Pork, Sauerkraut and Potatoes.

Dinner had been done for over an hour.  I love that we were still tonight, seated around the kitchen table ..

…………

As a child .. almost every night was spent at the dining room table, together.  Family meals were our norm.  Most often, my dad would be at the stove already hard at work on some never measured out concoction that would taste fantastic when all was said and done, before our mother would ever get home.

We would all then sit down to eat.  And talk.

In our various family forms since my daughter came along, we have done the same.  But the time I currently have at the ranch has allowed me a lot more time to cook, think about meal planning and to stay seated at the table well past dinner being done to hang out, talk, enjoy each others company.

………..

Tonight, it was a dish dad used to make all the time.  My first attempt.

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Pork chops, potatoes and sauerkraut.  Dad would usually throw it all in the pressure cooker.  (“Don’t touch it, it can explode,” dad would say of the pressure cooker.  I have been afraid of them since.)  I threw tonight’s meal in the oven.

An hour and a half later .. it was done.  The Cowboy had just come back in from working with one of the horses.  Our 11 year old was shortly behind him after spending time on her favorite horse as well, despite the frigid temperatures.

They both were cold.

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The food was hot.

“That was really good,” said the Cowboy.

My daughter simply cleaned her plate (minus most of her sauerkraut) and then asked for more.

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No soup for you ..

When is the last time you had REALLY good customer service?

I mean, the kind of help or over the counter service that just stopped you in your tracks and had you saying, ‘Wow, I didn’t know people/businesses did it like this anymore?’

Perhaps the better question is, how many businesses have you decided to not return to because the service was appalling?

………..

Let me just start with two thoughts:

1.)  I believe we are technically – all in the customer service business .. unless of course, you don’t have a job.  But even job hunting means, essentially, that a potential employer is the customer.  Doesn’t it?  And you had better leave a good impression if you truly want to make the sale/get the job.

2.)  I know there are days when I can do a better job myself of working like whatever I am doing is the only thing that matters on earth.  I know this.  I admit this.  And I continue always to try and do better, keeping others in mind.

Well .. three thoughts.

3.)  I have just returned from a week and a half away.  Which, for those of you who have ever left for that period of time know, most likely there is no good ‘real food’ to eat upon return.  If it was good and fresh when you left, it is now moldy.  I will spare you a photo of what was in my refrigerator that is now thrown out.  Needless to say, Monday, I had not eaten .. really, any breakfast, lunch or dinner (until now, and at 8:00 pm I just wrapped up a run to the grocery store)  other than a packet of oatmeal, two pieces of plain bread and an apple all day.  So I may have been a bit hungry and ornery because of it, as I wrote what follows.

BUT ..

……………

8:28 pm Monday (and I know this because I make a point to look at my watch).  I walk into a local business that I frequent often after a grocery store run.  I am looking for a coffee, bottle of wine to take home to sip on this week and perhaps a cup of soup.  I am famished.  The place closes at 9 pm, something I am keenly aware of. There are 32 minutes to close.

8:31 pm.  I walk up to counter having found a bottle of wine for purchase, order a latte and ask if I might still get a cup of soup, thinking, I know they’re closing soon.  I don’t want to ask for anything that might have them doing a bunch of work.  But soup, soup should be do-able.  That’s what I’m thinking.

Clerk at register asks woman who might usually be helping prep food but who is instead now washing dishes if soup is still available.  Dish washing woman who is cleaning out soup containers says:

“No.  It’s past 8:30 and the kitchen is closed.  We’re done serving.”

She proceeds to say not missing a beat, “Were you going to stay here?  You know we close at 9.”

I smirk, thinking, if I owned this place and knew what just flew out of her mouth, I’d be absolutely appalled.  She is more worried about getting out of there by 9 or as close to it as possible than making sure a customer is happy and satisfied and will care to come back because the experience was just that good.

“Oh yes,” I say.  “I am well aware of what time you close.  I came in thinking there was still enough time I might get a cup of soup.  I haven’t eaten all day.  And I’m hungry.”

She paused.  Stepped back.  And then returned about a minute later after I finished paying for what I could get (wine and coffee), “Well, I guess I could still heat a cup up for you if you’d like.”

“No thank you,” I replied.

At that point there was nothing she could have said to me short of perhaps, ‘I’m sorry’, to get me to even think of staying.

8:32 pm I again look at my watch as I stand, waiting for my latte.

……………

Because I have had many a wonderful experience at this particular establishment, chances are, I will return.  I peripherally know the owners.  I know they run a good business.  And I want to support small local business wherever and whenever I can.  Even if its through a cup of coffee.

But if that’s my first experience in a place, I’m just saying, I may not ever return.

