Looking back on the past twelve months I was reminded of the resonance of Steve Job’s comment about only being able to connect the dots looking backwards. My 2014 had some awesome dots. The kind of dots that create life changing pictures when you connect them.

Some of these dots were so remarkable that it seems a shame to keep them to myself. Below are a handful of insights, tools and wonderful things that are most definitely not new ideas rather they are things that either struck me as new or, even better, made me feel connected to something very old and true and they will certainly be part of the way forward for Cyril’s.

 DOT #1: “I owned my life”

There is a post card like thing that has been tacked up by my desk since July of 2012. It was a small memento that I took away from a memorial for my first mentor in the cheese business, Daphne Zepos. She and I had a challenging relationship- the kind where you get to experience the most exquisite and mortifying aspects of your personality and behavior- we netted out at a place of sincere mutual respect laced with sweet caution. I hate that she’s gone.

One side of the post card has a picture of her with a bountiful board of cheese in her arms- happy, fully embodied, wonderful.

I don’t look at that side so much, it’s lovely but just seems sad to me.

I look at the flip side, the one in the picture below.

 

It stops my heart for a second every time I am present to what it means while I’m reading it. The word that comes to mind is agency- each individual’s capacity to engage and see themselves as an active participant in their life.

Although I spent nearly zero time at my home desk this year, this phrase permeated my life in the best way. I also realized that this is the very thread that connects all of my personal heroes. Every one of them demonstrates a willingness to take responsibility for themselves and their actions—and my very favorite ones tend to share their experiences around this very subject through writing or lectures.

 DOT #2: How is ________ helping you become who you want to become?

Have you ever had an experience where someone gives you language to describe something you’ve been feeling/wanting/struggling with? This is precisely what happened when a colleague of mine told me I should watch a video of a talk given by someone named Mark Canlis.

Canlis is the fourth generation in his family to run the fine dining restaurant of the same name in Seattle. He and his brother are significantly changing the way they look at why they are in business and they are actively working to make the service industry a place that serves everyone well- customers and workers. 

An inspiring talk for everyone because ultimately he’s sharing tools for living with intentionality and accountability. He asks every person working at or applying to work at the restaurant “How is working at Canlis going to help you become who you want to become?” I love this question. For starters because it requires that you identify who you want to become (which is, shockingly, not a question we spend much time with) and then has you kind of evaluate your actions against that goal. 

Operating a business in this way is immensely appealing to me and makes being an employer seem like a true opportunity to serve the people who work for you.

 DOT #3: Blueberry Pie

I grew up in Northern California- we ate loads of blackberries and strawberries in the summer but most of the blueberries we saw when we were kids were in a can or frozen bag and went straight into muffins.

 

This year Oregon blueberries changed how I looked at blueberries. They were beautiful and bountiful and I made pies with them plus a spot of sugar and some zest of lemon. And these pies absolutely blew my mind.

DOT #4: Confusion is not a real thing

I was complaining that I felt stuck in a loop- I had been mulling something over and over for so long that I was now confused about the decision I needed to make and my dear friend and advisor Jay Fields asked, “Did I ever tell you that thing about how confusion is not a real thing?”

Definitely not.

She went on to explain that she believes that confusion is a thing we do or experience to avoid feeling something we don’t want to feel.

Ok so sure you can be confused when you can’t find a building or make the math add up on your tax returns but that’s not the kind of confusion she was talking about.

She was talking about the depths-of-despair-I-don’t-even-want-to-talk-about-this-decision-anymore-because-I-can-argue-all-sides-of-it-forever-almost-from-memory kind of confusion. 

This kind of confusion can be slain every time if you just let yourself feel the feeling you’re avoiding. 

btw: “Have your feelings” could be its own dot really… I digress.

DOT #5: Find your people. Listen to what they’re talking about.

There are a million people who’ve said something akin to this- urging you to surround yourself with smart, creative, hard working and thoughtful people. I’ve got a couple that got a lot from this year (in addition to Mark Canlis) and here they are:

Good Food Jobs: Two awesome women started a search engine to support people looking for meaningful work involving food (policy, service, production, etc.) They write a newsletter that feels like it is written specifically for me nearly every week. Here’s a link to one of my favorites.

Diner Journal: I worked with a handful of these people and the thing that makes them so dear to me is that they march to the beat of their own drummer. Working with them was like a breath of fresh air because when they wondered what to do next they looked inward to their own curiosity–not around at their peers or competitors to get a sense of where things were headed.

Dan Barber: His book The Third Plate is not only a great read but it is a perfect example of someone who was relentlessly diligent about tracking down people who align with his values and have expertise on issues that matter to him. A friend summed this book up perfectly by saying, “It seems like it shouldn’t say anything new (because there are a few great books that appear similar) and yet it absolutely does.”

DOT #6 Rewarding Grit

This article changed how I looked at giving and receiving compliments. Kind of a big deal- especially when you’re managing people but also just in life in general with all people you want to tell that you think they’re awesome in some way.

It’s also an interesting reminder that we consider how we interact with kids so carefully but maybe don’t always apply that carefulness with fully grown people. My friend and colleague Taylor Coccalis (see Dot #5 Good Food Jobs) shared a discovery with me a few months ago that parenting books like this one contain a treasure trove of tools for anyone in relationship with other people [aka: everyone].

DOT #7: The Signature of All Things

Every once in a while we’re fortunate enough to pick up the right book at precisely the right time and be so taken with said book that we wonder why it is that we don’t spend all of our free time reading. This was that book for me this year.

And just when I thought it could not get any better, I got to go see the author (Elizabeth Gilbert) speak here in Portland and she talked about something even better than the book…she talked about courage. And then for weeks on end, everyone who crossed paths with me had to listen to me talk about what she said in her talk about courage. 

One example: When asked what she would tell someone who asked this question, “What if I want to follow my passion but can’t figure out what my passion is?” She said she would never tell someone to follow their passion, she would encourage them to follow their curiosity- way less pressure, way more fun. Amen.

DOT #8: Herb Salad

 

This is just the simplest magic trick to pull out of your culinary hat. I can spend days developing a five-course menu and tinkering with the recipes and the thing the guests will rave about is the herb salad. (this happened at least twice in 2014).

Apparently, refreshing + familiar yet surprising = a winning combination.

Reminds me of a wonderful email exchange I had with Caroline Fidanza of Saltie fame about my worry that our menu is limited by what I can imagine. She wrote:

I think that experimentation is hard and takes a lot of resources. There’s a lot of room for failure and it’s better to do what you do really well than to try to reinvent daily. I believe that customers are ultimately more responsive and loyal to consistency and good than to innovation.

With that, here is my favorite–most consistent–version of an herb salad:

Sage & Lemon Dressing

5-6 sage leaves

2 oz EVOO

1 oz lemon juice

Put EVOO and sage leaves in a small frying pan and warm over medium heat until the sage leaves sizzle. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool, remove the sage leaves and whisk in the lemon juice.

Herb & toasted pistachio salad with Sage Dressing

Follow your palette, not these instructions. Any tender, leafy herb will be delicious here.

¼ cup plucked dill

¼ cup mint leaves roughly torn

½ cup plucked parsley leaves

½ cup plucked cilantro leaves

¼ cup plucked tarragon leaves

2 big handfuls of a tender salad green, leggy ones work best- salad mix, arugula, etc.

¼ cup toasted and lightly crushed pistachios (or any other toasted nut that you love or have handy)

Flaky sea salt to taste

Toss all the leafy greens and herbs in a big salad bowl, add a pinch of salt and gradually add dressing- tasting as you go. Throw in crushed pistachios and serve.