Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What!? 5 Ways To Communicate Like A Pro.

Most of my friends are in their twenties and are enjoying the bliss of settling into careers. Steady paychecks, double monitors, and office parties have become the norm now, and as much as we love our professions, there's always SOMEONE who's able to ruin the day.

Most of the time, they do this through bad communication. Maybe they've forgotten to include you in a project email, or they've written an email to a client that gets your butts whipped.

Either way, being a great communicator is hard for a lot of people. Luckily, learning how to get better isn't that difficult, and many times, there's a simple formula to it! Here's a list of 5 ways to improve your communication and be the best coworker ever.

1. Don't abbreviate! 
When writing an email to a client, it's important that you use full words for everything. Even if the abbreviation is well-known (such as "EOD"--end of day), spell it out. You never know who will be reading the email and if they're up to speed. Do not make up new abbreviations without explaining them. I spent nearly 3 months on a project figuring out an abbreviation that someone had created. It wasn't until the very end that we finally figured out what it was.
        Ex: Chose the best answer:
              "Let's get started on the OST before Monday, so we don't get behind."
                A) OST = on-screen text
                B) OST = opportunity-scheduled transition
                C) OST = outbound sectional transportation
                D) OST = one sound transition  
Wrong. You're all wrong. The correct answer is E) Organ slicer technologies. Duh.

2. Always ask a question if you are confused. 
You could spend weeks BS-ing your way through a project, or you could suck it up and spend 5 minutes learning how to do it right the first time. Whether you're new on the job, or a seasoned employee, stop wasting everyone's time and speak up. If you don't know something, find the person who can help and get the information you need from them. Being humble enough to ask questions is a rare trait. Show that you're a diamond in the ruff by communicating your needs from the get-go!
            Ex: "Hey Cathy, can you show me that short cut you used in Excel to input this data? That will                      help me do this project efficiently."

3. Always ask a follow-up question.
See something fishy? Need clarification? Don't send back feedback highlighting the mistake or unclear section. Ask a question about what's going on so whoever you're working with understands why you're confused and can make the proper adjustment. Unless you ask a follow-up question, they will be left to play the guessing game, which can go round and round.
          Ex: "I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. You're saying "level", but do you mean you                     want us to raise the level, or lower it?"

4. Always provide follow-through actions.
This statement rings true no matter who you're communicating with. Whether it's your boss, a client, or your teammate, end an email or phone call with the actions you expect them to take. Not only does this remind them to do them, but it sets the stage for following up with them later. Don't give them a reason to say, "Oh, I didn't know you needed that from me." Avoid delays and frustrations by articulating what you expect of them.
           Ex: "For next week, we will plan to receive your numbers by end-of-day Wednesday. Thanks                        for working on those for us."

5. When working with a team, communicate your actions.
To piggy-back on number 4, be sure to communicate what actions you'll be taking. Your team, your boss, and your clients expects you to be working for them as well. Make sure you set their expectations from the beginning by articulating what you will be working on. That way, they have an opportunity to add or subtract actions from your list before you start. And, you can avoid delays or frustrations later.
           Ex: "Once we receive your numbers, we'll input them into our system so we can have a                                 projection for you by Friday. Until then, we'll work on the PowerPoint so it will be ready to                   use."

What other communication strategies do you guys use?
What areas of communication have you seen break down?
What is your favorite secret to effective communication?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Winter, I'm Feeling A Bit Chili

As the weather plummeted into freezing temperatures and the snow fell, I decided it was prime time to make chili! As you know, one of my New Year's resolutions is to make a new recipe every month. Last month I made homemade brown bread. This month, I made some delicious chili!

This recipe is from a friend of mine who's made this annually at his super bowl party. Having moved out of town this year, I didn't want to miss out on this amazing concoction, so I made it for myself (and several other people) this past weekend! I even remembered to take some pictures! Although, I forgot to take one of the final product. It disappeared too quickly!

Here's the recipe (written by my friend, not me, hence, it's funny!):

Smoke and/or Fire Modular Chili

Note: To move along the scale of spiciness, adjust the numbers in parentheses. Peppers are presented in ascending order of heat. Pro-tip: Favor the top of the scale for crisp and smokey, favor the bottom to descend through the levels of capsaicin Hell.

Makes: A lot of chili.


2 8oz cans tomato paste
1 16oz can diced tomatoes
32 oz water
8-12oz dark beer
1 can black beans (drained)
1 can red kidney beans (drained)


~2 lbs. of diced beef. Lean stew meat is fine, but if you’re feeling fancy, get a grocery store brisket cut and dice it up yourself.


1 Green Bell Pepper(s), cut into small chunks (1-2)
1 Red Bell Pepper(s), cut into small chunks (0-1)
1 Pablano, cut into small chunks (0-2)
8 Jalapeños, cut into small chunks (0-8)
6 Serrano peppers, cut into small chunks (0-6)
2 Habanero, minced (0-2)

Fresh Stuff:

~3 leaves Basil, shredded
Cilantro, shredded to preference
1 white or yellow onion, diced
4-6 cloves garlic


1-2 tbsp smoked paprika (add more if you use less hot peppers)
1-2 tbsp oregano
1/2-1 tbsp thyme
2 tbsp chili powder (pre-made or make your own if you’re feeling adventurous)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp cracked salt


It’s pretty straight forward, really. Dice up your onion and garlic. Take half of that and put it in a pan with some olive oil (just enough to cover the pan and get some on the onion/garlic). Sauté that for awhile, then add your beef and brown it.

