Cooking Classes…Basque Style!

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Flag_of_the_Basque_Country_svgWow.  Just WOW.  I recently discovered an absolute jewel of a French store with cooking classes in the wonderfully eclectic Seattle neighborhood of Capitol Hill, just east of downtown.

It’s Paris Eastside.  What a treasure this place is!  Everything inside is from France or is authentic to the French lifestyle.  The owner, Muriel, is a delightfully charming French woman who will welcome you like family when you arrive. After years teaching French cooking to English speaking tourists in Paris, she moved to Bellevue, Washington where she lives with her family…and has recreated the cooking school experience she taught in France now in Seattle!

Yesterday’s class was authentic Basque cooking.  The Basque region consists of two autonomous communities – one in northern Spain and the other in southern France just adjacent to it.  If you haven’t heard of this region or its unique peoples, language and culture I highly recommend taking a closer look.  [And never, ever call a Basque person Spanish as an aside!]  Yikes.  Although you will certainly notice both Spanish and French influences in the food and lifestyle.

Not only was the class ambience amazing with wonderful people (we were a small, intimate group of just 7 of us cooking with Muriel), but we also had a gloriously sunny, late summer day outside without a cloud in the sky, along with those long shadows and a slightly crispy feeling in the air letting you know Fall is mere days away.  So the shop doors stayed open as we cooked, letting the sunshine and fresh air pour in.  That plus the busy sounds of the city (cars, people talking and passing) and it was just magical.  Being in an intimate oasis mere steps from the hustle and bustle outside.

WP_000606We made 3 recipes – Piperade basque, a pepper dish which is like a very elegant egg scramble (although light on the proportion of eggs as you can see), served on a sliced baguette and topped with a little prosciutto.  Doesn’t that look wonderful?  Mmmm hmmm.

We also made Axoa (that’s “uh CHO uh”), a meat dish with cubed veal, peppers and ground Espelette pepper.  Sure, you could substitute another type of ground chili pepper, but it won’t have the unique flavor that this one does.  Ground Espelette pepper is fairly mild with a distinctive, warm tomato-y aroma and taste.  Nice to enhance the flavors of the dish, without being overwhelming or too hot and spicy.

Now, veal is a little hard to come by and for many it’s a hot-button, shunned food for lots of reasons.  So, we made a separate batch with cubed chicken as well, and each person in the class got to choose whether they wanted to try theirs with the veal or with the chicken.  I chose both to compare.  I haven’t eaten veal since I was a kid so I had forgotten it has such a nice, rich flavor, but I went for it…after all, “when in Rome,” right?.  And I gotta say, the veal version far outshined the chicken!

We started making the dessert first (Gâteau Basque – Basque cake), given it was the most time-intensive to prepare and needed 45 minutes to fully cook.  Oh yeah, that’s one dense cake alright!  With a wonderful crème filling of eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla…oh yeah we’re not here to skimp on the best ingredients or on calories here, people!  This is a rich dessert, so just a small wedge is all you need with a side of cherry jam.

A shared bottle of wine and relaxed conversation wrapped up our cooking experience.  Definitely going back again for sure!  Afterwards we headed down to Olympic Sculpture Park on the Seattle waterfront.  The sunshine was endless and sparkled on the water…watching the ferry boats going back and forth to Bainbridge Island, and the enormous cruise ships on their way up to Alaska.  Mount Rainier out clear as a bell, and lots of interesting and fascinating outdoor sculptures in the park.  When you truly relax and open your mind and drink in all the pleasures and scenery around you, you feel ALIVE.  At peace.  Balanced. And in the present.  How wonderful to have this park just steps from downtown!

By the time dinner rolled around lighter fare was in order.  Grilled salmon and sliced, grilled white eggplant (a first for me to try!) was just perfect.  And why not cap off the night with a trip to the Royal Room in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood for some live jazz and a nightcap?

Works for me.

Changes, Celebrated Outdoors!

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I sit here, smiling, relishing how wonderful the last few weeks have been.  Summer’s doing a hard-core sprint to the official finish line and boy does she deliver.  We’re sunny and in the 80s during the day and it’s fantastic.  I make sure to squeeze in 20 minutes or so to enjoy the sunshine during the workday with a walk around the campus Commons, and I usually get a walk/light jog on Sundays down to Juanita Beach, just a couple of miles from my house.  That plus my regular gym workouts and I’m definitely keeping my “tanks” full.

BIG changes are on the way…after a tumultuous spring getting abruptly cut from my job, networking like crazy for another one (my current one)…I’ve found The One.  Yes, I’m leaving behind eight years of contracting and have accepted a full-time permanent job offer with a company in downtown Seattle.  Yes…DOWNTOWN!  The city girl in the suburbs for the last 17 years will get her downtown fix once again!

And I feel so happy.  And CALM.  THIS is the right next move for my career.  Contracting has provided so much experience and has really sharpened my work and people skills, but it’s not for me long-term.  Some people have wondered why I’m not screaming and jumping up and down – ?  Well shit, this feels so right it’s just centered me.  I feel happy, relaxed and balanced.  Glowing and content.  I truly adore my current group of co-workers.  Awesome people, hard working…and they make the time for a few good laughs.  Sounds like a great combo doesn’t it? Yep, it sure is. But, they’re not my Tribe.

