Posts tagged ‘stress’

Comfort Food Craving

Some days, comfort food is a necessity. Specifically, rainy days filled with grumpy patients, impossible automated phone calls, and traffic. After a rather benign but somehow still intolerable Friday, I dreamed up this comforting pasta bake while stuck in traffic on my way home. I had a bunch of leftover tidbits of ingredients from my Girl’s Night and a lot of leafy greens from my Boston Organics box that seemed to scream out for a creamy pasta dish. At first, I had an idea to make a grown-up version of my Mom’s amazing mac n’ cheese, which was inspired by our favorite white pizza. However, I saw the tomatoes and sauce calling out to be used and morphed this into a Tomato Basil Pasta bake. (I will have to come back to that other idea though!) To me, comfort equates to carbs and cheese, but done in a way that avoids the bloaty, to0-full feeling that plagues me after most rich pastas. For this dish, the ricotta adds the rich creaminess without making it too heavy, and the 1:1 pasta and greens ratio helps make this a healthier version of a typical cheesey pasta. Try this the next time a long day at work leaves you craving comfort!

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Question: What comfort food do you crave after a long day at work?

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Tomato Basil Pasta Bake

serves 3-5

1/2 box whole wheat rotini

1 large bunch kale, stemmed and chopped

4 on-the vine tomatoes, diced (about 1 cup)

3/4 cup fat-free ricotta

1/2 cup low sodium pasta sauce

1/4 cup shredded mozzarella

1/2 +1/4 cup parmesan cheese, separated

1 tbsp basil, chiffonade

2 cloves garlic, minced

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Cook pasta according to directions, but stop 1-2 minutes shy of recommended cooking time for very al dente pasta. Meanwhile, prepare the kale and place in your pasta strainer. Strain your pasta over the kale, allowing the hot water to slightly steam the kale. (You don’t want to cook it, just soften it so that it stirs into the pasta better). In a separate bowl, mix together the remainder of the ingredients, except for separated 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese. Mix in the pasta and kale. Stir until well combined. Pour into an 8×8 brownie pan coated with cooking spray. Top with remaining parmesan cheese. Bake at 350F for 12 minutes or until heated through and the cheese has fully melted. Cut into rough squares and serve!

September 30, 2012 at 7:15 pm 1 comment

Red Wine Risotto

Sometimes, there is nothing more satisfying than making a delicious and healthy gourmet meal at home after a long day at work. Other times, I cannot stand to be on my feet for two more minutes and will gladly eat eggs or chips and salsa for dinner. Needless to say, my attitude towards cooking has been slightly bipolar over the past month while on my surgery rotation. The mornings are early, the days run long, and it is a physically demanding job. After running around on my feet all day, standing perfectly still while retracting or driving the camera in the OR, and constantly being questioned to flesh out my comprehension of disease and surgical interventions, more often than not I come home completely exhausted.

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However, sometimes cooking a meal at home is exactly what the doctor ordered to remedy a stressful day. Cooking is my creative outlet. A place where I can experiment and the results will only cost food. The kitchen is now a place where I am confident that I know that I am competent, a feeling that is fleeting as a third year student. This recipe was born from a stressful day on my surgery rotation. My friend came for dinner to vent about our day, and we found solace and comfort in the creative process and constant attention that this risotto required. I have seen red wine risottos before, and had good results using farro as a base in the past, so decided to combine a few recipes I have made in the past to achieve this most delicious result. Hands down, this is the best recipe I have made all summer. It is perfect for the chilly fall evenings that are creeping around the corner, and can fix even the worst of bad days in just a few bites. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we did!

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Red Wine Risotto with Farro and Mushrooms

serves 4

8oz package mushrooms, sliced

4 cloves minced garlic

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup red wine

1 small onion, diced

1 tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 cup farro (or arborio rice)

1/2 cup red wine

4 cups veg stock

1 tbsp dried parsley

shredded Parmesan cheese to taste (optional)

Begin by heating garlic and olive oil over medium heat. Saute mushrooms for several minutes, until they begin to soften. Add 1/4 cup red wine and simmer until liquid reduces. In a separate pot, saute onions in remaining olive oil. Add farro and remaining red wine. When all liquid has absorbed, add 1/2 cup vegetable broth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until all liquid has been absorbed. Add the broth in 1/2 cup increments until all of the broth has been added and absorbed. The farro should have a chewy but soft consistency when fully cooked. Stir in the mushrooms and parsley. Heat through for 2-3 more minutes. Serve over wilted spinach with Parmesan cheese to taste.

