Life Changes and Mexican (aka, Spanish) Rice

It seems like forever since the last time I was in the kitchen or  blogged.  Life has gotten in the way.  It’s been busy and filled with lots of changes, all for the better, of course.

I had been experiencing this quarter-life existential crises over the last six months, and I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was causing all this turmoil within myself.  After some serious soul searching, I realized that I was feeling unchallenged and bored with my current job.  My dream job.  The job that challenged me.  Excited me.  I actually looked forward to going to work.  I’m not kidding.  The job was perfect for me.  I get bored easily, it’s just my personality.  But this job kept me on my toes, and challenged me minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, and day-to-day.  It was a fast-paced environment with very little down time.  I didn’t think I was ever wanted to leave this job.  Ever.  If you asked me five years ago what my five year career goal was going to be, I’d quickly respond with my current job.  Patient care was my thing.

So as you can see, I really struggled with the idea of no longer feeling satisfied by my job.  I felt like I was (and still am) letting down my mentor who I admire, and helped mold me into the clinician that I am today.  I didn’t want to accept the idea of needing to find another job.  I thought this unsettled feeling of my career would pass with time, and so I let time pass.

Well, time didn’t resolve my problem.  As my lucky stars would have it, while at a mutual friend’s wedding, my coworker’s husband mentioned his company was looking to hire.  This intrigued me.  A light bulb went off and I realized that I needed a new career move.  So I applied for two completely different jobs within the pharmacy sector, and I recently accepted the position as a pharmacy IS (information systems) specialist within the company I currently work for.  I start my new position in a month and a half.

The job will be VERY different from what I do now.  I’m going to be a pharmacy computer geek, and I’m so excited by this!  It’s certainly going to challenge me in a whole different way, and I know it’s going to require a lot of my time and attention.  I won’t be involved in direct patient care, which doesn’t bother me anymore.  I’m actually relieved of not being heavily involved with patient care.  Patient care has burnt me out, as well as the nature of the emergency room, and long hospital work hours.

Let’s see, other changes… my brother and sister-in-law will be moving to Zurich, Switzerland, for amazing job opportunities to advance their careers.  They have committed to a two year contract.  So not only did we get the keys to their amazing condo in Manhattan, but we also get a free place to stay when we visit them next summer.  Viva la Europe!

And last but not least, my partner has decided to pursue a second Master’s degree, this time in fine arts.  She current has her Masters in special education, but her passion has always been art.  She’s a talented painter, and would benefit greatly with a MFA.  So, she’s planning to apply for the upcoming 2012 school year.  What does this mean for us?  Well, back for another long distance relationship.  Hopefully, she’ll only be 2.5 hours away.

Too many changes.  I wanted some comfort food today, and Mexican food was what I needed.

What are your comfort foods?

Mexican Rice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups long grain rice
1 yellow onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt

Heat oil in a large skillet, and brown rice over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic, and saute, stirring frequently for about five minutes, or until the onions have softened.

Add chicken broth, tomatoes, cumin, chili powder, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Fluff the rice when the rice is cooked, and then cover with the lid for another five minutes.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Spaghetti with Italian Turkey Sausage, White Wine, and Fresh Tomatoes

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What not a better way to celebrate the summer then by incorporating the fruits of our labor (no pun intended) into yummy summer-y recipes?  Our vegetables plants have been providing us with steady bountiful “crops” of tomatoes, as well as basil.  I didn’t want to repeat last year’s terrible bout of laziness, in which ALL of the vegetables were not harvested.  Not one tomato.  It all went to waste, especially after all the time, effort, and money that I invested to set up drip lines. This year is going to be different.

And for the past several years, I’ve been telling myself to just buy one tomato plant because we end up with way too much tomatoes (and it usually goes to waste).  I even told my partner to stop me from buying two plants.  But sure enough, I left the nursery with TWO tomato plants again.  After I harvested a very large bowl of tomatoes, I told my partner to remind me to buy only one tomato plant next year.  Her response, “I told you this year, but you were too stubborn to listen.”  Ugh.  She’s right.  I was too stubborn to listen.  And now we have way too many tomatoes.  You know what’s funny?  I’ll probably be too stubborn to listen next year and many years after.  I don’t think I’ll ever learn my lesson.

My partner did say that she LOVES pasta when we first started dating.  So guess what we’ll be having for dinner for the next many weeks to come?

