The Civilized Minute

a minute of manners and musings

Category Archives: Tips

wardrobe wants

Like a lot of you, my role as a business etiquette consultant is just one of the many hats I wear. I’m a mom, a community volunteer, a school volunteer, a backyard basketball player, a professional grocery shopper, a vegetable washer, a wife, tired…you get the picture. One of the many challenges of wearing all these hats (and all at once) is wardrobe. It frustrates me to have to change clothes between appointments. When I get dressed in the morning, I want to be able to wear the same thing from my breakfast with the girls to my committee meeting to a doctor’s appointment.

And, here’s the thing. Us chicas-with-responsibilites need to look good. Everywhere and all the time. There is no need to be the very last person to pick your child up from school and look like something the cat drug in. And, don’t breeze in late to work wearing worn out pants and a shirt with a stain. If you look sloppy and unorganized, people will assume the same about your work. I know it’s hard to get everybody where they are supposed to be while putting on your makeup, blow drying your hair, preparing breakfast, and ironing someone else’s collars, but it’s important that you at least appear to be clean and tidy.

Have you guys heard of Boden? It’s a clothing company out of the UK. Their line includes everything from tshirts and sneakers to dresses for Sunday. Most everyone works in a Business Casual environment, so take a gander and imagine how good you would feel to saunter into a meeting with your boss wearing something like:

A dress with simple lines and good colors Add a pair of neutral pumps and you are set for the office; shed the heels and slip on a pair of neutral flats so you can be comfy during your after work errands.

A tunic over straight ankle length pants. This is an updated Audrey Hepburn look that is classic and classy. The secret to making this oversized shirt look neat (as opposed to a bathingsuit cover-up) is the fit. Make sure it’s long enough and it fits your shoulders properly. Be sure to wear this with big earrings.

Straight Leg Trousers with a simple top in a color that is perfect on you. Simple, clean and easy to put on. Having a “plain” pair of black pants you can wear on nearly any given day feels as good as having a babysitter always available. When I find a pair of black pants in a year-round fabric, I buy two. It’s difficult, but you have to make yourself pitch these when the black begins to fade. Also, if you find a pair that almost fits, consult a tailor. With a little tweaking, they might just work fine.

Boden products are little pricey for some, but here’s my testament: It’s quality stuff that won’t stretch so that you leave the office with knee humps in the legs of your pants and the hems are not going to fall out the day before you go out of town. You have more to deal with than your clothes falling apart.  

You don’t have to buy Boden clothes, but I do hope you’ll take a look around your closet and in your mirror. Look at yourself as other people see you. Do you look like the kind of woman that could compile presentation materials with a baby on her hip and her phone to her ear? If not, call up a girlfriend, put on your Spanx and go shopping.

Boden is a great option and I’m not even paid to say that.

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twitter chat

Have you ever participated in a Twitter chat? I have participated in a Twitter chat, but being the Special Guest was new for me.

chat,alt,talk,comment,speak

It’s not entirely different than being the guest of honor at an in-real-life party. Of course, I would never wear my pajamas, take off my makeup and sit cross-legged in a chair if I were the guest of honor at an in-real-life party. 

Here’s what goes on…people who attend the chat offer their remarks, insights, questions or comments and it all happens in real time. So, all these people were talking to me at once and since I was the Special Guest, I couldn’t NOT respond to every person who bothered to type out their thoughts, right? It would be like someone intentionally walking right up to me, saying something to me and I react by…just ignoring them? I save that sort of behavior for when my 9 year old son approaches me with a firearm, a sly grin and starts out with, “Can I…?” The No is implied with my silent stare and quiet departure.

The topic for discussion was my book, The Civilized Minute. They asked questions about why I wrote the book in Days rather than Chapters. They asked how I came up with Kate’s Quips listed at the end (oh, just the magical workings of my mi..*cough*..sorry, my mind. Ahem.) Someone asked about the 3 secret ingredients in business etiquette: discretion, compassion and patience…but, I’m sure you already knew that.

Anyway…there was a whole lotta tweetin’ goin’ on. And, fast tweetin’! I was really glad I am firm in my thoughts and convictions regarding this topic of etiquette because the questions were flying and I had something to say about it all. It was a great experience and I hope the attendees found some value in the discussion.

