Wednesday, June 27, 2012
To facilitate the double blind study, I had each guest bring their selections in identical containers with labels for each item denoting the brand. Once at my place, I moved the labels to the bottom of each container (so that they were now hidden), and then asked another guest to move the containers (without looking at the bottoms) to the dining room table. The guest helping with this task laid out the products in a neat row across the table and then we slapped down blank post it notes in front of each item for guests to record their name and rating (rated as compared to the other items of the same variety on the table).
Products we tested and brands are shown below. Results follow under the listing.
1. Kettle style potato chips, 'Salt and Vinegar' flavor
Kettle, Lay's, Cape Cod, Utz
2. Beef hot dogs
Hebrew National, Nathan's, Ball Park, Giant (store brand)
3. Chocolate chip cookies
Harris Teeter, Chips A'hoy, and two additional brands that I've failed to remember
4. Canned tuna fish
Wild Harvest, Target (store brand), Bumble Bee, Starkist, Wal-Mart (store brand)
5. Mild salsa
Pace, Tostitos, Chi-Chi's, Grande
6. Creamy peanut butter
Giant (store brand), Planters, Skippy, Jif
After everyone had tasted and rated, we did the big reveal.
By far the most shocking result for the entire group (10 taste testers) was the unanimous win for Lay's in the kettle chip category.
For the potato chips, all tasters rated Kettle, Cape Cod, and Utz fairly equal. Lay's brand was a clear stand out in excellence - tasters noted the chips were the crispiest with a pleasing crunch and had the best potato flavor. It wasn't even close - if the chips were racing in a 5k, Lay's crossed the finish line before the other poor chips made it past the first mile. Everyone assumed the winning chip must be Cape Cod (because the brand's entire image is built around their kettle chips) and were truly floored to discover it was Lay's. Given that Lay's is not only more affordable but the better tasting product and yet not well known on the potato chip circuit as a star in the kettle chip variety, we all agreed they should launch a national ad campaign involving taste testing to promote the brand strength (Are you listening Frito Lay marketers?).
In the hot dog competition, most assumed that the winning hot dog (9 of 10 votes) must have been Ball Park given it's reputation as the "beefiest" hot dog. (here we go again with these preconceived ideas that must have been planted in our mind by advertising). Surprised gasps (I kid you not- one member asked if this was some sort of hidden camera show or a trick) could be heard all around the room during the big reveal when the winner was discovered to be Giant (an affordable store brand).
I'm not a fan of canned tuna (prefer Starkist vacuum pouch), but of the canned varieties tested I preferred Wild Harvest, as did most guests (a few preferred Bumble Bee). The Wal-Mart variety was the worst (a strange "plastic" taste) and the Bumble Bee brand smelled and tested the most "fishy".
The salsa testing results were a bit more balanced that the rest of the products. The winner (Chi Chi's) won by just a vote or two, with the taster votes spread pretty equally among the brands. I guess salsa variety is a very personal preference and it must be hard for product developers to target the mass audience. This tasting proved valuable for me because I've always purchased Tostitos (I have no idea why we defaulted to Tostitos) when buying salsa in a jar and so I'd never even tried Chi Chi's prior to the tasting event. Given that I rated Chi Chi's the best, we will now be a Chi Chi's salsa household.
