feelings and drives: lust, romance, passion, attachment, commitment and contentment. Studying this brew is made harder because the pathways aren't totally distinct. Lust and romance, for example, have some overlapping biology, even though they are not the same thing.

Similarly, the dance that leads, if we're lucky, to a stable commitment moves through several key steps.

First comes initial attraction, the spark. If someone's going to pick one person out of the billions of opposite-sex humans out there, it's this step that starts things rolling.

Next comes the wild, dizzying infatuation of romance -- a unique magic between two people who can't stop thinking about each other. The brain uses its chemical arsenal to focus our attention on one person, forsaking all others.

"Everyone knows what that feels like. This is one of the great mysteries. It's the love potion No. 9, the click factor, interpersonal chemistry," says Gian Gonzaga, senior research scientist at eHarmony Labs.

The passion lasts at least for a few months, two to four years tops, says relationship researcher Arthur Aron, psychologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

As it fades, something more stable takes over: the steady pair-bonding of what's called companionate love. It's a heartier variety, characterized by tenderness, affection and stability over the long haul. Far less is known about the brains of people celebrating their silver anniversaries or more, but researchers are beginning to recruit such couples to find out.

When Kelly and Robert Iblings of Calabasas had their first face-to-face meeting after a month of corresponding online, all signs of a spark were there. Kelly, 30, recalls thinking "Wow!" Robert, 33, thought Kelly was beautiful. "I love his height," Kelly says of Robert's 6-foot-4 frame. "And those eyes. He's quite handsome. I mean, look at him. He's cute. He's hot."

"She's very cute," Robert says. "And I like the way she laughs."

Their brains' signals were in sync, and it was good.

It probably didn't hurt that they were a little bit nervous about meeting each other.

For years, scientists have known that attraction is more likely to happen when people are aroused, be it through laughter, anxiety or fear. Aron tested that theory in 1974 on the gorgeous but spine-chilling heights of the Capilano Canyon Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, British Columbia -- a 5-foot wide, 450-foot, wobbly, swaying length of wooden slats and wire cable suspended 230 feet above rocks and shallow rapids.

His research team waited as unsuspecting men, between ages 18 and 35 and unaccompanied by women, crossed over. About halfway across the bridge, each man ran into an attractive young woman claiming to be doing research on beautiful places. She asked him a few questions and gave him her phone number in case he had follow-up questions.

The experiment was repeated upriver on a bridge that was wide and sturdy and only 10 feet above a small rivulet. The same attractive coed met the men, brandishing the same questionnaire.

The result? Men crossing the scary bridge rated the woman on the Capilano bridge more attractive. And about half the men who met her called her afterward. Only two of 16 men on the stable bridge called.

Fear got their attention and aroused emotional centers in the brain. "People are more likely to feel aroused in a scary setting," Aron says. "It's pretty simple. You're feeling physiologically aroused, and it's ambiguous why. Then you see an attractive person, and you think, 'Oh, that's why.' "

In a laboratory, Aron tested his arousal theory further by having people run in place for 10 minutes, and compared them with people who didn't run. Those who had exercised were more attracted to good-looking people in photographs than those who had been sedentary.

Any kind of physiological arousal would probably do the trick, Aron concludes from his studies. Couples who ride roller coasters, laugh at a really funny comedian or escape a burning building together get an emotional jolt and could attribute the feeling to the attractiveness of the other.

The forces of attraction are in many ways mysterious, but scientists know certain things. Studies have shown that women prefer men with symmetrical faces and that men like a certain waist-to-hip ratio in their mates. One study even found that women, when they sniffed men's T-shirts, were attracted to certain kinds of body odors.

That initial spark can flash and fade. Or it can become a flame and then a fire, a rush of exhilaration, yearning, hunger and sense of complete union that scientists know as passionate love.

Key to this state of seeing a person as a soul mate instead of a one-night stand is the limbic system, nestled deep within the brain between the neocortex (the region responsible for reason and intellect) and the reptilian brain (responsible for primitive instincts). Altered levels of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin -- neurotransmitters also associated with arousal -- wield their influence.

But passionate love is something far stronger than that first sizzle of chemistry. "It's a drive to win life's greatest prize, the right mating partner," Fisher says. It is also, she adds, an addiction.

People in the early throes of passionate love, she says, can think of little else. They describe sleeplessness, loss of appetite, feelings of euphoria, and they're willing to take exceptional risks for the loved one.

Brain areas governing reward, craving, obsession, recklessness and habit all play their part in the trickery.

In an experiment published as a chapter in a 2006 book, "Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience," Fisher found 17 people who were in relationships for an average of seven months. She knew they were in love from their answers to what researchers call the Passionate Love Scale. They all said they'd feel deep despair if their lover left, and they yearned to know all there was to know about the loved one.

She put these lovesick, enraptured people in an fMRI to see what areas of their brains got active when they saw a photograph of their beloved ones.

"We found some remarkable things," she said. "We saw activity in the ventral tegmental area and other regions of the brain's reward system associated with motivation, elation and focused attention." It's the same part of the brain that presumably is active when a smoker reaches for a cigarette or when gamblers think they're going to win the lottery. No wonder it's as hard to say no to the feeling of romantic arousal as it would be to say no to a windfall in the millions. The brain has seen what it wants, and it's going to get it.

"At that point, you really wouldn't notice if he had three heads," Fisher says. "Or you'd notice, but you'd choose to overlook it."

Other studies also suggest that the brain in the first throes of love is much like a brain on drugs.

Lucy Brown, professor of neuroscience at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, has also taken fMRI images of people in the early days of a new love. In a study reported in the July 2005, Journal of Neurophysiology, she too found key activity in the ventral tegmental area. "That's the area that's also active when a cocaine addict gets an IV injection of cocaine," Brown says. "It's not a craving. It's a high."

You see someone, you click, and you're euphoric. And in response, your ventral tegmental area uses chemical messengers such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin to send signals racing to a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens with the good news, telling it to start craving.

"The other person becomes a goal in your life," Brown says. He or she becomes a goal you might die without and would pack up and move across the country for. That one person begins to stand out as the one and only.

Biologically, the cravings and pleasure unleashed are as strong as any drug. Surely such a goal is worth taking risks for, and other alterations in the brain help ensure that the lovelorn will do just that. Certain regions, scientists have found, are being deactivated, such as within the amygdala, associated with fear. "That's why you can do such insane things when you're in love," Fisher says. "You would never otherwise dream of driving across the country in 13 hours, but for love, you would."

Sooner or later, excited brain messages reach the caudate nucleus, a dopamine-rich area where unconscious habits and skills, such as the ability to ride a bike, are stored.

The attraction signal turns the love object into a habit, and then an obsession. According to a 1999 study in the journal Psychological Medicine, people newly in love have serotonin levels 40% lower than normal people do -- just like people with obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Experiments in other mammals add to the human chemical findings. Female prairie voles, for example, develop a distinct preference for a specific male after mating, and the preference is associated with a 50% increase in dopamine in the nucleus accumbens.

But when the monogamous vole is injected with a dopamine antagonist, blocking the activity of the chemical, she'll readily dump her partner for another.

Using their heads
Kelly and Robert Iblings, now married for nine months, are fascinated by all this talk of nucleus accumbens, addiction and primitive mating instincts. Sure, they admit, they found each other attractive. But they were also making use of their front brains' sharp thinking skills. They were remembering painful past lessons and looking for signs of compatibility.

They had each survived an earlier, failed engagement, and they knew what they were looking for this time around. They were listening to their front brains as they told them to look for compatibility, stability, shared values and commitment.

From their first e-mail exchanges through eHarmony, an Internet dating service, the Iblings each felt they had found a unique mate. She liked to travel. So did he. They both love books and learning, have similar religious beliefs and come from loving, intact families. She no sooner sent an e-mail telling him about an exhibit she saw on a business trip to New York than he sent a message back telling her he knew of the exhibit because he had bought a book on it the day before.

Coincidence, or soul mate?

The front brain certainly gets involved as it ponders all of life's experiences and past mistakes, researchers say -- but not just the front brain. The nucleus accumbens, virtual swamp of dopamine that it is, is also holder of memories. Its quest for reward is influenced by childhood experiences, friends, previous failed engagements or the jerk who cheated on you. The sum of those experiences make some people attracted to a prince or a frog, a princess or a shrew.

And, as it happens, practical matters such as whether a couple both like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain do matter in igniting passionate love.

A research project headed by eHarmony Labs' Gonzaga interviewed 1,200 dating and newlywed couples. The results, reported in the July issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that those who reported similar interests and feelings were more satisfied. "Those who reported chemistry said they felt at ease, relaxed, connected. They knew they had some things in common," he says. "Chemistry is more than just being hot or handsome."

Clearly, in the matters of love, the stars were aligned for the Iblings. When they met, they were ready for each other. But they were also attracted to each other. The chemistry was there. Most relationship researchers think it has to be.

They had what it took to kick-start the relationship with an undeniable urgency, allowing two people to give up the candy store of other choices and commit to each other.

Odds are that in two to four years, this urgency will fade -- and the couple will, if all goes well, settle in for the long haul with companionate love. Such peoples' lives are entwined, as are their property and bank accounts, and they begin to answer questionnaires differently. The rush and the urgency is gone, but they feel committed, emotionally close and stable.

It is the state that many desire, yet it is the least studied. There's a reason for that. Most studies of couples are of college students and young newlyweds.

Brown, however, has recently recruited volunteers for a study of people 40 to 65 who have been together for many years. She'll put them in fMRIs to see where love resides after the urgency fades. "It's unknown, the extent to which these original brain motivations are still active," she says. "Or whether companionate love has turned more cortical, more conscious thinking, more evaluative." Her first volunteers had their brains scanned this month.

The free fall of love's first rush can happen at any age, whether people are 20 or 70, says Elaine Hatfield, psychology professor at the University of Hawaii and relationship researcher.

What differs is that the older people get, the more memories they harbor of joy and trust, rejection and disappointment. And as people learn from experience, the front brain, with its logic and reason, probably gets a greater say.

"When you are young, passion and hope are so strong that's it's almost impossible to stop loving someone," Hatfield says. "After you've been kicked around by life, however, you start to have a dual response to handsome con men: 'Wow!' and 'Arrrrrrgh!'

"It takes not will power but painful experience to make us wise."

Somehow, it all comes together, for better or for worse, the sum total of what's found in the mating dance of the ancient reptilian brain, the passion of the limbic brain and the logic of the neocortex.