You guessed it!…

Spaghetti with Italian Turkey Sausage, White Wine, and Fresh Tomatoes

4 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1.5 links sweet Italian turkey sausage, remove from casing
1.5 links hot and spicy Italian turkey sausage, remove from casing
1 (15 ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 cup fresh tomatoes, diced
3/4 cup Sauvignon Blanc
1/2 teaspoon dried red hot chili flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 heaping cupful grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnishing
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded
Whole wheat spaghetti pasta

In a medium sized bowl, mix together the sweet and hot turkey sausages until well combined. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the whole wheat pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions for al dente.  Drain the pasta in a colander and return to the pot; cover with a lid to keep warm.

In a separate skillet, heat extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the garlic and onions and saute until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.  If the garlic is browning too quickly, turn down the heat to medium.  Add a dash of kosher salt to the onions to help it sweat a little bit.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat extra virgin olive oil.  Add the ground turkey sausage to the pan and saute until browned and no longer pink over high heat, about 6 to 8 minutes.  Be sure to crumble/break up the sausages while it is cooking in the pan.

Once the sausages have browned, add the white wine to deglaze the pan and dissolve/scrape the browned bits that have crusted to the skillet.  Cook for about two minutes over high heat.  Add the cooked garlic and onions, crushed tomatoes, red chili flakes, and bring sauce to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for 5 minutes.  Adjust seasoning with salt and fresh cracked black pepper.  [Do not over salt the sauce as you will be adding grated parmesan to the dish.]

Add the drained pasta to the skillet and toss until well-coated.  Add the grated parmesan cheese and toss again until it has been thoroughly incorporated.

Serve on a big platter family style or on individual serving plates.  Garnish with fresh basil leaves, cherry tomatoes, and extra grated parmesan.

Makes 4 servings.

Super Duper Vegan Chili

We’ve been having mad cravings for vegan chili as the weather is still cool for this time of the year.  The weather has actually been really wacky… lots of rain, and cold days.  The weather is usually in the 80s this time of year, but today it’s only reached a high of 65.  I’m not complaining.  At all.  Trust me.  The month of May just means the summer is around the corner, which means hot summer months.  Ugh.  Such a drag.  So as much as I would like some days in the high 70s/low 80s, I’m going to enjoy this weather now because it’s gonna get hot in herrre.  Okay, now I’m complaining.

We decided to take advantage of today’s weather to make some spicy vegan chili to satiate our cravings.  And satiate it did!  I would love to eat this chili all year around, but the thought of cooking and eating it during the summer when the temperatures can range anywhere from 100-110 degrees F seems torturous. In fact, anything involving the burners or the oven inside the house during the summer heat sounds unpleasant.

Interestingly, I enjoy this chili more than I do a hearty and meaty chili! Don’t get me wrong, I’m a total carnivore. In fact, my initial thought before I tried this chili for the first time was how vegan chili could taste better than a meaty chili? Well, let me tell you, I was completely blown away after my first bowl. The texture of the “ground meat” fooled me, and the beans, vegetables, and spices were so flavorful that I didn’t need or miss the meat.  This chili even fooled my dad who says no one can trick him with vegan meat products.  Hah!  Take that, dad!

This chili is truly the best prescription for the soul.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onions, diced
1 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
4 large garlic clovies, minced
2 large jalapeno peppers, minced
1 large serrano pepper, minced
12 ounces textured vegetable protein (aka, original Smart Ground)
1 cups water
1 cans (28 ounces each) crushed tomatoes
1 cans (15 ounces each) red kidney beans, drained
1 can (15 ounce) black beans, drained
3 medium sized fresh tomatoes, chopped
1.5 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large dutch oven, heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and onions, and saute for five minutes or until the onions are translucent.

Add the textured vegetable protein and water, cook for 5 minutes, while stirring occasionally. Add the remaining ingredients and cook for another five minutes. Reduce the heat to a medium to medium-low (depending on your burners), and let it “stew”, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes (or until the bell peppers are tender).

Remove from heat and serve with your favorite toppings!

Caprese Bruschetta

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We love basil.  We love bread.  We love mozzarella.  We love garlic.  We love tomatoes.  We love all these ingredients combined into one little morsel of love.  We love a lot.

What do you love?

Caprese Bruschetta

One loaf of crusty Italian or French bread
10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
6 ripe roma tomatoes, seeded
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
8 bocconcini (mini mozzarella balls), cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive, plus extra for brushing bread
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Position rack to the center of the oven.

