Gettin’ Figgy With It!- Fig Bars! -226 eggs, 169 3/4 cups of sugar, 169 3/4 sticks of Butter, and 209 3/4 cups of flour used so far- 46 recipes to go!

July 3, 2011

No image of Martha's Fig Bars Available

André's Fig Bars

At work we have these breakfast meetings that ironically don’t include breakfast. To correct this unfortunate  situation, there is always a group of us willing to bring in baked goods for the hundred-plus herd of appreciative colleagues. Everyone knows about my cookie challenge and so I am usually tapped to bring in a Martha cookie at these quarterly events. Fig bars are essentially a fig newton with a more flakey, buttery crust. Although the thought of baking homemade fig newtons sounds a bit daunting, the actual process is fairly simple. You start with the fig filling which consists of dried figs that are chopped finely and then reconstituted in apple cider, honey and… wait for it… red wine. Pepper is added to mixture to give an extra bite of spice. After the liquids have been absorbed by the dried figs the mixture is then run through a food processor until it is the consistency of mush. This mixture then has to cool thoroughly in the fridge. The crust is a simple butter-based dough much like a traditional shortbread with the addition of egg. The dough is chilled, separated into two, and then rolled into two rectangular sheets that cover the bottom of the baking pan. The fig mixture is spread evenly on the first layer and then the second rectangle of dough is layered on top. The top is given a quick egg wash so that it while it bakes it gets a golden and glistening crust. After the Fig Bars bake and are allowed to cool completely, they are sliced into bars and are ready to serve.

These Fig Bars may resemble fig newtons but are, in fact, far superior in texture, flavor and appearance. They are absolutely delicious. They’re sweet but not too sweet with a slight peppery kick and flakey, buttery crust. My colleagues found them absolutely delectable. I did, too. So, if you’re feeling adventurous and have an evening to spare, bake up a batch of Martha’s Fig Bars. This recipe will impress your friends and maybe even yourself.

When You Care Enough (pt. 2)

So, it was Valentine’s Day, 2005 when I first stepped into the offices at Hallmark Cards, Inc. I arrived early so I could follow the carefully detailed instructions as to where to park. I had to present myself at a guard station and be escorted to my desk on the eight floor of the main building. It was a blustery Winter day and I, being a Louisiana boy at heart, wrapped myself well for the frozen tundra (AKA Hallmark’s outdoor vendor parking lot.) I arrived at the guard station, gave my name and the name of my contact, Betty Jo to the smiling guard. I sat in the waiting area and admired the surrounding sculptures and pottery that adorned the tiny lobby. I was to later learn that Hallmark has one of the largest private art collections of any corporation. Even better, they keep the collection on display in the building with an on-site curator who manages the vast number of pieces. I still get a small thrill  passing by the works of Warhol, Rockwell, Matisse, Steinberg and Dali while roaming the halls on my way to daily meetings.

Betty Jo greeted me in the lobby with a forced smile. In a slightly rushed tone, she instructed me to follow her. Betty Jo was a simple woman. She wore no makeup and sported a simple knit pullover with uncomplimentary horizontal stripes. She was pale and freckled with long hair that stretched over her shoulders reaching towards her waist. Her bangs were curled into what can best be described as a feminine mullet. I’ve since noticed quite a lot of women in rural Missouri are fond of this look. They are also fond of feathered jewelry and T-shirts that feature pastel kittens, eagles flying over mountains, wolves howling at the moon, yellow ribbons and Jesus. Betty Jo showed me to her desk. “This is where you’re going to be as soon as I move out,” she said dryly. “I’m moving to another department,” she informed me and then under her breath she uttered, “Thank the Lord.”

Her cubicle was what I expected. It was filled with pastel kittens, eagles, wolves, yellow ribbons and Jesus accompanied by biblical quotes. It was situated right outside two private offices  in the middle of a field of cubicles that made up the season cards department. Betty Jo told me that I would be supporting the Creative Directors for the department, Janine and Lana. Janine was the Creative Director of Design and Lana was the Creative Director of Editorial. “You won’t see either of them very much but here’s how you get to their emails and their calendars,” said Betty Jo clicking onto her computer. Luckily the system was precisely the same as the one at Irwin Mortgage in Indianapolis where I was a mortgage loan processor in 2002. Betty Jo told me my responsibility would be to manage their schedules, their emails, keep the supply closet up to date and support their teams when they needed it. She then took me around to meet the other administrative assistants in the neighboring departments, all of whom were much friendlier than Betty Jo. One thing did shock me, though. All of the administrative assistants were women. There were no men. None. Zip. Zilch.

