I am not usually sentimental about ringing out an old year and ringing in a new one. After all, for most of us the new year is nothing more than a continuation of the same old same old except, of course, at birthdays when you get to add a whole extra digit to your age-- and that's not really cause for celebration, is it?
But, I have to say, I am glad 2009 is gone. Whew!
Most of you know what I'm talking about. The whole country-- and many other parts of the world-- reeled under a recession. It hurt to read news of foreclosures and hardworking people losing their jobs and homes. I read a statistic recently that said 50 million Americans did not have enough to eat at some point in 2009. The number of people without healthcare rocketed. Shelters groaned under the excess burden of animals left homeless by families that were moving or had lost their homes.
I am not saying that a new calendar is going to magically make everything better. But there are definite signs that things are finally looking up and that 2010 could be a better year than its predecessor.
This past year was also the year when an industry I worked for, the American newspaper industry, went through its worst period, perhaps ever. As more and more readers turned to the Internet for news, most newspapers -- including industry giants like the New York Times and USA Today -- were forced to cut costs and intiate mass layoffs or buyouts. A few newspapers closed shop or went completely online, including the Seattle Post Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News.
Then, just as it seemed 2009 could do no more harm, Washington Times, my hometown newspaper, cut nearly half its staff on Dec. 30. For me, this hit close to home. The Times is where I started my career in the United States, first as a reporter on the Metro desk covering schools and later covering Maryland government.
I have great memories of the Times: looking back, it was easily the best workplace I've ever been in, not to mention the most professional. The newsroom was huge, although we had just a fraction of the manpower of our main competitor, the Washington Post.
The Times has a conservative bent, but that did not mean anyone told us what to think or write: in fact, I remember many Democrats on the newspaper staff (and I consider myself very liberal) who focused on just one thing at work: doing their jobs as best as they could. But they also found the time to be nice to one another: something journalists don't always do, as cynical a group as we are.
Being a conservative newspaper in the nation's capital city which votes 90 percent Democratic was not easy, and we worked hard to get stories that fell into the laps of Washington Post reporters. I remember being snubbed by Maryland gubernatorial candiate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's spokespersons who wouldn't let me within 10 yards of her for fear that I would ask her a difficult question that she couldn't answer (no one was surprised when she lost that election). I remember investigating a corrupt school administrator and having the schools spokesperson leak the story to a more sympathetic Post reporter before I could write my exclusive.
Despite all this, we more often than not scooped the Post on key issues. It was always a thrill and always a victory well earned.
The thought, then, of so many people I knew and cared about losing their livelihoods was easily the worst way the year could have ended.
I no longer work for newspapers so I am just an observer now. Then why do I worry?
Well, it's because I think each one needs to be concerned about a world without newspapers or at least newspaper-style journalism, if we are to make sense of our complicated world. We need to get our news from dedicated, shoe leather journalists in search of the truth, not biased armchair news bloggers and television pundits, telling us what is going on around us and what to think of it. Or even from television news reports that focus on the sensational or on celebrities to attract viewers. Don't you agree?
And now it is time to move on to something sweeter and something alcoholic to toast the new year. My Orange Cupcakes with Buttercream Frosting.
I added some Triple Sec, which is an orange-flavored liqueur, to my orange cupcakes because they give it just that tiny bit of je ne sais quoi...that hint of tantalizing mystery any cook loves in a recipe. You can just as easily leave it out, though, and use more orange juice instead.
I added the Triple Sec to the buttercream frosting as well, and it was wonderful. Here's the recipe. Enjoy, all, and a happy new year!
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Sift all the ingredients into a bowl and set aside.
In another bowl, beat together until well-mixed:
1 cup orange juice
2 tbsp orange liqueur like Cointreau or Triple Sec
1/3 cup canola oil
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix with a whisk just until you have a smooth batter. Do not overmix or overbeat.
Divide the batter equally among 12 cups of a standard-sized muffin pan lined with cupcake liners.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven about 30-32 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Orange-flavored Buttercream Frosting
8 tbsp (1 stick) vegan butter like Earth Balance
4 tbsp vegetable shortening
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tbsp orange liqueur
1 tbsp orange zest (optional)
2 to 3 cups confectioners' sugar (use more or less depending on how thick you want your frosting, and how sweet).
1 tsp vanilla extract
Cream together the butter and shortening until they are fluffy, about 1 minute.
Now add the orange juice, zest, liqueur and vanilla and half the sugar. Beat until mixed, then add the remaining sugar and beat until mixed. This should take no more than 2 minutes altogether.
Frost the cupcakes after they've cooled completely. I sifted some cocoa powder on the cupcakes after I was done, to get a really pretty look. It's completely optional, of course.