Is this thing on?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog since my last post, which was… Wow! January?!?

Okay, so a lot’s been going on. Without boring you with too many details, let’s just say the birth of my second kid has doubled the daily load on my time. The good thing about it is that I’ve been cooking a lot more. The bad thing is I barely spend any time on the computer and find it hard to sit down to post, much less anything else. (I swear my iMac sent me a sad emoji recently, followed by the words, “Miss you, boo.”

So here’s some tidbits from my cooking adventures:
1. I got a grill, a nice four-burner with side stovetop burner.
2. I roasted a whole chicken in this grill. I made some awesome chicken kabobs. I have made grilled potato chips and grilled, marinated eggplant.
3. I bought from a local butcher a 21oz bone-in ribeye and quite successfully grilled it to a nice medium, .
4. I hosted a cookout in August for my wife’s 40th birthday/open house at our new home that we bought in April.
5. We now own a reach-in freezer so I’m stocking up and working with a larger variety of meats and cuts.

There’s probably plenty more I could post, but that’s good enough for now. Hopefully, I’ll start posting more regularly again soon. Until then, hope everyone else is having a great grilling season. Enjoy!

Wine Shop Tips

My wife forwarded this article to me, and I wanted to share it with others. My only complaint about the article is the title. I disagree with the blanket term “Everyone” in the headline, because I’m sure there are shoppers who avoid these mistakes. I think the word was used solely for the sake of sensationalism, something I very much try to avoid in my blogging. Either way, it’s good info here, so… Enjoy!

… as if…

I have become increasingly aware of my own career mortality of late. After four years as a server with the same restaurant, which is a new personal best length of time on a job, circumstances have me thinking about what’s next for me.

The need to move on is driven by several reasons, with my current employment in jeopardy due to a perplexing mix of circumstances, and my current employer unable to offer the experience I need to advance to the next level in the sommelier program. Yet the advantage I have right now, while still employed, is the ability to be selective and pursue several possible opportunities.

In the interim, I’ve adopted a new mentality that at first felt like a survival tactic, but has begun to turn into a teachable moment for others. The explanation usually goes something like this:

“I’ve been reminded recently of something I learned from Robert Kiyosaki’s book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad. There is no such thing as job security in this day and age. Yet, I like what I do, and I don’t want to hate my job. So I’ve decided to treat every shift as if it were my last. Whether it’s the last one before vacation, or the last one before a new venture, I’m determined to make sure each shift is the best it can be. After all, if it is my last shift, I want to have fun with it. I want to work hard, stay focused, and go out on a high note. Since it’s my ‘last shift’, no matter what may go wrong, nothing can bother me, faze me, or break me. I’m just going to do my best and leave satisfied that I did.”

This new attitude is being noticed by coworkers and guests alike. It’s certainly improved my attitude and lifted my morale. It’s given me a better sense of priorities and made my efforts more determined and passionate. I respond with greater enthusiasm, I avoid distractions, I engage my coworkers more, and I strive to leave each night satisfied that if that was my last shift, it was as good as I could make it. Admittedly, this kind of push to leave on a high note whenever that final departure occurs can be a bit exhausting at times. Yet the pride I feel at a job well done, on my terms, giving the best I have to offer, is worth every drop of sweat.

So, consider this for yourselves. If you found yourself suddenly unemployed, what would your last day have been like? What would you want it to be like? It’s easy to enjoy your last day when you know it’s coming, but that’s not always a guarantee. Act as if you’re in control of when your last day will happen by making the most of every day you have.

Of course, if you’ve never had a good day at the job you currently do, keep looking. Even when you’re in your field of passion, you may not always be a good fit for a specific employer. Now’s the time to find a better fit, before you really are facing your last day. Enjoy!

Surprised and Humbled!

Level1_CMSWhen I first started working at Cooper’s Hawk, they had a training program that included an all day course conducted by Master Sommelier Ron Edwards. Ron is very passionate about service and wine and a great example of what the Master Sommelier program is all about. I took his course twice, the second time unpaid, and would have taken it again if the program hadn’t been discontinued.

Since then, I’ve been preparing for Level 1 of the MS program. It is a two day intensive overview course on the wine world and hands-on training in the Court’s Deductive Tasting Method (DTM). The class is conducted by the Americas division of the Court of Master Sommeliers. As a result the class  is offered throughout North and South America each year, with 1-2 chances to take it here in Chicago. This year, there was only 1 in February, and it filled up before I could register. So I finally settled on taking the course in Louisville, Kentucky on 9/27-28. (Free lodging at a friend’s house was the key factor for the road trip.)