Now that I’ve given my two weeks notice (which went smoothly, just as expected), I’ve got plenty to do to get things wrapped up and transitioned.  So it’s nice keeping busy in the interim. [I’m not a good slacker – this I’ve learned over the decades of working].

I peeked at my calendar and thought “oohhhhh my goodness.”  My last day with my current job is right smack on the Autumnal Equinox.  I LOVE the changing seasons, and the Equinoxes are glorious times to make changes.  Delicious.  Coincidence?  Hmmm…not sure.  But I do know there are NO accidents.

Meanwhile, lots of great stuff has been happening outdoors!  Check out my Labor Day post recapping a wonderful weekend of hiking and road tripping.  And great music!  I haven’t had a whopping dose of live music like this in years.  Couple outdoor concerts at the Ste. Michelle Winery in WoodinvilleEarth Wind & Fire back in late August, and Crosby Stills & Nash just last night!  If you haven’t experienced an outdoor concert at Ste. Michelle, add it to your Bucket List NOW.  It’s an amazing experience.  Just bring a blanket and some munchies, picnic-style, and find your spot on the lawn near the stage.  Pick up a bottle of wine from the stands nearby and you’re all set.  The evening started with an absolutely clear blue sky overhead, dotted with a few hot air balloons floating around…then to twinkling stars and a little chill in the air that tells you summer’s winding down. [Bring a sweatshirt!] Add in musical legends on stage and you’ve got a recipe for pure Bliss right there.

Damn it feels good to be moving on.  On from a career chapter that’s writing its final words right now.  Soon to be put in the vault forever.  Not ever entirely forgotten, for there is so much to remember and savor…but finished.

I’m ready.

The Conway Muse…and More

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So a woman from Iceland falls in love with a Seattle firefighter…and they open a blues club in an Scandinavian dairy barn built in the early 1900s in a tiny town called Conway, WA.  Which probably won’t even show up on your typical GPS.  How’s that for a totally random start to this post?  You still with me?

Well, it’s all absolutely true.  And fabulous.  Yep, it’s the Conway Muse.  Sure, most GPS’s won’t find it, but thankfully my trusty (yet somewhat outdated as in c. 2011) Windows Phone sure did.  Which is a good thing when you’re driving around in the glorious Skagit Valley at night…a rural part of Washington State.  No street lights.  A nice change from the urban/suburban driving around I typically do.

What a glorious Labor Day weekend!  Rain on Saturday?  Who cares?  It was time to hit the Mount Si trail and get outta Dodge for a while.  It’s a 3100′ gain in 4 miles (6.6 km), so it’s somewhat of a butt kicker but not quite a lung crusher.  A sweet spot for expert and novice hikers alike, so the trail review points out.

Mt. Si_8-30-2014Here’s the view from the top!  The fog swirled and rolled around constantly, and the rain came and went on and off.  While huge, tall trees protected us from the rain most of the time, once we got on the final leg of the trail there were no trees with lots of daylight (and some rain) pouring in.

Mount Rainier would be visible from some of this viewpoint on a clear day, but that was not meant to be on this soggy but fantastic Saturday.

And how delicious it is to wake up on a Sunday knowing there’s still ONE more day left in the Labor Day weekend.  And the weather returned back to her late summer sunshine, with just a hint of chill at night to remind you she’s shifting soon into fall.

Off to La Conner, WA.  Just 60 miles (100 km) outside of Seattle and you’re in another world.  Rural yet vibrant.  A passionate artist community with glorious cafes, galleries, shops and beautiful views of the Swinomish Channel.  And you might spontaneously stop at a farmers market along the way which happens to dish up locally-made ice cream in waffle cones in eye-poppingly huge portions.  Oh yeah!  Love me some salted caramel!

Your visit to La Conner is not complete without a meal and a beverage of your choice at the La Conner Brewery.  While they have an incredible selection of wood-fired pizzas, if you’re full up from the ice cream you ate earlier in the late afternoon like me and yet are craving your greens when it’s dinner time, I highly recommend their Greek salad.  What a nice surprise how fantastic the food was there! Their large size is perfect for sharing with two.

The Conway Muse delivers.  Eclectic, funky, friendly, laid back, chill…with incredible music.  And given I love road trips, getting there is half the fun.  It’s not far from La Conner, but an adventurous drive on flat, Skagit Valley two-lane highways…in the dark.  Once you arrive you’re wrapped in wonderful music and an easy, welcoming vibe.  Your live music that night might have a cover charge, or it might be “pass the hat” style.  I was glad to have read a little more about the history of this place ahead of time, as seeing the Iceland flag on one wall and the collection of Seattle firemens’ hats otherwise might have struck me as just odd, random décor.  But nope, that’s the founders’ roots.  Cool!

If you’re looking for a great spot to stay in La Conner, there are many.  But try the Hotel Planter, on First Street a short walk from the Swinomish channel.  Easy walking to all the shops and cafes nearby.  And lots of charm…that hotel was originally built in 1907!  Super high ceilings, and I love the hexagon tile in the bathrooms. It’s an intimate hotel with just 12 rooms, and each has their own private bathroom and shower.  Their courtyard features lots of local artists’ work and it’s a really cool escape in an already cool escape like La Conner!