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September 8, 2012 at 10:04 am 3 comments

Lessons Learned

This past month has taught me a lot. Sure, I put in a lot of hours learning microbiology, physiology, pharmacology, pathology… but beyond the medical science, I also learned a lot about myself.

I learned that it is okay to realize you have worn nothing but leggings and yoga pants for 6 days straight when you sort your laundry.

I tested my attention span and sedentary capacity to their limits, and then broke up study blocks with jumping jacks and sit ups to stay awake and sane.

I realized how important it is to get out of the house each day, even if it is just for a quick one mile jog.

I learned how much I love to run.

I remembered how much I love to walk on days when I just can’t muster the energy to run.

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I appreciated just how much I learned in the past two years, and how much there is that I still don’t know.

The human body is an amazing machine.

I learned that it is okay to cry on a friend’s shoulder when you are overwhelmed and feel inadequate for the task at hand.

I was and am constantly reminded that God is faithful. Starting the day with a Psalm helped refocus my priorities on some really tough days.

I am amazed at the supportive and loving community that has surrounded me and carried me through to where I am now.

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I learned that colored pens make everything more fun.

I released my post-exam anxiety and jitters by recycling two years of notes and scrap paper.

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I learned how important home cooked meals are to me. I only ordered take out twice. And both times were worth it.

I survived by being okay with having breakfast for dinner. And lunch. And breakfast. Because what would life be without home fries and eggs?

I made more variations of home fries and eggs than I knew possible before this past month. Breakfast for dinner meals were great because they still gave me the break I desperately desired in the kitchen without any intensive prep or clean up. I never measured, so these are loose instructions for some of my favorite and unexpected combos rather than strict recipes.

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The first is a Turnip Hash that was inspired by the plethora of turnips I received in my Boston Organics box. I cut up a large turnip (peeled) and a large potato (unpeeled) into bite sized pieces and steamed them until they were fork tender. I then sautéed them in a large skillet with a pad of Smart Balance Light butter, a pinch of salt and rosemary. On a whim, I threw in a small handful of raisins and a dash of cinnamon, because it makes everything better. And it did. I was surprised how much I liked this! The classic rosemary with potatoes kept it homey, while the turnips added an interesting flavor and stronger texture. The raisins were a nice sweet addition, though I did make it without and liked it both ways. A whole turnip and potato made at least 3 if not more meals for me served alongside a fried egg and piece of toast. Breakfast for dinner success number 1!

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The second is a Curried Egg Omelette. I can’t take credit for this idea – my Grandma is the true brains behind this creation. While in Florida, she made eggs one morning and on a whim (I am seeing where my cooking style comes from now…) threw in a dash of curry powder and cinnamon. I was skeptical, as I am sure you are as well, but, like I said, cinnamon makes everything better. And it did. The cinnamon flavor didn’t shine through, but instead enhanced the light curry flavor that took over the scrambled eggs. It was unexpected and addicting. I knew I had to make it again. So I did. I mixed two eggs with a teaspoon of Greek yogurt (you could use milk or sour cream as well) and a few shakes (about 1/4 tsp) curry powder and a shake (less than 1/8 tsp) cinnamon. You can turn this into scrambled eggs, or pour it into a really hot pan for a nice omelette with a crunchy outside. The curry flavor is mild but unique, and leaves me wanting more! I ate these eggs alongside some sweet potato  home fries, skins left on and sautéed in olive oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

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Lesson learned in writing this post: I should buy stock in cinnamon.

And I am so excited to cook and share with you all again!

