29 August, 2010

travel reading

It took me a few months - okay, 10 - but I finally finished reading Moby Dick. Actually, if you count the fact that I started reading it in high school but never got past meeting the noble savage, it's been years! But this book is just so epic that I really had to be ready for it. There are people who have made careers analyzing this novel, so I don't even know where to begin, but I certainly did enjoy it. I can't imagine a more honest depiction of insane obsession.

Aside from the legendary plot and the remarkable character development, Melville includes so many thought-provoking one-liners. The fact that he was basically self-educated just makes it that much more impressive. Here's an example, spoken by Starbuck:
"'Here some one thrusts these cards into these old hands of mine; swears that I must play them and no others.' And damn me, Ahab, but thou actest right; live in the game, and die it!"
Wow, right? Here's another one. I think it might be the most beautiful of the book:
"Bethink thee of the albatross, whence come those clouds of spiritual wonderment and pale dread, in which that white phantom sails in all imaginations? Not Coleridge first threw that spell; but God's great, unflattering laureate, Nature."

 I read a good chunk of the novel while I was in Cape Cod this summer. One of my absolute favorite things to do when I travel is to read a book somehow related to the place I am in. For example, last summer I read Don Quixote in Spain and Berlin Alexanderplatz in Germany. I discovered what a pleasure this is when I read Milan Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being  (which I highly recommend) while in the Czech Republic. His description of the cemeteries gave me a whole new outlook on the cemetery we visited; suddenly it was a place full of beauty and life, by way of faded flowers and flickering candles.

Let me know if you know of any good books that take place in Chicago, and give it a try the next time you take a trip.

27 August, 2010

crystal fluid structure

"Why do we have membranes? Because life is compartmentalized," said my very cool professor this morning.

I love the bilayer lipid membrane, but I don't want my life to be compartmentalized. I want it to be like the membrane so that everything can fluidly move aorund and interact with one another, so that I can see how every facet of my life connects to the others.

23 August, 2010


Chicago's Cloud Gate sculpture in Millenium Park (also known as "The Bean")will turn you into an amateur photographer. It seems to me that everyone around it has a camera, a little bit like the Mona Lisa, but with neither the obnoxiousness nor the lack of appreciation for the art itself. This sculpture begs you to look at yourself and take pictures of the strange reflection. People really love it. Perhaps because we don't ever get to see ourselves quite in this way (and one can come up with so many funny poses). Of course, due to its shape the image is highly distorted. Anish Kapoor, the artist, named it Cloud Gate because 3/4 of the reflection is of the sky and this brings the reflection of the viewer, the city, and the sky all into the same realm. It is difficult to keep such a broad perspective on life, and especially difficult to place ourselves in the center of this reflection.

I recently wrote about the idea of reflection, but it has been an important recurring theme in my life recently. The mentors of my patient centered medicine group stress the importance of reflecting on one's experience as a student and as a physician. For me, what I most want out of this is to focus in on the image of the doctor I would like to be, and keep that in mind as I get closer and closer to that day - to continue to uphold the values of social justice and improving the quality of life that speak to me so strongly today.

This idea of reflecting resonates so strongly within me right now because I must keep reminding myself to do so. As I begin a new stage of my life I feel like I am being told in so many ways and by so many people how I should spend my time, who I should be friends with, what my aspirations should be, who I should be. Amidst all this it is difficult to remember who I want to be and who I am. I recognize that these expectations are mostly assumed by myself, not necessarily placed on me. Also, I mean this on a small scale, mostly on a moment-by-moment basis. At the end of the day, when I think of it, I haven't really lost sight of myself. But there are brief instances throughout a day when I lose confidence or feel jealous because I am not who I think somebody else wants me to be. These are the moments in which I most need to be genuine with others and honest with myself.

It is difficult to be mindful of this, but I have found something that helps. I have a few triggers. An image, a song, a memory of an occasion or a feeling. Something that reminds me of the happiest moments, when I have felt inspired and full of life and light and known that I was in the right place at the right time and that I was exactly who I was meant to be. Do you have any memories that you lean on when you need to feel more in touch with yourself?

19 August, 2010

simple summer dessert

I have a lot to say, but not right now. Right now I just want to share this simple summer dessert with you. It really speaks for itself and, honestly, I think it's the perfect thing to eat after dinner in the summer time. It's even better if you eat it outside.

Simple Summer Dessert Recipe:

1 shortbread cookie
2 small scoops lemon ice cream
1 handful fresh berries

place in a bowl and enjoy!

I would definitely recommend Häagen Dazs "Five" ice cream - it contains only five ingredients: milk, egg, sugar, cream, and lemon. Why would you ever want anything else in your ice cream?

10 August, 2010


This past weekend our local library had their annual book sale. My husband and I saw a flier and decided we would go. We already have a lot of books, in fact we tend to buy them wherever we go, but this was for a good cause and certain to hold some good deals. When we got there we found it to be a much larger event than expected. It turns out they had over 100,000 books to sell, ranging in price from a mere 50 cents to $2.00 at the most expensive. People probably began lining up an hour prior to the opening, with bags and boxes and suitcases in hand. We felt thoroughly unprepared, but willing to fight the crowd for the love of books.

The sale was held in an old Volvo dealership, no bookshelves included. Instead, there was row after row of tables stacked with books above and below. And many hands grabbing for those books.

