Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Unemployed: Hazelnut-Apple Cake

-A little note about this post: I wrote this shortly after I became unemployed and decided not to post it while I was job hunting because it was best that way for obvious reasons. As of today, the day this post is going up, I am starting a new job that I'm extremely excited about. So yayness.-

As of the day I'm writing this, January 3, it's been almost a week since I was rather unceremoniously let go from my job. It was with sincere regret on the part of my employer, bereavement on my own part, and just a general sense that, suddenly, the floor was collapsing beneath me and an unfathomable plummet was imminent.

It was. Is, I suppose.

I left my old job in adoption services and foster care at a lovely little nonprofit a little over three months ago. It was a rather difficult move as I loved the mission, my co-workers, and the people we worked with but in the end a massive reorganization and other upheavals had left me feeling somewhat panicked and rudderless like a dinghy plunging to the center of Charbydis. I felt the need to move onward and upward to a place where there was a bit more room to grow.

With the recommendations of some incredibly kind friends I landed an interview for a job at a local nonprofit of sorts. More like a nonprofit bank, really. It was with a well-respected changemaker in the region with the ability to influence the region and that had come across my radar numerous times.  I was thrilled at the opportunity and salivated at the prospect - the first and only one I had come across in my recent months of search. With little investigation or research I updated my resume and shot off an email to the executive director.

I was, according to the job description, more than overqualified for. They wanted two years experience (I have nine), a Associates Degree (I received my Masters), and the ability to stay organized (OCD, motherfuckers). I absolutely decimated the interviews to the point that I knew that I would be offered the job.

A few days later the call came in with an offer and a salary that was more than I had anticipated. I eagerly agreed.

The day to day was okay; the co-workers insightful and bright, and the mission noble. Still, I quickly found out that the "other duties as assigned" clause was the most demanding part of my job. I was quickly thrown into tasks that I simply did not have the background or skill set to accomplish.

I suppose if I had a background in banking I would have been more at ease in board meeting taking minutes on complicated land trust deals, inheretence law, or the IRS to nonprofit relations litigation possibilities when it comes to massive stock transfers.

I can make a check deposit. I can balance my checkbook. I can keep track of funds and ensure bills get paid. I am, however, not an accountant of any kind. All that other stuff? Beyond me. Just... beyond.

That was the problem.

A day before I suddenly had an inkling that something was wrong. All my direct co-workers were in unscheduled meetings with each other behind locked doors. When I walked by all eyes darted to me and conversations stopped. Curious I asked what was wrong. "Nothing, don't worry." "Oh, we're talking about cancelled social plans." Behind locked doors for two hours. Yeah, bull.

There was a vibe in the air. The portentous kind that saturates the atmosphere around you pulls down as if you're underwater and the local sea-twat-cum-psycho-killer just roped an anchor around your neck.

"I'm going to get let go tomorrow," I told Brian as I cried into my pillow.

-Apples, at least you love me. So do you, butter, but you only love me for my body. Butter, you slut.-

The next day I went in dressed in my best. I went in early to knock out everything on my to do list - or as much as I could. I would face this head on and with my dignity intact.

As I went about my business my realtor called. Our offer had been accepted. We had a house.

Then I was called in to my director's office.

My hunch was right. I had been let go. I had been told it wasn't a good fit and I had been inclined to agree. They needed a banker or an accountant with receptionist skills, not an office manager from a nonprofit background. There was regret on both sides. I was assured that not only would I be given glowing recommendation letters that burned brighter than stars if I needed them, but that they would also keep an eye out for me for any open positions at the other nonprofits they worked with that thought I might thrive in.

A golden ticket with my pink slip.

So I left. I calmly said my goodbyes, gave hugs, and was doing my best to push back tears. Tears both from the fear of no longer having a paycheck, fear of losing my home that had been in my hands for not even an hour, fear of how this would affect my husband. There was also fear of not being able to see my co-workers everyday. People who had become close friends and who had imparted to me such a veritable wealth of knowledge that I left every conversation feeling like an overflowing cup sloshing out facts and insights and ideas to anyone I met outside of the office.

There was also a lot of anger over things that had happened. Things which I simply won't go into on here because they don't need to be and as cathartic as spewing an acidic rant might be it wouldn't help anyone and I find it healthiest for myself to just let it go. Nothing to be done about it anyways...

In the parking lot I sat in my car with my box of personal belongings sitting in the passenger seat. The eyes of those in the photo looked at me and I wondered how much I was going to disappoint the people they belonged to.

I called my husband who was meeting with our realtor as we spoke. I stared at the framed photo of the two of us at our wedding, perched on a rock and so blissfully happy at the time that it was hard to believe that anything terrible could ever happen in the world, and told him what had happened.

Then I called my realtor and told him to let the house - my house, our house, my family's first house - go. Without solid employment I just couldn't risk it.

