2023 and Me:The Year I Put the Pedal to The Metal

 

My trusty old suitcase finally gave out at the end of 2022  and I like the symbolism of that. It represents a former life and all of the places I went before. I am grateful for that life and those experiences and also ready to close that chapter and move on to do new things. 2022 was about leaving my old career, healing and finding a new path forward for myself. Now 2023 is all about going for it!

To this end, I’ve got 3 big projects going down this year:

  1. I am publishing my book baby, Falling Out of Love with My Career!

Writing this book has been a growth experience like none I’ve had before. I learned so much about myself and life transitions and I can’t wait to share it. Even though sharing with a wider audience also makes me incredibly nervous! I am a private introvert who has somehow managed to write a book that lays myself completely bare. Scary to put it out there, but doing it anyway.

  1. I am starting a publishing business!

That’s right, I’m gonna be a publisher. Bonfire Books Press is in the works because I believe writers deserve a better deal than what most traditional publishers offer these days. More creative control, more money, better marketing. I will test the waters with my own book and then open it up to other writers with unique voices who are looking for a publishing home.

  1. I am writing my next book: Desperately Dating!

I had a blast doing the Desperately Dating Podcast with my dream of a stepson, Zac Shomler, so now I’m going to turn that content into a book. Some of the questions I will explore in a fun, approachable way are: What is true love and how do you find it? Is it possible to enjoy dating without losing your mind and becoming totally discouraged? How do you maintain a soul-satisfying relationship?

desperately dating

I am really excited for this year! These three projects will be incredibly fun, but I am also looking forward to enjoying more of my daily joys that keep me grounded and happy as well. Like reading good books or swimming (only reason to have a gym membership in my book) and cooking for those I love. Or discovering and sharing quirky new kitchen gadgets to delight and amaze. Spending quality time with my man visiting dive bars, drinking martinis at home or enjoying restful Sundays on the couch with good shows and popcorn. I will also continue to advocate for my mom as she navigates our challenging American healthcare system – at least there is still a good use for all my training and experience working in the medical field. The big stuff matters, but the little stuff also gives my life a lot of richness and texture.

Symbolically, I have replaced my old faithful case with this snazzy new number, in Caribbean Blue (of course). We are ready for new (ad)ventures! Here I come 2023, it’s gonna be a great year.

 

 

 

Things I Wish My Mother Had(n’t) Told Me About Menopause

KC-Shomler-Menopause-And-Me-Recipes-Are-Merely-A-Suggestion

I feel like menopause thus far has been something of a mystery. And not the good kind of mystery. Not the I-wonder-what-this-beautifully-wrapped-gift-is type of mystery, but more of the why-is-my-toilet-making-that-weird-noise kind of mystery. Not just a mystery to me either.

I honestly think part of the reason why my first husband and I divorced when we did was because he didn’t want to have to go through this stage of life with me. And he’s a doctor! Funny coincidence that his new wife is significantly younger… unintentional or not, it amounts to further postponement of that shared experience.

The irony of my ignorance about menopause is, I am a woman, a healthcare provider myself and I have two older sisters, a mom and friends who have all gone through this stage of life. So why do I feel so ignorant about it??

Well, that’s not entirely true. I did learn, many years ago in school, about the technical changes that occur in the body including which hormones shift at menopause. But who gives a fuck about that? That doesn’t help me understand what this life transition feels like.

And since my own healthcare providers had similar scanty training on the subject and are usually younger than I am these days so devoid of first-hand experience on the matter, none of them have been much help either. They just hand me various pills, tell me to give up gluten or send me off for consultation about having my uterus taken out and be done with it.

The body ills like heavy unpredictable bleeding, disabling pain and sheet-soaking night sweats have been no picnic, but honestly, most of the time I don’t know if I need a doctor, a psychiatrist or a priest! These symptoms are wildly varied and go far beyond the physical plane. For instance, I don’t think there are meds I can take to fix my profound existential angst and I doubt a hysterectomy is going to cut it (every pun intended) when I feel like my metaphorical cheese is sliding off of my cracker.

I doubt a hysterectomy is going to cut it (every pun intended) when I feel like my cheese is sliding off of my cracker

Neither of my sisters has been much help in shedding light on the subject. One of them says she barely noticed going through the change (I wonder if her immediate family would corroborate this) and the other just takes on a haunted look when the subject arises. My mom was the most up close and personal look I had at the process and it was not pretty. The messages I got from her were that this is a horrible, no-good, awful change to be fought tooth and nail and one must take synthetic hormones to stave off the inevitable for as long as possible. She did not go willingly into that goodnight. Not exactly encouraging.

Well, I don’t want my daughters and sons to be in the dark like I was. I want them to have some idea about what is coming and how to be good to themselves and to their partners during this totally normal, but admittedly challenging stage of life. So here goes, what I have learned about menopause (so far):

Perimenopause is the name for the time period leading up to menopause which is defined as the date one year after the last menstrual period. Colloquially, people call it menopause when they’re really talking about perimenopause (when all of the wacky shit happens). I did it myself at the beginning of this letter, it’s just easier to say.

It can sneak up on you. In retrospect, I’ve probably been in this perimenopausal period for around 10 years! It started very subtly with heavier bleeding, more pain and fewer fucks to give. Incidentally, this transition can last 7–14 years on average, so I gotta be reaching the end soon!

Pain can and should be managed. This may require assertiveness, but it is possible. Don’t accept less. I allowed my pain to be under-treated for far too long until it was impacting my work and general wellbeing. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I finally demanded and received adequate relief. I shouldn’t have suffered that long, physically or emotionally. It wasn’t heroic, I was just hurting myself and further hobbling my ability to roll with the menopause waves. Go ahead and be that squeaky wheel if you have pain that you can’t fix on your own. You matter.

The mood swings are epic. They come on fast and can take me from the highest feelings of joy and confidence to the lowest depths of despair. I have had more suicidal thoughts in the past 3 years than in my whole life. Never with a plan or anything close to completion, but still. It feels highly shameful to admit these dark feelings, but they are real. And thankfully transient.

It is disorienting to lose that predictable menstrual cycle. Imagine having all access to clocks and calendars removed from your life. You don’t know what to expect (physically or emotionally) or when, it is all constant reaction. For planners like me, that sucks! And it is exhausting all by itself.

Plus, all of the other various and sundry body woes: Bloating to an extent I did not think possible. Like, do I have a tumor level. Hugely swollen tits. Ridiculously easy weight gain. Changing shape with a bigger belly. Clothes fit way different. Headaches. Joint pains. Very weird sleep patterns, insomnia, nighttime restlessness, odd dreams. And while some women reportedly lose their hair during this time of life, I find I am sprouting more than I need. On my face and chin in particular. Thank god for tweezers and good lighting.

Thank god for tweezers and good lighting

But…it is not all bad. And here are a few of the good things I want you to know about too:

I am loving my mind. It feels like a race car these days! With benefit of all those years of living, learning and experiencing life I am at the top of my game in the brain department. I can see patterns, reason and intuit things like never before. I may not have the memory power that I used to, but cognitive function is solid.

Orgasms are way more intense. Seriously.

My tolerance for bullshit is way down. I am feeling increasingly comfortable with being direct and saying no without guilt.

I am more focused on me, my wants and needs. Not to the exclusion of others’, but in addition to them. I feel like I matter too and I am pursuing my dreams, not just helping others reach theirs.

I am braver and way better at facing my fears and doing it anyway.

My hair looks great. Silver suits me.

