In 2001 my dressiest pants were a pair of gold velour bell-bottoms. Utterly misguided fancy pants. I can remember wearing them on two special occasions. First, the Rent audition I reluctantly admitted to a few weeks ago. Second, my very first real job interview for an actual position with benefits. Despite the hideous pants, I got that job.
That year, I became a new program coordinator for a website called Idealist. The irony isn’t lost on me. My world felt shiny. Our offices were on the 66th floor of the Empire State Building and walking into the New York icon every morning made me feel like the luckiest girl on the planet. My boss, a lovely lady wise beyond her 26 years, was tough on me but usually right. In retrospect, I had no idea what I was doing (remember the pants?), but I was extremely eager and hopeful in my new job.
Lorene and I shared a little office. Seniority allowed her the desk by the window. I didn’t mind. If I looked past her shoulders, I had an incomparable view of New York City. On my very first week, when the work had yet to accumulate, I spent more time staring out the window than doing anything else. One afternoon, Lorene stepped out for lunch.
I took the opportunity to get a closer look at the view. I’m not afraid of heights, but at that vantage point I could understand the sentiment. The city looked tiny. Brown blocks. With my rose-colored glasses of youth and newfound employment, it looked conquerable and beautiful. You might be surprised to know that there are no bars on the windows of the 66th floor of the Empire State Building. Not even screens. I was shocked too. And delighted to find that the windows open just as easily as those in my apartment. How about a little fresh air?
Bad move. Did you know that when you open a window at that height you create a vacuum? I should have known. But I didn’t know. I opened the window and then watched as every loose piece of paper on Lorene’s desk was instantaneously sucked out of the window. That sudden, terrifying whoosh as the papers practically smacked me in the face on their way out still haunts me. I struggled to close the window and then just sat there and watched as all of my boss’ hard work rained down over the streets of New York City. Fluttering like a flock of paper birds. The next few minutes ticked by in slow motion as I waited for her to return from lunch. I fought back tears.
Thankfully, Lorene is a supremely kind human being. When she came back I told her what I had done. She smiled and shrugged, “If it was anything important, I’m sure I have a copy.” That’s an insane response. I can only imagine how furious she was at my stupidity but she let her generosity guide the situation. She didn’t want to break my spirit on my first week as a working woman. I am still so grateful to her.
Since then, the image of paper drizzling down over the streets of New York pops into my head often. A better metaphor for life as a hopeful working adult hasn't hit me in the face since. I see those fluttering sheets of paper every time I put up a new blog post. When I send freelance work out to my editors. When I hear from good friends that my book galley has landed on their desks. It’s a bit of a scary, sinking feeling. It’s out there! There’s nothing I can do but watch and hope that all will be OK in the end. The good thing is that people are kind, so it usually is.
Rhubarb and Raspberry Crumb Bars
Makes 24 bars
Don’t let the butter get too soft or the crumb mixture will be greasy. Better for it to be a little too cold than a little too warm. Also, I kept the jam mixture quite tart but if you’d like a little more sweetness, feel free to increase the granulated sugar.
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature but not too soft, plus more for the pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
2 1/2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb
2 cups raspberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan and line it with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides. In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and beat with an electric mixture until the mixture is evenly moistened and the texture of coarse sand. Sprinkle about 2/3rds of the mixture into the prepared pan and press it down into an even layer. The bottom of a small measuring cup is a good tool for this job. Bake the bottom crust until it is golden brown, 24 to 26 minutes. Mix the oats with the remaining crumb mixture.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the jam. In a medium saucepot, combine the rhubarb, raspberries, sugar, and ginger and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is bubbling fruit has broken down, 5 to 6 minutes. In a small bowl, mix about 3 tablespoons of the fruit mixture with the cornstarch until smooth. Add the cornstarch mixture to the jam and simmer for another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the jam from the heat and let cool slightly.
3. Top the bottom crust with the jam and spread it out evenly. Top the jam with the oat crumb mixture, squeezing it to make some larger clumps. Bake until the top is golden brown, 28 to 32 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Using the parchment, transfer the uncut bar to a cutting board and cut into squares to serve.