I’m not retired!

Two people asked me this past week how I’m enjoying retirement.

I wasn’t sure how to respond, other than to set the record straight, and add a few words about what I’m doing (blogging, and figuring out what’s next).

It would help if I knew what the question meant. Was it a comment on my (middle-)age? An attempt at humour? A euphemistic way to avoid saying that I was downsized (after 22 years as a reporter for The Canadian Jewish News)?

I suppose I’m old enough to retire, but it was never on my radar screen. I loved my job, and secretly hoped to stay there until my early 90s, circumstances permitting.

And yet, I find myself excited sometimes at the thought of doing something different. I attended a panel for freelance writers last week, and came home hyped about the possibility of taking on some freelance assignments.

I was also motivated to polish, tweak and fine-tune the work I’ve done on my book-in-progress after I attended sessions run by the Humber School for Writers at Word on the Street, an annual literary festival in Toronto.

I plan to attend a job fair later this month, and I’ll be taking a social media workshop too. I’m not retired… I’m in transition.

 

Chocolate Sunday – Flourless Chocolate Cake!

I had an urge to make flourless chocolate cake this week, after having it for dessert at a dinner on Monday.

It’s much easier than you would expect for such a decadent recipe. The secret, I’ve been told, is to use good chocolate.

flourless chocolate cakeI found two recipes online that were virtually identical, except for the amounts of sugar. One is at epicurious, and a less sweet version can be found on a website called dinnerwithjulie.com /. I compromised, using ½ cup  of sugar– a little more than the third of a cup called for in the second recipe, and less than the ¾ cup called for in the epicurious version.

I used Lindt dark chococlate, with 70 percent cocoa.

The cake is melt-in-your-mouth rich, and a small piece is satisfying. I put the leftover cake in the freezer immediately, because I didn’t think it would be safe in the fridge.

However, I ended up taking it out the next night, after a friend had a craving. It took a while to thaw, probably because it is so dense.

Then, last night, my 16-year-old niece was at our house for a quick dinner – grilled cheese and salad – and I brought out the cake again. This time, I thawed it in the microwave on very low power. It only took about a minute.

It’s definitely a special-occasion recipe – whether you make it for a special occasion, or whether the occasion becomes special because you serve it.

Out of the dining room

Two days ago, I OD’d on sessions for writers at Toronto’s annual Word on the Street festival.  I’m still processing everything I learned at the literary event’s “Wordshop Marquee,” hosted by the Humber School for Writers.

I’ve had a book percolating in my head for the last few years, and after I was downsized in June, I began to work on it more consistently.

So I was naturally drawn to sessions like “The Insider’s Guide to Getting Published” and “How to Write a Bestseller.” I returned home with copious notes. Yesterday, I highlighted the nuggets I think will be useful, plus the ones that validate what I already know. I have yet to go through all the literature I brought home about various writers’ groups.

But content aside, I think my attendance at the sessions marked a turning point in my journey toward whatever is next for me, career-wise.

For the past three months, my “home office,” aka my dining room, has been the focus of my “work” life. It’s where I write my blog posts, connect on LinkedIn, and sort through more than 20 years of old notes, deciding what to recycle or shred as I shift my attention to new priorities.

Last week, I signed up for a three-day social media workshop that I learned of indirectly through a LinkedIn group. Tonight, I plan to attend an event for freelance journalists. As well, I recently received an e-mail about an upcoming job fair, which I’ve added to my calendar.

All of a sudden, my calendar is filling up with events… and possibility.

No blog posts on Thursday or Friday of this week – the last of the Jewish holidays! I’ll be back on Sunday.

Chocolate Sunday – Granola!

The first gift my husband gave me when we were dating was a jar of granola, which he swears he made himself.

Our daughter is skeptical about this story, because it’s my father-in-law who’s the chief granola-maker in the family. A retired pharmacist who learned to be precise about measuring and mixing long before he began baking, Dad is also known for his other specialties including blueberry tortes and potato-leek soup.

granola

Dad’s granola, updated

He doesn’t remember where he got his granola recipe, but it’s been a family favourite for a long time. I’ve made it many times myself.

As an alternative, a few years ago, I also began using a simpler recipe – the Maple-Nut Granola from Aviva Allen’s Organic Kosher Cookbook. It calls for a mix of oats, nuts, olive oil, maple syrup and a bit of sea salt – nothing else – and has become my other favourite granola recipe.

