Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Money Makes the World Go Around

Day 121
            When I was 10 or 11, I had quite a penchant for get rich quick schemes. My friend, Kelly, and I had carport sales regularly (we didn’t have a garage) featuring, among other odds and ends the homemade potholders kids of my day made. (Those kits are still around. We bought one for our daughter for her 12th Christmas. She was less than thrilled.) When people didn’t flock to our sales, we loaded everything on Kelly’s wagon and went door to door throughout the neighborhood selling our wares and performing various odd jobs. We actually made pretty good money. Eventually Kelly’s dad told him he wasn’t allowed to play with me anymore if all we were going to do is hit up people for money.
When I initially set up this blog, it was intended to give me the opportunity to write about my experiences trying to find a job at age 45 in this economy in a manner that was hopefully entertaining. If it turned out I was good at writing and had enough material, the blog might grow up someday to be a book. Best of all, it gave me something to do other than clean house and look for jobs. After setting up the blog, I discovered as I was tweaking the setting for the appearance of my site, that I could add ads and earn a little money. Earning money from the blog was never my primary, secondary or tertiary goal, but the prospect made my money making scheme 10-year-old come out to play.
 Yesterday I received an email from the folks that host the advertisements. They had reviewed their records and “determined that [my] … account poses a risk of generating invalid activity.” So, basically what this means is they disabled my account and seized its assets (meaning, the money it had generated from the ad clicks).
There is an appeal process, which I looked into. The process requires me to fill out a form with my user account number, which can be found on my account page, which I can’t access since they’ve disabled my account.
The only reason I’m really bothering to appeal is that it seems pretty drastic to shut down my account without any warning. Also, I think that, if they are so worried about fraud, they should have a feature built in that disregards multiple clicks by the same users on the same advertisement link (it’s not that complicated). Further, I don’t believe that the revenue my blog made was because all of my readers multi-clicked (I think there are about 40 of you). Some probably never clicked and I certainly NEVER clicked my own ads (it is strictly verboten in the contract). So, It only seems fair that I should be paid for the legitimate clicking (it might well only be $15 or $20 as opposed to the $110 that was in my account before they seized it, but every little bit helps). At least when Kelly and I were selling pot holders and doing chores, we got to keep our money when his dad shut down our entrepreneurship. Oh well, this is merely a bump in my path to be tripped over and then ignored.
So, I’ve been without a job for a day shy of 4 full months now. Crazy. Still can’t really account for all that spare time. Projects are still being put off until tomorrow and the days are flying past me. Today I met up with my weekly breakfast buddy for dining decadence and mimosas. This, of course meant no projects were getting done today. I found a recipe for Caribbean French Toast with homemade coconut syrup which I served with pineapple sausage and fresh cantaloupe. Pretty tasty, except that I had the heat up too high and the French toast was a little more well-done than I like it.
I have to mention that I went to the dentist today. In part because I want put in a plug for Dr. Kennedy in Davis, California. I think he is perhaps the best dentist I have ever gone to and his office staff rock!! I dumped the dentist I had out of shear frustration with their office and picked up Dr. Kennedy at the suggestion of my wife and our daughter. The other reason I wanted to mention the trip to the dentist is it leads into my closing story for today.
I was driving to the dentist’s office. Sarita had driven my car yesterday, so the radio was not on my usual station. I didn’t change the station, because I liked the song that was playing at the time and figured I’d switch if they started playing songs I didn’t like. The DJ announced a contest where callers were instructed to text the word “prize” to the number he gave for a chance to win $50 in scratchers (scratch off lottery cards). I was at a red light, so I figured it really wasn’t the same thing as texting while driving. At the next red light I checked to see if I got a text back from the radio station. Well, long story short (too late, I know) I was the correct texter and won! So, scratching lottery tickets with my wife tonight (yes, I’m actually waiting for her to get home) is my next “get rich quick” scheme. Wish me luck.

Caribbean French Toast - From the Mr. Collection

For the syrup, take half a can of coconut milk and stir 2 tsp cornstarch in over medium heat until the cornstarch dissolves. Add 3/4 cup light corn syrup, 3 Tbsp sugar and 3 Tbsp shredded sweetened cocunut.

For the French Toast: In a large mixing bowl beat 2 eggs with 1/2 cup orange juice, 1/4 cup whipping cream, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon and a dash of ground nutmeg. One by one take 6 slices of French bread (about an inch thick) and place them in the mixture for about 20 seconds per side to absorb the mixture. Cook each side in a buttered (or margarined) pan for a couple of minutes per side.

Serve with syrup warmed.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Family, Friends, Food and Wine