When I got home I pulled out the vacuum and whisked across every inch of the floor. I cleaned the dishes in the sink. I rolled out the trash to the street so it could be picked up the following morning. I needed to stay busy and I needed not to think because thinking leads to worrying leads to obsessing leads to more crying leads to more fretting leads to panicked phone calls leads to leads to leads to leads to leads to...

Hours later the house was gleaming and I was feeling none the better. But the thoughts, those first few dangerous thoughts where flight and fear are most palpable, were kept at bay and seemed to be staying there. Huzzah for intensive cleaning therapy. In my state of being a white hot mess, fingernails smelling of Comet and sweating through my shirt after scrubbing the bathroom tile, I realized that what I wanted to do right now was work. It was barely two in the afternoon and my body's daily regimen insisted that I be productive.

Cleaning wasn't going to get me anywhere so I went back into my zen of work. If idle hands are the devil's work, then I assume that that afternoon I was one of God's most cherished laborers, which is ironic when you think of it, but in some cosmic sense I guess that means I am employed.

The next few hours were a whirlwind. I scratched my old resume and built a new one. Printed out the black and white glimmered in clearcut clarity as if it were black caviar on only the most delicate bone china. If I had a contact; an editor, writer, photographer, anyone who worked in publishing and who I might be able to get a grip on some freelance work you can believe that I hit them up. I was all sweet words and praise and ideas that I had stored away for months all came rushing out in a hurricane so furious it was hard to pin any down. I called a few friends who ran their own nonprofits and asked if I could volunteer doing anything they needed. More than happy to accept some free and experience labor they said yes and I was able to fill some days and the expectant empty space my resume would have to justify.

By 5:00, thanks to panic and providence, I had lined up meetings with four editors and landed three paying pieces. It wasn't enough to live off of, but enough to take the pressure of of Brian and myself for a little bit.

Not bad. In fact, I was rather proud of myself.

I wondered to myself why I wasn't this driven to get journalism work on the side normally? Contentment with my situation? I often told myself I was too busy with personal relationships, work, and the cookbook, but to be honest I really could always cram a little more in. I said the market was too terrible to find real, regular work (and it is), so why try? I assured myself I would apply myself later when the time was right. Now was the time, but hadn't anytime been the time?

The Time we all wait for is when you make it yourself.

2012 was an otherwise astounding year filled with hard work, surprises, and happiness. But in its final throes it decided to vehemently lash out at me and I fell from that blow with a thud.

Thankfully, I have friends who love me. One came by with a bottle of wine, a gift certificate for my favorite restaurant ("Otherwise, you won't be able to go out during a time you probably really need to."), and some advice on signing up for unemployment insurance. Another friend offered some kind words of taking time to find what was right for me. And yet another, one who had helped me get my now ex-job, already had another lead. Everyone offered to be bitter and resentful at my previous employer for me and it made me laugh and cherish that I have friends who can be pissed off in my stead.

So I think things will work out. I'm keeping as busy as I can. I have more time to take Jack the Corgi to the park. I baking bread every day, which is something I haven't done since college. That stack of books I've been meaning to read is suddenly getting much smaller. Also, Guild Wars 2 may possibly own a small piece of my soul.

So here's something: cake.

Apples, cardamom, vanilla, maple syrup, and some of the darker, stickier sugars mixed together into a very simple cake. On a whim I used some hazelnut meal that I picked up out of sheer curiosity. It's rather expensive, about $12 a bag, but a little goes a long way and it has a lot of flavor.  Using some almond meal, which is a little cheaper, is phenomenal, too. If you want you can make your own nut meal if you have the nuts; just grind them in a food processor until they hit a flour-y consistency. In a pinch, just use more all-purpose and call it a day, but the hazelnut meal... really, it is a game changer in my kitchen. I cannot imagine how I have lived without it. It's dark, earthy, sweet, buttery, and just a tinge bitter from the skins. Expect to see it here a few more times.

I've been wanting to make this cake that's been in my head for a while now. Time was the only issue, but now that I have scads of it to dither away on whatever project I want this cake has finally come into being.

So that's something to be thankful for.

Garrett out.

Hazelnut-Apple Cake
Adapted from Nigel Slater's, Ripe

For the apples:
1 pound apples, peeled, cored, and diced (I used Pink Lady because they're pretty)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
3 tablespoons maple syrup

For the cake:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup turbinado sugar or white sugar
1 1/4 cups AP flour
1/2 cup hazelnut meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2 tablespoons whole milk or maybe even cream
a healthy glug of vanilla extract

1. Place the apples and their accompanying ingredients into a wide skillet and cook on medium heat for about 10-12 minutes, being sure to give them a stir once in a while so they don't brown too much or get stuck on the pan as that's sort of a bother. The apples will have turned a bit golden and will be sticky with sugar.

2. Paper and butter an 8-inch springform pan or non-springform if you're going to be a damn heathen about it. Preheat the oven to 350F.