On your way back to the Seattle area, stop at the Portage Bay Café in the U District in Seattle.

Yep, it was a fabulous holiday weekend, everyone.

Slow Cooking in August?! Why Not?

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Yeah I know, I know…it’s freaking MID AUGUST…and you’re thinking wow, she’s doing a slow cooker recipe?  Huh??  Well, we’re not in the middle of a scorching heat wave here in Seattle (believe me, we DO get them occasionally, however), and I was craving to try something new.

So I blew the dust off my Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast slow cooker recipe book.  A very cool Christmas gift from my folks a few years ago.  In fact I remember it all too clearly now.  A few years ago my refrigerator crapped out after a very short 8-year lifespan.  And I got a gift card from the nice people at Sears as I paid cash for my new fridge (that was one hard-working debit card that week I tell you!).  So I decided to hop on the newly-awakened slow cooker rage and get one of my own.

I’ve tried several recipes in this cookbook and I’ve always been pleased. And I’m really excited about what’s cookin’ here at chez fivenineteen right now, as the townhouse is smelling heavenly.  Most of my cooking tends to be in the Italian/Mediterranean domain (plus those amazing soup recipes from various parts of South America – search this blog for “soup” and you’ll find a ton), so it’s fun doing a southeast Asian-style recipe for a little variety.

Indonesian Beef Stew – serves 6-8

  • 1/4 C canola oil (60 m.) 
    3 lb (1.5kg) boneless beef chuck, cut into 2″ (5 cm) cubes
    1 chopped yellow onion
    2 C (250g) unsweetened, shredded or flaked dried coconut
    1 T light brown sugar
    1 T ground coriander
    1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    4 C (1 l) coconut milk
    Steamed rice for serving

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the beef and onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is no longer red and the onion has softened, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle with the shredded coconut, brown sugar, coriander, cumin and 1 tsp each of salt and pepper. Continue sauteing until the meat and coconut are browned and the spices are fragrant, about 5-7 minutes longer. Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker.

Add the coconut milk to the frying pan, raise the heat to high and deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape up the browned bits on the pan bottom. Bring the coconut milk to a boil, and pour it in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high heat setting for 4 hours or the low heat setting for 8 hours.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and ladle the stew over steamed rice and serve.

Fivenineteen notes:  I used olive oil instead of canola oil. And as this recipe was new to me and I don’t have a lot of experience buying larger cuts of meat like chuck steaks, I opted for a 1.5 lb boneless size.  I reduced the spices down just slightly and used just one can of coconut milk (which is just under two cups.)  Be sure to shake the can before opening and be careful when emptying it into your pan as it will contain a mixture of milk and cream and will come out a little chunky and splashy sometimes.

This recipe is SUPER EASY to prepare – 15 minutes or so and then let the slow cooker work its magic!

The slow cooker I use is here.  There are lots of cool, newer models where you can sear and brown right in the slow cooker itself before switching to slow cooker mode.  Given I don’t do a lot of slow cooking this one is great and the 3.5 quart size is just right.  The lid and ceramic insert easily fit in the dishwasher for cleanup too!

Buon appetito!

Still Shifting!

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To say it’s been a hell of a summer would be an understatement for sure.  I feel like I’m FINALLY beginning to relax and truly savor our glorious weather a little.  Getting abruptly cut from my job back in mid May, the ensuing job search, some drama with my unemployment benefits claim, the trip to Indy which I thought would result in an FTE job at their Seattle branch and getting me off the 8-year contractor merry go round…to now land in a (contract) job which is great on paper, but not where I truly think I should be right now.

I admit I have these thoughts in my head while in meetings and getting to know my new co-workers.  Thoughts like “I’m not supposed to be here!!  I’m supposed to be at [name of company]!!”  I feel like an impostor sometimes.  A poser.  Just going through the motions.  Feeling a little restless, unsettled and off-balance.  And it’s not my co-workers’ faults at ALL.  They’re GREAT.  A very hard working, energetic and somewhat nutty team.  That works for me!   Heck, I don’t even have the same manager after just three weeks.  That’s how fast this group moves.  Oh and if you’re easily offended, stay away from the offices near mine.  That other group drops F bombs like they’re going out of style.  Not in a hostile way though.  Kind of funny.

So I’m trying hard to be positive, get engaged and learn learn learn.  That’s the typical ramping up process when you do short-term consulting engagements.  Find out where you can contribute and add value right away.  Geez, I could write a fucking book about all of this.  Guess those F bomb-dropping neighbors are rubbing off on me.  Actually no…I’ve always had a potty mouth streak.

What’s kept me grounded through my stress this summer?  The Lean Eating for Women program I officially wrapped up in July.  Good nutrition habits.  Good exercise habits. Things we learned gradually over the last 12 months.  I learned that trying to do everything new or different all at once sets us up for failure and getting overwhelmed.  I missed my workout yesterday?  Well fuck it, that means I won’t work out the rest of the week.  Ever have that “all or nothing” mindset?  Yep, me too.  Rather, in Lean Eating we start very small practicing just one habit for a couple of weeks and then add on another.  That’s why the program is a full year in length.  There’s time built in to incorporate all of what we need, when we need it.

