On Stress: The Gory Details

Monday, February 16, 2015

   I think most of us can say similar things about our dear friend stress: we fear it, acknowledge it, try and deal with it and ultimately accept it as a daily companion, like a pesky shadow you just can't shake.

   Every step of our lives seems to come with admonishments to reduce and manage stress. I was particularly inundated with tales of medical students being consumed by stress, fables and urban legends about the first year student who finally lost it after an anatomy final and was never seen again. And of course it only gets worse when you become a resident: not only are you still responsible for a behemoth mountain of ever evolving information but now you have real live patients relying on your decisions and abilities. Adding a pregnancy (and subsequent newborn) to this mix may seem to some a wee bit reckless, nay, foolhardy?

   And yet.

   I am a true believer that work, money and those annoying details like crushing medical school debt are merely the means to a full life, NOT the focus of life. I acknowledge these details can be scary and deserve attention, but I also realize how easy it is to slip into what I call a problem focused life. I heard it a million times in medical school: 'Just three more years, then it gets better.' 'Just one more year then I'll be a resident and it'll be better.' Then residency came and I was probably more surprised than I had any right to be when I heard the very same sentiments from my fellow residents: 'Just three years of residency, then I'll be working and it'll be better.'

   One of the reasons I finally scrounged up the courage to change specialties mid residency was the simple fact that I really listened to the people I worked with and I realized one day that I was starting to tell myself the same things they were telling themselves: just a few more years, then I can be happy. No sir. Life doesn't work that way. Happiness and life happen now, not in five years. And if it's not, you better slow down and figure out why.

   Aside from the major life changes we may need to face, stress management is, in my humble pathologist's opinion, a micro activity. It is something that happens in the million teeny decisions we make every day that add up to a surprising artillery against the things that make our cortisol soar and our sleep restless. It's enjoying your breakfast quietly without checking your long suffering bank account. It's snugging up to your favorite work out DVD rather than stare at your computer and suffer through another five slides on the powerpoint that can wait until tomorrow. It's consciously dismissing that snarky comment your coworker winged at you and choosing to hug your spouse for an extra few minutes before you settle into the reassuring routine of making dinner.

    Back to my original question: adding a pregnancy and baby to the mix? For sure foolhardy! But life waits for no one and remember what I said about delicious, chubby, infant thigh rolls in my last post? At the end of the day most of the things we let stress us out are just gory little details. And details are never as beautiful as the big picture. Especially when there's a sweet smelling baby to be added to it.

   And for those moments that just get the best of you, I advise generous portions of this chocolate pudding. I blended it in the vitamix longer than the original recipe recommended and was rewarded with the most spectacular, airy yet dense love child of luscious pudding and ethereal mousse. Get on it.

Dark Chocolate Pudding
Serves 8. Or 6 in need of stress reduction.
Slightly modified from Melissa Clark  
  • 1 large egg, plus 2 yolks 
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% percent cacao, broken into pieces)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed into several pieces
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 2 ½ cups whole milk 
  • ½ cup heavy cream  (plus additional for serving)
  • cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar 
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder 
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch 
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Freshly whipped sweetened cream with a dash of vanilla extract, for serving
   Place the chocolate and butter in your blender. Set aside.
   In a small heat proof bowl, whisk together the egg and egg yolks. Set aside.
   In a heavy bottom sauce pan, whisk together the milk, heavy cream, brown sugar, cocoa powder, corn starch and salt. Bring to a slow simmer over medium heat, whisking the whole time. Simmer for 2 minutes (and no more). Remove from heat and slowly whisk some (about 1 1/2 cups) of the hot custard into your eggs until the eggs are heated up (this tempers the eggs and prevents them from scrambling when you add them into the rest of the custard). Scrape the tempered eggs into your sauce pan, whisking the whole time. Return to low heat and whisk until the pudding is quite thick and steaming. This should take only a minute or two. And do not stress if you see it getting a little grainy or curdled! The blender is to the rescue.
   Scrape all of the hot custard into your blender on top of the chocolate and butter. Turn blender on, bring it to high, and blend for a full 3 minutes. It will look a little frothy. Turn off blender and pour the custard into serving ramekins or cups of your choice. You can also pour into one big serving bowl but that's not nearly as fun or cute.
   Chill in the fridge, uncovered, for at least 4 hours before serving. If making a day ahead, cover with plastic wrap once fully chilled.
   Serve with generous dollops of sweetened whipped cream and a sigh of appreciation for life that includes this pudding/mousse love child.

