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What the Good Living Experts Know That You Don't

Advice on food safety, flying and even couples counseling

waiter takes an order from a table of diners

Illustration Michael Byers; Photo Matthew Mahon

“Restaurants don’t make healthy food.”

— The waiter

Taylor Steel, 36, waits tables at a top steak house in Dallas.

  • Rib eye is the best steak — more flavor, very tender. And don’t just say “medium rare.” Give your server a description of what the middle of the beef looks like — “all pink from edge to edge” or “I like it all red.” Everybody’s got a different idea of what the middle should be.
  • If you’re health conscious, don’t buy into claims that the food you order will meet your needs. Restaurants don’t make food that’s healthy —they make it tasty. Restaurants put so much butter on everything they serve. It’s hard to find a healthy option today. 
  • Always ask if there’s anything on the menu you should steer away from. If your server says, “That would be the last thing I’d choose,” there is a good reason. 
  • If you drink alcohol, the best bang for your buck is either beer or wine. Hard liquor is the most expensive, for what you are getting.
chef cooks in a restaurant kitchen

Illustration Michael Byers; Photo Poon Watchara-Amphaiwan

 “Use a food thermometer.” 

— The chef

Keith Bisciotti, 39, runs the kitchen at The Pantry in Washington Depot, Conn. He’s been in the restaurant business since he was 16.

  • For meat, chicken and fish, buy organic, antibiotic-free and hormone-free. Otherwise, ignore the labels. “All natural” is a giveaway that the producer is putting you on — the FDA doesn’t regulate with that designation. “All natural” means nothing. 
  • I use a food thermometer all the time. Yes, it helps you stay healthy and safe. But it also lets you bring everything you cook to exactly the right doneness. 
  • Turmeric is my go-to seasoning. It tastes good and adds color. And it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities. 
  • People don’t brown things enough. It’s important with meats to get a golden crust on them. You can also caramelize veggies like brussels sprouts by roasting with olive oil, salt and pepper. Set your oven to 375 to 400 degrees to get them nice and brown. 
  • Get one really good knife. One good chef’s knife, well sharpened, helps you properly execute most any job. 
  • I like to grill fruit, such as sliced peaches. It brings the sweetness out even more.
  • If you like a certain wine, drink it. Don’t follow rules. A red can be really good with fish and chicken dishes. Everybody’s got different tastes.

 “Horrible words stay out there forever." 

— The couples counselor 

Stephen Shainbart, 54, is a counselor in New York City.

  • Don’t be afraid of conflict. Fighting can bring problems to the surface, where they can be addressed. If conflict is always avoided, it can indicate a dishonest relationship with poor communication.
  • How we fight makes all the difference.  Getting angry is fine, but saying horrible things is not. Once said, even if you apologize, those words are out there to stay. 
  • Don’t escalate an argument with overgeneralizations, like “You always do this.” Focus on the specific issue, or your partner will feel attacked and defensive. 
  • Express interest in your partner’s life. Don’t assume they know you care; show it. Saying “Tell me about your day” is one of the simplest and best things you can do. 
  • Problems get worse when you hide them. Talk through financial difficulties, mental health problems, or drinking and substance abuse, even if it causes tension. You’ll still be better off.
Gambler is surrounded by cards and dice

Illustration MICHAEL BYERS; Photo kevin miyaski

 “Slot machines can be like crack.”

— The casino gambling expert

Sal Piacente, 53, is a former casino floor manager and the current president of UniverSal Game Protection Development Inc., a firm that helps casinos detect scams.

  • Short of being extremely lucky, the only way to leave a casino with a small fortune is to arrive with a large fortune. Obviously, the odds are against you. Go to a casino expecting to have fun, not to win. 
  • Leave the ATM and credit cards at home, and bring just the amount of money you are comfortable losing. 
  • Slot machines are like electronic crack to beginners because they are so easy to play. But they have the worst odds. The house advantage on slots (the amount bet that the casino keeps as profit) can be up to 10 percent. If you can’t resist the slots, play machines near the entrance or other high-traffic areas — casinos set these machines to pay more often, to draw in passersby.
  • Roulette is a bad bet. The house advantage at the roulette wheel can be up to 5.26 percent. If you must play roulette, look for a wheel that has only one zero on it — that’ll lower the house advantage to 2.7 percent.
  • Learn to play craps. The game looks intimidating because there is so much going on. But it can be exciting. There is even one bet where the house has no advantage — the only time this happens in a casino.

“I never pay for shipping.”

— The online shopper 

Karen Daugherty, 37, of DALLAS, is a veteran online shopper and relationship manager with a Dallas-based firm.

  • If I find something I love at a department store online, I compare across similar stores. For example, a lot of things I find at Nordstrom are cheaper at Macy’s because they’re constantly having sales.
  • I never pay for shipping. If it’s not free shipping, it’s not for me.
  • I only buy from places I’ve heard of and know to be legit. Anything advertised on Facebook that I’ve never heard of is out, even if the picture is the cutest sweater I’ve ever seen in my life.  
  • I subscribe to all of my favorite stores’ email updates. I always wait for sales. I’ll add items to my cart and then wait for a sale to buy them. 
flight attendant serves snacks

Illustration MICHAEL BYERS; Matthew Mahon

"Never walk barefoot on a plane.”

— The flight attendant 

Bridget Jones, 48, of Tulsa, Okla., works for a major airline. 

  • Bring your own earplugs, both for electronic devices and crying babies. Some airlines are charging for them, and your personal ones probably are better quality.
  • If you’re a person who’s queasy, don’t sit in the back — you feel the turbulence most behind the wing.
  • For some reason, bulkhead seats — the three rows that separate first class from coach — are the coldest in the summer, and the hottest in the winter.
  • Clean your seat space with baby wipes.  Never walk barefoot on a plane. People from everywhere have walked that aisle. 
  • Buy an inexpensive carry-on bag and put these things inside: walking shoes, a fold-up umbrella, a battery charger, five days’ worth of medications and an extension cord to use with your electronics in your hotel room.

  “Shiny shoes last longer.”

— The cobbler

Lucia Capuno, 64, is the owner of Doart Shoe Repair in Escondido, Calif.

  • The most durable shoes have a narrow strip of leather called a welt that runs around the sole and attaches to the upper leather. Good quality welted shoes cost a lot but can last for decades. That’s because a shoe repair shop can easily replace the soles several times, as long as you take good care of the uppers.
  • Know when it is worth resoling. Blake stitching is more difficult and expensive to resole, and stitching through the sole makes the shoes less water-resistant. Don’t bother resoling glued shoes unless they are just really comfortable. 
  • Never leave your leather shoes and boots in the closet for a long time without wearing them. Due to humidity changes, the leather will dry out and get brittle. 
  • You can prolong the life of leather soles by having a shoe repair shop attach rubber to them. This is a particularly good idea in rainy or cold climates, because the rubber improves traction.
  • Shiny shoes not only look better, they last longer. Shoe polish contains conditioners that will help keep the upper part of your leather shoes supple. 

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