Friday, 30 December 2011

How To Ripen a Banana

Over at Edible Geography, Nicola Twilley documents the banana ripening process at a facility in the Bronx.

During our visit, Paul Rosenblatt told us that he aims to ripen fruit in five days at 62 degrees, but, to schedule fruit readiness in accordance with supply and demand, he can push a room in four days at 64 degrees, or extend the process to seven days at 58 degrees.

"The energy coming off a box of ripening bananas could heat a small apartment," Rosenblatt explains, which means that heavy-duty refrigeration is required to keep each room temperature-controlled to within a half a degree. In the past, Banana Distributors of New York has even experimented with heating parts of the building on captured heat from the ripening process.

To add to the complexity, customers can choose from different degrees of ripeness, ranging from 1 (all green) to 7 (all yellow with brown sugar spots). Banana Distributors of New York proudly promise that they have "Every Color, Every Day," although Rosenblatt gets nervous if he has more than 2000 boxes of any particular shade.

How To Spot a Liar

A little snap judgment goes a long way toward making friends: According to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, all it takes is 20 seconds to decide whether or not a stranger is trustworthy.

Researchers recruited 24 couples and asked each person to talk about a time when he or she had suffered.

Meanwhile, cameras recorded the reactions of the speaker’s partner. A separate group reviewed the videos, and was able to identify fake compassion in the reacting partners within 20 seconds.

After researchers took DNA samples of the study participants, it turned out that 60 percent of the least-trusted participants lacked a gene receptor, GG genotype, that may control your compassion and empathy.

The receptor helps regulate your body’s level of oxytocin, which past studies have linked to feelings of trust, empathy, and generosity, explains Alexsandr Kogan, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto and the study’s lead author.

Of those rated most trustworthy, 90 percent carried the gene. But since the gene is only linked to perceptions of sincerity, it doesn’t mean you’re unsympathetic if you don’t have it, the study authors say.

Observers could weed out the sincere from the dishonest because, Kogan says, “there are certain behaviors that are found to be signals of trust and support.

How to Earn Her Trust

Whether you’re dealing with a salesman, a new colleague, or a blind date, you can identify bogus behavior if you know what to look for, says Marc Salem, a behavioral psychologist and the Men’s Health resident expert on non-verbal behavior.

Look out for these signs:

1. Inconsistent Behavior
“If normally someone is very still, and suddenly they become very animated, or vice versa, that change-up is a red flag,” Salem says. The same goes if a person is speaking smoothly and rapidly, but suddenly their speech becomes more deliberate or clipped. “Shifts from the norm are red flags for deceit,” he adds.

2. A Steady Gaze
“When people think or contemplate, it’s natural for them to break eye contact and look around,” Salem explains. If a person’s gaze is too constant, they’re either not listening or consciously trying to earn your trust. Both are signs of insincerity.

Resident Expert on Non-Verbal Behavior

3. Not Enough Mouth
Coughing, clearing the throat frequently, or any other gesture of covering the mouth can indicate that a person is trying to hide something, Salem says. The same goes for a shoulders-down, hunched-body pose. That’s a sign of caution, he adds, and indicates a person is not opening himself up completely.

4. A Quick Smile
A genuine smile changes a person’s whole face, Salem says. Their eyes light up, and their cheeks and eyebrows rise along with the corners of their mouth. That smile also takes a few seconds to fade. A fake smile appears in an instant, and disappears just as quickly.

VIDEO: How to Spot a Liar

Thursday, 29 December 2011

How To Keep The Pounds Off Holiday Eating Season

The festivities surrounding the holiday season tend to have an unwanted lingering consequence: a larger waistline.

The weight gained during the holiday season may be small, but over the years it adds up and can lead to bigger health issues that create a financial hardship.

“People only gain about an average of a pound, but they keep that pound from year to year,” says Rachel Berman, director of nutrition for “People lessen their inhibition and tend to go over board when faced with food they avoid most of the year.”

While avoidance is the best way to keep the pounds off, it’s hard to turn down home-made cookies, fancy cocktails and dinner party invites. Here are five tips to help make smart decisions on what to indulge in this eating season.

Holiday Cocktails

One of the oldest traditions during the holiday season is sharing cups of eggnog. While it may be a classic drink at home with the family and at parties, eggnog can be devastating to your diet. According to Dr. Brunilda Nazario, WebMD’s medical editor, one cup of eggnog has at least 400 calories.

