Monday, October 1, 2012

Spicy and sweet: apple ginger pie

A trip to a New Jersey orchard resulted in so many apples that I've been able to add them to anything I like for weeks: Fried in butter over pork chops, diced and stirred into oatmeal, baked and eaten with ice cream, sliced and eaten with cheese. They taste like fall: crisp, sweet, sharp. I used the last of them last night in a pie.
Sweet desserts are great, but to me, they're even better when they come with a spicy kick. Chocolate and chiles, for example, where the spiciness is more a sensation than a taste, or poached peaches with black pepper. It's as if the counterpoint of spice highlights the sweetness by contrast, and vice versa.

For apple pie, my solution is to add a handful of crystalized ginger to the seasonings, and then reduce the cinnamon so it's not the main event but still evocative of traditional flavors. The ginger softens as the pie bakes, melting into the apples so spicy bites are a surprise but not a disruption of the texture. And as it bakes, it fills the air with that aroma of autumn, of holidays on the way and more pies to be had soon.

Apple Ginger Pie

½ pound lard
½ stick butter
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon vinegar
¼ cup cold water
(This is my gran's very reliable crust; it's easy to handle and always turns out. But if you prefer a different recipe, use that one!)

5 or 6 baking apples, sliced thinly and sprinkled with the juice and zest from half a lemon
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of cardamom
Pinch of nutmeg
4 tablespoons crystalized ginger, minced

Turn oven to 425 degrees.

For the crust:
Cut the lard and the butter into little cubes. Freeze until very cold and hard.

Mix flour and salt in a medium bowl. 

Place the lard and butter in the flour, and using your hands, rub the fat into the flour until it looks like small clumps of wet sand.

Whisk together egg, vinegar and water in a small bowl. Combine with the floury fat, switching to a fork or a pastry dough blade when it gets too hard to incorporate with a mixing spoon. If the dough seems too sticky, add a little more flour. It rarely goes the other way for me, but when it has, I've found that adding a little milk or cream works well to bring everything back together again.

Divide pie crust dough into two balls. Refrigerate one, place the other on a floured surface and roll out to a roughly 12-inch circle. Place the dough into a 9-inch pie dish. If you find in the process of rolling out the dough that it seems too sticky or too fragile, just douse it with a little more flour, gather it up, and roll it out again. This is one reason I really like this recipe: you can roll it out a few times and it won't get tough.

For the filling:
Mix together sugar and spices and sprinkle over the apple slices, tossing slightly so that each slice is coated. Sprinkle in crystalized ginger.

Turn filling into the pie dish, including any liquid that's at the bottom of the bowl. Dot the slices with a tablespoon or two of butter, as you like.

Retrieve the second ball of dough from the fridge and roll out to a 12-inch circle. Cover the pie and crimp around the edges, or if you prefer, cut the dough into strips and make a lattice top instead.

Place in the oven for 25 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375 and bake for another 30 minutes or so, until the top is golden brown and the juices are bubbling.

Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. 

Pie! Yum. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Flying solo in San Francisco

With January fast on its way and the need to use my allotted vacation time before it arrives, I went on a solo vacation to San Francisco a few weeks ago with a to-do list of work in mind. My uncle Jamie, one of my favorite people in the world, offered to let me stay at his place in the Mission and promised that even though he couldn't take time off work, he could show me around town during the evenings and take me to some of his favorite restaurants. I had expected to spend my two weeks writing every day, getting lots of work done on a fellowship application and eating really, really well. 

And we did eat really, really well: shrimp and grits and slugged up lemonade at The Front Porch; duck and white bean salad and fresh tomatoes at Bar Jules; spicy pizza and too many appetizers at Diavola in Sonoma County; shiso pesto and wagyu sashimi at ICHI, where the chef showed us the beautiful, expressive photos he had taken with the very large camera he'd built; and Izakaya Yuzuki, where we ate soothing, creamy homemade tofu and the sake sommelier poured out more flavors of sake than I'd ever tasted, including a sesame-scented one that for a split second felt on my tongue as rich and smooth as sesame oil. 

