29 December, 2012

looking at art

A few weeks ago I went to the Chicago Art Institute. I always feel rejuvenated after visiting an art museum. It pulls me out of my head and distracts me from all the mundane things I worry about unnecessarily on a daily basis. This trip seemed long over-do, and somehow reflecting on it now makes me realize how much this past month was recovering from the prior five.

I began by studying some photographs, comparing the differences between printing and developing methods, reading the name of each artist, title, and materials. Then I set out through the contemporary building and decided that I was not going to read anything. Instead I would just focus on the painting itself – I could only take in so many words and changing my focus constantly was becoming somewhat dizzying. Often though, I couldn’t help myself and I needed the curator’s enlightening descriptions. I made my way through a few connected rooms and, quite pleased with what I had seen, stepped back into the hallway. Suddenly overwhelmed by how much was housed in a single wing of this building, I considered calling it a day - until I thought of all the beautiful paintings that would be in the next room over, so many artists I love. I decided that I had to walk through a few more rooms, just to be in the presence of such beauty and wonder. I stood to look at a painting, but rather than study it I let the whole room flood over me, with such richness that it far surpassed any one masterpiece.

Somehow my few hours immersed in artwork mirrored my recent experiences as a third year medical student, at least in sentiment. I have many stories to tell, each of them great on their own, but all together they make up something greater. Something I don’t yet have the words for and maybe never will. But it is wonderful, this mixture of excitement and anxiety, sadness and relief, complete engagement and detachment. And there has been an overarching sense of being overwhelmed. Not in the way I felt overwhelmed by the massive amount I had to learn in anatomy, not a sense of something being unconquerable or time being too short, but such a flood of experience that I will need some time to pull myself up out of the water before I can reflect on it all.

In contrast to all that, my few days of Christmas vacation have been so beautifully simple. I’m back in Texas, and I think that adds to the feeling, both for its reminder of my youth as well as the basic kindness of strangers that goes hand in hand with southern hospitality. I’ve been relishing in walks through the neighborhood, blue skies, green leaves still hanging to trees, and lazy mornings with my family. I think it’s the perfect transition into the new semester, with a new confidence that I know what I want to do with my future, and a renewed connection with the idea of becoming not just a doctor but a healer.

I saw some art again today. This time it was the Menil Collection, a much more manageable, focused collection of art. I walked through the naturally lit rooms, surrounded by beauty, and felt like I was able to take it all in and process it to some degree. My last stop was the Rothko Chapel, and left with a profound feeling of peace.

I hope you have all had a wonderful Christmas and are filled with love and joy as we begin to look towards the new year.

26 November, 2012


Yesterday we saw Mary Zimmerman's "Metamorphoses", performed by the Looking Glass theatre. It was the best play I have ever seen, wrought with heartache and love and longing. I cried a good bit during a particularly heart-wrenching scene, and was so pleased with it at the end of the play that I almost began crying again as we applauded. I wanted to personally thank everybody who made those stories come to life. If you are in Chicago, or ever hear of this work playing in your city, you should absolutely go see it. I'll leave you with a beautiful passage:

“A: The soul wanders in the dark, until it finds love. And so, wherever our love goes, there we find our soul.
Q: It always happens?
A: If we're lucky. And if we let ourselves be blind.
Q: Instead of watching out?
A: Instead of always watching out.”

24 November, 2012

t2: how to have a feast

My mother-in-law is visiting this weekend for Thanksgiving, except that she didn't come until Friday, which means we had to have a second celebration. Necessarily. It was fun to play hostess and roast my first turkey. Okay, so she took care of the turkey, but I watched. I mean, I don't really eat meat usually, so I had no clue. I've never spent a whole day preparing for a meal like this before, so it was definitely a learning experience. I'm so glad we had some great friends to share it all with!

you will have to start with a full refrigerator

and wash multiple sinks-full of dishes

on a chilly day like today, you can always chill some things outside since the fridge is as stuffed as your belly is going to be

you might have to sneak away for a book break every now and then

the cats will be ready long before the turkey is served

but finally the spread will be out, friends will arrive, and you'll be having such a nice time you'll completely forget that you wanted to take more photographs of the evening.

