For Dave's 50th birthday, we went to see Mary Roach, a science writer and humorist who has written such books as Stiff, Bonk, and most recently, Gulp, speak as part of the City Arts & Lecture series at the Nourse Theatre in San Francisco. It was an entertaining evening, and Roach is a great storyteller as she recounted funny anecdotes from her research. The Q & A portion was surprisingly interesting and absent were the typical gooey praise for the speaker. Through Roach's answers of a few different questions, she spoke about her own insecurities, self-criticism and general worry that her writing won't be good enough, clear enough, funny enough. But what struck me is how her insecurities became motivators. What makes one person's low self-esteem productive, and for another person, their low self-esteem creates paralysis? It seems like at the root of both people is fear—fear of being insignificant, fear of failure, fear of being judged. Roach commented that she only shares the drafts of her book with her trusted editor, because anyone else's feedback might cause her to abandon the whole project. That sounds like a lot of self-doubt for a best-selling author, and I don't believe that she was just being self-effacing. So how do her fears manifest in book after book, while for me and others I know, that fear results in not pursuing our goals?

One possibility may be that success could be a defensive posture to counter shame and lack of self-worth. But why does the insecure productive person's desire override their fear? Does their need for attention trump their worry about judgement? For others, those feelings of worthlessness compound on top of each other and create nothing but regret. 
What are the qualitative differences between the insecure person who has found success and the insecure person who is stuck?
On television, reality show and celebrity interview after interview, low self-esteem and narcissism rear their ugly heads time and time again. I understand that fame attracts those qualities—the need for attention from your director or your audience offers reassurance and belonging—I realize that this is a gross overstatement, but for argument's sake, is that need for affirmation so great that it suppresses the fear of rejection? Shouldn't that kind of lack of confidence cause these stars to crawl up into a ball and hide, instead of pursuing their goals with such dedication? This is such a mystery to me. It's something that I need to unlock. I want to perform. I want to have the resiliency to go to auditions, to network and to slough off rejection, all the while building skills to help me get cast the next time. But it feels all too much for me, at least at this point in time. My love of performing does not trump these feelings of doubt. And the very fact that they don't, makes me question myself even more.

I've always thought that content people are the individuals who have healthy self-esteem, who feel uncertainty but move through those uncomfortable stages until they travel to the other side and complete their tasks. But listening to Mary Roach last week made me realize that many of these seemingly successful people are filled with more than just a little healthy self-doubt. How does she manage her apprehension to keep working, researching and writing? 
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Birthday boy with his girls at Smitten in SF.
How does one person's youth filled with lack of stability, financial insecurity and unloving relationships motivate them to become competent and wealthy, while for another, it just reemphasizes scarcity and keeps them down?

How does one person have enough belief in themselves to see their ideas through, while another lets the world pass them by?

How does one person decide they are an authority on a subject and become a professor, a mechanic, a surgeon?

At the heart of the situation, I think that we attempt to raise our children, to teach our students, to help our friends, our family, ourselves, to listen to our feelings (whether they are filled with fear, joy or something in between) and to have the emotional tools to act upon our needs. We try to not judge others and to not judge ourselves. We strive for empathy and to open ourselves to experience. And hopefully that is an easier thing to learn when you are a young person who has not lived through damaging relationships and disappointments. Maybe our children will be more resilient to those harmful situations and will gain strength from them instead of having their spirits crushed. But what of the folks who have been deflated. How do they aspire to their potential?

My real question is: What are the qualitative differences between the insecure person who is productive and the insecure person who is stuck? I feel that this is fertile ground for exploration and some answers could open a new path of inquiry for me to follow in my own efforts to release my uncertainty and embrace my aspirations. I know that not many folks read this blog (as I've been too shy to widely publicize my nascent writing) but if you have thoughts on this subject or know someone who might, please make comments below, pass the question along, or drop me a line!
 
 
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Franny & Jordan looking elegant on the new Bay Bridge bike path.
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AT-AT walker-inspired cranes at the Port of Oakland visible from beneath the old bridge girders.
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The old and the new temporarily converge at Treasure Island.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, we enjoyed the warm fall weather and explored the new Bay Bridge Trail that recently opened along the East span of the Oakland - San Francisco Bay Bridge. The path is open to pedestrians and bicycles, and there were a fair number of both walkers and cyclists out that day. We parked on Burma Road (off Maritime street) where there is a makeshift parking lot that sits at the start of the path. It's quite a slog (about 1.5 miles) as you walk along the approach and along the toll plaza before finally sloping upwards to where the old bridge becomes visible. It's farther still before the new tower anchoring the suspension cables gloriously comes into view. It's interesting to see the old bridge, something I've traveled over since I was a child, vacant and dark and dangerous due to its seismic instability. Alongside is now a pristine, architectural beauty; all crisp lines and curves, and on this particularly gorgeous and clear afternoon, the bridge and bay evoked the Mediterranean with azure skies and contrasting white wash.

