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Thanksgiving Again

This was the post I wrote back in 2008 around this time. Way back then I guess I hadn’t really tried to tie everything into a business theme as I do now. It’s just a reflection of how my family enjoys the routine and repetition of the day. 8 years further down the road, I realize that there is a good reason why having the same thing every year is a wonderful thing. Just about everything else I wrote about in the piece below has changed. People have moved and one has died. Houses have been sold and others have been bought. The kids are all grown now and are working and the rarity of everyone getting together has increased.

If there’s a business lesson in all of this, it just might be to appreciate the familiar moments and not to complain too loudly about routine. Rest assured that there will be enough chaos and change for everyone along the way. Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo by Gabriel Garcia Marengo

My family loves Thanksgiving.  For the most part, so do I.  The entire family getting together is not something that happens with great regularity anymore – grandparents winter in Florida, kids are in college or living their own lives, brothers and sisters and other relations have busy schedules too.  So when 20 or 25 of us can pile into one location, it’s special, and each gathering is unique.  Except for one thing.

Thanksgiving’s menu in my house is something that descended directly from the Pilgrims.  It is etched in two tablets made from the skin of the original bird (and we can have the discussion about whether that bird was in Plymouth or in St.Augustine another time).  Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and apricots, cranberry mold, cranberry bread, veggies, stuffing and gallons of gravy are pretty much it.

I cook every year and love to do it.  Except I can do it in my sleep at this point. I am under strict orders from all parties NOT TO FOOL (they use another word) WITH THE MENU.  The only choices I get to make are what kinds of stuffing and which veggies to serve.  But I don’t, really.

One year I caused a huge ruckus by announcing in advance (mistake) that I would be frying one of the birds (we usually have two).  The discovery of a cure for cancer would have caused less of a ruckus.  Of course, now a fried turkey is mandatory.  Another year I made four dressings – one a cornbread and andouille, one a sausage and herb, one an oyster, and one a vegetarian version that was very traditional.  Of course, only the last one was eaten up.  No more oysters (and don’t even start the discussion about that’s what the Indians ate) in the damn dressing and leave that andouille stuff south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Another year, I slow cooked the green beans with bacon.  “Darling, do you have any less cooked?  I’m not sure I know what I’m eating…”  Another year I served carrots with a tangerine glaze.  The next, I was berated for not serving carrots.

I’m writing this now because there are only two weeks to go and my Mom is asking if I’ve shopped yet (Mom is always ready well in advance).  I tell her I haven’t shopped because I haven’t planned the menu yet but who am I kidding?  The menu was done years ago.  I don’t have the heart to tell her I’m roasting the other bird in a Caja China and not an oven and that I’m seriously considering bringing back the cornbread thing.  But I’ll cook them whatever they want since having the family all together is more important to me than my exercising my chefly prerogatives.

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Most Read Posts Of The Year – Foodie Edition

It’s Foodie Friday and since we’re reviewing the most read posts of the year I’m combining the two.  I’m also cheating a little.  The most read food-related post this year wasn’t written for our Friday Foodie Fun.  It was the post about finding a thumb tack in clam chowder.  This post, originally titled Recipes And Business, was actually written just before the Giants played in the Super Bowl in 2012 and was, in fact, the most-read foodie post this year.  Nice to know it has legs and it did way better than the Giants this year!  Enjoy.

Many of you will be cooking something for Sunday’s big game and so this Foodie Friday we’ll think a little bit about what recipes to follow.  Actually, it’s more about how one follows any recipe, and what that has in common with business.

An example recipe, printed from the Wikibooks ...

Image via Wikipedia

As I think you might know, my feeling about cooking is that it’s more like jazz while baking is more Baroque music– far more structured and precise.  Given that, the way I see recipes might differ from how you see them and how that perspective carries into business.  Let’s see.

A recipe is a guide, not an edict.  I look at them as outlines of the dish, but it’s up to me as the cook to insert the flavors I want to present.  For example, if I’m making chili for Sunday’s game, I know that most of the folks who will be at the party enjoy fairly hot food so I might change the spice mix accordingly.  Cooking veal cutlets for 20 can be expensive but turkey cutlets in the same recipe can be just as tasty.  With a vegan and a vegetarian as members of the household here, I often modify recipes to accommodate their eating styles too.  I have a sense of the destination and the recipe is the map, but there are often many routes to get to where I’m trying to go.

Business is the same.  There are some basic road maps – take in more than you spend, treat customers and employees well – but every business is different.  Sticking to the recipe isn’t always possible, and sometimes the road we wish to take is closed, but with a good understanding of fundamental techniques and enough knowledge of the building blocks (ingredients), one can cope with changing market conditions and take advantage of opportunities (I was going to make snapper but look at the fresh grouper on sale!) that might arise.