The world of wine discussions were broad overviews of the world’s wine regions, which had been covered in greater depth in the book I’d read to prepare, Karen McNeill’s Wine Bible (An updated edition releases this month!) The part of class each day that really opened my eyes was the blind tastings with the DTM. Here’s where I was both surprised and humbled, surprised by what I did know, and humbled by what I didn’t. Cooper’s Hawk teaches the DTM to a degree, but the view of wine I’ve acquired there is incredibly narrow and logically focused on their product line.

So, after knowing about 50% of the test question answers, and successfully guessing enough to score at least 60% to pass (they don’t give out test results), I got my pin and certificate! The Court recommends taking at least a year to prepare for the next level, which would see me become a Certified Sommelier. For that to happen, I’d have to find ways to explore a lot of wine outside of my job, and I’d have to consider possibly finding a new job that would allow me a broader spectrum of wines to sell and serve, possibly a fine dining experience so I can learn and practice serving techniques necessary for the next level. I’ll also have to take advantage of my free 1-year membership to the Guild of Sommeliers website and all the resources available there.

My biggest takeaway was that Master Sommeliers are passionate about humility and service. The program is meant to be open and generous. I left the classroom feeling a strong sense of accomplishment and the drive to raise my own level of service at work. Whatever the future holds, I know I want to continue my studies. Whether or not I go for the Level 2:Certified Sommelier remains to be seen. Either way, I’m already a better student of wine than ever before. Enjoy!

Waste Not! Want? Not!

I just watched a special report on food waste in this country. This topic is very important to me, as I love food and I hate to see it go to waste. When so many people go hungry every day, and I have at one time or another in my life experienced this to a small degree, it’s depressing to think about some of the reasons preventing us from tackling this problem.

So here’s a few quick points I gleaned from this report that I wanted to share. (And yes, gleaning used to be a thing that helped hungry people find food. We should embrace this practice more.)

1. I learned this statistic that helps put things in perspective. We waste enough food each year to fill 730 average sized NFL football stadiums. I think it amounted to $16 billion annually. That’s insane, even if not surprising.

2. “Sell by”, “Use by”, and “Best by” dates are not regulated or mandated and are completely at the discretion of the manufacturer. Don’t let them scare you into wasting that milk that still smells and tastes perfectly good.

3. There is actually a law that protects food donations, so you cannot be sued if someone gets sick from donated food.

4. Much of the food we waste is wasted at the beginning, because we are food snobs who won’t buy odd shaped peaches.

5. Many stores overstock shelves for fear that the last bunch of kale or chard won’t be bought because everyone assumes there is something wrong with it.

6. Permanent tax breaks exist for big businesses who donate. Small businesses get tax breaks, but these are temporary and must be renewed every year, leaving many small businesses fearful to spend the resources. The House of Reps passed a bill to make these permanent, but the Senate hijacked it and changed it into something else. These tax breaks are critical to offset the costs of donation, which are greater than the costs of disposal.

That’s all I can remember from the report. I work very hard at home and when I’m out to avoid food waste. I’m not perfect, but I think I’ll be even better now. Please join with me to spread the word and please do your part to reduce food waste so we can all have more to eat. Enjoy!

“If I Ruled the World”…

or “Some Things I’d Want to Address if I Were President”

I recently posted a, well, let’s call it half-joking notion, that I am running for president in 2020.

So for the half that may not have been a joke, here’s some things I’d like to tackle.

1. Slowing, halting, or reversing the perpetual devaluing of the dollar, and to a greater extent, all currencies.

2. Increased education in the area of moral fortitude. I’ve often said, “You cannot protect your kids when they go out into the world. You can only teach them to protect themselves.” This goes toward a wide range of challenges they will face, include all things related to sex and reproduction, fiscal responsibility, and how to think and behave communally.

4. Defense that makes sense. We have enemies. We have friends. How do we make friends out of enemies without losing our friends? And how do we protect ourselves from the enemies we can’t befriend without burdening ourselves excessively in the process?

5. The environment. It’s our responsibility whether global climate change is an issue or not. Matter cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be converted from natural resource to styrofoam. How do we change it back?

