30 March, 2010

i danced

When I was in middle school I was lanky. Well, I still kind of am but I've come to think of it as tall and thin, and on most days I am very happy with my physical self. But when I was in middle school it was a bit more awkward and I was especially aware of that fact at school dances. Do you remember what middle school dances are like? I don't know if most people had similar experiences or not, but let me tell you about mine.

I went to small private school and there were probably about 60 people total in grades 5-8. The school hosted dances 2 or 3 times a year in the very large hallway basement, with red and white square tiles, connecting all our classrooms. They turned out the lights, brought in pizza and soda, and a DJ played pop music. When a slow song came on girls and boys would pair up, girls with their hands on the boys' shoulders, keeping a safe arm's-length distance. The boys tried to find the appropriate place for their hands, somewhere between poorly distinguished hips and barely budding breasts. I was okay with this part, but most of the time the songs were fast. Which meant we girls would form small circles with our best 5 or 6 friends and dance with one another. Every now and then one girl brought her boyfriend into the mix. I joined in and tried to move my hips to the rhythm but somehow that rhythm always alluded me, and I felt uncomfortable bending my knees so deeply, and I had no idea what to do with my skinny arms, and I didn't know what to look at... My friends giggled. They were certainly just having a good time and maybe even feeling some of the same things as I. But after some unknown number of laughs I stopped dancing.

Those feelings stuck through high school. When my friends went to clubs I just didn't join them. Of course, from time to time I have since then been in situations where dancing was necessary and I would participate in a slow song, or a group song like "the boot-skooting boogie" or one of those hip-hop songs where the singer tells you exactly what to do. And of course I danced at my wedding.

But this weekend I danced. I was still a bit self-conscious, but I enjoyed it and I felt free. I was at a party/concert and the band was composed of friends of mine. It was in somebody's house, but it was like this house was made just for this occasion. At first I watched a few other people dancing, impressed by the fluidity of their movements and the fact that they were so brave to stand up in front of so many people and move like that. Relaxing, absorbing the whole spectacle, I thought to myself that we humans have not changed so much in some ways. I pictured medieval Irish jigs and tribal dances around bonfires. And then a friend said to me, "Let's go up there and dance." I gave her a sheepish grin and thought about staying in comfortable spectator position, but instead I turned to my husband and said, "Hold my purse, I think I need to do this." And I did. I danced. The music was a cool sort of indie-rock, somehow very chill even in its most intense moments, with complex dynamic rhythms. And, surrounded by modern hippies, I was finally able to just let my body move on its own. I still wasn't sure what to do with my arms but I just let them float around every once in a while. I still wasn't sure of where I should direct my gaze, so I looked at the band, I looked at the people around me, and tried to take it all in.

It was a wonderful evening. I felt a bit more connected to my friends, and even the strangers around me. It was a growth experience, and I found a part of me that I have tucked away for over a decade. The part that dances.

My husband has told me some about Friedrich Nietzche and his idea of "play." I found this quote of his from "The Gay Science."

How much a spirit needs for its nourishment, for this there is no formula; but if its taste is for independence, for quick coming and going, for roaming, perhaps for adventures for which only the swiftest are a match, it is better for such a spirit to live in freedom with little to eat than unfree and stuffed. It is not fat but the greatest possible suppleness and strength that a good dancer desires from his nourishment - and I would not know what the spirit of a philosopher might wish more to be than a good dancer. For the dance is his ideal, also his art, and finally also his only piety, his "service of God." 

27 March, 2010

apple banana bread

For my wedding shower my aunt asked all the women attending to submit two of their favorite recipes and put them all into a book for me. The most precious one is probably the recipe for doughnuts, written by a great aunt in barely-legible handwriting. My mother-in-law gave me her recipe for banana bread, which is very good, but also very rich - too rich for my everyday tastes. So I immediately tried to make it a bit healthier. I've played around with this recipe a lot and it almost always turns out good. At first, I substituted the shortening with flax meal. You can use flax meal instead of any other fat in baking, just by tripling the volume. I added some apple sauce to make sure it didn't get too dry, and it worked splendidly. I was quite proud of my ability to work flax meal into a bread, but I changed my mind about that after discussing it with my organic chemistry professor.

Let me take a minute to tell you about this woman because she is wonderful. She was born in India but moved to America to get her PhD in Organic Chemistry. She has been teaching here for years and is quite innovative in her methods. After I took her class she asked me to be a leader for a small study group, several of which she puts together every year in order to provide her new students with help from those who have already done well in this notoriously difficult class. Every week the group leaders meet with her to discuss the topic of the week and she always brings food. Sometimes just sliced apples and cheese, but often her own homemade bread and Indian dishes. Over the years we've really developed a friendship and every once in a while I can convince her to sneak away from the eternal line of students outside her office to have lunch with me. Food is often a topic of conversation between us, and I have learned so many interesting things about the chemistry of cooking. Including what happens to all those good fats in flax seeds when you heat them up.

Everybody has heard of trans-fats, but most of us has no idea what that really means. Fats are a chain of carbons and hydrogens strung together with alternating single and double bonds. You have to kinds of chains, "cis" and "trans".