Dad’s granola is no more difficult to make, but it virtually teems with ingredients – coconut, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, wheat germ, up to three kinds of nuts, and – as “optional” ingredients – chocolate chips, raisins, and vanilla extract. The add-ons were never optional for me, though – especially the chocolate chips. The recipe uses honey as sweetener, but I tried it this week with maple syrup, and that was good too.

Most of the component ingredients remain discrete in the finished product, but the granola also includes a few larger clumps – the best parts – which provide a tasty, unexpected hit of melted chocolate.

Both recipes are delicious, and should probably be eaten sparingly. I often sprinkle granola over a plainer cereal, and add berries or bananas, and almond milk.

When I made the granola this week, I reduced the amount of coconut because it is high in saturated fat, and I used oat bran instead of wheat germ because I wanted to minimize the amount of gluten. I also used olive oil for its health benefits, even though the original recipe didn’t specify it.

The recipe is very flexible, and optional ingredients in the original version are listed without quantities. I measured what I used so I could include amounts in the recipe that follows.

Dad’s Granola (updated)

4 cups rolled oats

½ cup coconut

½ cup sesame seeds

1 cup chopped pecans (or almonds, or a mix of nuts)

½ cup sunflower seeds

½ tsp. sea salt

½ cup oat bran

¾ cup chocolate chips

¾ cup raisins

½ cup liquid honey or maple syrup

(optional: 1 tsp. of vanilla if using honey)

½ cup olive oil

1. Oil 9 x 13” pan, and add dry ingredients in order given.

2. Add oil and maple syrup or honey (with vanilla, if you like), and mix well.

3. Bake 20 minutes at 275F, stirring every five to seven minutes.

4. Let cool about an hour. Store in glass jars.

Enjoy!

Personal vs. professional interests

The other day, a friend asked if I’d be attending a lecture that she thought I might find interesting. It’s almost three months now since I stopped working at The Canadian Jewish News, and the event is the type I would have covered as a reporter. It told her I wasn’t planning to go.

But I have to ask myself to what extent saying no was a knee-jerk reaction, because when I was working, I covered so many talks and events that I didn’t really have the time or desire to attend more of them. It’s odd to think about attending an event like that on my own, without my tape recorder or notebook.

I believe I got much more out of the events I covered than I would have if I weren’t there as a journalist. Reporting forced me to pay attention at times when my mind might otherwise have wandered, and writing my articles afterward helped me distil the information, as I sifted through my notes to pinpoint the most significant parts.

I was fortunate that intellectual stimulation was a built-in part of my job. Also, by covering issues I might not have delved into on my own, I exercised my brain, learned much, and, to a certain extent, went beyond my comfort zone.

Another friend advised me, after I lost my job, to write about what I like, which is part of the reason I blog about chocolate on Sundays, and more generally about food on Fridays. That’s been a more gentle “stretch” for me, as my food writing evolves.

Even when I was a kid, I would always start my homework with the easiest assignments. A lot of people like to get the most difficult item out of the way first, but I prefer to work my way up to more challenging tasks, sort of like warming up before a workout at the gym.

So I think I want to work my way up to attending the type of lecture my friend suggested – at least if I’m not going as a journalist.

I won’t be blogging on Thursday or Friday this week (more Jewish holidays!). Will be back on Sunday.

 

 

Chocolate Sunday – A Pilgrimage!

 

A few years ago, when I accompanied my husband to a Napa Valley conference, a British colleague of his told us that whenever she was in that part of California, she made a “pilgrimage” to eat at Auberge du Soleil, an upscale resort and restaurant.

I’d never heard the word “pilgrimage” used in that context before, and it stuck in my head.

We went there together on a beautiful, sunny day, and ate lunch at an outdoor terrace that was part of Auberge du Soleil’s Bistro, the more casual counterpart of its Michelin-rated restaurant.

That’s where I had the best dessert I’ve ever had in my life, filo-wrapped chocolate dumplings with tarragon ice cream and Arbequina olive oil. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe dessert provided a multi-sensory experience, from the temperature contrast between the dumpling’s warm chocolate filling and the perfectly chilled ice cream, to the latter’s tarragon flavour, a taste counterpoint to the sweetness of the chocolate and the ice cream itself. Not to mention the plate’s visual appeal, as well as the contrast in textures of all the dessert’s components.

If I didn’t have a pro-chocolate bias, my husband’s dessert, a trio of seasonal melon sorbets, would probably be the best dessert I’d ever had in my life. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Each spoonful contained a surprisingly fresh burst of melon flavour – as if I was eating the fruit itself in a different form.

Recently, I’ve been finalizing plans to be in Sacramento, only an hour away from Napa, for a wedding. But I’m not sure I’ll repeat the pilgrimage, given time constraints and other local attractions that I haven’t visited before.