I’ve learned about taking action rather than “wondering and worrying”.  Meaning, what can I do RIGHT NOW to set myself up for success, whether that means planning my exercise and food prep for the upcoming week, or doing something about what’s bothering me.  What did I do when I worried about being out of work?  [Believe me, when you’re out of work there’s that terror of wondering how long it’s going to be.  Is my next job offer coming tomorrow?  6 months from now?  A year?]  And that can burn a lot of cycles for sure.  I learned that sometimes all the action I could take was to make sure I had a communications plan in place for the next day, next week, etc.  I’d review my job search log (kept on a spreadsheet) and mark who I needed to contact or email to follow up on a networking call or to follow-up with a recruiter on how a phone screen went a couple of days prior.  And I’d note new contacts to reach out to, or company websites to review for their open job positions.

I “officially” dropped 36 lbs (16.3 kg) in the 12 month PN/LE program timeframe.  But I’m not done yet, my body is telling me.  People often ask me “so now that you’re ‘done,’ what do you do?”  The answer is simple:  the same damn stuff I learned to do in the 12 months prior!  Keep doing the habits, keep practicing the workouts!  I’m still in the gym 5-6 nights a week and practicing good eating and nutrition habits.  My weight has dropped another 6 lbs since, and I’m still noticing shifts in my body and how my clothes fit. So we’re down 42 lbs now (19 kg).  Stuff I bought when the clothes from last year were too loose to be effectively worn anymore are now even getting loose themselves!  WORKOUT gear is getting a little looser too.  Kind of funny to have to pull up your yoga pants between weight lifting sets…anyone handy with sewing so I can put a string tie around my waist?

But it’s not just about the number on the scale.  I haven’t just lost weight.  I’ve gained muscle tone.  I have some biceps emerging now, my lats are getting stronger and my legs are in the best shape of my life.  I can wear shorts and sleeveless tops and feel pretty toned and confident.  I’m 47, not 25, keep in mind, but I do think I’m holding up alright.

And still shifting.

Sunday Food Prep Revisited…and a new Recipe!

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One of the habits we practiced in the Lean Eating for Women program I completed over the past 12 months was to take some time to focus on preparing food for the upcoming week, typically on a Sunday.  Ahhh, the restful reset of a Sunday…what’s not to love about that?  Now, of course doing food prep for the week can be whatever day works best for your family and work schedules.  No hard and fast rule about having to do it on Sunday…that day just seems to work for most of us.  The mindset is “What do I need to do to set me up for success for the week ahead??”  It could be anything from chopping vegetables and getting them all stored up in Tupperware in the fridge to making sure your gym bag is packed and your workouts are printed out and ready to take with you to the gym.  And yes, I actually DO do all those!  I typically work out after work, so by the time I’m home and showered I’m pretty tired…and the thought of having to chop a few veggies for my omelet just seems like too much effort.  BUT if I have a few veggies already chopped up and ready to go in the Tupperware…ta daaa!  Super easy and quick dinner.

Even though the food service at my new job is absolutely stellar, I’m still bringing my own lunch.  I may eat out on Fridays, say, but I’m just barely two weeks into this gig and still getting the routine all sorted out.  I’m really enjoying my location on the campus…it’s right smack in the middle of everything…there are great places to meet up, and I run into people I used to work with in past engagements ALL the time.  Love it!  So I definitely don’t feel isolated and hidden away.  Being around people is absolutely essential to my well-being.  That’s why when I’m out of work and pretty much at home on the computer here I get depressed.  So when that phone rings or that new email pops up…ahhhh, I’m connected to someone!  And happy!

What’s my typical meal prep like?  Well, I dice up a red bell pepper for starters.  I LOVE red bell pepper (green notsomuch) and it’s yummy in an omelet or egg scramble or tossed in a salad…or just a crunchy side dish!  Next, I slice up some (white) medium-sized mushrooms.  I might sauté some with olive oil and oregano and thyme and marinate them in a little balsamic vinegar, and just keep a few plain to use in omelets or salads.  I also make a batch of quinoa – red and tan mixed.  1/2 C of each in 2 C of water…bring to a gentle boil for 15 minutes and then let sit for about 45 minutes (covered and off heat) until all the liquid is absorbed.  I absolutely ADORE quinoa and use it in my egg scrambles and salads.  It’s even great as a hot side dish with a blob of pesto.  A nice alternative to rice and pasta.

I also fire up my broiler and line the broiler pan with aluminum foil.  I drizzle a little olive oil on it and slice up a tube of polenta.  Broil for 10-15 minutes or until the slices are just slightly brown.  I’m absolutely falling in LOVE with polenta, because it goes with just about everything.  It’s great as a side dish or even diced up and tossed in a salad.  And yes, those egg scrambles too which are my post-workout dinners.  Are we detecting a pattern here?

Now, if this sounds like a lot of work, remember many of these food prep tasks can be done in parallel.  I can dice up a bell pepper and some mushrooms while the quinoa is coming to a boil, and while the quinoa is in final prep and off the stove heat I can get the polenta sliced up and under the broiler.

