Read: Best of the Week to Jan 10

SNLís Real Race Problem - Tanner Colby, provoking thoughts:

When racial-justice advocates call for more diversity, what theyíre saying is that the hiring pipelines into Americaís majority-white industries need to be expanded to include a truly multicultural array of voices and talents from all ethnic corners of America; they want equal opportunity for minorities who donít necessarily conform to the social norms of the white majority. When exasperated hiring managers use the word diversity, what they really mean is that theyíre looking for assimilated diversity

11 Awkward Things About Email, which inspired my short reflection on exclamation marks.

Writers and Rum - Adam Gopnik knows:

writing is, if not uniquely hard work, then uniquely draining work. Some basic human need for a balance between thinking and acting is still kept intact even by the most tedious of other tasks. All rewarding effort involves a balance between wit and workóbetween the bits you do alone in your head and the bits you do in company with your hands (or voice or body or whatever). Laboring in your head, exclusively, does feel unnatural; whatever else we might have been doing, back out there on the primeval savannah, we werenít sitting and moving the ends of our fingers minutely on a stone surface for six hours at a stretch.

Travel: my favourite gadgets

Win friends in airports while charging all the things: [Belkin SurgePlus 3-Outlet Mini Travel Swivel Charger Surge Protector with Dual USB Ports] (http://amzn.to/1aLczSw)

iPhone at that deadly 20% threshold? Never fear: Satechi Portable Energy Station Extended Battery Charger Pack

Cabin lights so bright, meeting so early tomorrow: Bucky 40 Blinks Mask

Oh hey, 12 hour time difference: Lewis N. Clark No-Jet-Lag

Misc: Thanks for reading

For a long, long time I avoided using exclamation marks in email correspondence. I am not a wildly demonstrative person and exclamation marks have always struck me as oh-so-emotional.

But after the fifteenth person told me that in emails I can seem "terse" and my favourite, "unfriendly", I started peppering my missives with emoticons and exclamations. "Thanks for sending that over!" and "Looking forward to next week!" and "It's been a long week for everyone, so let's all take a break this weekend :)"

So I very much appreciate this cartoon - and indeed the entirety of the post from which it is drawn:

exclamation period.png

Misc: What would you grab in a fire?

1.30am fire alarm in an unfamiliar hotel in a big city after a long day of travel. A flashing red light and an overwhelming clang clang clang ring ring ring. You scramble out of bed and grope around in the dark red dark red, find your glasses and your footing in one movement.

What you grab before you leave the room?

I swiped my passport and left all the rest.

Food: Apples + Squeezo + Slow Cooker + Immersion Blender = Apple Butter Yum

Two years ago, I took up water-bath canning. Since then, I've filled many, many jars with various types of tomato-based sauces, chutneys, and ketchups.

My go-to resource for recipes and techniques is Liana Krissoff's excellent book, Canning for a New Generation. My favourite recipe from the book (so far) is for apple butter - which I've spent much of this weekend making.

Here's a condensed and slightly modified version of Krissoff's recipe, which I've now used to make about two dozen pints of apple butter.

Gadgets: [Squeezo] (http://amzn.to/1kkrRYq), slow cooker, immersion blender

Ingredients: 6 pounds apples; 2 cups apple cider; 1.5 cups cane sugar; 1.5 tsps ground cinnamon; 0.5 tsps ground cloves; 0.5 tsps ground allspice; 0.5 tsps ground nutmeg (this makes about 3 pints worth of apple butter)

Technique: Put apples in a large (6 to 8 quart) pot or pan. Add cider + 4 cups water and bring to boil over high heat. Boil, stirring occasionally, until the apples break down and the peels separate from the pulp. This usually takes 30-45 minutes.

Once the apples have mostly disintegrated, pass the (hot!) mixture through the Squeezo to remove the peels and cores. Pour the mixture into a large bowl and purÈe with an immersion blender until smooth.

Pour the purÈe into a large slow cooker and stir in the sugar and spices. Keep the slow cooker lid slightly askew to allow liquid to evaporate. Cook on low heat for 9-12 hours, stirring occasionally, until the apple butter is thick and dark.

Enjoy the fruits of your labour with oatmeal, yoghurt, waffles, pancakes, toast and for baking.

Krissoff provides some neat suggestions for additional uses in her book - and, of course, what you'd need to do if you want to can the apple butter for long-term storage.

Food: Sticky Chai is terrific

Or, the only product I've ever bought on the strength of a How To Spend It recommendation

I love chai. I've made my own, and I regularly scout tea shops for new blends.

Recently I came across an article in the FT's How To Spend It Magazine about an Australian blend, Sticky Chai.

One impulse buy and several weeks of waiting later, I can confirm that this chai is among the best I've ever had. And the writer of the How To Spend It article described the pleasure of the preparation perfectly:

I find the preparation a pleasing ritual (simmering two tablespoons in 150ml of water in a saucepan for two minutes, then adding 350ml of milk and a dash of honey and further simmering for two to three minutes before carefully straining into a petite teapot), and the result is a mix between an invigorating wake-up and a fragrant rush of heady exotic aroma.

Highly recommended.

Time > Money

Update: As of 2014, I cancelled my subscription because of a significant and persistent detioriation in the quality and reliability of FancyHands' virtual assistants. I've since switched to Zirtual, which is excellent.

