Friday, February 26, 2010

The World of Cooking

You can get away with knowing very little about cooking. You live on your own (you do, don’t you?) so I’m going to assume you know how to boil an egg, slap together a sandwich and cook pasta. Beyond that all you need to know is how to cook a meal for a dinner party, a meal for a dinner date and how to mix a few drinks.

You do not need to be able to make anything fancy or complicated. You just need to be able to feed people and serve all the appropriate food groups.

To give you some basic ideas of what you could prepare for dinner party and a dinner date, see below:

Dinner Party Meal, serves six

Appetizer: One package of water crackers and 12 oz. of a soft cheese (brie, double cream, a fancy cheese spread but no cheese balls!)

Starch: French Bread with garlic, basil and parmesan. You can buy this ready-made but I suggest you buy a loaf of French bread, mince some garlic, chop some fresh basil and mix it into half a cup of butter and spread on the loaf (uh, that is, inside the loaf). Warm in the oven for ten minutes at 350 degrees.

Vegetable: Simple Salad. Never use iceberg. I don’t think iceberg is even food. Greens and chopped up tomatoes work fine. Offer two dressings, one creamy and one vinaigrette.

Main Dish: Lasagna. It soooo easy to make. Just about any lasagna recipe you come across--including the one on the back of the lasagna noodle box--will be good. If you want to make it more interesting, add carmelized onions to the red sauce ( Tip on the noodles: use no-boil noodles. If you don’t, when you drain the lasagna noodles, pour a little oil over them to keep them from sticking together. And you may want to cook more than 6 noodles in case you tear or ruin a noodle.

Dessert: Offer a selection of sorbets (three is a good number) and thin crisp cookies, such as ginger crisps or almond crisps.

Dinner Date Menu

Appetizer: not necessary

Starch: Sweet potatoes. The pre-packaged cubes at Trader Joe’s have an excellent recipe on the bag. Or simply fix grits (always a nice pairing with fish.)
1 lb yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into half-inch cubes
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp triple sec or other orange liqueur
1 tbsp orange juice
¼ cup walnuts, chopped
Steam cubed sweet potatoes for 8 minutes or until tender. (Steaming: use a steamer inside a pot of boiling water. Cover the pot to steam.) While potatoes are steaming, melt butter and brown sugar in a separate pot. Add chopped walnuts. Cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add triple sec (or other orange-flavored liqueur) and orange juice. Heat, stirring constantly for five minutes. When sweet potatoes are tender, add them to the butter and brown sugar and mash.

Vegetable: Green Beans. Simply steam in a small amount of boiling water on the stove (for about three minutes) and sprinkle sea salt across the top before serving.

Main Dish: Flash Fried Cod. Get nice, thin cuts from your local butcher, ½ pound per serving. Shake in a bag with flour, salt and pepper. Fry on the stove in a little bit of oil, a couple minutes on each side.

Dessert: Crème Brulee. Always impressive. Just having the little torch to scorch the top of the dessert is sexy. ( Okay, so you could also buy the frozen ones from Trader Joe’s. Not so impressive…

Now you know all you need to about cooking dinner for guests! Just don’t have them over more than once... :)

Up on Tuesday: Finances

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Making Your House User-Friendly

As you develop your vision for your house, remember to make it company-friendly. This means plenty of comfortable seating in the living room and several places to rest drinks (a coffee table and a couple of end tables). Seating should be arranged to create conversational circles. Your bathroom should have plenty of toilet paper on hand. Set out an extra roll when entertaining. Throw out your ratty hand towels and buy a new set in a color that complements the color theme in your bathroom. Match the bathmat if you don’t know what your color theme is. Keep a stocked kitchen. Keep beverages and snacks that you know your friends (and potential girlfriends) like. Keep some sort of frozen appetizers in your freezer in case of last-minute guests. Trader Joe’s has all kinds of products that fit the bill: raspberry and brie pastries, coconut chicken sticks, etc.

Personalize your space, especially the living room, where company will gather. If all your books and CDs are stored away in your office or bedroom, the living room will seem sterile. Having such items in the common areas of your home also gives guests topics of conversation. You’ve got a ton of books. Get a bookcase or two for your living room and fill them up.

If a wall has more than a five-by-five blank space that is not covered by furniture or broken up by windows, the wall should have something on it. Art, a wall calendar, a shelf, etc. Photos are a nice touch, too--just be sure that none of the pictures is just of you (unless it’s a baby picture) and that most of the photos don’t have you in them at all. You don’t want to seem narcissistic. Or friendless.

