chopping onions with gordon, or, how to be a successful human

** New pick by carrots! **

Danny and I suffer from a rare and insidious disorder called Really Terrible Cable Syndrome (RTCS).  Symptoms include unwanted access to fifteen Spanish channels — with wacky game shows! — and a disturbing absence of Bravo and ESPN.  The only cure, apparently, is to shell out an irrational monthly fee to the only cable provider that will service our apartment complex, which we are unwilling to do.

Living with RTCS means living without Top Chef.  We’ve been substituting sub-par culinary reality programming, namely Hell’s Kitchen, but it’s like substituting over-processed generic-brand margarine for butter.  The contestants sweating away in Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen are avid smokers and the opposite of charming.  I would fear eating any entrée they prepare for fear of happening upon a spent cigarette.

Lately, we’ve been watching another Gordon Ramsay creation, Masterchef, and I have to admit that I kind of love it.  I’m particularly smitten with a contestant named Avis, a 47-year-old woman who hugs everyone, even the prickly Gordon, with frightening ferocity. One such hug took place after Avis completed the first Masterchef challenge: to produce a perfect, uniform pile of diced onion.  Introducing the challenge, Masterchef judge Joe Bastianich, the King of Snark and the Deadpan Glare, noted that if you don’t know how to cut an onion, you don’t belong in the kitchen.  The awkward knife skills and flesh wounds that followed proved that quite a few cooks weren’t going to make it.

This made me wonder: what skills do I consider Necessary for Life?  I hate the phrase “life skills,” because it sounds like a class I would be forced to take in high school — but what tasks do I think are indispensable to be a successful human?  I decided to begin compiling a list!  It is certainly not exhaustive, but here goes: The Five Things Carrots Thinks You Have to Know How to Do to be a Successful Human.  (Obviously, writing succinct and effective titles is not on my list).

  1. How to introduce yourself.  Life is a series of First Days Somewhere and, inevitably, those first days involve providing your essential information.  What you decide to reveal about yourself often has more to do with who you’re talking to than who you are, and I think it’s essential to learn how to make measured but immediate judgments about what to say.  Do I tell this person that I love Arby’s roast beef sammiches?  Do I reveal my love of Wilkie Collins?  And, more practically, will going by “doctor” to this person make me appear qualified or pretentious?  Oh — and if you come at me with a creepy limp handshake, you’re dead to me.

  2. How to cook one meal that will please company. You don’t have to be the aforementioned Gordon Ramsay — who can chop an onion with pinpoint precision at lightning speed — but you do have to produce something passably appetizing that doesn’t arrive in a cardboard takeout box.  I have very few of such recipes, but if it came down to the dinner party wire, I could handle it.  Witness: Lemon Chicken with Olives.

  3. How to use a library. I know, I know.  Digital revolution.  But I hold firm that libraries will always be relevant.  You needn’t be intimate with obscure databases (although they’re fun).  But you do need to know how to find a book in the stacks.

  4. How to assemble a simple piece of furniture. I don’t think I would have made it through graduate school if I couldn’t wield an Allen wrench and decipher wordless Ikea instructions.  Someday I hope to buy nice furniture that doesn’t require sorting bolts and unfolding the particle-board sheet you nail to the back of the bookcase — but until that day…

  5. How to manage your own travel plans. Admittedly, negotiating an airport has become quite complicated, what with the mini toiletry bottles and the baggage fees and the check-in machines that, irrationally, still require an attendant.  But to be an official Grown Up, it’s essential to learn how to book a flight, rental car, and hotel; find your way through security and onto the plane; and generally determine how to get where you need to go.  And this is coming from someone who is markedly directionally challenged.  (Danny, by the way, thinks you should be able to get from A to B without the aid of a GPS, but I say this is unnecessarily cruel.  For me, maps are useless documents of pain and confusion.

So — carrots readers!  The few and the proud!  What do you consider essential survival skills?

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8 thoughts on “chopping onions with gordon, or, how to be a successful human

  1. I’ll throw an idea into the ring:

    – How compound interest works. It’s a powerful force with both positive and negative applications. Essentially anyone over 20 will run into some form of it, whether through school loans, mortgages, CDs or money market accounts. The calculations are simple and are useful if not essential in planning one’s financial well being.

    The chicken and olives recipe looks good. Now that it’s on the tail end of summer adding tomatoes to it would make it essentially a cacciatore sauce – sweet and salty. Halibut or veal come to mind as chicken substitutes as well. Is it lunch time yet?

    • Good one, and important for those like me who are afraid of math!

      And the cacciatore idea sounds great. I should head to the farmer’s market!

  2. There was a time last year when we had no cable. When we finally got it back, I cried “those were the longest six months of my LIFE!” to which Matt replied “it was 8 weeks.” Oh. The food shows on PBS just aren’t as appetizing.
    My additions to your list:
    1) Know how to say no. “Can you help with this neighborhood event/cat rescue xyz, bake sale/etc?” Once in awhile sure. All the time? Been there, done that, learned how to say no.
    2) Find someone classy who has a classy comeback for everything and befriend them. I have a 50ish yo friend who I go everytime I need a good comeback. Someone asks us to dinner who I don’t want to actually hang out with? “We haven’t finalized our weekend plans yet.” Want a letter of recommendation from me but I actually hate you? “I make a practice of not doing that, sorry.” Can’t come up with my own classy comebacks so I have a good go-to gal for that. Now as long as she doesn’t start using them on me…

    • Wow is that first one important. I have a friend who lives by the learn-to-say-no mantra “Let me disappoint you.”

  3. Ooh, ooh, this is a good question… I’ll add:
    1) How to hold a pleasant and short conversation with someone you despise, are annoyed by, or just don’t want to talk to. The pleasant part is harder for me than the short part. But, it’s a skill to be kind and get away as quickly as possible.
    2) How to occupy yourself when you’re bored. Now there we’re adults, we can’t yank on our parents’ pant leg and complain that we’re bored. I’m proud to say that I can go to Carolina in my mind long before I feel bored waiting in the DMV line. iPhone apps have also been especially handy.

    P.S. My Dan doesn’t know the dewey decimal system. For shame.

  4. A metaphor for knowing when time is worth more than money: An adult should know how to replace the washer (or o-ring) on a dripping faucet, how to stop a running toilet, how to unstop a drain, and when to call a plumber.
    o

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