Spitfire 944

Here’s a lovely short film (about fifteen minutes) about a tiny slice of World War II history. William Lorton’s great uncle was a doctor in the U.S. Army Air Corps. There, he shot 90 minutes of personal footage of the war, including one segment of a crash on an airstrip in England.

Through a bit of internet detective work, Lorton tracked down the pilot who survived the crash. In the film, the 83-year-old John Blyth tells his story and — for the first time ever — views the footage of the crash. It’s much more interesting than it sounds.

Here’s Spitfire 944:

You can read more about the film at this Sundance Film Festival page and at Wikipedia.

The Flavor Bible: A Cookbook Without Recipes

A couple of months ago, I reconnected with Ken, one of my college roommates. Turns out that 25 years after rooming together, he and I gain live in the same building.

Over dinner at Relish Gastropub — one of my favorite new restaurants in Portland — Ken and I reconnected. We talked about life and love. We talked about money. We talked about food. In the decades since I knew him, Ken has become a professional chef. In fact, he teaches restaurant management at one of the culinary schools here in town.

At one point, the conversation turned to books. “I used to have thousands of books,” I told Ken. “I still have too many. But moving into my new place has forced me to do yet another book purge. If Kim moves in with me, I may have to get rid of even more.”

“Yeah,” Ken said. “I love books too. Especially cookbooks. I have a cookbook problem.” We laughed at the notion he was addicted to cookbooks.

“You know,” I said, “I’ve been doing more cooking now that I have a decent kitchen. I like cooking, but I haven’t done much of it since Kris and I split up. Do you have any cookbook recommendations?”

Ken thought for a moment. “Actually, my favorite cookbook — the one I use all the time — isn’t really a cookbook. It’s called The Flavor Bible, and all it does is list hundreds of different flavor combinations that work well together. I use it as a source of inspiration. Like, if I have beets in the fridge that I need to use, I can look in The Flavor Bible to see that good flavor combinations are beets and butter, or beets and blue cheese, or beets and dijon mustard. It even lists complex flavor combinations such as beets and vinegar and hazelnuts and Gorgonzola.”

“Huh,” I said. “Sounds like my kind of book.”

The Flavor Bible

The Flavor BibleThe next day, I borrowed a copy from the library. I liked it. Not only does The Flavor Bible list matching flavor combinations, it also tells you which flavor combinations to avoid (don’t mix basil and tarragon, for instance). It offers tips and ideas from great chefs around the United States. Some of the tips are short and sweet, like this one from Emily Luchetti of San Francisco’s Farallon:

Blueberries and lemon go really well together. Blueberries are a thick fruit with a lot of pectin in them, and intensely flavored. You need som lemon to cut through that.

In the blueberry section, there are quotes from other chefs that suggest using cinnamon or maple in combination with blueberries.

Other tips are longer. For example, The Flavor Bible includes a sidebar in which Gina DePalma of New York’s Babbo describes how to build a cheese plate. As a guy who likes his cheeses (and likes to build cheese plates), these 250 words are gold.

Though The Flavor Bible doesn’t contain any actual recipes, it does list hundreds of dishes from restaurants around the country, such as:

  • Alaskan king salmon with sugar snap peas
  • Cornish game hens with pomegranate sauce and toasted almonds
  • Leek and asparagus pasta with lemon, parmesan, and poached egg
  • Seaweed and jicama salad with ginger dressing
  • Roasted beet salad with shaved fennel and chèvre

The names and descriptions of these dishes are often enough for inspiration. (Plus, you can sometimes google to find a recipe.)

Sometimes a chef will describe a dish in detail (though not with an actual recipe). I’m eager to try Gabriel Kreuther‘s watermelon salad, which includes a tomato confit and a layer of browned pistachios with salt and pepper. Sounds delicious.

Since I bought this cookbook a month ago, I’ve used it several times each week. Like my friend Ken, I grab The Flavor Bible whenever I have spare food in the fridge that I need to know how to use. Sometimes I use it to figure out how to add another dimension to something I’m making.

Here’s an example. For the next three weeks, Kim and I are doing a plant-based “cleanse” together (with a small portion of lean protein in the evening). As Kim (and Kris) will tell you, I’m not so good when it comes to eating plants. I need help getting creative with them. That’s where The Flavor Bible comes in.

Yesterday I used it for something as simple as a fruit smoothie. I’d already added banana, coconut milk, berries, and vanilla protein powder. “What can I do to punch this up?” I wondered. “Maybe cinnamon?” I pulled down The Flavor Bible. Sure enough, bananas and vanilla combine well with cinnamon, and berries are on okay flavor match. I added a bit of cinnamon to the smoothie and it helped.