The peanut butter testing results were also fairly balanced in terms of brand preference, with Skippy winning the taste testing by a handful of votes. My own ratings for this product surprised and disappointed me (and Jon has been holding it over my head giddy ever since). Since childhood (when my mom lovingly made me PB&J sandwiches with it), I've been a Jif fan. A fanatic Jif fan in fact. I am absolutely devoted to Jif and have refused for 16 years to let my husband bring ANY OTHER brand into our home. It was that important to me. 'Choosy Moms Choose Jif' and all that. Jif is about family and love and a whole bunch of things for me (excellent brainwashing Jif marketing team!). I was convinced to the core of my being that Jif is the best and never ever questioned this closely held belief. And to find out that I actually prefer Skippy (it was creamier and presented an overall better taste and finish despite that Jif had a more intense peanut flavor) just shook my world. Seriously! I have been wondering out loud since Sunday what other beliefs am I so firmly committed to that might also be wrong? So the next time we go grocery shopping we will buy Skippy (I could not handle the cognitive dissonance of continuing to purchase Jif just because I have some sort of longstanding emotional attachment to the brand and a need to hold onto ideas long cherished) but I will cry a little inside.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, we found this to be a fantastic weeknight dinner. It’s affordable, works for all seasons and easily adapted to a strict vegetarian (vegan) edition. Serve with fresh bread.
- 1/8 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 8 sprigs fresh parsley plus 3 tablespoons chopped
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (use olive oil for vegan adaptation)
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 celery ribs, diced
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- Salt and pepper
- 6 cups water
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (use vegetable broth for vegan adaptation)
- 1/2 cup pearl barley
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
- 1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 1/2 cups chopped green cabbage
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1. Grind porcini with spice grinder until they resemble fine meal, 10 to 30 seconds. Measure out 2 teaspoons porcini powder; reserve remainder for other use. Using kitchen twine, tie together parsley sprigs, thyme, and bay leaf.
2. Melt butter (or olive oil) in sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, celery, and 2 teaspoons salt. Deglaze with wine as needed. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated and celery is softened, about 10 minutes. Add soy sauce, and cook for 1 minute more.
3. Transfer sautéed vegetables to crockpot and set aside sauté pan. Add water, broth, barley, porcini powder, herb bundle, garlic, and potatoes to crockpot.
4. Pan steam cabbage in pan with 1/4 to 1/2 cup water: cook until cabbage wilts.
5. Transfer cabbage to crockpot.
6. Cover crockpot and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4-5 hours. Just before serving, stir in lemon juice, and chopped parsley; season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing Lemon-Thyme Butter (diced thyme mixed into butter with a dash of lemon) separately for guests to garnish their soup.
Friday, June 22, 2012
I'm REALLY interested to know what kind of data you personally record, whether your habits in recording have changed over the years, and what formats and products you use for your recording. Drop me an email in reply, comment on this blog entry on the website (http://songsofgratitude.blogspot.com), or comment on the facebook syndication.
Data Item Recorded, Format (analog/digital), Products
medical records, digital, google docs (Excel Spreadsheet)
nutrition, digital, sparkpeople.com
exercise--cardio, digital, dailymile.com
exercise--strength, analog, Eat Clean Workout Journal
work journal, analog, Franklin Covey Daily Planner
travel, digital, SongsofGratitude blog and travbuddy.com for longer entries
books to read, digital, pinterest
book reviews/notes, digital, SongsofGratitude blog
weekly menus, analog, Weekly Menu Planner
recipes to try, digital, pinterest
recipes tried and true, digital, Mastercook & publication to SongsofGratitude blog & pinterest
bible study/sermon/theology notes and musings, digital, SongsofGratitude blog
SAS projects and happenings @CSC, analog, SAS Projects notebook
meetings, analog, Cambridge Meeting Notebook
interesting system and SAS errors, digital, google docs (Excel Spreadsheet)
prayers offered and answered, analog, Prayer Journal
goals, digital, OneNote
certifications and educational achievement log, digital, OneNote
training/education study notes, analog AND digital, simple notebook for trainings done at work; OneNote for grad school classes
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Continuing notes from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
The final habit for effective living offered by Covey is one of renewal, or what he refers to as ‘sharpening the saw’. In essence this means taking care of ourselves from a holistic perspective:
- physical health: stewardship of our body including physical fitness, nutrition, proper rest, etc.
- mental health: stewardship of our mind and talents including continuing education and training, reading, writing.
- spiritual health: stewardship of our spiritual life including prayer, meditation, worship, and study.