Original post:

After years - years - of dithering, I signed up for Fancy Hands sometime around midnight on the Tuesday of a week during which my calendar, my inbox and my immune system all seemed to be conspiring against me.

It was similar to the situation that prompted me to sign up for Task Rabbit last year: three months of being silently mocked by the bag of clothes I'd earmarked for charity and which I failed, every single day, to deliver to Goodwill.

I quipped then that as I've gotten older, I've become more willing to exchange money for time. This continues to be true.

In the 19 hours or so since I coughed up for their basic service, the virtual assistants at Fancy Hands have:

  • scheduled five meetings for me (which involved creating calendar invitations and sending them to all participants - this service is free with their subscriptions)

  • sorted out a fairly involved but entirely solvable with a lot of Googling type-query that I've been putting off for not quite three months, but close. This is what I emailed my 'virtual assistant', whom I've dubbed (at least for the purposes of my address book) Patrick G Jeeves, to figure out "restaurants eligible for DiningDough.com AND Either 3.5+ (preferable 4) stars or higher on Yelp OR higher than a 7.5 Explorer rating on FourSquare." I also asked that the list include the Yelp and/or 4SQ link.

90 minutes later, "Ana R." replied with this list:

-Walkers Restaurant 4 out 5 starts out of 161 reviews http://fncy.it/YJTYGp (yelp.com) Categories: American (New), American (Traditional) 16 N Moore St (between Hudson St & Varick St) New York, NY 10013 Neighborhood: TriBeCa (212) 941-0142 http://fncy.it/1611f24 (walkersnyc.com)

-Ecco 4 out 5 stars out of 42 reviews http://fncy.it/1611f25 (yelp.com) Category: Italian 124 Chambers St (between Church St & Broadway) New York, NY 10007 Neighborhood: TriBeCa (212) 227-7074 http://fncy.it/1611han (eccorestaurantny.com)

-Le Pescadeux 4 out 5 stars out of 111 review http://fncy.it/1611hqA (yelp.com) Categories: Seafood, French 90 Thompson St (between Spring St & Prince St) New York, NY 10012

-Giorgio's of Gramercy 4 out 5 stars out of 306 reviews http://fncy.it/1611hqC (yelp.com) Categories: Italian, American (New) 27 E 21st St New York, NY 10011 Neighborhood: Flatiron (212) 477-0007 http://fncy.it/YJTYGv (giorgiosofgramercy.com)

-Kellari Taverna 3.5 out 5 stars out of 180 reviews http://fncy.it/1611f2d (yelp.com) Categories: Greek, Mediterranean, Seafood 19 W 44th St (between Avenue Of The Americas & 5th Ave) New York, NY 10036 Neighborhood: Midtown West (212) 221-0144 http://fncy.it/YJTYGw (kellariny.com)

-L'YBane 3.5 out 5 stars out of 90 reviews http://fncy.it/YJTVuh (yelp.com) Categories: Mediterranean, French, Wine Bars 709 8th Ave (between 44th St & 45th St) New York, NY 10036 Neighborhoods: Hell's Kitchen, Midtown West, Theater District (212) 582-2012 http://fncy.it/1611hXE (lybane.com)

-Acappella 4 out 5 stars out of 63 reviews http://fncy.it/YJTYGE (yelp.com) Category: Italian 1 Hudson St New York, NY 10013 Neighborhood: TriBeCa (212) 240-0163 http://fncy.it/YJTYGF (acappella-restaurant.com)

-Blue Planet Grill 3.5 out 5 stars out of 99 reviews http://fncy.it/YJTVuj (yelp.com) Categories: American (Traditional), Bars 120 Greenwich St (between Albany St & Carlisle St) New York, NY 10006 Neighborhood: Financial District (212) 571-1700 http://fncy.it/YJTVuk (blueplanetgrillnyc.com)

-India Place 4 out 5 stars out of 84 reviews http://fncy.it/YJTYWU (yelp.com) Categories: Indian, Vegetarian 655 Vanderbilt Ave (between Prospect Pl & Sterling Pl) Brooklyn, NY 11238 Neighborhood: Prospect Heights (718) 398-7776

-Ethos Gallery 51 4 out 5 stars out of 85 reviews http://fncy.it/YJTYWV (yelp.com) Category: Greek 905 1st Ave (between 50th St & 51st St) New York, NY 10022 Neighborhood: Midtown East (212) 888-4060 http://fncy.it/1611hqT (ethosrestaurants.com)

-Benito One The Original 4 out 5 stars out of 55 reviews http://fncy.it/YJTVuo (yelp.com) Category: Italian 174 Mulberry St (between Broome St & Grand St) New York, NY 10013 Neighborhood: Little Italy (212) 226-9171 http://fncy.it/YJTVuq (benitoone.com)

-Cafe Espanol 3.5 out 5 stars out of 105 reviews http://fncy.it/1611hHc (yelp.com) Categories: Spanish, Basque 78 Carmine St (between S 7th Ave & Bleecker St) New York, NY 10014 Neighborhood: West Village (212) 675-3312 http://fncy.it/1611hXR (ordercafeespanol.com)

-Cercle Rouge 3.5 out 5 stars out of 113 reviews http://fncy.it/YJTVuu (yelp.com) Categories: French, American (Traditional) 241 W Broadway (between Beach St & Moore St) New York, NY 10013 Neighborhood: TriBeCa (212) 226-6252 http://fncy.it/YJTYXa (cerclerougeresto.com)

Brilliant. Next step, reservations.