Friday, October 28, 2011

Where the Wild (Green) Things Are

From my Michigan kitchen to yours . . . Mexican-Style Green Chile Posole

In the never-ending search for the best of the best in chili recipes in all their glory, I set out on the internet this week in search of the holy grail of posole.
Posole -- for those Midwesterners who would have no idea -- is a Mexican soup, traditionally made with pork, roasted green chiles (ideally of Hatch variety) and posole blanco-  white hominy.  Do not mistake the hominy for grits (as in fab Southern-style cooking with shrimp in a recipe I’ll savor for another day). Posole is a lime-infused white corn, that requires a good soaking overnight or at least 2 hours of boiling. You can find posole canned or a frozen - but for best results start from scratch, nothing out of a can.  
The recipe, itself, is a snap, but requires that you take your time. So save it for a lazy (“Fall Back”) Sunday,  when you can fully appreciate the curious mingling of flavors and pungent cooking aromas of lime, toasted corn, onion and braised pork, all wafting through the 

The result? Well worth the hunt for the wild greens on my list of ingredients, as well as the extra trip to the little Mexican grocery which I happened to discover hidden just past the Big House (U of M stadium)in Ann Arbor.

From the Westborn Market in Dearborn, I brought home the bacon (figuratively). The recipe calls for a pork shoulder or butt steak, a cut of meat with enough fat to break down in cooking to a fine stew meat, as in pulled-pork. Use fresh cilantro, plenty of tomatillos - and if Hatch chiles are not readily found in your area - choose a variety of poblano, anaheim and jalapeno. 

Oh, yes, and one last ingredient that kicks it up another notch: find yourself some Mexican oregano.  Not at all like the Italian - Mexican oregano is both sweet and surprisingly spicy.  

1 pound pork butt or other pork stew meat, cubed
1 large onion, chopped
4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups dried posole (substitute frozen or canned if you must)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound fresh tomatillos
3 limes juiced
4 New Mexico Hatch chiles, roasted, peeled and diced
(substitute 2 poblano, 1 jalapeno and 1 anaheim) 
2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp dried chipotle pepper
1 tsp dried cumin
1 tsp ground corriander
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 tablespoon salt or to taste
Options for thickening the stew: add 2 cups summer squash or 2 cups chopped nopales cactus paddles, 1/4 cup cornmeal. 
Garnish options: 
sliced avocado
chopped cilantro
grated white cheddar cheese
sour cream
lime wedges
chopped onion
tortilla chips

  1. Soak dried posole in 8 cups of water overnight, or boil for at least two hours to soften
  2. Peel and scrub tomatillos and chop.  In a saucepan, heat chicken stock, add tomatillos and minced garlic, cook until tomatillos are softened
  3. Grill or roast peppers in oven or “blacken” them quickly over gas flame on stovetop. Let peppers cool, chop remove seeds
  4. In a food processor, combine cooled tomatillos and peppers (reserving liquid for stew)
  5. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, saute pork and onions, with juice of 1 lime stirring until just meat is browned on both sides, and onions are carmelized. 
  6. Reduce heat to medium-low; add stock, tomatillos and peppers. Stir in cumin and coriander, stirring until fragrant, about a minute. Bring to a simmer over high heat, add hominy, oregano, pepper and salt; return to a simmer. 
  7. Let simmer for at least two hours until the meat is tender and the posole kernels have softened or have just begun to open, like little flowers. 
  8. Serve with your choice of garnishes
"And now," cried Mason, "let the rumpus start
with mandelbrot!"

Okay, he’s much too young for posole, but his is the one little mouth to feed that now inspires my cooking like a wild thing, a “grandma in the night kitchen.” 

His mom knew exactly what she was doing to buy him that first Halloween costume, so fetching in dragon green -- offering us endless grandparental entertainment and many splendid photo opportunities.  

In my eyes, he looks the very image of a Sendak attack -  right out of the pages of my favorite children's books. 

Photos: VHenoch
Happy Halloween and thanks for stopping by

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Resuming: the Search for Work

“Over-caffeinated writer . . . power-doodler, scribbler of words and big pictures. . .

Strategic. Creative. Team leader. Team player.  Tinker, tailor. . . 
soldier, sailor. . . still seeking 

Uch!  If there’s anything more mind-numbing than reading a resume, it’s got to be writing one.  

Know any good resume doctors out there?   Bring ’em on.  Send me their names. My resume needs work. 