- social health: stewardship of our social relationships including civic duties, service to others, practicing habits four through six.
Since my mission statement (again, here for reference) already incorporates these four areas of stewardship as subset points under the main/summary mission (to glorify God) I won’t need to add them in separately- they’re automatically built in to my Quadrant II planning.
So we’ve come to the end of our discussion on Covey’s philosophy for becoming an effective and successful human being. I hope you enjoyed the review and found my notes useful. Where are you in your development of the seven habits? Are you motivated to write a mission statement or have you written one already? Have you made plans to begin using the Quadrant approach to planning? Overall comments, questions or concerns on this material?
Continuing notes from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Having put forth three habits that comprise personality responsibility and independence, Covey turns to address interdependence (cooperative action).
Building interdependent relationships:
- seek to understand people, their thoughts, and their motivations so that we can empathize and know what matters to them
- attend to details; small kindnesses and courtesies are important
- keep commitments
- clarify expectations in relationships to avoid confusion
- always strive to demonstrate personal integrity (first three habits)
- apologize whenever it is warranted
- Habit Four: Think Win/Win
- seek mutually beneficial outcomes whenever possible
- Win/Win or no deal strategy for collaborating with those we do not hold commitments to
- Win/Win or compromise strategy for collaborating with those we hold commitments to
- this habit takes tremendous integrity because it requires choosing the best overall outcome instead of the one that is just best for ourselves
- to put this habit into practice identify the key issues and concerns, document the outcomes that would benefit all parties, and brainstorm solutions to achieve those results
- diagnose issues before prescribing solutions
- when peers are at the stage of producing emotional output (“venting”) the best course of action is to empathize
- when peers have reached the stage where they’re ready to solve the problem and are producing rational output the best course of action is to provide thoughtful advice and guidance
- synergy is when we collaborate with others to brainstorm solutions and implement them and the results we achieve are greater/better/more effective than what we could have produced as individuals simultaneously working separately.
At worst I see teams actively refusing to even accept win/win scenarios proposed by the team members trained in interdependent problem solving (because they don’t trust them, because they’d rather have a win/lose solution). Even at best I see teams accepting win/win scenarios but only *after* the effective team members (a minority of the team) do all the work of finding and presenting the win/win solution while the rest of the team slacks off (having slid into dependence mode once they sensed the effective members were looking out for their interests). In short: how can we motivate people (and trust them) to fully participate in collaborative problem solving? Because if we cannot get others to play along, it really doesn’t matter how much we are willing to engage in collaborative, interdependent work now does it?
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Habit three of effective living can be summarized as life management.
Remember that habit one was recognizing our agency, habit two was demonstrating the leadership to chart our course and now here we are at habit three- active management on a day to day basis in line with our chartered course.
From a computer/IT perspective this is running the program we’ve written. The most important part of running our program is keeping our commitments; is adhering to the features we’ve documented in writing the program. Doing this is a show of self-discipline.
We have to master self-discipline in order to succeed in running the program as written. Integrity is having the discipline to submit our will to our principles we’ve centered our life on.
Here Covey introduces his organizational paradigm of Quadrant management. Quadrant I activities under our management are those which are urgent in nature and important (furthering our chartered course). Quadrant II activities are those which are important but not urgent. Quadrant III activities are urgent but not important (think busywork required on the job). Quadrant IV activities are neither urgent nor important (time wasters, distractions). Per Covey, most of our life efforts should be in Quadrant II and in order to acquire the time needed for these activities we have to rob it from Quadrant III and IV (since the first Quadrant activities are also important).
Quadrant II focused management stems from a knowledge of our principles documented in our mission statement. It is the balancing act of managing not only our production output but also our production possibility (the golden eggs versus the goose that lays them).
Notes on managing these Quadrant II activities:
- Coherence – our Quadrant II activities should flow from and be in sync with our mission statement and principles.