Oh, what a ride.

vendredi, juillet 27, 2007

get simpsonized

Happy, simpsonizedYesterday, Diana said that the ultimate compliment was to be included in a Simpsons cartoon.

Have you ever wondered what I would look like as a character on The Simpsons? Never? Not even once?

D'oh! Well, anyway, I would look like this:

You can Simpsonize yourself, too. You'll need a photo of yourself and five minutes.

Getting my learn on
At school

At the Kwik-E-Mart for a squishee
At the kwik-e-mart

message in a bottle

Fact: Americans spent more money last year on bottled water than on ipods or movie tickets ($15 Billion).

Fact: 24% of the bottled water we buy is tap water repackaged by Coke and Pepsi. Think Outside the Bottle has been somewhat successful in getting water bottlers to indicate the source of the water, especially when the mountains and pristine glaciers on the bottle might lead us to think that that's where the water came from.

Fact: We pitch into landfills 38 billion water bottles a year — in excess of $1 billion worth of plastic.

Fact: Worldwide, 1 billion people have no reliable source of drinking water; 3,000 children a day die from diseases caught from tainted water.
San Diego tap water is hard. (You can taste the minerals.)

I usually drink water instead of juice, soda, or tea. (I don't drink coffee.) So at home, I drink bottled water that's been through a Reverse Osmosis, Ozonation, Carbon Filtration, Ultra-Violet Lighting, and other filtration process, courtesy of the Water Lady. I usually fill my Nalgene or glass with this, but I do sometimes buy bottles of single-serving size water and recycle the empty bottle. But I can honestly say that I had no idea what the collective impact of bottled water is.
Message in a Bottle
From: Issue 117 | July 2007 | Page 110 | By: Charles Fishman

The largest bottled-water factory in North America is located on the outskirts of Hollis, Maine. In the back of the plant stretches the staging area for finished product: 24 million bottles of Poland Spring water. As far as the eye can see, there are double-stacked pallets packed with half-pint bottles, half-liters, liters, "Aquapods" for school lunches, and 2.5-gallon jugs for the refrigerator.

Really, it is a lake of Poland Spring water, conveniently celled off in plastic, extending across 6 acres, 8 feet high. A week ago, the lake was still underground; within five days, it will all be gone, to supermarkets and convenience stores across the Northeast, replaced by another lake's worth of bottles.

Looking at the piles of water, you can have only one thought: Americans sure are thirsty.

Bottled water has become the indispensable prop in our lives and our culture. It starts the day in lunch boxes; it goes to every meeting, lecture hall, and soccer match; it's in our cubicles at work; in the cup holder of the treadmill at the gym; and it's rattling around half-finished on the floor of every minivan in America. Fiji Water shows up on the ABC show Brothers & Sisters; Poland Spring cameos routinely on NBC's The Office. Every hotel room offers bottled water for sale, alongside the increasingly ignored ice bucket and drinking glasses. At Whole Foods, the upscale emporium of the organic and exotic, bottled water is the number-one item by units sold.

Thirty years ago, bottled water barely existed as a business in the United States. Last year, we spent more on Poland Spring, Fiji Water, Evian, Aquafina, and Dasani than we spent on iPods or movie tickets--$15 billion. It will be $16 billion this year.

Bottled water is the food phenomenon of our times. We--a generation raised on tap water and water fountains--drink a billion bottles of water a week, and we're raising a generation that views tap water with disdain and water fountains with suspicion. We've come to pay good money--two or three or four times the cost of gasoline--for a product we have always gotten, and can still get, for free, from taps in our homes.

When we buy a bottle of water, what we're often buying is the bottle itself, as much as the water. We're buying the convenience--a bottle at the 7-Eleven isn't the same product as tap water, any more than a cup of coffee at Starbucks is the same as a cup of coffee from the Krups machine on your kitchen counter. And we're buying the artful story the water companies tell us about the water: where it comes from, how healthy it is, what it says about us. Surely among the choices we can make, bottled water isn't just good, it's positively virtuous.

Except for this: Bottled water is often simply an indulgence, and despite the stories we tell ourselves, it is not a benign indulgence. We're moving 1 billion bottles of water around a week in ships, trains, and trucks in the United States alone. That's a weekly convoy equivalent to 37,800 18-wheelers delivering water. (Water weighs 81/3 pounds a gallon. It's so heavy you can't fill an 18-wheeler with bottled water--you have to leave empty space.)

Meanwhile, one out of six people in the world has no dependable, safe drinking water. The global economy has contrived to deny the most fundamental element of life to 1 billion people, while delivering to us an array of water "varieties" from around the globe, not one of which we actually need. That tension is only complicated by the fact that if we suddenly decided not to purchase the lake of Poland Spring water in Hollis, Maine, none of that water would find its way to people who really are thirsty.

A chilled plastic bottle of water in the convenience-store cooler is the perfect symbol of this moment in American commerce and culture. It acknowledges our demand for instant gratification, our vanity, our token concern for health. Its packaging and transport depend entirely on cheap fossil fuel. Yes, it's just a bottle of water--modest compared with the indulgence of driving a Hummer. But when a whole industry grows up around supplying us with something we don't need--when a whole industry is built on the packaging and the presentation--it's worth asking how that happened, and what the impact is. And if you do ask, if you trace both the water and the business back to where they came from, you find a story more complicated, more bemusing, and ultimately more sobering than the bottles we tote everywhere suggest.

In the town of San Pellegrino Terme, Italy, for example, is a spigot that runs all the time, providing San Pellegrino water free to the local citizens--except the free Pellegrino has no bubbles. Pellegrino trucks in the bubbles for the bottling plant. The man who first brought bottled water to the United States famously failed an impromptu taste test involving his own product. In Maine, there is a marble temple to honor our passion for bottled water.

And in Fiji, a state-of-the-art factory spins out more than a million bottles a day of the hippest bottled water on the U.S. market today, while more than half the people in Fiji do not have safe, reliable drinking water. Which means it is easier for the typical American in Beverly Hills or Baltimore to get a drink of safe, pure, refreshing Fiji water than it is for most people in Fiji.

At the Peninsula hotel in Beverly Hills, where the rooms start at $500 a night and the guest next door might well be an Oscar winner, the minibar in all 196 rooms contains six bottles of Fiji Water. Before Fiji Water displaced Evian, Diet Coke was the number-one-selling minibar item. Now, says Christian Boyens, the Peninsula's elegant director of food and beverage, "the 1 liter of Fiji Water is number one. Diet Coke is number two. And the 500-milliliter bottle of Fiji is number three."

Being the water in the Peninsula minibar is so desirable--not just for the money to be made, but for the exposure with the Peninsula's clientele--that Boyens gets a sales call a week from a company trying to dislodge Fiji.

Boyens, who has an MBA from Cornell, used to be indifferent to water. Not anymore. His restaurants and bars carry 20 different waters. "Sometimes a guest will ask for Poland Spring, and you can't get Poland Spring in California," he says. So what does he do? "We'll call the Peninsula in New York and have them FedEx out a case.

"I thought water was water. But our customers know what they want."

The marketing of bottled water is subtle compared with the marketing of, say, soft drinks or beer. The point of Fiji Water in the minibar at the Peninsula, or at the center of the table in a white-tablecloth restaurant, is that guests will try it, love it, and buy it at a store the next time they see it.

Which isn't difficult, because the water aisle in a suburban supermarket typically stocks a dozen brands of water--not including those enhanced with flavors or vitamins or, yes, oxygen. In 1976, the average American drank 1.6 gallons of bottled water a year, according to Beverage Marketing Corp. Last year, we each drank 28.3 gallons of bottled water--18 half-liter bottles a month. We drink more bottled water than milk, or coffee, or beer. Only carbonated soft drinks are more popular than bottled water, at 52.9 gallons annually.

No one has experienced this transformation more profoundly than Kim Jeffery. Jeffery began his career in the water business in the Midwest in 1978, selling Perrier ("People didn't know whether to put it in their lawn mower or drink it," he says). Now he's the CEO of Nestlé Waters North America, in charge of U.S. sales of Perrier, San Pellegrino, Poland Spring, and a portfolio of other regional natural springwaters. Combined, his brands will sell some $4.5 billion worth of water this year (generating roughly $500 million in pretax profit). Jeffery insists that unlike the soda business, which is stoked by imaginative TV and marketing campaigns, the mainstream water business is, quite simply, "a force of nature."

"The entire bottled-water business today is half the size of the carbonated beverage industry," says Jeffery, "but our marketing budget is 15% of what they spend. When you put a bottle of water in that cold box, it's the most thirst-quenching beverage there is. There's nothing in it that's not good for you. People just know that intuitively.

"A lot of people tell me, you guys have done some great marketing to get customers to pay for water," Jeffery says. "But we aren't that smart. We had to have a hell of a lot of help from the consumer."

Still, we needed help learning to drink bottled water. For that, we can thank the French.

Gustave Leven was the chairman of Source Perrier when he approached an American named Bruce Nevins in 1976. Nevins was working for the athletic-wear company Pony. Leven was a major Pony investor. "He wanted me to consider the water business in the U.S.," Nevins says. "I was a bit reluctant." Back then, the American water industry was small and fusty, built on home and office delivery of big bottles and grocery sales of gallon jugs.

Nevins looked out across 1970s America, though, and had an epiphany: Perrier wasn't just water. It was a beverage. The opportunity was in persuading people to drink Perrier when they would otherwise have had a cocktail or a Coke. Americans were already drinking 30 gallons of soft drinks each a year, and the three-martini lunch was increasingly viewed as a problem. Nevins saw a niche.

From the start, Nevins pioneered a three-part strategy. First, he connected bottled water to exclusivity: In 1977, just before Perrier's U.S. launch, he flew 60 journalists to France to visit "the source" where Perrier bubbled out of the ground. He connected Perrier to health, sponsoring the New York City Marathon, just as long-distance running was exploding as a fad across America. And he associated Perrier with celebrity, launching with $4 million in TV commercials featuring Orson Welles. It worked. In 1978, its first full year in the United States, Perrier sold $20 million of water. The next year, sales tripled to $60 million.

What made Perrier distinctive was that it was a sparkling water, served in a signature glass bottle. But that's also what left the door open for Evian, which came to the United States in 1984. Evian's U.S. marketing was built around images of toned young men and women in tight clothes sweating at the gym. Madonna drank Evian--often onstage at concerts. "If you were cool, you were drinking bottled water," says Ed Slade, who became Evian's vice president of marketing in 1990. "It was a status symbol."