Chicken breasts are another easy “neutral” food you can spice up however you like.  Two chicken breasts on a foil-lined broiler pan, drizzled with lemon juice. and some garlic salt roasted at 420 degrees F for 25 minutes is about right.  Be sure to cut to test and make sure the meat is not pink inside.  If it is, it needs to roast a few minutes longer.  You can add other spices before roasting, like paprika or tarragon…have fun experimenting!  I may slice up one to take with me to work for lunch and dice up another to use in an egg scramble.

My typical work lunch is a few leaves of fresh, organic spinach, some red/tan quinoa, a couple of slices polenta and a few of the mushrooms and diced bell pepper.  I’ll add a small blob of hummus or guacamole and a sprinkle of pine nuts…and a tiny amount of pink Himalayan sea salt.  Sounds a little weird but it IS delicious and satisfying!  A hearty and nutritious “salad,” fivenineteen-style.  And I bring along an apple for a mid afternoon snack too.

Now, I know for those Paleo fans out there, the polenta is a no-no because it’s corn (grain) based.  I’m personally not Paleo or vegan (although plant-based meals are a big part of my lifestyle now but not 100%).  I’ve found that I can digest polenta just fine and it doesn’t leave me feeling that weird “empty but bloated” way I am after eating white rice or pasta.  And speaking of polenta…here’s a fantastic (vegan) tomato sauce that is a perfect accompaniment to it!

Immunity-boosting tomato sauce with mushrooms  (makes 5-6 cups)

  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 C sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 1/2 C packed fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 28-oz can whole or diced tomatoes, with their juices
  • 6 – 8 T tomato paste
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp fine-grain sea salt, to taste
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 T chia seeds (optional)
  • 1 C cooked lentils (optional)
  1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and stir to combine.  Sauté for 5-6 minutes until onion is translucent.  Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Stir in the mushrooms and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes until much of the liquid released by the mushrooms has cooked off.
  3. Add the basil, whole peeled tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, salt, oregano and thyme.  Stir to combine.  With a wooden spoon, break up the whole tomatoes into chunks, bigger or smaller depending on how chunky you like your sauce.  Skip this process if using diced tomatoes.  Add the red pepper flakes, the chia seeds and lentils, if desired, and stir to combine.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer the sauce, stirring every so often, for 15 to 20 minutes.  Serve over pasta, polenta or spaghetti squash and enjoy!

Buon appetito!

 

NOW it Feels like Sunday Again…

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Wow.  I took the longest blogging break yet here in fivenineteen land.  Enough to where a couple of my followers out there were wondering what was going on!  I was actually flattered by that to be honest.  It IS a nice relaxing ritual to write in here, usually on Sundays…it’s a nice rhythm in my life and has been for nearly 5 years!!

But I guess I needed a break.  I gave myself permission to not force myself to write “just because it’s Sunday.”  Never should feel like an obligation in here.  Rather, it’s a joy.

Since my last post I’ve been heads down in the job hunt.  Being out of work sucks ass but I was fortunate to be a job seeker in a strong economy with TONS of great leads.  Every recruiter and hiring manager I spoke with sounded like they were absolutely buried in work.  And surprised by it too!  I guess we instinctually feel it’s summertime and things should therefore slow down a little bit?  Not so much!

So job hunting was my full-time job since I got abruptly cut from my contracting gig of 14 months back on May 22.  Head down here on the home laptop.  On the phone every day talking my battery down to near zero.  Keeping my job search spreadsheet up to date while claiming unemployment benefits.  The good news is that I have started a new job just recently on 7/17 – another consulting engagement slated to run a year – at a company I’ve consulted with before.  In fact this is Gig Number Five there for me – wow!  So it’s like putting on a somewhat-familiar shoe again.  There’s comfort in that for sure.   Now, I AM taking a slight pay cut compared to my last engagement but hell, it’s a LOT more pay than collecting unemployment!  So I’ll try not to sound ungrateful, but on the other hand the consulting firm is getting somewhat of a bargain with me.

Before accepting this new position I had a wonderful interview experience…traveling out of town!  I interviewed for a full-time, permanent position with a company based out of Indianapolis, but has a small office here in the Seattle area.  I was pretty much treated like royalty door to door, with my plane trip booked, nice hotel to crash in overnight, and car service wherever I needed to go.  A truly outstanding interview experience.

And even preparing for the interview swooshed along like a dream.  I knew I needed something nice to wear for the interview, but after a now FORTY pound weight loss since July last year (YES!) I barely had any clothes that fit, and certainly not anything corporate interview appropriate – where I’ve worked it’s so casual!  So once again the fantastic sales associates at my favorite Nordstrom  came to the rescue and found me a fabulous new black pantsuit and top to wear underneath…and did a rush overnight tailoring job for me as well, no charge.  WOW!!  The pantsuit fit like a dream, and the sales associate about burst into tears when she saw me in it (I had shared my weight loss story with her meanwhile).  And I teared up too.  I felt like a million bucks…and wearing a (US) size 10 made me feel really happy about my accomplishments  (I was around US size 16ish at my heaviest last year).