Day 119 without a job
            I am so excited. It appears that I have 45 people reading my blog including someone from Mexico, Denmark and South Africa. How cool is that? I know who my Mexico and Denmark readers are (waves to Martha, Ruben and Peter), but not so sure on the South Africa reader (waves in the general direction of South Africa anyway). Thanks for reading everyone, and keep telling your friends. Now, back to our usual program.
This weekend was jam-packed with socializing, eating and drinking wine. The problem with that is it does not aid in losing the weight I’ve gained over the past 15 months. In fact, It is very likely that I found the 2 or 3 pounds I had lost since riding the exercise bike. I refuse to look at the scale this morning. I will resume the bike riding and contemplate looking at the scale on Friday. Maybe.
We open the calorie filled weekend on the first day of the weekend (Friday) dinner with friends. The menu: Crusty bread with Bruschetta, corn on the cob slathered in butter, salad and my amazing, fall off the bone ribs with home-made whiskey BBQ sauce. We had a great time chatting, eating, soaking in the hot tub and drinking copious amounts of wine.
Saturday we cleaned the house and repeated the routine with different friends and a different menu. BBQ’d oysters, crackers and hummus, pasta with shrimp, mushrooms and home-grown herbs, and salad. We had a great time chatting, eating, soaking in the hot tub and drinking copious amounts of wine. (Hmm, I’m seeing a theme).
Sunday we cleaned the house and headed off to Winters to check out their wineries – currently they have two. While we were driving there a friend called to confirm that we were coming to her house for dinner. Oops, I knew I’d forgotten to tell Sarita something; she had invited the boys to our house for dinner. No worries, she texted the boys to cancel since they had not confirmed anyway. Problem solved (insert foreshadowing here).
We went to Turkovich Family Wines first. We had been there before shortly after they opened this Spring. They have delicious wine as well as cheese. It is reminiscent of the days in Napa where tasting was free, as opposed to $15 per person (that can really add up as you go through the wineries). The selection this time (it changes) was 2 whites, two reds and two sparkling (from Argentina). We really weren’t overly impressed with the sparkling, but the others were delish. The 2008 Chardonnay was very memorable and, considering they only made 6 barrels and are selling it at only $15.50, is likely to sell out soon. We very much enjoyed the 2009 Grenache, but I have to say the favorite of the day was the Non-Vintage Tempranillo. The winemaker took what was left from the 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 and mixed it together for a total of 8 barrels. It was amazing and I have to admit, we did splurge and buy a bottle to bring to our hostess for dinner. At $16.50, it was a good value. We are probably going to have to head back over next weekend as the Cabernet is supposed to be ready to taste then.
I had recalled seeing another wine tasting place a few months ago when we went to Winters to see Shakespeare in the park, so we set out to find it. It wasn’t that hard – Winters is small and it was around the corner from Turkovich. Berryessa Gap has been around for several years (the lady at the wine tasting place told me, but I promptly forgot. I want to say 1994, so I will). They also have complimentary tastings, all of which were reds (okay, there was one Rose). After we tasted the 2007 Malbec, I noticed that we were getting a pour from another bottle of 2007 Malbec. I asked what the difference was. Turned out the second bottle was supposed to be a 2006 Zinfandel, but the server (I’m not sure what you call them, not baristas, right? That’s for coffee) had inadvertently opened the wrong bottle. What a difference decanting makes!! The Malbec that she had opened early on in the day was supremely better than the one she opened just before we came in. The latter tasted very “young” and was not anywhere near on the same level as the one that had been opened for several hours. Our favorites here (we had 8 pours) were the 2006 Petite Sirah, 2006 Rocky Ridge Collection Tradition (my favorite) and the 2007 Rocky Ridge Collection Tempranillo. We did not make any purchases at this winery (remember, I’m unemployed) but may perhaps in the future.
Remember that foreshadowing music I mentioned earlier in this post. Turns out the text to the boys did not make it to its destination. So both boys and one girlfriend showed up on our doorstep at about 5PM. Oops. We’re such bad moms, we told them to make their own dinner and make sure they cleaned up after themselves. We did all visit together for an hour and a half and Sarita told them we’d do this again soon (I think she meant we’d do it the way it’s typically done. You are invited to your parents’ house, the parents make dinner for you).
Finally, we wrapped up the weekend with a delicious dinner at one of our friend’s homes (Yay!! No clean up for us to do). We brought out wine from the afternoon’s adventure and enjoyed vegetarian fare made up of tofu enchiladas with green sauce, home-made beans, Spanish rice and beets. I kind of thought the beets were an odd veggie when paired with the other items, but they were tasty (and matched the red wine we brought). No hot tub, but no copious amounts of wine consumed – there are health advantages to dining away from home.
Well, I’ve procrastinated enough; I suppose I should get some job applications in the mail. I'll put the BBQ sauce recipe in the comments.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cleanliness is NOT next to Godliness

Day 118 with no job
Several years ago I was listening to a comedian who commented on the familiar phrase, “Cleanliness is next to godliness. He said, “No. Cleanliness is next to Cleavage; I looked it up in the Dictionary. Goggles is next to Godliness.” I thought he made a good point.
As a lesbian I have never really subscribed to “roles” but I have to concede that, as far as household duties go, I actually do all of the lawn mowing, trash dumping, toilet fixing and bug smashing. Sar on the other hand does the bulk of the cooking, shopping, dusting and social niceties. Then I lost my job . . . and my role changed. I was already doing the laundry and other odds and ends about the house (Sunday house cleaning tasks and dishes when Sar made dinner), but suddenly I had all of this extra time on my hands.
So, now I’m in housewife mode. Sarita gets up in the morning and heads off to work. I figure out what we’re having for dinner and go off to the market to get supplies. Instead of the Sunday morning cleaning I was doing while Sarita goes to Church, I’m cleaning something every day. This is really not my idea of fun and I’m looking forward to finding work outside of the house soon.
So, on that note, my first month of unemployment found me mostly looking at County jobs. A few of my friends had suggested I look into State jobs. I found myself wondering why I hadn’t thought of that before. After all, the State’s retirement plan is CalPERS as were my County jobs. It was time to expand my search.
Readers, have any of you attempted to apply for a State job in California? I quickly discovered that it is not for the timid or faint of heart. If you are not already a State employee, you need to become “List Eligible.” In order to do this, I had to register at their website, fill out an online application and upload my resume. Then, I had to find the job I was interested in and take an exam. Many of the positions I’ve been interested had online exams. However, there are some positions, that don’t and I have still failed to discover the secret to actually being able to apply for those jobs.
Going back to the online examination process. . . After completing the online exam and getting my score, I was taken to a window that explained that the Departments were not required to pull applicants from the online database where my resume, application and examination score resided. Therefore, if I was interested in a position I needed to print out the application, resume and exam score and mail it. Okay, so let me make sure I have this straight: In order to get a job with the State, I need to use their online process. They on the other hand do not have to access the information I’ve placed on their server, but rather expect me to print out and mail what they already have. Got it. There was one San Francisco based Department that DID access the database to find me. I received a letter in the mail indicating that I was eligible to apply for this job based on the information they pulled from my online application package. There was a list of supplemental questions that they wanted me to answer and mail back to them along with my printed out application, resume and score from their database. It boggles the mind.  
I learned an important lesson early on in this process. If you use the letter sized envelopes, postage is almost triple what it is if you fold up all those pieces of paper and shove them in a regular envelope. I mailed 25 or so applications off to various Departments at the State that had vacancies for which I was qualified. I placed one 44 cent stamp on each envelope. A few days later the 25 envelopes started trickling into my mailbox with a request for more postage. Some came back with “refused” stamped on them because they had actually gotten to the destination with postage due. I’m thinking, nothing says, “I desperately need a job” more than job applications arriving with insufficient postage.
Well, I should stop writing. The kitchen needs to be cleaned.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hope springs eternal