May 21, 2012 at 11:00 am 7 comments

Failure Is Not an Option

Despite being rather absent from the blog scene lately, I am happy to accept Sara @ My Less Serious Life‘s shout out for the Liebster Award. This is my second time being passed along this honor, and I am always happy to join in the fun! The award is passed between bloggers to recognize up and coming writers with less than 200 followers. After sharing 5 fun facts, you pass the award along to 5 more blog friends! First, the friends, then the facts!

1. Lauren @ Whole Wheat or Bust

2. Melanie @ Little Green Homemaker

3. Stefanie @ A Dash of Sugar and Spice

4. Kim @ Badger Girl Learns to Cook

5. Allison @ Allison’s Delicious Life

Now for the fun facts… This might be a challenge given the current monotony of my life!

1. I am a movie narcoleptic. If I sit down for a movie anywhere past 9pm and am remotely relaxed and/or reclined, I will fall asleep. Yet somehow, I will manage to wake up as the credits are rolling. I usually think I am sneaky enough that no one noticed, but that is never true.

2. I ran my first 5K on Sunday! I am participating in the Boston Athletic Association’s Distance Medley, which kicked off this weekend. I had been working on my speed with sprints and intervals, so was excited to clock in a pretty good time. However, the race was so crowded that I could hardly move for the first mile! After running a 10 minute mile amongst 7,000 other runners, I gave up all time goals and just enjoyed the sunshine and the fact that so many people were participating in such a fun event!

3. I failed at freezing leftovers last week for the first time ever. I thought I was being clever, freezing soup in my mason jars instead of more delicate plastic Tupperware. However, I filled the jars way too full and they cracked. Then I cut two of my fingers retrieving the glass and soup shards from the freezer. Smart. Lesson learned.

4. I also have been cooking a lot less, relying instead on salads, sandwiches and frozen leftovers. Except for when they explode in my freezer… then I have savory oatmeal for dinner.

5. I have been spending so much time in my desk chair study throne in front of my computer that often the last thing I want to do during the last hour of my evening is come up with a blog post. I have mentioned before, but I am currently preparing to take the USMLE Step 1 at the end of May. This is the first part of my medical board examinations, and is essentially a 2 year cumulative final. It has been a stressful semester, and is culminating with what is ominously referred to as “Intensive Study Period.” Although my classes officially end Friday, I will spend the next month spending 12+ hours a day, 6 days a week chained to my study throne. I expect that my posts will be sporadic, but I will still be making time to cook, run, sleep and read a few posts now and then!

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I can’t leave you without a recipe idea until the end of May! If you are in the Northeast and have found yourself with some spring dug turnips, then this soup is for you! I am more than thrilled that root vegetable season is on its way out and that more local variety is coming back, but this soup was flavorful and different enough to satiate my creative appetite! I adapted the recipe from the Boston Organics website to make it a little healthier, and accidentally vegan. The soup is hearty like any good chowder, and remarkably filling from the protein boost (thanks to tofu in place of cream). This is also the soup that caused my mason jar accident, and I am sad I will not get to enjoy the leftovers! Guess that just means I will have to make it again!

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Parsnip Chowder

serves 6-8, adapted from here

2 tbsp Earth Balance

1 large onion, diced

1 lb parsnips, peeled and diced

1 lb potatoes, peeled and diced

2 vegetable bouillon cubes

5 cups water

1 block tofu, pressed and drained

salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp dried parsley

In a large pot, saute the onions in the butter until tender. Add the parsnips and potatoes. Cover with water and dissolve the bouillon cubes. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cubed tofu and simmer for 5 more minutes. Use an immersion blender to process into a smooth soup. Add parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow to stand for 1 hour before serving to allow the flavor of the parsnips to shine through.

April 16, 2012 at 7:41 pm 5 comments

WIAW Back in the Swing of Things

Well, it is about time that I face reality. Even though it is abnormally warm in Boston, my beach vacation is over and I am back to the books for the next two months. I will be putting in some long days of studying for the USMLE Board Exams, so my routine is starting to look pretty monotonous. Study, eat, study, run, shower, eat, study, study, study, eat, sleep. I didn’t know it was humanly possible to sit for so long and cram so much information into my brain each day! At least I have good, healthy food to power me through the day.