Ironically, this afternoon, I’ll be doing the exact same thing…just in real life. I’m attending a local book club meeting where The Civilized Minute is the topic! Unfortunately, there will be no PJ’s, it’ll be full-on war paint, and I’ll need to sit with my feet on the floor. And, unlike the Twitter chat, there will be food.

Sorry, Twitter chat. You’ve been replaced.

ps…what kind of author would I be if I didn’t give you link to actually buy my book? http://www.amazon.com/Civilized-Minute-Kate-T-Lewis/dp/0741462095/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1295441930&sr=8-1  It’s Amazon.com. Do not be afraid.

Nesting and etiquette or nesting etiquette

This post is a little different…rather than me writing a post for you, I’m directing you to another post. On another blog. Please try to keep up. Before you click off to this other blog, I need to tell you something.

I’m pregnant.

Not really…just wanted to see how many of my girl cousins will call me because they stop reading at that simple sentence.

Here’s really what I want to tell you: the blog I’m sending you to is called Housewife Bliss. She writes about “the finer points of nesting.”  She is very very skilled at running a household without the household running her.

WHAT does this have to do with business etiquette? Exactly this: If your nesting habits are lacking, there are probably business organization skills that are lacking AND when your house and home are in disarray, it prevents you from being able to fully concentrate and focus on your business. AND, it’s these extraneous stresses and burdens that cause even the nicest of the nice to act unbecomingly. Haven’t you snapped at someone because you were late to a meeting because you couldn’t find your keys or your child’s lunchbox or couldn’t lock the back door of your house because you keep forgetting to call the repairman? Yeah, me either.

So, today’s post on Housewife Bliss is about The Essential Household Management Book. Beware: it’s a spiralbound notebook and it is the bomb. Even if you use only 1 or 2 of the tips she suggests, you’ll be glad.

Happy Nesting toward Success!

skype stuff

Here’s the scene: today is the second consecutive snow day, cabin fever is on the rise and household maintenance is on the decline. I stayed up late watching the Auburn-Oregon game (still appalled at #32) so my eyes are swollen (this could be from the 6 slices of pizza I ate late night) and I’m drinking coffee like each cup is my last. Somehow, I’ve got to get myself whipped into shape for a Skype call with a business friend who’s in Canada. She’s probably accustomed to snow and what all this inside time does to a person. Here’s how I plan to trick her into thinking I am in complete control.

1)      Kids. About 30 minutes before I’m to get on the call, I will be having a very pointed and specific conversation about actions and consequences. I’ll bite back If you even think about… and go with something like I am going to be talking with my friend who can see you and hear you, so let me tell you about how a business conversation goes… ya moron. Kidding. I’ll wait until they break one of the rules I plan to lay down before I call one of them a moron.

2)      Room. I’m planning to sit in the dining room because the light is good in there. I Skype’d with my friend B last week (you’ve heard about B from Boulder…same one) from the dining room and it worked pretty well. She did say it looked like I was sitting in front of a chalkboard but I just don’t see what I can do about that over the next 4 hours. Suggestions welcome. I would choose another room but I need bright light so my friend will be able to see my face on her screen (all the way in Canada…kinda blows my mind). For a business call and since I work from home, I like a neutral background. Nothing too personal nearby to make her wonder things about me. I don’t know. Just things.

3)      Me. I guess I need to wash my hair. And put on some clothes that don’t scream Another snow day?!?! I was on a call once for which I fussed with only the part of me they could see (chest and up), but it turned out to be a bad decision. Just a few minutes into the call, I realized I needed something from my desk which was in another room. That meant I had to rise from the chair and walk away from the computer, right? And, let them see my pajama pants with strawberry vines on them? No way. Imagine, if you will, the quad strength it takes to move away from the screen and out of the room and back in and to my chair without rising even one inch. Let that be your motivation the next time you want to skip the lunges during your workout.

So, what am I missing? What do you do to make your Skype calls go smoothly?

christmas party time at the office

It’s Christmas party time at the office and it’s not all play time, ya know…

Office parties offer a great chance to make a great impression – or not. You can either put your best foot forward or shoot yourself in the foot, so go into party mode knowing what your objectives are. Are you there to mingle with your co-workers, build rapport, earn their respect or are you there to win the traditional game of quarters that happens late at night every year? Are you there for a chance to impress the company president and his wife or are you there for the beef tenderloin?