23 November, 2012


Thanksgiving is such a wonderful holiday. It's so much simpler than Christmas. Sure, there's a big dinner to prepare, but I think sharing good food with friends and family is one of the nicest things you can do. Now that we live in Chicago, we have spent Thanksgiving with some more distant relatives for the past 3 years. It's comforting to be with family, and to know that they are nearby should we ever need them, even if we are separated by a few branches on the family tree. I always bring a different side dish, and this year I was proudly named the vegetable queen. Fresh green beans the first year that definitely outshined your standard mushy casserole, kale salad last year that gave some people their first taste of that amazing vegetable, and Brussels sprouts this year.

It's good to have a simple holiday, allowing plenty of time to just sit and relax with family, and to reflect on all that we have to be grateful for. It feels a bit cliché to write about this, but we really don't take enough time for this in our normal hectic lives. I'm sure we would all be much happier and healthier if we did so. Just having 4 days away from the hospital is a major blessing! Already I've listened to good music with friends, gone to a yoga class, taken a few walks, cleaned the apartment, lounged around after the big meal, watched the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, slept for 11 hours last night (!), and it's only Friday.

While I was preparing the Brussels sprouts and Ian was washing dishes, we listened to the radio a bit and were intrigued by a question the reporter posed (rhetorically?) to the audience: What books are you thankful for? As we thought about it we realized that this is very different than asking what your favorite books are. Right now, I'm thankful for the Brothers Karamazov because I'm really enjoying it right now. Interestingly, one of the first books I thought of is called Anticancer, which talks about how diet, exercise, and stress affect our health in a very significant way. I think reading this book played a big role in sparking my interest in integrative & preventative medicine, which has influenced my life in a major way. I'm not sure what else, but I really like this question and plan to think on it a bit more.

How about you, what books are you thankful for?

30 October, 2012

2 more salads

Way back when, or maybe just a few months ago, I had the grand idea of sharing a series of salad recipes. Of course life gets in the way, so I should be more careful about making statements like that. It's like every time I have a week off from school or work - I begin making a list of things I'd like to do about a month in advance, and inevitably fill it with much more than anyone could fit into that time span. Oh well.

In the meantime, summer has faded and blustery winds are blowing in. But I do have a couple salad suggestions, photos and all, that have been set aside ready to go, just waiting for a bit of time to type them up. And when I say suggestions, I mean I don't really think it's worth taking the time to make up exact measurements because I generally just wing it, and I imagine that will work nicely for you as well. Cooking is the most fun when it's variations on a theme.

1. Sauteed Corn Salad
This is delicious with corn freshly cut from the cob. You could try it with frozen or canned, but I'm doubtful.

Corn on the cob, at least 1 per person
red onion, diced
fresh thyme
fresh rosemary, chopped
feta cheese
almond slivers or pumpkin seeds, toasted (or any other nut or seed)

Heat some olive oil in a large pan. Add a handful of diced onion and let it cook for about 5 minutes before cutting the corn straight into the pan. Mix to coat everything evenly with the olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, and a few springs of fresh thyme and rosemary.

Let this cook until everything begins to caramelize. The key is keeping the heat up enough to let the corn and onions brown around the edges and stick to the bottom of the pan a bit - when you scrape that off, it adds an amazing sweetness to the dish.

Top with crumbled feta and toasted almond slivers and pumpkin seeds.

2. Tuna Salad
I am not a fan of the traditional tuna salad, or any mayonnaise-based salad for that matter. But I do like tuna. I consider this a fresher take on the traditional dish, and it still gets some creaminess from the oil and feta.

1 can of tuna fish
olive oil
feta cheese
lemon juice
fresh parsley, finely chopped
red onion, diced

Combine all ingredients well, balancing out the olive oil, feta, caper liquid and lemon juice to get the blend of richness and acidity that best suits you.