Seems to me that my resume was doing just fine, humming along, minding its own business.  It was short and sweet and sassy, when slam-bam, the doors closed on my place of employment and I was sent packing . . . off to see new Wizards, to seek new adventure and fortune, to follow the Yellow Brick Road, portfolio in hand.  

Uch.  If there’s anything more exciting and challenging than working at a job you love, it’s got to be finding another job you love... 
"Good luck," they tell me. 

Now, if only I had a resume-brain: I would take my current resume and shred it.  Cut it to pieces. Reader-friendly?  Who cares!  What I need is computer-friendly, a quick and easy scan online.  A resume is a document, plain and clear, a record of achievements  - not a showboat of work.  For godsake, pity the poor, beleaguered readers in HR who wade through hundreds of resumes just like mine, eating them for breakfast every morning.  
Uch. If only I could take my own words of advice.  

Can there be anything worse than a writer - overwriting a resume?  I don’t think so.  Every time I pull from my files that current “word perfect” resume, I find something imperfect.   I revise, I proofread, I second-guess my reader, and revise again, and even then,  I can’t give it a rest.  
Crazy and sad, but true. You’d think after all these years - writing for a living -  that writing a killer resume would be a no-brainer.  Well, not for me.  
Why is everything that I put on the page never enough - and always too much?  Why do I feel every line needs justification?  Why must every word carry its weight in gold?  
In what font will the finished document speak volumes?  Why can’t I keep it simple? What will it take to put that ever-ready smile and best foot forward in cyberspace without losing my footing (and headings, margins and windows) and falling into the abyss where resumes are never seen and companies are never heard from again?
Please, won’t someone just tell me: 
  • Who’s out there, actually reading those resumes submitted online? 
  • What do screen-bots, Applicant Tracking Systems and CRMs know that I don’t and to whom may it concern?  
  • How do you flaunt a “wealth of experience” without flashing your age? 
  • Does brevity show confidence and authority?  Or does it suggest a lack of imagination?
  • When asked for writing samples, do pictures work, too?
  • And yikes, is that I typo I just-this-minute discovered in the first line of my cover letter?  
It is said that one’s resume should be a living document (something akin to a living will?).  Keep it current, they say.  Stay hungry, stay foolish, stay curious, never let your guard down on the job, be ready for the next thing, because it’s coming your way sooner than you think.   Get out that resume and update, update, update...
Updating daily, I will say this: grappling with my current resume has been a learning experience -  deflating and frustrating at times, but a learning experience all the same. 

Based on that experience  ( and in the immortal words of my father: “Do as I say, not as I do.”)  let me share with you:
Five Cardinal Sins of Resume-Writing
1. Cleverness.  I could describe how I landed a position at a Jewish organization by mentioning gefilte fish on my resume, but forget it.  Humor on a resume is rarely in the eye of the beholder.  
2. Wordiness: Keeping the writing crisp and short gives you the edge, not to mention fewers margins for grammatical errors and typos.  
3. Carelessness.  Face it, even with a B.A in English, the best of intentions and the keenest eye, you’re going to miss a typo  -- or a misapplied SpellCheck (like turning an “excerpt” into except.)    Give yourself some time. Cut your resume a break. Have at least two other people proof your work.  And to proofread on your own read outloud -- slowly. 
4. Blandness:  according to experts, including Resumes for Dummies,  an effective resume is chock-full of powerful, action words.  It’s not enough to be responsible.  Don’t just manage. Launch. Lead. Take charge. Spearhead. Initiate. Excel. Spin your tale. But be truthful. 
5. Artsiness:  Unless you’re a rock star, don’t use a photo.  Unless you’re a graphic designer, loose the logo.   Avoid columns and other quirks of formatting.   Use bullets and stick to basic, computer friendly fonts.
Last Words:  Resume. Shmesume. 
Keep in perspective that your resume is only a tool, a blunt object you pick up, dust off and polish from time to time. Getting the job done is still about networking - it’s who you know, where you’ve been, the links and friends, colleagues and the real connections you’ve made.  

So much for my little pep-talk-to-myself today. If you’ve got advice and experience, resume-wise or otherwise, your words of wisdom are welcome here.  And thanks for stopping by.

