Hey, chill.

For the recipe only, click here.

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It’s summer.

My first year of medical school has been OVER, and I have been on a glorious hiatus.

But as many medical students know, breaks are not really for relaxing, right? We’re supposed to be jamming our free time with research, studying, shadowing, volunteering, studying, reading journals, prepping for the next year, studying etc. Right?!

On the quest to do everything right, just like everyone else, I took on multiple research projects, created a study prep schedule, and set up a multitude of meetings with faculty. For the most part, I would like to think I did a decent job of accomplishing most of what I wanted to do, academically. I did my best. As soon as I turned in my final exam of MS-1 and hopped in my car to head home, I couldn’t help but feel like I was on true vacation mode. I wanted to travel as much as possible, laze around at any given moment, and eat all of the good foods I could get my hands on. This was my last summer vacation in all of life, after all! Why was I feeling this tension between my expectations and desires?

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If there is anything I truly learned this summer, it was that sometimes you really have to just chill. I have two full weeks left before the abrupt start of MS-2, arguably the hardest academic year of medical school. And while there is still so much to get done, I will be sure to make room for the most important things: family, friends, food, and love. Summer weather wanes quickly in the midwest. And so too does the time we have to soak in the ability to sleep late, drink adult beverages any day, and just waste time. Time waits for no one– especially not the medical student. So while we are using these last opportunities to squeeze in some of the work we wish we had more time for, and pushing down the nerves of starting up classes again, I urge that we try to be a bit selfish with our free time for just the little bit of time we have left.

Im going to travel a little bit more, procrastinate a little bit longer, and laugh with more freedom for the couple of days I have.

Sweet, sweet summer. I am going to miss you. But I used your time well, and enjoyed you. For the last one off ever, not too shabby.

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No-Sugar Berry Popsicles

  • Servings: 4 popsicles
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Ingredients:

  • your choice of fresh berries, one package each

Directions:

  1. Rinse berries.
  2. Blend one of the fruit varieties in your favorite blender
  3. Divide and pour into popsicles molds
  4. Repeat steps 2 & 3 for the remaining fruits.
  5. Freeze and enjoy!

 

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Like Water Off A Duck’s Back: Roast Duck

For the recipe only, click here.

I almost exclusively shop at Aldi for my groceries. I have yet to find a store in my area that can beat the prices, with comparable quality and convenience. Shopping for groceries is one of my favorite to-do line items, but it can feel like a bit of an annoyance when busy (as many of my habitual takeout-eating classmates know all too well). Aldi has a reputation for providing a more random assortment of items. Meaning, that perfect marinade you found last month might never make another appearance in the store. A small price to pay for the increased odds of finding culinary gems for an affordable price. When I happen upon one of these unexpected finds, I can’t help but get excited about completing my grocery chore, despite having to lug everything up and down some steep hills. A few months back, I stumbled upon frozen whole ducks while walking the aisles. I had no experience with cooking duck, so naturally I had to try.

For months, said duck sat, frozen solid, in my freezer. In an effort to clear out my cabinets before I leave my apartment for the summer, I have been cooking and eating exclusively from the canned and frozen foods I already have. Down to my last few items, the duck was staring back at me this weekend. It was time to give it a shot.

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As I enjoyed my first bites of the delicious, fatty, savory bird I managed to not burn to bits, my mind wandered to ducks and the end of the school year. This might be a little abstract, but follow me for a moment.

In many ways, duck is the perfect metaphor for where I am right now in my academic journey. No, I am not suggesting that I am now a loud, honking MS-1, searching desperately for breadcrumbs in the form of free lunch talks (although, that isn’t too far from reality, now that I think of it). Rather, the duck is reminding me of what was most important throughout this year.

One of their more adorable visions is of momma duck traipsing around with a small gang of ducklings in tow. Cute, but also tangentially relevant. As a first year medical student, you are very much at the bottom of the medical totem pole. We barely know anything and we spend most of our time acting and pretending. No shame–it’s part of the process. While we are mostly ducklings, there are times when it is essential that we be a momma duck. Whether it is deciding on attending or skipping lectures, abandoning the syllabus for other resources, or simply knowing who are your true friends amongst your peers, you must be able to lead yourself. This does not mean you should traverse medical school alone (ducks fly in flocks for a reason). Rather, this means that you have to know what is best for you and when to abandon what you know for what you are discovering. No one can necessarily teach you how to be a leader of self. Your books will not have the answers.

The other image of ducks that strikes me is when you catch a glimpse of many, in-flight. The collective sound and streamlined geometry is genius. It holds even more weight for me, as someone who rarely knew how to study collaboratively, rely on others when things felt unbearable, nor regularly felt confident enough to place my level of knowledge to the forefront. Ducks move together out of selflessness and efficiency. When it is your turn to lead, you move to the front of the pack, bodying the wind and resistance so others can rest easy in your wake. The key to this formation is that when you grow tired, the formation shifts– you take a break, riding on the strength of others who are better equipped in the moment to soldier the wind. This dance continues the length of the journey. And everyone reaches the destination, together. There is no more important lesson for medical school, or really any professional journey. Knowing whom to lean on, and when, can be the difference between making it or stopping short. Despite what many would like to believe about themselves, no one person is meant to beat the elements, alone. Recognizing and capitalizing on the people-resources in your corner or at your disposal is the greatest tool for success. Just ask the ducks.

