Archive | January, 2011

Resolution Revolution and My House Smells Like Chocolate

30 Jan

It has come to my attention recently (ok, this evening) that I have started to use cooking and baking as a tool of procrastination. Because while I have a million things to study (and two exams this week worth a lot of my grade) I also must keep at it in the kitchen or else fail to stick with my New Year’s Resolution. The unspoken one. The one I secretly made but didn’t tell anyone for fear that I might break it.

I made two resolutions, actually. One, to try more food. Two, cook at home more often, eat out less. And I am doing it! Proof: This weekend I attended a dinner party at which the main course was pulled pork (which I hadn’t eaten in oh… 10 years or so) and a pesto dressing (which I usually pass on). Both were delicious. I brought potato salad to share (omg, delicious). Two birds, one stone. Some people resolve to become a vegetarian. I resolve to eat meat (er, and pesto!), if only to get over it.

Also, we did not eat out even once all of last week. Success!

It has been just over a month that I have gotten serious about learning to cook. Already I can hardly think about anything else. Like the fact that I need a new frying pan (mine is totally dented and I can’t get a lid on) and how crappy our oven and stove are, which makes baking a giant crap shoot. As though I needed an extra challenge in that area.

I never bake- never enjoyed it, never had any desire, and never wanted that kind of temptation in the house, because I eat when I’m stressed. This week was a rough week and every time I became frustrated with any of my work (mainly Med Terminology) I made food. I baked some pumpkin bread while I should have been studying. I attempted to substitute agave syrup for the sugar (it turned out… okay). The agave browns more quickly than white sugar, I should have reduced the amount of the other liquids to accommodate for the agave and lack of dry sugar and I definitely should have lowered the oven temperature. Live and learn.

And tonight I am stressing over some school work, and am having conflicted emotions about some news I received. So in the oven went two loaves of chocolate zucchini bread.  My house smells amazing. Not a low GI recipe (but I did use whole wheat flour!). Not something I should keep around the house. Not sure I’ll be able to give it away.

In the end, I suppose baking/cooking isn’t the worst coping mechanism. My lovely husband is enjoying the crap out of my new hobby and my pug is never happier than when she’s foraging for crumbs on the kitchen floor. And our bank account thanks us for all those leftovers in the fridge and freezer.

This week’s playlist/Recent musical obsessions:

  • Anything on “The Meaning of 8” album – Cloud Cult
  • Guava Jelly – Bob Marley & The Wailers
  • You Say (Puppy Love) – Brother Ali
  • Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked – Cage the Elephant
  • Down the Line – Doomtree
  • Bright Lights – Placebo
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On Customer Service

25 Jan

Today in class we learned about customer service (answering phones, handling complaints, making people happy). We viewed a video in which we were instructed to live by the mantra “The customer is always right.” It’s a good idea in theory- businesses are asking clients to patronize their stores and spend hard-earned cash and they deserve a pleasant and satisfying experience in return. This is true. Especially in hospitals, I suppose, where people are experiencing trauma to themselves or their loved ones and could use a dose of kindness.

But let’s talk about the flip side of that idea.

Nobody ever gives a class on being a good customer. Being a good customer should be synonymous with being a good person, practicing common sense, following the Golden Rule. To many people it is. But ask any person who works in the service industry about their professional encounters and you are sure to hear stories of customers who unfortunately do not behave as though the expectation of kindness and common decency applies to them.

For most of my working life I have serviced customers. From teaching swimming lessons at 15 and dealing with the very entitled Discovery Bay parents to managing a locally owned retail shop in Edina– I have handled some customer service issues in my day. I have met some really interesting people. Many of them have made lasting impressions on me, becoming life-long friends or professional contacts, or being wonderful in ways I will always remember. I have had customers offer me jobs in my area of interest or refer me to people who could, customers bring me home-baked goodies, who remember my name and write a glowing online review about me. I get all verklempt just thinking about those folks.

Then there are nasty people: I have had customers interrupt me mid-sentence to answer a cell phone, steal from the store and lie to my face, insist that I change the music playing overhead because it’s not their style, repeatedly return used merchandise and become indignant when I cannot take those items back, leave me a $0.47 tip after patting my bottom, attempt to bargain for a cheaper price and threaten to leave if I don’t give them a better deal, scream at me over the phone, call me fat, threaten to cause me bodily harm, tell me they don’t like my outfit and never to wear it again, and even one who told me I would definitely be going to Hell for kicking her thieving ass out of the store. (Ah, good times.)

