Order from chaos

Yesterday, I started preparing for Friday night dinner at my house. There will be 13 of us, which means we’ll be eating in the dining room, aka my home office.

I’ve been away twice in the past month, once for four nights, and once for three. I’ve also attended a job fair and a few other work-related events where I picked up literature and other paraphernalia that have accumulated on the dining room table. I’ve been referring to some of the items in my writing, and would like them at hand for follow-up.

In the months since I was downsized, we’ve had some meals in the dining room, but this week the amount of stuff on the table this week seemed more daunting than before.

Yesterday I decided I would focus on two things – preparing for the dinner, and working on an article. I checked off a few other items on my to-do list, but they were tasks that didn’t take long, and needed to be done. Everything else, I decided, would wait.

It was a productive day, and my dining room table looks much more manageable now.

I like making order from chaos.

Where do ideas come from?

Since I began this blog in July, I’ve written more than 50 entries. So far, I haven’t been at a loss for ideas.

When I worked as a reporter at The Canadian Jewish News, people often asked where my stories originated.

Sometimes, they were assigned by an editor.

Also, people often called or e-mailed to let us know about a newsworthy issue or event in the community.

Other times, story ideas seemed to grow organically from a conversation or experience. A couple of years ago, I wrote an article titled “Math teaches kids more than just numeracy” for our annual education supplement. I had no clue that people were passionate about math education in elementary school until the subject came up repeatedly in conversation with a group at my synagogue.

In 2003, when I bought an Ulu knife in Alaska, and thought about using it to make gefilte fish, a food article started taking shape in my head before I even returned home.

I love when ideas evolve naturally into stories. I guess – as a reporter, and now as a blogger – my antennae have always been up. The realization that I’ve happened on a great idea to write about still gives me a bit of a rush.

Chocolate Sunday — Doubly Sweet, Y’all

Discovered these honey-filled chocolates at the Savannah Bee Company in Charleston, South Carolina this weekend.20131027-093316.jpg

Just got back this afternoon after a brief trip to Charleston. The honey-filled chocolates appealed to me for their whimsical design – gold-dusted dark chocolate squares filled with sourwood honey and embossed with a distinctive bee in a circle, as well as their silver-dusted equivalents filled with palmetto honey. It’s just the right amount of honey, too – enough to taste, but not so much that it becomes cloying or messy to eat.

The Charleston store is the company’s first location outside of Savannah, and I see from the website that they don’t ship outside of the United States, so I’m glad I happened on the store.

I don’t remember seeing other chocolate items, but I was hyped about the different types of honey (and opportunities to taste them), as well as the variety of related products.

Charleston has much to offer visitors – great restaurants and museums, historic sites, antebellum architecture, and walking paths along the river. I was charmed by the Fashion in Fiction display at the Charleston Museum, running now through April 6, and by our visit to Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, a synagogue dating back to 1749.

The honey store was a bonus.

 

 

 

 

 

Pear Clafoutis

Last month, someone gave my husband a gift of backyard pears. When we’d eaten all but a few, I decided to look for a recipe to use the remaining fruit.

I found directions for pear clafoutis on Orangette, a blog I’ve mentioned before, by Seattle restaurateur and author Molly Wizenberg.

pear clafoutisHere’s what I like about clafoutis: it’s French, it has fruit, and it sounds exotic, even though it’s not a fancy dessert. It’s more like a dense, baked pudding.

I’d only attempted one once, more than twenty years ago, and I remember being disappointed in the result. But what I discovered this time is that it tastes much better after a couple of days. Maybe the flavours need to meld.

I used almond milk instead of whole milk, and I didn’t bother peeling the pear. I cored it with a melon baller, a neat trick I read about somewhere, a long time ago.

I also used an immersion blender in a mixing bowl, instead of a regular blender.

Like Wizenberg, I liked it as a dessert after breakfast – in my case, two days after I baked it, at a friend’s.

Enjoy!