3. Beat the butter and sugars in a mixer until light, fluffy, and the color of a latte. In one bowl whisk together the flour, hazelnut meal, and salt. In another beat together the milk, eggs, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and milk mixture in a dry-wet-dry-wet-dry pattern until it's just just all come together.

4. Pour the mixture into the cake pan and smooth the top. Plop on the apples and spread 'em about. Some will sink into the cake and make it all sticky-sweet inside and some will caramelize on top. Bake for 40 minutes. Serve with cream and maple syrup if you happen to have them on hand.

Other Recipes That Don't Suck
Fresh Apple Cake - Iowa Girl Eats
Torta di Mele - Barbara Bakes
Apple Pecan Spice Cake - Brown-eyed Baker


  1. I, too, am an OCD stress cleaner. Sorry the job wasn't a good fit but it just left the opening for you to find a better job.

    I just turned in an application for what would be a huge promotion. I am so nervous I am nauseous. My impacted mortgage just shot up and this job would mean not having to take in a housemate. My obsessive cleanliness makes cohabitation unpleasant.

    1. Well, you just have to find a roomie who is also OCD. =)

  2. Bravo on the new gig, Garrett! Thank you for such a lovely post..anything adapted from Nigel Slater appreciated!

  3. Hooray for your new job! Best of luck! So glad you waited for something you'll enjoy. Can't wait to hear all about it... and to eat this gorgeous cake. I'm a fan of hazelnut meal, too.

  4. *huggs* I respect you for getting this out but giving it time as well. It's rough and I'm so happy you found something so quickly. I hope that it's a better fit and you can keep on track with your house goals.

  5. Congrats on your new job, yes it is frustrating without a job.
    By the way apple hazelnut cake is delicious.

  6. Congrats on the job Garrett! Glad life is being kind to one of us. I , myself am giving life a big fk you @ the moment and threatening to stick my foot up its ass.

    Xo the rebel

  7. Lovely post and the cake looks a-mazing! So glad you found a new job--Congratulations!

  8. Best on the new job. I've copied your words "The Time we all wait for is when you make it yourself." into my little list of good life quotes. It's so insightful.

    1. I would like to think I made that up myself, but I bet it was from a fortune cookie.

  9. Good luck with new job!! I love reading your blog and look forward to reading new posts every Tuesday.

    1. So glad to have you here every Tuesday, Amy. =)

  10. This post really inspires me, thanks. And congrats on your new job!

  11. As someone who was previously employed that "nonprofit bank" I can relate to the feeling that something is off with all of the closed doors. For some reason, closed doors in that office were particularly noticeable and none of them were very good at explaining why.

    Good luck in your new job. As I've learned, there are a number of us "formerly" with that organization that have thrived in their next job.

  12. My career in non-profits was one of the most fufulling and honorable positions I ever held. I will always look back on that time with a smile, I wish you the very best in your job search!

  13. I am so glad you have a new job! But do not forget, now you can tell yourself, when you have little dark doubt-filled thoughts at 2AM, "I was fired and I SURVIVED!". You did what needed doing and got on with it. You should be proud.
    But I am glad you don't have to continue that for any longer. The search, or the former bad fit job. Since you are taking the high road on that one, I will not go there, except to say "Really? They thought everyone had those skills??? Really?"

  14. I'm so sorry about you job... I had a similar experience and it really sucked but it ended up being the best thing that happened to me because i got to spend time figuring out what I really wanted to do with my life. I hope you find something amazing and that you and your husband get to buy an even better house! Best of luck!!!!! (also... this cake? amazing. totally going to try it tonight!)

  15. great cake - glad to read your story has a happy ending - my career path is a little wonky right now so it gives me hope - I also hope I might make this cake - sounds delicious!

    1. Just find something that makes you happy. I took a job for significantly less pay and zero benefits, but so far I'm (one week in) I'm already MUCH happier.

  16. I always enjoy your posts. Keep them up.
    And thx for the Hazelnut-Apple Cake recipe. I'm going to give that a shot ;)

  17. Congrats on the new job, I'm rooting for you. I'm so happy to hear that all your friends came through. Well wishes from Az.

  18. Thank you for sharing the real stuff, as usual. It's always so refreshing to hear what other folks are really going through. Congrats on the new job/s and this cake looks delicious, must try hazelnut meal....

  19. Welcome to the fold! We should get drinks soon. Or have a bake-off (you'd probably win but I'd sure have fun trying). Or both!

  20. I just found your blog, and I think I'm in love. And by "love," I mean "the platonic admiration of a stranger who has witty stories and delicious recipes." I look forward to reading along, thanks for being awesome.

  21. There is something so honest, and candid in your writing that makes a mockery of my writing, and many other's I read. Every time I get a chance to read your blog, I remember what having a "writing voice" sounds like. It's a very needed and helpful reminder.


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