(And this just in from LinkedIn...)
  1. 5 minutes To Optimize Your Linkedin Profile 
  2. What Color Is Your Parachute? Hope In A Desperate Marketplace. (video)
  3. Have You Lost Hope In The Job Market ? NBC News Reports (Video)
  4. “2011 Fair Playing Field Act to Protect All American Workers Against Age Discrimination”
  5. New Job Market For Boomers:Short Term Employment
  6. How To Work For A Younger Boss.(NBC Today Show Video)
  7. Are You Prepared For Tricky Behavioral Interview Questions? 
  8. Job Hunting Tips For Professionals Over 40

Monday, October 17, 2011

If You Smoke . . .

Quit.  Won’t you please.  Just quit.

It’s not that I get all hot and bothered by secondhand smoke.  I grew up with enough of it, I’m sure. It’s not that I’m offended (though I should be) by the smell of cigarettes on your clothes or in your car.  It’s not even a question of my health I’m talking about here.

This is about my brother-in-law, Rick,  and what I’m only starting to understand about lung cancer. 

You probably have family and friends who love you, people on your case all the time, people who beseech you to quit, please just quit.

You’re probably like everyone else who figures the big bad boogeyman numbers aren’t about you, and that you’ll go on hacking and smokin’ just fine ‘til you’re 99. 

You probably think like everyone else that your next smoke ain’t going to be your last, so light up and relax.

Light up and relax.  As if you have all the time in the world.

As  I write this, the irony strikes, that I am sitting at my brother-in-law’s computer right now…taping on the keyboard at his desk, a desk he built with his own hands. 

This was his place  - Rick’s place -  a favorite spot in a home that he and my sister gutted and rebuilt together just two years ago when they moved to Bradenton, Florida.  Here at last Rick and my sister were living their dream.  To grow old gracefully: together. 

She would return to her art,  her painting . . 

He would turn his passion for racing rally cars into a leisurely vocation, rebuilding vintage Mercedes, starting with the ’78 450SL now sitting in the garage.  

This was their plan. It was a good plan for the good life. Until July 5th when Rick was diagnosed with cancer.

Small cell lung cancer.

Small cell lung cancer -  SCLC -  has a particularly nasty way of presenting itself.  Like a stealth bomber, it can attack the lungs undetected, then show up -  full-blown and fatal - as a metastatic disease, spreading rapidly to the bone, the liver, the colon, the brain.    

All cancer is bad news.  SCLC is bad luck, as well. Only 15% of all lung cancer cases are SCLC.  And in almost all cases, small cell lung cancer is due to cigarette smoking.  

In Rick's case, SCLC  presented itself in his liver - the equivalent of a Category 4 storm in the body.  Extensive. Inoperable.  Incurable.

In follow-up on the CT scan,  Rick’s doctor advised him to put his affairs in order.  To talk to his family. To begin chemo immediately. To prepare for battle. 

Imagine processing all that at once.  No time for passing go, no time for second opinions.  It was chemo or "certain” death within a month.   With chemo and perhaps with “luck” at best,  Rick would see the sunrise for another six months to a year.   

So much for the “clear” chest x-ray taken in June.
So much for that cough “due to allergies.”
So much for Rick’s quiet habit over the years --slipping away from our company to grab a smoke. 

“Where’s Rick?” we would ask, when noticing he was missing. “Oh, he must be outside. . . out for a smoke.”  

Rick’s dream to build rally cars and race again is now abandoned, as his work stands incomplete in the garage, a one-of-a-kind restoration. 

Those who know what they're looking at - the people - tell us that Rick's work on his car is spectacular. To the uninitiated, that '78 Mercedes looks like it has “miles to go” before it will ever see the road again. 

Rick, so full of life and determination, fueled with future plans when last we saw him in health, dancing at a wedding in May,  took his last breath on his 62nd birthday: September 27.

And no, he did not go quietly into the night. He fought and clawed and he held on for dear life, with hope against hope to beat the odds, one day at a time.

“I’m here,” Rick would say, “I’m still here.” In full-battle mode, Rick the stoic and eternal optimist (always with that ready smile, masking his dark side) defied his prognosis. . . courageously taking it in the gut, "one day at a time," as he would say.   

In his wallet, along with a photo of his daughter, Erin, Rick carried an old scrap of paper - no doubt a memento mori from his racing days -  with these words, faded into its folds. . . 

"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -- 'WOW, what a ride!!!'"

For Richard Major Thomspon:
may his memory forever be a blessing
to those who knew and loved him.   

And thank you for not smoking.

Photos: VHenoch
Smoke patterns: ephotozine 
Paintings: Susan Miller-Thompson


family, health, smoking, lung cancer, chemo, without warning, Mercedes 450SL