Enjoy on a bed of greens, a slice of bread, or however you usually eat tuna salad.

25 September, 2012

being present while cycling

One of the beautiful things about riding a bicycle is that you can't multitask. When I'm in the car, I feel the need to be talking on the phone or looking at something at every stop light. That's not really an option on a bicycle. So instead, I notice things like how the pink morning sky is so bright that for about 47 seconds everything glows neon, and the interesting combination of autumn's mums with the few choice rose bushes that have chosen to continue blooming, and a woman sitting on a balcony, playing with her granddaughter. People say hello when they pass by on foot or bicycle. And when I get to wherever I'm going, I feel like I'm ready to be there because I was really present throughout the journey.

22 September, 2012

first day of fall

Today is the autumn equinox. I enjoyed it with doughnuts and coffee at the farmer's market. A cool breeze announced the new season's arrival, but the sunshine helped to balance out my premature Christmas song reflex (in Houston, 46 F is a perfectly acceptable late December temperature).  Apples, butternut squash, and fava beans made their way into my bag and I can't wait to cook up some savory dishes. Along with autumnal flavors and cozy sweaters, I always find myself craving some good jazz music this time of year, especially Vince Guaraldi. I'm not sure why, it just always happens.

20 September, 2012

book report: THE ROAD

Cormac McCarthy, author of No Country for Old Men and a few other books-turned-movie, has an impressively simple style that conveys so much more emotion than I could have imagined possible. His writing is intensely beautiful and impacting. I have only read one of his novels, The Road. I became so engrossed in it that I won't let myself read another until I have more time to spare. It's funny how I can fall asleep on the second sentence of a textbook, yet an hour can pass of reading a novel like this in which the existence of time seems irrelevant. Actually, I haven't been consumed by a book like that for years; I had forgotten what a delicious experience it can be.

The Road is about a young boy and his father attempting to survive in some sort of post-apocalyptic world. We hardly get any background or explanation for the way things are, but it's clear that that doesn't really matter. What matters is the present state of the world, the relationship between these two people, and each of their relationships with the desolate earth. McCarthy has said that he was inspired by his own son. Here is an excerpt:
He was a long time going to sleep. After a while he turned and looked at the man. His face in the small light streaked with black from the rain like some old world thespian. Can I ask you something? he said.
Yes. Of course.
Are we going to die?
Sometime. Not now...
What would you do if I died?
If you died I would want to die too.
So you could be with me?
Yes. So I could be with you.

03 September, 2012

the fifth season

Since moving up here from Texas, I have delighted in the changing seasons, and written about them quite a bit here. They change the way one experiences the world - looking forward to summer means something new entirely. It's not just time off from school, it's sunshine and greenness and fresh berries. Certainly this made my mother's childhood somewhat different from my own. Here, I savor the heat; back home it was something I tried to avoid. Well, I just want to add onto my other seasonal revelations that I have discovered that perhaps there are more than just four. I'm pretty sure there should be a 5th season: end-of-summer. It's still hot and the sun still hangs in bright blue skies, but when it sets things are a bit more golden, and you might notice a few leaves showing their spines or fading, ever-so-slightly, into yellow. It's a lovely time of year.

Here are a few photos from my end-of-summer. I've had a whopping 10 days off between surgery and medicine clerkships, and they have been glorious. There was yoga on the beach, camping, lazy pancake mornings, plenty of time for our new kitty, and a belated birthday party.

The party menu:
  1. blini bar with crème fraiche, roasted onions, bean spread
  2. heirloom tomato salad
  3. zucchini salad
  4. roasted carrots (recipe below)
  5. summertime shandy/radler/clara [tasty by any name]
  6. corn salad and amazing baked goods from friends!
It was a lovely evening, and I was so happy to be surrounded by so many great friends in my own home. Like I said, I need to cook for people more often.