Thoughts on interviewing

Among the items I brought home after being downsized was a file folder titled “Questions.”

As a reporter for a weekly newspaper for more than two decades, I asked a lot of questions. In recent years, I usually prepared for interviews by jotting notes on a post-it or a piece of notepaper, but in earlier years – especially for business or celebrity interviews – I often printed out a list of typed questions.

I learned so much by asking questions – not just factual information, but life lessons, and the type of things that make people tick. Often one person’s story can provide insight into larger societal issues.

A good interview isn’t just a series of questions and answers. It has elements of a conversation, give and take, and follow-up questions.

Looking through the interview questions that I kept, I recall the preparation that went into some of them, particularly with high-profile interviewees. Often, I had little previous background knowledge about their areas of expertise – classical music, agriculture, archeology, business.

When I was in Grade 6, my teacher had us prepare for a project by making two lists: “What I know,” and “What I want to find out.” Preparing for an interview wasn’t much different.

One of the things I found out is that, no matter how much I know in advance, there’s always more to find out.

A month of moving forward

This past weekend, I took part in an intensive three-day social media “boot camp” at Ryerson University. The workshop was the last of four work/writing-related events I attended over the past month, as part of my post-downsizing journey.

Exactly a month ago, September 22, I began with Toronto’s Word on the Street festival, where I attended half a dozen back-to-back workshops offered by the Humber School for Writers. Next was a Canadian Media Guild panel discussion for freelance journalists, then a JVS job fair.

I didn’t seek out any of these events. I saw a newspaper ad for Word on the Street, and happened to notice the writing workshops being offered there. The panel discussion was announced on LinkedIn, and a Ryerson workshop – not the one I ended up going to – was also announced on LinkedIn, leading me in a roundabout way to the one I attended. I learned about the job fair from an email.

I like that serendipity played a role in my finding these events, and I like that they  all took place within a month. It was significant for me to get out of my dining room/home office and away from my computer screen.

I left my job four months ago not knowing what was next, but doing my best to be open to opportunities, and pursuing the ones that present themselves and also “feel right.”

Now that my calendar has cleared for at least the next few weeks, I think it’s time to consolidate and implement what I’ve learned over the past month.

Chocolate Sunday – Do you believe in chocolate?

Last weekend, I ran into cookbook author and Canadian Jewish News contributor Norene Gilletz at a wedding. I’ve joined her Facebook group and have been posting links on it to my food-related blog entries. We’d only met a few times, but when I re-introduced myself, she knew right away who I was. “Chocolate Sunday!” she said.

chocolate

Double fudge euro tarts are one of the decadent chocolate treats for sale at Loblaws on Carlton St., in Toronto’s former Maple Leaf Gardens.

Of all the blog posts I’ve written, the “Chocolate Sunday” entries seem to be the most popular.

I’ve spent the last couple of days at a social media workshop at Ryerson University, where the instructor, Kris Alexander, told us, among other things, that “everyone has something they believe in.”

He urged us to think about our ideas – whether it’s a business or product we want to promote, or in my case a subject I’m blogging about – before focusing on which social media platforms would best serve our needs.

So I’ve been thinking about chocolate, and about blogging on the subject of chocolate. I have new ideas now about how to develop that theme.

And I found myself wondering in the middle of class, do I “believe” in chocolate? I hadn’t actually thought of it in those terms, but I found it to be an interesting question. Here are some reasons why I’m enthused about chocolate:

1. A decadent chocolate truffle is an affordable indulgence, compared to – say – a new outfit.

2. Dark chocolate has antioxidant effects.

3. Chocolate contains contains phenylethylamine, a “mild mood elevator,” according to Psychology Today online.

4. Chocolate has all kinds of positive associations, from the comfort implicit in a snack of milk and chocolate chip cookies, to the chocolate factory scene in one of the top episodes of the 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy.

Enjoy!