I don’t think the bad customer behavior has happened because they are all inherently bad people. Businesses need to take responsibility for the customers they have created. Our consumer driven society has put out the message that the dollar is worth more than the person behind the counter. “The customer is always right” implies the empowerment of the consumer exclusively and not the sales associate. And, many times the customer is not in the right, whether it’s the way they treat an employee or their ignorance of a store policy.

It is important to examine and consider often your personal ethics while spending your money. When I choose to shop, dine, or otherwise patronize an establishment, I understand that I am a guest of the house. That’s not to say I am devoid of expectation. I let the representatives of a business know when I am happy as well as disappointed with my services. I practice courtesy, mind my manners,  and follow the Golden Rule just like my parents taught me as a child.

I wish there were more discussions in schools (from Kindergarten on up) and in private homes about this issue. We teach kids about standing up to bullies on the playground so why must we be forced to greet them with a smile as adults? And why won’t business owners take a stand for the mental and emotional health of their employees? The best lesson I have learned over the years is that it is okay to fire a person if they cross the line and exhibit abusive behavior- be they friends, employers, employees, or customers.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to be nice. Just do it, and don’t stop.

Busy

15 Jan

Classes have commenced and now that it’s the end of the week things are heating up. I have two exams next week, including one in Medical Terminology. I cannot imagine how nursing and medical students stay sane for 4+ years. I feel like I am beginning to eat, sleep and breath in Latin, Greek, French and acronyms.

I can’t even pretend that I don’t love it. Since I stopped working and started learning I have seriously never been more happy. I don’t even have time to think about babies or PCOS or adoption… and that makes life much more enjoyable. It’s also amusing to think about the possibilities of more school in the future (Master’s in Health Care Admin, anyone?). I feel as though a weight has been lifted. I don’t feel the same pressure I once did.

I have had quite a few conversations with other women who have experienced infertility over the last two years. The consensus has always been when you stop thinking/looking/trying- that’s when you get pregnant. And all of them will admit, that concept is inconceivable while you’re fighting the battle. When you are faced with the failure of your body to perform a basic biological function month after month- it consumes you. I have had (and still have) some pretty ugly thoughts about women who take their fertility for granted. It’s not good for me, for anybody, but it happens.

But today is the first day in over a week I have given the baby-makin’ any thought. And it feels so good to not feel frustrated or sorry for myself. In this moment I can say, maybe I’ll get pregnant this year, maybe I won’t. If I have to wait to be a mother for another year or two, what difference will it make?

School with a Side of Kale

8 Jan

This morning I drove up to campus to gather my books and found that I only needed to buy one book (singular!) for my program. I was able to purchase it used for just $50 AND I scored a free academic planner which I love for all its spiral-bound-cheesy-graphics… a la Deer Valley High School circa 97-98. Glorious!

It finally occurred to me on my morning trip to campus that I am finished with retail work. The realization hit me along a self-guided tour of campus and it made me ridiculously happy. Maniacally happy. Learning, studying, the academic environment- it all  satisfies me and gets me geeky giddy high.

So I’m going to ride this wave of academic and freedom-related mania and try something CRAZY: Kale.

It was on sale at Whole Foods this week and it is a superfood after all. I decided to start with something easy and found this kale smoothie recipe. Admittedly, I haven’t seen my awesome blender/food processor since we moved into our new 2-bedroom. Before today I didn’t even know where in my kitchen my blender has been living these past five months. I found it dusty and stashed away above the refrigerator.

What the kale? I had no idea how dirty organic kale can be. After a few soaks and rinses I added two cups chopped kale, 1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk, a handful of frozen organic strawberries, 1 medium banana and 1 tbsp agave nectar* to the blender.

I cannot lie- when I first laid eyes on the finished product I cringed. It’s not pretty. But I had to try because I have resolved to eat new foods. Besides, it bothers me to be wasteful. I went for it and am so glad I did because that shit is delicious. It tastes just like a strawberry banana smoothie and I would forget the kale was even there if it wasn’t for the texture and the color.

*The agave nectar is new to me and is unnecessary to add to the smoothie… except I am all about the sweets and it’s a pretty benign indulgence. It boasts a relatively low glycemic index (30) compared to sugar (61) and even honey (55), which makes it a PCOS-friendly sugar alternative.

It was good! I would also like to make kale chips, kale & lentil soup, and kale & olive oil mashed potatoes (this would surely please the hubs).

