New Year’s Eve assessment – my 88th post

I started this blog almost six months ago, shortly after I was downsized, and I think it’s time to assess how far I’ve come, and what I’ve learned from the experience.

1. Time is relative. I posted my first blog entry July 9, two and a half weeks after my last day of work. In retrospect, I think I got it up and running pretty quickly. At the time – when I was researching blogs, learning WordPress, and figuring out how I wanted my blog to look – it felt like it was taking forever.

2. Blogging does everything for me that I hoped it would – it keeps me writing, brings structure to my day and week, and is helping me figure out and/or evolve into what’s next in my life.

3. Cooking is therapeutic, creative and nurturing. But I knew that already.

4. Don’t underestimate the importance of fun. What started as my “fun” blog day (“Friday is food day”), in contrast to the two more “serious” days when I focus on writing and being downsized, has turned out to generate the most interest, judging by the number of views and amount of feedback.

5. I have some ideas for my blog (particularly food and chocolate days), and it will be time to start implementing them in the New Year.

6. Small, consistent efforts make a difference. So does being accountable. I’ve been working on my book much more consistently since I joined a writers’ group on LinkedIn.

7. Going through the paraphernalia I brought home from work has been a big effort, and getting it out of the dining room was a big accomplishment. Continuing to work on the house (deciding what to keep and what to get rid of) seems to propel my work-related post-downsizing “journey” too. I see them as parallel and intertwined.

8. Online groups are a great idea! I’ve joined several on LinkedIn and one on Facebook. I’ve found lots of information and support that I wasn’t expecting.

9. Since I began blogging about food, people have been asking me for cooking advice. It seems I have much to share, and not just with my kids.

10. Starting a blog was more a matter of following my instincts than following a plan. So far, my instincts haven’t led me wrong.

11. I’ve put serious job hunting on the back burner, but haven’t ruled out a conventional job. Blogging as a “pseudo-job” and working on a book have helped fine-tune my ideas about what I want and don’t want in any future job.

12. It takes time to regroup after losing a job. But regrouping doesn’t necessarily mean not moving forward.

13. Working at something you enjoy is the best! I did that for 22 years as a reporter at The Canadian Jewish News, and I’m doing that now working on my blog. But, so far, the blog isn’t remunerative.

14. Sometimes the answer – or at least the next step – is right in front of you, if you just look for it. In a concrete way, that’s how I got many of the ideas for my blog posts, especially about cooking. Speaking generally, I believe it’s important to be aware of what’s around you, and how it might be relevant to whatever else is going on in your life.

15. I’ve taken small steps outside my comfort zone in the past few months, leading to more progress on the post-downsizing path. Being downsized is a huge step outside of the comfort zone – “a kick in the pants,” as someone described it to me. But I do believe that new doors will open, and that some already have.

Happy New Year, and hoping that the right doors will open to all who need them.

Chocolate Sunday – A Chocolate Tasting!

Sometimes I think I’ve been a bad influence on my husband, who used to be  content to snack on Shredded Wheat – dry, eaten straight from the box.

These days, I’m not above hiding special chocolate from him if I don’t want it to disappear.

vivaniThat’s what I did a little over a week ago, after a shopping trip to Ambrosia Natural Foods, where I found 100-gram (3.5-ounce) Vivani organic chocolate bars on sale for $2.22 each.

Too tempting to pass up, but which of the nine sale-priced items to buy? I thought about picking two or three that looked the most appealing, but then I remembered that we were planning to have brunch today with our friends Sheldon and Marlene, and – as it turns out – three of four of our grown-up kids (our two, and one of theirs). I wouldn’t be the only chocolate-lover at the table.

I had an idea: a “chocolate tasting” would be an excuse to buy more. I came home with eight chocolate bars – Organic Cappuccino, Organic Dark Cassis (!), Organic Dark (71 percent cacao), Organic Dark Mint, Organic Milk Hazelnut, Organic Dark Orange (!), Praliné, and Organic Milk. I think the ninth option was a white chocolate variety – not in the same category.

I’ll have to take notes, and report back later… This should be fun!

Salmon Stir-Fry

After a couple of days without electricity or heat after Toronto’s ice storm last weekend, I needed to replenish much of the food that had been in my fridge.

salmon stir-fryThe other night, I prepared a salmon stir-fry, using ingredients that looked good at the grocery store, along with a few condiments from before the storm.