Day 116
I didn’t consciously think about it until today, but my job hunt efforts were a bit derailed by phone calls from a couple of my friends early in the week. It seems that one of the jobs I applied for was checking references – or rather one of the people who interviewed me was checking references for jobs themselves are incapable of making phone calls. Why, you may ask? The answer is obvious; it’s the same reason your cat or dog can’t get their own water or food. No opposable thumbs. But I, as usual, digress.
When one hears that one’s references are being checked, one is filled with hope that the job hunt is nearing its end. One also gets concerned about the “to-do while unemployed” list and all the incomplete items on said list. So, it is now Friday and my week has been full, but I neglected to send out more job applications. Well, that is not entirely true; I did drive down to Davis and submit an application (amongst several hundred college students I’m sure) for the Trader Joe’s that is opening soon.
So, what did I do since I wasn’t combing the internet for new job opportunities? Lunch with one of my cousins who I met through genealogy research; learned how to make gnocchi the hard way (See Trader Joe’s and Gnocchi); spent a few hours in Folsom with former co-workers (one of whom is in the same boat I am); and converted one of my sprinklers to a drip system. Oh, and I attempted to take on my mortgage company again (See Loan Modification Schmoan Schmodification).
Today it was suggested (since I really don’t want to pay another $50 faxing all the paperwork that I already sent to them) that I go to one of their branch offices and have them fax the paperwork for me. I am still moderately concerned that it bothers them not that there are 49 pages of confidential and personal information lost in their office (I have the proof of successful transmission and they confirmed I used the correct fax number). It is also annoying that when I called I got transferred three times and had to provide loan number, physical address, mailing address (the same), phone number, name, and last four of my social security number EACH TIME. Anyway, I appreciated her making a practical suggestion and said I would do that. I hung up the phone, gathered up the paperwork and looked up the closest branch. It’s in Ohio!! I think the airfare or gas would be more than the $50 I’m kvetching about.
One last thing and this is a complete nonsequitor, has anyone else noticed the increase of people sharing baby pictures before the baby is born? It has become completely commonplace to have people carry the ultrasound results in their wallet and sharing them with friends. And what is funnier to me, is when said friends remark, “She’s got your nose.”
Here’s hoping I’ll get a call soon regarding that job. And in the meantime, I guess I should get back to the nose-to-the-grind job hunting again.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Supplemental questions: Why bother with the interview?

Day 115 with no job
Someone pointed out the other day that my blog wasn’t really clear in regard to what my  profession was when I became a budget-cut casualty or what kind of work I am looking for. So, I’ll briefly summarize here. Other than being a trainer for a consulting firm for just under a year, my resume is jam packed with 14 years of experience in the Social Services field. Child Protective Services Social Worker, Social Worker Supervisor and Child Protective Services Manager – actually we call it Child Welfare Services now. So, my job hunt has been primarily in Government, Management, and Social Services, mainly because that’s the area in which I have experience. I’ve had other types of jobs, but who wants to go back more than 14 years in a resume? Not me.
In April it occurred to me that, with my training job winding down, it was time to start the job hunt again. I took the advice of some work colleagues and signed up for a couple of those websites where you upload your resume and they match you with jobs that fit your skill set. All I got out of that experience was an offer to rewrite my resume for $300 and a lot of other emails trying to sell me tools to find a job. Call me skeptical, but I think they just wanted my money.
I dumped the websites and continued my job hunt by looking for more county job opportunities. Not satisfied with being rejected by two counties (three if you count the one that laid me off in the first place) I decided to branch into three more and try again at one of the counties that rejected me earlier in the year. Yeah, I know, I’m a glutton for punishment, or maybe I just don’t know how to take “no” for an answer. I interviewed for Social Worker positions in two counties, Staff Development Officer in another, and Deputy Director in still another. I actually made it to the final interview for the Deputy Director position, but no dice.
During this whole process I made an observation: Answering supplemental questions sucks! And, they have become as many and as detailed as the interview questions themselves. In fact, during a couple of the interviews I was asked several of the questions that I had already answered when I submitted my application and answers to the supplemental questions. What I am wondering is why they even  bother having the interview? Were they testing me to see if the answers matched? I actually interviewed for one job where the panel admitted to never having seen my supplemental question answers!! (This was one of the ones where they were asking questions I'd already answered).
Don’t get me wrong; having been a manager, I believe that supplemental questions have their place in the hiring process. In hiring Social Workers, we would have a couple of basic questions to make sure they could actually write in a somewhat intelligent manner. I think that like cover letters, they are merely tools used by employers to wean out applicants and thus make the interview pool manageable. In this economy, where there are 100 people applying for one position, it only makes sense to trim the fat. Just the existence of supplemental questions, weeds out some individuals (I’ve passed over applying for a position or two because I just couldn’t pull anything together). But, PLEASE, if you are going to have supplemental questions as part of the application process, read the answers and don’t ask the same questions in the face to face interview.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Job hunting blues – Part two