Breakfast: 7:30am

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A productive day always starts with a good bowl of oatmeal in my book. I made my trail mix oatmeal, adding cinnamon and chia seeds to the mix and cooked in just water, since I have run out of unsweetened almond milk! Delicious and wholesome, enjoyed with black, French press coffee and a bottle of water.

Morning snack: 11am

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Before my sprint work out, I needed a little fuel to carry me through. My favorite pre-run snack is dates dipped in almond butter. They are sweet and protein packed, but won’t sit heavy in your stomach while running. Enjoyed, of course, with another bottle of water. (Gotta make my 3L for the Game On challenge!)

Lunch: 1:30pm

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The warmer weather makes salad eating much more enjoyable! A few friends and I met for lunch, and sat on the lawn in front of school to take full advantage of the beautiful weather! I had a big bowl of lettuce topped with thawed corn, peas, a black bean burger, and salsa. This was pretty spicy, and huge! Good thing I had a big bottle of water to wash it down with!

Afternoon snack: 4pm

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I was pretty hungry after my morning of sprinting and biking, so I had a big bowl of Greek yogurt when I got home! I used some applesauce to sweeten it, and added a bit of almond butter, cocoa powder, and cinnamon in an attempt to get something comparable to a chocolate pudding. It wasn’t exactly what I was going for, but it tasted good enough. Plus, the protein powered me through the rest of my afternoon of studying!

Dinner: 7:45pm

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An impromptu roommate dinner was called for by Marie this morning! Who am I to say no to a chance to cook a delicious meal while processing life with such a good friend? We made what I am calling Cauliflower Dal, and it might be the best recipe we have concocted in quite some time. It is simple, flavorful, and really healthy! The recipe post will be up tomorrow, if you are interested! We chose naan over rice to help soak up the sauce, and enjoyed a leisurely dinner together.

Even though my day was busy and life is starting to get stressful, my health is a priority and I am glad to take the time each day to prepare and fill myself with good, nutritious food! Remind me that when things get even crazier in the upcoming months!

Question: What is the best thing you ate today?

March 21, 2012 at 7:53 pm 5 comments

Nerd Alert

I try not to be a complainer about school on my blog. I’ll drop the occasional hint that I am stressed or that school is difficult, but let’s be real here: I am in medical school and that is to be expected. The last few weeks of school have been legitimately hard for me because I wasn’t enjoying the material. Every second of studying felt like work and by the end of the module, I was left questioning if medicine was something I was truly passionate about. It is so nice to be reminded that the answer to that question is yes! We have moved from studying infectious diseases to the cardiovascular system, and I am really enjoying. There is still a lot of work, I am still stressed and school is still difficult, but I am enjoying learning again!

The best part of this block is the practicality of it (many of my future patients will have heart disease, but I am unlikely to see a rare fungal disease that I just spent hours memorizing!). I am interested in primary care and preventative medicine, and there is no better example of the importance of lifestyle interventions than in the cardiovascular system. First some sobering statistics, then some good news, and then I have a question at the end that I would love your feedback on!

Some sobering stats:

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    • The newest reports show that 68% of American adults and 20% of American children are overweight (BMI > 25). The super obese (BMI > 50) is the fastest growing segment of the population. By 2025, 50% of the US will be obese (BMI > 30). This is some scary stuff! While it is commonly assumed that obesity is an American epidemic, that is not all true either. It is more prevalent here, but upward trends are beginning in many other countries as well.
    • Obesity is the 2nd leading cause of cardiovascular related deaths, second to cigarette smoking. This kills more than 400,00 people per year!
    • Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the US, and actually kills more women than men annually.
    • Cardiovascular disease and hypertension, when combined, cost more in health care dollars than cancer and trauma-related injury.
    • The estimated annual cost of cardiovascular disease, including productivity hours lost, is $287 billion dollars.

