Technology… ready or not

Technology is playing an increasing role in my life these days, thanks to my new smartphone, my new blog, and my increased activity on LinkedIn.

I want to upgrade my computer skills, but for now I’m focusing on learning what’s most important to me in the short term.

On the first day of my first week not working, my three-year-old BlackBerry died. In retrospect, maybe it was an omen. Like it or not, I had to start familiarizing myself with new technology right away.

Although I loved my BB and liked the idea of supporting a Canadian company, I concluded that an iPhone would meet my needs better. There would have been a learning curve with either one, given recent innovations by BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion).

The iPhone was a huge source of frustration until I got used to it. I was constantly misspelling words, in part because it was very easy to press a letter I didn’t intend to.

As well, autocorrect made for some humorous errors until I got used to the phone – and until it got used to me so that it could more accurately anticipate what I was trying to write. A workshop at the Apple Store helped. I also searched for answers online when I hit roadblocks, and I called AppleCare for support when my questions were more complicated.

My comfort level with the iPhone has increased immensely, and I rely on its calendar and notes and reminders features to keep me organized.

Learning the basics of WordPress so that I could start my blog was also a challenge at the beginning. I realized that I needed to take my time with the site’s online tutorials, so that I could absorb all the information I needed.

Yesterday, I went back to the lessons for newbie bloggers, because I still haven’t gone beyond the basics. I’d like to add a few “about me” lines, and I want to learn how to include a link that opens in a new window. I learned how to add a “widget,” to further customize my blog, but that’s as far as I got.

I do find new information is often more digestible in small chunks, so I will keep moving forward at whatever pace works.

 

Wild Rice with Sauteed Sweet Potatoes

Now that I’m blogging about food, I’m more motivated to look for creative ways to use ingredients that are already in my kitchen.Image

In recent years – and recent weeks – a couple of things have changed.

1.     Over the last few years, the internet has influenced the way I source recipes and plan meals. Instead of relying primarily on my cookbooks, I often turn to Google, and enter ingredients that I want to use up. I’ve come across interesting food blogs and recipes, and I find it’s an efficient way to use what I have, as well as delay grocery shopping a day or two.

2.     The other thing that’s different is that, as a newbie food blogger, I’m concerned about the risk of breaching copyrights on my blog. From what I’ve read online (which isn’t necessarily authoritative), lists of ingredients are not subject to copyright laws, but recipe instructions may be. With that in mind, I’ve been thinking of ways to adapt favourite recipes to make them my own.

The other day, I cooked some wild rice, which had been in my pantry for months. I considered adding red peppers, snow peas, and cashews, key ingredients in a recipe that appears in Susan Mendelson’s Official Cookbook of Expo 86. Unfortunately – or maybe not – I didn’t have the necessary ingredients.

The dish that I ended up making was inspired by Mendelson’s recipe, and by the limited choice of vegetables I had on hand. Her book dates back to the 1986 World’s Fair in Vancouver, BC, and is a favourite of mine for its appealing pictures and easy-to-follow instructions.

Although the book doesn’t mention it, her wild rice recipe (and mine too) is vegan and dairy-free. It can be made gluten-free by substituting gluten-free tamari for soy sauce.

I used sweet potato and zucchini, which added flavour, colour and contrasting texture to the wild rice. Not to mention that sweet potato is a  so-called “superfood.” We enjoyed the resulting side dish the day I made it, and ate it chilled the next day as a salad.

Here’s my recipe:

Wild Rice with  Sweet Potato & Zucchini (inspired by Susan Mendelson’s Wild Rice with Red Peppers & Snow Peas)                                                  NB – recipe has been updated to make it gluten-free

1 cup wild rice

4 cups water

canola oil to thinly cover pan

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, pressed

1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/4 –inch dice

½ zucchini, cut into ¼-inch dice

1 T. low-sodium soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari, for a gluten-free version)

sesame seeds for garnish (and nutrients!)

1.     Cook wild rice according to package directions. Keep an eye on it. Mine was ready sooner than I expected. Drain well.

2.     Heat oil in large non-stick pan on medium high. When one piece of onion sizzles, add garlic and the rest of the onion, and sauté for a minute or two.

3.     Add sweet potato for about a minute, then add zucchini. The sweet potato should be cooked until edible but not overly soft. Taste-test or insert the tip of a paring knife into one of the pieces to check for doneness.

4.     Add soy sauce and vegetables to rice, and combine.

5.     Sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving.

6.     Enjoy!

A bonus today – friends travelling in Costa Rica sent me a link to this blog,  written by teachers from Chattanooga who are on the same tour. Yesterday, they posted food pictures for me! They also have some interesting photos of wildlife, and instructions for choosing a tasty pineapple: http://normalparkfirstgrade.weebly.com/1/post/2013/07/movin-right-along.html

Thoughts on LinkedIn

For a long time, I resisted LinkedIn. Every so often, emails would arrive in my inbox, inviting me to join the career networking site, and I generally ignored them. Occasionally, I would consult someone more familiar with the site, and no one seemed to think it was critical to become a member.