With that said, simply opting for a mixed drink or a cream-based alcoholic beverage may not be better. “Just a couple of cocktails, especially with mixed ones you’re taking in 1,000 calories,” she says.

Nazario recommends sticking with drinks mixed with tonics, low-sugar versions of juices or spritzers with wine. Add glasses of water in between drinks, it will prevent dehydration and fill you up.

Portion Control

Buffets with an assortment of foods tend to be present at larger parties because they are more economical and budget friendly, but they can be unfriendly to your waistline.

Experts say it’s fine to dabble at the buffet, but take a small taste of each item and don’t go back for second or third servings.

Starving yourself throughout the day to “store” calories for the holiday party that night will backfire. “Your metabolism slows down if you are going more than four or five hours without eating,” says Berman. “If you know you have a big party that night, eat a sensible breakfast and lunch and a snack before going.” Not only will that ensure your metabolism is working properly, but it will limit your food intake because you won’t be completely ravenous.


With many holiday festivities, appetizers are served up before the meal, but try to avoid them. These foods often don’t prevent people from chowing down on the second and third courses. To limit the calorie intake, Nazario at WebMD says people should skip the fattening foods like pigs-in-a-blanket and mozzarella sticks and go and consume raw vegetables, salads and deli meats. Avoiding salad dressing, which tend to be loaded with calories, can also be a quick way to keep off unwanted weight.

Berman says to skip the pretzels and instead snack on something that will be more hunger satisfying like nuts. While they tend to be more fattening, nuts are also packed with protein which fills you up faster than carbohydrates. “With low-density foods, you get more bang for your calorie bucks,” says Berman. “Low calorie, high fiber foods will fill you up and won’t break the calorie bank.”


When filling your plate at holiday dinners, aim to fill your plate with a serving of lean protein like chicken or turkey, vegetables (preferably the ones not cooked in butter) and some kind of starch. Berman says to stay away from things like mashed potatoes or cream of anything since those foods are going to have a high calorie and fat counts.

“Once you fill your plate, try to pay attention to your hunger cues,” says Berman, noting that people get distracted and go up more when they really aren’t hungry. If you do make another round at the buffet, she says to stick to lean proteins and veggies.


Desserts are in abundance during the holiday season. You may not think a cookie here or a brownie there won’t make a difference, but those calories add up. You don’t have to avoid desserts altogether, but make sure to have small servings.

Nazario at WebMD says to avoid the crust, skip the whip cream and other toppings that pack on the pounds. “I’m not saying you can’t have it, but be conscious of what you are putting into your system.”

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

How to Check iPhone Data Usage

Wondering just how much data you’re pulling down in a given month on your iPhone? There are a few ways to check your usage.

You can head to AT&T’s wireless website, log into your account, and create a billing report (under “Bills and Payments,” click “Create Billing Report,” and “Data Usage Trend”), which gives you a detailed graph on how much data you’re using. You can also estimate how much you use with your provider’s online data calculator.

Find your usage for AT&T, Verizon, or by signing in to your Sprint account.

However, this third way only requires you and your iPhone to see how much data you’re devouring.

First, head to your iPhone’s settings app. Scroll down to “General,” then click on “usage.” You’ll see your minute breakdown, but at the very bottom you’ll see your data usage (sending and receiving) over the cellular network. If you’ve never reset your stats, you’ll find that this number will be fairly high.

Since existing customers can keep the plans they’re on now, you can reset your statistics today (by hitting the “Reset Statistics” button at the bottom of the screen), and check back next week to estimate just how much bandwidth you’re eating up each month, and determine if you want to switch to a less expensive plan.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, izusek

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

How To Avoid Holiday Pitfalls

With the holiday season already upon us, it is pointless to ponder why or how we have managed to turn the most joyful time of the year into the most stressful. Our energies will be better spent learning how to reduce the angst, whether it be vehicular, spousal, or Evite-related. Here’s the Globe’s highly selective insiders’ guide to overcoming December’s challenges.


Every shopper knows the basics: Look for the shortest line and take cart load into account. But pros like Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association, look at the check-out scene differently: It’s the cashier, stupid. “You want someone who is not hesitating, who doesn’t look annoyed to be there, and who isn’t chatting with another cashier,’’ he said. If the cashier is working with a bagger, you have struck gold. And don’t assume the express lane is the fastest. If the cashier is inexperienced, Flynn said, that might not be your best bet.