Whether I do or not, I look forward to some good meals. And to the wedding!

 

 

Baba’s Camisbroit

Once a year, for the Jewish holidays, I make my grandmother’s recipe for camisbroit (pronounced ca-MISS-broit). Outside my family, I think it’s more commonly known as roly-poly. Camisbroit is basically a cookie dough, rolled into a large rectangle, then slathered with sugar, cinnamon, jam, nuts, raisins and coconut. You roll it up from the long side, and slice it when it’s done.

For me, it’s pure comfort-slash-nostalgia food.

comisbroit ingredients

This is how my camisbroit looked before I rolled it. 

I love reading the recipe. My favourite line is “Add Crisco, and rub out,” a turn of phrase I associate with my grandmother. It’s not something you see in contemporary recipes, and even if I understood exactly what it meant, I wouldn’t follow the directions, because I prefer to use oil. But that particular instruction, along with the “1/8 glass of lukewarm water” that is listed as an ingredient, comprise part of the recipe’s charm.

I asked my mother yesterday if she knew its origins. Her best guess is that her mother got the recipe from a friend named Gertie, who was a wonderful baker.

camisbroit baked & sliced

The end result – a bit too much flour on top, but they still tasted good.

She doesn’t think it was passed down from her own grandmother. “I don’t remember her making it,” my mom told me.

The recipe is not always precise when it comes to measurements. I just add more flour until the dough is workable. This year, I made a big mess, mostly with the jam, but the end result was worth the trouble. I also used a mix of nuts – almonds, pecans and pistachios – even though my grandmother usually used almonds alone.

For a treat (before I was born), my mother recalls that Baba used to put Turkish Delight in the centre. But, for me, the recipe that follows is the most authentic.

Baba’s Camisbroit

Dough:

3 eggs

Scant half-cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1/4 lb. Crisco (or 1/4 cup oil)

2 tsp. baking powder

1/8 glass lukewarm water

1 cup of flour (to start)

Filling:

Sugar

Cinnamon

Strawberry jam

Almonds (or other nuts)

Raisins

Coconut

1. Beat eggs with sugar. Add Crisco, and rub out. (Or add oil, and beat together.) Add vanilla. Add water, flour and baking powder together. (One cup of flour isn’t nearly enough.)

2. Let rest in fridge 15 minutes.

3. Roll out dough into large rectangle, not too thin.

4. Sprinkle dough generously with sugar and cinnamon. Spread jam on top, then add nuts, raisins and coconut.

5. Roll up dough from long side. Mark 1/2-inch pieces with a knife, scoring the top of the dough gently.

6. Bake at 350 F until brown. Check after 20 minutes. The camisbroit should be just starting to brown.

Enjoy!

Thoughts on celebrity, and Dr. Ruth

I had a few ideas for what to write on my blog today, but scrapped them when I read Judith Timson’s column in today’s Toronto Star. She wrote about the influence celebrities have on our lives – a timely topic, prompted by the buzz around the Toronto International Film Festival, which ends on Sunday. But it was Timson’s own thoughts as a journalist that struck a chord with me. “Up until this year, as a journalist, I did not have one picture of myself with a celebrity,” she wrote. She now has one, which she has “shamelessly” framed.

As a reporter at The Canadian Jewish News for 22 years, I never asked for a picture of myself with a celebrity (it doesn’t sound like Timson did either), but I do have one or two.

In 1999, I interviewed Dr. Ruth Westheimer at her hotel over tea, when she was in Toronto for the Canadian Booksellers Association trade show. We talked mostly about her then-newest book, Dr. Ruth’s Pregnancy Guide for Couples, but I ended the article by writing, “Unlike some celebrities, she loves bme & dreing recognized. ‘It’s nice to be Dr. Ruth,’ she said.”

The world-famous sex therapist, a child survivor of the Holocaust, was a delight to interview – articulate and candid, with things to say that were worth hearing. Her trademark giggle and impish humour made her a lot of fun to talk to. She told me at the time that she wasn’t computer literate yet, but I googled her this morning, and see that she is now on Twitter.

I believe she was the one who suggested taking a picture of the two of us, although it could have been one of the hotel employees. If she didn’t suggest it, she definitely encouraged it. Who was I to argue?

Before we sat down for our interview, a passerby recognized her, and requested a picture of the two of them together, which Dr. Ruth cheerfully agreed to. “You’re an icon,” the woman said.