I am healing deep hurts and setting new boundaries as a result. Painful, old shit is welling up, but it feels necessary and healthy to purge it and process it. This is the means through which I am growing into myself and really reaching my potential as a healthy and happy human.

And soon, the biggest boon on the horizon still to come — freewheelin’, birth control free, no kids at home sex! That must be the best gift of menopause; hot sex with the privacy of an empty nest and and no more periods. I can’t wait!

So for my daughters: Be kind to yourselves when your body and mind start to change. Your experience may be different than mine in timing and variety of symptoms, but your family history says you’ll probably be looking at your early 40s for all of this fun to begin!

Call me if you want to talk about it and lean on your friends or find a community to support you. It can be disorienting and weird, but don’t forget to advocate for yourselves and look for the good parts as well.

Journaling has been an indispensable tool for me to process this process. Caring for my physical body with daily yoga, swimming, dog walks and increasing the nutritional value of my diet while cutting back on alcohol and caffeine have also helped. Being nice to myself about my changing body size and shape has been difficult but necessary growth.

Even though a big part of me still has the impulse to make drastic changes to my diet and exercise in an effort to force my way back to my 20-year-old body, I am increasingly aware that this is futile and not good for my mental health. Bodies are meant to change and this is the body I have now for this stage of life.

So I make a big effort to care for it, talk nicely to it (or at least not negatively), feed it well, buy cute and comfortable clothes that fit and be grateful that I am healthy. Instead of focusing on what I don’t like, I spend more time looking for the good (like my hair ;).

For my sons: Be kind with your partner as she goes through this change. It may start around 40 or even earlier (best guess is whenever her mom went through it). She is not going to feel like herself and that is because she is busy morphing into her new, equally amazing self.

Her experience may be much different than mine, for better or worse, but she is going to need you. This is your time to give to her your love, support and understanding. Be patient, give her room and look for the good stuff in the process too. Tell her that she is wonderful and beautiful and that you like her and love her. Acknowledge how hard this must be on her and admire her strength.

You can call Steven to talk about it. He has been a phenomenal partner to me through this. He never once made me feel ashamed of myself or guilty for how the process of my body changing affects him. I liked how he took the attitude of “this is important to you, so it is important to me.” That’s teamwork right there. He has remained unfailingly curious and supportive, which, come to think of it, is a great example for all of us about how to treat ourselves and each other.

Love, Mama

unfailingly curious and supportive

Yes, I do have a degree in Philosophy

I’ve been mocked by many over the years for my philosophy degree. Here’s aRodin-the thinker sculpture-kcisme-philosophy=pithy wisdom sample of the gems that these wise critics have imparted to me:

“Philosophy is just mental masturbation.”

“A philosophy degree won’t get you a job.”

“What are you going to do with THAT?”

“She has a philosophy degree? HAHAHAHAHA!”

The level of derision my degree provokes just blows me away, because I use my philosophy background every single day.

It may not have taught me a lot of useful (or even useless) facts, per se, but studying philosophy did teach me how to operate my brain better, which has wide applicability (that goes far beyond being able to dissect people and figure out what the hell they’re up to, but that’s a definite perk, too). I can read deep, dense writing effectively and find meaning in it. I can evaluate the validity of an argument and use logic to craft my own. I can contemplate the meaning of life in a meaningful way. I can understand and appreciate multiple points of view and potential courses of action. I can write, clearly and persuasively. I can consider the moral implications of my actions and the actions of others.

I am where I am today precisely because of my foundation in philosophy, and I am so very grateful for having that tool under my proverbial belt. It’s pushed me to seek a better life. I’ve weathered my share of losses and abuses and changes, but I’ve emerged stronger and better as a result of knowing how to apply the hidden lessons beneath those things.

My degree hangs proudly in my laundry room. Why the laundry room? Well, partly because I think it is a funny play on what many believe is the quality of work my philosophy degree has prepared me for. But at the same time, it’s a reminder to myself that even while I’m doing the most mundane of chores, my mind is still working on bigger, badder stuff.

 

“Knowledge doesn’t age well. Methods do.”

—Erik Weiner, American writer and comedian

 

 

 

 

Hot Salad

I love salad. The crunch, the colors, the unbridled creativity involved in making plants reach their amazing potential. A big plate of vegetables also makes me feel good inside. Nourished. But in the colder months? Not so much. I want something to warm me up! While soup often stands in for salads for me when I want something veg-heavy, there are times when I want to eat something with a fork instead.

Enter the concept of the hot salad. I first saw this idea on TikTok and was captivated by the thought of making a warm salad. And I don’t mean the 1980s version of the “wilted” spinach salad or the more recent travesty of the grilled romaine salad (yuck). I mean an honest to god salad, but, you know, heated up so it’s not cold anymore.

The naysayers will say this is really just a “bowl” or a side dish of roasted vegetables in disguise, but so what? I like the idea of giving boring old salad an upgrade. Making it spicier and sexier, making it “hot”.

This is less a recipe and more of a method, so give it a try, freely substituting for your tastes. I found the following combination incredibly satisfying, even on a wintry day.

 

Kale, chopped and tough stems removed

White onion, sliced

Bell pepper (whichever color you like), sliced

Garbanzo beans, cooked or canned and drained

Neutral oil

Smoked paprika

Garlic pepper

Tarragon or other dried herb of choice

Quinoa, cooked in broth

Chili oil

Lemon juice and zest

Salt and pepper

 

Cook quinoa as per package directions substituting broth for water.

Drain and spread out on a lined sheet pan to cool and dry while oven heats to 350 degrees.

Toss cooled quinoa in a judicious amount of hot chili oil and spread back out on lined pan. Cook in oven until browned and crisp, stirring occasionally.

Remove cooked quinoa from oven, set aside and crank the heat up to 400 degrees.

In a big bowl, combine vegetables and beans, coat with oil and sprinkle liberally with herbs and spices.

Spread veg mix out on a sheet pan and set bowl aside (we will use it again). Roast veg mix in the oven until everything is tender and crisp.

In same big bowl, combine veg mix and the zest and juice of one lemon, toss and taste for salt and pepper.

Serve in bowls and add crunchy quinoa.

This is pretty healthy and satisfying all on its own, but a runny egg on top takes it to the next level.

 

 

The 4-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss

It is a tantalizing title, isn’t it?  Many of us would love to escape the bondage of the 9-5 life, but does this book deliver us from that evil? Maybe or maybe not, but it is an interesting read nonetheless.

I love how the big ideas in this book really got me thinking and dreaming of a life better structured around my actual priorities rather than those of some rando employer who could care less about my personal well-being.

I am a non-conformist at heart and this book speaks to my subversive side. The working norm in this country is just that – the norm. Doesn’t mean it’s the only way to go about it. Tim convincingly presents examples from his own experience of how it really is possible to redesign your life to maximize enjoyment while making a living. Really.

He goes into a lot of detail about certain ways to go about this kind of approach to work with an emphasis on building a business that can be automated to free up your time to enjoy life. It makes sense, but he kind of lost me in these parts since I do not have an interest in building such a business. However, there were still a ton of tips to streamline work and increase effective use of time that were insightful and apply to anyone.

4 Good quotes from the book:

“Most people aren’t lucky enough to be fired and die a slow spiritual death over 30-40 years of tolerating the mediocre.”

“Don’t only evaluate the downside of action. It is equally important to measure the atrocious cost of inaction.”

“Don’t save it all for the end. There is every reason not to.”

“Let’s define ‘laziness’ anew – to endure a non-ideal existence to let circumstances or others decide life for you, or to amass a fortune while passing through life like a spectator from an office window.”