Monday night .. I took my business next door.  My dinner business anyway.  Where I am perhaps all too often a regular as well (because I’m terrible about cooking for myself on nights when its just me.  Plus the margaritas can’t be beat).  Where I have never had anything but the utmost awesome service.  And where I sat down to write .. this post.  Over food.

Which was all I was looking for and hoping for tonight.

Listen.  I’m not trying to be snitty here.  I promise.  I’m just wanting to offer some thoughts .. my own perspective, some of which I hope wear off at some point on my daughter.

I have worked in the service industry since I was about 15.  Actually, before that.  I mowed lawns starting around age 12, had a paper route and babysat all I could to put money in my savings when I was a kid.  But by the time I was 15, I started washing dishes and waitressing.  Back then, it was all about trying to keep coffee cups full on Saturday and Sunday mornings for all the regulars at the Poynette Cafe, how quickly I could remove their plates once their toast was done and hope then that I had served them well enough to earn more than a few quarters per table.  It was tough work, but I realized it couldn’t be about me and what time I hoped to rush out of there to get home or to see my friends.  It was about making sure the customers were happy, that they would come back, bring friends and hopefully tip more next time because I/we took good care of them.  And .. in almost every circumstance, I was also taught that it didn’t really matter what I thought.  About anything.  If I thought their food was done right but they said it wasn’t .. if they ordered one drink but thought they ordered another .. whatever .. the customer is (almost) always right.  And if we didn’t have what they were asking for or when they wanted it, we tried to offer up solutions.  With a smile.  And we stayed late to accommodate.

Sure, it’s not like that in every business.  But, it is in many and unless being rude is your company’s schtick .. what are the consequences?  For the employee or the employer?  Business owners I know say they are having a tough time getting good young help, who most often fill customer service positions.  Among the issues I’m told, too often young workers are so tethered to their iPhones/Android or Facebook they don’t even think to peel their eyes away from a computer screen to acknowledge a customer has even walked through the door.

Has good customer service died?  I don’t think so.  In fact, because we’ve gotten so far away from it, I believe we’re seeing a resurrection of it.  And I know for a fact, this particular place I stopped last night prides itself on it.

However ..

“Some people love to please others and some people love to just be done working and could give an eff (word has been changed to protect my G rating) about you,” says owner of second place, understanding how I came to sit at his table again tonight.

“Can I quote you on that,” I ask.

“Certainly,” he replied.

I can think of shoe departments I won’t purchase from again because nowhere .. anywhere .. was there someone to help, restaurants I won’t return to because the service was as bad as the food, stores I could care less to spend money in and gas stations I can’t stand because pay at the pump should mean pay at the pump, not come inside to pay and we’ll hold extra funds from your debit card for our own use for a couple days and then return it when we feel like it.  Consumers have plenty of options anymore and we need to remember, it pays to vote with our wallets.

Listen .. I don’t consider myself high maintenance.  But I do know common courtesy with me and others would go a long way .. again, a reminder for me to check my own attitude at the door when I head each day into my own job.

Next time if presented with the same scenario, I’m thinking it might be easy for an employee to simply say something to the effect of, “You know what, we just put the soup away, is there anything else we could get you?  A roll?  Anything?”

I might still have said, “No thanks,” knowing they were cleaning up to get out of there and not wanting to inconvenience anyone.  But I would have left feeling much better about the exchange and might have continued to freely tell everyone how much I love your place.

‘Try this,’ my 10-year-old says..

I was going to post earlier today .. the answer to ‘Most Asked Question #2‘ when it comes to me and the Cowboy.  The, ‘He lives there and you’re here?  How did you meet?’ post.  But that’ll come later, I guess.  My internet is giving me hell.  I didn’t get a chance to tweak it.  That’ll happen yet tonight, I would imagine.

In the meantime, I’ve had the most wonderful afternoon with my daughter.  And given I want her to have as much of me and ‘us’ documented to remember .. I’m going to take this moment to write about our evening.  Because there is much to be savored.  Literally.

………..

There is a store in Madison where, every Wednesday, when I pick my daughter up from school for either the two days I have her each week or the 5 .. we stop to pick up fresh produce.  Because neither she nor I can get enough of it …

Other stores carry produce.  I shop there too.  But usually, none can compare to what we find at this particular Madison based store.  It is just that good.  Or, at least we know it’s that good.  Because, well, because there are samples.  For EVERYTHING.

“Mom,” she says, chasing me around the store with another sample of something.  Always.  “Try this!  You HAVE TO TRY THIS!  Can we get one of these?” she says.

Great marketing.  It works.  We usually walk out with far more than what we would have gotten otherwise.

Regardless..