Cover Letters
I have been fortunate in that I have not had to actively job hunt since about 1987. When I say this, I mean I have not been “between jobs” since that time. Whenever I was looking for a job it was because I was looking to upgrade my current position. Like when I was working at Arby’s as a meat-slicing, bun wrapper and I had a chance to become a Certified Nurse’s Assistant – that was, to me at least, an upgrade. When I think about it, I’ve actually been working since 1977, but had what they call “gaps in employment.”
In an earlier blog, I had mentioned I had an interview for an Adult Protective Services manager position. That interview was actually an interview to see if I qualified for an interview. (Are you following me?)  When applying for County jobs in 30 or so counties one has to go the Merit System website which sets up interviews with their panel to determine who gets an interview with the County. I had really thought I had blown the “qualifying” interview since I answered one of the questions with such blatant idiocy, but they called me back for a second interview.
Getting the day off from my training job was not easy. I went through the third degree as to why and told them I had an appointment that could not be rescheduled. The interview was fantastic!! I was feeling that I had this one sealed. Of course, optimism has never really worked for me, but I had everyone encouraging me to trade in my cynicism for a bit and try it on for size.
The optimism thing started taking its hold on me. I received a call for the third and final interview a few weeks later. My boss outright REFUSED to give me the day off. Many of my friends suggested that I call in sick and go to the interview anyway. I was too afraid that I would get in caught and fired; after all, I had already asked for the day off. It would seem awfully suspicious that suddenly I’m sick on the same date. Also, my work ethic just doesn’t let me call in sick when I’m not at least feeling a little bit crappy. Worse still, there was always the chance that I would not get the job and then be without any job (yeah, my optimism was slipping and my tendency to over-analyze increasing). I called the interviewer and told them I couldn’t get the day off. She told me they couldn’t reschedule because it was too hard to get all the people together. I thanked the woman, hung up the phone, screamed obscenities to the universe about my boss, and then cried.
Two days later my cell phone rang. It was the interview lady. Her staff, the ones that made up the panel for interview number three, didn’t feel comfortable weighing in on the decision of which of the finalists to hire if they did not have a chance to see ALL of us. Wow! That was SO cool. She gave me some date options, and it turned out that I had a class that could potentially get out by noon which would give me ample time to make the two hour drive from Calaveras. I was SO excited. This was the third interview! She was willing to work, somewhat, around my needs to give me the interview! This was going to be the job! I wouldn’t have to wait until the current temporary job ended and be job hunting at the tail end of a fiscal year. Yes! This optimism thing was pretty cool! (Okay, die-hard optimists, stop with the smugness already.)
**Sigh** The third interview went splendidly well. But I did not get the job. Damn! Back to the drawing board. I took a deep breath and put my cynicism back on. The optimism was kind of itchy anyway. It was pretty evident that I was not going to be granted anymore opportunities to interview while I had the training job, so I resolved myself to wait until the training gig ended before I submitted anymore applications.
So, let’s talk about cover letters. As a friend  and former employee of mine pointed out, cover letters just feel “ridiculous and a bit cheesy.”  I tend to agree with this, mainly because I totally suck at writing cover letters and I always wind up feeling a little insincere. We have the cocky letter:
Dear Boss-to-be,
Attached to this letter, please find my resume and application for the blah blah position in your company. (Don’t worry, I insert the title of the position in place of blah blah). As you can see by my resume, I am pretty damn awesome, but let me go ahead and regurgitate it all here in case you need to see it in a completely different format. (okay, I don’t exactly say that here, but it sure feels like I’m just repeating what my resume already says.) I am the best thing since the invention of sliced bed and you would be a fool not to hire me.

The groveling letter reads a little differently:
Dear Exalted One,
You have the most AMAZING agency and it would be an honor to be a part of your AMAZINGLY WONDERFUL team. (Regurgitate random facts you learned about the agency from the internet here.) Attached to this letter, please find my resume and application which I hope you can find the time to read. I really hope that you find that I am a good match for your AWESOME company. Thank you so much for your time in reading and considering my qualifications.

I suspect many of you see nothing wrong with these letters. And, I know, they do serve a purpose. They allow potential employers to screen out potential employees without bothering to look at the resume, application or you in person. So much weighs on the cover letter and yet, most of us (I include myself in this group) suck at writing them.
Next . . . Supplemental questions: Why bother with the interview?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Trader Joe’s and Gnocchi