Biking would allow you to zoom by the under-the-freeway parts and get to the new in a third of the time. But then you might miss the lazy conversations, taking photos, singing and craning your neck to admire the top of the tower and the stunning span. All in all, it's about 7 miles round trip from the Maritime lot.

Walking across bridges is one of my favorite things to do. The Golden Gate Bridge is wild and windy at the mouth of the Pacific, and the Brooklyn Bridge, traveling towards Manhattan, offers such gorgeous views. I love the sense of suspension over the water. The feeling is thrilling, but there is also a sense of security because a bridge is anchored by land masses on both sides. Bridges combine ingenuity, beauty and are literal representations of connection. Walking across such architectural behemoths offers both a synchronicity with nature and an undaunted flaunting of her forces. 
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Grateful to be surrounded by love and more love.
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Walking towards home and looking forward to crepes and frozen yogurt!
 
 
Today is Franny and Jordan's 14th birthday. We started the morning off with candy-in-their-shoes. Franny requested Fran's Chocolates salted caramels, dark chocolate truffles from Chocolatier Blue, See's Candies scotchmallows, Smarties, and I threw in a small bar of Almonds & Sea Salt in Dark Choolate from Chocolove, and See's Candies peppermint twists. Jordan requested lemon drops (the good kind, i.e. not from the drugstore. I made a special trip to Sweet Dreams on College avenue in the Elmwood district of Berkeley, and while I was there, I picked up a bag of my fave, swedish fish! Jordan's right; the quality of bulk candy from a real candy store is so much tastier). Other requests were See's Candies dark almond clusters, scotchmallows, loads of Smarties, and I added Chocolove's Raspberries in Dark Chocolate, a flavor combo that Jordan really enjoys.
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Franny looks divine in this retro style dress. My bad photo doesn't capture the color well.
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Jordan looks splendid in this colorful harlequin pattern, but the dress is just too big on the top. Back it goes.
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That's one happy girl wearing a wrapping paper hat and wielding an axe—an item from her wish list!
Franny asked me to make the Rich Chocolate Tart from the recent issue of Cook's Illustrated for their birthday cake. It's proving to be completely challenging! I'm writing as I go because the recipe calls for many breaks where you refrigerate the dough before it's rolled, after it's rolled, and on and on. I think it's highly unlikely that this thing is going to come out anything like it looks in the the photo. Even after watching the free video on the Cook's Illustrated website, my dough did not come together like expected. Although the recipe did not specify, I think ice cold butter is needed. One can see that if I were writing a professional cooking blog, I'd make a recipe dozens of time before trying to document with photos and tips! Alas, it's my small kitchen, below par instruments and my inexperience bringing this recipe to you. But that's also the point of my blog, to help me remember details of a recipe, to test if it's too complicated and not worth the effort to make again, and just fun for me to do. So here goes. It's a good way to spend my Saturday since Franny and Jordan are at school in rehearsal all day anyway!
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The dough didn't come together as a ball after adding the egg mixture to the dry ingredients. My guess is the butter got too warm.
ARGH! I hate recipes that require so many special pieces of equipment. Not having a tart pan with a removable bottom is proving to be a real problem. What I have is a pastry ring (a metal ring w/ no bottom) so the ring and dough are sitting directly on a sheet pan sprayed with non-stick spray (another ARGH! I realized that I accidentally bought Pam Baking which includes flour in the spray. I was wondering why the spray function was so damn hard to press and then sprayed with such force). The recipe calls to freeze the tart shell for 25 minutes right before baking. I threw the whole sheet pan in the freezer since the sheet pan is functioning as the bottom of my crust, but then afterwards realized that the sheet pan is now ice cold and the temperature in my pre-heated oven will drop considerably. I basically said, "screw it!" and it's baking now and I have no idea how much more time may be required for it to cook, nor if I will lose the nice golden brown color due to my pan mishaps. I suppose I should have used aluminum foil as a liner for the pastry ring...doh! So I'm scrapping the photos, the details, the equipment list, etc. The recipe should be up on the Cook's Illustrated site for a few months before they make it inaccessible for non-subscribers. Send me a comment or an email if you really want the recipe and I'll see what I can do. Here's the link: Rich Chocolate Tart, from Cooks Illustrated, November & December 2013 issue

Another ARGH! butter is oozing out beneath the pastry ring while it's baking in the oven, and I don't have it on a rimmed sheet pan so hopefully it's not going to gush all over the oven! This is actually getting to be pretty hilarious. Now I'm off to make the filling...
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Given all the hardships that proceeded this step, this looks pretty good. Now to cool, three hours to set in the refrigerator, and then glaze.
Making the filling proved to be simple—thank goodness—but I had so much leftover. The recipe calls for an 11" tart pan, and I was forced to use a 9" pastry ring, but unexpectedly, I didn't have any left-over dough. Obviously I did not roll the dough thin enough. I saved the filling and if it's delicious, I'll try the tart shell recipe again tomorrow (if I dare!) or maybe will make a pie crust using Dave's recipe.
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Franny with the final product.
We're too full to try the tart now, but I'm not waiting to post. Happy birthday to my babies!