While you’re doing this, put all the “foundation” and “spices” into your pot or crock pot and cut up your peppers and fresh stuff. My advice is to wear some cooking gloves when you cut up your hot peppers. You really don’t want habanero on your hands when you rub your eyes or go to the bathroom.

After everything is cut up (including the cilantro and basil), put everything but your meat into the pot and turn it on low until the meat is browned. Once the meat is ready, put everything from that pan into the pot as well. Stir and stir and stir until you’re convinced that everything is evenly distributed. It should smell pretty great, but it gets better. Turn the heat up to high until it starts to boil, then bring it back to just low enough to remain boiling. Let it sit for hours (I normally go at least 5 hours). If the water level gets too low, add in more beer, not water. Water will water it down, beer adds flavor. When you’re about ready to serve it, if it’s not as thick as you’d like, you can add in flour (1 tbsp at a time) until it’s the right thickness.

Put it in a bowl, optionally add sharp cheddar, fritos, or your choice of cracker. Don’t add in sour cream though. Well you can, but I may call you a heretic. Depending on how far down the Path of Heat you went, you may want to have some bread/milk/refreshing beer nearby. It can get really hot. 

As you can see, you'll want some decent prep time in the morning before letting the slow cooker work it's magic all day. We started by chopping up our onions and garlic:

Chop chop!
While he worked on the veggies, I took care of the meat:

No Cheez-its were harmed in the chopping of this meat.
Let me tell you about chopping this meat. We bought 3 lbs of stew meat on sale from the store. It was fairly chopped, but I like my chili bite-sized, and my bite is considerably smaller than most people's. About half way through the chopping, I severely regretted my desire to slice it all up, but by then I couldn't turn back, and I had to finish. This is when the small part of personality that tries to be Type-A is really annoying. 

After I chopped the meat and the veggies were sauteed, we threw them in the slow cooker with the spices:

If you're thinking the slow cooker looks a little small, you'd be right.
We finished cooking up all the meat while adding the tomatos et al. to the pot. We realized that the pot was going to be far too small and so we borrowed another one from a local place in town. Small town life has it's perks. 

With the meat finished, we added everything (except the hotter peppers!) together and stirred, stirred, stirred:

Nom Nom. (and, yes, many Oreos were harmed in the stirring of this chili).
I scooped out some of this and added it back to the smaller slow cooker. We kept the smaller batch mild with very little spice (because I don't have the spicy-enzyme) and then added our hot peppers to the large batch. By this point, the house was smelling wonderful.

We came back about 7 hours later and feasted!

Getting ready to chow down with all the fixin's!

February Chili: success!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Brown Bread, Brown Bread, When Can I Eat?

Number 3 on my New Year's resolution list is to try a new recipe every month, and thanks to your input, I now have several new recipes to try and lots of groceries to buy.

For the month of January, I made Brown Bread:

Sent to me by my bf's mom, Brown Bread is a traditional dark bread that originated in Ireland during the famine (according to Wikipedia). My bf's mom is a fantastic chef, so I was pretty intimidated to try out a recipe from her family. Luckily, she has a keen sense of mercy and sent me an easy one:

Aunt Floss's Brown Bread (passed down from her grandmother's sister, Flossie Egan)

1/2 C. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
2 C. whole wheat flour*
1 C. white flour
1/2 C. molasses
2 C. buttermilk**
1 beaten egg
1 handful of raisins (optional)

In a large mixing bowl, mix dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients, adding the beaten egg last. Don't stir too much.

Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees. Marks a large loaf, or two small loaves.

That's right--molasses. If you don't know where to find it, it'll be in the baking aisle or possibly near the pancake syrup.

With my recipe open, I mixed all the ingredients in my new blue mixing bowl that Santa bought me for Christmas and then hid in her closet and didn't give me until a few weeks later.

This is when I remembered that I was supposed to be taking pictures of my cooking process.

Thanks, Santa!
By this time, Hudson had figured out the molasses smells pretty great, so he had come over to investigate. There may or may not have been a few dog hairs in the dough. Sorry'boutthaat.

Once the dough was mixed and poured into the loaf pans, I slid them into the oven to cook.
In which the ham hangs out with the bread.
 I finished cooking the rest of dinner while the bread was baking, and it started to smell GOOD in the house!
Served on my Michigan bamboo board since that where my bf's family lives!
I served the bread as a side to a ham dinner along with garlic green beans and honey-glazed carrots. It was a big hit! Alternatively, serve during breakfast slathered in some cream cheese, and you are good to go!

So there you have it! January's recipe is done!

What kinds of bread recipes have you made from scratch? What should I make next?

*Note to eaters: If you are gluten free (as I am), please proceed with caution with this bread. It's super delicious, but it is made with whole wheat flour, and even after three bites, I could feel it in my tummy :(

**You'll have extra buttermilk. I recommend making this to use it up. You'll thank me later.