The reason that the trans-fatty acids are bad for you is that they cause these chains to get all kinked up and to form larger fat molecules when several of them get together. Those larger molecules are known as low-density lipoprotiens. That's LDL, the "bad" cholesterol.

Okay, you made it through the chemistry lesson. The point is that you get a lot more good out of sprinkling some raw flax meal on top of your oatmeal or yogurt than you do when you bake with it.

And finally here's the recipe. It's not too sweet, just right for breakfast or an afternoon snack with a cup of tea. Even my mother-in-law likes it!

Apple Banana Bread Recipe:
I used a granny smith apple, but not a very tart one. Also, you can peel it if you like but I don't think it's necessary.

1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
2 ripe bananas
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped or broken up with your hand
1/2 cup apple, chopped into 1/2-inch cubes

Preheat the oven to 350˚F
Blend oil and sugar together with a hand mixer, then add the egg.
Break the bananas into small pieces as you add them to the bowl and blend them in. You may have to mash them up a bit with the end of the mixer or a fork.
Blend in the flour and baking soda.
Fold in the walnuts and apples.
Bake in an oiled loaf pain until an inserted tooth pick comes out dry, about 50 minutes.

23 March, 2010

health care

While preparing for medical school interviews last summer I made sure I was confident in my response to any questions about health care reform. I had no problem doing this, as it is something that interests me and it really helped me to process my thoughts about the issue. With the historic passing of the health care bill this weekend I think now is the perfect time to share my thoughts. I am fairly ignorant of all the politics and economics involved, but I certainly think the system is in need of repair. I am hopeful that this bill will begin to make that repair possible, but I also think it ignores some of the main problems.

I propose that we need a sort of social health care reform, a new cultural attitude toward health in general. As a society we have become so detached from our own whole well-being. We have dissected it into diets and statistics about exercise and visits to multiple physicians for pills and procedures to make us "better". Did you know that Texas high schools no longer require that students take a health class? And PE is only required until 6th grade? Although I never thought these classes did me a whole lot of good, I  think this is a problem, at least symbolically. It is essential that we educate our children about nutrition and encourage them to form habits of eating well and being physically active. One of my goals as a future physician is to educate my patients about having a healthy lifestyle. I also want to participate in programs that promote these things within my community (and I won't be waiting until I have an MD to do that!).

I think the second thing our country needs is an increased emphasis on preventative health care. We need to encourage all the people who will finally be able to have health insurance to see family doctors and OB/Gyn's on a yearly basis, rather than waiting until they get sick and going to the emergency room on a Friday night. If a 30-year-old man finds out that he has high blood pressure and can work with his physician to control that, he might not need a heart catheterization when he is 50. The benefits of this to the individual, the physician, the nation's health care system, and the health of America as a whole will go a long way.

After voicing these thoughts one interviewer said that I sounded like a passionate primary care physician-to-be. I'm not sure about the primary care part, but the passion is definitely there.

09 March, 2010

kohlrabi in mustard sauce

This weekend my husband and I drove to Houston to visit my family and celebrate with them the 30-year anniversary of the small high school that we both graduated from, and where my mother has been teaching since it opened. Whenever we visit Houston I always make an effort to stop at the Hubbell & Hudson market in the Woodlands. I absolutely love this place! They import many products that I have never seen anywhere else, like Italian almond oil in this pretty bottle. But, even better, almost everything is organic and sustainable, and much of the produce is locally-grown. They also make their own cheeses and fresh pasta. Some of the interesting things I found this time: a pepino melon (tastes like a cross between a pear and a banana), kumquats, purple flowering kale, and baby red kohlrabi.

For dinner the next night we had H&H fresh spinach fettuccini  with their house-made tomato sauce and this Kohlrabi in Mustard Sauce. I had never cooked kohlrabi before, so I turned to Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. He didn't have anything for kohlrabi that looked appealing to me, so I tried one for turnips and it turned out to work really well. I also adapted the recipe to use the entire vegetable - root, stem, and leaf. I had a bunch of 4 baby red kohlrabi, but I imagine it would be just as tasty with any variety. If you are worried about them being too bitter you might add a teaspoon of sugar with the stock.

Kohlrabi in Mustard Sauce Recipe:

1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 baby kohlrabi
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
chopped fresh parsley leaves

Heat the oil in a saucepan/skillet.
Cut the bulbous root of the kohlrabi into cubes, about 1/2-inch. Add it to the oil with a bit of salt and pepper. Stir occasionally.
As it begins to cook chop the stems into pieces 1/2-inch long. Stir them in after 3-4 minutes.
Coarsley chop the leaves of the kohlrabi and add them once everything else begins to brown, about 10 minutes.
Add enough stock to cover; bring to a boil and cook until the liquid has mostly evaporated and everything is tender, about 15 minutes.
Add the mustard seeds and paste, stir well.
Add more salt, pepper, or mustard to taste. Garnish with parsley.

I just want to add, I know the pictures are very poor. My kitchen has no window, it does have fluorescent lights, and I have only an old digital camera. But I still feel like it's better than nothing.
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