Honestly, the major key for me this year was to role with the punches– like water off a duck’s back. Medical school is challenging. Even if the science is not difficult for you, the sheer amount of material, and the expectations of thrusting into sudden student-doctorhood can feel daunting. Not to be dismissed, there are many social challenges with medical school. Being a bird of different feathers in a sea of beige is not only uncomfortable, but also a barrier to success. When faced with academic, personal, or social challenges, one of my greatest assets has been the ability to allow tensions and disappointments to roll off my back. Resilience is a must in medicine. If you don’t have it when you start, you have to grow some in order to stay.

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Just like a duck, I might have left a smelly crapload of mistakes around during my first year learning process. And maybe I need the grace of passersby to yield as I cross the many roads of uncertainty and doubt throughout the coming years. Waiting for duck to roast requires patience and active participation. You can not be a passive cook. A few hours later, you have a more delicious, fatty, flavorful bird. Worth it. I would like to think, throughout this process of delayed gratification, things will turn out that much more satisfying– with strategy and grit, whatever the attempt, the end result will be rewarding.

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Roast Duck

  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients:

  • 6 lb whole duck
  • salt
  • 3 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 lemons
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • foil or butcher’s twine

Directions:

  1. If the duck is frozen, defrost and bring to room temperature
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  3. Remove giblets from the inside of duck. Rinse the duck, inside and out, with cold water. Pat duck dry with paper towels.
  4. Score the duck’s skin on the breast side in a diamond pattern. Poke the fatty parts of the duck with the tip of a knife to ensure the fat will be released when cooking.
  5. Season the duck very liberally with salt, inside the cavity and on the outside. Place the duck, breast side up.
  6. Fill cavity with garlic and 1 lemon (sliced). Fold the flaps of skin inward to hold the garlic and lemon in the cavity. Tie the duck legs with pitcher’s twine or with rolled foil.
  7. Place the bird, breast side up, in a large roasting pan with a rack (this helps keep the duck separate from the fat drippings. Roast for 1 hour at 350 degrees.
  8. After 1 hour, flip the duck, breast side down, and roast for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.
  9. In a small bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar with the juice from the second lemon. Flip the duck back to breast side up, and brush the mixture over the duck. Cook for another 40 minutes, brushing the duck with the mixture every 10 minutes.
  10. In a separate bowl, combine the honey and the remainder of the balsamic mixture. Brush the duck with the new mixture, and cook for 40 minutes. Brush every 10 minutes.
  11. When finished cooking, remove the duck from the oven and let stand for 15 minutes. Remove the lemon from the cavity. Carve, and serve! Quack Quack!

Recipe slightly adapted from Julia’s Album

I Rise: Sweet Cinnamon Rolls

For the recipe only, click here.

We are fast-approaching what I think is the sweetest, most tooth-rotting morning of the year: Easter Sunday. Bunnies and eggs and marshmallows– oh my! But not before fluffy pancakes and chocolaty muffins as the official breakfast meal. Easter breakfast was always a flash of pastels and syrups; a speedy, yet savored event where cinnamon rolls and croissants held as much weight as the wrapped and nested malted treats awaiting.

That anticipation. That wanting. So much like the anticipation of new stages in life. Eager to get there so the rewards can be enjoyed. So many of us know the struggle of applying and researching and hoping and wishing and interviewing and brainstorming… Failure, mishaps, and missed deadlines happen. They really do. But just because they happen doesn’t make your process any less noble or worthy. Consider the last thing you wanted and applied for that you did not get. Do you honestly think you were undeserving of such achievements because someone else happened to not select you?

Flash back to the kitchen table: a dozen hard-boiled eggs ready to don your artistic spirit and demonstrate decorating dominance. No way your brother’s eggs will look better than yours this year. Not a chance. Belly full of sweets, and mind full of ideas, you consider which swirly wax pattern will make your eggs stand out and which colors will pop. Decorations proceed as expected. Your fingers are all different colors, and a couple of egg shells have cracked, but no worries.

Just because you dropped your beautiful egg masterpiece into the cup of orange dye when you meant to only slightly submerge doesn’t mean you weren’t a bona fide boiled egg wizard! No! You pressed on, inked up fingers and all.

When making these cinnamon rolls, I can’t help but be reminded of these familiar feelings of impatience and failure. In short, yeast means the dough has to rise. It takes time. Waiting is hard for me when temptingly-delicious cinnamon and sugar are involved *insert exasperated emoji face*. Why haven’t these things risen like I thought? Why is my roll uneven on the edges?! Gahhh!

