Sticky Ideas, Cook’s Country Magazine

They stole his kidney . . .

A friend of a friend of mine is a frequent business traveler.  To keep his identity safe, I’ll call him Bill.  Bill was recently in Atlantic City for an important meeting with some new clients.  Afterward, he went to a local bar to kill some time before his flight and took a seat at a table. 

He’d just finished one drink when an attractive woman approached and asked if she could buy him another.  He was surprised, but flattered (Bill isn’t exactly a Brad Pitt).  He accepted the drink.  The woman walked to the bar and brought back two more drinks—one for her and one for him.  He thanked her and took a sip. And that was the last thing he remembered . . . before he woke up, disoriented, lying in a hotel bathtub, his body submerged in ice.

He looked around frantically, trying to figure out where he was and how he got there.  Then he spotted the note:

DON’T MOVE. CALL 911.

A cell phone rested on a small table beside the bathtub. He picked it up and called 911, his fingers numb and clumsy from the ice. The operator seemed oddly familiar with his situation. She said, “Sir, I want you to reach behind you, slowly and carefully. Is there a tube protruding from your lower back?”

Anxious, he felt around behind him. Sure enough, there was a tube.

The operator said, “Sir, don’t panic, but one of your kidneys has been harvested. There’s a ring of organ thieves operating in this city, and they got to you. Paramedics are on their way. Don’t move until they arrive.”

Incredible, isn’t it?

More importantly, do you think you could remember enough of that, without review, to tell it to someone tomorrow?

My guess is that you could. And if you did, you’d be spreading one of the most successful urban legends of the past fifteen years.  

But I didn’t tell you the story to focus on urban legends. There are a lot of stories people tell one another that don’t go viral.  What makes this one different?  In fact, what makes any idea stick effortlessly, like this one does, in someone’s brain?

Are you a teacher? In school, at home, or at your business? Do you give presentations?  Do you ever need to advertise something—a product, service, or yourself? If so then you’ve had this question.

Maybe you’ve uncovered some of the secrets. Maybe you haven’t.  But there’s no reason to despair: Chip and Dan Heath have written the book on it. It’s called Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die and is one of the most fascinating and practical reads I’ve come across in the last few years.

The brothers Heath spent hundreds of hours researching sticky ideas: urban legends, advertising campaigns, wartime rumors, proverbs, conspiracy theories, jokes, some of the nation’s best teachers—you name it; if it was sticky, they looked at it. They asked questions like what makes some urban legends so compelling? Why do some chemistry lessons work better than others? Why do some political ideas circulate widely and others fall short? What they found was that sticky ideas exhibit six traits. And it was relatively easy for someone, once they understood those traits, to make almost any idea stickier.

I can see the traits in some of the things that I’ve done that have been sticky. I can see other ways to improve. The cool thing is that I’m not going to be guessing as much. If you need to make your ideas stick, let me recommend you get this book.  If you want a preview, go to madetostick.com.

Recipes that actually work?

I was once induced, through insidious mind control, to purchase a cookbook that included all sorts of tempting dishes. I prepared a number of the recipes, and every one of them was a bust, especially the cinnamon flank steak with eggplant, which I think Nellie and I chewed for about six hours until our jaws dropped off.

Not satisfied to learn my lesson once, I soon purchased another book on making bread the Old World way. Despite our best efforts and many valiant attempts, all we could produce were loaves that were so bitter and sour they could have been used at Guantanamo Bay to threaten captured Talibanists to talk.

Let’s just say that after a few more of these, I finally beat back the mind control. I’ve been gun-shy of cookbooks ever since. We’ve been very selective over the years, and this has saved me some money. Unfortunately, I think all of those lessons learned are going to go out the window.

I was recently watching the Create channel and saw an episode of Cook’s Country where they showed how to make coleslaw that wouldn’t get all watery and a grilled chicken with traditional Southern white BBQ sauce that had me slavering in my seat. During the show they talked about testing these recipes and their failures.

I learned that the folks there had just finished an eleven-season series called America’s Test Kitchen (where was I all that time?). In the series, they tested hundreds of recipes five ways to Sunday to come up with ones that really worked.

When the episode of Cook’s Country finished, the old cookbook mind control had risen to full force. This time, though, I was able to exercise some restraint. Instead of buying fifty cookbooks, I started a 14-day trial to Cook’s Country magazine, a thirty-four page, oversized, bi-monthly that’s full of recipes that have been tested. 

One of the neat features is that they don’t simply present the recipes, they also include the stories behind the testing so a reader can learn from their failures and successes right along with them. In fact, the stories of the tests were so interesting I made Nellie sit down while I read them to her. The magazine also includes cooking tips and product ratings. In the issue I received, I learned, for example, which egg wash proved, through testing, the most successful on pies and which graham cracker tasted best in recipes. One of the best things about the magazine is that, unlike many magazines that have three sentences of content and forty pages of advertisements, Cook’s Country has zero advertisements. Zero! It’s nothing but cooking.

We’ve tried five recipes so far. Three of them have been clear winners for all the tasters in this family. There other two were good, but not spectacularly so. Still, there weren’t any cinnamon flank steaks! 

In the next set of reviews, I’ll share their potato salad recipe that had us all oohing and aahing. And maybe the chocolate éclair cake we adjusted to perfection. I’m going to continue the subscription and give their family cookbook a try.  I’ll report my results. In the meantime, I suggest you look at Cook’s Country magazine online at cookscountry.com or watch the show on Create.

Tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sticky Ideas, Cook’s Country Magazine

  1. Carolyn says:

    The Barefoot Contessa cookbooks are good for their precise directions and yummy results. “Barefoot Contessa: At Home” and “Barefoot Contessa: Family Style” are two of her best. Try checking them out of the library if you’re gun-shy about dropping twenty to thirty bucks.

  2. John Brown says:

    Hummm. I’ll look them up.