March 08, 2013

Treat Your Employees Well

So, occasionally I give in to my hungry kids and stop at the Taco Bell drive thru on a busy day.  It's cheap and my kids prefer it over most other fast food.  Though Taco Bell food isn't particularly healthy at least most of it has SOME nutritional value compared to burgers and fries.  (When I'M hungry and fast food is my only option I will choose a salad at Wendy's.) 

Now, fast food joints are not known for their friendly staff and excellent customer service. However, every time I have gone to a Taco Bell (and not just locally) I have been impressed with how friendly, cheerful and helpful the staff is, regardless of their age or gender.  I have consciously thought each time, "One of these days I'm going to say something, or write a letter telling them how nice it is."  Many years ago my friend Laura's example helped me realize how important it is to take the time to make positive comments to retail and other service businesses, rather than just making complaints, as we most often do. 

Today it happened again.  As I purchased a few burritos for my almost-14-year-old son, who apparently is always "starving," I noticed how patient and smiling the cashier was and how cheerful and friendly the girl who gave us the food was.  Since there wasn't a line behind me I finally seized the moment and said, "I just wanted to tell you that every time I come here I am impressed with how nice and helpful everyone is."  She smiled and said, "Thank you!"  Then I said, "They must treat you well."  Her smile got bigger and she nodded as she said, "Oh yes, they do." 

I should have known.  Actually, I did know.  When you treat people well they are happy and they behave well.  When employers treat their staff well they end up with happy and helpful employees.  It's pretty simple.  And that's a good lesson for a mom to learn too. 

March 07, 2013

African Stew

The 6th graders at our school do a "country" research report each year.... they are each assigned a country by drawing from a hat.   Two years ago Collin drew Sierra Leone, a country we knew nothing about except that our neighbors had just returned from serving there as missionaries!  Collin was able to pick their brains to add color to his report, as well as borrow some fun items to use during his presentation to the class.  As part of the project the 6th grade classes have an "International Food Fair" where each student brings a dish representing their country and everyone tastes lots of new and interesting foods.  Since "Groundnut (Peanut) Stew" is considered the national dish of Sierra Leone, that was no-brainer for Collin's food.  We found a recipe online that was pretty basic.  It was just "OK"... not great, but edible.  There were lots of leftovers. 

Fast forward to this year.  Mary was also assigned Sierra Leone!  What are the odds?!  She wrote a great report and borrowed the same items from our neighbors for her presentation.  But this time I searched longer for a recipe and found one that sounded good.  I sampled it before sending it to the school and thought it was rather tasty, but I still doubted the kids would eat it, since it was kind of unusual, and kids tend to be picky.  I thought, "I actually hope she brings home lots.... I like it and I will just serve it to my family for dinner." 

When I picked up Mary from school I was surprised to find the crock pot empty but for a few mouthfuls at the bottom!  She said the kids all liked it, including her, and Jack and Collin gobbled up the few remaining bites and declared that I should make it again for our family.  So, it's a keeper. 

Groundnut Stew (African Chicken Peanut Stew)
adapted from Simply Recipes

3 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 T. ginger paste*
2 T. minced garlic

4 c. chicken broth
1 c. all natural peanut butter
1 T. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (or more if you want it spicy)
salt & pepper to taste
fresh cilantro (optional) for serving

I did not follow the directions on the recipe (and I adapted some of the ingredients); in fact, I didn't even read them until just now.  Way too complicated.  I just did it my own way and it turned out great. 

If I weren't so lazy (and short on time) I would have cut up the chicken and sauteed it with the onion, garlic and ginger, but because I AM lazy (and I hate handling raw meat), I just threw the chicken in a crock pot and then shredded/diced it up after it cooked.  Then, in a large pot I whisked together the broth, onion, garlic, ginger, peanut butter, coriander, cayenne pepper and salt & pepper and brought it to a boil.  I added the sweet potatoes and tomatoes and cooked until the potatoes were soft and then added the cooked chicken.  I thought it was very tasty as is, but it would be great served over rice with some fresh cilantro. 

(You could probably throw the whole thing in the crock pot, but I think the potatoes might get too mushy, and it would be harder to shred the chicken, so if you do the crock pot thing it would probably be best to cut the chicken up first.  Also, you wouldn't add as much broth.... maybe half?) 

*I used this as a time saver, but you can use fresh grated ginger or even ground ginger, but less.... about 2 tsp.?