Evian was also a still water, which Americans prefer; and it was the first to offer a plastic bottle nationwide. The clear bottle allowed us to see the water--how clean and refreshing it looked on the shelf. Americans have never wanted water in cans, which suggest a tinny aftertaste before you take a sip. The plastic bottle, in fact, did for water what the pop-top can had done for soda: It turned water into an anywhere, anytime beverage, at just the moment when we decided we wanted a beverage, everywhere, all the time.

Perrier and Evian launched the bottled-water business just as it would prove irresistible. Convenience and virtue aligned. Two-career families, overprogrammed children, prepared foods in place of home-cooked meals, the constant urging to eat more healthfully and drink less alcohol--all reinforce the value of bottled water. But those trends also reinforce the mythology.

We buy bottled water because we think it's healthy. Which it is, of course: Every 12-year-old who buys a bottle of water from a vending machine instead of a 16-ounce Coke is inarguably making a healthier choice. But bottled water isn't healthier, or safer, than tap water. Indeed, while the United States is the single biggest consumer in the world's $50 billion bottled-water market, it is the only one of the top four--the others are Brazil, China, and Mexico--that has universally reliable tap water. Tap water in this country, with rare exceptions, is impressively safe. It is monitored constantly, and the test results made public. Mineral water has a long association with medicinal benefits--and it can provide minerals that people need--but there are no scientific studies establishing that routinely consuming mineral water improves your health. The FDA, in fact, forbids mineral waters in the United States from making any health claims.

And for this healthy convenience, we're paying what amounts to an unbelievable premium. You can buy a half- liter Evian for $1.35--17 ounces of water imported from France for pocket change. That water seems cheap, but only because we aren't paying attention.

In San Francisco, the municipal water comes from inside Yosemite National Park. It's so good the EPA doesn't require San Francisco to filter it. If you bought and drank a bottle of Evian, you could refill that bottle once a day for 10 years, 5 months, and 21 days with San Francisco tap water before that water would cost $1.35. Put another way, if the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000.

Taste, of course, is highly personal. New Yorkers excepted, Americans love to belittle the quality of their tap water. But in blind taste tests, with waters at equal temperatures, presented in identical glasses, ordinary people can rarely distinguish between tap water, springwater, and luxury waters. At the height of Perrier's popularity, Bruce Nevins was asked on a live network radio show one morning to pick Perrier from a lineup of seven carbonated waters served in paper cups. It took him five tries.

We are actually in the midst of a second love affair with bottled water. In the United States, many of the earliest, still-familiar brands of springwater--Poland Spring, Saratoga Springs, Deer Park, Arrowhead--were originally associated with resort and spa complexes. The water itself, pure at a time when cities struggled to provide safe water, was the source of the enterprise.

In the late 1800s, Poland Spring was already a renowned brand of healthful drinking water that you could get home-delivered in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, or Chicago. It was also a sprawling summer resort complex, with thousands of guests and three Victorian hotels, some of which had bathtubs with spigots that allowed guests to bathe in Poland Spring water. The resort burned in 1976, but at the crest of a hill in Poland Spring, Maine, you can still visit a marble-and-granite temple built in 1906 to house the original spring.

24% of the bottled water we buy is tap water repackaged by Coke and Pepsi.

The car, the Depression, World War II, and perhaps most important, clean, safe municipal water, unwound the resorts and the first wave of water as business. We had to wait two generations for the second, which would turn out to be much different--and much larger.

Today, for all the apparent variety on the shelf, bottled water is dominated in the United States and worldwide by four huge companies. Pepsi has the nation's number-one-selling bottled water, Aquafina, with 13% of the market. Coke's Dasani is number two, with 11% of the market. Both are simply purified municipal water--so 24% of the bottled water we buy is tap water repackaged by Coke and Pepsi for our convenience. Evian is owned by Danone, the French food giant, and distributed in the United States by Coke.

The really big water company in the United States is Nestlé, which gradually bought up the nation's heritage brands, and expanded them. The waters are slightly different--springwater must come from actual springs, identified specifically on the label--but together, they add up to 26% of the market, according to Beverage Marketing, surpassing Coke and Pepsi's brands combined.

Since most water brands are owned by larger companies, it's hard to get directly at the economics. But according to those inside the business, half the price of a typical $1.29 bottle goes to the retailer. As much as a third goes to the distributor and transport. Another 12 to 15 cents is the cost of the water itself, the bottle and the cap. That leaves roughly a dime of profit. On multipacks, that profit is more like 2 cents a bottle.

As the abundance in the supermarket water aisle shows, that business is now trying to help us find new waters to drink and new occasions for drinking them--trying to get more mouth share, as it were. Aquafina marketing vice president Ahad Afridi says his team has done the research to understand what kind of water drinkers we are. They've found six types, including the "water pure-fectionist"; the "water explorer"; the "image seeker"; and the "struggler" ("they don't really like water that much...these are the people who have a cheeseburger with a diet soda").

It's a startling level of thought and analysis--until you realize that within a decade, our consumption of bottled water is expected to surpass soda. That kind of market can't be left to chance. Aquafina's fine segmentation is all about the newest explosion of waters that aren't really water--flavored waters, enhanced waters, colored waters, water drinks branded after everything from Special K breakfast cereal to Tropicana juice.

Afridi is a true believer. He talks about water as if it were more than a drink, more than a product--as if it were a character all its own, a superhero ready to take the pure-fectionist, the water explorer, and the struggler by the hand and carry them to new water adventures. "Water as a beverage has more right to extend and enter into more territories than any other beverage," Afridi says. "Water has a right to travel where others can't."

Uh, meaning what?

"Water that's got vitamins in it. Water that's got some immunity-type benefit to it. Water that helps keep skin younger. Water that gives you energy."

Water: It's pure, it's healthy, it's perfect--and we've made it better. The future of water sounds distinctly unlike water.

The label on a bottle of Fiji Water says "from the islands of Fiji." Journey to the source of that water, and you realize just how extraordinary that promise is. From New York, for instance, it is an 18-hour plane ride west and south (via Los Angeles) almost to Australia, and then a four-hour drive along Fiji's two-lane King's Highway.

Every bottle of Fiji Water goes on its own version of this trip, in reverse, although by truck and ship. In fact, since the plastic for the bottles is shipped to Fiji first, the bottles' journey is even longer. Half the wholesale cost of Fiji Water is transportation--which is to say, it costs as much to ship Fiji Water across the oceans and truck it to warehouses in the United States than it does to extract the water and bottle it.

The bubbles in San Pellegrino are extracted from volcanic springs in Tuscany, then trucked north and injected into the water from the source.

That is not the only environmental cost embedded in each bottle of Fiji Water. The Fiji Water plant is a state-of-the-art facility that runs 24 hours a day. That means it requires an uninterrupted supply of electricity--something the local utility structure cannot support. So the factory supplies its own electricity, with three big generators running on diesel fuel. The water may come from "one of the last pristine ecosystems on earth," as some of the labels say, but out back of the bottling plant is a less pristine ecosystem veiled with a diesel haze.

Each water bottler has its own version of this oxymoron: that something as pure and clean as water leaves a contrail.

San Pellegrino's 1-liter glass bottles--so much a part of the mystique of the water itself--weigh five times what plastic bottles weigh, dramatically adding to freight costs and energy consumption. The bottles are washed and rinsed, with mineral water, before being filled with sparkling Pellegrino--it uses up 2 liters of water to prepare the bottle for the liter we buy. The bubbles in San Pellegrino come naturally from the ground, as the label says, but not at the San Pellegrino source. Pellegrino chooses its CO2 carefully--it is extracted from supercarbonated volcanic springwaters in Tuscany, then trucked north and bubbled into Pellegrino.

Poland Spring may not have any oceans to traverse, but it still must be trucked hundreds of miles from Maine to markets and convenience stores across its territory in the northeast--it is 312 miles from the Hollis plant to midtown Manhattan. Our desire for Poland Spring has outgrown the springs at Poland Spring's two Maine plants; the company runs a fleet of 80 silver tanker trucks that continuously crisscross the state of Maine, delivering water from other springs to keep its bottling plants humming.

We pitch into landfills 38 billion water bottles a year--in excess of $1 billion worth of plastic.

In transportation terms, perhaps the waters with the least environmental impact are Pepsi's Aquafina and Coke's Dasani. Both start with municipal water. That allows the companies to use dozens of bottling plants across the nation, reducing how far bottles must be shipped.

Yet Coke and Pepsi add in a new step. They put the local water through an energy-intensive reverse-osmosis filtration process more potent than that used to turn seawater into drinking water. The water they are purifying is ready to drink--they are recleaning perfectly clean tap water. They do it so marketing can brag about the purity, and to provide consistency: So a bottle of Aquafina in Austin and a bottle in Seattle taste the same, regardless of the municipal source.

There is one more item in bottled water's environmental ledger: the bottles themselves. The big springwater companies tend to make their own bottles in their plants, just moments before they are filled with water--12, 19, 30 grams of molded plastic each. Americans went through about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year, 167 for each person. Durable, lightweight containers manufactured just to be discarded. Water bottles are made of totally recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, so we share responsibility for their impact: Our recycling rate for PET is only 23%, which means we pitch into landfills 38 billion water bottles a year--more than $1 billion worth of plastic.

Some of the water companies are acutely aware that every business, every product, every activity is under environmental scrutiny like never before. Nestlé Waters has just redesigned its half-liter bottle, the most popular size among the 18 billion bottles the company will mold this year, to use less plastic. The lighter bottle and cap require 15 grams of plastic instead of 19 grams, a reduction of 20%. The bottle feels flimsy--it uses half the plastic of Fiji Water's half-liter bottle--and CEO Jeffery says that crushable feeling should be the new standard for bottled-water cachet.

"As we've rolled out the lightweight bottle, people have said, 'Well, that feels cheap,'" says Jeffery. "And that's good. If it feels solid like a Gatorade bottle or a Fiji bottle, that's not so good." Of course, lighter bottles are also cheaper for Nestlé to produce and ship. Good environmentalism equals good business.

John Mackey is the CEO and cofounder of Whole Foods Market, the national organic-and-natural grocery chain. No one thinks about the environmental and social impacts and the larger context of food more incisively than Mackey--so he's a good person to help frame the ethical questions around bottled water.

Mackey and his wife have a water filter at home, and don't typically drink bottled water there. "If I go to a movie," he says, "I'll smuggle in a bottle of filtered water from home. I don't want to buy a Coke there, and why buy another bottle of water--$3 for 16 ounces?" But he does drink bottled water at work: Whole Foods' house brand, 365 Water.