Day 112
            If you think like me, you think of Trader Joe’s and you think yummy, off-the-beaten-path kinds of food. If you do not think like me, chances are you are not reading this blog so the point is moot.
There is a newly built Trader Joe’s in a neighboring college town and they have a huge sign out front that indicates that they are accepting applications. Sarita and our 12-year-old daughter both suggested I apply. Later, another friend made the same suggestion. I figured such a popular idea should not go unattended so off I went to Trader Joe’s to apply. Well, not really, I received this information Sunday, and figured it was a Monday through Friday kind of thing.
I woke up bright and early this morning - Well, nothing “bright” about my mood, two of our cats misbehaved all night, so I didn’t get much sleep – ready to face another day of action-packed, fun-filled job hunting. I was further encouraged by an article I read this morning declaring the recession long since over. Fantastic! I was sure, now that businesses and agencies were aware that there is nothing to worry about in our economy, I would land a job today.
Dressed in khaki cargo pants and a bright blue shirt with suns, moons and stars on it, I drove to Trader Joe’s. There were a handful of people sitting on folding chairs filling out applications. WEARING BUSINESS SUITS. This position is for a part-time crew member position, not manager! I was taken aback at first, so I took and application and said I’d bring it back later (fully intending to change clothes before I returned). Ultimately I decided, the hell with it, and returned the completed application without changing. They are holding interviews next week.
So, what does all of this have to do with gnocchi’s? This morning as I was perusing my email, I noticed a new recipe for Gnocchi with shrimp, asparagus and pesto in my mailbox. The Trader Joe’s experience fresh in my memory, it just seemed like the right thing to make for dinner. This may seem like a huge leap for some of you, but it really is how my brain works. Scary, huh?
The recipe called for a 16-ounce, vacuum-packed package of gnocchi. I did not see any such animal while I was out doing my grocery shopping this morning. I came home, unloaded the car, and looked for a gnocchi recipe. I realized that I only had a vague recollection of what exactly a gnocchi was, but that did not deter me. The recipe I found at had a level of “Intermediate,” a cook time of 47 minutes, and prep time of 1 hour. I personally prefer the level of “ridiculously simple” but was willing to give it a shot and the hour and 47 minutes didn’t deter me; it gave me an excuse to put off mowing the lawn for another day. Damn project took me way longer!
The first part was easy, gather up the ingredients:
Kosher salt
1 pound russet potatoes
3 to 4 large egg yolks (if you are prepping ahead of time, only crack 3 of the eggs, you might not need the 4th)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon gray salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting board and dough
Well, here is where I first started running into problems: 1) I had no idea what “gray salt” was, so I was standing in the grocery store using my cell phone to Google the darn phrase. Turns out it is basically fancy sea salt. I wound up buying red gold sea salt because neither of the two stores I went to had “gray.”  2) When I got home from running around looking for gray salt, I discovered I was mistaken in my belief that we had not one, but two open boxes of kosher salt in the cupboard. We had not two, but none. I glanced at the recipe again to make sure there was nothing else I was forgetting and set out to buy the kosher salt.
After gathering together all of the aforementioned ingredients, I set forth on putting them together. (Note: the entire, unedited recipe can be found at the link at the end of this post.)
I preheated the oven to 425 degrees and then spread a layer of kosher salt on a baking sheet and put the potatoes on top. There’s a Cook’s Note in the original recipe that I have not included here. Basically it helps them cook better from how I read it. Anyway, you cook them until they are a bit overcooked (45 minutes or so). Those suckers are going to be screaming hot when you take them out of the oven, so let them cool down a bit. And no, this is not one of those “speaking from experience” moments. There was no emergency room trip or first aid kits needed here. Once they are cool enough to handle, cut them in half, and scoop out the flesh.
Here is where I wish I had read the entire recipe before starting. The next step instructs the cook to “Pass the potatoes through a potato ricer or grate them on the large holes of a box grater.” Had I known this ahead of time, I would have used much bigger potatoes. It was crazily difficult to grate the potato nubs that I pulled out of the skins. I pretty much wound up mashing them with a potato masher since, by this time, I had read the whole recipe and discovered you wind up smooshing it all up anyway so it’s pretty much the same result texture-wise. (Turns out mashing was a really bad idea and may have contributed to some of the issues I had later in the recipe).
 You should have about 2 cups of potatoes. The recipe instructs, “Make a mound out of the potatoes on a clean breadboard, or your counter with a well in the middle, add 3 of the egg yolks, the cheese, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Mix in the potatoes and mix well with hands.” May I note, this makes a gooey, sticky mess all over your hands? One might think a reasonable alternative would to be putting it in a bowl and maybe using an egg beater or the potato masher that I used in the previous step, but it is so sticky and thick one might discover that it doesn’t really help matters.
So, then you sprinkle 1/2 of the flour over the potatoes and press it into the sticky mass with your knuckles. (Damn! I had just gotten all the crud from the previous step off of my hands). The recipe says, “Fold the mass over on itself and press down again. Sprinkle on more flour, little by little, folding and pressing the dough until it just holds together, try not to knead it. Work any dough clinging to your fingers (my observation is that is quite a bit) back into the dough. If the mixture is too dry, add another egg yolk or a little water. The dough should give under slight pressure. It will feel firm but yielding.” At this point, I’m saying to myself, “What the hell was I thinking? These had better be good.”
Once you can get it rolled into a rope ½ inch in diameter, you’re done with this step. In case this is not obvious to you (it wasn’t to me) use a lightly floured surface to roll the dough. If the dough doesn’t hold together, keep adding flour little by little and pressing the dough until it does.
Okay, so now I’m supposed to (while keeping the work surface and the dough lightly floured) cut the dough into 4 pieces. Other than the knife kind of sticking to it, this went okay. Then you roll each piece on your lightly floured work surface into a rope about 1/2-inch in diameter. Cut into 1/2-inch-long pieces. (I’m thinking, “Really, a half inch in diameter? I was only able to get my rope down to a little under an inch.) Lightly flour the gnocchi as you cut them. The recipe goes on to explain that you can cook these as they are, or form them into the classic gnocchi shape. Yeah, right! If you want to do the fancy stuff, check out the original recipe. Me, I’m skipping this part.
I transferred the lightly floured, cut gnocchi chunks onto a piece of waxed paper. In retrospect, it would have made more sense to put the waxed paper on a cookie sheet like the recipe says, so that they could be easily moved off of the counter if needed. Oh well, another lesson learned. The cook is then instructed to set the gnocchi filled cookie sheet in front of a fan on low for 1/2 hour (turning gnocchi after 15 minutes). I guess this is where you find out if you put too much flour on.
That’s pretty much it. I decided to cook them all (recipe says it serves 4 and I wanted to see how they held out as leftovers for Sarita’s lunch tomorrow.) To cook them you just drop the gnocchi into a big pot of salted boiling water. When the little buggers float to the top cook them for about 90 seconds longer. Remove the cooked gnocchi with a skimmer, shake off the excess water, and serve as desired.
If you want to freeze them, make space in your freezer, put the gnocchi on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper dusted with flour and freeze until hard. Put them into freezer bags or whatever you use to store your frozen food. They keep for up to a month. When you are ready to cook them, just drop the frozen lumps into boiling salted water and cook for about 2 minutes after they rise to the surface.
I cooked up some asparagus and shrimp and a homemade pesto (used pumpkin seeds instead of pine nuts because pine nuts were too expensive) and served it all up with a salad for dinner. I had purchased a cooked chicken while I was at CostCo, just in case the whole thing when to shit, but it turned out pretty damn tasty.
The gnocchi recipe was provided to Food Network by Michael Chiarello and can be found in its entirety at
I felt the need to add this adendum: A friend of mine sent me a link to a YouTube video that 1) tells how to pronounce gnocchi, 2) recommends AGAINST using a potato masher, and 3) makes it look insanely easy!!

The recession has been declared “over”

Day 112 with no job
This was not the subject I was going to write about today, but I just read that the recession is over. In fact, it was over in June of 2009. We should all celebrate because the 18-month recession that officially “started” in December 2007, and was the longest and deepest downturn for the U.S. economy since the Great Depression according to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is finally over. So, how is it that the very month that the “Great Recession” ended marks the month that my spiral into unemployment began and a year later marks the date of my complete state of unemployment? Thinking the article I was reading would enlighten me, I read further.
It turns out that the NBER didn’t actually say that the Country’s current economic conditions were “favorable” or that we’ve returned to what we had before. What they are saying is that June 2009 is when we “hit bottom.” While this pretty much helps me understand why I got laid off, when I got laid off, even though the recession was over, I’m still having a hard time wrapping myself around their logic. So, following that line of logic, if I am incredibly ill, am I no longer considered sick as soon as I hit the day I feel the worst? I’m not a doctor, so maybe that is actually true. I just think that it is deceptive to declare the recession over just because it hasn’t gotten any worse than it was in June 2009.
The article did talk about concern about double-dipping which is way beyond my economic understanding. The term just makes me hungry. Anyway, check out the  link below if you are interested in reading the article.
            Meanwhile, I’m going to hit the pavement and find a job today. As soon as I tell prospective employers that they can afford to hire me because the recession has been over for the last 14 and a half months, I’m sure they’ll snatch me up.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Job hunting blues

September 19th, 2010

It is day 111 and I have no job. Actually, I don’t think about it much on the weekend. If I were working I’d have today off, so I don’t feel badly about not actively scouring the internet for new opportunities. We stopped taking the paper when I lost the job that was attached to my professional career at the end of June 2009. With the 40% pay cut that my temporary job as a trainer with the Sacramento based consulting firm provided, we made a lot of cuts (land line, newspaper, yard guy, wine clubs, and a number of other luxuries). So, back to the paper, I did have a reason for bringing it up. This morning, the local newspaper was on my porch. I’m not sure why. I like to think it’s because the job I’ve been searching for is in the classifieds that I would not have otherwise seen. As I said, I’m taking today off from job hunting, so I’ll look at it tomorrow. I’m so excited!!