But after the board of The Canadian Jewish News, where I was working as a reporter, announced in April that the paper would cease publication – a decision that has since been rescinded – I signed on, and began to discover what I’d been missing.

It took me a while to get started. I ran into difficulty uploading my picture, and I had to try more than a dozen times before I was able to post it. Plus, after 22 years at the same job, I hadn’t updated my resume in a long time.

One of the first things that struck me after I joined was that, even before I’d added my work experience and other details, LinkedIn started sending me information about jobs, based only on my (then) current position and my knowledge of French.

Not only that, these looked like good jobs – interesting positions, several at well-known companies. Right now, I want to explore other options, including freelance work, before I start applying for more conventional employment. I also want to upgrade my computer skills, and possibly other skills as well, and the postings have helped me figure out what I need to work on. They’ve also given me hope that there are good jobs available.

But I also realize that some of the features of LinkedIn could have been useful a long time ago, when job hunting wasn’t yet on my personal radar screen. I’ve joined half a dozen groups for journalists and writers, and the discussions on their pages keep me up to date on issues that are relevant to me.

As well, I’ve been following with interest the discussion that ensued after a contact posted a question about a book she’d written, which hasn’t been published.  The feedback she received was helpful and encouraging – and it was encouraging for me to me to know that I can be part of similar discussions.

I am also on Facebook and Twitter – now I’m told I should check out pinterest and instagram as well.

 

Walking after working

One thing about losing your job is that you don’t know where you’ll be or what you’ll be doing six months or a year down the road.

A month after my last day, I’m doing well, despite the uncertainty.

Part of the reason, I think, is that I start my day the same way I did when I was working. Walking in the morning with friends is enjoyable, and a boon to my physical and mental health.

I started walking for exercise at least ten years ago, after my doctor suggested it as a way to address low levels of good cholesterol that showed up in a routine blood test. After four months of walking five times a week, my good cholesterol was back to normal, and my overall cholesterol results were also better. Even my bone density improved that first year. Walking soon became my preferred form of exercise.

The feeling that I’m starting my day right makes it easier to focus on whatever I’m doing afterward, like posting to my blog three days a week, networking, and taking the next steps on my career path.

I may not know what I’m doing in six months, but I know what’s on my agenda tomorrow and the next day.

 

Blueberry sorbet

Blueberries are a staple in my house, but this week we had more than we needed. Sometimes that happens when one person (okay, me) forgets that she already bought a large box earlier in the week and buys two more small boxes, and another family member also picks up some groceries and includes blueberries because they’re nutritious, they taste good, and we’re always running out.Image

Given the oppressive heat and humidity, I decided to use the blueberries to make sorbet.

A few years ago, we cashed in a gift certificate for our first ice cream maker. It seemed to be a dud purchase for a long time – one of those appliances you buy but don’t end up using. However, things changed when our air conditioning stopped working one day.

Since then, we’ve used the ice cream maker to prepare various sorbets. Yesterday, I tried a recipe from simplyrecipes.com, a food blog I hadn’t seen before, and which I’d like to spend some time exploring. It’s not complicated, and the sorbet was creamy and fresh-tasting. I used five cups of berries, and still had enough left over for breakfast.

The recipe is at http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/blueberry_sorbet/

Adult “recess”

I’m starting to feel like the proverbial kid whose favourite subject is recess, but for me, now, “recess” means heading out for lunch or coffee.

Starting this blog after I was downsized was a way to bring structure to my day and my week. Last week, when I started the blog, I posted entries on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and I’m trying to stick to that pattern.

Between the blog, LinkedIn, and related information-gathering, I’ve put in a lot of computer time the past few weeks. But I realized early on that I had to build in social time too.

I was fortunate, in my 22 years at The Canadian Jewish News, that my colleagues became a virtual second family. Our social interaction, which wasn’t technically part of our jobs, was an integral part of what made things tick.

I miss our daily conversations in the lunchroom, and the ongoing give-and-take that happens in an open office. We had each other as resource people, sounding boards, and friends.

My first week off work, I got together twice with friends who were visiting from out of town. I also spent one exceptionally long day on the computer, researching and writing. It was great to feel so productive so soon after losing my job – a rush, actually. But, at the same time, it was isolating.

I’m still trying to find the right balance. Yesterday I had breakfast with two of my colleagues, and today I’m meeting another former CJNer for lunch.

My adult “recess” times recharge me and provide balance in my life. I think “recess” – for adults and kids – is sometimes underrated.

Cutting through jargon

Recently, I began to examine job postings on LinkedIn and other websites as an exercise in defining what type of work appeals to me – and what doesn’t. I also want to figure out what employers are looking for that I have to offer, as well as what skills I should consider upgrading.