There were morning buns from Tartine Bakery, green figs from Bi-Rite and a massive, sticky cinnamon bun from The Cheese Board Collective. It was a good fortnight in food. 

But what I had not expected was the wide-eyed giddiness I felt being in a big, crowded city, despite the fact that the one I call home is even bigger and more crowded. Instead of getting any work done, I dove into that feeling and just let each day unfold on its own. I took long, windy walks, stared out at the ocean, explored busy city streets and got no work done at all. It took a few days to pinpoint that although I was able to navigate the streets and public transit system without getting too lost, the feeling was the same one I'd had when I first moved to New York a decade ago — the sense of being a country bumpkin with no sophistication and the ability to delight in even the smallest details of the day, like getting a BART transfer right or taking in the view for hours at the top of the de Young. It made me think that we carry our origins with us wherever we go, giving some of us from far-flung small towns a feeling close to awe when confronted with new, big places.

Since I've been home I've wondered if that sense of excitement, of feeling lucky simply to be somewhere new at all is just another iteration of gratitude. Perhaps it's practical-application-everyday-gratitude. Whatever it is, I like it. And I'll remind myself of it in the upcoming months, when the gloomy weather threatens to dampen my spirits.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

French class

A terrifying woman I once knew — terrifying in that she seemed so strenuously cool — routinely made fun of lovers of France. We met shortly after I finished college and moved to the East Coast, where she had lived all her life. I remember once listening to her disparage a friend of ours who had hung a series of Jean-Pierre Jeunet film posters in his apartment. "You're like a Francophile cliche," she said as he looked sheepishly around the room. "It's so ridiculously American." The next time we visited him the posters were gone.

Intimidated and uncertain of my opinions, I adopted hers as my own while secretly listing Delicatessen as one of my favorite movies and still longing to someday see Monet's waterlilies in person. I never mentioned that I'd taken French language classes through high school and college. When we went out to eat, I never suggested Café Luluc or Madame Claude's — restaurants I loved. Whenever she came over, I always took down the large black-and-white photo of boats on the Seine given to me by the city editor at my newspaper. He'd taken it during a trip to Paris and had written across the top: "To Whitney, who was here in another lifetime." I loved that idea. But would that make me a ridiculous Francophile? Who wants to be made fun of? Not me, especially not by this woman!

Lately, though, it's dawned on me that she didn't know what was what. I had been carrying around the idea that she was right for so long that it was surprising when I mentioned to a friend I had always wanted to go to France and she responded in kind. Oh, I thought. Maybe it is time to jettison the opinions of Terrifying Woman and go back to my own. A little perspective is hard to come by sometimes.

So with that in mind I decided to dip a toe back into an interest I once had. Last month I took the entrance exam at Alliance Francaise and was surprised at how much I remembered. I enrolled in a Tuesday night French class, started reading about what to do in Bordeaux during the fall, and bought Mastering the Art of French Cooking. So much has been written about that cookbook that buying it felt like a culinary rite of passage. Planning out a little Friday dinner for a friend who recently got braces and is hungry only for soft foods, I followed the cheese soufflé recipe exactly, and it turned out just the way it was supposed to: tall, airy and packed with the tang of Gruyere.

It's surprising how substantial a soufflé is — it starts out as just a few tablespoons each of flour and butter, a handful of cheese, a few eggs and a cup of milk. But three of us were nice and full when we were finished. My friend had made a spicy yam and tomato gazpacho, and the two dishes balanced each other: one rich and cheesy and warm, the other sharp and spicy and freezing cold. The best part about making the soufflé was how enjoyable it was to see everything come together; if ever you've been intimidated by this endeavor, there's still time to set fear aside! Go to.

Since it would be ingenuous (lying) to say I had done anything else but follow the recipe just as it's written, I didn't think it would be right to include my own version. There was no adapting whatsoever. But here is a recipe faithful to the original.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hello again

I stopped writing here six months ago to finish my MFA thesis and now it's all done. Hello! Happy summer! 