"You can compare bottled water to tap water and reach one set of conclusions," says Mackey, referring both to environmental and social ramifications. "But if you compare it with other packaged beverages, you reach another set of conclusions.

"It's unfair to say bottled water is causing extra plastic in landfills, and it's using energy transporting it," he says. "There's a substitution effect--it's substituting for juices and Coke and Pepsi." Indeed, we still drink almost twice the amount of soda as water--which is, in fact, 90% water and also in containers made to be discarded. If bottled water raises environmental and social issues, don't soft drinks raise all those issues, plus obesity concerns?

What's different about water, of course, is that it runs from taps in our homes, or from fountains in public spaces. Soda does not.

As for the energy used to transport water from overseas, Mackey says it is no more or less wasteful than the energy used to bring merlot from France or coffee from Ethiopia, raspberries from Chile or iPods from China. "Have we now decided that the use of any fossil fuel is somehow unethical?" Mackey asks. "I don't think water should be picked on. Why is the iPod okay and the water is not?"

Mackey's is a merchant's approach to the issue of bottled water--it's a choice for people to make in the market. Princeton University philosopher Peter Singer takes an ethicist's approach. Singer has coauthored two books that grapple specifically with the question of what it means to eat ethically--how responsible are we for the negative impact, even unknowing, of our food choices on the world?

"Where the drinking water is safe, bottled water is simply a superfluous luxury that we should do without," he says. "How is it different than French merlot? One difference is the value of the product, in comparison to the value of transporting and packaging it. It's far lower in the bottled water than in the wine.

"And buying the merlot may help sustain a tradition in the French countryside that we value--a community, a way of life, a set of values that would disappear if we stopped buying French wines. I doubt if you travel to Fiji you would find a tradition of cultivation of Fiji water.

"We're completely thoughtless about handing out $1 for this bottle of water, when there are virtually identical alternatives for free. It's a level of affluence that we just take for granted. What could you do? Put that dollar in a jar on the counter instead, carry a water bottle, and at the end of the month, send all the money to Oxfam or CARE and help someone who has real needs. And you're no worse off."

Beyond culture and the product's value, Singer makes one exception. "You know, they do import Kenyan vegetables by air into London. Fresh peas from Kenya, sent by airplane to London. That provides employment for people who have few opportunities to get themselves out of poverty. So despite the fuel consumption, we're supporting a developing country, we're working against poverty, we're working for global equity.

"Those issues are relevant. Presumably, for instance, bottling water in Fiji is fairly automated. But if there were 10,000 Fijians carefully filtering the water through coconut fiber--well, that would be a better argument for drinking it."

Marika, an elder from the Fijian village of Drauniivi, is sitting cross-legged on a hand-woven mat before a wooden bowl, where his weathered hands are filtering Fiji Water through a long bag of ground kava root. Marika is making a bowl of grog, a lightly narcotic beverage that is an anchor of traditional Fiji society. People with business to conduct sit wearing the traditional Fijian skirt, and drink round after round of grog, served in half a coconut shell, as they discuss the matters at hand.

Marika is using Fiji Water--the same Fiji Water in the minibars of the Peninsula Hotel--because Drauniivi is one of the five rural villages near the Fiji Water bottling plant where the plant's workers live. Drauniivi and Beverly Hills are part of the same bottled-water supply chain.

Jim Siplon, an American who manages Fiji Water's 10-year-old bottling plant in Fiji, has arranged the grog ceremony. "This is the soul of Fiji Water," he says. The ceremony lasts 45 minutes and goes through four rounds of grog, which tastes a little furry. Marika is interrupted twice by his cell phone, which he pulls from a pocket in his skirt. It is shift change at the plant, and Marika coordinates the minibus network that transports villagers to and from work.

Fiji Water is the product of these villages, a South Pacific aquifer, and a state-of-the-art bottling plant in a part of Fiji even the locals consider remote. The plant, on the northeast coast of Fiji's main island of Viti Levu, is a white two-story building that looks like a 1970s-era junior high school. The entrance faces the interior of Viti Levu and a cloud-shrouded ridge of volcanic mountains.

Inside, the plant is in almost every way indistinguishable from Pellegrino's plant in Italy, or Poland Spring's in Hollis, filled with computer-controlled bottle-making and bottle-filling equipment. Line number two can spin out 1 million bottles of Fiji Water a day, enough to load 40 20-foot shipping containers; the factory has three lines.

The plant employs 200 islanders--set to increase to 250 this year--most with just a sixth- or eighth-grade education. Even the entry-level jobs pay twice the informal minimum wage. But these are more than simply jobs--they are jobs in a modern factory, in a place where there aren't jobs of any sort beyond the villages. And the jobs are just part of an ecosystem emerging around the plant--water-based trickle-down economics, as it were.

Siplon, a veteran telecom manager from MCI, wants Fiji Water to feel like a local company in Fiji. (It was purchased in 2004 by privately owned Roll International, which also owns POM Wonderful and is one of the largest producers of nuts in the United States.) He uses a nearby company to print the carrying handles for Fiji Water six-packs and buys engineering services and cardboard boxes on the island. By long-standing arrangement, the plant has seeded a small business in the villages that contracts with the plant to provide landscaping and security, and runs the bus system that Marika helps manage.

In 2007, Fiji Water will mark a milestone. "Even though you can drive for hours and hours on this island past cane fields," says Siplon, "sometime this year, Fiji Water will eclipse sugarcane as the number-one export." That is, the amount of sugar harvested and processed for export by some 40,000 seasonal sugar workers will equal in dollar value the amount of water bottled and shipped by 200 water bottlers.

However we regard Fiji Water in the United States--essential accessory, harmless treat, or frivolous excess--the closer you get to the source of its water, the more significant the enterprise looks.

No, no coconut-fiber filtering, but rather, a toehold in the global economy. Are 10,000 Fijians benefiting? Not directly. Perhaps 2,000. But Fiji Water is providing something else to a tiny nation of 850,000 people, which has been buffeted by two coups in seven years, and the collapse of its gold-mining and textiles industries: inspiration, a vision of what the country might have to offer the rest of the world. Developed countries are keen for myriad variations on just what Fiji Water is--a pure, unadulterated, organic, and natural product. Fiji has whole vistas of untouched, organic-ready farmland. Indeed, the hottest topic this spring (beyond politics) was how to jump-start an organic-sugar industry.

Of course, the irony of shipping a precious product from a country without reliable water service is hard to avoid. This spring, typhoid from contaminated drinking water swept one of Fiji's islands, sickening dozens of villagers and killing at least one. Fiji Water often quietly supplies emergency drinking water in such cases. The reality is, if Fiji Water weren't tapping its aquifer, the underground water would slide into the Pacific Ocean, somewhere just off the coast. But the corresponding reality is, someone else--the Fijian government, an NGO--could be tapping that supply and sending it through a pipe to villagers who need it. Fiji Water has, in fact, done just that, to some degree--20 water projects in the five nearby villages. Indeed, Roll has reinvested every dollar of profit since 2004 back into the business and the island.

Siplon acknowledges the risk of slipping into capitalistic neo-colonialism. "Does the world need Fiji Water?" he asks. "I'm not sure I agree with the critics on that. This company has the potential of delivering great value--or the results a cynic might have expected."

Water is, in fact, often the perfect beverage--healthy, refreshing, and satisfying in a way soda or juice aren't. A good choice.

Worldwide, 1 billion people have no reliable source of drinking water; 3,000 children a day die from diseases caught from tainted water.

Nestlé Waters' Kim Jeffery may be defending his industry when he calls bottled water "a force of nature," but he's also not wrong. Our consumption of bottled water has outstripped any marketer's dreams or talent: If you break out the single-serve plastic bottle as its own category, our consumption of bottled water grew a thousandfold between 1984 and 2005.

In the array of styles, choices, moods, and messages available today, water has come to signify how we think of ourselves. We want to brand ourselves--as Madonna did--even with something as ordinary as a drink of water. We imagine there is a difference between showing up at the weekly staff meeting with Aquafina, or Fiji, or a small glass bottle of Pellegrino. Which is, of course, a little silly.

Bottled water is not a sin. But it is a choice.

Packing bottled water in lunch boxes, grabbing a half-liter from the fridge as we dash out the door, piling up half-finished bottles in the car cup holders--that happens because of a fundamental thoughtlessness. It's only marginally more trouble to have reusable water bottles, cleaned and filled and tucked in the lunch box or the fridge. We just can't be bothered. And in a world in which 1 billion people have no reliable source of drinking water, and 3,000 children a day die from diseases caught from tainted water, that conspicuous consumption of bottled water that we don't need seems wasteful, and perhaps cavalier.

That is the sense in which Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, and Singer, the Princeton philosopher, are both right. Mackey is right that buying bottled water is a choice, and Singer is right that given the impact it has, the easy substitutes, and the thoughtless spending involved, it's fair to ask whether it's always a good choice.

The most common question the U.S. employees of Fiji Water still get is, "Does it really come from Fiji?" We're choosing Fiji Water because of the hibiscus blossom on the beautiful square bottle, we're choosing it because of the silky taste. We're seduced by the idea of a bottle of water from Fiji. We just don't believe it really comes from Fiji. What kind of a choice is that?

Once you understand the resources mustered to deliver the bottle of water, it's reasonable to ask as you reach for the next bottle, not just "Does the value to me equal the 99 cents I'm about to spend?" but "Does the value equal the impact I'm about to leave behind?"

Simply asking the question takes the carelessness out of the transaction. And once you understand where the water comes from, and how it got here, it's hard to look at that bottle in the same way again.
Via Ash

cake, but no presents, please

I think this is a great idea, but that it's a fine line to walk with kids. Maybe the answer is to give kids one cool gift that they really want and then let them pick a charity/ individual/ etc. to honor/ give cash or volunteering time to. Still, I'd like to try it ...

My favorite gift-giving ChristmaHanuKwanzIce was 2002, when my friends and colleagues enacted a gift ban and donated money (anonymously) to:
  • a friend who had cancer and had lost her job, and to
  • a family that was too poor to have presents or a nice meal for their children.
It was a win-win-win situation: None of us needed yet another tchotke, we all dodged the stress of holiday shopping (finding the perfect gift in a mall that's complete bedlam is no fun), and someone whom we knew could really use the money benefited.

I'm thinking that that's the holiday spirit to which I'd like to return. I've got all that I need, and most of the things I want, too ...
Cake, but No Presents, Please
July 27, 2007

CRANFORD, N.J., July 22 — At Gavin Brown’s 4th birthday party, the usual detritus lined the edges of the backyard: sippy cups, sunscreen, water shoes, stuffed animals. There were 44 guests and as many buns on the grill, in addition to an elaborate ice cream cake adorned with a fire truck. For the adults, there was sangria and savory corn salsa.