I didn’t shamelessly frame the picture of me with Dr. Ruth – it’s in an album – but I am (shamelessly, or not) including it in this post.

 

Another step on the post-downsizing path

I’ve been thinking about this blog as a way to move forward after being downsized, but I’ve also been hoping – and actually feeling, in some instinctive way – that the blog itself would serve as a vehicle to move me forward. Writing clarifies my thoughts, and helps me figure out what I want and need to do next. Also, blogging provides structure to my week, keeps me writing, and keeps me focused on moving forward, writing and journalism (the subjects of my blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays).

But recently, my blog moved me forward in an unexpected way.

After reading an entry I wrote in late August, the ritual director at my synagogue invited me to speak at a Rosh Hashana service he was leading. He thought the subject of my post – the 80/20 rule, as it applies to time management – would be appropriate for the Jewish New Year.

I accepted his invitation, and he suggested that I talk for seven to ten minutes. I expanded on what I’d written, noting in my talk that this is a time of year for reflection and reassessment, and perhaps for making some decisions about how we want to spend our time in the year ahead. I also asked for input from congregants on some of their priorities for the coming year, and ideas for strategies that might help turn intentions into reality.

I finished by sharing some priorities and strategies of my own.

Aside from the content, a couple of other things were significant to me, on a personal level, about the talk.

1. Although I’d spoken publicly at my congregation and elsewhere (not often, but enough times that I didn’t hesitate to go ahead), this was the first time I’d be speaking as “just me,” not as a staff reporter for The Canadian Jewish News.

I like to think I retained my sense of self during my 22 years at the paper, but leaving a long-time job isn’t just a transition in life, it’s a transition in identity. Often, when I showed up to cover an event, someone would refer to me as “The CJN,” as in, “The CJN is here.” Even now, sometimes I find myself saying “we” when I’m referring to the paper – talking about it as if I’m still part of it.

2. A couple of friends have suggested that I might want to teach adult writing classes, now that I’m moving in a different direction. At first, I dismissed the suggestion, finding the idea daunting. I started to consider it more seriously after my daughter said there might be workshops or classes I could take first, to learn how to teach adults.

As I was writing my Rosh Hashana talk, I began to think that if it went well – speaking in public and sparking a bit of discussion, albeit on a small scale – maybe I should be more open-minded about the possibility of teaching.

I think it went reasonably well… another step on my post-downsizing path.

Chocolate Sunday – (Chocolate!) Honey Cake

The problem with honey cake – a traditional Ashkenazi dessert symbolic of wishes for a sweet Jewish New Year – is that a lot of people don’t like it. It seems there are always leftovers, even after you have a crowd for dinner.

For the record, I like honey cake. My favourite honey cake recipe calls for raisins, nuts, dates, and Maraschino cherries, which add a lot of flavour and texture. But even that one receives only a lukewarm reception when I make it.

chocolate honey cake

Chocolate honey cake, top, with store-bought apple loaf.

So this year, I decided to try a recipe for chocolate honey cake by Mollie Katzen, author of the vegetarian classics The Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest.

I’d never attempted chocolate honey cake before, and to be honest, I don’t like the idea of it. (I feel the same about chocolate cheesecake.) It sounds to me like adulterated chocolate cake. Why mess with something good?

But Katzen’s recipe has a few things going for it that made me want to try it.

It’s got three different kinds of chocolate in it – cocoa, melted unsweetened chocolate, and chocolate chips. The combination would counteract the honey cake-ness of the cake, I thought, and the unsweetened chocolate would add richness.

Also, it’s an easy recipe that’s baked in a loaf pan. Unlike some traditional honey cake recipes, the instructions don’t call for separating the eggs.

As well, there’s only honey, no sugar. So while it’s still very sweet, it’s probably less sweet than many traditional honey cakes.

The cake was easy to prepare, but I messed up big-time on baking it. As per the instructions, I baked the cake at 325 degrees, not 350, because I was using a glass pan. But even after 40 minutes – 10 minutes longer than it should have taken – the cake didn’t pass the doneness test. It wasn’t even close.

I raised the temperature, and baked the cake about six minutes longer, maybe seven. Not a good idea. I took it out just as the top was starting to burn.

We ate it anyway, minus the burned top. I served it for dessert on Thursday, and again yesterday. Everyone liked it. They said it tasted more like chocolate cake than honey cake – although one friend said you taste the chocolate first, then the honey.

A triple dose of feel-good chemicals from the three types of chocolate, and lots of symbolism for a happy and sweet New Year.

The recipe’s a keeper… but maybe I should think about getting my oven calibrated.