To my surprise, I found that the first thing to appeal to me – or turn me off –  was the language used in the job descriptions, not the jobs themselves.

The admittedly small sample I looked at included a few examples of fresh, clear writing that contrasted sharply with jargon I saw elsewhere. An ad seeking a “rockstar storyteller” captured my attention, as did one that specified “a can-do person who loves what they do.” I even found an ad that offered bonus points for finding typos that had been deliberately included.

Fresh, unambiguous writing is compelling and “real” in a way that jargon isn’t. To work in an environment that is similarly compelling and “real” definitely appeals to me.

Freshly minted

I think my new favourite recipe this summer is canteloupe soup, a refreshing start to a meal on a hot, humid day.

ImageLast week, my neighbourhood grocery store was out of mint, which I had planned to use as a garnish for the soup. By coincidence, I stopped at a nearby flower store, and spotted a few small spearmint plants for sale. Now that I’ve bought one, I’m looking for more ways to use it.

Yesterday, I tossed a generous helping of mint leaves into my food processor along with chunks of ripe canteloupe, a dollop of honey, the juice of half a lime, and – my “secret” ingredient – a pinch of lime-infused sea salt. I didn’t measure the canteloupe, but I processed four batches, enough for eight cups of soup.

I’ve seen similar recipes online – a couple call for adding orange juice – but I think the one I made last night is the best so far.

That’s how we’re starting dinner tonight – after the sparkling grape juice and challah.

Serendipity, Jane Lynch, and me

It’s a long time since I’ve had to look for a job. Before I joined The Canadian Jewish News in the early 1990s, I was a stay-at-home mom hoping to find time to write the occasional freelance article.

To be honest, serendipity had a lot to do with my career path. “Full-time staff reporter” wasn’t a job I applied for, or even one I thought I’d be able to fit into my life. I had written a total of four freelance articles for The CJN over a period of several years when I heard then-editor Patricia Rucker speak at my synagogue. I approached her after her talk, and she invited me to send her a copy of my CV. One thing led to another. I was asked to cover an event, then a second one. I became a regular freelancer for the paper, then a once-a-week proofreader as well. A reporter job became available, and it provided me not only with work I loved, but the flexibility to carpool my kids and be available for them when they needed me, as long as I covered some weeknight and Sunday events.

That’s why I was intrigued by a quote in a recent Toronto Star article by Richard Ouzounian. He wrote about Jane Lynch, aka Sue Sylvester on the TV hit Glee:

“Ask Lynch where she wants her career to go next, however, and the answer is surprising.

‘I don’t make lists. I don’t have aspirations. It’s served me well. I do all the footwork and then I allow the universe to roll in at my feet. I make good decisions when they’re offered to me, but I don’t go looking for them.’ ”

Lynch’s philosophy resonated with me. I’m brushing up my resume and looking for work, but I’m also hoping to create a bit of serendipity – networking, and reminding myself to stay open to possibilities.

Cooking and writing

My friend Brenda suggested that on my last day of work I cook a yummy dinner and surround myself with family. Coincidentally, that’s exactly how things played out on the day I learned I’d lost my job as a reporter at The Canadian Jewish News. It was about a month ago, on a Friday, and I’d already invited my mom, my sister, and her family for Shabbat dinner. It turned out to be just what I needed.

Long story short, the president of The CJN had announced in mid-April that the paper would cease publication on June 20 – an apparent casualty of digital competition. But after a public outcry, the paper was saved in June. As part of a plan to ensure financial viability, the staff has been downsized. (The online edition can be seen at www.cjnews.com, and the print edition will resume August 1.)

I’m starting this blog as a way to keep writing, bring some structure to my day, and figure out – or evolve into – what’s next in my life.

I intend to blog about food as well as writing/journalism and career paths. Cooking, like writing, brings me pleasure and fulfils my need to be creative. Brenda’s prescription was therapeutic and enjoyable, and I want to indulge more often.

At the same time, I’ve started to network, look at work opportunities, and consider what it would be like to be self-employed as an alternative to a conventional full-time job. I’m also thinking seriously about writing a book.

But for now – to end, and begin, on a sweet note – I’m returning to the food theme. Our friends Sheldon and Marlene (who, like me, has a taste for chocolate) gave us the Baker’s Best Chocolate Cookbook many years ago as a gift. They were coming over for dinner on Saturday, so I pulled out the cookbook when I was planning our meal. I opted for something simple: Baker’s Classic Brownies. I also found an easy-to-prepare chocolate glaze online at http://www.food.com/recipe/lee-lees-famous-chocolate-sauce-for-ice-cream-19678.

With a small serving of vanilla ice cream, the rich, chewy brownie and warm chocolate glaze hit the spot.

chocolate brownie