But the only gift in sight was a little red Matchbox hook and ladder rig. All the bounty from Gavin’s birthday — $240 in checks and cash collected in a red box next to a plastic fire helmet — went to the Cranford Fire Department.

“Thanks, buddy,” Lt. Frank Genova said on Sunday when Gavin handed over the loot, after which he took a tour of the pumper truck and tried on a real captain’s helmet. With the party proceeds, the birthday boy suggested, the firefighters “can buy new fire trucks, new equipment, and more food.”

In part to teach philanthropy and altruism, and in part as a defense against swarms of random plastic objects destined to clutter every square foot of their living space, a number of families are experimenting with gift-free birthday parties, suggesting that guests donate money or specified items to the charity of the child’s choice instead.

Witness, perhaps, the first hyper-parenting trend that does not reek of wanton excess.

Grown-ups who have everything have long politely requested “presence” instead of presents for later-in-life birthdays and anniversaries, and some couples have recently shunned the wedding registry, instead directing loved ones to donate.

Now, the trickle-down effect: Annie Knapp of Milford, N.J., collected $675 at her Sweet 16 in April for Heifer International, which provides livestock to poor families. Zachary Greene, who lives in the Chicago suburbs, turned 8 in November surrounded by books that his friends brought for a local reading program. And in Randolph, N.J., 6-year-old Jack Knapp (no relation to Annie) even got his grandparents to lug a 50-pound bag of kibble to his party for the local animal shelter.

Maggie Jones, director of Children for Children, a New York nonprofit, said that in the last year the number of participants in the group’s Celebrations program — which encourages “a tradition of giving” around milestones like birthdays, bar or bat mitzvahs and graduations — has more than doubled to 100-plus families. Ms. Jones said that she knew of four private schools in New York City that had made such parties the standard.

Davida Isaacson, a principal with Myerberg Shain & Associates, a fund-raising consulting firm, says that no-gift parties are one prong of a growing movement to involve even the youngest children in philanthropy. Some parents match children’s charitable donations dollar for dollar, she said, while others invite them to research causes and help decide which ones to support.

She recalled one wealthy couple telling their son when he was 18 or 19 that they were dividing their estate as if they had four children instead of three, the fourth being charity.

“The kid stormed out of the room,” she said. “And he came back a few minutes later and said, ‘You know, that’s really neat.’ ”

The gift-free party does have its detractors, most eloquent among them Judith Martin, who writes the Miss Manners syndicated column.

“People seem to forget that you can’t spend other people’s money, even for a good cause,” Ms. Martin said in a phone interview. “Do you really want the birthday child to grow up hating philanthropy because it’s done him out of his birthday presents?”

While she sympathizes with parents’ desire to avoid materialistic feeding frenzies, Ms. Martin advised: “They’d be much better off getting together with the other parents and agreeing on very small presents.” Besides, she noted, children learn valuable lessons giving gifts they would rather keep for themselves — and saying thank you even for things they do not like.

Toyi Ward, president of Favor Party Planning in Somerset, N.J., recalled a slightly traumatic no-gift party in which the birthday boy watched guests pile up items destined for underprivileged children through the group Toys for Tots. “The birthday child was 4, and it was a little difficult, because there were some toys in there he might have really wanted,” Ms. Ward recalled.

Catherine Racette gave the thumbs-down to a recent no-gifts party she attended (bringing a gift anyhow). “I mean, it’s the kid’s birthday,” she wrote on a community bulletin board, “Let them get gifts — that’s kind of the fun of being a kid.”

Bill Doherty, who helped create Birthdays Without Pressure, a Web site opposed to expensive, competitive parties in the Nickelodeon set, said the no-gift notion was “great, especially if the child is involved in choosing the charity,” but cautioned that “it could become another source of competition.”

“Kind of like rich people and their gala charity balls,” he explained, “so people would ask, ‘How much did your child raise for charity?’ ”

In Randolph, N.J., Jack Knapp’s family has a five-year tradition of redirecting birthday benefits: They have collected dress-up clothes for a girl with cancer, items for the pediatric emergency room at Morristown Memorial Hospital and groceries for the Interfaith Food Pantry.

After seeing her two older siblings treated like heroes when they dropped off their haul, the youngest, Emily, recently told her mother, Mindy Knapp, that she wants gifts for her 4th birthday next month to go to the neonatal unit. Not that she can define neonatal.

“She said, ‘Could we give stuff to the babies at the hospital?’ Mrs. Knapp said. “Now they wouldn’t think of doing it any other way.”

Mrs. Knapp said her children’s grandparents “always support whatever cause the kids are into,” but also insist on giving them gifts, noting, “Otherwise it would be like a scene from ‘Mommie Dearest.’ ” As for skeptics, Mrs. Knapp said, “once they come to the party and see how the kids are all so excited, every single parent who expressed any doubt to me has said later, ‘I take it back; it’s a beautiful thing you’re teaching your kids.’ ”

Last year, Jack went to a party for twins where there was what Mrs. Knapp described as “a mountain of birthday presents.”

“He went up to them and said, ‘Wow, who’s getting all that stuff?’ ” she recalled. “It never occurred to him that they were bringing them home.”

Here at Gavin’s party, the 20 children did not bring gifts, but they left with them: organic cotton Ecobags filled with fruit leathers, likewise organic, and wooden toys.

Gavin’s mother, Shelley Brown, said she began talking with her son about the possibility of a present-free party several months ago. “We’re trying to raise him in a way of not being too much of a consumer,” said Ms. Brown, 35, who carried his year-old brother, Griffin, in a sling most of the afternoon. “He definitely has enough things.”

Kyle Miller of Cranford, whose 2-year-old daughter, Cady, attended the party, appreciated the life lesson that came with it. “We’re incredibly fortunate — we have an abundance of material things — but maybe that’s not the message we want to give our kids,” she said. “We want a different message.”

Another guest, Glenn Johnson, admitted to being a bit nervous about the prospect of showing up at a child’s party empty-handed (though he did bring $20 for the firefighters). So a model airplane, neatly wrapped, sat outside in his Toyota, just in case.

mapping our world

I'm a big fan of consumer-generated content communities like Yelp.

I'm also harnessing the experience of others to take better photos when I travel. Here's how: I geotag my photos on Flickr and learn more about the places I've visited by seeing what other people have geotagged for the same locations. I'm also planning to scope out new places for good photo ops before going on my next trip.
With Tools on Web, Amateurs Reshape Mapmaking
Published: July 27, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO, July 26 — On the Web, anyone can be a mapmaker.

With the help of simple tools introduced by Internet companies recently, millions of people are trying their hand at cartography, drawing on digital maps and annotating them with text, images, sound and videos.

In the process, they are reshaping the world of mapmaking and collectively creating a new kind of atlas that is likely to be both richer and messier than any other.

They are also turning the Web into a medium where maps will play a more central role in how information is organized and found.

Already there are maps of biodiesel fueling stations in New England, yarn stores in Illinois and hydrofoils around the world. Many maps depict current events, including the detours around a collapsed Bay Area freeway and the path of two whales that swam up the Sacramento River delta in May.

James Lamb of Federal Way, Wash., created an online map to illustrate the spread of graffiti in his town and asked other residents to contribute to it. “Any time you can take data and represent it visually, you can start to recognize patterns and see where you need to put resources,” said Mr. Lamb, whose map now pinpoints, often with photographs, nearly 100 sites that have been vandalized.

Increasingly, people will be able to point their favorite mapping service to a specific location and discover many layers of information about it: its hotels and watering holes, its crime statistics and school rankings, its weather and environmental conditions, the recent news events and the history that have shaped it. A good portion of this information is being contributed by ordinary Web users.

In aggregate, these maps are similar to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, in that they reflect the collective knowledge of millions of contributors.

“What is happening is the creation of this extremely detailed map of the world that is being created by all the people in the world,” said John V. Hanke, director of Google Maps and Google Earth. “The end result is that there will be a much richer description of the earth.”

This fast-growing GeoWeb, as industry insiders call it, is in part a byproduct of the Internet search wars involving Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others. In the race to popularize their map services — and dominate the potentially lucrative market for local advertising on maps — these companies have created the tools that are allowing people with minimal technical skills to do what only professional mapmakers were able to do before.

“It is a revolution,” said Matthew H. Edney, director of the History of Cartography Project at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “Now with all sorts of really very accessible, very straightforward tools, anybody can make maps. They can select data, they can add data, they can communicate it with others. It truly has moved the power of map production into a completely new arena.”

Online maps have provided driving directions and helped Web users find businesses for years. But the Web mapping revolution began in earnest two years ago, when leading Internet companies first allowed programmers to merge their maps with data from outside sources to make “mash-ups.” Since then, for example, more than 50,000 programmers have used Google Maps to create mash-ups for things like apartment rentals in San Francisco and the paths of airplanes in flight.

Yet that is nothing compared with the boom that is now under way. In April, Google unveiled a service called My Maps that makes it easy for users to create customized maps. Since then, users of the service have created more than four million maps of everything from where to find good cheap food in New York to summer festivals in Europe.

More than a million maps have been created with a service from Microsoft called Collections, and 40,000 with tools from Platial, a technology start-up. MotionBased, a Web site owned by Garmin, the navigation device maker, lets users upload data they record on the move with a Global Positioning System receiver. It has amassed more than 1.3 million maps of hikes, runs, mountain bike rides and other adventures.

On the Flickr photo-sharing service owned by Yahoo, users have “geotagged” more than 25 million pictures, providing location data that allows them to be viewed on a map or through 3-D visualization software like Google Earth.

The maps sketched by this new generation of cartographers range from the useful to the fanciful and from the simple to the elaborate. Their accuracy, as with much that is on the Web, cannot be taken for granted.

“Some people are potentially going to do really stupid things with these tools,” said Donald Cooke, chief scientist at Tele Atlas North America, a leading supplier of digital street maps. “But you can also go hiking with your G.P.S. unit, and you can create a more accurate depiction of a trail than on a U.S.G.S. map,” Mr. Cooke said, referring to the United States Geological Survey.

April Johnson, a Web developer from Nashville, has used a G.P.S. device to create dozens of maps, including many of endurance horse races — typically 25-to-50-mile treks through rural trails or parks.

“You can’t buy these maps, because no one has made them,” Ms. Johnson said.