What a difference on that plane ride too!  I hadn’t flown since last July, before starting the Lean Eating for Women program.  I actually felt somewhat comfortable in those tiny airplane seats!  And I can cross my legs when I’m sitting now too!

The team who interviewed me was great.  Good, positive energy in the building, and frankly I rocked the interview.  Got whisked back to the airport right afterwards and flew home.  Got home, wrote my thank you notes and waited.  But then THUD…after all that wonderful, personalized attention I got a generic “we’re looking at other candidates” follow-up email a couple of days later.

It was a let down.  I won’t kid you there.  Felt like I got kicked in the stomach.  And I cried a little. I gave myself permission to be sad about it, but only for one day.  I was so hopeful that would have been my ticket off the eight-year contractor merry-go-round.  But not this time, nope. Then it was time to move on.  It still was an amazing experience, and who knows down the road where it could lead.

I was grateful to have the other offer still on the table and still available for me to slide into.  I’m trying not to look at it like a second choice or consolation prize…after all I’m in a VERY fast-growing and highly visible area of the company I’m now working at.  And the team is dynamite – very positive and hard-working, but also laid back.

So now…ahhhhh, the ritual of Sunday.  Laundry.  Blogging.  And food prep for the week ahead.  Funny how when I’m not working things like that became a nuisance and drudgery.  Well, not the blogging part of course.  I just needed a short break.

But I’m back now.

“Keep on going…”

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…Oh the simple and so profoundly wise words from my Dad.  Perfect title for today’s post on Father’s Day.  When I read those words I feel his love.  He’s my cheerleader for sure.  His words make me smile with renewed energy and enthusiasm and weep from exhaustion.  Dig deep, fivenineteen.  You’ve got this.  Yeah, I know I do.

I’m heads down 3 weeks into the hardest work I’ve done in my entire career.  Looking for work, full-time, as I am unemployed right now.  Every day I talk my phone down to near zero battery.  Emails fly back and forth.  Interviews get set up – both on the phone and in person.  The job log spreadsheet fills up line by line, documenting everything.  When you’re collecting unemployment this is what you’re supposed to do – keep a job log.  For me it also keeps my brain from going to mush and makes me proud to see how much I’ve accomplished.

In fact I’ve been so heads down I haven’t been checking my snail mail very regularly.  And OOPS on Wednesday I opened up mail and found a notice I was randomly chosen to attend a mandatory re-employment class for 3 hours at the unemployment office…on Tuesday.  As in the day prior.  Holy fuck.  I was mortified I’d missed the class!  Why the hell don’t they notify you in email as well as snail mail?  They notify you over email when you open an unemployment claim.  UGH.  Shows me how much we’ve (I’ve) become dependent on email for real.  So I actually drove to the unemployment office with the notice in hand.  I even brought my home laptop with me in case they wanted to see my resume and job hunting log.  Home printer is on the fritz.  I walked up to the counter and very nicely said “I missed a re-employment session…could you help me get rescheduled for another one?”  The man behind the desk looked at my notice and said “this was yesterday!”  I said yes, I missed the session…could you help me get rescheduled for another one?  He scratched his head and said “well, we might be able to get you into the…hmmm….not sure…I’ll be right back.”  That sounded hopeful.  He disappeared down the hall for a few minutes and I waited, wondering.  When he returned he said, “we’ve got a problem.”  I said “Oh?  What’s that?”  “There is no makeup session.  You’ll get a questionnaire in your mail which you will need to fill out and return to us ASAP.”  Wow.  I was stunned.  And at that point there would be no point to say anything further to counter what he told me.  That I’ve been heads down hard at my job search.  That I was more productive on my own in those three hours than I would have been sitting through a class telling me what I already know how to do.  I’m no deadbeat slacker here, people.  Sheesh.  They have those sessions all the time I’m sure.  It’s not like that was going to be the last one ever.  And I made an effort to come forward to get myself rescheduled and get told no?  Nice government bureaucracy.

At least I have my documentation in order.  And now I know to check my mail every day…that probably needs a daily pop up reminder in my Outlook calendar!  The job market is strong and I’ve received some really great leads out there.  And interviews!  Ah yes, my time to shine.  And learn.  Interviewing is a two-way street…they’ve gotta sell me on why their place is such a great place to work I’d be silly not to join them!  Seriously.

I’m also today mourning what is likely the end of a friendship with my guy BFF. It makes me so sad to write these words.  He deeply wounded me last weekend, going to a very bad place with me where when I speak up for myself and end up getting excluded from a social situation that is beyond the worst level of SUCK.  I can’t even string that last sentence together…that’s how awful being excluded like that makes me feel.  Just an uber-sensitive, tender place in my soul.  Last weekend I was supposed to meet up with him and meet his new girlfriend.  The two of them have gotten serious really fast and it was so cool to hear!  I am truly, genuinely happy for him. L was in the last phases of moving back to Chicago and was here in town to finish up last-minute stuff with his girlfriend along for the trip.  The three of us planned to meet at a bar with live music in Seattle.  That Saturday morning I got a text from him asking if I would pick the two of them up at their hotel downtown and then drive them out to the neighborhood where the concert was going to be.  He says the bus service isn’t that great that time of night.  I was surprised, as I had thought they were staying at the house he had been renting, which wasn’t far from the neighborhood where the bar was.  And I thought wow, if they’re already staying downtown, why don’t we just go out somewhere downtown and not kill ourselves going to an extremely jam-packed neighborhood with horrible parking?  So I suggested that over text and he said OK.  Gave me the time and the hotel room number.  Terrific!

