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The mystery of pie

Willem_Claeszoon_Heda,_Natura_morta_con_brocca_d'argento_e_torta,_1645-325px

Willem Claeszoon Heda, Still life with silver ewer and pie

A single-crusted pie pronounces its identity at a glance. Immodestly uncovered, it is open to any gaze. Whether boasting berries or garnished with cream, whether lined with graham cracker crumbs or a pale pastry, its is no subtle ploy.

It begs for the knife, the server, the plate, the fork, the mouth. It wants nothing but to be eaten, and the pie plate to be scattered with a few last crumbs for scavengers.

A double-crusted pie, though—what wonders hide beneath its golden upper crust? What potential awaits? What dinner or desert signifies? Modestly draped and carefully sealed, a lone slender slit hints at its filled glory.

Perhaps a fortunate fragrance will waft from pie to nose, offering olfactory fulfillment.

Perhaps the smell of savory sage promises poultry—a soothing, homey mix of meat and sauce and vegetables. It is a remedy for sadness, an invitation to stay cozy indoors.

Perhaps the gentle double-punch of woody cinnamon and budding cloves portends sugar-sweetened apples. The provenance of the apples is the pair of trees in the backyard; they offer their abundance as the leaves around them flame and fall.

Perhaps, instead, not smell but sight suggests what mind and mouth ought anticipate.

A dark dribble suggests steak—and ale for the cooking and the drinking. The sweet tang of sauteed onions and garlic fills out the flavor.

A trickle of indigo betrays blueberries. Ah, blueberries! Finally, after the long winter wait for their fresh-bursting flavor. The farm is only a short drive away, and the blueberry bushes stand row upon row. Wildly fecund, they give generously to both sparrow and picker.

Perhaps (again) the roundness of pies speaks to their infinite perfections. What culinary rule, after all, requires they inhabit a circular dish? Cobblers, crumbles, casseroles, cakes—round, rectangular, or square—no matter. Their substance is the same, whatever their shape.

Not so with pies. The plate that contains them also bears their name. Is the essence of a pie, then, bound up in its roundness?

How does one open the mystery? It offers no single starting point for slicing. Turn the plate and turn it again. Seek some slightly more pronounced flute in the crust, and see what success it offers the knife.

The first slice is always the most difficult to extricate. It is sloppy, usually, and set aside for the server’s serving. Still, sweet or savory, it satisfies.

Going back to the beginning, consider the crust. Finicky pastry! Keep it anything but cold, and it pulls apart, torn between counter and rolling pin. Over-handle it at your peril—its tenderness quickly turns tough. Fail to encase its edges in foil, and it burns. It tends toward chaos. Coax it carefully toward perfection.

In my beginning is my end, said the poet, and in my end is my beginning. So for the pie. Created for consumption, its mystery is fleeting, forgotten by the forkful.

 

Image source.

How to help a colleague who bursts into tears

My emotions occasionally leak out my eyes. As such, I was grateful for this compassionate defense of those who have, at one time or another, cried at work. Thank you, Amy Gallo and HBR Blog Network.

So how do you help a colleague who starts crying at work? Action points from Gallo’s article:

Do:

    • Act like you would in a social situation — be comforting and solicitous
    • Keep your responses simple and focused on the employee
    • Make a specific plan for handling the situation going forward

Don’t:

    • Judge people who bring emotions to work — it’s not unprofessional to cry, it’s human
    • Try to get your employee to stop crying — offer a tissue and let the tears flow
    • Push a person to tell you what’s happening if he doesn’t want to talk about it

“Don’t judge people who bring emotions to work” is especially important to me. A former colleague and I once discussed the problem of being tear-prone. We find it frustrating, not because of the rare tears (though they can be embarrassing), but because of the reactions that tears might evoke—particularly from managers. Who wants to be perceived as weak, or unable to handle pressure, because of something that’s normal?

Plus, I know that I’ve been the most helpful to colleagues when I’ve tuned in to their feelings—and the least helpful when I’ve not paid attention. As Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, an associate professor of management and organization at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, says in the article, “We don’t leave our humanity at the office door.”

So to all of you humans out there, I offer my tissue box. Take as many as you need. And I hope you’ll share one with me, should the occasion arise.

Food for the imagination

These photos were too magnificent not to share. Click through for full-sized images.

Space Shuttle Atlantis pre-launch

Space Shuttle Atlantis the day before launch

The rich colors, the contrast of light and dark, that wonderful reflection.

Space Shuttle Atlantis launches

Space Shuttle Atlantis launches on its final mission

The column of brightness, the upward movement of the shuttle and the outward billowing of smoke. The people who dream this venture up, then make it happen—that is creativity and determination.

An equation for opportunity

A current Nissan commercial advertises the fastest way to a promotion:

3-sentence summary: An executive has a big meeting. His car reservation has fallen through, but our hero, Daniel from Accounts, offers the executive a ride. In the course of the 33-second commercial, Daniel goes from being just some guy in Accounts to being VP of Accounts.

While the commercial is partly a comedy of errors, its basic narrative makes an excellent point: Daniel wins a great opportunity (he joins the executive for the meeting, after all) because he is available and because he has the qualifications to take advantage of his availability. It’s part of the allure of the commercial, an it’s a reminder that’s always in season.

Here’s how it breaks down.

Available + Qualified = Opportunity

  • Available. Daniel is willing and able to help out when the need arises. He doesn’t even need to be asked—he volunteers. If we want tomorrow to be different than today, we have to show up. We have to demonstrate that we’re willing to assist.
  • Qualified. Daniel has not only the bare minimum of what it takes to help out (a car), but ample qualifications (a really great car, so the commercial tells us). He makes an impression. We can build our own qualifications by obtaining relevant certifications, gaining competence with a new software program, or pursuing whatever else may be pertinent to our particular aspirations and circumstances.
  • Opportunity. Together, Daniel’s availability and his qualifications produce a singular opportunity. Note, however, that he saw the opportunity and took action. We, too, owe it to ourselves to keep our eyes open and be ready to act.

I had many encounters with this equation while working for a nonprofit, where the budget didn’t make many allowances for, well, anything. For me, that meant an abundance of opportunities. I was available, I was willing to work hard, and I was capable of doing the work well. In only a few years, I went from intern to magazine editor.

Because this isn’t math, it’s not a guarantee. We may not get that one opportunity that we want more than any other, but we have a much greater chance of obtaining it if we’re available and qualified. And who knows what unexpected adventures we might have along the way?