I resolve: Four things I maybe probably won’t do in 2015

Red cabbage salad with fennel, orange and pepitas (a new recipe for 2014, not from one of my cookbooks).

Red cabbage salad with fennel, orange and pepitas (a new recipe for 2014, not from one of my cookbooks).

New Year’s resolutions don’t work. You know this. I know this. It is fact.

Take my 2014 resolution—to listen to, and delete, my voicemails. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, there are currently four unplayed voicemails on my iPhone, but that’s because I ditched my old phone (and its 90ish unplayed messages) a couple of weeks ago.

Or take my 2013 resolution—to floss. I think I’ve made that one four or five times now. Never works. I’m an avid brusher, but as my dentist will tell you, I just don’t floss.

New Year’s resolutions don’t work because we resolve to do things we don’t really want to do. Sure, they’re often things we should do, things that the imaginary miniature mother living on our shoulders would nag us to do (in between scolding us to put on a sweater and asking if we want some tea). But unless you actually want to complete your New Year’s resolutions they won’t stick. Just ask the packet of floss in my bathroom drawer.

So, this year I’m going to try making promises I want to keep. Now, let’s see how I do in 2015.

I resolve …

• … to train for and run my first marathon. I’ve been running for a few years now, half-marathons, relays, trails. I even completed a goal to run 1,000 miles in 2014. And two weeks ago, I did my longest run ever, a 16-miler on McCullough Hills Trail that felt shockingly good, despite the 1,500-plus feet of elevation gain. So it feels like this is the year to step up to the next level. Plus, I’m unemployed, so I should have plenty of time to train.

• … to read more books. I don’t read enough books, and I’m self-conscious about it. I read on vacation, but at home picking up a book just isn’t part of my routine. I read the newspaper, I read magazines, I read way too much stupid crap online, but in 2015 I’m going to read more books—starting with the stack that’s been sitting at the bottom of my bed for months.

• … to cook new recipes. The thing about having a cookbook collection is that people expect you to, like, cook from them, and not just, like, find all your recipes on Epicurious and make the same things over and over. This can be a problem for me. But this is the year I actually bring my cookbooks into the kitchen, which is probably where they belong, right?

• … to have more weekend adventures. This falls firmly into the category of things-I-really-want-to-do-but-am-too-lazy-to-plan. So this will serve as my little self pep talk: Self, don’t be a lazy bum this year. Plan hiking trips and camping weekends. Scout out awesome cabins and cool places to kayak, and then find people who would also like to have fun and not just sit on the couch and go do these amazing, memorable things. Got it? Okay. Ready? Break!

There it is, folks. Four resolutions for 2015, which I’ll start, ya know, tomorrow.

Market moments in Vietnam

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I like this photo perhaps a little more than I should.

To me, that chicken is more than today’s lunch, destined for a last swim in some rich, bubbling broth. Its outstretched feet seem to punctuate the whole scene, shouting, “Hey! Wait! A little help here?!”

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5 things I want to learn to learn in the next year

Hello, future. You look nice. Photo: Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

Hello, future. You look nice. Photo: Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

Seven years out of college, I don’t miss the homework or reading every book my professors published. I do miss browsing course catalogs and imagining myself speaking fluent Italian or scaling cliffs. Which is not to say I’ve given up on my education. Just last week Tovin learned to escape having his wrists duct taped together (demo, anyone?) and is promising to teach me soon, and this Sunday, we’ll both suit up for our second scuba diving class.
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Are the chefs lying to me?

Biscuits: the homemade variety. Photo by Tovin Lapan

This is a blog about biscuits. Incredible biscuits. But it’s also about the truth.

It all started last year when I picked up a copy of Saveur in the Denver Airport and opened it to find a picture of Island Creek Oyster Bar chef Jeremy Sewall with his famous biscuits. Giant, fluffy, golden monsters draped in honey rosemary butter that sell for $4 a piece at the Kenmore Square restaurant in Boston, these biscuits had become a minor obsession for Tovin and me since we tried them a few summers ago. I’d tried to get the recipe through a half-hearted Twitter campaign. But the ICOB social media team stayed tough. Damn them.

But thanks to Saveur, the recipe was mine. There was much rejoicing and texting.

Tovin and I whipped up a batch not too long after landing back in Vegas. We followed the recipe step by step, but the dough was dry and crumbly. So, we tried again, shaping bigger biscuits this time, hoping to approximate Island Creek’s pillowy carbo goodness. More crumbs. Finally, I asked a pastry chef for her professional diagnosis. More buttermilk, she said.

Our third attempt was the best one yet—dough that kept its shape, large, hot biscuits with soft, fluffy centers and lots of that honey butter. But something was still off. We were still eating amateur hour.

I mentioned my plight to a friend whose work involves the restaurant industry, and she laughed. Chefs never give out their real recipes, she said. What we’d gotten were general guidelines, a rough sketch that with the proper technique and generous tweaking could come close to the real deal. The recipe wasn’t a blue print, it was paint by numbers directions.

Which brings me (finally) to the question I’ve really been wanting to ask: Are the chefs lying? Are they keeping the secrets of their signature dishes even as they claim to reveal all? Is it all a big farce?

Either way, I’m determined that Tovin and I will conquer the Island Creek Oyster Bar biscuits. (On a recent trip to Boston, a friend with some inside information mentioned layers.) With some experimentation, a few more batches and maybe a tasting session or two at the source, we’ll get closer. And when we want the real thing, well, we’ll know where to go.

Cooking, crawling and all types of ill shit

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Hey look! It’s a stop on my new favorite bar crawl: the Velveteen Rabbit. (Shhh. Don’t tell.)

Every time I go out, people ask, “What’s new?” And, in keeping with social custom, I give them a non-answer: “Not much.” Sometimes I even say, “Same old same.” Can you believe how stupid that sounds? Neither can I. 

Worse, it’s a total lie. Things are new. Samba’s midway through devouring a new rope toy. I cooked a new orzo salad last weekend. I’m newly obsessed with dapper Australian singer Willy Moon (just try not dancing to “Railroad Track”). And I’m contemplating a new adventure that involves driving a three-wheeled motorbike across Peru. Okay fine, I’ve been thinking about that one for a while. 

And work? Well …

First, I made a plea for a Downtown Las Vegas water fight. You know, a depths-of-summer, all-out, Super Soaker-packing, blast-your-neighbor affair inspired by the water gun battles in Jerusalem that help relieve the heat and tension just before Shabbat.

Then I found my new favorite bar crawl, a Downtown jaunt that doesn’t touch Fremont Street, doesn’t have a single dress code or velvet rope and includes a place that serves seasonal punch in charming little glasses. It can be your favorite new bar crawl, too.

Scarpetta chef Scott Conant taught me to make his signature spaghetti, a simple dish that’s far richer than it has any right to be. The keys: good pasta, good tomatoes, a good helping of butter. The takeaway: I will never rinse pasta again. (It’s very, very bad and gets rid of all that good starch that helps pasta bind to sauce.)

Finally, I got to spend an afternoon at Calico Basin gawking at local rock climber/Porsche racer/pilot/all around badass Simon Peck make tricky routes look like absolute cake. He’s as humble as they come, and watching him on the cliffs made me want to squeeze my feet into a pair of elfin-sized shoes and give climbing another shot. 

So, yeah, stuff’s new.