 You should be considering the office party a way to promote yourself. Use these tips to make yourself comfortable, charming and absolutely fabulous:

  • Attend. Don’t give up the chance to hang out with your colleagues and get to know what makes them tick.
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol. Stories that come from drunken office party mishaps do not die quickly or quietly.
  • When you get there, seek out the highest level person responsible for the gathering, shake their hand and thank them for a nice event.
  • Hold your drink in your left hand. This leaves your right hand dry and ready for a handshake.
  • If you are to wear a nametag, wear it on the right side of your chest.
  • Don’t go through the food line more than once piling your plate high. First, it looks greedy. Second, you shouldn’t spend so much time on the food when you could be rubbing elbows with the new marketing manager putting together a team to evaluate a new client from Rio.
  • Some people simply are not comfortable in a group social setting – even if it is a for-business function. Be sure to speak to those that look most uncomfortable. Your initiative will be noticed by higher-ups and you can be certain the favor won’t be lost on your co-worker. This is the sort of act that will come back to you twofold.   

Savvy Suggestion Practice these tips at purely social events so you will be ready when office party time rolls around.

new holiday etiquette, part 2: party preppin' & etiquette-cool

Welcome to part 2 of New Holiday Etiquette! In case you missed it, here is the link to part 1.

Pre-Party Preppin’ Time

Another emerging and perfectly acceptable way to gather for a meal this season is for the host to make a plan and ask each guest to help execute it. In other words, ask each guest to gather a particular list of ingredients and show up at specified time. When each person arrives, give them a festive apron to don (this could even serve as a party favor for your guests to take home! I suggest one from The Hip Hostess.) while they chop, stir and mix their way toward the intended dish and, ultimately, the dinner table. It’s communal, it’s fun and it’s not intended to be perfect. This will create a relaxed atmosphere where stressed out folks can meet new friends and have an easy and entertaining evening. Faux pas are expected with this relaxed approach, so drop the ‘entertaining with etiquette’ and ‘when will I be served’ expectations. Lend your host a hand and have some fun. However, moderation is key. While informal is good, cellphone manners remain firmly in place: Phone is turned off or at the very least put on vibrate (for whatever emergency you are anticipating, have warned others about and asked for forgiveness) and no texting. These are non-negotiable. This is isn’t high school. 
 
Etiquette-Cool Style
While the trend in the etiquette world (and the world at large) is to relax from convention and rigidity, it is still a requirement that you treat others with thoughtful consideration.

 Wouldn’t you prefer the gifts you receive to come with thoughtful consideration? Uh-huh, thought so. I mean, just how many scarves do you want, anyway? So, you gift the way you would like to be gifted. Teachers, for example, would probably love a prepared and frozen casserole they can bring out for their families. Or, when it’s time to find a hostess gift, reach for something applicable to their personality, not just something that happens to be sold on the path from your door to theirs, or the typical bottle of wine. You could even make a donation in their honor to a cause you know they are particularly fond of.

Further, people find it thoughtful and endearing to ask a question before making an assumption.  The original Emily Post might have trouble with this one. Let’s say you are introduced to Mr. Pearson. The lady standing next to Mr. Pearson is his wife, but she goes by her maiden name, Cannon. You have to listen when the intro is made or you’ll miss that one. And, if you do catch the difference in names, it’s ok to simply confirm what you heard. “Your name is Pearson and your name is Cannon. Did I get that right?” People have all sorts of reasons to not share a last name, none of which is any of your business, so just make sure to know their names and move on. Or, let’s say you are invited to a Winter Cookout. Will you really eat outside? Should you dress to be outside for 2 hours?? Rather than feeling uneasy about what to expect or trying to figure it out on your own, just call up the host and ask. It’s ok to ask! That initiative shows you are interested in making the function a success and are ready to come prepared.

 Thoughtful consideration works like a charm. 
 
