Sunday, January 27, 2008

Steak ... because it matters

Vic and I hosted a steak tasting party last night.

We aren't big red meat eaters, but during the holiday season, his company sent him a gift certificate for "4 Exquisite Connoisseur Steaks" from the Oliver Ranch Company. How could we resist?

The gift certificate itself was intriguing. Featuring a photo of steaks cooking on a grill, it compared artisan beef to fine wine. Then there was the company's slogan: "Discover the world of beef... because it matters."

When the steaks arrived, a letter from the company's CEO accompanied the package. "We invite you to join us on this journey," the letter said, "to discover what style you prefer, to acknowledge and sustain those ranchers who are truly dedicated to their profession. Those who manage their land sustainably and who follow superior animal husbandry practices, so that we can eat cleaner, more healthful, better tasting meat. Families who stay on the land doing what they do best. This is a win-win for all of us."

The package included four individually wrapped, color-coded, vacuum-sealed steaks from the company's Discovery Series 1 release:
- Wet-Aged Wagyu-Angus Cross, Holdredge, NE
- Wet-Aged Holstein-Friesian, Imperial Valley, CA
- Dry-Aged Charolais Cross, Front Range Region, CO
- Dry-Aged 100% Black Angus, Grass Range, MT

The guides to use in the blind taste-test were a bit intimidating. "I hope you know what to do with this," Vic said to me, "because I don't." There were color-coded labels to match steaks to ranch and "ranch/finishing teams" (I'm not sure what that means). There was a step-by-step Quick Start Guide, a Pictorial Guide, and an Artisan Beef Institute Tasting Guide instructing tasters to think about texture, personality and impression. Tasters were encouraged to think about mouthfeel (oily? mouth watering? dry?) and flavor notes too (mushroom? roasted nuts? lamby? umami?).

We invited two other couples to join us on this steak tasting odyssey and had a blast! In preparation, I had gone to Whole Foods and asked the Cheese Guy there to help me prepare a cheese plate. When I told him I was hosting a steak-tasting party, he lit up. He was unbelievably excited - and had me try a number of cheeses as the line of customers grew behind me.

Our friends came over with wine and appetizers and we grilled the steaks together, following the guides carefully. We sampled each of the four steaks, taking notes individually.

When we shared our impressions of each steak, it turned out that Vic and I had nearly identical taste preferences. We both ranked the Dry-Aged Charolais Cross steak from the Elliott & Ferris Families in Ft. Morgan, CO highest (mouth watering mouthfeel with a harmonious personality), followed closely by the Wet-Aged Wagyu-Angus Cross steak from the Kobe Beef America Ranchers in Holdrege, NE (moist, juicy mouthfeel like butter and balanced personality).

It was interesting to see that people really had distinct preferences. I wonder if our backgrounds and cultural influences affected our preferences, as one taster grew up in North Dakota and another in Vermont. Altogether, it was a great evening, although none of us knows what "umami" means.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Thinking about the work-life balance

I survived my first full week of work since returning from maternity leave. Things went better than I expected, although I wouldn't say the situation was stress-free.

Before I returned to work, I was unsure about my ability to manage home and office responsibilities. I had coffee with one of my mentors and sought his advice about the situation. He told me how he and his wife handled the work-life balance and he advised me to put my thoughts in writing to help me crystallize my ideas about what I want to accomplish both at home and at work.

Now that I have had a little time to reflect on things, I see that I underestimated myself. The juggling act isn't new to me, or to any other mom; it's always been there. Multitasking is something I am accustomed to doing - it's something I think most women just do. The only difference now for me, though, is I have an infant at home. I was already a working mom before Nolan arrived, but now I have two little boys who need me.

I've told people at work that I will need to take things one day at a time as I'm still very attached to the baby and want to make sure he's getting enough of my time and attention. I'm also conscious now, though, that I am capable of doing more than I thought I could do. I have a strong support network that includes my husband, my parents, my husband's family and lots of friends.

Whatever happens will work out, I know.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Mucus ball vs. 9-lb. baby

Vic's man cold has really gotten out of control.

Last night, Vic told two more people about the mucus ball he blew out his nose over a week ago. He expressed more annoyance at my continued mockery of the mucus ball. He was irritated that I kept saying things like, "Oh, well you should have seen the bodily fluids involved in my c-sections!" I think he thought I was both one-upping his story and trivializing his health concerns. Maybe I was.

Finally, he exclaimed, "Oh! I'm sorry. Did YOU give birth via your nose?" (Oh yes, he did really say that.) I didn't say this aloud, but I wanted to point out that even a big booger is not comparable to a 9-lb. baby. (Actually, my first baby was 9 lb. 5 oz. and the second was 8 lb. 8 oz., but who's counting?)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Return to work

Tomorrow morning, I go back to work after several weeks of maternity leave. I return to my position as director of media relations at Case Western Reserve University (also my undergraduate alma mater).

I'm feeling somewhat anxious about my return as I'm worried about how I'll be able to juggle challenging home and office responsibilities. It's the classic work-life balance struggle that many working moms face. I want to be productive and efficient at work without compromising the health and happiness of my family. A while back, my friend Sandy Piderit, an organizational behavior professor, shared a resource with me for working moms:

I've had a lot of time to think about this and there are some definite ideas of workplace flexibility I hope to pursue. As for the work itself, I have some specific goals I'd like to accomplish when I get reacclimated. I was re-reading the media relations vision statement I developed when I was a candidate for the position I'm in and I found that everything I wrote more than a year ago still holds true today. I'll probably fine-tune it in the next week or so.

One of the first things I need to do when I get in the office is find a place to pump!