I hopped in the shower and when I had finished drying my hair I got another text saying he was feeling sick and was probably going to just stay in for the night.  What a bummer!  For a split second I didn’t believe him.  He’s known to change things on a whim sometimes but well, if you’re sick you’re sick.  I decided to take it at face value.  I called and got his voicemail and told him I was sorry he wasn’t feeling well and that I hoped he got better soon, especially as they were flying back to Chicago the next morning.  I was bummed I wouldn’t get to see the two of them after all.

A few hours later I got another text asking if I would pack up some remaining books and things that were still at the house he had been renting and ship them to him.  “Since you have a lot of time on your hands these days…” is how he framed up that request.  WOW.  He obviously has NO idea how hard I’m working to find work.  Keep in mind his former house is about a 45 minute drive from mine.  I went from feeling bummed to feeling irritated.

Then the final straw…he texted later in the evening and said “well, we ended up going to the concert anyway…wow my ears hurt.”  WTF???  I was SO FURIOUS by now I could not see straight.  Why didn’t he tell me they were going to go anyway?  He said he assumed I wasn’t into going to the concert and he didn’t want his girlfriend going by herself.  HUH??  Why didn’t he tell me his girlfriend was so adamant about wanting to go?  If it was that important to her of course I would have gone.  [It’s not like it was a big name concert or anything…it was a freakin’ 90s cover band. Whoop dee doo.] Why didn’t he understand that seeing the two of them trumped everything else?  Why did he shut me out?  Keep in mind I had already had a date lined up that night and I told that guy that L and his girlfriend were in town so could I take a rain check.  He said of course.  Now I feel doubly screwed over.  I turned down date plans and now my plans first get sick and then go out anyway without even telling me.  That is NOT COOL.  And I told L just that.  All I did was suggest doing something else – he does that to me all the time!  Why is it not OK when I do the same?  I told him if I had known that his girlfriend was really wanting to go to that one venue then of course I would have gone.

Through all of this I have not received one single apology.  Rather, I got a rant on Facebook messaging that I’m taking this way too seriously.  Then I got unfriended.  Wow.  No acknowledgement of my point of view at all.  And by the way, when I told my date what happened and apologized to him for getting caught in the tangle, he pointed out that his girlfriend doesn’t sound very considerate if she is insisting on going out even when he’s sick.  Well, I don’t know her at all but that was an interesting observation.

I’m realizing I’ve been dealing with an emotionally immature man, and it’s probably best I don’t interact with him.  I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again or not…maybe in time wounds will heal.  For now, I give myself space.

And now I embrace the upcoming week ahead…and the job lead follow ups I need to do.  Oh that Tom Petty was so right…”the waiting is the hardest part.”

 

How Things Change!

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So much has changed in the last couple weeks since my last post.  Head spinning.  Mind blowing.

Everything changes.  Two words right there pretty much sum up life, right?  Gotta ride things out…embrace it even.  Sometimes you want to jump for joy…sometimes shout FUCK at the top of your lungs.  There, that feels better.

3 days after my 47th birthday I got canned from my job.  Yep, with no warning.  That’s how this company rolls.  Wouldn’t even let me back in the building to pee.  My agency rep had to pack up my desk for me and bring me all of my stuff in a box while I waited outside.  14 months of wonderful work, reduced to a heap of desk knickknacks, a jam-packed Filofax and a laptop soon to be wiped clean.

I drove about a quarter mile in a daze and pulled into a random office parking lot.  And I made a ton of phone calls.  Just feeling numb.  Not knowing why things happened and not really caring.  It’s nothing personal, right?  They say it’s budget cuts but I wonder.   Thankfully I have a few years of this type of work under my belt to know this is NOT typically how consultants wrap up their engagements.  Meaning, most clients will give you a couple of weeks or even a month’s notice that things will be winding down.  That’s the healthy, courteous, normal way to operate.  Yes, italics used intentionally.

This same thing happened to me at this very same company back in 2007.  Yep, it took me all these years to even reconsider going back there.  Things seemed different this most recent time around.  I truly enjoyed my work and I loved my colleagues.  Great personalities and senses of humor.  I received great feedback on my work throughout and will always remember that.  Canning me and treating me like an animal in the process, or so they try?  Nope, it doesn’t shape me and it doesn’t break me.  I know who I am!

So…that means we’re back to the job of finding a job!  Thankfully this is something I’m pretty good at.  I’ve met lots of people who tell me “wow, fivenineteen, I’ve been at the same job for 15 years…I wouldn’t know the first thing about updating my resume or networking like you do.” Well, I didn’t think “wow, when I grow up I want to do short-term consulting engagements!” But that’s how my career path has advanced over the past eight years and it’s truly transformed me into a much more savvy, confident person.

And thankfully it’s not 2009 and 2010 anymore.  The very bottom of the recession, at least from my viewpoint.  In fact, being out of work was what inspired this blog…way back in 2009!  Check the really old dusty archives in here to see the rocks rolling out of my head come to life in my first few posts.