Another personalizing touch is artwork. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t have a strong liking for some painter or photographer. If you like an artist, display his/her art in your home. If you don’t know anything about art, visit a poster shop and flip through the prints until you find something you like. Sticking to one artist or one style of art throughout your space is an easy way to give a feeling of continuity to your home. Black and white photos are nice and if you’re into Escher, that’s great, but just remember: if you use black and white art, don’t have white walls. It’s too sterile. If you have no color sense, use the color combination suggestions from the Adobe cool tool Web site: Do not paint the ceiling a darker color than the walls. It makes the space feel claustrophobic.

Last words on interior decorating:

Do not push every stick of furniture you have up against the walls. This creates a square shape and looks odd (trust me). You want to create a circular feel to your space. We live in boxes now but we used to live in caves, tepees and wombs.

If you have a small room, think about ways to maximize the space. If you have a small living room, buy an armless couch. This allows more seating than a couch of the same size that has arms. Use optical illusion to make the room feel bigger. Use mirrors, open window shades, and paint the walls a light color.

Get a good-quality mattress. (If it costs $300 it is not a good mattress, no matter what the salesperson says.)

Up on Friday: The World of Cooking

Friday, February 19, 2010

Making Your House a Home, Part Two

Now that you know the look want for your abode, the next step is to decide which room to start on. I suggest the living room because, as a single person, you’ll find that this room is the most important one. It is where you will do your entertaining (at least initially…). It is the room everyone will see. And it’s probably the largest room in your living space. If it isn’t, it should be.

To begin, purge the items that don’t fit with your new style and any items that you are using as furniture that are not furniture. Milk crates are not bookcases. Neither are cement blocks and plywood.

If your TV or computer is the centerpiece of any room except your office, move it into a corner, or out of sight into your office or an armoire.

Get rid of plastic Venetian blinds or horizontal Venetian blinds of any material. It’s best to avoid Venetian blinds completely. And open your (new) shades! Let the sun shine in! (What is it with the cave-like existence of geeks who avoid the light of day?)

Choose lighting that can be varied for mood. For example, if you have good overhead light in your living room, get a floor lamp with a three way bulb to dim the lighting. No woman is going to want to make out on your couch under bright morgue lighting.

Next find a piece you absolutely love, whether it’s an item you already own or one you have your eye on to buy. This could be an art print, an area rug, a couch, a mirror. One thing you would never get rid of. Use this piece to build the room around. This does not mean this piece has to be in the center of the room. In fact, it usually won’t be. You are using this piece to inspire you. If it’s an art print, use the colors in it to determine the color of your walls and couch. If it’s a large circular mirror, use its shape to guide the arrangement of the furniture and the shape of the furniture itself: pick a curved-backed couch or a couch shaped like a crescent moon to repeat the circularity of the mirror, or repeat the mirror theme with a glass or mirrored coffee table. You get the idea.

But do not make everything “match-y.” Vary the height of objects in the room. It’s pleasing to the eye to have different heights for the floor lamp, chair and couch backs and bookcases. Also pleasing if variety in the use of materials: pair a leather couch with velvet-covered side chairs.

Right now, pick a loved piece to build your room around. Write down the furniture, artwork, lighting, etc. that you need. If you like, pull out a piece of graph paper, measure your room and cut out pieces of graph paper to symbolize the furniture you want in your room. (Or see Use the graph paper to figure out how to arrange your furniture. Allow at least two feet around furniture for walkways to other rooms or to get to other furniture (the bookcase, the couch, etc.).

Up on Tuesday: Tips on making your place user-friendly.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Your Home: The Basics, and How to Make Your House a Home

Your Home: The Basics

Live in a building that has character. Don’t live in an apartment in one of those rabbit warren complexes like Peter Gibbons in “Office Space.” Find a cool-looking building to live in. What is cool? Hardwoods are cool. Clawfoot bathtubs are cool. Walls that are anything but white are cool. A building not built in the sixties or seventies is at least cooler than a building built in the sixties or seventies.

Live as close in to a metropolitan area as possible. Live where the action is. Where the people are. If you’re centrally located you’re easier to get to and it’s harder for you to have excuses for not getting out.

Live alone. If you must have a roommate make sure he’s cooler than you but less attractive.

Hire a cleaning service. If that’s too expensive, hire the girl in the neighborhood that everyone uses as a babysitter. She’ll be cheap. Just having someone come in once a month for four hours is probably all you’ll need. It’s not that much. Quit being a cheapskate. Or pretend your mom is coming over and get up off your lazy ass and clean your bathroom for once.

Making Your House a Home

First, pick a style and stick with it. Yes, you may like modern industrial and Victorian but don’t put them together. The professionals can do that. You can not.