A little update... Naval orange size, to be exact

Monday, February 9, 2015

   The last time I took a blogging hiatus, there was a beautiful wedding to share with you and a couple other fun things around the house and backyard.

   This time...

   Too many enchiladas? Nope... that's a 'lil baby!!

   After months of talking, day dreaming and a for serious case of Instagram baby envy, Steve and I decided to take the plunge and when we surfaced, there suddenly were three of us under this here roof.

   Did you know that Instagram will tell you when you're ready to have a baby? It's true! I never would have guessed this, but sure enough, one day I noticed nearly all of my suggested feeds were photos of colorfully dressed baby bumps and delicious infant thigh rolls.

   Give. Me. More. Delicious. Infant. Thigh. Rolls. Sigh.

   To add to the excitement, my sister and bestest friend in all the world (outside of my beloved Steve, of course), Nicole, is also preggo! Not only that, but due a mere ten days before my little bundle of sweet smelling joy. And we didn't even tell each other we were 'trying.' I tell you, life can boggle the mind in the most spectacular, unexpected and wonderful ways.

   With the exception of my little sister, Bonnie, finding out super early (Nicole's husband desperately knocking a wedge of brie out of her hand in front of the ever observant Bonnie does let ones cats out of the bag), we kept it a secret from our families until Christmas when Nicole and I handed our parents a wrapped double frame of their grandbabies first ultrasounds. It was easily one the most special moments of my entire life.

   With all this baby talk going on, will this turn into a baby blog? Maybe. I might like that. At the end of the day this blog is about putting good food on the table and ruminating on life. I love that my ruminations now focus mainly around this squirmy baby in my belly, and so you betcha that will become a frequent focus of future blog posts.

   Speaking of adding baby stuff to the blog, behold! My first bump/pregnancy update. I fully admit these kinds of posts are my favorites to read in other women's blogs, and they were long before I knew I wanted to have babies. I think getting a glimpse into what it's like for another person to grow and bring a fresh little life into the world is just the coolest thing. And now it's my turn!

   Right now I'm 15 weeks and I have to say (knock on wood) I pretty much adore, love, relish being pregnant. It's the bees knees. For the first ten weeks or so I was pretty tired, but nothing I didn't expect given that I was, you know, growing a whole new set of organs plus that weirdo bonus one we all know and love, the placenta. I had a few gooey run ins with eggs that left me a bit green around the gills, but other than that the first trimester was no sweat. It doesn't hurt that I wholeheartedly embrace any situation in which multiple daily naps are not only acceptable, but encouraged.

   Now that the second trimester is already underway, the fatigue has totally lifted and I feel like my old self except with a grapefruit sized bulge poking out just under my belly button. One that occasionally twitches and pokes in the most adorable fashion. I use this bulge as an excuse to live exclusively in pants of the stretchy variety. It's pretty awesome.

   So far baby has a narrow list of likes: car rides, hitting 'snooze' in the morning and belly rubs provided by her papa. She rewards these activities with exuberant little taps that it took me a week or so to realize weren't gas bubbles. Only today I noticed that the taps are gaining strength and now occasionally feel like full on twitches and rolls. Every movement is immediately filed under 'best feeling of my entire life.'

   Also, for me, pregnancy requires multiple super crisp, super tart, organic granny smith apples per day. I've eaten at least twice per day since around week 3. You're welcome, granny smith apple farmers of North America. This bebe and I sure do love you guys.

   I would say the only thing I found to be absolutely not true according to the pregnancy update apps and websites is you absolutely do not get bladder volume back in the second trimester. That was a dirty stinkin' lie. But that's ok; I needed more excuses to get up from my desk and walk around anyway. It's good for the heart.   

   So that's the first 15 weeks of lil baby's life in a nutshell. We already love him/her most fiercely and are trying to remember every single sweet second of our life as a family of three.

   I'll be back soon with some posts on how I'm trying to eat healthfully while pregnant, my favorite exercise DVD I may be slightly obsessed with, and some general insights into living life as as a resident and pregnant lady. Stay tuned.