Meanwhile, we’re in the last month – home stretch – of the Lean Eating for Women program I joined last July.  And getting oh so close to FORTY POUNDS (18.1 kg) of weight loss, people!  WOOHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!  Dancing around in the 36-37 lb range this week.  I love seeing the looks on people’s faces when they haven’t seen me in a while!  Even people like my hair colorist and stylist who I see maybe every other month or so.  They are truly stunned at how much I’ve changed!  And I feel GREAT!

So, I documented my weight loss with a 3 hour photoshoot yesterday.  A gloriously sunny day with hardly any wind…so not typical for this time of year in the Seattle area!  The photoshoot is actually part of the Lean Eating process…they recommend booking a professional but it’s not necessary at all.  Yeah, it felt a little (OK a LOT) self-indulgent splurging on a photoshoot being out of work but you know what?  Sometimes self-investment is exactly what we need.  And I have no regrets for sure!

I was really nervous but G did a great job making me feel relaxed and comfortable.  And she showed me a few of the shots from her camera as we went along, so I had an idea how they were turning out.  Not bad!!  Got my hair colored and cut that morning as well, so I felt cleaned up and pretty.  Picked a few outfits that really felt like “me” – jeans, a nice top and really great jewelry.  And we did some shots in workout gear…in one I’m posing with a 35 lb weight plate to symbolize my weight loss.  Holy crap, picking that thing up and carrying it around…it was HEAVY.  And how eerily scary to think that was what I used to carry around me on my body.  Every day.  No more.

What else is new around here?  Oh…the men.  Geez, the men…how tangled the webs we weave or whatever that saying is. There’s been someone sort of in my life since about February or so.  Don’t really want to go into more than that in here.  Had a couple dates with someone else recently, but while it was fun there just wasn’t any spark or glimmer that there might be a spark.  And J, the guy I dated most of last year has suddenly resurfaced, by sending me messages on Facebook and saying he misses me.  What the hell?  He says when he told his best friend that he broke up with me his friend punched him.

I said you know what, I’ve always liked that friend of yours.  Give him a high five from me.

Crowd-Pleasing Tex-Mex Casserole! (Vegan)

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Holy crap!  When I typed the title to this post I typed “Crows”…and somehow published the post with just that one word!  That lasted for about 5 seconds until I could navigate back to the dashboard and remove it.  Any followers out there receive a single world “CROWS” post from me?  Hilarious!

And my apologies as we’re in fog brain mode today.  Some of you might recall that in my current job my team works overnight one weekend a month.  And last night was that weekend.  So I’m propped upright and a little woozy.   But bravely attempting the keyboard today…with yet another amazing VEGAN recipe to share!  Yes, I’m going to post a recipe today…normally this weekend is extra special as it’s my birthday weekend so I like to do something memory-related.  Tomorrow, May 19, is the actual day, hence this blog name.  But today it’s going to be a yummy recipe…so good that even meat lovers out there won’t miss the meat. Nor people like me who are not vegan, but who love to load on the cheese and sour cream something fierce with anything slightly close to a Tex-Mex dish.  Not needed here at all!  Lots of flavor and comfort – very similar to a burrito in a bowl.

Serves 6.  This recipe is gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free and sugar-free

Tex-Mex spice blend

  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika OR 1/2 tsp regular paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, plus more as needed
  • 1 1/4 tsp fine grain sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander

For the Casserole

  • 1 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 orange bell pepper, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
  • Fine grain sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 C fresh or frozen corn
  • 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, with their juices
  • 1 C tomato sauce or tomato puree
  • 2-3 C chopped kale leaves or baby spinach
  • 1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 C cooked wild rice or brown rice
  • 1/2 C vegan shredded cheese (I skipped this as I don’t care for the taste)
  • 1 or 2 handfuls corn tortilla chips, crushed
  • Optional toppings – sliced green onions, salsa, avocado or more corn chips

Combine the Tex-Mex spice blend ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Oil a large 4 to 5 quart casserole dish

In a large wok, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, bell peppers and jalapeno and saute for 7 to 8 minutes, until softened.  Season with salt and black pepper.

Stir in the spice blend, corn, diced tomatoes and their juices, tomato sauce, kale, beans, rice and 1/4 C of the vegan shredded cheese (if using).  Saute a few more minutes and season with more salt and black pepper, if desired.  Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish and smooth out the top.  Sprinkle the crushed chips over the casserole mixture along with the remaining 1/4 cheese.  Cover with a lid or foil and bake for 15 minutes.

Uncover the casserole dish and cook for 5 to 10 minutes more, until bubbly and lightly golden around the edges.

Scoop the casserole into bowls and add your desired toppings.

Fivenineteen notes:  this casserole is INCREDIBLE.  And you won’t even notice you’re getting a whopping dose of your veggies either!  The wild rice can take some time to fully cook, so I recommend getting that going while you’re chopping the veggies at the same time.  Don’t get weirded out by the somewhat-long list of ingredients – about half of them are just “open a can and drain/rinse/dump.”  Easy.

Buon Appetito!

From the Oh She Glows cookbook, by Angela Liddon