 

Life wisdom obtained:

He points out how dumb it is that we all play along with this deferred gratification model of saving for a retirement that may never come. Or when it does, we might be too old or infirm to enjoy it. He is so right.

He really got me thinking about money in a new way. I’m paraphrasing Tim, but he convincingly shows us that the goal really isn’t gathering lots of money. It’s about the lifestyle we want and that is where we need to put our attention. Many of us think and dream about having an abstract pile of big bucks in the bank, but why? Why do we want that money? To live a great life filled with experiences that make us feel alive, fulfilled, happy, whole. Those are the things that actually make you rich and are often surprisingly affordable. Even right here, right now in this very point in your life, so go get ‘em, don’t wait.

 

4 Must read chapters:

  1. Rules That Change the Rules
  2. Dodging Bullets
  3. System Reset
  4. Beyond Repair

 

Will I keep it on my bookshelf or donate it? I will keep it and refer back to it when I am feeling weak about taking a socially unsanctioned approach to work.

Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Wants to Be, by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield’s books are tiny, but mighty inspirational for creative types like me. I personally adore how he eliminates much of the preamble, discussion and repetition that other writers deem necessary and which tend to bury the all-important point. He delivers a short, no bullshit form of wisdom that prevents me from hiding from myself or getting wrapped up in looking for faulty logic in what I’m reading. Pressfield just says what I need to hear without all of the nuts and fruitcake around it. Brevity like this that retains meaning is deceptively simple, but in fact requires great depth of knowledge and immense skill. I thank him for it.

 

4 Good quotes from the book:

“Any time I tried to take the intelligent course, i.e., get a real job, I became so depressed I couldn’t stand it.”

“At some point the practice of our vocation moves from being a challenge that we must will ourselves into accepting and enacting to become simply…our life.”

“This is the job. There is no other job. This is the job.”

“When you’re tired, stop.”

 

Life wisdom obtained:

It is possible to be 100% committed 10% of the time.

The ability to self-reinforce is more important than talent.

Things are not as bad as you are imagining them.

Show up in a predictable fashion so the muse knows where and when to find you.

 

Must read chapters:

Book 6

Book 8

 

Will I keep it on my bookshelf or donate it? Definitely a keeper for when I need a kick in the ass to keep going.

 

One Hit Wonders

I am emphatically anti-clutter in the kitchen. Well, actually, most places in my house but especially in the kitchen. I like a clean, streamlined space. If my kitchen is dirty, I clean it before I cook in it. My weirdness is already well-established. My husband learned the hard way when he moved in that I do not tolerate multiples of any kitchen item (except silverware, dishes and wooden spoons). His favored corkscrew? Gone. I already had a similar one. His wine glasses? Out. I’ve got plenty. Ditto for cutting boards, cookie cutters, coffee pots, whatever else I already had and did not need. Don’t even get me started on single use kitchen gadgets! Most of these are pure clutter and seem utterly ridiculous to me, albeit as such, often entertaining. It was a relatively tense moment when I asked him to prove the utility of his milk foamer under intense scrutiny before I would consent to its continued residence in our cupboards.

I am not without my vices however. I cannot deny an abiding love for the following single use items, some admittedly silly.

I must confess a deep attachment  for my rice cooker. I have owned one since receiving my first model as a high school graduation gift from my grandma. Priceless bit of magical machinery. Lasted 25+ years before I had to replace it. That little baby kept me and my poor hungry college friends fed on many an impaired occasion when the sobering and nourishing power of white rice was desperately needed. My mom gave me my first egg cooker as a joke one Christmas. It was a branded model, Foghorn Leghorn (for those who understand that reference) and I instantly fell in love. This ridiculous little machine pays for itself by turning out perfectly hard cooked eggs every time without requiring me to boil water or set a timer. I am emphatically anti-timer. Related item – I also have an egg slicer, because I like eggs on toast without having to squish everything up using a knife getting crumbly yolk all over my hands. Stupid, I know, but I like it. A salad spinner is indispensable because, um, I like salad and wish to avoid food borne illnesses.

In the interest of complete transparency I also own an electric kettle (life changing for this tea drinker and I’ve never looked back), a lemon twist cutter (I like martinis), and a tortilla press – I’ll tell you more about that one later, but homemade tortillas are a cinch, dirt cheap, taste great and make you look like a rockstar in the kitchen. Worth the cupboard space. Otherwise, I’m pretty much opposed to over stocking my kitchen drawers.  I mean if you use it, fine, but if not, get rid of it! For most things I use a knife, sometimes scissors (much overlooked versatile kitchen tool), a pan, the stove, and the oven to get things done. More on my favorite kitchen essentials to come and a collection of my all time favorite stupid kitchen gadgets here can be found on instagram @stupidkitchengadgets.

Stupid Kitchen Gadgets Haiku Poem by Kc is me AKA Karyn Shomler

Knives

Knives don’t have to be intimidating. The right ones can make the cooking experience so much more enjoyable. Don’t get all freaked out when I say “the right ones”. By that I only mean, the ones that suit YOU best. Ones that fit in your hand comfortably, feel sturdy but not too heavy and have a sharp blade. You won’t feel like you have to work hard to cut stuff when you are using the right knife.

I love travelling and staying in rental places with a kitchen. I know I’m weird, most people think of vacation as including a break from cooking, but this is how I relax. And I usually bring my own knives. I’m not trying to be all pretentious, but it really does affect my whole experience if I have to work with shitty tools, so I bring my own.

I have had the same set of Global knives for almost 20 years and I still love them and use them everyday. My favorite is a big badass cleaver-kinda situation. Great for chopping veg, which I do a lot, and the wide flat blade is perfect for whacking garlic. I also have a serrated knife for slicing bread and stuff that is softer like tomatoes. My small paring knife is perfect for smaller jobs like taking the tops off of strawberries, opening packages (I know, it dulls the blade) and peeling potatoes. Not sure why, but I prefer to peel potatoes in my hand with a small knife. It just feels right, but as previously mentioned, I’m weird.

As far as care goes – don’t put them in the dishwasher, wash them by hand, don’t put them away wet, keep the blade sharp (less chance of cutting yourself with a sharp blade than a dull one), use the non-cutting side to scrape food off of the cutting board and don’t use them to open packages  🙂

I’m a Hypocrite

I work in the American healthcare (AHC) system. I see patients. I dispense health related advice. I order screening tests. I prescribe medicines and treatments.

And I partake of none of these things for myself on a regular basis. In fact, I avoid the AHC system for my own needs as much as possible. I even abstained from care when I broke my ankle a couple of years ago while in-between jobs and temporarily without health insurance (long story). Rather than invite all sorts of high charges and possibly unnecessary tests and over-treatment (like surgery), I treated it at home myself, successfully. I’m not advising anyone else to take this route, and I would absolutely seek more care if I had any health conditions that demanded it, but gratefully, I do not. This is just me sharing my own story and the extremes to which I am personally willing to go!

Why this deep aversion? Simple: Lack of trust. I do not believe AHC as a system has our best interests as patients at heart. Many of the providers working within this system do care, but their hands are largely tied by AHC.  As an industry, AHC doesn’t really work to make us healthier or allow providers to do the best job they can for us. Like it or not, and they do not advertise this, but AHC is in it for the money.  And the money is in fixing us when we are “broken” (or perceived to be). Similarly, insurance companies don’t care about us or our wellbeing. They care about their profits, which rarely translates into approving more care. There are sooo many examples where insurance companies could have done the right thing with sick, desperate people and did not. For money. Drug companies are no better and scam us with shoddy research then convince us through tv ads and such that we need expensive drugs to be ok. Then they jack up the prices once we are hooked. I know I sound like a cynical crackpot, but this is just so hard to witness! I think people go into healthcare for altruistic reasons for the most part, and consumers have faith that they will receive good care, but the system stymies all of us.