Angie Fura used one of Ms. Johnson’s maps to help organize the Trace Tribute, an endurance ride on trails near Nashville, and distributed the map to dozens of other riders. “It gives riders an opportunity to understand what the race is like, and it allows them to condition their horses in accordance,” Ms. Fura said.

Until recently, most Web maps were separate islands that could be viewed only one at a time and were sometimes hard to find. But Google and Microsoft have developed tools that make it possible for multiple layers of data to be viewed on a single map. And Google is working to make it easier to search through all online maps.

Now, a tourist heading to, say, Maui can find the hotels and restaurants on the island and display them on a map that also superimposes photos from Flickr and users’ reviews of various beaches.

The same information is quickly moving from two-dimensional to three-dimensional renderings. Microsoft, for example, has created 3-D models of 100 cities worldwide and aims to have 500 models in the next year.

“You will have a digital replica of the world in true 3-D,” said Erik Jorgensen, general manager of Live Search at Microsoft.

For the Internet search companies, these efforts are part of a race to capture the expected advertising bonanza that will come as users browse through these maps in search of businesses and services.

In the process, they are creating technologies whose impact could be similar to those of desktop publishing software, which turned millions of computer users into publishers.

“The possibilities for doing amazing kinds of things, to tell stories or to help tell stories with maps, are just endless,” said Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media, a project affiliated with Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and the journalism school at the University of California in Berkeley.

Some of Mr. Gillmor’s journalism students are working with a researcher at Dartmouth to add photographs, videos and interviews to a map-based project documenting the house-by-house reconstruction of a section of New Orleans. Mr. Gillmor wants local residents to contribute to the project, which uses Platial’s map service.

“The hope is that the community will tell the story of its own recovery with the map as the dashboard,” he said. “We have just seen the beginning of what people are going to do with this stuff.”

jeudi, juillet 26, 2007

a bone of contention

Divorce is never fun, and deciding who gets what is bad enough when it comes to things. Enter kids and pets and it's a whole new story.

Cass told us about an NPR story this weekend that detailed how an ex-husband used a German Shepherd to punish his ex-wife. The dog loved bratwurst and the man would routinely feed the old dog bratwurst on Sunday nights, right before returning the dog to his ex, who would then have to deal with the aftermath.

mercredi, juillet 25, 2007

more addictive than crack

639 pages down, 120 to go.
Update: 759 pages down. (I finished it at lunch.)

Harry Potter vs. Playstation

embracing my inner überbeeyotch

I have a habit of taking one for the team.

Just yesterday, I was on my way to an afternoon's worth of meetings when my assistant asked for more information to finish a task I'd asked her to do. I instinctively offered to do the legwork to research the answer. Then, my colleague Allison piped up and said to my assistant: "just call x."

Delegating was the right thing to do. It meant my assistant could get answers far more quickly than I would and that the job would be done sooner. It also meant one less thing to fall off my already-full plate.

That's not to say that I think you should just say "figure it out" when someone asks a question. But there's a difference between knowing whom to call and making the call myself. And I think it's more helpful to my assistant if she learns whom to call.

Note to self: it's time to be less helpful and to encourage others to help themselves. It's good for me. And good for them.
Stop Being So Nice to Your Co-workers
By Kate Lorenz, Editor

Do nice guys finish last at work, too?

A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology says yes. Dr. Nikos Bozionelos of the University of Sheffield in England researched personality and career success and found that white-collar workers who were the most agreeable, conscientious and sensitive to the needs of others were less likely to be promoted.

Bozionelos believes it's because they don't put their own needs first: "Agreeable people tend to self-sacrifice and compromise their own interests to make others happy." And because "nice" people do things just to please others, they often are given low-profile tasks no one else wants and wind up doing activities that don't enhance their careers. Because American culture celebrates forcefulness -- even aggression -- researcher and author Gary Namie says the altruistic have it just as rough here in the United States, where, "Nice gets you in trouble. Nice gets you exploited."

Author and executive coach Dr. Lois Frankel says there are a number of ways nice people undermine themselves. Here are five of the most common, along with tips for (pleasantly) breaking the cycle:

1. You Let Others' Mistakes Inconvenience You
Before rearranging your life to correct someone else's mistake, assess the risk versus the reward of meeting unreasonable expectations. At times you'll have no choice but to jump in to put out the fire. But there will also be times when you have the latitude to push back and say, "This isn't what we originally discussed and agreed to. Since I'll have to rethink the plan and put more time into it than anticipated, I won't be able to have it completed by the initially proposed deadline." Let the person know you want to provide the best service possible -- and ask for the time and resources needed.

2. You Let Others Take Credit For Your Ideas
Ever suggest an idea that seemed to fall flat, only to find out later it was implemented and someone else got the credit? To avoid having others steal your ideas, make sure you state them loudly and confidently or put them in writing. If you're at a meeting and someone proposes the same thing you've previously suggested, call attention to it by saying, "Sounds like you're building on my original suggestion, and I would certainly support that."

3. You Apologize Unnecessarily
Save your apologies for big-time bloopers. When you do make a mistake worth apologizing for, apologize only once, then move into problem-solving mode. Objectively assess what went wrong and ways to fix it. Always begin from a place of equality, for example: "Based on the information initially provided to me, I had no idea that was your expectation. Tell me more about what you had in mind and I'll make the necessary revisions."

4. You Work Without Breaks
Use your vacation days; take your lunch. Working non-stop can make you appear flustered, inefficient and incompetent. It also makes you less productive. To maintain maximum levels of concentration and accuracy, experts suggest you take a break every 90 minutes.

5. You Do Others' Work For Them
Recognize when people delegate inappropriately to you and avoid the inclination to solve everyone's problems for them. Practice saying unapologetically, "I'd love to help you out with this, but I'm swamped." Then stop talking. Of course being nice is not all bad. Dr. Bozionelos points out that it can be of great advantage as long as you are aware of and able to adjust your natural tendencies to undervalue yourself and compromise your personal interests. As Dr. Frankel puts it, "When all is said and done, do you really want written on your tombstone: "She Always Put the Needs of the Company Ahead of Her Own?"

Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Other writers contributed to this article.

mardi, juillet 24, 2007

sushi and diet soda not so good for you

Rhiannon's with child and was listing the things that she misses eating the most. Sushi was the thing that jumped to the top of her list. Now I understand why.
Sushi, Diet Soda Latest Health Targets
BY BRADLEY HOPE - Staff Reporter of the Sun
July 24, 2007

Two foods once thought healthy — sushi and diet soda — pose grave health threats, according to two studies released yesterday.

The city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is launching a campaign against sushi, encouraging women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to have children in the near future to stop eating raw fish and cut down on their intake of even cooked fish with high levels of mercury. The campaign was prompted by a citywide survey that showed that women of childbearing age in New York had three times the level of mercury in their blood stream as did women in the same age group nationwide.

Meanwhile, a study published online in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, by nine researchers affiliated with Harvard, Tufts, Boston University, and the federal government's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute from a center at Boston University found that people who drank one or more soft drinks a day, including diet soda, were 48% more likely to have conditions that lead to heart disease. The thousands of participants of the study had a 31% increased likelihood of becoming obese, a 25% increased risk of high blood sugar, and a higher risk for low levels of "good" cholesterol, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

The soda industry and the seafood industry lashed out at the studies.

"This study doesn't prove any link between soft drinks and increased risk of heart disease. Its assertions defy the existing body of scientific evidence, as well as common sense," the president of the American Beverage Association, Susan Neely, said of the soda study. "It is scientifically implausible to suggest that diet soft drinks — a beverage that is 99 percent water — cause weight gain or elevated blood pressure."

"It is extremely important to eat seafood during pregnancy," a spokeswoman for the National Fisheries Institute, Stacey Viera, said. She complained that the brochure issued by the city of New York "muddies that message."

She said that 90% of the fish consumed in America are "fairly low in mercury, if any mercury is detected at all."

The chef de cuisine at Sea Grill, a fish restaurant in Rockefeller Center, Jawn Chasteen, said the city's campaign against mercury in seafood could "affect the restaurant pretty severely."

"People will still come to the restaurant but something like that would seem to affect sales," the chef said.

The amount of mercury found in most of the 1,811 people surveyed by the city poses little if any threat to most adults, but could negatively affect the development of the brain of a fetus or young child, city health officials said.

The survey found an average level of 2.64 micrograms or mercury a liter of blood in women between the ages of 20 and 49, compared with a national average of 0.83 micrograms in women of the same age range.

The heightened levels were correlated with the fish consumption reported by the survey's participants. Recent immigrants from China and people from the highest income bracket had especially high levels.

"This is an issue for the short period of time that a woman may be pregnant," the department's assistant commissioner of environmental surveillance and policy, Daniel Kass, said. "What we're saying to those groups of people is ‘keep eating fish, but choose fish that are lower in mercury.'"

The department created a brochure that categorizes fish by how much mercury they have. The brochure recommends that pregnant or breastfeeding women and young children not eat Chilean sea bass, tilefish, tuna, or swordfish, while salmon, tilapia, and shrimp are okay to be eaten up to five times a week. Dinners of lobster or bass should be limited to once a week at most, the brochure says.

It also recommends that pregnant women avoid sushi because it can have "harmful bacteria."

An doctor at SoHo Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dena Harris, said that she recommends her patients limit their intake of high-mercury fish and raw fish.

There is nothing wrong with eating some types of sushi, but the risks posed by any raw food could affect a pregnancy, she said.

"You don't want to get sick while you're pregnant because it is very hard to treat," she said. Of sushi, she said: "You could eat it, but I would think twice about where you are eating."

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women avoid high-mercury fish because consumption can harm the developing fetus and to avoid raw foods and unpasteurized milk because a bacteria sometimes found in raw food, listeriosis, can cause stillbirth and miscarriage, according to a 2007 pamphlet titled "Nutrition During Pregnancy."

New Yorkers who had incomes of more than $75,000 had an average of 3.6 micrograms of mercury a liter of blood, while those who made less than $25,000 had 2.4 micrograms a liter. Asian women averaged 4.1 micrograms per liter.

"It is one of those curious paradoxes," a professor of environmental science and director of the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University, Robert Lawrence, said. "The higher income women are probably having grilled swordfish and tuna. The Asian women may be eating tilefish and giant king mackerel."

Dr. Lawrence said that it was important that the city's message emphasize that eating seafood is an important part of a diet, particularly for a pregnant woman trying to increase her intake of certain fish oils that are important for brain development.

He and other experts said that increased mercury levels in the body present a danger to health.

"The cumulative effect of all these toxins creeping into our diet are of considerable concern," a professor at the Columbia University Medical Center, Mady Hornig, said.