Today’s playlist highlights:

  • “Stay Human” – Keller Williams
  • “Beautiful Life” – Ace of Base
  • “If You Don’t Say It” – Mayda
  • “O.P.P.” – Naughty by Nature

Hello and Three Recipes

3 Jan

Mini Bio: For the last year and a half I have been putting in time as a manager at a locally owned craft supply store. How I fell into this job is a story in itself. I certainly never planned on working in the crafting industry, but personal choices and circumstance dictated otherwise. I’ve been fortunate to have a set schedule (which is a gift in retail): I work Tuesdays through Saturdays and am off Sundays and Mondays. Sundays are my days with the husband (L) and Mondays have become my own day of week planning and cooking.

I call these my Mondays in the Kitchen.

After a holiday season full of gravitas and activities I am attempting to get back into some more constructive habits: Planning ahead, staying organized and learning how to cook for myself and my husband. I am moving on- from my pit-stop in retail management to a career in healthcare- and doing some time at the VoTech along the way. My last day at the store is Wednesday and I start school next week. The great life shift is upon me.

This isn’t a sob story, but it’s an important aside: L and I are experiencing infertility issues and I am trying to overcome PCOS. Health, infertility and allergies have been a catalyst for many recent lifestyle and career changes. I slip up though! My hope is that this blog will keep me honest and focused on my goals.

Confession: I’m a novice in the kitchen and have been intimidated by most domestic endeavors the majority of my adult life. Mondays in the kitchen I cook for the entire week. This helps me to avoid takeout and other unhealthy pitfalls (but I still make mistakes!). By the weekend L and I are tired of the food I made at the beginning of the week so I try to have a somewhat extensive recipe collection to rotate. I don’t eat beef or pork, so meals revolve around chicken, ground turkey, fish and vegetables.

Today I experienced two successes and one failure in the kitchen. All recipes are new to me.

Recipe 1: I love-love squash, but L has never been a fan. Since I’m the one in the kitchen I can usually cook up an item he deems suspicious and convince him to eat it for a meal or two. In an attempt to cut down on processed simple carbohydrates- and initially inspired by this blog post (or, mainly the photo), and this suggested recipe, I decided to roast my very first spaghetti squash.

After wrestling with the squash and my brand new knives I finally got it cut in half lengthwise. Those suckers are tough to split. I cleaned out the seeds (I must save the seeds to roast next time! Has anyone else tried this?), drizzled both halves with a tiny bit of olive oil, sprinkled some sea salt on them, and tossed them in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes.

These are so easy. You guys, I even forgot about the squash for about 10 minutes after the timer went off on the oven and it was still great. The results? Delicious. Sweet, squashy, savory. Even L agreed. SUCCESS! I froze half the squash for next week. This week I will eat it plain and in place of pasta with spaghetti sauce.

Suki Pug

My sidekick waits patiently for a taste of squash.

Recipe 2: L and I are way into meatloaf because we crave something hearty during the frigid Minnesota winter months. I have been searching for the perfect recipe for months and stumbled upon this Turkey and Quinoa Meatloaf from allrecipes.com. I followed the recipe carefully, but skipped the tomato paste and hot sauce (out of laziness- we’re out and I didn’t feel like trekking to the store) and replaced it with ketchup and Famous Dave’s bbq sauce.

The results? This recipe is out of this world! This may be ridiculous, but I’ve never purchased or used Worcestershire sauce- and it is good. I can see myself dousing meat in it for months to come. Best turkey meatloaf I’ve ever made. Amazing.

Recipe 3: I really enjoy quinoa as a substitute for pasta and rice. It has an interesting texture and a decent amount of protein per serving. I had a few pieces of chicken in the freezer and a new box of quinoa, so I searched “quinoa + chicken” at allrecipes.com (I use this site quite a bit). I found this recipe for Chicken with Peas and Quinoa. Peas are one of my favorite veggies and the combination of ingredients sounded intriguing. I followed the recipe exactly.

The results? Puzzling. Maybe the problem is the paprika, or the peas, or the fact that I used red quinoa (the recipe does not specify whether to use red or white). Or maybe these ingredients just don’t work well together. In any case, I am not a fan and won’t make it again. Very very odd taste.

Two out of three… Not bad! Until next time.

Today’s kitchen soundtrack selections:

  • “A Punch Up at a Wedding” by Radiohead
  • “I Believe” by Sophie Ellis Bextor
  • “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire

Hello world!

3 Jan

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