As we move with warp speed into the new millennium, here are a few culinary resolutions that'll help you get a lot more out of life -- regardless of what your lot in life.
START A FOOD FIGHT Send your food back in restaurants when it's not right. Remember, it's a service industry and you're there to be accommodated, not intimidated. (Notable exception: Don't piss off the knife-wielding chefs at Benihana.)
BE COMPLIMENTARY Praise the chef when the food's exceptional. Even if it's just a humble pancake joint, walk into the kitchen and pay homage.
KREME YOURSELF Make a pilgrimage to the closest Krispy Kreme donut store and bask in the glory of a hot-off-the-line glazed donut -- proof positive that anything can be elevated to gourmet status if it's made well.
TAKE THE PLUNGE Buy a coffee plunger. This low-tech, low-cost (about $20) unit allows coffee to steep, just like tea, thereby extracting every iota of flavor from each precious ground. The end result's a potent cup of gloriously rich and thick coffee that'll make you very, very happy.
GET REAL Use fresh, rather than processed or artificially flavored ingredients. Buy real lemons instead of plastic ones; seek whole garlic, fresh herbs and vegetables off the stem.
SCATCH THE ITCH Improve your pleasure quotient by taking a few minutes to make traditional convenience foods from scratch. Mash your own guacamole, squeeze your own orange juice, and, when time permits, bake your own cookies.
UNDRESS THE EMPEROR Determine for yourself which brands are better -- not just better marketed -- by conducting your own blind tasting. All it takes is a few paper bags and a homemade scorecard to impartially judge the best beverages (e.g., wine, vodka, mineral water) or food products (e.g., butter, pasta sauce, olive oil). These tastings are fun to do with friends and inevitably produce results that're surprising, if not treasonous.
LINGER LONGER The French spit on us for our heathen ways, then eat and drink like cochons -- and have the last laugh by outliving the average North American. Medical research attributes this to the so-called French Paradox. My unsubstantiated theory is that the French style of lingering and laughing around the dinner table minimizes the stress on the digestive system and allows the body to concentrate on more important business.
LIQUEFY Drink more water.
BUY THE FARM Shop at farmer's markets. Most of the vendors there are the farmers themselves. These salt-of-the-earth souls grow produce for flavor -- not appearance and shipping endurance -- and they're proud of it. Ask them for cooking tips, storage suggestions or recipes, and you're bound to expand your culinary horizons.
UPGRADE Bring your own food and wine on airplanes (see The $25 Upgrade, Vol. 2.6)
BE SINFUL Once a week, take pleasure -- not guilt -- in eating something sinful. If it makes you happy, it's good for you.
BE CHEESY Find a cheese shop and discover the difference between cheese and C-H-E-E-S-E (see Dirty, Rotten, Stinky Cheeses and the Wines They Love, Vol. 3.6).
BE ENLIGHTENING Use candles to illuminate routine weekday dinners (at Ikea, dinner candles are almost as cheap as electricity).
DRINK LESS BUT DRINK BETTER As you climb the wine and spirits ladder, let quality replace quantity.
PLANT THE SEEDS OF CHANGE Grow your own herbs. A shovel full of dirt and a couple of pots is all it takes. And if you have a brown thumb, start with mint, rosemary and thyme -- you can't kill 'em even if you try.
BE MORE SPONTANEOUS Throw a dinner party just for the hell of it. Whether it's as mundane as the February blues, a full moon or a cost-of-living raise, there's always an excuse to invite friends over, toss together an impromptu meal and dust off a few bottles of wine.
SMOKE UP Discover chipotle chili, a Southwestern specialty made from jalape-o chilies that're smoked for days over aromatic wood cuttings. Its smoky campfire aroma imparts a distinctive spicy flavor to anything it's added to, especially salsas, chili, eggs, guacamole and dry rubs for meats.
ACCENT THE POSITIVE Splurge on some sel gris, (a.k.a. sel de Guerande). This intense hand-harvested French sea salt has coarse, grayish crystals that're rich in minerals. It doesn't dissolve when it comes into contact with food, so when you bite into the crystals on tomatoes, potatoes or salads, your mouth is filled with a bright burst of flavor.
ASPIRE TO GREATNESS Keep an ungrated chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano in your refrigerator. Grate just before using on pastas and salads. (To fully appreciate its distinctive qualities, crumble a small chunk into nugget-size pieces and nibble on them alongside a glass of hearty red wine).
INVIGORATE Never let it be said that you can't afford to cook exotic tasting food. Fifty cents' worth of fresh garlic, ginger, shallots, chilies, lime juice or lemon zest can instantly transform any ho-hum dish into a party in your mouth. By developing the confidence to add them in bold quantities, you can throw together simple meals that're as impressive as they are inexpensive.
BE DARING Try a food you've hated all your life. If it still makes you squirm, you're that much braver for having tried.
BE GIVING Make an annual donation of time, energy and/or money to a food bank. If you have more than five bottles of wine stashed away, chances are you're in a position to help those less fortunate than yourself.