I was charmed to see children amazed by the sheer quantity of books and enjoyed observing the few people who studied each book with anticipation before placing it in their bags. Unfortunately the hasty, greedy, book-selling, book-grabbing people seemed to make up the majority. They rushed in with their boxes and their fancy smart phone attachments, scanning each bar code to see how much they could sell it for online. Some people carelessly shoveled whole stacks into their boxes. They did not look around to appreciate the enormity of the event nor to nod at their fellow bibliophiles.

This upset me a little bit more than necessary perhaps, and I had to sit outside and read for a while before Ian finished his search. All the money they spent still supported the library and somebody will be reading those books, but still... it almost seemed sacrilegious. Nonetheless, I did love the feeling of being completely surrounded by books.

I always have loved that feeling. When my sister moved to her own bedroom and I got our bunk beds all to myself I took out the bottom mattress, put in my inflatable chair and a bookshelf, and felt like I was encapsulated by my own little library. I suppose I've created a similar environment in my new apartment.

If you are ever in the need of bookshelves I would highly recommend this method. Although the cost of materials can add up,it's definitely cheaper than IKEA and you can completely tailor it to your desires. It's also very easy. All you have to do is stack the 1/2-size cinder blocks and wooden boards; you don't even need nails or glue. I decided to paint the boards gray to match the concrete, and used smaller bricks as well to add height to each shelf and to create this pattern on the side.

06 August, 2010

indian pilaf

When we made our recent move to Chicago, my husband and I were determined to have everything moved-in, to explore the neighborhood, and to be thoroughly settled into our new home before I began medical school. We met a few road blocks along the way but were comfortable enough to have a relaxing evening together before my first day. I wanted to cook a nice meal together and we did exactly that.

It was a three-course Indian dinner using recipes from the Easy Indian Cookbook by Manju Malhi. It's a small, brightly-colored, glossy book, probably available at Borders, definitely the kind of book I would never consider buying. I don't trust most cookbooks. But this one was a gift from my Organic Chemistry professor who grew up in India and is a fantastic cook.

We made: 1) Bhuna dal, translated as fried legumes, a soup-like dal made with four different lentils and beans and topped with a spice mixture that has been cooked in butter; 2) Baingan bharta, translated as smoked eggplant; and for dessert, 3) Kaaju ki barfi, translated as cashew nut diamonds, simply made of ground raw cashews, melted powdered sugar and green cardamom. We had planned on making our own Naan, a light and chewy flat bread, but by the time we started preparing everything else it completely slipped our minds. The meal was delicious and I am glad to have this cookbook.

As good as that was, I have an even better recipe to share with you: the recipe for the rice pilaf that my Indian professor taught me how to make. During the summer break she invited me to her house to cook lunch with her and her mother, who was visiting from India. Of course I accepted. Learn how to prepare some authentic Indian dishes from two Indian women - could anybody say no? It turned out to be quite the afternoon of cooking, talking, and eating. We made a pureed soup with pumpkin, carrot, and red lentils, topped with these beautiful fried red onions.

Cauliflower with potatoes and tomatoes.

A beet salad with tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, lime juice and ground peanuts (probably the most interesting and my favorite of the day).

And a rice pilaf with veggies and cashews.

See how the basmati rice stands up-right once it's done cooking? I love that.

It was a new experience for me to try to keep up with the cooking and write down everything we did. I am confident that I learned from two women who really know Indian food. My professor's mother, in a pale blue saree that matched her stunning eyes, spoke infrequently and softly, but everything about her exuded a calm confidence. She did snicker as I pulled out my camera, quickly snapping photos of each dish as we sat down to eat.

I want to share the rice recipe with you because it is incredibly versatile. In fact, before I left Texas a friend of mine had a baby and I brought her this rice along with lentils. Using what I had on hand, I made it with a wild rice blend, had to omit some of the spices, and skipped the fried cashews to make it a bit healthier. I'm sure you could come up with at least one hundred variations.

Indian Basmati Pilaf Recipe:
You can easily substitute butter or a different oil to make this healthier, just make sure you keep the heat lower if you use olive oil. You could also just add the spices with the rice and water for a quicker no-fat version, but you will definitely be missing out on some of the flavor. Finally, note that cooking time will vary if you use something other than basmati rice.

2 Tbs vegetable oil 
1 tsp cumin, ground
5 whole cloves
1 1/2 inch cinnamon stick, broken up
3 cloves black cardamom, seeds removed and pods discarded
15 black pepper kernels
5 bay leaves

1 cup basmati rice
2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup carrots, chopped
1 tsp ginger, grated
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup frozen peas

In a large skillet/pan, heat the oil over high heat. Add the spices and cook until they begin to sizzle, 1-2 minutes.
Add the rice. Stir to coat and cook until it begins to turn color.
Add the water and salt, cover and bring to a boil. Keep a steady boil going for about 5 minutes.

Gently stir in the carrots and ginger along with 1/2 cup of warmed water. The grains of rice will break if you use cold water or are too rough with them.
Stir in the peas.
Cover. Turn the heat to high just long enough to generate a good amount of steam.
Cook on low heat for about 10 minutes, covered.
Remove from heat but do not disturb for 10-15 minutes.

Optional: top with sliced red onion and raw cashews that have been fried in a couple Tbs. of hot oil.
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