Your Guests

When you are considering hosting a holiday event, step out of your norm when you are making the guest list. The world is a much smaller place than when it was appropriate to only have intimate family Christmas dinners. Think of the people you know whose family live in faraway lands. Perhaps you have friends who have chosen not to travel to visit family this year. Perhaps you know someone who lost a loved one during the year. Share the wealth of your holiday cheer and invite one and all. Bring them into your fold with the same treatment your usual clan gets by including them in whatever traditions you have. If you each open a small gift, have one ready for your new guests to unwrap. if you work in a soup kitchen in the hours leading up to your own dinner, invite your guests along. 
 
Now, the party’s over, it was a blast and your memories are engrained and ready to be shared. Before you click ‘Enter’ on your Facebook password, remember this new etiquette for this new thing called social media: 
*Posting a remark about last night’s awesome party with a list of people who were especially entertaining will only serve to make someone feel left out and that’s not etiquette-cool. And, you can’t disguise it with a post that starts with ‘Thank you Lisa & Bob for an incredible dinner last night.’ That’s still revealing too much. 
*Don’t post pictures from the event no matter how good your hair looks in the candlelight. While you may be so impressed with your locks, you could be killing the reputation of the guy in the background who is double-fisting his merriment. 
*A Facebook status or Tweet does not take the place of a thank-you note. Be more genuine than that. Drop a note in the mail or call up your host to tell them specifically what you enjoyed so much. 
*Stay positive! People have enough mediums to reinforce their level of stress, so back off comments like, “My co-workers are driving me crazy” or “I’m so sick of Christmas shopping”. Instead, share a golden nugget like an online retailer’s free shipping promo code or where to shop that offers pretty gift-wrapping. 

 Don’t be afraid to try something new – even at Christmas. Your invitation to chop or your just-right-for-them gift may be just what you friend needs.

Merry Christmas, Everybody!

new holiday etiquette, part 2: party preppin’ & etiquette-cool

Welcome to part 2 of New Holiday Etiquette! In case you missed it, here is the link to part 1.

Pre-Party Preppin’ Time

Another emerging and perfectly acceptable way to gather for a meal this season is for the host to make a plan and ask each guest to help execute it. In other words, ask each guest to gather a particular list of ingredients and show up at specified time. When each person arrives, give them a festive apron to don (this could even serve as a party favor for your guests to take home! I suggest one from The Hip Hostess.) while they chop, stir and mix their way toward the intended dish and, ultimately, the dinner table. It’s communal, it’s fun and it’s not intended to be perfect. This will create a relaxed atmosphere where stressed out folks can meet new friends and have an easy and entertaining evening. Faux pas are expected with this relaxed approach, so drop the ‘entertaining with etiquette’ and ‘when will I be served’ expectations. Lend your host a hand and have some fun. However, moderation is key. While informal is good, cellphone manners remain firmly in place: Phone is turned off or at the very least put on vibrate (for whatever emergency you are anticipating, have warned others about and asked for forgiveness) and no texting. These are non-negotiable. This is isn’t high school. 
 
Etiquette-Cool Style
While the trend in the etiquette world (and the world at large) is to relax from convention and rigidity, it is still a requirement that you treat others with thoughtful consideration.

 Wouldn’t you prefer the gifts you receive to come with thoughtful consideration? Uh-huh, thought so. I mean, just how many scarves do you want, anyway? So, you gift the way you would like to be gifted. Teachers, for example, would probably love a prepared and frozen casserole they can bring out for their families. Or, when it’s time to find a hostess gift, reach for something applicable to their personality, not just something that happens to be sold on the path from your door to theirs, or the typical bottle of wine. You could even make a donation in their honor to a cause you know they are particularly fond of.

Further, people find it thoughtful and endearing to ask a question before making an assumption.  The original Emily Post might have trouble with this one. Let’s say you are introduced to Mr. Pearson. The lady standing next to Mr. Pearson is his wife, but she goes by her maiden name, Cannon. You have to listen when the intro is made or you’ll miss that one. And, if you do catch the difference in names, it’s ok to simply confirm what you heard. “Your name is Pearson and your name is Cannon. Did I get that right?” People have all sorts of reasons to not share a last name, none of which is any of your business, so just make sure to know their names and move on. Or, let’s say you are invited to a Winter Cookout. Will you really eat outside? Should you dress to be outside for 2 hours?? Rather than feeling uneasy about what to expect or trying to figure it out on your own, just call up the host and ask. It’s ok to ask! That initiative shows you are interested in making the function a success and are ready to come prepared.