Finally, a recipe! These roasted carrots are incredibly straight forward, but absolutely delicious. They are one of my favorites to bring to parties because they actually get people to want to put more vegetable on their plate. Even people who don't like carrots.

Roasted Cumin Carrots:

Preheat oven to 400 F
Wash and peel several large carrots. Cut them into french-fry size sticks.
Spread onto a baking sheet in a single layer.
Drizzle with olive oil and rub it around with your hands so that they all are well-coated. Sprinkle with cumin seeds and cinnamon.
Bake for about 40 minutes, until the edges begin to brown and caramelize. It's okay if they start to burn a teeny bit.

29 July, 2012

soggy bread

So, this surgery thing is really difficult, just in case you were wondering. There's no doubt that I'm learning a lot and having some really unique experiences, but at the end of the day I do not feel at all inspired. Check that field of specialties off my list.

I've been doing my best to take care of myself, making vegetables and sleep a priority while other things (the same gym bag has been in my car for 3 1/2 weeks) fall by the wayside. I'm also multitasking and working at my desk while eating, which is less than ideal. Fortunately Ian comes home today [huge smile on my face], so that should help with that.

That is soggy bread on my salad - delicious and highly under-appreciated. There are so many things that you can do with stale bread, and this is my favorite one in the summer, as compared to using it in soups or a panade. I have always been a fan of soggy bread. One of my favorite meals growing up was my mom's pot roast. Part of my love for this dish definitely had to do with the fact that after we all had our share of meat, potatoes, onions and carrots, my Dad would go get a loaf of bread, set a slice in the center of his plate, and pour the cooking juices over it. And I would always follow suit. Just thinking of that salty, soggy, gooey bread makes my mouth water.

I bought a loaf of bread at the farmer's market early in July, but barely ate half of it before it began to get too hard and crusty. So I cut it up into cubes and stored them in a plastic bag in the fridge. Whenever I want to add some to a salad, I put a handful into a bowl and cover them with water to soak while I prepare the rest of the salad. Then I squeeze the water out of them, add some olive oil & vinegar, add them to the salad, and top off with a bit more oil & vinegar. I know few people that need encouragement to eat more carbohydrates, but this is really tasty and some days you just need that extra caloric energy.

In the salad pictured above: arugula, heirloom tomato, edamame, feta cheese, soggy bread, fresh basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper.

22 July, 2012

speaking of salads

It's been quite a while since I have used a recipe. I've been avoiding the stove top, and the idea of turning on the oven would be crazy. It's hot here and my single window unit does the kitchen no good at all. I guess it's a good thing my parents didn't listen when I said coming up from Houston would offer them some relief from the summer heat. Fortunately, I can easily get through the whole summer on salads alone.

Let's take a minute to expand our definition of "salad". I do not mean iceberg lettuce. Not even romaine, or butterhead, or mixed field greens. As far as I'm concerned, a Salad (I'll use a capital 'S' to keep things straight, my Salad has a capital, the standard restaurant side salad does not) requires no leaves, but if you do want that kind of salad you might as well make them spinach or kale or arugula. Something with flavor and nutrients. I have seen many pitiful salads, and I'm convinced that this is why so many people say things like, "I don't like vegetables". What do you mean you don't like vegetables? Your body thrives on vegetables. Throwing some grilled chicken, shredded cheddar, a few diced veggies and ranch onto your standard lettuce is not going to make it much more exciting, or satiating for that matter. There have been times when I have felt a strong urge to teach the world how to make Salads. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I think that this food blogger is off to a really good start.

So then, what is a Salad? The dictionary says it's basically just a mixture of foods - raw or cooked veggies, sometimes with meat, with a dressing, served cold. See? nothing about lettuce. The key to a good Salad is simply starting with good, fresh ingredients. You can throw in just about anything, you just don't want to get carried away. Often the fewer things the better. I always try to include a good protein source - tuna, nuts, beans, lentils. I often just drizzle a little olive oil and lemon juice over top, but sometimes I actually mix up a honey mustard dressing or some kind of vinaigrette, but I rarely ever buy a pre-made bottled salad dressing. Adding in a grain can easily turn a light salad into a full meal, maybe even a whole week of meals.