Cut the tomatoes into 1/2-inch dices, and the bocconcini into 1/4-inch cubes. Place the tomatoes and mozzarella in a bowl, and mix in the finely minced garlic, dried oregano, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. Mix well, and then adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to your liking. Lastly, toss in the chopped basil and incorporate into the tomato mixture.

Slice the bread diagonally into about 1/2-inch thick slices. Brush each slice of bread with extra virgin olive oil. Place the bread on a baking sheet and bake for about 5-6 minutes, or until the bread begins to toast.

Arrange the bread on a serving platter, oil side up. Spoon tomato mixture onto each slice of bread. The bread will get soggy, so this must be served and eaten immediately. Conversely, you can also have the guests spoon the tomato mixture if they desire to do so at their time and convenience, and to their liking.

Makes 12 slices of bruschetta.

I’ve Lost that Love and Feeling, and Lebanese Fattoush Salad

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It’s true.  I’ve lost that love and feeling for my job.  Have you ever wondered why you are in the profession that you are in?  Or have/had feelings of being “stuck” or stagnate?  Not feeling as satisfied and excited about your job as you once did?

Well, I’ve been feeling this way for some time now about my job.  I used to be so passionate about what I do.  I used to wake up in the mornings excited about going to work.  I would be upset when it was 30 minutes until I had to leave because I knew I was going to miss interesting patient cases that I could learn from and assist with.  I was like a dry sponge waiting to expand with knowledge of cases that I had only read about in textbooks.  Work was like my playground for a few years.  I loved the excitement and (organized) chaos in the ED.  I loved the challenges presented to me on a day-to-day basis.  I especially loved the feeling at the end of the day of knowing that I made a positive difference in the patient’s care with other members of the multidisciplinary team.

The thing that attracted me the most to the ED was the chaos and working under extreme pressure in an emergent manner.  Unfortunately, that honeymoon period has been long gone.  The funny thing is that I tend to get bored easily with projects, tasks, work, really just about anything, so the ED was originally a right fit for my personality.  But now I’m bored.  I don’t feel challenged.  I don’t feel like things are as intense and under pressure as they used to be.  I’m getting too comfortable and that scares me.  My mentor once mentioned to me before I finished my residency training, and it was that you open yourself to mistakes at the patient’s expense when you get too comfortable.  It is a critical piece of information that has been engrained into my brain, and it holds much value especially in the medical profession.

But something changed recently.  A patient case that sparked, recharged, rekindled the passion that I once had for my job.  It was a feeling that I had been longing for a very long time. An attending ED physician requested my immediate attention on a little boy who was given a foreign medication to help treat his diarrhea by his grandmother. The little boy was very sick. Foreign medications can be difficult to identify, especially since they do not require the stringent identification codes that are required by the US FDA on OTC and prescription medications. A quick side note, vitamins and herbals do not adhere to the same laws as OTC and prescription medications because these products are NOT regulated by the FDA. Interesting, right? So you could be taking echinacea because that’s what the label says, but one formulation can vastly differ from the next echinacea product because it’s not standardized and/or regulated by the FDA.

Getting back to my story… foreign medications can sometimes be the same thing as a medication prescribed in the US with the same generic name, but different brand name. Majority of the times, foreign medications will differ completely all together from what we have here. luckily, Mom came in with the little boy and was able to tell us the brand name of the pill he was given. She was a very reliable historian, which was a relief, because the patients I see in the ED will have no clue what medications they are on. I was given the task to identify or do what ever I could to find something on what the pill could possibly be. After a few minutes of going through my resources, I found the answer! I was able to identify the pill, AND was able to give a recommendation on how to treat the toxicity. A few minutes after administering the treatment, the little boy was 95% recovered from what he originally came in for. The ED is such a fascinating place to work for because you get to see the positive changes from the treatments initiated right then and there. You get to see how medicine works. That my friend, is why I enjoy doing what I do.

Lebanese Fattoush Salad

3 whole wheat pita pocket breads, cut into strips about 3/4 inch wide
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup white onion, minced
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (if you find it is too acidic for your taste, add a little less lemon juice and use red wine or pomegranate vinegar in place)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons powdered or ground Sumac, plus more for sprinkling on individual salads if desired
2 heads Romaine lettuce, chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 cup diced tomatoes (let drain a minute or two if extra juicy)
1 cup diced cucumber (same size as tomatoes)

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees F.