So as you’re whipping up that pot of gumbo, maybe try thickening it with okra instead of your usual file powder.  If you’re not having much luck using SEM for online commerce, maybe social media can be more efficient.  It’s jazz – learn to improvise – oh, and Go Big Blue!

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Wrapping It Up

There won’t be a blog post tomorrow – it’s a day for family and friends and not thoughts of business. I know it’s TunesDay but the music today is all my own.  It’s become my annual thing to repeat the most read posts of the year between the two holidays, which means this will be the last original post of the year.  Most read music post next Tuesday; most read Foodie Friday post…well, you can probably figure it out.

English: Gift ideas for men - wrapping paper e...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First and foremost, a healthy and Happy New Year to each and every one of you and to your families. Having had several health issues occur within my extended family over the last year or so I can tell you being healthy trumps anything business can give you.

As I’m writing this my two daughters are in the next room wrapping gifts for everyone.  I’ve been forbidden to leave the room I’m in lest the surprise of gift-giving be jeopardized.  They will be the first to admit that they inherited their father’s inability to wrap gifts.  My futile attempts look as if the package had been wrapped and mailed through a series of post offices across each continent, each of which adds a nick and a tear to the wrap job.   Needless to say, the quality of my gifts needs to be spectacular since the packaging is terrible.  Which of course is the business point.

A walk through most markets show you that most companies spend a lot of time thinking about packaging and nearly all of them fail.  Very few go beyond the conventional.  Have a look at these examples and your mind will be opened up as to what we can do – whether it’s a package or the product itself – when we don’t use where we are as a jumping off point.  Starting from scratch is hard – there are few things more terrifying as a blank whiteboard (or an empty space in which one needs to write a blog post).  Those blank spaces – filled only with promise – are where we need to force ourselves to begin.

The year starts next week and with it everything is new again.  I hope you use it to rethink everything.  Even if you come out if the same place, you’re better off for having done the exercise and placing it all in a nicely wrapped package.  Happy Holidays!

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Eggplant Parm And Your Business

It’s Foodie Friday Fun time again, thank goodness.  Today I want to write about a dining issue we had here and how it made a great business point.

Eggplant Español: Berenjena

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My family has very diverse meal preferences.  We have a vegan, a vegetarian, one who won’t eat eggs if they’re discernible (but loves meat), and an omnivore (that would be me!).  Even though two of the four are not usually around for dinner, finding dishes that the vegetarian and I can share is a challenge.  I avoid most pasta these days but since we both love Italian food I thought eggplant parmesan might be a good choice.  That’s when I was told that eggplant is on the “slimy foods I don’t like” list.

My solution was to alter the preparation method.  Even though I was taught the dish in the traditional way (slice the eggplant and fry it first), I changed it up.  I salted the eggplant, which is not unusual, but I did so to condense it a bit, not to make it less bitter (which I think is a myth).  I breaded it and let it dry on wire racks before baking the slices in a minuscule amount of oil.  They came out of the oven looking as if they’d been fried as usual.  From there it was just sauce, a couple of kinds of cheese, and a little more oven time.  She loved it – and it’s now a favorite meal although it takes a lot of time to make.

That’s what cooking – and business – is all about.  You listen to your customers and try new methods to adjust the product or service to their needs.  What I heard when she said “slimy” was “greasy” and “oily.”  That comes from the frying and isn’t inherent in the eggplant.  What happened when we removed that impediment?  Total bliss.  That’s what we need to do as businesspeople as well.  Listen carefully and hear what people mean, which may be different from what they say.

I’ve made adjustments to many other dishes – kale and white bean stew to which I add the sausage (definitely NOT vegetarian!) later.  Using flax seeds and water to replace eggs for thickening (and it’s vegan!).  My job at mealtime is to keep my family happy and fed and I’m willing to think differently and to work a little harder on the meal to do so.  Your job is to keep your customers in that same state.  Are you prepared to change your thinking to do that?

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The Equipment

For our first Foodie Friday post of the year let’s talk about kitchen equipment.

VIKING STOVE

(Photo credit: CRYROLFE)

I’m very fortunate to cook in a kitchen that’s equipped with just about every tool for which a cook can ask. Some of these things are designed for a specific purpose (boning knife), some are improvements over an existing tool (a Microplane vs. a box grater) and some are just silly (cherry pitter).  The appliances are the highest grade of equipment available to a home cook.  When friends or family come over I can usually serve them something which they enjoy and of which I’m proud.

Sometimes, however, I cook elsewhere.  The stove is usually electric, the oven temp is often off, the knives may be dull or only serrated and small, the pans might be flimsy.  The expectation from those folks whom I’ve served before and for whom I’m cooking now is that they’ll get the same sort of meal they received from my own kitchen.  Frankly, that’s the expectation I have too.  Which is the business point.