I’m estatic we have a chance to get home tonight and do little other than finish up homework.  Hang out together.  Cook.  And give the dogs some exercise after being cooped up much of the past two days while the rest of the Midwest comes to life now that spring has sprung.

I put the pork chops in the oven, get the snap peas ready to go for when I return.. and go for a run with one of the dogs.

I was gone 15 minutes.

I come back, she’s cutting up a pear.  I think little-to-nothing of it.

I go back to getting dinner ready.

“Please keep working on your homework,” I say.

I find a granola bar wrapper.

And, as I go to put the other groceries away, I find the cheese, open.

“Did you eat more than the pear?” I ask.  “You’re going to ruin your appetite and we have a nice dinner tonight.”

“What,” she says.  “I only had cheese, a granola bar.. and, I had a pear.”

She pauses a few seconds.

“And I’m still hungry.”

We sit down moments later to a wonderful meal of pork chops, steamed sugar snap peas, fresh salad topped with strawberries and cantaloupe to round it out.

She’s right.  She is still hungry.

And these are moments that remind me, despite how often I’ve been told by her father over the years I am far from being the best mother (to put it mildly) .. make me feel like if I’ve done anything right, she will grow in so many ways, into a healthy young woman.

My 10 year old is growing, in more ways than one.  Precious moments like these, I’m so grateful to realize pass us by too quickly .. to not be savored.

Now about that ice cream for dessert …

Let her cook?

I finally decided we were close enough to trash day yesterday .. to go ahead and dump out some old food.  Which, I hate ever doing.  Wasting food.  And throwing food out.

But when you’re living alone part of the time and still have to shop for others to be with you the other part of the time, it somehow seems inevitable.  Which is why, over the years, I’ve taken to eating out more than I should.

In trying to get back to spending less, eating healthier and being home more .. something I want for myself and that the Cowboy is encouraging me to do as well… I’m trying to get back into this cooking thing.

……

I’ve always loved to cook.  Love looking at recipes.  Love having family and friends over for meals.  I have an extensive collection of favorite cookbooks.  But at the moment, in our last move and in severely trying to downsize, I’ve pulled out only a few from the boxes.

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The rest, for now .. sit in storage.

I’m not sure when exactly .. I got so far away from that.  But fairly certain it was as I adjusted to a new life, during my divorce.

Six years later …

My daughter is wanting desperately to learn to cook.   So I’m trying to find the time between getting home late each evening during the week when I have her, homework, taking the dogs out, picking up and getting her to bed.  Which doesn’t leave us much time.  To cook.  Anything but buttered noodles (any pasta), rotisserie chicken and a salad.  (Yes, I know I can throw something in the crock pot.  That would require more advance planning and it just never seems to work out that we actually eat what goes in there.  A lot still gets thrown away.)  We eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables.  Again, really no cooking involved.  And on weekends between traveling back and forth to South Dakota, visiting family or friends here, it seems someone else is always the one at the stove.

SO… when I’m not looking:

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(Sorry for the close-up.)

She ‘cooks.’

Grapes.  Bananas.  Swedish Fish.  Apples.  Some sort of sugary sauce.  Pretty sure that’s what I ended up throwing out yesterday after it sat in the refrigerator for a couple days.  (No garbage disposal or it would’ve gone out much sooner.)

At 10 years old .. she whips up whatever concoction she can, whenever I turn my back or give her a few minutes alone now, while I run errands or walk the dogs.

No stove though.  One of the rules.

So she gets creative.

And she loves it.  She will also usually try and stomach eating whatever it is she’s ‘cooked’ just to prove a point.  That she’s ready to learn.

……

In writing this – I’ve learned its not only a rite of passage by doing a little research, it’s healthy in so many ways for a child to learn to cook.  Especially now that she’s learning fractions in math, cooking might be a great way to give her practical application.  Hadn’t thought about that until this moment.  And perhaps I should have done more to bring her into the kitchen years ago.

From eHow Family:

What Children Learn from Cooking

Teaching children to cook is not only a valuable life skill, but it incorporates other important skills as well. When children cook, they have a chance to practice math skills, work on following directions, learn to work with an adult and get a sense of accomplishment. Children as young as 3 can begin learning to cook.

  1. Skills for Younger Cooks (under 5)

    Reading Aged Children (5-7)

    School Aged (7 and up)

    Significance

    Fun Fact

    Warning

I waffle back and forth between wanting to fuss at her for wasting so much food (and money in the process) that would have been part of her school lunch or our dinner.  And, allowing her the space to be creative.  To cook. And I know it’s in her best interest to teach her.

So while I look for the time, I send her to look for the dish soap.  Because if she’s going to learn to cook ..