My job hunting actually started in December 2009. The training gig kind of fell in my lap because the vice president of the company is the ex-husband of an ex-coworker of mine and he knew me and needed trainers (see, it is WHO you know). I had planned to start looking for a new job a couple of months before the temporary job ended, but I was finding that I really hated working for the man. Imagine working for that short, chubby, bald guy from The Princess Bride who is always saying, “Inconceivable.” Now imagine this guy thinks he is the funniest, sexiest, smartest person in the world and is annoyingly condescending. Yeah, so I really wanted out.

A large number of us were given “vacations” for most of December, which kind of sucked because most of us did not have enough vacation accrued to get paid for all that lovely time off. It worked out pretty well for me because I had an interview set up and I didn’t have to worry about asking for the day off. The interview was in a county roughly 78 miles from my home as a Program Manager for Adult Protective Services. My professional career has been in Child Protective Services, but I figured it was worth a shot. The interview went horribly, in my opinion. I just didn’t feel that “I’m doing great” vibe, and couldn’t pull the work “Assisted Living” out of my cluttered brain, so blurted “Old Folks Home.” Ugh, I can’t believe I did that! A friend of mine lives in the county I applied in, so I stopped at her house for a glass of wine on my way home. Made me feel a little better.

January 7th, 2010, had an interview in a county 62 miles from my home as a Child Support manager. I know oh, so very little about the Child Support program, so I spent quite a bit of time Googling things to at least have a basic working knowledge of the process and regulations. I felt like the interview went pretty well. As I was driving back to Calaveras County (where I was stationed for my training gig) it occurred to me that if I got the job I might be WAY over my head. A lot more direct budget exposure than I’ve had and pretty much NO support staff. I drove back to the hotel with heart pounding, and stomach churning (pretty full of myself to be so sure I was going to get it – well, I didn’t).

Oh, did I mention I’m directionally challenged. I got insanely lost trying to get to the interview from Angel’s Camp. I had plugged the address into my GPS, but it died quite some time before I got there and I apparently had left the car charger in the hotel. I had a GPS navigation program on my cell phone (don’t anymore, one of the budget cuts I made when the training job ended), but I was out of my normal area and so, while I could make phone calls, the navigation feature did not work. I had a map on my iTouch, but I didn’t really know where I was so I couldn’t find myself on the map very easily (also it needs Wi-Fi to really function correctly). I did finally figure out where I was (I was going in the wrong direction and was about a half hour along that wrong direction) and got turned back around.

I had given myself ample time for getting lost, so I was not late. Lesson learned: paper maps are not obsolete. Sometime the technology of the 21st century is just not worth it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Things to do (and not do) with produce – Part three of three

September 18th, 2010

The final chapter of “Things to do (and not do) with produce has to do with my quest to find the perfect salsa recipe. The sad thing is that, roughly 15 years ago, I DID have the perfect salsa recipe. My girlfriend at the time and I had this favorite Mexican restaurant in San Diego. They had the most AMAZING salsa!! Through trial and error (they were frustratingly tightlipped about the ingredients), I was able to replicate their salsa pretty damn well. Success!! Or as a friend of mine says, “Ka-ching!”
Fast forward 17 years. I have moved 6 times since the discovery of this great, tongue-tantalizing, spicy perfection and somewhere between 1995 and now the scrap of paper I wrote the ingredients and directions on vanished. I did not make it often enough to have even committed a bit of it to memory. And let’s face it; I’m the kind of person who is hard pressed to remember what I ate 4 hours ago.
So, have I mentioned I’m still unemployed? I have a lot of spare time on my hands, so I decided that perhaps I could somehow find, via Google, a recipe that would jog my memory. Didn’t happen. I’m at a total loss. Did I use fresh chili peppers, dried peppers, or roast them myself. What kind of chilies did I use? Ancho? Fresno? Pasilla? Serrano? Jalapeno? Arbol? Chipotle? Guajillo? New Mexico? I have no recollection. I do know it was not a tomatillo based recipe, so that narrowed the endless possibilities somewhat. I’m also fairly certain it was not a “chunky” salsa, but rather the pureed texture that one finds on the table with their chips at Mexican restaurants. That still leaves it pretty wide open, doesn’t it? Damn.
We have a cookbook entitled “Salsas.” I decided it might be fun to, ala Julie Powell, cook one a day. Let me just say, I, in no way took on the arduous task she had undertaken. First, my book, despite its title, is mostly recipes for food one would eat salsa on. If I made one salsa a day, I would be done in a month. Second, unlike Julie Powell, I have no desire to rise to the challenge of cooking everything in the book. Frankly, there are some recipes that just don’t appeal to me at all (I really don’t want pickled peppers in my salsa).
August 25, 2010. Day 86 of my unemployment. The recipe? Salsa Cruda. This is your basic chopped up tomatoes and jalapenos kind of salsa. Nice with chips. This day was Sarita’s first day back to work (she’s a teacher and gets summer off), which may have added to my boredom. I had gotten used to her being around all day. The salsa came out well and I had a bowl of chips and salsa and a glass of wine waiting for her when she got home. She declared this salsa her favorite.
Salsa Cruda
2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes (garden fresh is best. Use canned if you can't get ones you know were picked ripe. Generally grocery store bought tomatoes are flavorless).