Here is a quinoa salad that I made yesterday for a friend's going-away party. I wasn't sure where it was going when I started, but it turned out to be really delicious. This also means I didn't measure, so I'm just guessing on the measurements now. If anything seems off to you, please adapt accordingly, and let me know so I can change it on here. I wish I had more left over for myself, but this is all I've got. Enough for a photo, at least.

Quinoa Salad with Mango and Edamame Recipe:
3 cups cooked quinoa (about 1 cup dry, maybe a bit less)
1 champagne mango, cut into cubes
3/4 cup edamame
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup red pepper, diced
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbs apple cider vinegar
salt & pepper to taste

Mix everything together. Serve on a bed of arugula, or by itself.

I've got a few other salad ideas up my sleeves that I hope to be sharing on here soon, so stay tuned.

15 July, 2012

cooking for two

One day, in the middle of last week, I knew that I was going to be able to sleep in the next morning. My current definition of sleeping in is waking up any time after the sun rises high enough to pass a ray of light through one of my windows. Any one of them, I'm not picky. so long as I'm not leaving my house in the dark and driving to work passing party-goers making their final stop at the McDonald's drive-through. In celebration of that fact I invited a friend over for dinner with plans to take a walk and get ice cream afterwards. It was a simple evening, but we relished our taste of freedom and our bit of summer. I've been craving lazy summer days each time I see a block party or a wet-headed, pig-tailed girl riding a bicycle. But now is the time for surgery, and I have plenty of summers yet to live.

Our evening was simple. We introduced our pets and discovered that Zenith is scared of playful dogs. I heard him hiss for the first time ever, which made me a bit sad because he has never hissed at other cats. For dinner I made a salad and corn on the cob. Much of it was fresh from the farmer's market: the corn, butter with garlic scapes, tomato, cucumber, baby mustard greens and a soft buttery lettuce, tarragon white vinegar, sourdough bread. I don't usually peel cucumbers, but this time I did, and I added the peels to a pitcher of water and chilled it in the fridge. I chopped things up and made a dressing. I briefly boiled the sweet corn and slathered it with butter. I was having such a good time before my friend even arrived.

 It made me realize how much I enjoy preparing food for other people. It can be a luxury to prepare a good meal for yourself, but there's something very special about creating a dish - even a basic lettuce & veggie salad - that you will share with somebody else. It makes peeling cucumbers, using up the very last tomato, or splurging on some fresh herbs all seem completely worthwhile. That food becomes a sort of offering, a gift, a poem, an expression of love and friendship, it says "I care about you. I will feed you tasty things."

I'm going to try to have people over for dinner more often. Or lunch, or brunch, or coffee, whatever my crazy schedule will allow. Let me know if you want to come, feel free to invite yourself, my kitchen is open. And I will definitely be throwing myself a birthday party next month - I can't wait to come up with the menu.

03 July, 2012

sharing travel stories

Part of what I love about traveling is looking for great places to go while I'm there - the best gelato in Italy, a private art gallery, a beautiful rooftop view. This website is a great forum for travelers to find these kinds of recommendations. I've posted a few of my own highlights from my time in Freiburg & Berlin.

I've also uploaded a few video clips. They could use some more work - I'm afraid you will have to put up with the sound of me panting as I climb a hill - but it's a fun way to save and share memories. I used a fun iPhone app called 8mm to record them.

a few photos from Berlin

14 June, 2012

step one

Step 1. Completed.

In the meantime, life kept going on. Ian completed a couple translations and his first syllabus; my sister threw the shot put for 4th place at nationals, graduated from college and got a job back in Houston (I'm so proud & happy for her!); my grandmother got a new aortic valve (!); Egypt had elections; France has a new president.

I'm so happy to re-join the rest of the world again. Well, at least until my surgery rotation begins...

