My trials and tribulations with self help

I am reading Jon Acuff‘s book “Do Over”. It is a long book. Nothing wrong about wanting to write a longer book than necessary. But wanting to write is one thing and reading it is another. Why so many wisecracks? We get it. You are smart. And, truth be told, your book is a good reminder to build character, skills, network and work ethics. Thank you for that. The Take Home Message is a good one. It is a good premise. But why distract the reader with your random diversions just to show how good you are with words?

Is it just me who thinks most self help books are like a monolog by people with huge egos? “I have it figured out. Here are some tips for you suckers.” Even in the sections where the author criticizes himself, it sounds like he is trying to show off.

I did not use the pronoun “he” to refer to Jon Acuff nor to the general pronoun. I am referring to the male writer. The male writer who knows it all. The male writer who will mansplain this complex issue to us. On the other hand, most self help books written by women do not make big claims. When they should!!! (Gift of Failure.)

For most self help books, by page 50, I start to resent the time I spend on the book. One self help (if it can be called that) book that I read without feeling any resentment was Stephen King’s book “On Writing”. King is a pretty grandiose character, too. That does come across in the book. But a. He is Stephen King b. He practices what he preaches, namely, he cuts out 10% at each edit. I wish most self help books could be written with a “tighter” control of language. This “Do Over” book certainly needed that.

My biggest help during my PhD was Mr. Rogers. I still come back to him saying “I’m not very good at drawing. But it doesn’t matter.” when I am feeling incompetent.  In fact, this bit by Mr. Rogers is a fantastic summary of most self help books.

I am always surprised to read these self help books written with such confidence and certitude. How do they do that? When all of science is about curiosity and questions, how can these people make statements as if they are facts. How come all scientists suffer from imposter syndrome and the non-scientists (or even pseudoscientists) feel so free to take the mic?

In any case, the book Do Over is a good one but it is long, and overreaching. I will finish it. And then I plan to read “Finish”. I thought I would ramble on about this book first. I won’t even edit this post to cut down superfluous words. Why should I?


The real thing

All these didactic words required or even mandated to have a message. Delivered fast. Everybody is so smart, witty, having the best time of their lives, taking amazing pictures with the most representative and most sought after hashtag. Things are going their way; they have success, fame, joy, wisdom. They want to impart their wisdom. Oh me too. I’m trying to jump in that bandwagon. But life is not like that. Life is real. Life is family. Life is sometimes cold sometimes warm. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could accept myself and be calm. Be mindful without the bullshit. To grow up, to be aware, to be an adult and to be a child. Without running away and without pretense. 

Menus for the grad student

During my bored and boring days of grad school, I had a very good group of friends interested in cooking. As a result I started watching cooking shows. I subscribed to Cook for their comparative recipes, I learned from Alton Brown about the Maillard reaction and envied Ina Garten’s amazing Hamptons home she shares with her husband, then the dean of Yale business school. My secret vice: watching Paula Deen with shock and amazement at how many sticks of butter or lard she put in her “paahs”. She did not use a chefs knife (like I didn’t) and just cut up onions in her hand (like I did). As I was watching these shows, cooking started to make sense. There is a pattern and you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen if you recognize this. 

Base: The secret to making Turkish home cooking is in the base, which is simple to make and which freezes well.

  •  Ingredients: 1 kg ground beef, 2 onions, 1/2 can of diced tomatoes (or 2-3 good sized tomatoes) and two tablespoons of oil. 
  • Dice the onions. Dice the tomatoes if not diced
  •  Use a medium sized sauce pan, put the oil in and put the pan on low-medium heat (the purpose is to sweat the onions, not sautée them). Stir occasionally for 5-7 minutes.
  •  When the onions are translucent, add the beef and break it up. Turn up the heat to medium. Stir occasionally and continue to break the meet until the beef is cooked through. Time will depend on size of pan. (It’s all about the heat transfer rate.)
  •  Add the diced tomatoes. Stir well for a few minutes. Now cover the lid, and cook until all liquid is cooked. 

This will make enough base for about 4 family sized vegetable dishes. Once the sauce is cooked, prepare 4-6 containers (ziplock bags, Tupperware but all must be freezer friendly) and divide the base up into these containers. 

To make the vegetable dish:

Zucchini: sautée one diced carrot for a few minutes, add the cubed (1 cmcube) zucchini   (1 kg) and the thawed sauce. Stir and Cover the lid. 20 min

Peas: this is the easiest dish possible. Sautée one diced carrot for a few minutes, add thawed base, one cubed potato and the frozen peas (1 bag). Stir and cover the lid. 30 min

Beans: chop off the two tough ends of the beans. Cut into 3 cm length. Add thawed base and the beans. You can sautée some tomatoes as beans and tomatoes like each other. 

Any of these dishes can be varied by increasing the amount of tomatoes (sautée tomatoes to cook them before adding the base), by adding garlic (do not burn the garlic while sautéing), by adding chopped dill or parsley while serving. Once you have the base in your freezer, you can have a home cooked vegetable dish any day of the week. 

I won’t put recipes here, my go to recipe book is online: William Sonoma recipes. I am not one to follow recipes word for word but one thing I learned: if baking is involved, buy the ingredients and measure them.