The 39 Best Flavor Combinations

The Flavor Bible contains nearly 400 pages of flavor affinities, which it ranks on four levels based on how many chefs recommend the combination. Of these thousands of permutations, I scoured the book to find only 39 that received the highest number of endorsements. These are the “Holy Grail” flavor pairings that the most experts agree upon. Here they are:

  • Angelica and rhubarb
  • Apple and cinnamon
  • Basil and garlic
  • Basil and tomatoes
  • Beans and savory
  • Beans (flageolet) and lamb
  • Chard and garlic
  • Cheese (manchego) and quince paste
  • Cherries and kirsch
  • Chile peppers and Thai cuisine
  • Chocolate and coffee
  • White chocolate and raspberries
  • Crab and avocado
  • Jicama and chile peppers
  • Jicama and lime
  • Lamb and garlic
  • Lamb and rosemary
  • Mint and lamb
  • Oregano and tomatoes
  • Pork and black pepper
  • Quince and apples
  • Quince and pears
  • Raspberries and white chocolate
  • Rhubarb and strawberries
  • Rosemary and garlic
  • Rosemary and lamb
  • Saffron and rice
  • Saffron and risotto
  • Savory and beans
  • Shrimp and garlic
  • Spinach and butter (especially unsalted butter)
  • Strawberries and cream
  • Strawberries and rhubarb
  • Strawberries and sugar
  • Strawberries and balsamic vinegar (especially aged balsamic vinegar
  • Tomatoes and basil
  • Turmeric and curry powder
  • Vanilla and (ice) cream
  • Fennel seeds and sausages (especially Italian sausages)

I find it interesting that a handful of flavor combinations appear in the listing for both ingredients (strawberries are recommended with rhubarb and rhubarb is recommended with strawberries), but most of the pairings are only uni-directional. Not sure what that means.

The Bottom Line

What to Drink with What You EatIf I have one complaint about The Flavor Bible it’s that the highly-recommended flavor matches tend toward the conventional. I wonder if they’re recommended not so much because they’re great combinations but because they’re well known.

Still, I have to agree with Ken. The Flavor Bible is a great book, and I can see keeping it in my kitchen long after other cookbooks have been donated to Goodwill. I look forward to many years of exploring its suggestions. I’ll start tonight. Kim and I are going to try some jicama with chile peppers and lime!

The authors of The Flavor Bible also wrote a book called What to Drink with What You Eat, which apparently follows the same format. Guess what I’m going to borrow from the library when I run my errands today…

How to Achieve Success

In my spare time — what little there is of it — I’ve been continuing my research into the nature of fear and how that relates to success and achievement. Why does fear hold some people back yet serve as a motivator for others? As part of this, I’ve been re-reading all of Malcolm Gladwell. It’s entertaining and instructive.

How to Achieve Success

OutliersIn Outliers, for instance, Gladwell explores the factors allow some people to achieve runaway success. How did Bill Gates become Bill Gates? How did The Beatles become The Beatles? And why do some people who seem to have innate talent never reach their full potential?

Gladwell’s hypothesis is that there are two factors necessary for success: environment and effort.

Success cannot be achieved without great personal effort. Gladwell popularized the notion (though he did not invent it) that to truly become proficient at something, to master it, you need to spend roughly 10,000 hours acquiring that skill. Bill Gates, for instance, spent about 10,000 hours learning to program. The best violinists spend about 10,000 hours practicing their instrument. And so on.

It’s nearly impossible to become successful without putting in a lot of work.

But effort alone isn’t enough. Gladwell argues that Outliers — his term for folks who achieve astounding success — come from environments that encourage and foster their talents and abilities. It’s not enough that Bill Gates was interested in computers. He had to be born into a community that gave him a chance to spend 10,000 hours programming, an environment that provided tons of opportunities to put his skills to work.

Success is the Sum of Environment Plus Effort

Warren Buffett, perhaps the world’s greatest investor, has spoken many times about what he calls “the ovarian lottery”. “You’re going to get one ball out of there, and that is the most important thing that’s ever going to happen in your life,” he once told a group of students at the University of Florida.

In his philanthropic pledge [PDF], Buffett writes:

My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest. Both my children and I won what I call the ovarian lottery. (For starters, the odds against my 1930 birth taking place in the U.S. were at least 30 to 1. My being male and white also removed huge obstacles that a majority of Americans then faced.)