 Thoughtful consideration works like a charm. 
 
Your Guests

When you are considering hosting a holiday event, step out of your norm when you are making the guest list. The world is a much smaller place than when it was appropriate to only have intimate family Christmas dinners. Think of the people you know whose family live in faraway lands. Perhaps you have friends who have chosen not to travel to visit family this year. Perhaps you know someone who lost a loved one during the year. Share the wealth of your holiday cheer and invite one and all. Bring them into your fold with the same treatment your usual clan gets by including them in whatever traditions you have. If you each open a small gift, have one ready for your new guests to unwrap. if you work in a soup kitchen in the hours leading up to your own dinner, invite your guests along. 
 
Now, the party’s over, it was a blast and your memories are engrained and ready to be shared. Before you click ‘Enter’ on your Facebook password, remember this new etiquette for this new thing called social media: 
*Posting a remark about last night’s awesome party with a list of people who were especially entertaining will only serve to make someone feel left out and that’s not etiquette-cool. And, you can’t disguise it with a post that starts with ‘Thank you Lisa & Bob for an incredible dinner last night.’ That’s still revealing too much. 
*Don’t post pictures from the event no matter how good your hair looks in the candlelight. While you may be so impressed with your locks, you could be killing the reputation of the guy in the background who is double-fisting his merriment. 
*A Facebook status or Tweet does not take the place of a thank-you note. Be more genuine than that. Drop a note in the mail or call up your host to tell them specifically what you enjoyed so much. 
*Stay positive! People have enough mediums to reinforce their level of stress, so back off comments like, “My co-workers are driving me crazy” or “I’m so sick of Christmas shopping”. Instead, share a golden nugget like an online retailer’s free shipping promo code or where to shop that offers pretty gift-wrapping. 

 Don’t be afraid to try something new – even at Christmas. Your invitation to chop or your just-right-for-them gift may be just what you friend needs.

Merry Christmas, Everybody!

new holiday etiquette, part 1

You heard it here first: There are some rules of etiquette that are old and, dare I say, not cool. They don’t apply in today’s society and can even make people feel uncomfortable. The new etiquette world is riding high on thoughtfulness, tolerance, open-mindedness and kindness while the stuffy ole’ rules of years past have been tucked away for another time and place. 

This week, I’m going to be posting about New Holiday Etiquette so I hope you’ll stop back by often. This is Part 1…
 
Entertain This Way, Not That Way 

The massive undertaking of putting together a soiree (big or small) used to fall solely on the host and we have all had that it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time feeling when guests are due within the hour. But, that was when June Cleaver was in charge. Today, I don’t have one friend who would be able to pull off a cocktail party given the time spent caring for kids, aging parents or, heaven forbid, themselves. Well, you are in luck! Potluck, that is. The new way to entertain, especially during the hectic holiday season, is to fashion your event potluck style. It is perfectly acceptable to plan a gathering and ask each guest to contribute a food item. It is enough that you are willing to open your home as a venue for friends and family to hang-out and let their hair down. If you are lucky enough to be invited to such a hip and happnin’ party, be sure to contribute your best. Running through the market on your way to the party to pick up the cheese tray in that clear plastic container is not acceptable. It doesn’t look good or taste good. Break out an old family recipe or one you know will win over even the pickiest of eaters, whip it together, put it in an attractive serving piece and you are set. You could even print out several recipe cards that could be placed next to your dish for those that are particularly fond of your tasty treat.

Funky Flower Series Recipe Cards

Trifle Recipe Cards (add 5 or so completed recipe cards to this one, tie up with a ribbon and voila!…Hostess Gift!)