- Balance – Quadrant II activities should be balanced across several goals that follow from our mission statement. We must be careful not to neglect some areas while tunnel visioning on others.
- Wide Angle View - Quadrant II activities should be integrated into our schedules through weekly planning (versus just daily planning) to ensure our schedule as a whole is balanced and centered properly.
- Flexibility – Our life management in action should be able to adapt to changing circumstances based our principles. We must not make an idol out of our schedule when God makes it clear our principles are dictating an unexpected change of plans. (For example, be willing to delay or skip a Quadrant II scheduled activity to help a friend dealing with grief who wants to talk in that moment).
- Portability – Our life management schedule and plan should be documented in a portable format so that we can take it with us everywhere. If we don’t have it to reference at all times, we may stray from it easily.
Long term scheduling: review mission statement--->document goals
Short term scheduling: review mission statement and goals--->document substeps and tasks--->schedule or delegate substeps and tasks
A note on delegation: delegate WHAT (results) and not HOW (micromanaging) as much as possible, Obviously some guidelines, regulations, and certified processes must be followed but give people stewardship to carry out tasks their own way whenever possible. Make sure to setup accountability (standards for evaluation) and document the consequences for the evaluation results.
Covey is emphatic that many people *think* they struggle with putting first things first but actually struggle with centering their life on principles (habit two). That is, their real problem is an implantation-of-principles-in-the-heart problem and not a self-discipline problem. Do I agree with this? I’m not sure. It’s a bit of human arrogance to claim anyone can submit their will to their principles if they’ve truly accepted those principles in their heart. After all Romans 7:19 tells us "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.” Given what Saint Paul has stated here, is the problem really that we haven’t accepted the principles in our heart or that we have accepted them (or at least want to accept them) but our sinful nature fights against these principles we want to follow?
I used to struggle (in vain) to acquire the self-discipline required to bend my will to my principles. I failed over and over. In frustration I went to my pastor at the time who told me I was going about it all wrong by trying to force myself into self-discipline. He told me I needed to focus on building my relationship with God and giving him my life and that God would change my will for me. That pastor was a Presbyterian and so embraced the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity (theology that states man in wholly incapable of choosing goodness and only the holy spirit within him can do so). This was very wonderful to hear and since then I’ve tried to direct my efforts to engaging more frequently with God (prayer, worship, meditation, study, etc) and leaving it to him to change my character and it seems to be a more successful strategy for me. Now here comes Covey telling me that with practice I can actually change it myself. And given that there are many people who aren’t religious at all who exhibit self discipline it would lend credence to the view that we can control our will and subvert it to our values if we try hard enough. But then what about our verse in Romans? And if we can submit our will to our principles if we just follow a sound methodology like Covey’s and try hard enough then, in theory, we should be able to be successful, ethical, and principled without God and scripture points to the contrary and the need for grace b/c of our own weakness and sin.
Jonathan and I had a long discussion on executing the program and the self-discipline it takes and whether we can acquire that discipline with practice or whether God changes our character and molds us into a self-disciplined person. Jon thinks it’s a healthy mix of both (convenient safe answer and not at all helpful for me in deciding what exactly *I* should do to most further my character development). What do you think about the human will and discipline? Do you think a failure to follow the program is due to a lack of true acceptance of the program or a failure in will and discipline to follow what we’ve accepted? And in either case how do we get ourselves to accept something we want to but apparently haven’t or how do we bend our will in a way we want to but can’t seem to? What have you found to be the answers to these questions?
Covey states that the second habit of a highly effective person is to organize life around a vision of what we value most, or in his words, to ‘begin with the end in mind’. Along these lines we should document what matters to us with a personal mission statement or statement of purpose. This is leadership; this is setting a vision of what we want to accomplish.
From an IT/computer perspective this habit is writing the program for our system.