Of course, even the best line picker can be sabotaged by a coupon-wielding customer or a bagger who switches lines. In which case, find your Zen place and read about the Kardashians.


Parties are supposed to be fun, but Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, author of “A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage,’’ and a New York marriage therapist, says they can easily trigger fights between partners, whether they are hosting or attending. “The two words that come to mind are ‘expectations’ and ‘disappointment,’ ’’ she said,

“A typical thing that happens is that the couple doesn’t discuss when they want to leave the party, or they don’t leave enough time to get there,’’ and those things trigger arguments. “It sounds simple, but it really helps to discuss things ahead of time.

“If you’re hosting a party, you may have had disappointments in the past and you want to make sure it doesn’t happen again,’’ O’Neill said. “You need to get some things clear ahead of time, ranging from which jobs you’ll do to when you’ll allow yourself to relax and have a drink.’’

And if you have had a fight before the party? “Put it on hold until tomorrow,’’ O’Neill advised. “You’re going to feel really bad if something blows up at the party.’’


It’s the holiday contradiction: You want to be invited to parties, but you do not want to have to go to them. But how to say no politely, especially in the age of the Evite, when your “No’’ response will be so public?

“You offer as little information as possible,’’ says Jodi R.R. Smith, of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Marblehead. Otherwise, this can happen: “Let’s say you invite me over for dinner but I don’t really like you. I say, ‘I’m sorry I can’t come on Saturday.’ By giving you that piece of information, that allows you to counter-invite, and say, ‘We can do Sunday.’ Now I’m trapped.’’

Instead, say: “I’m terribly sorry I won’t be able to attend, but thank you so much for the invitation. Please tell everyone season’s greetings.’’ And tempting though it is to offer a specific excuse, don’t. Smith explains: “If I’m getting married and someone says ‘I can’t come because I’m going on a girls’ weekend to Florida,’ you are saying I value this other thing more than your thing.’’


You have had your fill of passed hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and conversation. You have feigned interest in the host’s dog and children. You have hidden out in the bathroom. And the party’s only 45 minutes old. How can you get out without insulting the host?

“People tend to find themselves throwing out the little white lie,’’ said Jennifer Gullins, corporate director of sales and marketing at Saphire Event Group, in Sharon, “but it’s not a good idea. Eventually you might get caught because you don’t remember what you said.’’

Rather than pleading a baby sitter who needs to leave early, or another commitment, be honest(ish). “We’re so pleased you invited us,’’ you can say, “we wanted to stop by and say hello and give a hug and kisses before the holidays, but we’ve got a lot on our plate so we need to scoot out early.’’


It’s a Seinfeldian situation: You and a friend are exchanging gifts. You show up with something nice, but tiny, and she hands you a present from a high-end store - bought at full retail. What now? The big spender needs to be gracious, says Robyn Spizman, author of “The Giftionary.’’ But, she emphasizes, the real aim is preventing the problem.

Agree ahead of time to give each other a book, she advised, or to treat each other to a holiday lunch. “A lot of relationships have suffered because of gifting,’’ she warned. “When someone gives you a bad gift, you feel they have no interest in you.’’ Yikes! But here’s a helpful strategy: “If a gift makes you feel like I know you, I’m paying attention to what matters to you, you do not care if I spend $10 or $30.’’


The best way to avert parking stress, says Donald Shoup, professor of urban planning at UCLA, is to go shopping at off-peak times - or walk. But if your schedule is not flexible, and the sidewalk does not go to the South Shore Plaza, here is advice on reducing parking angst: Head for the least convenient spot in the lot. “Don’t circle the lower deck of the structure, go right to the periphery,’’ Shoup said. “If you can see your destination, the walk can’t be that far.’’

The author of “The High Cost of Free Parking’’ also offered this painful tip: “If the choice is between paying right now for off-street parking, or circling and hunting for a free spot, it’s probably bad for you and bad for everyone else if you drive around. You congest traffic, waste fuel, pollute the air, and interfere with pedestrians and bicyclists. If your time is worth anything, it’s probably a good idea [to pay for a spot] rather than spend 20 minutes circling.’’


“I think one of two things,’’ said Peter Post, a director of the Emily Post Institute. “You can simply try to ignore them - talk to somebody else. They can sit there and be in their own little world. In a lot of ways it’s easier. If they don’t want to pay attention, you don’t have to pay attention to them.’’