Let us remember that living, aging and even dying are not pathological. Bodies change, parts wear out and sometimes break. The best way to be healthy is to take care of ourselves and prevent/reverse illnesses that require ongoing care whenever possible. How do you keep your car running well? Don’t drive like a maniac, get regular maintenance, use proper fuel. Same with bodies. The AHC system is like the oily mechanic who price gouges when you are broken down or sells you all sorts of parts and questionable services by preying on your ignorance and your fears. This is not ethical. This is not healthcare. Our best defense here is a good offense: take care of ourselves better! This won’t always work, but there are things we can do to fix ourselves and keep AHC out of our lives and pockets! Maybe I’m not a hypocrite, maybe I am a crackpot…

Tortilla Soup

 

My kids love tortilla soup. I love not wasting food. This soup is our solution to the problem of 10,000 partially used packages of corn tortillas that regularly wind up in the back of our fridge.

Yesterday I pulled a turkey breast carcass from the freezer and popped it in the slow cooker with a couple of handfuls of pinto beans, covered with water, added some bay leaves and let it cook on low for 4-5 hours. When the beans were almost tender I removed the bones and picked off the last bits of meat for the soup. You could also skip this whole process and just start with broth, any variety and canned beans if you want. You can leave the beans out too if you don’t groove on the frijoles.

Then I sauteed up some carrots, onion and green pepper in a bit of olive oil. Once soft I added some cumin and chili powder to the pan. Heating the dried spices helps the flavor come alive. Then I added a ladleful of stock to the pan and swirled it around to help dislodge all of the yumminess and added it to the broth in the slow cooker. Tasted it and added some salt (if using pre-made broth, you won’t likely need to add any more salt).

Here’s where the magic happens: I tore up a bunch of forgotten corn tortillas and put them in my blender, added some of the stock to cover along with a crushed clove of garlic and let it sit there for a while to soften. Then I whizzed it all together and added it to the soup. This helps thicken the soup and give it an awesome, corny flavor and depth. Served it with avocado, chopped red onion, clilantro, cotija cheese, corn chips and hot sauce (of course!) on the side. Easy to make vegetarian or vegan, just leave that meaty stuff out and use vegetable stock.

The REAL Daiquiri

Erase from your mind all of the images you have of cloyingly sweet, frothy, fruit flavoured daquiris and hear me out on this one.

REAL daquiri is beyond simple. And incredibly delicious. Dangerously so in my experience, but I’m the first to admit that I can’t drink the way I used to in my younger years. Oy vey.

A real daquiri is sophisticated and classy. Never served in a foot long plastic souvenir glass and/or from a smoothie machine.

A real daquiri is white rum, simple syrup and lime juice (plus lime zest if you are like me and can’t have it limey enough) shaken with ice and served straight up. Roughly 2:1 on the rum to lime juice ratio. Titrate simple syrup to your taste, but I like mine tart, so i didn’t put in much at all. That’s it. No fuss, no muss, just a refreshing and enjoyable preventative for scurvy. See? Its medicinal.

Green Beans of Heaven

I was first introduced to dry fried green beans several years ago by my dear friend SBG who is a vegetarian (but I love her anyway. JK – I actually eat vegetarian much of the time, I just like to poke fun at her non-existent flaws). I immediately fell in love. With the beans, not SBG, although she is pretty awesome…

A slightly tatty bunch of green beans in my fridge quickly losing their youthful splendor inspired me to attempt a recreation of the dish. Taking my own liberties though, of course. I googled several recipes and then cobbled together my own thing. Here’s what I did:

Washed and trimmed ends and yucky spots from a bunch of fresh-ish green beans. I don’t see how this dish would work with frozen or, shudder, canned, but I guess you could try it. Dried them off and cut them into ~2-inch-long pieces. Heated some light oil in a wok, but a sautee pan would work too. I’m even tempted to try broiling these in the oven, but then I guess the name would be false advertising as they would no longer be technically “fried”. But anyway, then I cooked the beans in the oil over high heat until they started to look crispy and brown in spots. That’s flavor baby! Then I added in some chopped garlic, ginger, green onions and a spoonful of sambal olek (chili sauce, great condiment, get it). Stirred that around for a couple of minutes until everything smelled amazing and then finished it off with some soy sauce and a dash of mirin (sweet cooking wine; I don’t usually stock this condiment, the bottle was bought on accident when I was trying to get some rice vinegar, but I have come to like it. Great way to add a touch of sweetness to a dish to balance flavours). Not too much on the liquids, you don’t want mushy beans, just a little sauce to coat everything. Done!

My sweetie and I gobbled this up straight from the serving bowl as an appetizer before our tofu and vegetable fried rice. As we snacked, we dreamed of other veg we could cook with this same technique – broccoli, asparagus, snow peas, who knows what else! Plenty of opportunity for improvisation.

 

WTF is Kitchari?

I’ve always been sort of intrigued by the concepts of Ayurveda. Loosely speaking, in my own words, it is the idea that a healthy body is one that is in balance. One part of ensuring that balance or restoring that balance if/when it is lost, is through feeding it the proper food. That just sounds…right.

It is easy to get into ruts and mindlessly feed myself without paying much attention to how that food makes me feel.  I do stuff like keep eating all the cheese because it just tastes so darn gooooood! But when I stop to think about it, cheese (in large, soul satisfying quantities) doesn’t really make me feel very good. Dang it!

So anyway, back to kitchari (kit-chur-ee): I was reading up on this Ayurveda concept and one of the main dishes is called kitchari which is a stew that comes in different varieties. At its heart, it is a combination of grains and legumes (often mung beans and basmati rice) cooked in broth or water with tons of lovely spices. It’s supposed to be easy to digest, cleansing and rebalancing. Sounded good, so I made it. And then I made some more. And then I introduced it to my husband and now we are eating it almost every day. It is nourishing satisfaction in a big warm bowl. I don’t mean to get all mystical on you, but it really does make me feel good when I eat it! And the house smells amazing.

I’ve made a bunch of different varieties, it lends itself very well to improv, probably another reason why I love it so much! Here’s the description of my basic method: I use my Crock-Pot for this, but an ordinary pot would work. I don’t know about those new-fangled Insta-Pots, I don’t have one, but it is probably possible in that thing too. Put in a handful of split mung beans (I know these sound kinda gross, but they are delicious little devils that look like lentils and come in different colors) and a handful of basamati rice (I use brown because that’s what I have in my larder). Next comes all of the delicious spices. You need to cook them a bit in oil or ghee til aromatic. Most of the time I use some combination of cumin, cardamom, cayenne (careful!), black pepper and chopped garlic. I’ve also tried cinnamon, allspice, dill and fennel – all of them work and experimenting with new combinations is fun. You can warm the spices in the oil in a pan or I actually do it in a glass measuring cup in my microwave. You just have to be careful not to burn them. Then add these to the beans and rice and cover with a couple of inches of broth. Cook until everything is soft and thick soupy. You can thin it out with more broth or water along the way if it is too thick. Near the end of the cooking process I add chopped fresh ginger and a squeeze of lemon. I serve mine with hot sauce and chopped red onion. Fresh cilantro might be nice too.