It was easy and delicious, although I think I need to figure out how to cut down on the sodium next time. Maybe I should try diluting the soy sauce, even though I used a low-sodium variety. Or maybe I should use a different sauce altogether.

This recipe serves three people:

Salmon Stir-Fry

1 onion

4 cremini mushrooms (baby portobellos)

about 15 asparagus spears

1 clove fresh garlic, or more to taste

fresh ginger to taste

3/4 lb. skinless salmon

1 tbsp. safflower oil (or other oil recommended for cooking on high heat)

1 tsp. sesame oil

low-sodium soy sauce or tamari

hoisin sauce

sesame seeds

1. Chop onion, and cut mushrooms into thick slices.

2. Snap ends off asparagus, and cut spears into 1 1/2-inch pieces.

3. Mince garlic and finely grate ginger.

4. Cut salmon in 1-inch chunks.

5. Heat oils together on medium high in large saucepan. Sauté onion, garlic and ginger for two minutes.

6. Add asparagus, mushrooms, tamari and sesame oil. Stir-fry one minute longer,then remove from pan.

7. Add more oil if necessary, to thinly cover pan. Sauté salmon, stirring frequently, just until done. Make sure it’s cooked through. Add more tamari and/or a bit of water if necessary.

8. Add vegetables back in, and add hoisin sauce. Mix together, and cook one more minute.

9. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.


Chocolate Sunday on Tuesday – Cacao Nibs!

I started to write this post before we lost power because of Toronto’s ice storm… Hope those still without electricity are staying warm, and safe.

Last week I bought a bag of raw cacao nibs for the first time. Sweet cacao nibs, a “Mayan Superfood” with antioxidants, fibre and magnesium, according to the label. Certified organic too!

cacao nibsThen I got home and thought – “What do I do with them?”

The manufacturer’s website suggests eating them right out of the bag. That was perfect advice for the last couple of days.

Before the storm hit, I added the nibs to my breakfast yogourt for a treat. Plans to bake with them over the weekend were put on hold!

One of my favourite breakfasts is a combination of Greek yogourt, fresh and sometimes dried fruit, nuts and/or seeds, cinnamon and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.

A serving of Greek yogourt is nourishing and satisfying (high in protein)… but not very exciting on its own. Fruit and nuts or seeds add a variety of textures and nutrients, and lots of flavour. The cacao nibs add a whole other dimension.

Raw cacao nibs are the essence of chocolate. I like them, but they don’t taste like the chocolate I’m used to. The ones I bought, sweetened with organic cane juice, taste more “healthy” than chocolate chips, probably their closest conventional counterpart.

The texture of the nibs is a surprise too – less consistent and smooth than processed chocolate. As well, the nibs vary in size and shape. Every mouthful is interesting, and you don’t need a huge quantity to be satisfied.

My best breakfast this past week consisted of Greek yogourt, organic raspberries, blueberries, pomegranate seeds, cut-up Brazil nuts, cacao nibs, cinnamon and a bit of honey. Delicious – and it held me until lunchtime.

Happy Holidays! Planning to blog again Friday.

Sautéed Red Cabbage, Apples & Sesame Seeds

The great thing about red cabbage is that, if you haven’t been to the grocery store for a while and other vegetables in your fridge are turning into science experiments, it’s probably still fresh.

red cabbageApples and onions also keep well, and the combination makes for a hearty winter side dish.

I finally got around to cooking my weeks-old red cabbage last night, combining ideas from a few online recipes: this one from Food Network star Rachael Ray; this one from Michael Smith, also a familiar face from the Food Network; and a final one from the World’s Healthiest Foods website.

Because I’d pre-sliced the cabbage, prep was very quick. I actually sliced half the cabbage a couple of days before I cooked it, and wondered if it would be okay. I sliced the second half the next day, and both were fine – not wilted or starting to brown. Red cabbage is – um – hardy, not just hearty. After I sliced it, I kept it refrigerated in Ziploc bags, with paper towel to absorb any moisture, and I’m sure that made a difference.

I’ve always kind of liked sautéed red cabbage with apples. The first time I tasted it, as a teenager, the contrast between the familiar apple and unfamiliar, purple cabbage intrigued me. Red cabbage seems to be the more popular name, but in reality it’s more purple – definitely my favourite colour when I was a teenager, and still high on the list now. I can’t honestly say that red cabbage is my favourite food, but I do like it once in a while.

