Martha’s Raisin’ the Bar!- Raisin Bars! -227 eggs, 170 3/4 cups of sugar, 169 3/4 sticks of Butter, and 212 1/4 cups of flour used so far- 45 recipes to go!

July 10, 2011

Martha's Raisin Bars

André's Raisin Bars

Raisins are, in my humble opinion, an underestimated ingredient. As a child I loved them. I loved the little red box with the bonneted lady on the cover in my bagged lunch at school. I loved Raisin Bran. I love oatmeal raisin cookies (a recipe of Martha’s I have yet to bake). Yet, many people are often put out by the thought of raisins. I think this has to do with two things: 1) They are often misused. (Honestly? Shredded carrot salad dotted with little black raisins? or Ants on a log? Not very appetizing.) 2) They look like bunny poop. (Again, not very appetizing.)

It’s very rare to run across raisins as the featured ingredient in any dish. Martha’s Raisin Bars do just that. Raisins are reconstituted in apple cider and water with a bit of sugar and a smidge of black pepper for an extra kick of flavor. Once the raisins are reconstituted and allowed to boil down into a jam-like mush they are spread over a buttery dough made of flour and oats. The entire pan is then covered with another layer of the dough and baked till golden brown. Once cooled completely they are cut into bars. If you’re on the fence as to how you regard raisins, this recipe is sure to win you over. The buttery dough is the perfect compliment to the dark and complex flavor of the raisins. The bars are very much like fig newtons with a stronger, more acidic and almost smokey fruit flavor. I baked these for my coworkers and they found them absolutely delicious. Definitely a recipe I’ll bake again.

When You Care Enough… (pt. 3)

It was a month into the temporary job at Hallmark’s Creative Season Card department when my term came to an end. Fortunately there was an opening for a temporary Administrative Assistant in the Creative Writing studio. I was assigned to work for Paula, the head of the writing studio  while her assistant was on medical leave battling a bleak prognosis of cancer. Upon moving into this poor woman’s cubicle, it became quite clear that she was not expected to return. My new boss, Paula was a quiet, introvert in her early fifties with shoulder-length dark auburn hair and large-framed glasses. In the rare moments when she spoke, you could hear a bit of her New England dialect seep through. Her dark, yet kind eyes sat behind her tinted glasses like two shiny buttons sewn just below a row of neatly coiffed bangs onto her pale muslin skin. It would be difficult to win Paula over. I’m sure it was quite unsettling to see me sitting in her previous assistant’s booth, surrounded by her things, her name still on the booth’s entrance.

There was another assistant in the adjacent booth named Sharon. She was the assistant to the Director of Editorial, Edith. A quiet woman, Sharon kept mostly to herself. She offered assistance when asked but for the most part I was to function on my own keeping Paula on track and providing assistance to her staff when needed. Part of my job was to move job applications to her staff to be reviewed. To become a writer or editor at Hallmark requires the submission of a portfolio designed by the writing studio. The initial portfolio is a series of writing challenges based around consumer needs. For instance, one section might show the applicant a series of writing samples for a sympathy card. The applicant must then choose which one is sendable and provide feedback as to why. Another section might ask them to rewrite a certain piece of verse to suit an entirely new situation. Before sending these portfolios onto the staff, I’d read them from cover-to-cover. Most were pretty dreadful. Many applicants wrote in ridiculously flowery language. They wrote about how being a Hallmark writer had always been a dream of theirs. They wrote verse full of half-rhymes and off-kilter cadences. They wrote what they though a Hallmark writer should sound like and left little evidence of their own personal style. Every now and then, though, an application would come through that was emotionally generous. Writing that was open and authentic. The applicant wrote from their heart but displayed a very creative, yet practical point of view. These were the applications that were getting the best feedback. I took notice and began to wonder, “Hmmmmm. Could I do this?”

One of my responsibilities as the assistant was to put together a monthly newsletter for the entire editorial community at Hallmark. Having come from a theatrical background, this was known as an “in”. I saw this as my chance to get to know the writers and editors and begin to build a rapport with the team. It was also a chance to include my own writing so that I could acquire some honest feedback from the people who would ultimately be making hiring decisions. As a freelance actor, musician, director and conductor, I was pretty skilled at self-promotion without becoming entirely obnoxious. Through the newsletter, I was able to reach out to the writers in a way that gave me great insight as to what a career at Hallmark could be. I learned the challenges and the rewards of such a career.

More so, I began to make friends. It’s probably no surprise that people at Hallmark (AKA Hallmarkers) are really very kind, generous and genuine people. The company itself is family owned, started by Joyce C. Hall in 1910 when he arrived in Kansas City with a shoebox filled with postcards that he’d sell from his room at the YMCA. Ninety-five years later, the company was run by his two grandsons and was staffed with people who had practically been with the company their entire lives. People spoke of Hallmark like they were describing a member of their family. Husbands and wives worked there side-by-side. Mothers, daughters, fathers and sons, generations of the same family found their careers at this not-so-little card company. Yes, it’s a corporation but it was not like any other corporation I’d encountered. I was completely intrigued by the thought of becoming a Hallmarker myself and ready to submit my application just about the time my temporary job was coming to an end.

I was advised not to apply for a position in the writing community until a position in the writing community posted. There were no positions available but there was a permanent position posted for an executive administrative assistant. Paula encouraged me to apply to keep myself inside the walls of Hallmark. There was a catch, though. The job description required that I type at least 45 words and minute. This skill would be tested. Paula again encouraged me to practice my typing skills through a free online website. She told me to use my free time to build my typing skills. I did. I practiced typing inane phrases like “How now, brown cow?” over and over again till my fingers ached. All the while Paula encouraged me to keep at it. I’d like to think that Paula grew as fond of me during our time together as I grew of her.

I applied for the executive administrative assistant position and two weeks later I aced my typing exam. The next step would be the interview. I was told I would be interviewing with the executive who posted the position. Her name was Marion and she was the Director of the design staff at Hallmark.

Everyone wished me luck. Marion had the reputation of being a very professional, practical woman with a no-nonsense approach to the day-to-day operations of the design studio. She had a large staff of loyal art directors and a very high standard of quality and performance she held them to. Above all things she demanded precision and accuracy. Armed with this information, in my suit and tie, I nervously headed into her small office for my interview. An hour later, my life would be set on an entirely different course. Thanks to a petit woman with a big heart and a penchant for precision.

But that story’s going to have to wait for the next cookie. Now go get a snack. Raisins perhaps?

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