Trashy Tacos

I had a craving for el cheapo style tacos last night. You know the ones – crunchy yellow tortilla shells,  spiced ground meat mix, grated yellow cheese, diced white onion, shredded lettuce and maybe some chopped tomatoes on top if you’re feeling fancy. With “taco sauce” of course! No, not salsa, not guacamole and don’t even think about sour cream. Just your basic trashy taco, nothing complicated. I love tacos in general, fancy types too, but sometimes nothing satisfies like the kind I grew up eating way back when. Nostalgia eating I guess.

The meat mix is really the only moving part here that requires any real “cooking”. The other stuff just needs cleaning and prepping. You can use any type of ground meat or meat-like item here, or even beans. Beef, chicken, turkey, veggie meat crumbles or chopped up burger patties, tofu, lentils all would work. I used some TVP I had in the pantry. For those not in the know, TVP (Texturized Vegetable Protein – sounds like a lab experiment and conjures images of soylent green wafers for me, but I digress) is a dried, crumbly substance made from soybeans. When you add water, it fluffs up and behaves like ground meat. It is highly processed though, so I personally don’t eat it a lot. But when making Trashy Tacos and avoiding real meat, it is just the ticket!

I dislike prepackaged spice mixes, so I make my own. Oh come on, its not that hard! I keep a well-stocked spice cabinet though and that makes it easy. And fun. So back to the meat – in a skillet I browned up some onion in oil and then added cumin, chili powder, garlic pepper, allspice (optional but awesome), a pinch of oregano and celery seed (also optional, but yum). Toasted the spices for a little and then added the dry TVP right to the pan and got it all coated in the oily spices. Then I added a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste (I get it in the tube so is easy to use small amounts here and there), some V8 juice and water. Let it all simmer to get the flavors melding.  In the meantime, I prepped the cold stuff and toasted the shells.

Proper assembly in my book: Warm shell (don’t skimp on warming it up), meat, cheese, onion, lettuce and then taco sauce. Have a fork handy to scoop up all of the inevitable but delicious taco detritus. My kids mock me (about this and many other things), but this is a great meal to put to use all of the leftover Taco Bell sauce packets you have stored in a baggie in the pantry. What? You don’t have one of those?? Well you should start, because it is ridiculous when you order one taco and they give you 10 sauce packets, but that shit is gold and should not be left to waste! Also perfect to have a condiment baggie when travelling to combat the perfect storm of bland while far away from your well-stocked home fridge condiment selection. What? You don’t have one of those either?? Tsk…

When Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough

Sometimes I feel guilty for wanting something different when I already have so much. I hear voices in my head (not literally) telling me I’m asking for too much, I’m selfish, I’m never satisfied.

But am I?

No. Because I don’t necessarily want more,  I want different.

By many standards, my life is a good life. And I do enjoy it. I have a steady, well-paying job with lots of flexibility. I have a great husband, happy and healthy kids and an adorable house with a cute dog, upgraded kitchen and lots of books. I also long to live an independent, more personally fulfilling life where I am creative and living on my own terms. I want to be my own boss. This is the different life I want. Not more, not less, just different. I’m not trying to cheat the system, I am willing to work hard, I appreciate what I have and I harbor no disdain for others that are content with the status quo – it just doesn’t fit me. I am trying to find some peace and acceptance within myself for that.

The Science and Art of Repurposing Leftovers

I hate wasting food. My kids and husband mock me mercilessly, but I just know I can put those leftovers to use! I also love re-using plastic containers before recycling and these are perfect storage vehicles for various food remnants. Hence, the running joke in our house about the multiple cottage cheese containers in our fridge, none of which actually contain cottage cheese.

Despite my family’s ridicule,  I have become something of a self-made expert on creating new dishes from previous meals. I recently had a marathon session from a single meal that ultimately produced 3 new dishes. I think this was a good run and maybe even a record for me.

I started out making a delightful chicken piccata meal with cauliflower-potato mash [link] and roasted vegetables for my husband and I. It is one of his favorites and I always make lots of the sauce because it is so good! Bright and tart with lots of lemon and briny capers [link].

The next morning I made myself a breakfast quesadilla by spreading some of the leftover potato/cauliflower mash on a brown rice tortilla (GF) topped with some of the sliced chicken, a dollop of piccata sauce, shredded sharp cheddar and sliced green onions. So good! Savory breakfast lovers rejoice! Dinner the next night involved chopping the leftover roasted veg and stewing it with cooked green lentils, brown basmati rice, onion, cumin, chili powder, garlic, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and V8 to make a vegan sloppy joe. My husband surprised himself and loved it; he’s always a wee bit suspicious of vegan food. Last meal of the series was a breakfast hash made from frying up the rest of the roasted veg, a chopped-up half of baked potato form a different original meal and some onions and peppers. Topped all of that with a fried egg and a drizzle of the dregs of the piccata sauce. Divine!

In general, soups/stews, quesadillas, pasta, hash, frittatas/scrambles are all great vehicles for using up leftover food. I treat it as a challenge or a game to breathe new life into old morsels. Its fun for me, tired food gets a new lease on life and my family tolerates/teases me about it. Everybody wins.

I Love Lemons Karyn Shomler kc is me Recipes Are Merely a Suggestion

New Directions

I’ve cracked open a big, scary door and I can’t see what is ahead, but I’m ready to take a chance and go through anyway.

I remember when my husband pointed out to me that people don’t write for fun like I do. It had never really occurred to me that something I love so much is often painful and best avoided for others.

I just love words; their shapes their sounds, stringing them together in creative ways to artfully convey meaning – heaven. I also love reading them and writers are the absolute rockstars of my world. To get to play with words all day and be paid for it? I can think of no better dream job.

But writers are rockstars and I am …not.

Or am I?

Opening the big scary door is about finding out the answer to that question. Stay tuned.

Follow my journey writing my first book Falling Out of Love With My Career here and over on Instagram @fallingoutoflovewithmycareer

Pan-Cooked Popcorn

Once you go pan, you’ll never go back to that weird, unnecessarily highly processed microwave stuff. Or the bland and tasteless air popped variety that makes you feel like you’re chomping on a mouthful of styrofoam pellets. Blech!

Haul out a heavy bottomed pan that has a tight-fitting lid. I use my pasta pot. Put a couple of tablespoons of oil in there; I use olive, sometimes coconut or avocado. My dad’s secret was using half butter and half olive oil, delicious. Crank the heat up to high and toss in 3-4 handfuls of popcorn kernels. Shake the kernels around so everybody is coated in the oil and then cover with the lid. Wait patiently.

Soon the popping extravaganza will begin. When the popping starts to slow, shake the pan around again. Once the popping slows to every 2-3 seconds, turn off the heat and keep it covered for another minute so the last stragglers can complete their journey to popped goodness.

While still warm, add toppings if so desired: Extra melted butter, truffle oil, herb-infused olive oil (Rosemary!), salt, nutritional yeast, wasabi salt, parmesan, garlic bread seasoning are some of my favorites, though not necessarily all together. Sprinkle on salt and sugar and you have kettle corn, if that’s your thing. Possibilities are endless.

Lemon Lima Beans

Lima beans?! Yes, stay with me…I’ve never met a bean I didn’t like, but I am aware that lima beans are polarizing and often reviled by those with a more discerning palate. I gotta say though, this dish I cobbled together last night was really good!

I wanted to make hummus for the kids, but didn’t have garbanzos in my pantry and was too lazy to look further in my alternate stash. So I went with the dusty bag of dried lima beans. Cooked them for several hours in the crock-pot with a sprig, ok maybe a branch, of rosemary from the yard. Smelled heavenly all afternoon. When the beans were done, I realized I’d have way too much for hummus (I’ll write that one up too) so started researching other recipe ideas. I came across a Cypriot (as in from Cyprus) dish involving lemon and garlic, sold!

