Archive for October, 2019

October 20, 2019

A Perfect Pair

If you don’t have a recipe, how do find a perfect pair of flavors? My oldest son once called me during a layover in Vegas on his way home asking me to make Mexican lasagne for dinner. I had no idea what that was. He described it as a layered dish with lasagne noodles, meat, red sauce seasoned with a ton of spices like you’d use in tacos plus those in traditional lasagne, and cheese. I told him I’d give it a shot.

In that instance, I imagined the flavors in tacos. For that flavor profile, I chose salt, pepper, garlic, chili powder, and cumin. For the lasagne flavors, I added oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary. I combined both of these profiles using sight, smell, and taste to judge the amount of each to add. The result turned out better than I would have guessed when he suggested it.

This request didn’t throw me because I rarely use recipes when I’m cooking for my family. So how do I know what to put in the pot? I’ve probably mentioned before that I imagine flavor combinations in my head. I do. But there are several things in play when I’m cooking.
perfect pair
For one, I use my sense of smell. If you hold your head over a pan and smell for a moment, you’ll realize you can smell salt as well as garlic, and curry powder, and basil. When the balance of the aroma is off, the taste will be as well.

I also use my eyes. If I’m adding beans to chili or cranberries to a salad, I use proportions that look pleasing. This results in a full combination of flavors in each bite.

Throwing something together often begins with inspiration or imagination. Sometimes I take a bite of something and have a sudden thought that it would pair well with X. Other times, I take the ingredients in my refrigerator and imagine different combinations of the flavors there. Sometimes I do this when I’m choosing my groceries for pickup or purchasing items at the farmers market.

Beyond my senses and imagination, I use memory. I both watched and helped my grandmother cook. I think about how she seasoned things. I also pay attention to the flavors and ingredients I can identify in restaurant dishes. And I envision combinations I’ve seen in recipes before.

Even if I can remember the general ingredients, once I get started I have to determine proportions. Knowing how something should look is helpful. If I’ve seen the consistency of pancake batter, then I can tell if there’s too much liquid or not enough.

Cooking experience is valuable as well. If you’ve baked a lot of cakes, you’ll have an idea what the ratio of flour to sugar, oil, and eggs should be. It’s probably worth noting that when you make gluten or dairy-free versions, traditional rules may not apply.

The best gluten-free sandwich bread I make has a dough that’s more like batter than dough. But once you’re practiced in these adaptations, you’ll still be able to rely on experience to help you.

If you have never cooked, or watched anyone cook, from scratch and cannot imagine flavor pairings, there’s a handy tool called The Flavor Bible that tells you what to mix and match. This comprehensive reference book of compatible flavors was named by Forbes as one of the 10 best cookbooks in the world of the past century. It also won a James Beard Book Award.

Following a specific recipe to the letter will yield a more consistent result, but using a flavor guide can introduce playfulness into your cooking. Life is made of so many repetitious chores, I like to add a sense of fun and play whenever I can. Sometimes the best way to do that is to try to find yet another perfect pair.

https://www.karenandandrew.com/books/the-flavor-bible/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

October 14, 2019

I Love Systems!

I love systems! I serve as a patient advisor on the Quality, Experience and Safety Team of an academic medical center. During a recent presentation, I was reminded just how much I appreciate detailed, methodical systems. They may not make for an entertaining meeting, but they don’t make me yawn so much as they make me feel calm. There’s something reassuring about having a defined process to guide you toward any goal.
organization
Often such a process ensures safety. That’s the case with using two patient identifiers for every patient procedure in a hospital or using a series of checklists when flying an airplane. I promise you, you want both of these systems to be well-thought, in place, and followed 100% of the time. They are critical for safety.

Some systems help you stay on schedule, collect money owed, or get every dish in a meal to the table at the same time. Creating a system takes the ability to understand the interplay between the big picture and the details of which it’s made. A system doesn’t have to be formal, written down, or generated by an app.