Not only will the effort you spent be appreciated by your host, it will serve as an ice-breaker when you find yourself standing next to someone you’ve yet to meet. “Hi, I’m Kate Lewis. My sister just emailed this sun-dried tomato and pesto dip recipe to me. She likes to make this for her book club. Do you like to read?” “Yes, I do, in fact, I just bought a Kindle.” And so the conversation goes… 

And since you mentioned it, here are other conversation tips: 
* Old etiquette dictates a “respectable exchange of pleasantries” before anything really meaty can be discussed. New etiquette says to simply be pleasant and respectful. Note a person’s body language. If their eye contact is minimal and their shoulders are angled away from you, they don’t want to talk. If their eyes are engaging, they are smiling and their body is fully facing you, go for it! Ask what their plans are for the holidays. Ask if they have any big travel plans this season. Ask if they have stumbled upon this year’s must-have gadget and what they think about it. Start with “Tell me…”, which forces a better response than Yes or No. Just don’t fall into the “So, what do you do?” routine. Go to a party with a list of conversation-starting questions you can draw upon. That will give you the confidence to walk up to a stranger, put out your hand, introduce yourself (with first and last name) and begin a conversation. Your host will love you for helping everyone have a fun time. 
*If you find the conversation well running dry, talk about somebody else – in a good way. “Have you met John Wellman? He is the architect working on the new office building by the river. Let me introduce you.” Make the introduction and when a new conversation emerges, make your escape with a soft “Excuse me”. You do not have to wait around to make sure a lasting friendship develops. Do not, however, lose your charm by starting a gossip fest because you couldn’t think of anything else to say. You would rather someone consider you shy than consider you a busy-body. 
* Old etiquette says in the case of a forgotten name to not let on for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Life’s too short for that sort of pretense. Just say, “I’m really sorry to ask this, but would you tell me your name again?” 99.9% of the time I say this, the person laughs and says, “I’m glad you said that because I’ve forgotten yours, too!” Crisis averted and easy conversation about forgetfulness ensues. 

Easy as pie. 
 
Or, easy as the pie ingredients you could ask a guest to bring to the Pre-Party Preppin’ Time. 

Be sure to check back this week and learn more about New Holiday Etiquette. Oh, yes, there’s more. LOTS more.

road trip!

By the time you reach your late thirties, the words ‘road trip’ just don’t have the ring they once did. Nevertheless, that’s what we did over the weekend. We took a road trip. To Tennessee. We live in Georgia. We didn’t really go that far.

We spent Friday night in Chattanooga where I, as any good mother would do, tried desperately to teach my children the song, Chattanooga Choo-Choo. You see, anytime we take a trip, we (and by ‘we’, I mean ‘I’) have a theme song. Last summer when we took a cruise, it was Zac Brown’s Where the Boat Leaves From. It was perfect! My family, on the other hand, just doesn’t know how to be jolly.

We spent Saturday at the Tennessee Aquarium and it was fantastic. Two buildings full of creatures you have seen and tons you have not. Here’s the thought that kept running through my head: there are so many beautiful colors! Salt water fish are stunning. Beats the heck out of a Georgia National Fair goldfish, that’s for sure. And, just in case you haven’t seen one up close, penguins act just like their cartoon counterparts. They had me laughing out loud! ‘Course, not everyone saw the humor and irony that I did. True to my profession, I created a small list of things my children were doing to drive me crazy aquarium etiquette points.

  • Running ahead in the exhibit and yelling back what you see spoils it for those who have yet to round the corner.
  • Running ahead in the exhibit then running back to Mom tapping on my  her arm saying, “Mom! Mom! Mom! Come over here!” spoils it for the Mom that has yet to round the corner. Additionally, all that incessant tapping will give the Mom a nervous condition.
  • It is inappropriate for Moms or Dads to ask the volunteer guides at the shark exhibit how one might get into that shark tank then threaten the children with a ‘swim with the fishes’ if they don’t act right. It’s just too much for those around you to comprehend. Discuss the Swim with the Fishes opportunities before you get out of the car.
  • One’s appearance is never a joking matter. So, it should go without saying that Husbands should not gaze at the biggest, ugliest, fattest sea turtle in the world, drape an arm around each child and say, “Doesn’t your mama look good, kids?” (I would have frogged him, but there was a very distinguished looking lady with a beautiful hair color job carrying a Chanel bag that seemed appalled enough.)

After a painful stop by Starbucks and a long discussion about parking meters (country-come-to-Chattanooga), we got back in the car headed north.  Yep, further into Tennessee and into the unknown. Our 9 year old son, who we’ve decided doesn’t get out nearly enough, asked what hotel we would be visiting for Saturday night. I told him and he said, “Gosh, I hope it’s nice.” This, from the fella who stood on the street outside the Hardrock Café in Atlanta (a whopping 103 minutes from home), spread his arms and feet wide and yelled, “Heeellooo New York City!”  Like I said, he doesn’t get out much.

