Tuesday, December 8

Colds & Cookies

Currently, I am battling a cold. On top of which, I have to work this afternoon and evening, so that should really help. I had a friend ask recently how I stay positive through the unemployment. The answer is that you don't, not really. You make the best of a difficult situation and hope that somewhere down the line a job is waiting for you. I have picked-up a part-time job to pass the time and to make some side money and am currently chasing down my unemployment benefits. I'm on the dole! I have to laugh at that one. Two college degrees later and I'm collecting unemployment, unsuccessfully I might add.

My roommate and some friends put up our Christmas tree this Sunday. It is glorious and enormous! Pictures will be coming shortly. I have to find the roommates camera, as mine needs a new battery and that is not on the top of my must do list for the moment. It cheered me to have some normalcy in my life as we struggled to carry the tree home while caroling. Well, my roommate sang, I mostly cursed the rotten thing to hell and back. Then we hung our ornaments and made some cookies. Sugar and spice! I will post those recipes late this week. I highly recommend the sugar cookie recipe; it came out well. It was all very lovely as we stretched out to watch Love Actually. How can you not enjoy that movie? There are so many amazing lines, such as my favorite, "Eight is a lot of legs David."

Today, I'm trying to hold onto that cheer as the bills pile up, my cold sets in and I head to work. There are so many things about this situation that have changed my views on government aid and health care. I am the face of reform in this country; it is needed so that people such as me, who work hard, pay their taxes and contribute, do not suffer when they loose their jobs. It should not be so difficult to receive unemployment. My mom told me the saddest story about the UPS Depot nearby. The longest line was not to send presents, but to pick-up applications for seasonal work. Men in business suits were waiting for their turn. It puts your life in rather harsh perspective when you hear those stories, but it also shows that there are people out there who will work at anything in order to provide for their loved one and themselves.

On that note, cough, cough, I will eat my soup and be off! 

Saturday, November 28

Home for the Holiday

First, a big thank you so everyone who has been reading my blog. I really appreciate the support and feedback. It's nice to have friends from abroad weighing in as well. It makes me feel as if you are all near by.

So, I'm home for the holidays. With my family. It's funny; I have an awesome family. We're all close and supportive, but after about fifteen minutes together we all resort to our childhood roles: the bossy oldest, the sarcastic middle and the goofy youngest. And our parents start counting the minutes until we all leave again and the only one left to worry about is the dog. Who is the fourth child and the best loved. He can do no wrong and often finds himself with a new name, such as my brother's, which gives you an idea where we all are on the feeding chain. It's all fun though and relaxing after the stress of these past few weeks. The only missing element, for me at least, is my boyfriend and the proximity of close friends. I wish more were close by, but the older I am, the farther away all my friends move and I receive thanksgiving wishes even from France. This makes me smile of course! No one else in my family has international friends and I often wish I lived abroad myself . . . but I digress.

I made the pumpkin pie successfully, but am still not satisfied enough to post it. However, this morning I made some pumpkin muffins I will gladly share. I hope you try them! And . . . don't forget to send me your favorite holiday treats, both savory and sweet!

Pumpkin Muffins
(Perfect after Thanksgiving with the leftover pumpkin puree)

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon*
1/4 tsp ground ginger*
1/4 tsp ground cloves*
dash of ground nutmeg*
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
15 oz can of pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

*You can substitute these spices with 1 tsp of pumpkin pie spice.

Put the oven rack in the middle position and preheat to 350 F. Put liners in muffin cups, or grease with butter and sprinkle with flour.

In a large bowl, stir together with a wooden spoon all dry ingredients, except the chips, until mixed. In a separate bowl, or large measuring cup, combine the puree, oil and eggs with a whisk until smooth. Make a hole in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the puree mixture. Combine with spoon until just mixed; pull from the bottom to ensure the dry ingredients are incorporated. DO NOT over stir or they will be heavy after baking (this is key in all baking). Stir in the chips until just combined.

With a 1/4 cup spoon out the mixture into the muffin tin, until each is 3/4 full. Bake until puffed and golden brown and wooden tooth pick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. I always under-estimate by about five minutes the lowest baking time as each oven is different.

Cool in pan on a rack for five minutes and then remove from tin and cool until warm or room temperature. They will stick to the wrappers if still warm.


Monday, November 23

Chicken Soup for the Cold

Today was the first "real" day of unemployment.  Before, I was in CA visiting my boyfriend and then returned right as the weekend started.  But, now I am home in Brooklyn, waiting for calls about interviews and touring the local stores for employment.  I have a stack of applications to fill out both on paper and online (apparently there is a rush for applications at some stores), but that can wait until tonight!  You would think that looking for work, no matter where, would be fulfilling.  It is, after all, a job.  Yet, I felt slightly demoralized.  Although it was a small comfort that no one gave me a strange look when I walked through the door and asked if they were hiring.  I guess there is no sign around my neck that states I hold a higher degree.  Well . . . I hope something comes out of one of these applications, because sadly dear readers, this will not pay my bills.