It's funny — I had anticipated all I would feel when school was over would be relief, that the lid of the pressure cooker would be removed and all my stress and anxiety would roil upwards and evaporate. But instead it just feels as if the pressure cooker has... disappeared. And now I'm wondering what to do with myself. Keep going, I think. It's odd to think there's time to do that. For the thesis, I researched and wrote about the early days of the Hy-Vee grocery store corporation, which one of my ancestors was involved in during its infancy and which opened just days before the Great Depression. In spite of the bad timing, it grew to become Iowa's largest employer, in part because of its progressive business practices. I called the project "Of what mettle a man or store is made: the true story of an ethical capitalist," and since it has a name and 100 pages to show for itself, it seems like a good project to keep going with. 

But the other thing I'm hoping to do with more regularity now is get to some of the recipes that have been on my mind during all this time. After spending so many hours reading about the 1920s and 1930s, the ingredients that sound the most interesting to me are the ones more common in that era that have since fallen out of fashion. There's a lot to be said for modern America — running water ranks pretty high on the list  — but in making room for all our new knowledge we erased older mental files, especially when it comes to the goings on of the kitchen. Buttermilk is one of the staple ingredients of just a generation or two ago that seems recently marginalized; though my grandparents say they drank it in tall glasses like regular two-percent during meals, it's something I rarely buy at all. I wanted to see what could be done about that, and relying on the ratios of pound cake recipes, decided to expand my buttermilk use beyond pancakes and biscuits. I used olive oil, because I love the taste in baked treats, but you could use any high-heat oil you like. Coconut oil might be tasty. Or you could go crazy and use all butter. A dense butter buttermilk cake.

The batter tastes sharp and yogurty, but the flavors mellow and blend during baking and the cake ends up lighter and fluffier than a pound cake. I was especially happy with the texture; the cake crumb is delicate but still rich and sweet-tooth (and fat-tooth) satisfying.

Buttermilk cake
Adapted from several pound cake recipes, including from Cooks Best Recipes

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup olive oil 
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 10-inch pans or one 10-inch bunt pan. 

2. Cream together the butter and the sugar. Then add each egg one at a time, blending slowly. 

3. Mix the remaining wet and dry ingredients separately in two bowls. Add to the butter and sugar, alternating between the two and starting with the liquid ingredients.

4. Pour into the prepared pans and bake 35 minutes for the two 10-inch pans or 50 for the bunt pan. 

Here's the thesis, bound and ready to be dropped off. I'd never written anything longer than 20 pages before. Pages 95 to 100 were the toughest. It was also tough not to obsessively read and re-read the thing, looking for mistakes. I know theyre in their.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jittery nerves after a long day

It was an unexpectedly late night at work yesterday. Just before I was about to publish the issue and walk out the door at 5:30 p.m., I noticed a big, glaring error on page 8 that had to be fixed. It would have been a stop-the-presses moment, except that it's an online publication. (A stop-the-coding moment? Not very dramatic.) Nonetheless, three people had to be bothered at home to fix the mistake, and I didn't roll out of work for another three hours. It would have been OK if it was just me who was kept late, but bothering other people is such a terrible feeling. Ugh. 
When I got home I was a little jittery — the problem had been fixed and everything was fine. But sometimes nerves are hard to calm. I decided to make biscotti. It helped.
And I can take some to the people who I had to bother yesterday.
Spicy biscotti
(Adapted from The New Best Recipes)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs and 2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cloves or powdered cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
Several grates of fresh nutmeg, or a pinch or two of ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, yolks. Whisk in vanilla.
3. Whisk together dry ingredients.
4. Add dry ingredients to wet and gently incorporate without overmixing.
5. Divide dough into two parts and roll into two foot-long, narrow logs. Place on the baking sheet and smooth the top of the dough. Bake until the dough is golden, about 30 minutes.
6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Using the parchment paper, transfer the dough onto a counter, and using a very sharp knife, cut diagonal slices of biscotti to your desired thickness (New Best Recipes recommends a serrated knife, but that's always caused my cookie log to tear).
7. Turn the heat down to 325. Rearrange cookies on a baking sheet, cut side up. Bake another 20 minutes, or until the raw edge of the cookie is golden. For thicker biscotti, increase the time by about five minutes so that the center doesn't get weird and chewy.