Mash together the minced garlic with the salt in a mortar and pestle, or on the cutting board, into a paste. Put garlic-salt paste into a small bowl, and add to it the minced onion, lemon juice and sumac. Whisk in the olive oil until the dressing has emulsified.

Cut whole wheat pita into strips about 3/4 inch wide and arrange on baking sheet. Bake until pita strips are crisp but only barely starting to brown, less than 10 minutes. Once the toasted pita breads are cool enough to handle, crumble in medium-sized pieces.

Remove the outer leaves from the romaine lettuce, trim off the stem end, and then wash. Chop lettuce into small pieces. Dry the washed lettuce in a salad spinner. If you don’t have a salad spinner, dry the lettuce leaves with a paper towel before chopping. Put chopped romaine lettuce into salad bowl large enough to toss all the ingredients.

Chop the tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers, and add to the lettuce. Add about half of the dressing and toss. Then add crumbled pita chips and toss again with more dressing. Let the salads sit for a few minutes to allow the flavors to blend, but also so that the pita chips can absorb some of the dressing. To serve, arrange salad on individual plates and sprinkle with a little more sumac.

Spicy, Lime-y, Cilantro-y, Chunky Guacamole

I looked in my refrigerator yesterday and freaked out over all the container-filled left over foods.  Usually that’s a good thing right?  Most people probably wouldn’t get stressed out over left overs.  In fact, most people probably think it’s a good thing to have left overs.  But I have a fear of left over foods.  It all started when I moved away for Pharmacy school.  My parents would come visit me in San Francisco and would stock my refrigerator with good ol’ Mom’s home cooking.  It was truly a great and generous thing that they did.  I think they thought I was starving and/or didn’t have enough time to cook for my own.  Little did they know that I gained a lot of weight partying, and eating.  Anyhow, after they went back home, I would freak out about all the foods that I would have to eat before it spoiled.  I grew tired of left overs after 3-4 days of straight left overs.  It wasn’t even an enjoyment.  It was just a process of shoveling food down my mouth for lunch and dinner.  And trust me, I LOOOOOOOOVE my parents’ cooking!  I also hate wasting food period.  Wow.  I just went off on a tangent.

I had a lot of cilantro from over the weekend that I didn’t know what to do with.  I also had a lot of limes, tomatoes, and avocados hanging out on my kitchen counter waiting to be hacked up for my weekly sandwich wraps for work.  But the avocados and tomatoes were getting just a little ripe, and I knew I wouldn’t eat the tomatoes because I hate mushy tomatoes.  It’s true.  The texture is just gross.  Luckily, I found half of a red onion in a tupperware container in the refrigerator, and decided to make guacamole… the perfect way to NOT waste these ingredients!

Just a side note, do you remember how expensive avocados were about a decade ago or more?  I was just reminiscing recently how expensive some fruit and vegetable items were and how difficult they were to find at times.  I used to beg my parents to spend some money to buy me two or three avocados for $4 per avocado just so that I could make guacamole.  I’d maybe get to taste half an avocado once or twice a year.  But now that the prices have come down significantly, I can make guacamole any time and any day of the year.  There’s always an abundance of avocados no matter what grocery store you shop at now.  It’s absolutely wonderful and convenient.

So getting back to my original post, I love my guacamole extra lime-y.  And spicy, and chunky, and cilantro-y.  It’s the only way to eat guacamole.  No garlic, no cumin.  Just love.


Spicy, lime-y, cilantro-y, and chunky guacamole

4 avocados
2 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 red onion, minced or finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
3 limes, juiced
2 jalapenos, minced (remove the seeds and pith if you don’t like it spicy)
1 teaspoon salt

Cut avocados in half, and remove seed. Scoop out avacado from the peel, put in a mixing bowl.

Using a fork or potato masher, mash the avocado, while leaving it chunky. Add the chopped red onion, cilantro, tomato, and salt. Mix together. Next add half of the lime juice, mix well, and adjust to your likings. I like a really lime-y guacamole, so three limes is perfect.

Chili peppers vary individually in their hotness, even with the seeds and pith removed. So, start with a half of one chili pepper and add to the guacamole to your desired degree of hotness.

Enjoy immediately with your favorite tortilla chips. I cut and baked my organic corn tortillas at 400 degrees in a small toaster oven for a few minutes, and they turned out perfectly.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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