Some examples of styles:

Go for a modern look, if you…
don’t like knick-knacks or decorative collections of objects
are drawn to concrete, glass and chrome
like a minimalist look (clean lines, no clutter, monochromatic)

Go for an Asian look if you…
are drawn to dark woods
like simple line drawings
enjoy Asian art and calligraphy

Go for a traditional look if you…
like what you see on the Ethan Allen Web site (

Go for a retro, bachelor pad look if you…
are drawn to art by Shag
like the funky look of shag rugs, and turquoise vinyl
like simple rectangular shapes for furniture

Go for a bohemian look if you…
like dim lighting and tie dye
go for comfortable over what’s “in”
enjoy plants and have herbs or tomatoes growing in your kitchen

Do your tastes cross styles? Pick one and stick with it. As you get to be a more sophisticated decorator, you can play with adding elements of other styles, but for now choose one direction.

How do you know if a piece falls into your category or not? Find a model to emulate.

For a modern look, use the IKEA and West Elm Web sites to guide you. You don’t have to buy from these stores but use them as a style guide.

If you want an Asian look, find an Asian import store in your city and use that as your touchstone.

For a traditional look, stick with the major department stores like Macys or Ethan Allen.

For a retro bachelor pad look, use the art of Shag to guide your choices.

For a bohemian, free-spirited look, use the incense-emanating, Indian import store in the college district in your city as a guide.

Now that you’ve chosen a look, where do you start?

Up on Friday: I continue the discussion about interior decoration.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Creating Your Campaign Setting: Introduction

You might think the first step in getting the girl is finding her.

It’s not.

Before you get the girl, you must become a savvy and stylish domestician. What is a domestician? A domestician is someone who knows the art of making a house a home and knows how to handle his finances. A woman does not want to be your mother--and you don’t want her to be. But she will feel an irresistible urge to be your mother if your apartment looks as decorated as it did the day you moved in or if your idea of cooking dinner is pouring yourself a bowl of cereal. She will not want to become your mother, but she will. It’s biological. She won’t want to sleep with someone she thinks of as her little boy.

And no one wants to have sex with mommy.

In the coming weeks, I will tackle interior decorating, cooking and finances. For some of you, this will be unnecessary. I’ve known geeks who are neat freaks and like picking out towels to match the paint in their bathrooms. I’ve known geeks who were made to cook when they were kids by their working parents and consequently can cook Coq au Vin and Beef Marsala without a recipe. And there are plenty of geeks who are fascinated by numbers and do quite well for themselves in the area of finances. They don’t necessarily make a lot of money, though they might, but they do save, invest smartly and protect themselves financially.

For the rest of you, listen up.

They say your yard and your car are the self that you want to present to the world, and the inside of your home is your real self. A home reflects your personality, the self at ease. What statement does your place make about you? If you’re home, get up right now and go outside. Walk back in your house as if you were entering a stranger’s home. What would you deduce about the person living there? What do the objects tell you, the décor, the level of cleanliness? Which room seems the most important to this person? What does this person value?

If your house is like the typical geek abode, it’s an apartment or condo with not enough windows or windows that face the wrong direction or are covered by perennially closed plastic Venetian blinds. The walls are bare and painted off white. If there is art on the wall, it’s in the cheap, crappy frame it came with. The bathroom is the dirtiest room in the place or is completely spotless but has ratty or mismatched hand towels. The kitchen is stocked with a few bottles of acceptable alcohol but has a nearly empty refrigerator or a fridge that is filled with rotting takeout. The living room furniture is pushed up flush against the walls and the TV is the centerpiece around which the room is designed. The bedroom has a mattress that’s more than a decade old, no nightstands and inappropriate lighting (too harsh or too dim). All in all, the place has no sense of style. Sound familiar?

Questions is: What do you *wish* your home said about you?

Up next week: Your Home: The Basics

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Competition: the High-Functioning Geek

Today we look at the last of the types of men who may be your competition in the world of dating: the High-Functioning Geek/Intellectual.

Definition: In high school he took AP physics and calculus *and* got laid.

What He Has that You Don’t: Social skills. Awareness of popular culture.

The Type of Women He Attracts: Smart, self-confident women.

What It Tells You about a Woman if Her Last Boyfriend Was a High-Functioning Geek/Intellectual: She is (may be) out of your league but there’s hope!

What to Do to Be More Like Him:

Physical attributes: Wear funky t-shirts.

Hobbies: Hang out with friends (i.e., have friends that you know in the non-virtual world). Keep up with pop culture, politics and recently published books (non-fiction *and* fiction). Read. Watch documentaries.

Behavior: Treat everyone equally. Be non-judgmental.

What to Do to Win Over a Woman When He Is Your Main Competition:

Often these men already have wives or long-term girlfriends, so (assuming you aren’t trying to compete for the wife--which you shouldn’t be, shame on you) you may not have to contend with him all that often.