Makes about 25-30

Sunday, January 8, 2012


In an effort to cheer me up after a discouraging day, my mom once told me a story about Jun Kaneko, a ceramics artist born in Japan who makes gorgeous, gigantic sculptures out of his studio in Omaha, Nebraska. Mom said that as a student new to the U.S. in the early '60s, Mr. Kaneko had spent the night after his first class working on an assignment to make dozens and dozens of ceramic pieces — not realizing that the number of pieces he was attempting to finish was the total number required for the semester, not for the next day of class. He finished all the work for the entire term that night, then continued to work just as hard until classes were over. Mr. Kaneko is now one of the world's most respected ceramics artists, with public commissions in the U.S. and Japan, and shows around the globe. The lesson, mom told me, is that doing something well often has nothing to do with sparkling, instantaneous talent. It has to do with constant, consistent effort, plugging away at your intended goal over and over. 
I've been trying to remind myself of that as I've thought about and worked on my thesis project. On Friday night, I needed a break, and decided to do something easier for a while: a quick and simple gluten-free muffin recipe I'd spotted on the back of my package of Bob's Red Mill rice flour. Attempt Number One: not so good. My first batch was bland and weird, with too little batter per muffin, which each had the density of a hockey puck.
Attempt Number Two: much better! I doubled the recipe, added more sugar and ground almonds, and changed the flavoring to lemon poppy seed, with the added zing of lemon zest. It's remarkable how much better you can get with the second try. Keep that in mind, self. 
So now it's Sunday night. Rus has gone off to a rehearsal, the apartment is silent, and there's still enough of the day left to take another crack at writing. Onward! I hope everybody had a good weekend and is looking forward to the week ahead. 
Gluten- and dairy-free lemon poppy seed muffins
2 cups rice flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons  ground almonds
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Zest of one lemon
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons water
2 eggs
1 teaspoon lemon extract
4 tablespoons oil (Any higher-heat oil will do. If you don't mind dairy, you could use butter.)

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Grease or paper a 12-muffin tin.
3. Whisk together dry ingredients, make a well in the center.
4. Add wet ingredients. Mix well.
5. Pour batter into tin. Bake 20 minutes.

In other news, my friend Leigh wrote a book! A real life book! It's excellent. If you're in need of a good story, rush out and get it. And...
...this granola recipe is tasty. I added cinnamon, dried dates, dried apricots and dried cherries. And an aspirational graffito appeared in the neighborhood overnight.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Do-overs, deep thoughts and the last hours of vacation

OK! FINALLY! I got new monkfish and made that Rick Stein dish I'd hoped to make for The First Dinner of 2012: Vietnamese fried fish with turmeric and lemongrass. The fish is marinated for an hour in tamarind, lemongrass, fish sauce, tossed in turmeric powder and rice flour, then deep fried with scallions until everything is golden. The marinade has that spiky smell of lemon, but because lemongrass has none of the bitterness of lemon, the flavor is complex, salty-sweet, with just a flash of bright citrus.
My favorite thing about this dish is that it's a choose-your-own-adventure kind of meal. The fish is served on top of thin rice vermicelli, and then you decide what else to add on top: fresh herbs, roasted peanuts, hot peppers, lime. Eating that way, even if it's by yourself, turns dinner into such a festive meal. If someone else is there too, all the better.
I've been thinking a lot lately about why there has been such an explosion of American interest in food and food writing within the last few years; it goes way beyond The Frugal Gourmet and The Silver Palate and all of the other famous chefs and food writers and culinary thinkers whose cookbooks were in the kitchen of my 1980s childhood. Now, there's a whole TV network devoted to food and a new word to describe people who like to cook or eat or both: Foodie.
One of my professors even commented several weeks ago that an aspect of Occupy Wall Street that struck her as particularly Of The Times was the fact that many of the protesters were eating very well, because there was an area set up for caterers, chefs and restaurants to make donations of delicious-looking food. Some people associate the interest we have in food with fall-of-Rome-type predictors, as if we are too gluttonous for our own good. And certainly, as Mark Bittman points out, we Americans have a lot of room to eat more healthfully, thoughtfully and ethically.
But at the same time, I find it heartening that many of my contemporaries, people in their 20s and 30s, as well as those younger and older, are more interested in cooking and eating and thinking about ways to enjoy good food and good company than they are in, say, shopping. It makes me hopeful that in this small way, some of us are rebelling against the focus on the warped reality of reality TV and the false sense of connection given by Facebook, choosing instead an activity and experience that's real. With that, on to fried fish!
Vietnamese Fried Fish for Two
Adapted from Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey
2 tablespoons of tamarind pulp, soaked in 1/4 cup of hot water for about 15 minutes
2-inch piece of fresh turmeric, peeled and roughly chopped
2 large lemongrass stalks, stripped of the tough outer leaves and finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound monkfish or john dory, cut into bite-sized cubes
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/3 cup rice flour
Vegetable oil
4 scallions, cleaned and sliced lengthwise into thin ribbons
1 packet dried rice vermicelli, cooked, shocked in cold water and drained
1/4 cup toasted peanuts, chopped 
Handful of lettuce leaves, ripped into small pieces, washed and dried
Several sprigs of mint, cilantro and Thai basil, washed and dried
Half a lime, quartered
Vietnamese dipping sauce (the recipe is below)