But if you are too annoyed to keep quiet, Post said, you can make a remark, along the lines of “Gee, what’s so interesting?’’ However, he cautions, “Those things can end up causing ill feelings.’’

If neither approach feels quite right, perhaps there’s a middle ground: Take out your phone, and text the texter.


We all know that you are not supposed to go grocery shopping when you are hungry, but who knew that hunger - and thirst - can also weaken your control at Macy’s or Nordstrom?

“When you’re hungry, especially if you are lacking in protein, it turns out you are much more susceptible to making impulse purchases,’’ said Kit Yarrow, a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University. “What you feel is a sense of anxiousness. You are looking for something to make you feel better.’’ While in truth that might be water or some nuts, you grab a cashmere sweater.

“Your body is sending you an alarm signal that you need to fix something,’’ Yarrow said. And your brain can misinterpret that to mean you should buy a new handbag.

The bottom line: Fuel up before you shop.


“There is a time and a place for deep cleaning,’’ said Janette Negele, innkeeper at the Beech Tree Inn, in Brookline, “but when people are coming over, that’s not the moment.’’

Instead, focus your efforts on the bathrooms, the guest room if it will be in play, and clutter. When it comes to the latter, just hide it. Make sure sinks and toilets are clean, and put out fresh towels. And don’t waste time thinking you need to vacuum, Negele and Bette Allen, the inn’s general manager, advised. Simply start vacuuming.

And open the windows. A fresh-smelling room will seem cleaner. Baking helps, too, but if the guests are knocking at the door, you can forget the banana bread and simply make toast.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

How To Safetly Heat Your Home

How To Safetly Heat Your Home: Tips From The Fire Marshal

Prevent home fires by properly maintaining heat sources, install fire alarms, and avoid exposure to carbon monoxide.

Although the first day of winter is more than three weeks away, overnight temperatures are dipping into the 30s and 40s, you’ve likely pulled out the winter comforters and turned up the thermostat.

The high cost of home heating and utilities, however, cause economically stressed families to explore alternative heating options such as space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves. While these alternative methods of heating can be safe, they’re also a major contributing factor in residential fires, according to the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

“Working smoke alarms provide early notification to the presence of smoke. They can alert you and your family to danger,” says State Fire Marshal Charles Duffy. “By frequently practicing a home escape plan, household members will be more familiar with exit strategies.”

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is another danger, especially when using fuel-burning heating equipment. CO is known as the “silent killer” because the gas has no odor, color or taste. At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects often mistaken for flu symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, and fatigue.

Preventing Home Heating Fires:

- Fireplaces and Wood Stoves -

* Be sure the fireplace or stove is installed properly. Wood stoves should have adequate clearance (3 feet) from combustible surfaces as well as proper floor support and protection. Have your chimney inspected annually and cleaned, if necessary.
* Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out and unwanted material from going in. Keep flammable or combustible materials away from your fireplace mantel.
* Never close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. Allow ashes to cool and dispose of them in a metal container.

- Space Heaters -

* Be sure your heater is in good working condition. Inspect for cracked, frayed or broken plugs or loose connections and exhaust parts for carbon buildup. Be sure the heater has an emergency shut off in case it is tipped over.
* Space heaters need space. Keep all things that can burn, such as paper, bedding or furniture, at least 3 feet away from heating equipment.
* Never use fuel burning appliances without proper room venting, burning fuel can produce deadly fumes. Use ONLY the fuel recommended by the heater manufacturer.
* Plug power cords only into outlets with sufficient capacity and never into an extension cord.

Carbon Monoxide Safety:

* Have a trained professional inspect, clean and tune-up your home’s central heating system and repair leaks or other problems. Fireplaces and woodstoves should also be inspected each year and cleaned or repaired as needed.
* Never use an oven or range to heat your home and never use a gas or charcoal grill inside your home or in a closed garage.
* Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to reliably prevent a dangerous buildup of CO.

Protect Your Home:

* Install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. For the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home - when one sounds, they all sound. Test smoke alarms at least once a month.
* Install a carbon monoxide alarm in a central location outside each sleeping area. CO alarms measure levels of the gas over time and are designed to sound an alarm before an average, healthy adult would experience symptoms.

For more information on home heating safety, visit the Office of State Fire Marshal web site, or the United States Fire Administration web site.

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