But when you do, you can gain an advantage over the High-Functioning Geek by talking less about what you know and what you just learned from Nova, and letting *her* inform you about the latest viral video on the Web or the latest opinions about string theory--even if you already know about these things. You don’t want to seem dumb or uninformed. Being so will get you ignored. But the woman does want to be the talker and informer some of the time, and with the High-Functioning Geek, she may not get to be that very often as he, unintentionally, beats her to the punch every time by showing he already knows all about strange attractors and the obscure new indie band that has become popular on Youtube in the last week.

And remember: these women are highly intelligent but they want their sexuality acknowledged. Don’t get fooled into staying on the intellectual plane with these women. You have to flirt. You have to be unafraid to touch them, casually--the hand on the shoulder or knee (just lightly and don’t linger). You can be sure the High-Functioning Geek isn’t forgetting these things, so you better not either if you want to have any chance with her.

On Friday, I’ll start writing about Creating Your Campaign Setting--or how to create a home that is woman-attracting.

In the mean time, if you’re brave, ask a woman you used to be interested in who is now a friend why she wasn’t into you. Be prepared for a huge dose of reality. Schedule a therapy appointment right after.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Competition: The Sensitive Guy

Today I begin writing about the first of two types of men that you may actually be like.

First up, The Sensitive Guy.

Definition: The Sensitive Guy is the kind of man (almost) every woman says she wants. He can be her best friend and her lover.

What He Has that You Don’t: Sensitivity. Communion with his feminine side. Spirituality.

The Type of Women He Attracts: Hippie throwbacks. Acupuncturists. Nice women.

What It Tells You about a Woman if Her Last Boyfriend Was a Sensitive Guy: She’s politically active, has particular dietary needs (e.g., vegetarian or vegan), and you’re not enough of a woman for her.

What to Do to Be More Like Him:

Physical attributes: Wear organic cotton clothes. Have long hair. Wear jewelry (a silver or copper bracelet should do it).

Hobbies: Protest. Hike and camp. Meditate. Read.

Behavior: Listen. Treat everyone as an equal/as a Buddha. Eat vegetarian. Or vegan.

What to Do to Win Over a Woman When He Is Your Main Competition:

These kind of men are very good listeners but often they have more important concerns than his girlfriend’s crappy day at work. The plight of prisoners at Guantanamo will ultimately win out over a relationship for these men. And if it’s not some abstract Cause that takes priority, it’s the depression of a friend or the neediness of a family member that will take away from his time with the woman in his life.

No woman, not even a politically active, bleeding-heart liberal woman, wants always to come second to a Cause or to the other people in his life who are constant screwups.

You have two ways in.

One: get involved with whatever her political cause is (anti-war, pro-choice, eradicating poverty, etc.) *and* make her feel that her “petty” life problems are important, too. Don’t let her belittle her whining about her life and don’t let her get away with constantly bringing the conversation to impersonal, but impassioned, conversations about politics or spirituality. Ask personal questions.

Two: argue with her about her political positions--but only if you really believe the opposite of her (no devil’s advocacy here--she’ll hate that) and only if you actually have well-thought out and cogent arguments. And then still seek to bring the conversation to personal topics in the end. The political and spiritual conversations will get her intellectual passion aroused and if you can get her to associate her intellectual passion with personal conversation she has with you, you have a good chance of intriguing her romantically.

Next week, the last of your competition--and the most threatening: the High-Functioning Geek.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Competition: The Bad Boy

Bad Boy Definition: He’s the Charmer gone bad. He may not be suave but he has a way with women.

What He Has that You Don’t: Mechanical skills. A motorcycle. An edge.

The Type of Women He Attracts: 20somethings. The too-nice girls or recently divorced/separated women. Bad girls.

What It Tells You about a Woman if Her Last Boyfriend Was a Bad Boy: She likes being bad. Or she likes to think she likes being bad.

What to Do to Be More Like Him:

Physical attributes: Wear funky t-shirts and a leather jacket. Get tattoos and piercings.

Hobbies: Be in a band (as the bassist or drummer). Date multiple girls at a time.

Behavior: Drive fast. Lead whatever group you’re with (i.e., get your way). Engage in petty crime. Engage in not so petty crime.

What to Do to Win Over a Woman When He Is Your Main Competition:
If the woman in question is a bad girl, you have your work cut out for you: you’ve got to convince her that you’re cooler than you seem/are. You’ll need some kind of in, like knowing the lead singer of a local band she really likes, having un-gettable tickets to a concert, or owning the kind of bike (and I’m not referring to a bicycle) she’s thinking of buying. Even then, though, be wary of her using you or only thinking of you as a friend.

If the woman being competed for is the recently divorced woman, be patient. He may win for now, but give it two or three months and she’ll be ready for a little more stability. No tricks to this as long as you’re patient.

Up on Friday, The Sensitive Guy.