In a sauté pan I sweated some white onion, celery and wasabi stems in olive oil (I grow wasabi and had some garden bounty to use). Once soft, I added some greens (I used wasabi leaves cuz I had a bunch but any other green, but especially a slightly bitter one would be good here) and lots of garlic. Cooked til fragrant and wilty, then bumped the heat up and added some chicken broth, lemon zest, lemon juice and the lima beans. Cooked til all warm and creamy. Lots of salt and pepper.

We ate them served over some basmati rice with hot sauce (of course). Incredibly nourishing and satisfying, like most beans and rice dishes are. I’m betting they will be even better today. I’m thinking of a bowl with a soft cooked egg over the top for breakfast. Lemon lima beans, who’d have thought you’d be so darn tasty?

(Lima Bean) Hummus

We eat a lot of hummus in this house so I started making my own. I like experimenting, so no bean, spice or condiment is off limits when I’m in a hummus making mood. The lowly Lima bean is no exception. My poor family are my guinea pigs.

I like to use dried beans for a variety of reasons. They are cheap. Bags of beans don’t take up a lot of space in my pantry. I don’t have to open or recycle cans. I can control what goes into them while cooking. I also like the way the house smells while they cook in my slow cooker. Starting with dry does require planning ahead, but I find it easy to start the beans in the morning while I make breakfast. Just pop them in the slow cooker, cover with water and maybe throw in some bay leaves, rosemary or smashed garlic cloves. Easy. I never pre-soak. Because A) I’m lazy and B) I don’t believe that really makes a difference. At least not enough to warrant that much extra time and effort.

Yesterday all I had at hand was a package of dried lima beans. Yes lima beans. But they were fantastic! I cooked them in the slow cooker with rosemary from the yard. I just throw the whole branch in there and then the leaves fall off during cooking. I do recommend removing the woody stem before consuming though. That was sarcasm, I know you knew that.

My mini Ninja food processor is my go-to tool for easy hummus making. It is powerful, compact for easy storage and cleans up easily by hand or in the dishwasher. That’s a win. The cooked limas were really creamy and soft after cooking, not that mealy texture you get from the frozen variety. Limas went into the Ninja along with some spicy chili oil poured off from a jar of Mama Lil’s peppers and some brine from dill pickles plus salt. Blended and done. It was super! I think it will be especially yummy as a sandwich spread, but it may not survive long enough to try that since it is pretty delicious eaten with crackers!

There Goes Gravity; A Life in Rock and Roll  by Lisa Robinson

 

This memoir from music journalist Lisa Robinson is like catnip for me. Not just a glimpse, but a long, deep, satisfying look behind the scenes of the music world from someone who got up close and personal. It is a bit misleading to constrict the title to “rock and roll” because it covers way more than that genre. Sure, most of the usual suspects are there – The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, John Lennon, U2 and more, but she also takes substantial forays into punk rock, blues, rap, hip hop. As well as other artists who sort of stubbornly defy categorization – where do you put David Bowie, Lou Reed or Lady Gaga? Even with everyone who is in here, you get the sense that it has been carefully curated and there is tons of other dirt that didn’t make the cut. I reckon you could ask Lisa Robinson about nearly anybody in the music biz over the past 40-ish years and she would probably have a story to tell. I enjoyed it tremendously and her writing and style are inspirational. She was there, with all those amazing people, yet her writing is clear-eyed, crisp and never feels name drop-y.

After finishing this book, I had to ask myself, “Why do I like reading about rockstars (sounds better than “musicstars”, though less inclusive)?” Hmmm. First off, I am a music fan. From a young age I can remember feeling moved in an almost indescribable way by the loud 70s rock music my brother subjected the whole family to at ear-splitting decibels. There was no escaping a basic, though forced musical education in my house. I found my own way into appreciation for punk and new wave (which my brother heartily derided), “discovered” Bowie, sang along to the oldies through my crappy first car’s AM radio, lived through grunge (so depressing), got the blues, educated my kids about all of this, “discovered” Lady Gaga and now am experiencing a second, forced musical education courtesy of my kids who like all kinds of “new” music. Whatever that means. And I love it all! Good music inspires me, makes me feel things, feeds my creativity, makes me want to be a better me. God, that sounds so incredibly cheesy! But it is the truth. Music isn’t just in the background of my life, it feeds who I am and who I want to become.

Part of why I find musicians so inspiring is the absolute fearlessness that is required to make a go of it in that business. There is no school for rockstars. No formal internships or competitive training programs. No surefire path or playbook to greatness. They are born, not made (the good ones, at least). The concept that someone can feel so moved internally by their own creativity that they have no choice but to make music is both intriguing and inspiring to me. What confidence they must have. And tolerance for risk. Singlemindedness, dedication, direction and purpose. Not to mention talent. All traits I admire and, sheepishly, envy.

Its not just rockstars either, though they are arguable the most fascinating of the bunch. Writers, especially but not always travel writers, often fall into this category for me. Peter Mayle, Frances Mayes, Anthony Bourdain, Ernest Hemingway, Roxane Gay. Other inspiring folk are found in a multitude of settings but share similar appealing traits: Albert Einstein, Tara Stiles, Richard Branson, Julia Child, Lousie Hay and Wayne Dyer. So many more, but they all go (or went) their own way on their own terms and proceeded to make a life that is creative and uniquely, honestly, true to themselves. I may very well be seeing everything through rose tinted glasses, sure, but this is what these people’s lives and work represents to me. And I want that.

Insights From Reality TV

Ok, I must confess an enduring love of bad tv. Particularly and embarrassingly, reality tv. I’ve kept up with the Kardashians, said yes to many dresses and no to my fair shar of 90 day fiancées. I know it is spectacularly stupid, pathetic content, but that is part of the draw I guess.

I find it especially magnetic when I am trying to work through other stuff in my head. The opportunity to space out to other people’s misery is oddly helpful to processing of my own internal world.

So I had a lot on my mind and that’s how I found myself glued to the couch through 2 seasons of 1000 pound sisters. For those unfamiliar with this tv gem, it is about 2 sisters who are obese with a combined total weight of, you guessed it, 1000 pounds. Over the course of the show, one sister manages to drop some weight and get bariatric surgery while the other one…doesn’t. There is much mutual enabling.

A couple of relationship things stood out to me as interesting in this show. One is how both sisters tend to focus on how the other is doing instead of on themselves. They say they are worried about the other sister and how badly they are fucking up, but never turn that lens inward, toward their own situation. An appalling lack of insight and personal responsibility but cloaked in a veneer of concern for their sister. Weird. The other notable thing was the apparent lack of any significant focus on the psychological aspects of the eating disorder. This is clearly an eating disorder; you don’t get to be that large for any other reason than you are eating way too much. And working pretty hard to do so. But nobody ever seems to dig in there – to try to figure out why they are eating such astoundingly huge amounts of food. Seems pretty clear to me there is some hurt and pain driving that, so why wasn’t here an effort to give them some psychological support to address those aspects? Instead, the focus was on continued shaming for not losing the weight. But if these women are eating to manage pain and the underlying cause of the pain is never addressed and they are never taught better coping skills, how are they expected to succeed? Bariatric surgery (if they can get it) will just be a big ol’ temporary band-aid. Like much of American style healthcare. Sadly. I am not naïve, I understand that these shows are often edited to provide more titillation and may not reflect actual reality. But then what does that say about us as a viewing audience (or at least the producers’ perception of us) that we would prefer to watch people struggle and fail rather than see someone take charge of their mental health, do the hard work and succeed? Guess that doesn’t make for good tv.