In fact, you probably have a system for getting ready in the morning. It may begin the day before and take into consideration the fact that there is a lesser risk of a need to change clothes at the last minute if you feed the kids before putting on work clothes. It may take into consideration what will happen after work that needs to be prepared for in advance.

You may think of this as a routine. Many routines are personal systems of organization performed at the same time and in the same order each day. Because they are based on years of experience or trial and error, you probably don’t even think about them unless you make a New Year’s resolution that throws a monkey wrench into the whole thing. That will tell you how powerfully effective a system can be. Most resolutions change nothing.

The key to effectiveness is to create a foundation that keeps you from starting over all of the time. With that foundation in place, you can immediately determine the next step in a process by looking at the last one. You will also have a view of how what you do affects the next person in the chain. A good system reduces frustration and friction between departments and enhances the feeling of teamwork.

If you know me, my love of systems may sound ironic. I am somewhat rebellious, a bit contrary, and viewed by some as free-spirited. But if you know me well, you understand that all of those characteristics are strongly rooted in a foundation of reliability, work ethic, thoughtfulness, analytical approach, and mindful decision making. I may not be a rule follower per se, but I appreciate rules and defined procedures and I understand why some are critical.

Because of this, I value the freedom that results from taking care of business first. It’s that exhilaration of flight after you preflight the airplane, follow a series of checklists, taxi onto the runway, accelerate, and reach rotate speed. As the plane lifts and the ground falls away, I feel great!

Free-fall in a skydive provides a similar exhilaration. It also requires careful planning and preparation prior to that terrific moment when the wind hits you in the face. I can enjoy that feeling because I am not cloaked in fear. I trust the system that got me there.

I also love systems because they increase my productivity. Working systematically allows me to handle multiple projects simultaneously and ensure that the details will be handled. Relying on the system allows me to relax and do my best work. It also gives me the confidence to be flexible when required.

A working system makes me look like I have the best memory in the world. The truth is, when you allow a system to support you, you don’t have to remember as much because the information you need is always readily available and you know where to find it.

I don’t worry about trying to be fast. I just organize for maximum efficiency based on priority. The cumulative effect is that I can put together a number of items in a limited amount of time without ever focusing on speed. Hurrying takes away much of the joy of an experience. It also leads to inaccuracies and errors.

My use of systems extends to the kitchen. It’s what allows me to prepare a holiday meal from scratch without a last-minute rush. With meals, as with other projects, I begin with a backward timeline. Then I break down that timeline into smaller components and organize tasks in batches.

I often wonder why anyone would want to work any other way. I’m not saying your system should look exactly like mine. I’m just saying I’m not sure why anyone would want to work without one. I find them incredibly freeing.

Through the years, I’ve watched a lot of people struggle, feel overwhelmed, miss deadlines, and get the same details wrong on multiple projects all because they had no system or refused to follow one. A few of them worked for me…for awhile. In some lines of work, this is inconvenient and/or costly. In others, it’s dangerous.

Chaos is not freedom. Record keeping is not a waste of time. Organization is not the enemy of fun. Well-designed systems provide a foundation for teamwork, fairness, safety, productivity, achievement, and calm. I love systems!

https://www.who.int/patientsafety/solutions/patientsafety/PS-Solution2.pdf
https://www.aopa.org/training-and-safety/students/presolo/skills/before-takeoff-checklist
https://www.cdc.gov/cdctv/video-assets/lifestagesandpopulations/value-systems-thinking/mindset.pdf
http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/coulda-woulda-and-should-have/

October 7, 2019

Shut the Front Door!

Shut the front door! You could be one fall away from a new dishwasher. A few months ago when I posted guidelines for kitchen safety, it appears I missed some things. I’m going to remedy that now.

Late in the afternoon a couple of days ago, I unloaded the top racks of the dishwasher. The phone rang. I left the door open with the bottom rack pulled halfway out and returned to my desk to take the call. After that, I did some related email follow-up.