08 June, 2012

in the black forest with Goljan

All this studying has worn on me more than I thought it would, or at least in a different way than I thought it would. There are moments where it's exciting to put it all together and see how much I have learned in the last two years, or to realize that I am done with sitting in lectures. But there are other times when it's really hard to focus and everything jumbles together and I feel like I don't know anything. Sometimes a change of scene can help a lot, and that's when I realize that I am in the most perfect place to be this summer. I put on my headphones, loaded with an audio lecture, and head out to the Black Forest.

It is so beautiful here. I wish there were a way to upload the sounds and smells, just as easily as I can upload photographs. You can always hear at least 3 distinctly different birdsongs, along with the wind blowing through the trees, and the occasional trickling brook. Some areas just smell like dirt and fallen leaves, which is lovely in its own right, but sometimes you walk through a place that smells like pine and a deep nutty vanilla sort of of scent. I'd love a candle that captures that.

Of course, medical students are always thinking about pathology. Fortunately, I have managed to pet wandering cats without getting Bartonella henselae or Pasturella multocida, I drank from a mountain spring without getting sick from Giardia lamblia, and I haven't gotten any terrible tick-borne viral illnesses either.

It is incredibly peaceful, a welcome sanctuary and reprieve, even if I am listening to Goljan.

23 May, 2012

cooking in a european apartment

As you can see, our kitchen situation is pretty limited here. I'm beginning to get a bit bored with it to be honest, but for the first two weeks it was a lot of fun to see how creative I could be. I don't have any recipes to share with you, but maybe the following pictures will spark some ideas. We had several meals that turned out to be quite good. They began with me pulling out the few ingredients that fit in our mini fridge and throwing something together, each step of the process inspiring the next without much foresight. Then we would sit down to eat, commenting: "hm, not bad..." (a few more bites)  "actually, it's pretty good..." (a few more bites) "Mmm, this is great!"

this recipe + carrots + garam masala

note: that's Turkey the country, not the bird, but I'm to lazy to re-edit the photo

this idea came from here. it's delicious

21 May, 2012

beautiful bookstore

We kind of have a thing for books. Along with our library, my appreciation of books themselves has grown. I began to notice how some books just feel better in your hands than others - they are just the right size, have just the right laxity to their binding, and the pages are just the right thickness. Others are admirable for the type-setting of the cover and the font of the text. Finding just the right combination of text, image, and color is certainly an art. Placing several books from the same publisher side-by-side adds a whole new dimension to book aesthetics. And of course, I never tire of finding a used book with some antique inscription on the front cover (an absolute must in my mind when gifting a book), or an old strip of newspaper stuck inside, a forgotten bookmark.

One of Ian's most exciting finds before my arrival in Freiburg was a bookstore, and I joked that when he showed me around the city all I would see was bookstores. I have in fact been to at least 5. However, the Buchhandlung zum Wetzstein is certainly worth returning to again and again. Just being inside of this bookstore feels nice. The books are tastefully arranged amongst photographs of famous authors and various small sculptures, paintings, and beautiful quotes hand-written by somebody who works there. I love this wall of colorful books. All of the same height and width, all with a different beautiful pattern that somehow is associated with the title or the subject matter, many of them classics.

If you ever are in Freiburg, please visit this place. Even if you can't read German. When you walk in at least two people will say "Guten Tag" and ask if they can help you. Don't miss the case of  facsimiles and first editions, or the back room full of signed and rare books. It's one of the few places where I have heard people say "Aufwiedersehen". When we walked out today, we each received such a lovely farewell from each of the 3 people working there. That's 6 Aufwiedersehen's, which is 24 syllables. These people love books so much that they also love all other book-lovers.

Of course, Ian has found and purchased some really great books here, including a few that he couldn't find elsewhere and they kindly ordered for him. He is already trying to figure out how he is going to get everything home and still has 2 months left!

Reading in the Biergarten -- too good to wait!

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