1. Squeeze the tamarind pulp with your fingers, helping the meat dissolve in the water. Strain out the pulp and retain 3 tablespoons of the liquid. 

2. Place the tamarind liquid with the next four ingredients in a small food processor with a tablespoon of water, and blend. Place the fish in a shallow dish and cover with the tamarind/turmeric/lemongrass slurry, turning the pieces so they're covered on all sides. Put in the fridge for at least an hour. 

3.  Whisk together rice flour and turmeric powder in a dish. Toss the fish cubes into the flour so they are coated on all sides. 

4. Using a frying pan that's large enough to accommodate all the fish cubes without crowding, pour the vegetable oil so it's about an inch deep, then heat over a high flame. Test one cube to see if it's hot enough; if it sizzles in a strong, satisfying kind of way, it's ready. Fry the cubes until they're toasty on all sides and cooked through, about four minutes. Halfway through, add the scallions and allow them to wilt and get crispy here and there. Use a slotted spoon to take everything out. Drain on paper towels. 

5. Divide the noodles onto two plates, then place half the fish and scallions on top of each mound. Serve with all the accompaniments in their own bowls, and have at! 

Dipping sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 tablespoon sugar
Minced ginger and garlic to taste; I used about a teaspoon each
One hot Thai pepper, sliced thinly

1. Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl and serve with the other accompaniments. 
In other news, it's freezing cold out after 60 degree days and someone has dressed the trees on 13th Street in little knitted sweaters. I love them. But will they get saggy when it rains tomorrow? Maybe the tree clothier has little tree rain slickers at the ready. We shall see.'s the last few moments of my lovely long vacation. Oh time, there is never enough of you.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Lucky beans and a change of plan

I was going to make Vietnamese fried fish for the first dinner of 2012: a glorious, fresh-turmeric-tinted dish with jasmine rice and fresh herbs. The black-eyed peas were just going to be a little side dish, done with herbs and lime, flavors that would go with the fish but still (hopefully) hold their good luck. But when I opened the parchment packet of sea bass I had bought the day before, I was taken aback by its weird, ever-so-stomach-turning smell. It had gone bad. 
Since I had nothing else at hand, the beans were thrust from side stage to center stage; perhaps their good luck was already at work, because I had most of the ingredients to make a Hoppin' Johnesque sort of stew. Or maybe the good luck was that I didn't get completely bummed and order a medium pie with anchovies and olives. Or maybe luck had nothing to do with anything, and it was all the power of bacon.
But whatever it was, our New Years black-eyed peas had never tasted better. I was so relieved! The peas were creamy and the Holy Trinity of onion, green pepper and celery, along with oregano and spicy green chili, evoked that cozy Southern cooking style that seems to say, Don't worry. Just relax. Home cooking is on the way.
 My left brain knows that it probably doesn't really matter what the first dinner of the year is. But it feels significant, as if it sets the tone, somehow, for everything that comes after. Like Byron says, "I will not dwell upon ragouts or roasts, albeit all human history attests that happiness for man —the hungry sinner! — since Eve ate apples, much depends on dinner." (!!!!)  
If this is the kind of luck that the peas have decided to bring this year — the luck to rescue a situation, even if it means drastically deviating from my original plan, then bring it on. I'll be ready!
Lucky Beans
2 large, thick rashers of bacon, or 4 conventional pieces, sliced into 1 cm. pieces
1 medium onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
Hot green chili pepper minced, or red pepper flakes, to taste
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
black pepper to taste
1 14 oz. can of black eyed peas
3 tomatoes, diced, or 1 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes

1. In a skillet with a lid, fry the bacon over medium heat until the fat renders and the meat is as crispy as you like. Remove the bacon using a slotted spoon and set aside.

2. Add the onion, pepper, celery, hot pepper and spices to the bacon fat, and gently saute over medium heat until the onion is translucent. Everything will start smelling delicious right about now.

3. Add the black eyed peas and tomatoes, bring to a simmer, and put the lid on the skillet. Turn the heat down as far as it can go, and gently cook everything for about five minutes, allowing all the ingredients to get to know each other. If the beans are too soupy, remove the lid and cook for a few minutes longer to drive off some of the liquid. Otherwise, done!

3 cups chicken broth
1 cup corn grits, also sold as polenta
A tablespoon or two of butter, if you feel like it

1. Bring the broth to a boil in a saucepan with a lid.

2. While stirring, sprinkle in the grits and turn down the heat. Clamp on the lid, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Some people say that corn grits and polenta must be stirred constantly to be smooth, but I think it works just as well to stir now and then and break up any lumps if they form.

3. Stir in as much butter as you like, and serve.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Mary's Fishcamp, then Applewood.Yes!

Oh Mary, how I love your camp of fish. I have never met you. I don't even know what you might look like. But if we were ever introduced, I'd say this: I really, really like your restaurant.
Rus and I had our last dinner of the year last night at Mary's Fishcamp, and we went a little bit wild with the ordering. There were New Zealand cockles, three kinds of raw oysters, Guatemalan shrimp in spicy garlic sauce, crayfish hush puppies, peekytoe crabs in cream sauce and grilled lobster.
There was a chocolate sundae and a steamed lemon pudding with candied lemon zest. At one point the waitress looked at us like we were nuts for ordering so much, but everything was so flavorful, and there was such a wide variety of dishes on the menu, and it was New Years Eve, after all.
If it's important for the last meal of the year to be spectacular, it follows that the first meal of the year should be, too. Right? (Convenient logic...) So while Rus rested because of a sore throat, I went down to Applewood, sat at the counter and had a less crazy but still delish meal: grilled cheese with bacon, fries and coffee, and read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. YES on all counts.
 I don't know if it's socially acceptable among bloggers and blog readers to lavish praise on restaurants and cookbooks and other bloggers, instead of being measured and casting about with a critical eye. (I was going to say gimlet eye, because I LOVE GIMLETS) But there's just so much criticizing floating around, I know I'm too critical, and I just want it to stop already. Which brings me to my list of 2012 resolutions.

Pledges for 2012
1. Be less critical! Quit squalling, worrying, nitpicking. 
2. Pay attention to the good stuff more often then the bad stuff, externally and internally. 
3. Have better focus. Real focus! Sustained focus, even when it's hard or the task is tedious.  
4. Have a steadier supply of handy snacks. So that when hunger strikes at work or while studying, it doesn't spiral into a grouchy mood. 
5. Hang the second set of Venetian blinds (BLINDZ), instead of looking at them for weeks and wishing they would hang themselves. 
6. Eat good luck blackeyed peas ASAP, then spend the rest of the year recognizing all the good luck flowing my way, even when it's hard to see, or isn't exactly what I'd wanted. 

Happy 2012 all! Here's hoping it's a great year for everyone.