The best programs we could write per Covey focus on solid principles (again, unchanging deep truths) and we must be careful not to center life on anything but those principles lest we make them little idols in our life. He cautions against a life that prioritizes marriage, family, money, work, possessions, pleasure, friends, enemies, church, or ourselves at the exclusion of everything else.
I went through this exercise many years ago – creating a statement of purpose- and have since refined it many times. My purpose statement is here:
I think I’ve got a very good handle on this habit. I love to plan, to analyze, to prioritize, and I have a firm understanding of the biblical principles that I’ve built my mission statement on.
According to Covey, the first habit we must cultivate for success is that of proactivity. This means abandoning the paradigm of strict determinism:
Instead we must embrace a paradigm that includes the interjection of man’s free will:
We are not mere robots led around by our noses; we can choose to stop and think before acting. We must take initiative to act in our circle of influence. Note that this is not simply superficial positive thinking or an attitude adjustment but addressing realities and thoughtfully choosing the best course of action.
Our circle of influence:
- that which we have direct control over – our actions and character
- that which we have indirect control over – our collaborative work with others
I agree with Covey completely on the importance of this habit and have long ago accepted the premise that we are not just listless leaves in the wind but have a will and agency that can influence the outcome of events.
I’ve been reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. It’s my second reading of the work - my first reading was early last year but with the stress of my father’s death I didn’t absorb any of the material.
There’s a lot to review and comment on so I’ll be writing my notes in sections.
According to Covey, the field of success literature began with an emphasis on building character (fidelity, integrity, humility, etc). However post WWI the field turned toward a cult of personality and most modern success literature addresses the superficial of social relations like how to get people to like you and how to build your “brand”. Covey criticizes this new paradigm and reminds us that social ethics are secondary success factors; we can only experience true success and enduring happiness if we have a foundation of underlying character.
“Search your heart with all diligence for out of it flows the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23
“What you are shouts so loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say.” RW Emerson
Principles are fundamental truths. Covey stresses that we must focus on principles and internalize them as habits and then growth and success will follow. The closer our lives align to principles the more successful we will be.
Living a life according to principles is a habit and takes practice just as learning to play the piano does. Character is simply a composite of our habits.
“Private victories precede public victories.” Stephen Covey
Stages of Responsibility and Effectiveness:
1. Dependence: everyone else must look out for me.
2. Independence: I look out for myself.
3. Interdependence: We look out for each other.
We develop our character habits to move from dependence to independence. Then we build on that foundation to move to functioning at an interdependence level.
Monday, June 18, 2012
Made this for dinner tonight as a side for baked ham. Very good.
Source: Cook’s Illustrated
Bake the casserole in an 8-inch-square baking dish for 35 to 40 minutes.
- 3.5 pounds sweet potatoes (3-4 medium)
- 2.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened, plus additional for greasing pan
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (1 1/4 ounces)
- 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar (1 3/4 ounces)
- 1/8 teaspoon table salt
- 1/2 cup pecans (2 ounces)
- 2.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoons table salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- Granulated sugar to taste
- 2 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cups half-and-half
FOR THE STREUSEL: While potatoes are baking, butter 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Pulse flour, brown sugar, and salt in food processor until blended, about four 1-second pulses. Sprinkle butter pieces over flour mixture and pulse until crumbly mass forms, six to eight 1-second pulses. Sprinkle nuts over mixture and pulse until combined but some large nut pieces remain, four to six 1-second pulses. Transfer streusel to medium bowl.
FOR THE SWEET POTATOES: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Poke sweet potatoes several times with paring knife and space evenly on rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake potatoes, turning them once, until they are very tender and can be squeezed easily with tongs, 1 to 1 1/2 hours (or 45 minutes for small sweet potatoes). Remove potatoes from oven and cut in half lengthwise to let steam escape; cool at least 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Once potatoes have cooled slightly, use spoon to scoop flesh into large bowl; you should have about 4 cups. Transfer half of potato flesh to food processor. Using rubber spatula, break remaining potato flesh in bowl into coarse 1-inch chunks.