My luck was accentuated by my living in a market system that sometimes produces distorted results, though overall it serves our country well. I’ve worked in an economy that rewards someone who saves the lives of others on a battlefield with a medal, rewards a great teacher with thank-you notes from parents, but rewards those who can detect the mispricing of securities with sums reaching into the billions. In short, fate’s distribution of long straws is wildly capricious.

There’s no question that Buffett worked damn hard to develop his business acumen. But he’s the first to admit that he was lucky to have been born in a time and a place that rewarded his passion.

I feel the same way about my own success. Yes, I’ve worked hard. I’ve spent far more than 10,000 hours blogging about life and money. But I’ve also been lucky, and in any number of ways. How strange is it that I came along at just the right time with just the right skills? I was a computer-geek psychology major who loved to write and was deep in debt. From these four factors, I was able to build Get Rich Slowly into something far more than I expected.

Again, success is the sum of environment plus effort.

Helping Others Succeed

It’s oft been said that “success is what happens when opportunity meets preparation”. That’s essentially the entire lesson of Gladwell’s Outliers. At the end of the book, he writes:

Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed…Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities — and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.

This, too, is the core lesson of Luck is No Accident, a great book about making the most of unplanned events.

The moral, my friends, is to work hard and to keep an open mind so that you can take advantage of unexpected opportunities. But there’s another moral, and I think it’s just as important: Whenever possible, open doors for other people. The more chances we give others to succeed, the more likely they are to actually achieve success. Keep dropping keys all night long for the beautiful rowdy prisoners.

Keep Dropping Keys All Night Long

All You Need to Know About Blogging

Note: Recently, I’ve been coaching Kim as she prepares to launch her own website. Doing so reminds of a lesson I try to preach to all new bloggers: Content is king. Here’s an article I wrote on the subject for a now-defunct blog about blogging back in March 2007.

I have a friend who’s starting a niche personal finance blog. He’s very interested in the subject, and knowledgeable, and I think he could make it an interesting site.

When the idea first came to him a few months ago, he approached me. “How do I make this a successful blog?” he asked.

“Post lots of good content,” I told him.

“Yeah,” he said. “But what else?”

“There is no ‘what else’,” I said. Actually, I ranted and raved about how too many people focus on things that aren’t important and don’t bother to spend time on the content, but essentially it all amounted to “there is no ‘what else’”.

My friend went away for a few weeks to work on his site. When I talked to him again he told me, “I’ve switched from WordPress to Drupal. Do you think that’ll make a difference?”

“It’ll make no difference at all,” I said. “Readers don’t care what weblog tool you use. All they care about is the content.”

“Yeah, but Drupal offers so many more features,” he said. I just shook my head.

About a month ago, he launched his site. He posted an introductory article. “Looks good,” I said.

“Can you point people to the site?” he asked.

“Not yet,” I said. “You don’t have any content.”

Meanwhile he put up some Google ads and some Amazon ads. He posted a single link to another article at a big news site. I talked to him a couple of weeks later. “Nobody’s coming to my site,” he told me. “Not a single person has clicked on an ad.”

“That’s because there’s nothing there,” I told him.

“What do you mean?” he said. “I spent a lot of time creating the layout and putting up the ads.”

“You need to focus on content,” I told him.

So he wrote another article. It was moderately interesting, but it was all in one h-u-g-e paragraph. There’s been nothing new posted to the site since then. The site layout has changed a half-dozen times, though, as my friend tries to make it as pretty as possible.

He IMed me last night. “Nobody’s coming to the site,” he said.

“It needs content,” I told him.

“I don’t have time,” he said. “I’m so busy.” I pointed out that he wasn’t too busy to party with friends. He wasn’t too busy to play soccer. He wasn’t too busy to tinker with the layout. These are all fine things, but none of them have anything to do with getting readers. “Can’t you point people to my site?” he asked.

“Maybe in a couple of months,” I said. “Maybe once you have some content.”

This concept has been beat into the ground a thousand times before, but it’s the single most important factor in creating a successful weblog: To gain readers, you must publish quality content on a regular basis. Sure, readers like a pretty site. Sure, it would be nice if there were ads for them to click on. But all of this is secondary. All that really matters is the content.

That, my friends, is all that you ever need to know about blogging.

Note: In the six years since I wrote this article, a new distraction has reared its ugly head: Search Engine Optimization. New bloggers will spend dozens of hours focused on SEO instead of doing the one thing that matters most: creating content. When people ask me what I do for SEO, I tell the truth: Nothing. My motto is: “The best SEO is an article that people want to link to.” It’s the truth.