6. Infrastructure. This isn’t just how we get from Point A to Point B, but how we fuel our vehicles and ourselves along the way.

7. Federal rights versus state rights. Are we letting the wrong parties decide our personal rights?

8. Better communication. I’ve said it many times, “It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.” How much of what we fail to accomplish for the better is caused by a breakdown in communication, whether we’re talking about couples or congresses?

9. Higher education. Student-athletes. These issues play into points 1, 2, 8, and maybe even 6. This has to be reigned in, no matter the cost, because the cost is already no matter.

10. And a whole lot more. I’m sure there’s a reason presidents go grayer in office. I know it would be a lot of work, but I’ve a kid now. That was a game changer for me. Things have got to get better for his sake.

So there you have it. Just some thoughts on what I might say if asked about the issues and my plans as president. Enjoy!

Try it. You’ll like it.

Recently, a coworker said to me, “You always have the best break food.” She was noting my recent experiment with various items from the kitchen at work. My latest endeavor to change things up is to try different sauces and toppings on mashed potatoes. My current favorites are tomato basil relish on the regular mashed and the potsticker sauce on wasabi-buttered mashed.

Whenever guests ask me what I like, I always say the same thing. “I have tried everything on the menu, and I have favorites in every category.” When someone tells me to chose between two items I always ask if they’ve tried either and usually tell them to try the other one. If they want me to choose an all-time favorite, I rarely have one, and usually respond, “It depends on my mood.”

Why? Because I’ve got an explorer’s spirit when it comes to eating. I love to try new things. Sure, I have my go-to favorite flavors, like cilantro, chocolate, anything cheese. Yet, more often of late, I’m getting away from my old pattern of getting stuck on a dish and trying it wherever I go. Gone are my caesar salad phase, my obsession with reuben sandwiches, or my penchant for all things alfredo sauce. I’ve learned to appreciate brussel sprouts again, to cook without cheese, to put a fried egg on peanut buttered toast, just because a pinterest pin suggested it. I’m an open-minded eater always on the hunt for my next dining experience.

There are limits of course. I still won’t eat liver, I’ve never eaten bugs (as far as I know), and I prefer my seafood tailless and shell-less. Still, the pairing of cayenne pepper and dark chocolate, or peanut butter and jalapeños, are just some of the many unexpected treats I now seek out. I hope my adventurous spirit is something my son embraces as he learns about foot. I also hope I can continue to inspire others to embrace new food for the rest of my life. After all, there’s so much out there to be explored. You never know where your next great favorite meal is waiting to be consumed until you keep looking to find it. Enjoy!

Safety First

A couple years ago, Cathy and I watched The Answer Man starring Jeff Daniels and Lauren Graham. Lauren’s character is a single mom who’s a bit overprotective of her son. There is one exchange in particular that became a running joke between my wife and I. I cannot remember the exact quote, but it was some advice she gave to her son as he went off to school. Something to the effect of “Be safe! Have fun, but be safe! Learn stuff! Be safe! I love you! Be safe!”

It was quite endearing. “Be safe.” It has become my new favorite mantra. “Be safe.” I almost use it as much as “I love you” when departing from my wife. When I’m at work, I use a variation quite often. “Safety First.” I say it to every trainee whenever I’m explaining a need to take a few extra seconds to avoid injuring oneself or others.

Because I see it all the time. Coworkers leaving dishes or kitchen equipment in the most unsafe of places, or precarious of positions. Glasses too close to the edge of a counter, plates left on side stations, blocking access to decanters, or glass rack carts left in the middle of aisles are all scenarios that repeat themselves almost daily. It evokes a truly visceral response when I see that bordeaux glass perched precariously on the edge of the shelf in the dishpit. Because I have seen that glass fall and shatter too many times before. It’s even worse, when I take a moment to try to avert disaster and end up causing it.

Yet I keep at it. I keep moving those glass racks, straightening those stacks of dishes, or picking up that lemon wedge and fork off the floor. So no one else slips, or trips, or hurts themselves in any way, shape. or form. I’m committed to a safe work environment, for others, but also, admittedly, for myself.

In the end, the broader picture is one of safety in all aspects of my life. Being hurt sucks! I don’t like it. No one likes it. Yet, so many ignore safety when they put other priorities ahead of it.