1/2 cup finely chopped scallions, including the green top

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chili pepper (I used Serrano)

1/4 cup finely chopped sweet green pepper

2 Tbsp (or more, I think I used about a quarter cup) finely chopped cilantro

Salt to taste

Throw it all together and let set for at least 30 minutes

(variation - add half of an avocado, finely chopped, substitute red onion for the green onion and add 1/4 finely chopped parsley)

August 26, Day 87 of my unemployment. I had an interview for an entry level social worker position in a neighboring county. I wasn’t feeling overly optimistic based on my experience in the county 78 miles away, but what the heck. I could get lucky. I puttered around the house a bit in the morning and then it was time to leave. I like to leave myself lots of time for interviews since getting lost is one of my strong suits (I am very directionally challenged). I locked up the house and remembered that I had forgotten something I needed. I can’t remember at this time what I forgot, but apparently it was important. So, I unlocked the house door, leaving the keys in the lock, and retrieved the forgotten item. On my way back out, the containers of peach cordial Sarita and I are making caught my eye. When you make cordial, you are supposed to shake it every day. So, I stopped to give the 3 jars, sun tree container, and Costco popcorn container filled with fruit and vodka a shake. Oops. Damn it, damn it, damn it! I picked up two of the jars and had them too close to each other when I shook. One jar hit the other and . . . well, I’m sure you figured this one out. Peach liqueur all over my pants, the cabinet and the floor mixed with glass shards. So much for the extra time I had allowed myself. I cleaned up the glass and syrupy alcohol mess so the cats wouldn’t get into it and went upstairs to see if I had another pair of pants that fit me (did I mention I’ve gained 7 pounds since losing my job on top of the 23 pounds I gained while working the temp job I got after losing my career?)
I managed to arrive at the interview right on time. It was pretty unremarkable for the most part. The questions were easy (I’ve written questions like that for interviews I’ve conducted.) The part that threw me was that the last question was a role play. I HATE ROLE PLAYING! It was one of the things about graduate school for my MSW that I despised, I despised it in the touchy feely social worker trainings I had to attend and I especially hated it in the interview. (Note: I did not get the job. I did role play for them, but probably not well.)
Fruit Liqueur – by Merrie Wales
3 Cups of vodka
1 cup of simple syrup (1 cup of sugar & 1 cup of water heated until sugar melts)
Pour vodka and cooled simple syrup into a glass gallon jar
Add 2 cups or more of fruit with skin and all (crush a little) the more fruit the richer the flavor (pit bigger fruit first such as apricots & peaches) can make liqueur a little bitter
Put lid on jar and put in dry cool area. (Pantry or closet work well)
Turn or shake daily for 1-2 months
Taste, if flavor is rich enough for your taste, strain and store in container (glass jars work well) and store somewhere cool. If not rich enough for you just leave it alone and taste it every so often. No shaking or turning is needed after the first month.
You can use the fruit for baking or for sauces (cherries make a good cherries jubilee sauce).  I have modified this by adding, vanilla, almond extract, anything in combination with the fruit you use that sounds good to you.
I have cherry, apricot, peach, nectarine, plum, and blackberry started this year.  I didn’t make any strawberry nor blueberry.
*Note: Have tried expensive and cheap vodka- and found that it doesn't matter so buy the cheapest you can find.

When I got back home I changed, mopped up the sticky mess in the kitchen, and got down to Salsa of the day – day two. A couple of my Facebook friends had sent me recipes in response to my posting about making salsas, so I decided to try them out. I did two recipes because one seemed to be good for dipping chips and the other was recommended as a sauce for cooking. Tasty, thanks Carmen and Vickie.
Carmen McNearny’s Salsa
Try this....take some onions, tomatoes and japs and BURN them in a cast iron skillet. I really mean BURN. Tomatoes & japs whole, onions cut into chunks. Put them in a processor til pureed. Season with salt and garlic. When you're ready to eat it mix it with a nice amount of sour cream. So so good over any kind of meat or grilled veggies.
Sarita and I observed that it may be better with more salt than I used and also some lime juice.
Vickie Carr’s Salsa Verde
Sauté one chopped onion till transparent.
Add one (or more to taste) chopped garlic clove and sauté till fragrant.
Peel and loosely chop one pound of tomatillos
Remove the stems from a bunch of cilantro.
Put both in food processor and pulse
Add juice from two limes
Add onions and garlic
Now for the secret ingredient:
Take out ¼ of the liquid and mix with two tablespoons of Adobo Paste (if you can’t find it in the store go to
Then add to salsa. Stir to mix. Enjoy.

The salsa for August 27th, was an Avocado Salsa Cruda. The recipe in the book really wasn’t that memorable. I suggest using the Salsa Cruda recipe above and invoke the “variation” at the end if you like avocados in your salsa.
On August 30th, I took a break from salsa and found a recipe to put our explosion of lemon cucumber to good use – Spicy Lemon Cucumber Pickles. OH MY GOD, they were disgusting!!! Needless to say, not recipe post for this one and I’m back to doing what I do well – Salsa! The next recipe was for a tomatillo salsa. It was pretty good, Sarita loved it, but I think it could be improved upon somehow.
Tomatillo Salsa
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped jalapenos
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 pound tomatillos, chopped
Salt to taste

Mix it all up, let sit for a half hour or so.

I tried a few more recipes, but had to take a break. 1) Ran out of ripe tomatoes in the garden. 2) When you eat hot chilies every day, and that is NOT your normal routine, your body tends to complain about it. I never did find the perfect recipe to replace my long lost one, but I have not given up hope. I noticed some tomatoes ripening, and we’ve given our digestive system a break, so I should be posting more recipes soon. Stay tuned.
Cooked Jalapeno Salsa
Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet.
Add 3/4 cup chopped japs, 2 garlic cloves, half a small chopped onion.
Saute until the onion is soft, but not brown.
Add 3 cups peeled and seeded, chopped tomatoes and cook about 5 minutes.
Add 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1 tablespoon green olives (weird, I know), and salt.
Cook for another 3-5 minutes.
Let it stand at least 30 mintes.
Stir well before serving.
Red Chile Chipotle Salsa
Combine 4 chipotle chiles in one cup boiling water for at least 30 minutes. Remove the stems and chop.
In a non-aluminum saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil and sauté ¾ a cup of diced onion, ¾ cup diced green bell pepper, and 3 diced jalapenos until the onion is slightly tender (1-2 minutes). Add the chiles, soaking water, 2 cups peeled, diced ripe tomatoes (or 1 pound can peeled tomatoes if you can’t find fresh tomatoes), and ½ teaspoon dried oregano. Blend together and remove from heat after a couple of minutes. Process briefly in a blender or food processor until the ingredients are well mixed. You can do this chunky (less processing) or more like a sauce (pureed).