The soda study found that middle-aged adults drinking one soft drink a day or more increased their likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that increase the risk for heart disease. The "risk factors," or conditions, include increased waist circumference, blood glucose, trigylicerides, and blood pressure, as well as reduced "good" cholesterol in the body.

"We were struck by he fact that it didn't matter whether it was a diet or regular soda that participants consumed," a senior author of the study, Ramachandran Vasan, said in a report posted yesterday on the Web site of a Pennsylvania television station, WJAC. He also said that the issue required more study to understand why diet soda was causing the symptoms.

A spokeswoman for the city Department of Health, Sara Markt, said the city encourages people to drink water as a substitute for soft drinks.
Via Leo

explain the assless chaps, then

I'm a big fan of Overheard in New York. Here's a recent favorite:
Fat lady walking Pit Bull: The cop told me I have to put a muzzle on my dog.
Friend: Are you?
Fat lady: Hell no. Does my dog look like he's into kinky shit?!

--115th & Broadway

Overheard by: nassah

olden retriever

Casey turned 15 this week. It's not every day that a dog turns 15, especially a large breed like a Golden Retriever. And then there's the sad fact that he's not going to be around for a 16th birthday ... so Leo and I opted to get everyone together for a bbq.

We checked out doggie cakes (out of curiosity about what's in them — kittens? cat poop?) but opted for a cheaper (and tastier) human-friendly Boston Cream Pie with fresh strawberries instead. The usual suspects showed up: Cass and Josh, Diana and Ophira (and Shiri), Rhiannon and Zach. We also had some other guests: soccer Kim and Omer, who's here from Phoenix for the week.

I'm glad to say that it was a dignified, low-key get-together. There were no party hats, no singing, and no gifts. (Who dresses their dog in organic cotton designer dog clothes and dog kimonos anyway?) All of us (save Shiri, D and Ophy's dog) enjoyed pollo asado, sausage, cheese, chips, watermelon, and cake. And Casey came home tired and slept hard that evening and the next day.

101 simple meals ready in 10 minutes or less

For other fans of simple, quick, fresh food. (But I suspect that having these items at the ready will require more than 10 minutes of shopping.)
The Minimalist
Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less

Published: July 18, 2007

The pleasures of cooking are sometimes obscured by summer haze and heat, which can cause many of us to turn instead to bad restaurants and worse takeout. But the cook with a little bit of experience has a wealth of quick and easy alternatives at hand. The trouble is that when it’s too hot, even the most resourceful cook has a hard time remembering all the options. So here are 101 substantial main courses, all of which get you in and out of the kitchen in 10 minutes or less. (I’m not counting the time it takes to bring water to a boil, but you can stay out of the kitchen for that.) These suggestions are not formal recipes; rather, they provide a general outline. With a little imagination and some swift moves — and maybe a salad and a loaf of bread — you can turn any dish on this list into a meal that not only will be better than takeout, but won’t heat you out of the house.

1 Make six-minute eggs: simmer gently, run under cold water until cool, then peel. Serve over steamed asparagus.

2 Toss a cup of chopped mixed herbs with a few tablespoons of olive oil in a hot pan. Serve over angel-hair pasta, diluting the sauce if necessary with pasta cooking water.

3 Cut eight sea scallops into four horizontal slices each. Arrange on plates. Sprinkle with lime juice, salt and crushed chilies; serve after five minutes.

4 Open a can of white beans and combine with olive oil, salt, small or chopped shrimp, minced garlic and thyme leaves in a pan. Cook, stirring, until the shrimp are done; garnish with more olive oil.

5 Put three pounds of washed mussels in a pot with half a cup of white wine, garlic cloves, basil leaves and chopped tomatoes. Steam until mussels open. Serve with bread.

6 Heat a quarter-inch of olive oil in a skillet. Dredge flounder or sole fillets in flour and fry until crisp, about two minutes a side. Serve on sliced bread with tartar sauce.

7 Make pesto: put a couple of cups of basil leaves, a garlic clove, salt, pepper and olive oil as necessary in a blender (walnuts and Parmesan are optional). Serve over pasta (dilute with oil or water as necessary) or grilled fish or meat.

8 Put a few dozen washed littlenecks in a large, hot skillet with olive oil. When clams begin to open, add a tablespoon or two of chopped garlic. When most or all are opened, add parsley. Serve alone, with bread or over angel-hair pasta.

9 Pan-grill a skirt steak for three or four minutes a side. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, slice and serve over romaine or any other green salad, drizzled with olive oil and lemon.

10 Smear mackerel fillets with mustard, then sprinkle with chopped herbs (fresh tarragon is good), salt, pepper and bread crumbs. Bake in a 425-degree oven for about eight minutes.

11 Warm olive oil in a skillet with at least three cloves sliced garlic. When the garlic colors, add at least a teaspoon each of cumin and pimentón. A minute later, add a dozen or so shrimp, salt and pepper. Garnish with parsley, serve with lemon and bread.

12 Boil a lobster. Serve with lemon or melted butter.

13 Gazpacho: Combine one pound tomatoes cut into chunks, a cucumber peeled and cut into chunks, two or three slices stale bread torn into pieces, a quarter-cup olive oil, two tablespoons sherry vinegar and a clove of garlic in a blender with one cup water and a couple of ice cubes. Process until smooth, adding water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper, then serve or refrigerate, garnished with anchovies if you like, and a little more olive oil.

14 Put a few slices of chopped prosciutto in a skillet with olive oil, a couple of cloves of crushed garlic and a bit of butter; a minute later, toss in about half a cup bread crumbs and red chili flakes to taste. Serve over pasta with chopped parsley.

15 Call it panini: Grilled cheese with prosciutto, tomatoes, thyme or basil leaves.

16 Slice or chop salami, corned beef or kielbasa and warm in a little oil; stir in eggs and scramble. Serve with mustard and rye bread.

17 Soak couscous in boiling water to cover until tender; top with sardines, tomatoes, parsley, olive oil and black pepper.

18 Stir-fry a pound or so of ground meat or chopped fish mixed with chopped onions and seasoned with cumin or chili powder. Pile into taco shells or soft tacos, along with tomato, lettuce, canned beans, onion, cilantro and sour cream.

19 Chinese tomato and eggs: Cook minced garlic in peanut oil until blond; add chopped tomatoes then, a minute later, beaten eggs, along with salt and pepper. Scramble with a little soy sauce.

20 Cut eggplant into half-inch slices. Broil with lots of olive oil, turning once, until tender and browned. Top with crumbled goat or feta cheese and broil another 20 seconds.

21 While pasta cooks, combine a couple cups chopped tomatoes, a teaspoon or more minced garlic, olive oil and 20 to 30 basil leaves. Toss with pasta, salt, pepper and Parmesan.

22 Make wraps of tuna, warm white beans, a drizzle of olive oil and lettuce and tomato.

23 The New York supper: Bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon. Serve with tomatoes, watercress or arugula, and sliced red onion or shallot.

24 Dredge thinly sliced chicken breasts in flour or cornmeal; cook about two minutes a side in hot olive oil. Place on bread with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.

25 Upscale tuna salad: good canned tuna (packed in olive oil), capers, dill or parsley, lemon juice but no mayo. Use to stuff a tomato or two.

26 Cut Italian sausage into chunks and brown in a little olive oil; chop onions and bell peppers and add them to the pan. Cook until sausage is browned and peppers and onions tender. Serve in sandwiches.

27 Egg in a hole, glorified: Tear a hole in a piece of bread and fry in butter. Crack an egg into the hole. Deglaze pan with a little sherry vinegar mixed with water, and more butter; pour over egg.

28 New Joe’s Special, from San Francisco: Brown ground meat with minced garlic and chopped onion. When just about cooked, add chopped spinach and cook, stirring, until wilted. At the last minute, stir in two eggs, along with grated Parmesan and salt and pepper.

29 Chop prosciutto and crisp it in a skillet with olive oil; add chopped not-too-ripe figs. Serve over greens dressed with oil and vinegar; top all with crumbled blue cheese.

30 Quesadilla: Use a combination of cheeses, like Fontina mixed with grated pecorino. Put on half of a large flour tortilla with pickled jalapenos, chopped onion, shallot or scallion, chopped tomatoes and grated radish. Fold tortilla over and brown on both sides in butter or oil, until cheese is melted.

31 Fast chile rellenos: Drain canned whole green chilies. Make a slit in each and insert a piece of cheese. Dredge in flour and fry in a skillet, slit side up, until cheese melts.

32 Cobb-ish salad: Chop bacon and begin to brown it; cut boneless chicken into strips and cook it with bacon. Toss romaine and watercress or arugula with chopped tomatoes, avocado, onion and crumbled blue cheese. Add bacon and chicken. Dress with oil and vinegar.

33 Sauté 10 whole peeled garlic cloves in olive oil. Meanwhile, grate Pecorino, grind lots of black pepper, chop parsley and cook pasta. Toss all together, along with crushed dried chili flakes and salt.

34 Niçoise salad: Lightly steam haricot verts, green beans or asparagus. Arrange on a plate with chickpeas, good canned tuna, hard-cooked eggs, a green salad, sliced cucumber and tomato. Dress with oil and vinegar.

35 Cold soba with dipping sauce: Cook soba noodles, then rinse in cold water until cool. Serve with a sauce of soy sauce and minced ginger diluted with mirin and/or dry sake.

36 Fried egg “saltimbocca”: Lay slices of prosciutto or ham in a buttered skillet. Fry eggs on top of ham; top with grated Parmesan.

37 Frisée aux lardons: Cook chunks of bacon in a skillet. Meanwhile, make six-minute or poached eggs and a frisée salad. Put eggs on top of salad along with bacon; deglaze pan with sherry vinegar and pour pan juices over all.

38 Fried rice: Soften vegetables with oil in a skillet. Add cold takeout rice, chopped onion, garlic, ginger, peas and two beaten eggs. Toss until hot and cooked through. Season with soy sauce and sesame oil.

39 Taco salad: Toss together greens, chopped tomato, chopped red onion, sliced avocado, a small can of black beans and kernels from a couple of ears of corn. Toss with crumbled tortilla chips and grated cheese. Dress with olive oil, lime and chopped cilantro leaves.

40 Put a large can of chickpeas and their liquid in a medium saucepan. Add some sherry, along with olive oil, plenty of minced garlic, smoked pimentón and chopped Spanish chorizo. Heat through.

41 Raita to the rescue: Broil any fish. Serve with a sauce of drained yogurt mixed with chopped cucumber, minced onion and cayenne.