Sometimes, I like to add red cabbage to salads. I know it’s healthy – aren’t all cruciferous vegetables? A Google search for its health benefits yielded many links. I knew red cabbage had fiber and antioxidants, but I was surprised to see that it’s also high in vitamin C. Maybe red cabbage’s long shelf isn’t really the great thing about it after all.

Here’s my version.

Sautéed Red Cabbage, Apples & Sesame Seeds

1 head of red cabbage

1/2 red onion

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tbsp. Umeboshi vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)

1 tbsp. maple syrup (dark maple syrup, if you have it)

2 tsp. brown sesame seeds

2 apples, sliced not too thin and not too thick (I like organic Royal Gala)

salt and pepper to taste

2 tsp. sesame seeds

1. Cut red cabbage in quarters, and remove core by cutting around it. Slice thinly.

2. Slice red onion, and cut slices into bite-size chunks.

3. Heat olive oil in large pan on medium-high, and sauté onion for two minutes.

4. Add cabbage to fill the pan generously. I used about 3/4 of my cabbage, and will add the rest to a salad.

5. Sauté about two minutes more, then add Umeboshi vinegar and maple syrup, and mix together. I bought the vinegar, which is made from Japanese pickled plums, for a recipe a long time ago, and thought this would be a good opportunity to use it again.

6. Sauté another minute or two until cabbage is wilted, then add sliced apples and mix in gently. Cook until apple is no longer raw, but not yet mushy.

7. Add salt and pepper to taste. (Or maybe just pepper, if you’re using Umeboshi vinegar, which has a high amount of sodium – 1200 mg. per tbsp. Yikes!)

8. To serve, drizzle with sesame seeds and a small amount of maple syrup.


Whoa! Big changes at The CJN

Ever since I was downsized six months ago, I’ve thought of myself as being in transition. The Canadian Jewish News, where I was a reporter for 22 years, has been in transition too – streamlining, moving to a new office, and searching for a new editor.

But at the same time as it’s been moving forward, it’s also been in a holding pattern, publishing a more-or-less familiar paper under the guidance of interim editor Joe Serge.

It looks like that’s about to change big-time.

The paper announced in a front-page article this week that former CJN columnist Yoni Goldstein, 33, will take over as editor January 6. As well, new CJN president Elizabeth Wolfe spoke of plans to change the look and format of the paper to something a bit “edgier.” The online component will continue to be upgraded too.

Goldstein’s initial editorial, which also ran this week, marked a new direction in both language and perspective for the paper. Whoa!

Not “Whoa!” in a negative way, but “Whoa!” as in “Wow, this is going to get people’s attention.”

The forthright column, titled “Netanyahu’s Lame Excuse,” dealt with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s absence from Nelson Mandela’s funeral. I hope that Goldstein’s fresh voice will spark lots of dialogue, helping to create a vital new CJN – both for readers who agree with his views, and those who don’t.

In the article about his appointment, Goldstein credited his predecessor Mordechai Ben-Dat for allowing him to develop his “voice,” and to develop as a journalist as well. He also said he intends to give voice to all sides.

When it looked like the paper was about to close – before a community outcry led to its rescue – it became apparent that one of its roles was to bring together different voices of the Jewish community.

Speaking personally, I missed Toronto’s Jewish diversity and resources during the year I spent in an American college town in the 1980s. But living in a place with only one synagogue – and a Jewish population of about 1,000, including students – taught me the benefits of being part of a more connected community.

Best of luck to Yoni and the CJN team. I look forward to reading upcoming issues and online posts.

Too much (digital) information

Sometime I wonder how other people manage all the information that comes across their screen every day. This morning, I read that there are 554 million people on Twitter. I follow 340 of them.

I started following most of them as a reporter at The Canadian Jewish News, and have added more than a few post-downsizing – mostly related to food and writing. I keep thinking I should edit my list, but there are always more pressing tasks. It’s impossible to keep up with all the Tweets, and I’m satisfied with checking Twitter once or twice a day and thinking of whatever I see as a window into what I want to know. But, wow, is Twitter a time-eater if you allow it to be!

I’m also a member of several groups on LinkedIn, and I follow a lot more blogs than I used to. My email inbox is filled with updates, not to mention regular email. I like to read, and I’m interested in most of what crosses my screen. I’ve had to discipline myself not to click on too many links.

Sometimes I find it overwhelming. And I didn’t mention Facebook, which I’m finding more manageable timewise than I did when I first joined.