We can’t blame the equipment.  How many writers don’t write because they lack screenplay software?  How many times have you heard a budding director say they’ll make their movie when they get better equipment?  Can’t exercise because there’s no gym?  What about in business – would you accept a subordinate’s excuse that they couldn’t complete an assignment because their computer failed?  As a consumer, are you mollified when a restaurant fails to honor your reservation because “the system is down?”

Part of being good at what we do in business is accepting responsibility and not allowing impediments to become excuses.  I’m embarrassed when I serve what I deem to be less than my best meal even if I’m cooking in a strange kitchen with rudimentary tools.  I’m sure most of you feel the same way.  Yet we often don’t translate that into our business lives nor enforce it as a standard on our teams.  We can’t blame the equipment – we play the hand we’re dealt.  The test is to see who can produce consistently great work in any environment.  Even if it lacks a cherry pitter!

You with me on this?

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Most Read Posts Of The Year – 3

Since it’s Foodie Friday I thought I’d add the most read food-related post to our list.  This one comes from the Friday before the Super Bowl and it’s not surprising that like most things Super Bowl it was widely viewed.  I’m not sure too many other writers put together food, business, and football but this was my take last February.

Many of you will be cooking something for Sunday’s big game and so this Foodie Friday we’ll think a little bit about what recipes to follow.  Actually, it’s more about how one follows any recipe, and what that has in common with business.

An example recipe, printed from the Wikibooks ...

Image via Wikipedia

As I think you might know, my feeling about cooking is that it’s more like jazz while baking is more Baroque music– far more structured and precise.  Given that, the way I see recipes might differ from how you see them and how that perspective carries into business.  Let’s see.

A recipe is a guide, not an edict.  I look at them as outlines of the dish, but it’s up to me as the cook to insert the flavors I want to present.  For example, if I’m making chili for Sunday’s game, I know that most of the folks who will be at the party enjoy fairly hot food so I might change the spice mix accordingly.  Cooking veal cutlets for 20 can be expensive but turkey cutlets in the same recipe can be just as tasty.  With a vegan and a vegetarian as members of the household here, I often modify recipes to accommodate their eating styles too.  I have a sense of the destination and the recipe is the map, but there are often many routes to get to where I’m trying to go.

Business is the same.  There are some basic road maps – take in more than you spend, treat customers and employees well – but every business is different.  Sticking to the recipe isn’t always possible, and sometimes the road we wish to take is closed, but with a good understanding of fundamental techniques and enough knowledge of the building blocks (ingredients), one can cope with changing market conditions and take advantage of opportunities (I was going to make snapper but look at the fresh grouper on sale!) that might arise.

So as you’re whipping up that pot of gumbo, maybe try thickening it with okra instead of your usual file powder.  If you’re not having much luck using SEM for online commerce, maybe social media can be more efficient.  It’s jazz – learn to improvise – oh, and Go Big Blue!

 

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Substitute

Foodie Friday!  Today the topic is substitutes.  No, not the early song by The Who.

Butter and a butter knife

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a thought about the use of different ingredients when the things called for in the recipe aren’t available.  This is a little different from changing up the seasonings – using oregano for basil, for example.  Cooks often do that to vary flavors and that’s an integral part of one’s own cooking style and food profile.  In this case I mean the times when you go to get the unsalted butter and realize all you have is salted or when you decide to use skim milk to lower a dish‘s fat content instead of the whole milk (or heaven forbid CREAM!) the recipe requires.

Substitutions are tricky things. Take the salted butter example.  There is no standard amount of salt in salted butter and the amount of salt can vary quite a bit.  If you’re aware of that and don’t automatically salt your dish as usual you might be OK.  Another thing about it is that the water content in salted butter is higher which, depending on the amount of liquid in the dish can make a difference.  Not a big deal for most dishes but critical in baking.  By the way, this is why I’m not a baker – it’s way too specific!

I could explain the reasons why cream vs. whole milk vs. half and half in recipes will or won’t work but you’re probably wondering at this point what the business point is.  Well, it’s that people are very much like ingredients.  Many managers see tiny differences in staff members – salted vs. unsalted – but fail to consider the broader implications those differences bring.  An unanticipated resignation from a staff member forces a substitution, but thinking that all individuals are replaceable because substitutes with the same basic skill set are available is a fallacy.  Just as an improper substitution can ruin a sauce or a custard, failing to acknowledge and adjust for the differences in the human ingredients can spell disaster.

As managers, we need to be acutely aware of how each small change in our team can precipitate much larger issues.  People are our most important ingredients, and just as great cooks consider every nuance of what goes into a dish we need to examine our people and blend them appropriately.  Feeling as if we can substitute at will is short-sighted and can ruin our business.  Then again, a smart change can make it many times better.  Your choice!

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