WTF is Wisdom?

As I get older and more experienced at my job, the less I think I know. It almost becomes overwhelming how much I realize I don’t know. Or can’t remember anymore. In my younger days I felt so confident that I had the right answers. I felt comfortable, even complacent in my level of knowledge.

Does it leak out with age? Am I actually getting dumber? Or is this just a memory issue? I don’t feel I’ve ever had a great memory, but definitely adequate. Now? Sievelike. Stupid stuff like usual doses of common meds or details of basic physiology are just gone, buried somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind. I know they were in there in the past, but I struggle to access them now!

Its an uncomfortable feeling, not having that knowledge at the ready. I’m embarrassed how often the fear of being asked about something and not having the answer keeps me up at night. Sometimes I study stuff and make cheat sheets just in case I get asked about stuff. Am I sick or is this just how brains age?

So my brain on facts and details absolutely sucks. But my big picture thinking is maybe even better. I think this is where all of the experience goes – toward enabling a better grasp of how things interact and move together, even if the particulars are a little hazy. For example: When I’m called requesting sedative orders for a restless patient I know to ask more questions about why the person is anxious before jumping to medication. I also will include other team members (like chaplain, social worker) if they are the best “tools” for the job. I also might suggest changes to the environment if these are provoking anxiety and look at if the family is well-meaning but contributing to the problem (not uncommon). I’d also assess the person’s feelings about sedation in general and consider fall risk before trying a sedative. Younger me would have probably just ordered the drug and called it good, not thinking much about these other angles. So, my older brain may be slower and not have as many details accessible in the “top drawer” anymore, but I think I probably make better, well-considered overall decisions. I guess this is wisdom? I’ll take some comfort in that.

Why Just 4 Paragraphs?

I value concise writing.

I don’t want to tell you what to think or try to convince you to think like I do.

I will tell you enough about what I think to hopefully get your own mind working.

4 is my favorite number.

Kaiser Pissed Me Off

I have been singing Kaiser’s praises as a HMO for the past nearly 2 years that I have been a member. It is delightful and refreshing how easy it is to get care there, in a variety of ways. I have had video visits, phone visits, email interactions and a flu shot in a walk-in clinic. The pharmacy was amazing; I’d request a refill on my app and my drugs would be in the mail to my house the next day, free shipping. This was also one of the first encounters with a provider in a long time (and few and far between throughout my life, truth be told) where I felt honestly cared for and listened to as a real, individual person. . Everything so organized and helpfully connected.  I was kind of reveling in feeling so good about my health care provider for once, that I was shocked when it all abruptly went to shit.

See I have a minor medical condition that wreaks havoc on my body and mind on a monthly basis. To add more fun to the situation, I am approaching menopause with all of the wacky symptoms that entails. I’ve been offered medications and treatments, even a hysterectomy to treat these things. Some of those things I have tried with variable success and some I have declined (cutting out my womb for anything less than raging cancer seems extreme to me, no thanks). I was thrilled to see that my beloved Kaiser offers yearly visits with a contracted naturopath. Hooray! How progressive! And much more in line with my own personal belief system about wellness. I immediately requested a referral from my primary care doctor and my request went to the review board for a blessing.

It was denied.

The reason? I am allowed care from the naturopath only after I have failed all traditional, “accepted” treatment. Since my employment has changed and this is America, my health insurance (and therefore, my healthcare providers) has also changed. Frequently. Don’t get me started on how messed up that whole scene is. However, as a result, records do not always follow in an orderly or timely fashion (I love our HC system), so the Kaiser reviewer was unable to see what I have already been through. For a hot minute I was all fired up and ready to collect all of my records to prove to them that I deserve these visits with a naturopath, I have earned them. But then it dawned on me how utterly fucked up and ass backwards this is. Why is this type of care reserved for “failed” cases? What if I want to reserve traditional care for the scenario where naturopathy has failed? Why am I not allowed to choose the primary modality that suits my needs and values? Kaiser: you have let me down; the honeymoon is over and now I can see you are just like all the rest.

Have Knife, Will Travel

The knives in rental homes invariably suck. That’s why I have learned to bring my own.

Too much baggage you say? I think not. Cooking is one of my biggest creative outlets, and I enjoy doing it every day, home or away.  It is legitimately my hobby, and just like other people might bring their golf clubs or tennis racket on a trip, I bring my favorite knife.

Cooking with shitty knives makes cooking feel like a chore instead of a joy. When I cook I most love that feeling of being “in the flow”, creating, planning, timing, moving with ease about my kitchen and a cheap, dull knife blocks that flow. I’ve got to work harder to make things happen and that’s not fun. But with my trusty steel in my hand, I can navigate a rental kitchen with all of its crappy, mismatched cookware, dreaded induction cooktop and weird smelling utensil drawers. And that is part of the adventure – making delicious food in unfamiliar and less than ideal circumstances. But my knife, my most useful and beloved tool, that I won’t compromise and travel without anymore, lest cooking become a bummer and a burden.

And I get it why rentals don’t stock good knives. People don’t know how or don’t take the time to care for them properly. They throw them in the dishwasher (shudder), instead of washing and drying them lovingly by hand. They use them for all variety of non-cooking related jobs such as opening bags, boxes and beers. Or as a substitute for other tools like screwdrivers. They leave them out in the sun, sand and surf. So why bother? Those of us who care enough can and will just bring our own.

Perfectionism is Endemic in Healthcare

Healthcare (HC) is the perfect profession for enabling perfectionists. Ask me, I know! Where else is perfectionism not just desirable, but actually deemed essential? That’s like crack for perfectionists. In this context, we are expected to be perfect not just for our own internal satisfaction, but for matters of life and death. HC is a comfortable spot for perfectionists because it fosters this illusion that perfection is a desirable and attainable goal. As perfectionists, we are comfortable with feeling like everything we do or say or produce is up for judgment. Fear of being or appearing imperfect is real and feels untenable, like we won’t survive if we aren’t perfect. HC just feeds our belief that perfection is not only possible, but necessary. Because the real-world stakes are too high if we mess up, or even just appear to mess up  – people may be hurt or die or sue us. We could lose everything – money, profession, reputation.

There’s the rub though – perfectionists may strive for perfection = an absence of errors, but we won’t make it. In HC or anywhere else. Why? We are human. Understandably, patients have bought into this illusion that perfection is possible in HC. Their expectation is that medicine can cure all and providers won’t make any mistakes. And they are not shy about taking legal action or threatening to, if things don’t turn out the way they think they should. No matter how unrealistic. This has led to a dilemma in HC where even if you don’t know something or you make a mistake, it may be tempting to keep quiet and at least continue to appear perfect in order to avoid retribution for being human. HC and patients demand the maintenance of this illusion. I guess a similar situation might be with airline pilots. I know intellectually that they are human and thus will make mistakes sometimes. But I don’t want to think about that possibility too much or have it happen when I am on their plane!

What makes it all the worse is that the culture of HC does not allow us to talk to each other about this. I suspect all HC providers feel the onus of perfection to some extent, but we cover it up with bravado. We talk “shop”, many of us enjoy the sound of our own voices and like nothing more than to ask questions that will stump the presenter and showcase our own superior intelligence on whatever matter is being discussed. But can we make ourselves vulnerable and talk to each other about our mistakes, the times we didn’t get it right or our fears about shouldering this ridiculous amount of responsibility everyday? I’ve been in 23 years and I have yet to have a real, open, honest, meaningful conversation with a colleague about this stuff. We just don’t go there. Is it the type of deal where we don’t want to speak about even the possibility of failure for fear it will be invited into our lives? All I know is it is pretty fucking lonely.