Sunday, we went to church with relatives to see a beautiful baby cousin christened. She wore the christening gown her aunt wore, a gold necklace from a great aunt, we ate pimento cheese and marinated beans with old family sterling silver for lunch, had pound cake and coffee for dessert and laughed about the idiosyncrasies of our family. While we were definitely north of where we call home, the southernisms lived on and it was a perfect day.

Interestingly, we are taking another road trip today. Our 12 year old daughter and I are going to Birmingham to visit the Southern Living magazine offices. We will see, first hand, how they put together the pieces that make up a traditional and southern lifestyle.

As if we don’t know already…

what the recipe doesn’t tell you

Southern Living is known for publishing great recipes, right? In fact, I tried one from their October issue last night.

                                 

Creamy Chicken Divan Soup. It was really really good! And, while I most certainly will cook it again, I learned some things that the recipe doesn’t tell you. Here’s the recipe:

Creamy Chicken Divan Soup

from www.SouthernLiving.com

Total: 47 minutes
Yield: Makes 12 cups

Ingredients

  • 2  tablespoons  butter
  • 1  medium-size sweet onion, chopped
  • 1  garlic clove, chopped
  • 1/4  teaspoon  dried crushed red pepper
  • 1  (48-oz.) container chicken broth
  • 2  (12-oz.) packages fresh broccoli florets (about 12 cups)
  • 1  (8-oz.) package cream cheese, cut into cubes
  • 4  cups  chopped cooked chicken
  • 1  (8-oz.) block sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Toasted slivered almonds (optional)

Preparation

1. Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat; add onion, and sauté 5 to 6 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and red pepper, and cook 2 minutes. Stir in chicken broth and broccoli. Cover and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium, and cook 10 to 15 minutes or until broccoli is tender. Stir in cream cheese.

2. Process mixture with a handheld blender until smooth. Add chicken and shredded cheese. Cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes or until cheese is melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately with almonds, if desired.

Note: If you don’t have a handheld immersion blender, let mixture cool slightly; process mixture, in batches, in a regular blender until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides as needed. Return mixture to Dutch oven, and proceed as directed.

These are things no cookbook tells you, but should.

1) It smells terrible while it’s cooking. This recipe says you should boil the broccoli in chicken broth with the sauteed onions and garlic. Now, as adults, we know it’s going to turn out scrumptious, but you should know that it will make your house smell perfectly awful. That means you should get prepared for the comments your regular diners. They can be a prickly bunch. But, take this opportunity to talk to your kids about not blurting out their observations at someone else’s house. Also, if you plan on serving this at a party, cook it a day ahead and open all the windows.

2) “This looks pretty gross, but it tastes pretty good.” That was Ben. He’s brutally honest. Because of this, I’m not sure I would serve it to company. If I did, I would use a small ramekin-type bowl on a plate with a salad. Visually, a little of this soup goes a long way. Also, this is another opportunity to tell your children to think before they speak. Don’t get discouraged. Repetition is good. This particular recipe works well for this lesson because Ben was right. It doesn’t look hugely appetizing. See?

Soup for blog

3) Some may not recognize this as a soup. In fact, one little person at my table began eating this with his fork. Again, if I were serving this at a dinner party, I would either puree the broccoli more or add more broth so it wouldn’t be confused for…goulash? Serving something that people will struggle to eat will put a damper on the good times, so be sure to make things as easy as possible on your guests.

4) The broccoli pieces will get in somebody’s teeth. I get questioned about this particular dinner table conundrum often. Do I tell the person sitting beside me they have pepper in their teeth?  Wouldn’t you want to know if you were telling a story the entire table was listening to with a piece of lettuce front and center? Yes, tell them! Just do it quietly so no one else will hear.

These are the kinds of things I wish every cookbook would include. I want to know how to dish up something savory, but I also want to know if I’m going to smell up the neighborhood, if I’m going to need to cuss out my kids while we are at someone’s house or if I’m likely to embarrass myself…well, and others.

ps…on www.SouthernLiving.com they offer wine pairing suggestions. I didn’t see that in the magazine. Maybe that’s where I got off course.

 

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