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I could continue. Each of our lectures begin with slides packed with graphs, charts, and statistics that make my mouth drop. We are a nation in a disease crisis, but it is insidious and difficult to confront. Unlike the flu pandemic or vaccination campaign to eradicate small pox, public health initiatives seem to be making little headway against disease. Something needs to change.
Time for some good news… it doesn’t take much! Too often, a healthy lifestyle is seen as an all or nothing approach. For some, jumping head first into a new lifestyle may be effective. But for many, it is overwhelming and prevents them from making any changes. Consider these facts:
  • The biggest gains in cardiovascular health come from just adding minimal physical activity. If the population is divided into five groups, 1 being sedentary and 5 being most active, a person reduces their risk of cardiovascular disease the most by moving from the first to second quintile. What does this mean? You don’t have to run a marathon to be healthy. You don’t even have to run! Just go for a walk at lunch time or before dinner a few times a week! Five 30-minute sessions of light aerobic activity is enough to cut your risk of heart disease in half. There are added gains of even more activity, but the biggest boost is the first step.

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  • One in seven new cases of type II diabetes can be prevented by a 7% weight loss and the addition of 150 minutes of physical activity per week. Lifestyle interventions have been proven more effective than medication therapy. 7% weight loss is pretty modest – 14lb for a 200lb person. A person can lose up to 20 lb in one year simply by cutting 125 calories (the equivalent of a can of soda or an extra slice of toast at breakfast). Again, not a major step for huge benefit.
  • Cardiovascular deaths can be cut in half by national and individual efforts to reduce major preventable  risk factors (smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.) If you are a nerd like me, check out the Million Hearts Initiative.
Enough data spewing, I think the point is pretty clear. Obesity is a real problem, and it has real health consequences. While obesity-related cardiac death kills almost as many people as cigarettes do, health professionals are half as likely to counsel patients on lifestyle changes as they are on smoking cessation. I have talked to my parents, who both have long struggled with their weight, about why this might be true. I have some ideas, but first I would like to hear yours!
Question: Why do you think doctors are reluctant to talk to their patients about weight reduction and lifestyle changes? If a doctor were to address these issues with you, how would you want them to do it? Have you been counseled by a physician before on lifestyle interventions, and what made this a good or a bad experience?

September 23, 2011 at 1:33 pm 10 comments

Seasons of Change

Fall is in the air and the blog world is abuzz with pumpkin, squash and cinnamon. I am loving all of the new meal ideas, especially anything with pumpkin pie spices! Recently, my friend turned me on to spiced coffee. In your regular drip coffee maker, sprinkle a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg over the coffee grinds. Brew your coffee as normal and a hint of the spices will shine through. It tastes like fall in a cup! As good as gourmet pumpkin spice roasted coffee blends without the cost.

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More than just the season is changing around me. School is picking up intensity faster than I ever could have imagined. I am already two exams in with only harder modules in sight. I have a lot less time to cook, and also less of a need to cook since it is just me. (Marie and I are still working on that big batch of winter melon soup from last week!) I also have a lot less time for blogging, necessarily prioritizing school on certain days. I love cooking and writing and sharing and will still plan on doing so, but will have to pull back from daily posts. I do not want to promise a schedule either, since this blog is something I do to unwind and have a stress-free outlet. I hope you will continue to read and enjoy my adventures, even as I become a busier and busier student!

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Last change – I am giving up sugar! For three weeks at least… My hiking buddies and I are running the Boston Half Marathon over Columbus Day weekend, and we talked about nutrition and training during our hike. We are all dedicated to running and eat pretty healthy (whole grain, vegetarian, mostly unprocessed) diets, but want to be at our peak for the upcoming race. We committed to forgoing added sugars until the race (with one cheat day allowed for a pre-planned event). I am even planning to avoid natural sweeteners like honey and agave, hoping to better taste the sweetness of fruits for dessert. I started yesterday and was already craving a biscotti from Starbucks, so this will likely be harder than I expected.

Challenge: Want to join me, my roommate, and friend as we give up added sugar for the next three weeks? It is simple! Avoid most desserts, choosing fruit instead, and check your normal spreads and sauces for added sugars. It is always helpful to have accountability partners in lifestyle changes, whether near or far!

September 19, 2011 at 7:00 am 13 comments

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