What Goes With Your February Self-Improvement Kick?

by Diane McMartin

Around this time of year I always start perusing the self-help and diet aisles of the bookstore. My resolution resolve has flagged, and it’s that gray, un-festive part of winter that seems like it will never end. Reading these books is kind of like going to the Container Store. You’re not really buying plastic bins or a new hamper, you’re buying the fantasy of being organized and having it all figured out. Here are a few choice self-improvement fantasy titles with beverage and food pairing suggestions.

I never quite got around to the Morning Pages you’re supposed to do while working through The Artist’s Way until the afternoon. And the best wine to drink in the afternoon (what?) is something a little sweet, but not too heavy. I love semi-sweet Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley for this. Look for Anjou or Vouvray and the words “demi-sec” on the label. The sweet-tart balance is great with cheese (especially something with a little bit of stink) or by itself.

The problem with books like The Artist’s Way and Writing Down the Bones is that they’re just too damned nice. They make me feel like I should be writing earnestly about my feelings, and then I start thinking about buying $60 sweaters made out of hemp and maybe going on a women’s writing retreat. Then I come to my senses and realize I’m such a sarcastic jerk that I’d be thrown out of one of those things before the vegan lunch buffet was served. Seriously, though, try the semi-sweet wine in the afternoon thing. Even if you’re just cleaning out your inbox instead of venting your spleen.

While reading the 4-Hour Work Week you should probably drink that pu-ehr tea that looks like an intimidating hockey puck, but you know what I realized after a year of living in Northern California, taking several tea seminars, visiting expensive tea houses, and buying a lot of fancy tea on the Internet? Fuck tea. If you like tea, I’m really jealous, because I feel like I’m missing out, and believe me, I’ve tried it all. I want to like tea. I want to be the kind of person who likes tea. But every time I drink tea I just wish I were drinking coffee.

Instead, I’d have a nice big latte while making lists of things I’m going to do to streamline and improve my life and make lots of money. Unfortunately, I’m an obsessive crazy person; even the most “passive” income-producing thing to me would become something that would keep me up at night. I’d toss and turn, thinking of some lady in Iowa who didn’t get her fancy notebook or whatever in time for her office Secret Santa gift exchange. That sounds more like passive-aggressive income to me.

I’m not even joking, I read Women, Food and God while inhaling a bag of Hershey’s nuggets with almonds and toffee (the best kind; there is no arguing with me on this). The perfect beverage pairing for cheap candy that sticks to the roof of your mouth? Coke Zero. Then I got to the part at the end where she says you can never eat while doing something else again. The idea of sitting in silence while concentrating on breathing and chewing sounded like some kind of warped dinner party in hell. What kind of life doesn’t allow you to sit on the couch in stretchy pants with your lady friends while eating too many pita chips and watching bad reality TV? Geneen, you seem like a nice person. Your voice is so soothing! Why would you rob me of one of life’s most easily attainable pleasures?

Oh, and now you’re telling me that I have to see a nutritionist in addition to reading this book? Christ, Geneen, if I was the kind of together person who made an appointment with a nutritionist to solve my weight problems, do you think I’d have picked up a book about emotional eating I saw on Oprah several years ago? Just think about that for a minute. And stop bogarting the Coke Zero.

You’ll need something stiff for Getting Things Done. I can usually only get halfway through a Manhattan before I start to feel a little queasy (I’m a sad case and can really only drink white or sparkling wine in quantity anymore without things getting ugly), but for this book I think I’d need a second. Upgrade yours with some decent Vermouth. I recommend Perucchi, an Italian brand that’s so delicious and aromatic you can sip it on its own or with a splash or soda and an orange twist. For certain types of jobs, maybe Allen’s instructions for how to create a Byzantine maze of sheets of paper with one sentence or word on them, and action lists, and weekly reviews, would work. I just ended up with an overwhelming pile of paper scrawled with notes written in my nearly unreadable handwriting, half of which I couldn’t decipher the next day.

Now my method for getting things done consists of a Google calendar that has really urgent things like hair appointments and work on it, and a task list in the little side bar that I fill with other ephemera that I should probably attend to, but don’t. Usually by the time I get around to it, it’s been resolved without me. Just call me Napoleon. How’s that for done, David?

While following The Rules and pretending to have something to do on Saturday night while not answering your phone, have yourself a steak, crusty on the outside and bloody on the inside, and a nice glass of red wine — try a mid-priced young Bordeaux. Unless it’s really expensive (and sometimes even when it is, to be honest), the older stuff always just tastes like old socks to me. Something in the $20 range, though, from, say, 2010, will give you a nice balance of fruit and seriousness. Splurge on a rib-eye and go ahead and make anchovy butter: take a couple of tablespoons of softened butter, 2 or 3 chopped anchovies, a smidge of mustard, mix, and plop over your hot steak so that it melts into all the little nooks and crannies. Heaven. See, your breath smells, you’re wearing your favorite hooded sweatshirt that’s stained from home hair coloring accidents — it’s like you’re already in a relationship, and just in time for Valentine’s Day!

Previously: What Goes With Your Summer Ennui?

Photo via nafmo/flickr.

Diane McMartin is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers and a graduate of a fancy-pants wine and beverage education program in St. Helena, CA. This required many flashcards and a lot of coffee. She lives in the Washington, DC area, where she works in retail teaching wine education classes, helping customers find the perfect wine, and wading through the seemingly endless ocean of bad Chardonnay out there.