I picked the greyest area of HC in which to practice on purpose because I find rigid, garden variety black and white decision-making kinda boring. I like variety and challenge and using my brain, but even here in hospice I struggle with my own perfectionist tendencies. As a HC provider, I make oodles of decisions on a daily basis. Some big, some little, but all involve the care and well-being of humans. That’s some pretty heavy shit. I can’t afford to have bad days, I’ve got to be on at all times collecting, analyzing, synthesizing what information I have and putting together a plan to hopefully help and not hurt someone who is counting on me to care for them. There are days where I wear that responsibility lightly; I’m in the flow and enjoying my work as a combination of pleasant puzzle/problem solving, education and advocacy. And then there are the other days. The days when I am second guessing every decision I make, where I feel at a loss about what is the best thing to do, when I over research and overanalyze in an attempt to bring myself some measure of peace about what I’ve done or am about to do. That sucks. And then sometimes, I continue this pattern in my sleep and either dream about it or wake up at 3 am thinking about it, going over everything again, did I do the right thing? Is that patient going to be ok? Do I look like a complete idiotic buffoon to my peers? How would a lawyer demonstrate my culpability in this situation if things go wrong? It can be exhausting. And I’m not going to tie it all up with a neat bow and tell you that is it hard work but worth it because I get to help people. None of that martyr-y bullshit. I am altruistic at my core and I do enjoy helping people, but sometimes it does not feel worth it. At least not to me. Sometimes it feels like a much too heavy burden to have all of those people (including myself) counting on me and expecting me to be able to make 10,000 decisions without a single error. The recovering perfectionist in me is tired out and ready to hand it all over to somebody else.

Sheet Pan Fried Rice? Yes!

I had a weird idea, tried it out and it worked! Yay! No more yucky wok to clean. No more prying stray grains of rice and veg remnants off of my stove. No cooking oil facial. Why? Because a sheet pan in the oven works for making fried rice!

Fried rice is one of my favorite vehicles for basically whatever is left in the fridge. Leftover meats, veg, grains. Yep, I’ve even made fried “rice” with leftover couscous! It makes a great meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner and travels well. A pile of this rice in my lunch container makes the work day better. Or at least tolerable; let’s be realistic.

Cut vegetables of choice into smallish bits (fresh, frozen or even leftovers) and toss with oil and soy sauce in a bowl. Spread out on a sheet pan and roast in a hot oven until soft and/or crunchy in spots (I like burnt edges personally). Spread leftover rice (or another dry-ish grain) on top of roasted veggies and roast again until rice is getting crunchy in places. Remove from oven and toss the lot together, adding more soy sauce (and/or Worcestershire – trust me, try it!) to taste. You can scramble up an egg or chop up some leftover meat to mix in too. I cooked up some sausage because it is what I had and it sounded good. And it was good! A little sesame oil and some chopped green onions to finish would also be fun, but unnecessary if you don’t have them or are just lazy.

If you line the sheet pan with foil, clean-up will be a snap. This is lazy cooking 101 and there is no shame in that!

Fantastic Farro

Ok, so I’m a word nerd who loves alliteration, don’t judge! Farro is a chewy grain that kinda looks like barley (another beloved grain). Healthy AF, but don’t hold that against it, it really is fabulous. And satisfying.  I haven’t cooked with it a lot, but plan to start. Especially after this salad I made last weekend. I know, you’re thinking “salad, big deal; I don’t get excited about salad, salad is punishment; salad is penance I do for other poor diet choices” -or maybe that’s just what I say to MYSELF!

I had a dear friend coming over for dinner, a friend who is very much open to my kitchen experiments with new flavors and ingredients. Planning a menu for guests is one of my favorite daydreaming topics. I sometimes begin with a theme, like maybe “Fall” or “Hawaiian luau”, one time it was even spam. Don’t ask. Next step, I mentally (sometimes physically) review what is in the larder, with special attention to what needs to be used now or lost to rot. This time, I had a slightly tatty bunch of kale, some previously roasted and gently pickled beets, a hunk of blue cheese calling out for attention. It pleases me to no end if I can avoid an extra trip to the grocery store and just use what I have.

So then I looked through cookbooks and googled different combinations of these ingredients for ideas. I briefly considered some sort of savory tart (knew I had a slab of puff pastry somewhere in the freezer), that could be good. Kale is yummy in soup, maybe a bean and kale soup with beet and blue cheese salad on the side? Could be tasty on a cold winter day. I know kale salad is a thing, so maybe go in that direction, but it is winter so must be hardy…that’s when I saw a recipe combining kale and farro. Wait! I have an unopened and unloved box of farro in my pantry! No time like the present to use it up. Their version used pomegranate arils and hazelnuts, but I had neither, so I went with my beets and some of the half bag of roasted pepitas I had way in the back instead. Here’s my version:

Kale salad with beets, farro and ginger vinaigrette. Cook the farro in a pot of salted water until tender, this took about 30 minutes for me. It plumps up pretty big, so I only used about ½ cup dry. Drained that and let it cool. Made the dressing in my mini blender with a chunk of fresh ginger chopped up, apple cider vinegar, grapeseed oil (I wanted a neutral flavoured oil), salt, pepper and a little bit of honey. Maple syrup or sugar would also work for a hint of sweetness. Chopped up the kale, minus the stems, and massaged it in a bowl with part of the dressing. Then added the farro, the beets, the pepitas and blue cheese to the bowl and mixed it all together with most of the dressing (I kept some aside to add later, if needed). Let it all marinate in the fridge for a few hours and it came out delicious and a delightful shade of pink! The rest of the menu? Acorn squash soup with seedy bread croutons; Puff pastry tartlets with ricotta, apple sausage, caramelized onions and Mama Lil’s peppers; Banana cocoa n’ice cream sandwiches with Effie’s cocoa biscuits. And, no trip to the grocery required!

 

Angst-O-Rama

I’m not sure why I’m feeling such angst this morning – a feeling of emotional and physical restlessness. Like I should and want to be doing something, but I’m not sure what. It is uncomfortable because I am an old hand at self-reflection and looking deep inside myself is typically a comfortable excursion. I know I’ve got that down to a science. I know where to look for answers in my psyche and history and deep corners of my mind and heart. I know myself. But this, this feeling is just puzzling.

Maybe I’m trying to find meaning where there isn’t any. Maybe this feeling is in response to a global pandemic and 10+ months of avoiding people and places like the plague, literally. Or maybe it is the anti-climax of the holiday season to cap off such a shitty year. Could it be that it is year-end reflection time and I’m unsatisfied with where I am in my progress toward living a full-time creative life? Do I need more exercise? Or is it just that this is a dreary, rainy, cold Sunday in December, my kids are complaining about being bored and I have to be on-call for a job that pays the bills but doesn’t light my fire?

And why do I always have to have a reason for feeling bad? Why do I need to justify my feelings to myself? Can’t I just accept that sometimes emotions blow through that are unpleasant but blessedly temporary? I tell other people that and give them permission to wallow and allow it to wash over and through them, but can’t seem to take my own advice. Why is my love, compassion and understanding greater for others than for myself?

Ooooh! That right there is a dark, unexplored corner of myself that needs some illumination. Not a bad endeavor for an angsty day…