What I learned in Grade 8 home economics

Omigod, I found my Grade 8 Home Ec notebook this week!

home ec notebook *Looking through it, I realized that I’ve been saving recipes for longer than I remember. Maybe it didn’t “count” when I cut them out of magazines in junior high because it was for school, not for me, but I know it had an long-term influence.

From a cooking standpoint, what fascinated me most was the section on “Creative Meal Planning.”

In handwriting that was much rounder and fancier than it is now, I listed the “important elements of meal planning,” including “pleasing colours and attractive & varied combinations, wise use of food, and variety in flavour, colour, shape, texture, temperature.”

I used the term “kitchen artist” in one section. I doubt I came up with that one on  my own. There were references to eye appeal, taste appeal, and colour combinations. No wonder I see cooking as creative and satisfying.

It’s funny, Home Ec wasn’t my favourite subject, even though we got to eat everything we made. There were a lot of rules and expectations, so it wasn’t strictly a “fun” class.

But I remember some interesting dishes, one of which inspired a recipe for sautéed red cabbage, apples and sesame seeds on this blog a couple of months ago. The original recipe calls for white vinegar instead of apple cider or umeboshi, only one apple, and brown sugar instead of (preferably dark) maple syrup. I prefer the updated version.

I have red cabbage in the fridge. Now I know what I’m going to do with it.

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.

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