I’m a loyal fan of the carrot-and-stick approach. No matter what the task—a thesis to be written, say, or a shower to be scrubbed, another item to be scratched off the list—the promise of prizes or penalties is an essential motivator. That said, I should add a qualification: my take on carrot-and-stick is, in reality, more often carrot-and-carrot.
I began hashing out my rewards philosophy back in March, when I entered into the process known ominously as “the thesis.” I decided that for every afternoon spent with my head in the books and my fingers on the keyboard, I would grant myself an evening of Sex and the City. All told, it’s been a lovely couple of months, with social theory by day and Sarah Jessica Parker’s theories by night—although, truth be told, I’ve occasionally been known to skip lightly over the former and head straight for the latter. I mean, really, with four episodes per DVD and only a limited timeframe on the rental, I don’t have much of a choice. And anyway, the whole “stick” part of the equation is overrated.
As one would expect, other rewards have been gastronomic in nature. For example, hand-shaved noodles at Shanghai Garden make for a comforting (and only slightly greasy) pat on the back, and I’ve also found myself unusually motivated by the promise of an early-evening gin and tonic, although any thoughts of further nighttime productivity are quashed—and not unhappily, I’ll admit—with the first cold, limey sip. Of course, chocolate in its many forms is also a good bonus, and a silky wedge of Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam does the trick too, preferably right off the side of the knife, sometime between 4 and 6 pm. But if we’re going to get really precise, lately my carrot is a radish.
You can try to argue, spouting off about snobbery or Chirac, but the French are magnifique: they truly understand radishes. My love for la douce France has long been documented, and now that I’m writing a thesis on the French and their social security system, it’s also engraved in the halls of academia—but my devotion reached new heights a few weeks ago, when I had my first taste of a radish with salted butter. Here in the States, we tend to relegate the poor things to the bottom of the salad bowl, but the French give radishes pride of place, serving them at aperitif hour, halved, dragged through soft butter, and dusted with salt. Though I’d known for years of this sophisticated practice, I hadn’t tried it myself until a recent trip to the grocery store—a late-afternoon break from the computer—when I found myself before a basketful of fat, scarlet radishes. Deep, dark pink with roots tipped in white, they were round as tiny globes and appealingly mottled with dirt.
So I scooped up a bunch, brought them home, poured myself a cool glass of white wine, and pulled from the fridge a foil-wrapped brick of lightly salted Plugra. While the butter softened, I closed the books and shut down the computer, drowning out its chirpy “exit Windows” sound with Jacques Dutronc’s very appropriate “J’ai tout lu, tout vu, tout bu.” And then I turned to the reward at hand: radishes, two ways.
First, I gave them each a good scrubbing and snipped off their ratty roots and water-logged leaves. A couple of them I halved from stem to stern, giving them a generous, satiny smear of Plugra and, just for good measure, a sprinkling of fleur de sel.
They were a play of contrasting textures and flavors: the radish’s crisp crunch cloaked by the unctuousness of butter, its mild but peppery bite tamed by salt and cream. Washed down with a sip of wine, it was quite possibly the perfect reward. But the picture could only get rosier with the addition of another French inspiration, the baguette.
So the radish made a second appearance, and this time in more elegant attire: sliced paper thin like translucent sheets of ice, laid atop a well-buttered slab of baguette, and dusted with finely ground pink Hawaiian sea salt.* Dear reader, this was a radish ready for the ball, wrapped in its finest feathers and frippery—or at least, like the girl consuming it, ready for a night consisting of something more than computers, keyboards, and the old carrot-and-stick.
*Fancy-pants salt courtesy of an exceedingly generous New York-based reader; really, monsieur, you outdid yourself.