As frustrating as it is for me to wait for responses and as unsatisfying as it is to receive rejections, there is a deeply-held self-confidence required when pursuing academia. In a few months I will be graduated. What happens after that, I have no idea. The thought is terrifying and worrisome, but also exciting. If given a choice, I would know exactly what life will look like post-spring. However, here I am: unsure and with limited control.  Regardless, I have to appreciate the small victories– reminding myself that failures are really just ugly successes.

These rolls do that for me. Even though my plans to drink water and eat eggs for breakfast like a good girl melted away into sticky oblivion, I’m still eating breakfast! And that is a win.

Sweet Cinnamon Rolls

  • Servings: 12
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Ingredients:

For the dough:

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 1/3 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour

For the filling:

  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 5 1/3 Tbsp butter

For the icing:

  • 6 Tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup cream cheese
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon sugar

Directions:

  1. Dissolve the yeast in warm milk in a large bowl.
  2. Add sugar, butter, salt, eggs and flour to a medium bowl and mix well.
  3. Pour the milk/yeast mixture in the bowl and, using a dough hook, mix well.
  4. Place dough into an oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
  5. Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, until it is approximately 16 inches long and 12 inches wide (1/4 inch thick).
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
  7. To make the filling, spread the butter on the dough and sprinkle evenly with brown sugar and cinnamon.
  8. Carefully roll the dough down to the bottom edge from the long edge. Cut the roll into 12 even pieces.
  9. Place the cut rolls in the prepared pan. Cover with a damp towel and let rise from other 30 minutes or until they double in size.
  10. Bake for  25 minutes or until light golden brown.
  11. While the rolls are baking make icing: mix all ingredients together and beat with a mixer until fluffy.
  12. Spread over finished rolls, and get sticky!
Recipe slightly adapted from Jo Cooks

St Patrick’s Day: Lucky Vanilla Cupcakes

For the recipe only, click here.

At times, I envy those who have it all figured out.

I wish I had goo-gobs of disposable income from a cushy corporate gig, just laying around, waiting to be spent on stuff; nights free of essays and literature reviews; weekends unburdened by data collection… but, alas, I am a student– the very opposite of possessing income or having untaxed free time. Today, for once, I wish I had the luck of the Irish, or at least a pot of gold to dance around.

Despite my student woes (insert: loans and books, and no real job, etc.), the greenness of St. Patrick’s Day is not really one of envy as much as it is an appreciation of what money cannot buy.

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I made these cupcakes to bring to one of the countless and boundless meetings I have today. Some thoughtful (and no doubt, hungry) soul decided we should all bring in something green to munch while we talk strategic health program planning. So, of course, while everyone is deciding which flavor of green juice or kale chip they will be offering, I was salivating at the thought of eating my favorite go-to sweet.

The cupcake is so complete: cake, frosting, handheld, cuteness, yours, just enough, no utensils required, no pretension.

What else in our lives are just this perfect? Unmet expectations and inconveniences are everywhere. But really, when you consider even the most perfect things, they have their messes. Intricately decorated cupcakes for fancy events get devoured the same way as the slapped-together ones you bring to an elementary school class birthday party. Liberally-iced cupcakes (and, let’s admit, these are the best kind) will find their way on even careful eaters’ faces. The reason you don’t eat the entire batch is because, well, calories.

So much of the perfect parts of life are over shadowed by minor grievances that distract us from the realities of how great they really are. Even though my life has yet to settle into some post-undergrad routine of money-making and happy-houring, I honestly wouldn’t want it any other way. Graduate school can feel like little more than extended undergraduate frugality and inconsistency, but I could not pass up the chance for continued learning.

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In the spirit of green– meant to represent life and faith on this day– I acknowledge that maybe in having nothing at all figured out, I might have it all figured out. The books will get read, the papers will be written, and the post-grad prospects will fall into place. For now, I will delight over these cupcakes, and revel in the sweetness that is my life.

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Three cheers to the ones that don’t have it all figured out! May your rainbow lead to some form of treasure, and may luck be on your side.

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Lucky Vanilla Cupcakes

  • Servings: 18
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Ingredients: 

  • 2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup salted butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla
  • food coloring

For the icing:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • food coloring

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Whisk together flour and baking powder.
  3. Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl.
  4. Beat together eggs and vanilla and add to sugar mixture
  5. Mix food coloring and milk.
  6. Alternately add flour mix and milk until combined. Batter will be thick and creamy–be careful not to over-mix.
  7. Pour into prepared cupcake liners and bake for 20 minutes.
  8. Let cool
  9. Meanwhile, make buttercream icing:
    1. Beat butter until fluffy.
    2. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time.
    3. Mix milk, vanilla, and food coloring
    4. Add to butter and sugar.
  10. Decorate and enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Cake Whiz & Wine & Glue