I made this one and think it needs garlic and cilantro.

Tomatillo and Chile Chipotle Salsa

Combine 4 chipotle chiles in 1 cup boiling water in a non-aluminum bowl and soak for an hour. Drain. Remove the stems. Chop finely.
In a non-aluminum saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter and sauté 2 minced garlic cloves and the chiles until they are soft, 1-3 minutes. Combine the chile and garlic mixture, ½ cup diced onion and ¾ pounds tomatillos in a food processor or blender until just mixed, but still chunky. Stir well before serving.

This one wasn’t a favorite, but has potential.

Things to do (and not do) with produce – Part two of three

September 18th, 2010
So, today’s posting is all about what NOT to do with produce. Let’s begin with the newspaper recognition I received:

When life gives you lemons, visit the emergency room By JIM SMITH Created: 07/14/2010 02:30:34 AM PDT (Daily Democrat)
For want of a fruit picker a Woodland resident now has a lot of stitches. Since fruit is now turning ripe, "K's" lesson is instructive. The Woodlander who lives in an older part of town needed a lemon for a recipe. Rather than using the fruit picker in her garage, our intrepid tree-climber decided to shimmy up her backyard lemon tree.
Lemon trees have a slick bark as K found out when she lost her footing and slid down to the ground getting cut in the process by the pruned remains of tree branches. Roughly paraphrased, K looked down and saw parts of herself that shouldn't be seen on the outside of the human body. Fortunately, the Woodland Hospital emergency room was able to repair the extensive damage. Her experience should serve a lesson to those with fruit trees: Wait for fruit to fall to the ground if you don't have a fruit picker handy.

            I will confess that I am using this article without permission from the writer, but hey, he wrote this little editorial without MY permission (insert sardonic laughter here). But seriously, if I ever wind up in a situation where I’m getting paid for this (or perhaps next time I see Jim) I’ll get the official permission. (Note: On September 20, I did get permission. Thanks, Jim)
So, Jim pretty much summed it up in a nutshell and if you have a weak stomach, perhaps this is where you stop reading for a few paragraphs. I’ll insert a stop reading and a it is safe to read now marker to let you of weak stomach and heart know when to stop and when you  may resume reading this post.
On or about July 7th, 2010 (I used to write Court reports, can you tell?) I was cooking dinner for our family (something I’ve done somewhat consistently since I’ve been unemployed because . . . well, I’m home and Sarita works all day.) The menu: trout, cous cous, and a salad. Pretty quick and easy, eh? So, the recipe called for a lemon and I recalled that our lemon tree still had a few lemons on it. Our lemon tree grows kind of at a slant and I generally kind of walk up the slant and shake branches when I’m only looking to retrieve one or two lemons. So, up the tree I went (all of three feet off the ground), branch shaken, lemon fallen and I’m ready to descend.
Apparently Birkenstocks ® are not really a good shoe to wear when shimmying up a tree. So, coming back down the tree, which as Jim pointed out is slick, I slid. . .
You know how citrus trees grow “suckers” and it is recommended that you cut them off. Well, that’s what I do. From here, I can only surmise that the tree figured since I cut its limbs off it was time for revenge. . . I lost my footing and stop reading slammed my chest against the tree and slid down the rest of the way. One of the little, VERY sharp branch stubs stripped my shirt right off of me and another filleted my left arm. Here is where it gets REALLY gross. I landed flat on my feet and felt a twinge of pain like one feels with a scrape. Then it dawned on me that my shirt was in the tree. Finally, I noticed a large amount of yellow globules all over my chest and shoulder. I glanced over my shoulder and saw even more of the disgusting substance on my back.
It is safe to read now so, I’m standing on the ground, naked from the waist up and pretty sure this is not going to be resolved with the first aid supplies we have. I ponder a moment – I’m in the back yard; 12 year old daughter who loves crime shows but is WAY squeamish about seeing people get hurt (she hates hospital shows) is within 20 feet of where I am. Wife is in kitchen which is a good 100 feet from where I am.
“Honey? Sarita? Can you come here a second?”
Sarita comes out and does this freeze and freak thing all at once. Really. My science teacher wife who has children dissect the organs of pigs, is at a complete loss as to how to handle my current situation.
My response, “Honey, I need you to calm down and take me to the hospital. NOW.”
We live less than a mile from the hospital, and oddly enough, I wasn’t really bleeding much, so it just made sense to not call an ambulance.
The hospital in Woodland, California is AMAZING. Really. They took one look at me and decided that my name and date of birth was enough to admit me. Even cooler, they didn’t even flinch when Sarita introduced herself as my wife. She was by my side through almost everything that night. The time that spanned from me being injured and being back at home was 5 and a half hours (one and a half hours of that in surgery.) Incredible! I wound up with over 25 internal stitches (I’d grazed the muscle) and over 50 external staples.
I REALLY did not want to get stuck spending the night IN the hospital. And when I came to, I was told that the criteria for me going home was: 1) I had to be lucid (I have a wicked sense of humor. Jumped that hurdle within minutes.) 2) I had to pee. No sweat, where is the bathroom? I can do this. I’ve been doing it since birth. 3) I had to NOT be nauseous . . . well, I wasn’t . . . until I started moving about. So, I lied. They wheeled me to my car, Sarita drove me home and within minutes I was emptying my already empty stomach. Hey, I figure I would have barfed either way and at least this way I got to sleep in my own bed.
The healing process was gnarly, and there were some moments when my surgeon was thinking I’d have to get a skin graft (ginormous area of the injured area “died.”) but thanks to alginate ointment (kelp) and acupuncture (thanks Rasa) I was able to dodge that bullet.
So, roughly 72 days later I’m pretty much all better. Nice. My left upper arm is mostly a combination of extreme numbness and extreme icky tingly feeling, but all is good. When I wear tank tops and people ask about the scar, I just tell them I was surfing in Maui and a shark attacked me.