To restore my positive attitude and warm my body after today's winds whipped through my coat and scarf, I heated up my left-over chicken soup from last night.  Unfortunately, the pumpkin pie is good, but not great.  It needs some work; I think more spices. It did not have the flavor I had hoped for . . . so, instead, I will share my favorite and delicious Chicken Soup recipe, which I have recently refined.  It's all from scratch and all from my head, although I will credit Rachel Ray and Martha Stewart for some initial suggestions and my mother for showing my how much more flavorful a soup is when you leave the meat on the bone. 

Megan's Chicken Soup
2-3 small chicken legs on the bone
3 medium carrots
2 medium celery stalks
1/2 medium yellow onion
1 medium shallot
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 tsp of dry dill weed (if you use fresh, 1/4 cup)
dash of red pepper flakes
bay leaves
olive oil
salt, pepper
2 chicken bouillon cubes or packets (I find Goya's are the best)

Ok, you will need a 3-4 qt pot.  On a medium-low heat, warm up about 1.5 tblsp of olive oil (about two turns around the pot). Season the chicken legs with a little salt and pepper; once the oil is warm, put the legs in the pot and brown, about five-seven minutes.  You'll need to rotate them around, so they do not stick to the pot.

Meanwhile, peal and chop the carrots and chop the celery.  Put them in with the browned chicken and stir.  Then, coarsely chop the onion and shallot and crush and finely chop the garlic.  Add them to the pot and stir and let simmer for about five-seven minutes, or until the onions are translucent and the garlic just starts to brown. Roughly chop the parsley (don't forget to remove the stalks!) and add the parsley with the dill weed, as well as the red pepper and additional salt and pepper.  Taste to see if more salt or pepper is needed.  Let cook for another minute.

Now come the cubes.  These are sometimes better than stock.  I prefer them, some do not.  If you are using the cubes or powder, make sure to check the package for directions.  If you are using Goya and they are en espagnol, the ratio is "x cubs/powder to y water."  Usually, it is 1:2.  So, one cube or powder pack = 2 cups of water.  This recipe calls for 2 packets and 4 cups of water.  Add a little more water if necessary; everything should be covered by about one inch.  Drop in about two-three bay leaves. Bring the soup to boil and occasionaly stir.  Cover and let simmer for at least one hour; you can cook chicken for awhile (so my mom says).  One you are ready, remove the chicken; cut off the meat from the bones (you'll need a sharp knife) and return the meat (no skin or fat) to the soup.  Taste for seasoning and serve!!!  Enjoy.  :) 

Sunday, November 22

Starting Fresh

I am unemployed. To quote my mother, I never thought this would happen. Now, like others, I am a statistic, part of the 8.8% of Americans without a steady job. Great. I think my dad is off in New Jersey crying with pride, as my student loan interest gains momentum and I continue to pursue a career in performing arts administration. Lucrative business that it is, I am of course precariously ready for this situation and am now contemplating retail employment. The question remains if I list my professional contacts for a reference, or if perhaps I should have them call my old boss from The Limited where I worked back in college. If she's still there . . . I think the store might be closed. Dammit. Well, there is always my aunt in FL. She has a different last name.

In the meantime, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a full-time job and have started contacting temp agencies. Where, I'm sure, I will be subjected to typing tests, a Power Point presentation quiz and other various skills that should really be covered in higher education. The amount of interns I've had to sit down and review Excel with is mind-boggling. It's not that hard. They have an Ivy League degree. And yet . . . alphabetical order seems a foreign concept. My mother is a librarian, so perhaps I'm more organizationally inclined than others (some would suggest obsessed), yet soon I will compete with others for temporary positions based on my categorization skills in a basic database program. No wonder I'm turning to food for sanity.

I decided today that I would bake a pumpkin maple pie. This is a test run for Thanksgiving dessert. We are going to my aunt's in New Jersey and I will bring the pie (I should probably tell her, as this was a unanimous decision made with myself). I've made pumpkin, but never with maple syrup and I'm feeling slightly dubious. What will happen? Will there be enough flavor? Will my father frown at the blasphemy brought upon a Thanksgiving staple? Last year, I made a cranberry tart and you would think that I set down a dish of scorpion pie from the manner in which my family artfully avoided it. My mom tried some. And my sister. But my brother, master of pushing his food around and yet somehow seeming to eat it, surreptitiously feed pieces to the dog and even he rejected the dessert. This year: standard is the road I will follow. My roommate is my guinea pig and my boyfriend will receive the blow-by-blow report. But you, dear readers, if all goes well, will receive the recipe from the November issue of "Real Simple." The best magazine for the younger generation of up and coming 30-somethings with an interest in the everyday, but a fear of "McCalls", or "Woman's Monthly."

Of course, this is all in preparation for tomorrow morning when I wake up and have no job. What will I do?  I'm desperately trying to keep myself busy and positive.  This cannot last for long.  But, what if it does?  What if I have several months looming ahead of no job and no prospects?  All I have then is my kitchen and my sanity.  My boyfriend, friends and family help, but in situations such as these you really can only rely on yourself to pull through and maintain some form of dignity.  So, pie it is!  And lots of dinners.  A lack of funds, means a lack of socializing, unless I have friends over to my apartment and rely not on the kindness of strangers, but the rumor of my amazing chicken pot pie to coax my friends across the river, or onto the subway, in pursuit of good conversation, a delicious meal and me!