A few examples of less than obvious dangers in the restaurant world include the following:

1. The Power Stance – I see it all the time. Someone standing with one or both hands on their hips. This stance may instill confidence and make one feel more relaxed and in control, but it’s taking up extra space in the narrow, crowded spaces that servers have to navigate with heavy, sharp, or spill-prone objects. Elbows at your sides is the way to go.

2. The Right of Way – On the roads, vehicles take turns. It’s polite and independent of size. The exceptions are ambulances and emergency vehicles. In the workplace, it’s silly. Size of burden matters. No matter how busy you think you are, yield to the guy carrying twenty large platters. Also, treat customers/guests like trains. No matter how big a truck is, or how heavy the load, it still has to yield to a train.

3. The Lemon – It’s easy to become too trusting of one’s slip-resistance shoe soles. I’ve found that while they work great on wet tile, they are easily compromised by ice, ice cubes, butter, lemon wedges, and other substances that can take mere seconds to clean up or secure out of harm’s way.

4. Being a “Doorstop” – The flow of staff is a lot like traffic in any given major city. There are numerous trouble spots throughout a restaurant that are often ignored. Most architects have never taken these into account because they assume people are smarter than this. They don’t expect people to stand in the middle of an aisle, so they only design it to have  two “lanes” rather than three. Corners and intersections aren’t designed to accommodate gatherings in their middles. It’s assumed people will slowdown near blind spots; high column/wall/shelf areas that are hard to see around. Yet people ignore these all the time. I see coworkers stop in the middle of intersections, stand in the middle of aisles, or congregate in clusters far our from the sides of an aisle.

There are many more examples, but you get the idea. These are just some of the challenges to safety that I face every day in my workplace. I’m sure they occur in all restaurants, and beyond that, in retail stores, movie theaters, schools, churches, offices, factories, and any other place where more than two people gather or attempt to move through. The cumulative threats to safety are staggering, and easily addressed if we simply, as a people, had one unified goal in mind. Safety first.

So the next time you’re out and about, or working on your feet, open your eyes and think about the safety of others. In doing so, you’ll be insuring your own as well. Enjoy!

Sage Advice

I’m considering a new series of posts, but I can’t decide how to classify them.

A little background. As of this writing, I’m 43 years old. Like many of my peers, I sit snugly between the old and the new. I’m old enough to remember all things analog, but young enough to embrace all things digital. My parents were old fashioned by their generation’s standards. While most teens were idolizing Tom Cruise and John Hughes films, I was admiring the works of Danny Kaye and Cary Grant. I spent a good portion of the 90’s catching up on the 80’s. I’ve worked more jobs than I can count, in multiple career fields, such as service, retail, restaurant, design and marketing, etc.  My parents taught me values that have carried me through my toughest times. As a late bloomer, I’m now raising my first child, a precocious 10 month old who’s exploring his newfound ability to stand up in the crib behind me as I type.

Because of him, I think a lot now about the legacy I can leave behind. I also think a lot about how I’m wired, mentally, relative to my peers. Much of my character, and moral/ethical compass point me to higher notions of nobility, honor, and a strong work ethic. I’ve also learned to apply intelligence and logic to perform most tasks more efficiently.

Here’s my dilemma. I can’t decide if I should just focus on advice for a stronger work ethic and better job performance, or if I should think in broader terms and record my advice on all things in life. One motivation is to address the need to teach others better thinking in the workplace. I experience daily reminders that many go through their day to day oblivious to how much better it would be if they elevated their approach. However, I’m also motivated to record my thoughts for my son, should something happen to me and I not be there to speak him in person.

As I write this, an idea begins to take form. Perhaps the simplest solution would be to write bits of job advice and then correlate them to a broader life application. Perhaps I’ll write one and see what people think. In the meantime, be well, and as always, enjoy!

Maybe You Get Bad Customer Service Because You’re a Bad Customer | Matt Walsh

Maybe You Get Bad Customer Service Because You’re a Bad Customer | Matt Walsh.

While this starts out like so many other rants I’ve read, there’s a bigger point here that I’ve seen many times before. There are a great many grown adults who behave like children because they couldn’t take a moment to see outside themselves. The thing that always gets me are the people who think the only way to get satisfaction for their perceived slights is to go straight to “mad as hell” right off the bat. It’s so important to remember one simple truth. Empathy is a two-way street. People will be much quicker to understand your plight if you take a moment to understand theirs. Enjoy!