42 Season boneless lamb steaks cut from the leg with sweet curry powder. Sear on both sides. Serve over greens, with lemon wedges.

43 Migas, with egg: Sauté chopped stale bread with olive oil, mushrooms, onions and spinach. Stir in a couple of eggs.

44 Migas, without egg: Sauté chopped stale bread with chopped Spanish chorizo, plenty of garlic and lots of olive oil. Finish with chopped parsley.

45 Sauté shredded zucchini in olive oil, adding garlic and chopped herbs. Serve over pasta.

46 Broil a few slices prosciutto until crisp; crumble and toss with parsley, Parmesan, olive oil and pasta.

47 Not exactly banh mi, but... Make sandwiches on crisp bread with liverwurst, ham, sliced half-sours, shredded carrots, cilantro sprigs and Vietnamese chili-garlic paste.

48 Not takeout: Stir-fry onions with cut-up broccoli. Add cubed tofu, chicken or shrimp, or sliced beef or pork, along with a tablespoon each minced garlic and ginger. When almost done, add half cup of water, two tablespoons soy sauce and plenty of black pepper. Heat through and serve over fresh Chinese noodles.

49 Sprinkle sole fillets with chopped parsley, garlic, salt and pepper; roll up, dip in flour, then beaten egg, then bread crumbs; cook in hot olive oil about three minutes a side. Serve with lemon wedges.

50 The Waldorf: Toast a handful of walnuts in a skillet. Chop an apple or pear; toss with greens, walnuts and a dressing made with olive oil, sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard and shallot. Top, if you like, with crumbled goat or blue cheese.

51 Put a stick of butter and a handful of pine nuts in a skillet. Cook over medium heat until both are brown. Toss with cooked pasta, grated Parmesan and black pepper.

52 Grill or sauté Italian sausage and serve over store-bought hummus, with lemon wedges.

53 Put a tablespoon of cream and a slice of tomato in each of several small ramekins. Top with an egg, then salt, pepper and grated Parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees until the eggs set. Serve with toast.

54 Brown small pork (or hot dog) chunks in a skillet. Add white beans, garlic, thyme and olive oil. Or add white beans and ketchup.

55 Dredge skate or flounder in flour and brown quickly in butter or oil. Deglaze pan with a couple of spoonfuls of capers and a lot of lemon juice or a little vinegar.

56 Make a fast tomato sauce of olive oil, chopped tomatoes and garlic. Poach eggs in the sauce, then top with Parmesan.

57 Dip pork cutlets in egg, then dredge heavily in panko; brown quickly on both sides. Serve over lettuce, with fresh lemon, or bottled Japanese curry sauce.

58 Cook chicken livers in butter or oil with garlic; do not overcook. Finish with parsley, lemon juice and coarse salt; serve over toast.

59 Brown bratwursts with cut-up apples. Serve with coleslaw.

60 Peel and thinly slice raw beets; cook in butter until soft. Take out of pan and quickly cook some shrimp in same pan. Deglaze pan with sherry vinegar, adding sauce to beets and shrimp. Garnish with dill.

61 Poach shrimp and plunge into ice water. Serve with cocktail sauce: one cup ketchup, one tablespoon vinegar, three tablespoons melted butter and lots of horseradish.

62 Southeast Asia steak salad: Pan- or oven-grill skirt or flank steak. Slice and serve on a pile of greens with a sauce of one tablespoon each of nam pla and lime juice, black pepper, a teaspoon each of sugar and garlic, crushed red chili flakes and Thai basil.

63 Miso steak: Coat beef tenderloin steaks (filet mignon) with a blend of miso and chili paste thinned with sake or white wine. Grill or broil about five minutes.

64 Pasta with fresh tomatoes: Cook chopped fresh tomatoes in butter or oil with garlic until tender, while pasta cooks. Combine and serve with grated Parmesan.

65 Sauté squid rings and tentacles in olive oil with salt and pepper and garlic; add chopped tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes break down. Serve over pasta.

66 Salmon (or just about anything else) teriyaki: Sear salmon steaks on both sides for a couple of minutes; remove. To skillet, add a splash of water, sake, a little sugar and soy sauce; when mixture is thick, return steaks to pan and turn in sauce until done. Serve hot or at room temperature.

67 Rich vegetable soup: Cook asparagus tips and peeled stalks or most any other green vegetable in chicken stock with a little tarragon until tender; reserve a few tips and purée the rest with a little butter (cream or yogurt, too, if you like) adding enough stock to thin the purée. Garnish with the reserved tips. Serve hot or cold.

68 Brush portobello caps with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper and broil until tender. Briefly sweat chopped onions, then scramble eggs with them. Put eggs in mushrooms.

69 Buy good blintzes. Brown them on both sides in butter. Serve with sour cream, apple sauce or both.

70 Sauté squid rings and tentacles in olive oil with salt and pepper. Make a sauce of minced garlic, smoked pimentón, mayo, lots of lemon juice and fresh parsley. Serve with a chopped salad of cucumber, tomato, lettuce, grated carrot and scallion, lightly dressed.

71 Press a lot of coarsely ground black pepper onto both sides of filet mignon or other steaks or chopped meat patties. Brown in butter in a skillet for two minutes a side. Remove steaks and add a splash of red wine, chopped shallots and a bit of tarragon to skillet. Reduce, then return steaks to pan, turning in the sauce for a minute or two.

72 World’s leading sandwich: prosciutto, tomato, butter or olive oil and a baguette.

73 Near instant mezze: Combine hummus on a plate with yogurt laced with chopped cucumbers and a bit of garlic, plus tomato, feta, white beans with olive oil and pita bread.

74 Canned sardines packed in olive oil on Triscuits, with mustard and Tabasco.

75 Boil-and-eat shrimp, cooked in water with Old Bay seasoning or a mixture of thyme, garlic, paprika, chopped onion, celery, chili, salt and pepper.

76 Make a thin plain omelet with two or three eggs. Sauté cubes of bacon or pancetta or strips of prosciutto until crisp. Cut up the omelet and use it and the meat to garnish a green salad dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

77 Sear corn kernels in olive oil with minced jalapeños and chopped onions; toss with cilantro, black beans, chopped tomatoes, chopped bell pepper and lime.

78 Cook shrimp in a skillet slowly (five minutes or so) to preserve their juices, with plenty of garlic and olive oil, until done; pour over watercress or arugula, with lemon, pepper and salt.

79 Liverwurst on good sourdough rye with scallions, tomato and wholegrain mustard.

80 Not-quite merguez: Ground lamb burgers seasoned with cumin, garlic, onion, salt and cayenne. Serve with couscous and green salad, along with bottled harissa.

81 Combine crab meat with mayo, Dijon mustard, chives and tarragon. Serve in a sandwich, with potato chips.

82 Combine canned tuna in olive oil, halved grape tomatoes, black olives, mint, lemon zest and red pepper flakes. Serve with pasta, thinning with olive oil or pasta cooking water as needed.

83 Pit and chop a cup or more of mixed olives. Combine with olive oil, a little minced garlic, red pepper flakes and chopped basil or parsley. Serve over pasta.

84 Cook chopped tomatillos with a little water or stock, cilantro and a little minced fresh chili; serve over grilled, broiled or sautéed chicken breasts, with corn tortillas.

85 A winning sandwich: bresaola or prosciutto, arugula, Parmesan, marinated artichoke hearts, tomato.

86 Smoked trout fillets served with lightly toasted almonds, shredded fennel, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of lemon.

87 Grated carrots topped with six-minute eggs (run under cold water until cool before peeling), olive oil and lemon juice.

88 Cut the top off four big tomatoes; scoop out the interiors and mix them with toasted stale baguette or pita, olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs (basil, tarragon, and/or parsley). Stuff into tomatoes and serve with salad.

89 Pasta frittata: Turn cooked pasta and a little garlic into an oiled or buttered skillet. Brown, pressing to create a cake. Flip, then top with three or four beaten eggs and loads of Parmesan. Brown other side and serve.

90 Thai-style beef: Thinly slice one and a half pounds of flank steak, pork shoulder or boneless chicken; heat peanut oil in a skillet, add meat and stir. A minute later, add a tablespoon minced garlic and some red chili flakes. Add 30 clean basil leaves, a quarter cup of water and a tablespoon or two of soy sauce or nam pla. Serve with lime juice and more chili flakes, over rice or salad.

91 Dredge calf’s liver in flour. Sear in olive oil or butter or a combination until crisp on both sides, adding salt and pepper as it cooks; it should be medium-rare. Garnish with parsley and lemon juice.

92 Rub not-too-thick pork or lamb chops with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper plus sage or thyme. Broil about three minutes a side and drizzle with good balsamic vinegar.

93 Cut up Italian sausage into chunks and brown in a little olive oil until just about done. Dump in a lot of seedless grapes and, if you like, a little slivered garlic and chopped rosemary. Cook, stirring, until the grapes are hot. Serve with bread.

94 Ketchup-braised tofu: Dredge large tofu cubes in flour. Brown in oil; remove from skillet and wipe skillet clean. Add a little more oil, then a tablespoon minced garlic; 30 seconds later, add one and a half cups ketchup and the tofu. Cook until sauce bubbles and tofu is hot.

95 Veggie burger: Drain and pour a 14-ounce can of beans into a food processor with an onion, half a cup rolled oats, a tablespoon chili powder or other spice mix, an egg, salt and pepper. Process until mushy, then shape into burgers, adding a little liquid or oats as necessary. Cook in oil about three minutes a side and serve.

96 A Roman classic: In lots of olive oil, lightly cook lots of slivered garlic, with six or so anchovy fillets and a dried hot chili or two. Dress pasta with this.

97 So-called Fettuccine Alfredo: Heat several tablespoons of butter and about half a cup of cream in a large skillet just until the cream starts to simmer. Add slightly undercooked fresh pasta to the skillet, along with plenty of grated Parmesan. Cook over low heat, tossing, until pasta is tender and hot.

98 Rub flank steak or chuck with curry or chili powder before broiling or grilling, then slice thin across the grain.

99 Cook a couple of pounds of shrimp, shell on or off, in oil, with lots of chopped garlic. When they turn pink, remove; deglaze the pan with a half-cup or so of beer, along with a splash of Worcestershire sauce, cayenne, rosemary and a lump of butter. Serve with bread.

100 Cook red lentils in water with a little cumin and chopped bacon until soft. Top with poached or six-minute eggs (run under cold water until cool before peeling) and a little sherry vinegar.

101 Hot dogs on buns — with beans!