This morning, in my e-mail, I found a post from Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, that resonated with me. It didn’t deal with information overload per se, but she wrote about the importance of having a foundation: habits like adequate sleep and exercise that make it easier to work on other habits. I think it’s a good strategy against being overwhelmed, not just digitally but in any aspect of life.

I’ve been deleting a lot of unnecessary emails lately, but I plan to keep this one. At least for now.



Chocolate Sunday – Chocolate Rice Pudding!

I always thought my husband was a traditionalist when it came to rice pudding. Rice, milk, raisins, cinnamon – sweet, creamy, not fancy. He loved rice pudding before he became lactose-intolerant, and used to order it regularly at his favourite restaurant.

I don’t crave rice pudding often, but when I do, I’d rather have the old-fashioned kind. It’s a great comfort food. Until recently, I’d never considered chocolate rice pudding.

rice pudding in cupBut in the interest of gathering material for this blog – and because I’d been meaning to use a bag of short-grain brown rice in my pantry – I set out to find a recipe for chocolate rice pudding that looked appealing. I planned to use almond milk, which is what we usually have on hand.

This recipe for Chocolate-Almond Brown Rice Pudding from Fresh Juice – a Canadian publication – calls for brown rice, almond milk, and toasted almonds. It sounded perfect.

I used a bit less chocolate than the recipe called for – a 100-gram (3.5-oz.) bar instead of the 4 oz. listed in the ingredients. Between that and the cocoa, it’s a very chocolatey rice pudding.

The mixture didn’t seem thick enough after 35 minutes of simmering, so I kept it on the stove another 10 minutes. The chocolate dissolved in an instant, and it thickened like magic. Maybe it was even too thick. But it tasted good – best warm, I think. Also, I probably wouldn’t cook it as long if I was making it again.

I think chocolate rice pudding is growing on me.


Red Lentil Soup

With minus-double-digit weather outside, and a sore throat that’s lasted a full week, it was an easy choice for me to decide to make red lentil soup a couple of days ago.

It’s definitely a winter soup, thick and warming. Sometimes I like to purée it with an immersion blender, but this time I was happy to leave it chunky. It wasn’t very pretty, though, so I’m just including a picture of the vegetables.

vegs for soup

I have three go-to red lentil soup recipes, but this time used them only for inspiration. I referred to them to make sure my proportions of lentils, water and vegetables were on target.  The recipes I usually use are the Lemon-Lentil Soup from The Organic Kosher Cookbook, by Aviva Allen; Red Lentil, Vegetable & Barley Soup from MealLeaniYumm! by Norene Gilletz; and Lentil Vegetable Soup from Simply HeartSmart Cooking by Bonnie Stern.

This is the version I came up with a couple of days ago, inspired by my favourite soup recipes and the ingredients in my kitchen:

Red Lentil Soup

2 tbsp. olive oil

3 shallots, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 stalks celery

1 1/2 cups baby carrots, cut in pieces

1 yellow squash

2 cups red lentils, rinsed

8 cups of water

basil, oregano and thyme to taste

2 tbsp. fresh parsley

salt and pepper to taste

1. Sauté onion and garlic until just starting to brown.

2. Add the rest of the vegetables, and stir together.

3. Add lentils, water and spices.

4. Bring to boil, then turn down heat, and simmer 30 minutes.

5. Add parsley, and cook five more minutes.

6. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy! (It’s even better the next day.)

Joining a writers’ group

I’ve been spinning my wheels lately when it comes to working on my book, but yesterday I took a leap that will make it harder to do that.

I joined a group on LinkedIn called “I Am A Writing Machine.” I don’t think of myself as a machine at all, but I like the idea of the group as “social support,” which is part of its description.

The accountability aspect also appeals to me. As a member, I’m committed to writing 500 words a week toward my project. It’s a modest goal, and hopefully a springboard to writing more than the minimum. I have to submit a word count every week, and if I don’t, I can’t stay in the group.

It’s been too easy for me to put off work on the book when other items on my list are more time-sensitive, like the blog entries I post four mornings a week, and calls or appointments during business hours.

It helps me focus when I know I have a deadline. Recent work on the book has consisted mostly of fine-tuning what I’ve already written, and also developing a timeline. That hasn’t added much to the word count.

Yesterday, I spent about 45 minutes editing and expanding on what I’ve written.  I thought I might end up with fewer words than I started with, but I ended up with 248 more. Only 252 more to go… until next week.