Orange Beet Salad

beet saladIn recent years, I’ve started to rely less and less on lists when I go grocery shopping. Instead, especially in the produce section, I like to choose what’s appealing, so I can supplement my staples – salad greens, blueberries, sweet potatoes, broccoli, bananas and organic apples – with whatever is fresh, in season, exotic and/or too good a price to pass up.

Last week, I had lunch with a colleague in a restaurant that’s near a health food store I like. I’m not in the area often, so I stopped in to check out the organic produce.

I can’t remember the last time I bought beets, but I’d had a delicious oven-roasted beet salad at Tarla Mediterranean Grill in Napa, California earlier in the week. When I saw beets at the health food store, they were too tempting to pass up.

I also bought a couple of organic oranges and some flat-leaf parsley, thinking they could be the base of a delicious salad. And with such vivid colours, the salad would be full of vitamins.

I googled orange beet salad, and came up with this one, which features gorgeous pictures. I modified the recipe only slightly.

Because I didn’t have yellow beets, I used only red ones, and roasted them whole because I found instructions for roasting before I found the salad recipe.

I also substituted pecans for walnuts, and didn’t bother measuring the salad ingredients, although I did measure ingredients for the dressing. I accidentally added a bit too much oil, and next time I would try using less than suggested. Half a cup of olive oil just seems like a lot to me.

I had some of the salad with dinner last night, and am saving the rest for today!

Enjoy!

What to do with photos?

In last Thursday’s blog post, I wrote that I’d made measurable progress sorting through the notes and paraphernalia I brought home when I was downsized after 22 years at the same newspaper.

I’m determined to work my way through all the boxes and bags, and to dispose of the items I need to dispose of in a responsible way.

This week, I started going through my pre-digital photo collection – a daunting task.

It sparked some discussion among the friends I walk with, after I expressed doubts about whether it was okay to put photographs – especially those with a shiny finish – in the recycling bin.

I checked the City of Toronto’s recycling guidelines, which mention nothing about photographs per se. The website specifies, however, that paper “not contaminated with food or chemicals” can be recycled.

I decided to call 311, the city’s non-emergency phone number, for a definitive answer. I was advised that photos could go into the regular garbage, but that I might want to contact a photo shop for more information about recycling.

A couple of days ago, I called three stores, and got three different answers.

1. All photo paper – shiny, matte, colour, and black and white – has chemicals, which are used to develop the pictures, according to the first person I spoke to. He suggested calling a hazardous waste disposal company. Groan!

2. The second person advised ripping up the photos, and throwing them in the garbage.

3. Apparently some photographs may be okay to recycle, even though the city says no. Groan, again!

I also found this website, which offers further information and ideas about recycling.

Meanwhile, I’m still sorting. I think it’s decision-making that takes the most time.

My first job fair

I attended my first job fair on Friday – a JVS/Emet Employment event, held at the Joseph & Wolf Lebovic Jewish Community Campus.

I didn’t find a job there, and didn’t even end up giving my resume to any of the employers. But there were other reasons I’m glad I went.

1. It was a good impetus to polish my resume.

2. Two recruiters suggested I look at their respective company websites for communications jobs. I knew in advance that Starbucks was looking for baristas and other employees for their outlets, which didn’t interest me as a downsized community newspaper reporter. As it turned out, Scotiabank was also looking for branch employees only. But it was good to talk face-to-face with their recruiters. It was good to reinforce what I’m interested in and what I’m not, and to leave knowing I haven’t hit a brick wall.

3. I spoke to an employment counsellor from JVS Toronto, even though I’m not sure I need or want career counselling at this point. However, once I told her my background, she gave the name of one of her colleagues, and seemed to think that this woman in particular would be able to help me. I intend to follow up.

4. Because there were no actual jobs for me at the job fair, it was a bit of “practice” for me, an opportunity to gain confidence talking to employers about my background and what I’m looking for.

5. A couple of my friends also attended the event. It was nice to see them, and we were (are) able to provide context and support for each other.

Another milestone in the post-downsizing journey.