FOR THE FILLING: Add melted butter, salt, nutmeg, pepper, vanilla, and lemon juice to potatoes in food processor and process until smooth, about 20 seconds. Taste for sweetness, then add up to 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, if necessary; add yolks. With processor running, pour half-and-half through feed tube and process until blended, about 20 seconds; transfer to bowl with potato pieces and stir gently until combined.
TO ASSEMBLE AND BAKE CASSEROLE: Pour filling into prepared baking dish and spread into even layer with spatula. Sprinkle with streusel, breaking up any large pieces with fingers. Bake until topping is well browned and filling is slightly puffy around edges, 30-40 minutes. Cool at least 10 minutes before serving.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Tonight’s experimental dinner consisted of Peruvian roast chicken and fried yuca with spicy mayo. The chicken was unremarkable, but the fried yuca was fabulous. I was very nervous preparing it for dinner as the tuber contains hydrogen cyanide and it must be prepared carefully and correctly to avoid poisoning (Yuca must be boiled to release cyanide into the cooking water).
It’s been an hour since we sat down at the table and I’m not feeling any cyanide side effects so I think I did alright. Recipe below, adapted from Gourmet Magazine.
- 1 T feta cheese, crumbled fine
- 1/2 cup mayo
- 1/2 jalepeno, pureed in food processor
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 lime
- 1/2 tsp Penzey’s Arizona Dreaming seasoning
- 1 large fresh yuca (cassava)
- About 2 cups vegetable oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix together sauce ingredients in a small bowl until smooth.
Trim ends of yuca and cut crosswise half, then peel, removing waxy brown skin and pinkish layer underneath.
Cover yuca with cold salted water by 1 inch in a 4-quart pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until yuca is tender when pierced with a fork, 15 to 25 minutes. Drain and rinse. Transfer with a slotted spoon to several layers of paper towels to drain further, then cool 5 minutes. Cut yuca lengthwise into 1/8-inch-wide wedges, discarding thin woody core. (If there are pieces that have white parts to them, return them to barely simmering water and simmer until almost translucent.)
Heat about 1 1/2 inches oil in heavy pot over moderate heat until it registers 360°F on thermometer.
Fry yuca, turning occasionally, until golden, 3 to 5 minutes per batch. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle fries with salt and serve with cheese sauce.
Monday, June 4, 2012
This is a favorite recipe in our house, adapted from the rice and beans dish served all over Belize. Menu suggestion: serve with Jerk chicken or stewed chicken and fried plantains.
- olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 red pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- white wine (to taste)
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
- 2 cups uncooked long-grain rice (jasmine works well)
- 1 can can coconut milk
- 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 can white bean variety (small white, navy beans, etc), drained and rinsed
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- fresh thyme leaves to garnish
- hot sauce (I prefer Marie Sharp's)
Prep: 10 mins | Cook: 20 mins
1. Cook the rice with your usual preferred method (I like cooking in microwave on 50% power for 15 minutes with a 5 minute rest after: one part rice to two parts water and a T of oil), but substitute the coconut milk (stir before emptying can btw) for part of the water. So instead of 4 cups of water for our two cups of uncooked rice, use the can of coconut milk and however much water in addition you need to equal 4 cups of liquid.
2. While the rice is cooking, heat the oil in a large dutch oven pan, add the onion and peppers and cook gently for 3–4 minutes until softened. Stir in the garlic and cook until tender, using white wine to deglaze the pan as needed.
3. Dump the beans into the dutch oven over the onion mix, stirring to heat. Mix in the thyme. Stir in the rice (mix well), adding salt, pepper, and hot sauce to to taste and scatter over some fresh thyme leaves to garnish.
Rice tastes even better after flavors meld so its perfectly fine to freeze or fridge and warm up later in microwave.