Kernels of Light

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

   I have fantastic news. Exciting, fun, giggly, amazing news. I have a new job....


   I can hardly believe it. It is still in medicine, in a different specialty that is near and dear to my heart. As a child (a shy and, sure, sometimes weird child) I fancied myself a scientist, a whisperer of microscopes and all things strange and molecular. As an awkward but fascinated college student I spent countless hours at the bench, looking over slides of onion root (it's gorgeous, trust me) and different plant pollens (nature's airplanes!).

   Now, what feels like many years later, I am fortunate enough to be departing from one specialty and embarking on a career as a pathologist. This change has been a long time in the making, involving a lot of anxiety, thought and hard work. Now that the day for a little positive change has finally arrived, I couldn't be happier or feel more fortunate. I have so many amazing, supportive people in my life, both personal and professional, and I feel overcome with gratitude and hope for the future.

   To celebrate, I have, of course, a recipe to offer you. It's one of the first southern foods I fell in love with and therefore quite fitting with which to celebrate a return to my first love in medicine. I present to you- succotash! Just saying succotash makes me smile; it's one of those silly and whimsical names that's easy to imagine a child came up with many years ago.

   Succotash can have many guises, but at its most basic it is a saute of corn and some kind of bean. I like mine with tomatoes and onion for depth and color, and I like to use one of my absolute favorite beans- the baby lima, aka butter bean. Quality baby limas can be hard to find fresh and so I encourage you to buy them frozen. They taste just as good and frozen vegetables are often picked and flash frozen at their peak season. Flavor won't be sacrificed, trust me.

   That said, frozen corn is an absolute no for this recipe. Corn straight from the field, freshly peeled and kernels cut from the cob is a flavor that is quintessential summer to me. Growing up, my summers were spent sweating it out in the hay fields and barns. Lots of manual labor was a given, but if I got to end my day with three or four butter drenched cobs of corn, I was a happy girl. This succotash is like that buttery, drippy, messy cob of corn, only all grown up and dressed in its Sunday best.

   That's enough talk. Go forth. Make succotash.

Summer Succotash

1 cup diced onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, divided
coarse kosher salt, to taste
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
4-5 ears of corn on the cob
11-12 ounces frozen baby lima beans

   Heat the olive oil and one tablespoon butter over medium low heat in a heavy bottomed sauce pan or dutch oven. Add the onions and about 1 teaspoon salt. Saute until translucent but not starting to brown, about 3-4 minutes.
   Add the tomatoes and cook at a simmer, covered, for about 5-10 minutes. You want the tomatoes to break down and start to make a sauce. Stir occasionally during this to make sure the bottom isn't scorching.
   Meanwhile, peel your corn and, using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off in sheets. Add the corn kernels and lima beans to the pot along with the second tablespoon of butter. Simmer, covered, another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and season with salt to your liking.
   I like to serve this with oven roasted fish and mashed potatoes.

Some Darkness

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

   Today, I don't have a recipe for you. I don't have a pretty picture either. I have a sad message and I needed a place to get it off my chest, a place of safety and comfort. This blog has rapidly turned into the kind of space that contains all kinds of wonderful feelings for me- warmth, creativity, happiness, wonderful memories and a hopefullness for what I can make of my life one day. But sometimes, I feel the need to share not so happy things with you and I have so far stopped myself because I feel protective of this blog like a parent feels protective of their child- I want to shield the ugly parts of the world from it.

   I feel too tired this month to stop myself from seeking solice here. This rotation has overwhelmed me with a tremendous sense of sadness, loss and frustration.

   I lost a patient this week. I don't like that phrase, actually. I suppose I say it only because that is how all the other doctors and nurses describe this awful event. Why do we feel the need to make it sound so innocent? Children lose their retainers and socks that match. We lose our keys and misplace earrings. You don't lose patients.

   He died. He was impossibly young and born without a single advantage in this world, and despite everything so many people did, he died.

   When I decided to go into medicine, I underestimated how much of a toll such pain and suffering would take on my being. I remember as a teenager thinking about going into medicine and knowing, someplace deep in my soul, that medicine was too ugly for me. As much as I love people and everything about what it means to be alive, I somehow knew that being around the sick and dying, the neglected, the neglecful, would turn me into the kind of person I didn't want to be.

   Perhaps that is what I love so much about food. It isn't the physical entity that is food, it's the act of giving and enjoying and providing comfort, nourishment and love. Every meal I make, every plate of food I give, feels like a piece of brightness and hope that I put into the world in some small way. At its least, it calms the pangs of emptiness in someone's stomach, at its most, it enriches their day and puts a smile on their face.

   So there you have it. I feel saturated with the knowledge that bad things happen to innocents. We can try our hardest and know everything there is to know about the science behind what mysterisouly creates life amongst the billions of cells that we are. At the end of a long day, a baby still can die.

   Spend time with someone you love today, as many someones as you can manage. Make a big pot of comforting, thick brothed soup and dig in. Dig in and forget that it all could disappear, and there doesn't have to be a reason why.

   That's what I did. And it helped.