In New York, many admins are men. Generally they’re gay men. An admin in New York is an entry-level position where one learns the culture and process of a company before ascending the corporate ladder. Not at Hallmark in 2005, though. Most admins were female and in their late fifties or early sixties. They had been admins back in the day of carbon-copies, manual typewriters, and three-martini lunches. They never ascended. Not only that, they were perfectly content to be exactly where they were. In fact, they never desired to do more than file, shuffle schedules and order the occasional coffee cake. This was my first lesson about life in the midwest. Ambition, for the most part, is held in contempt. Ah well, it didn’t matter. I was a temporary employee trying to earn a few bucks while I settled into my new life in Kansas City. I wasn’t looking for a career as an administrative assistant and the work seemed easy enough. All I had to do was look busy for eight hours a day, get Janine to sign my time card at the end of the week and then go home.

Betty Jo packed up her stuff that afternoon and never offered assistance after that point. I was on my own. I met briefly with Janine and Lana that afternoon to introduce myself. They were surprised that the agency had sent over a male. “We don’t get many men in administrative assistant positions here at the card shop,” said Lana with a friendly smirk. Janine was a petite and attractive woman with boundless energy and a quick, quirky communication style that consisted of incomplete sentences followed by incomplete thoughts punctuated by nervous laughter and warm smiles. Lana was the more pensive of the two. She was an attractive and tall woman with long auburn hair and child-like blue eyes with a terrific smile and wicked sense of humor. I liked both of them very much. A few days into the job they asked me to join them in their staff meeting to meet their staff of art and editorial directors. It was a surreal experience. Around a large table was a consortium of  folks who each managed the creative teams for season cards. Each person was assigned a season and I was shocked to see, like pets and their owners, how much each of them resembled their assigned seasons.

There was Irving with his closely cropped head of platinum hair and thoughtful blue eyes behind scholarly wire-framed glasses. He wore a tie and a cardigan. All that was missing was a pipe filled with cherry tobacco and a roaring fire. He managed Father’s Day and Thanksgiving.

His counterpart was Bernice. A pleasantly plump woman with rosy cheeks, blonde hair and a colorful sweater that featured a lacy collar of embroidered eyelets. You could practically smell the chocolate chip cookies baking. She managed Mother’s Day and Easter.

Alice wore an equally colorful sweater with a decorative broach. She was older but far more stylish. She had the warmest smile in the room and her carefully painted face featured well-rouged cheeks and bright red lips.  She managed Christmas.

Belinda wore a maroon cardigan and lots of fun jewelry. She was surprisingly young. Younger than myself, certainly. She was bouncy and fun with mischievously arched eyebrows. She managed Valentine’s Day.

Joanne wore black. Lots of it. She was an older asian woman with cropped hair and an emotionless expression. She managed Halloween.

I giggled a bit to myself when I met this crew of creatives. This was the first of many Hallmark families I was to meet. They were each very kind, thoughtful, funny, moody, frustrating, talented, impossible and delightful people to work with.

At the end of my first week at Hallmark, Lana invited me to join the entire team at a Mexican restaurant to celebrate the success of Valentine’s Day. “Don’t worry. You can count it on your timesheet,” she chuckled. It was there, at her table, I told her about Dan and how I came to Kansas City to be with him. Lana smiled broadly.  “You need to work for this company, André,” she said. “We just started providing domestic partner benefits for same sex couples. We even have an employee resource group for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Allied employees,” I was impressed. This was the first positive thing I’d heard about the LGBT community since coming to Kansas City. Even my partner, Dan was fairly jaded about how the LGBT community was treated and how they thought of themselves in good old KC. Here was a heterosexual mother of three vocally supported me in front of her staff over margaritas. Her simple words affirmed me. They sparked hope for my future in Kansas City. They inspired a desire to find a permanent place at Hallmark. That following Monday, I began to take the job more seriously. I began to ask hundreds of questions of anyone willing to provide an answer. I wanted to understand the history, the culture, the processes and the players in the building. I wanted to learn the names of everyone from the CEO to the lady who served coffee in the cafeteria. I wanted allies. I wanted friends. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy but I’d find my place.

I’m going to cut this story here. Look for part three soon and have a happy fourth of July, everybody!

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