By then, it was evening and I was hungry so I grabbed some leftovers out of the fridge and ate them on the couch in front of the news which led to an idea for a blog post. Dirty dishes forgotten, I picked up my laptop and started writing.

Once I finished much of a draft, I stopped working and started watching a documentary series on the brain. Apparently, I was either very tired or not all that interested…I fell asleep. About 10:30 I woke up and walked through the dark kitchen on the way upstairs for bed.

Then I walked back because I realized I was definitely thirsty & possibly a little hungry. I didn’t bother to turn on the light. There’s a totally obnoxious security light at the church next door that shines in my kitchen windows. It seemed bright enough for the tasks at hand. After all, I was in familiar territory.

In the process of getting a glass and a knife, I groggily followed the familiar path from the peninsula to the silverware drawer. I turned around to go back to my most used prep surface next to the stove, the peninsula, and suddenly I was prone on my stomach arms stretched out and something was making a crashing noise.
front door
Those moments are always so weird. You feel and hear what’s happening, but your mind is trying to catch up to both the events and their significance while your body is simultaneously registering and masking what is happening to it. It all feels like it happens incredibly fast but also like you’re in slow motion.

As I realized I had full body fallen face-first onto the dishwasher door, I also realized I didn’t really feel like I was hurt. Of course, I wasn’t sure. I stood up, turned on the light, and observed that my lower left shin had a knot on it. That seemed to be the only thing hurting so I moved on to assess the damage to the kitchen.

My first thought after I realized what was happening had been crap, I’m going to have to buy a new dishwasher! Soooo, that was correct. I pushed the bottom rack back into the dishwasher and tried to shut the door. Not only would it not latch, it wouldn’t go near the latch without significant force.

That came as no surprise. What did surprise me was that lying on the floor a few feet away was a section of the silverware basket complete with a sharp knife tip sticking out of the top. Of course, that’s when you get scared. Your body has relaxed a bit and your mind suddenly recognizes how bad this could have been.

That portion of the silverware basket was literally broken off. I must have hit it with my left hand, causing it to break? I have no idea. I’m just exceedingly grateful that I didn’t land on the knife with my wrist, neck, face, or eye. Any of those were possible given the circumstances.

I checked and rechecked to make sure I wasn’t bleeding and just hadn’t noticed given the surprise and shock. I was not. I reached into the freezer, pulled out some corn to put on my shin, got the laptop, and reclined on the couch with my foot elevated.

Laptop, you may ask? Naturally, I was no longer sleepy so I decided to research dishwashers. A couple of years ago I wrote a post for alot.com in which I listed the features to look for in appliances. Of course, I started with my number one dishwasher difference-maker—the third rack.

I’ve had a third rack dishwasher for the past 12 or 13 years. I use that extra every single load and I love it! It’s the perfect place for large knives, serving spoons, spatulas, small measuring cups, kitchen shears, and more. Mine is somewhat shallow. The Bosch version is deep enough to accommodate shallow bowls.

This time, I’m going to add bottle washer jets. These were not available in any price range I considered last time around and back then I didn’t have grandchildren. Now that I do, I’m thrilled I’ll be able to place their bottles on a jet that will spray directly into the bottle and get it squeaky clean!

Online, I narrowed the field to the Bosch 800 series and a couple of KitchenAid models, but I wanted to see some in person. Walking into the store last night, I was leaning toward the quieter rated Bosch. I went down the line opening dishwasher after dishwasher.

I like the handle shape of the Bosch SHXM88Z75N. It has the features I want, plus a leak sensor that sounds like a smart perk. And yet, I ended up purchasing a KitchenAid KDTM404ESS. When I tugged and pulled on the parts inside, it just felt more solid. It was also less expensive and on sale.

Until the end of next week, I’m washing dishes by hand. That will serve as a reminder to follow the safety guidelines I previously failed to mention: always turn on the light if it’s dark, place any sharp knives that must point up at the back of the silverware basket, and shut the dishwasher door!

Be safe out there!

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/always-keep-kitchen-safety-in-mind/


Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

ad