assuage the bear with peanuts ::::
If medical residency training was an animal, it would be a bear. It is this large, sometimes bumbling beast, first scary on July 1 of every year. As the beast rears, your adrenaline pumps when faced with projectile vomiting, labored breathing, or a physically violent patient for the first time. It stands up on its hind legs, trying to look larger than it is, but it is really that large at first. It rips you apart sometimes, undermines you. Other times, it stands tall with you rather than against you, as you learn a new procedure, understand the management of a complex patient, or finally visualize the brachial plexus in your head like second nature.
As time passes, you and the bear co-exist, it lumbering over to grunt and grumble in your ear just to make sure you are still listening. It peers at you with piggish eyes, sometimes lazy as you grow more and more sleep deprived. At your zenith, you realize you have been engulfed, swallowed by that beast. It takes some undoing, but you can shed that bear with time. It took me maternity leave and, once working, realizing that I actually did learn valuable, applicable skills in the midst of the growling, to de-bear myself.
I learned an overwhelming amount of information in medical school and residency, that abstract bear for which I am grateful but never would want to encounter in a forest again. Sleep deprived with a young Peach and Eat also in residency at the time, it didn’t leave me much time to do much outside reading in residency, something that was always encouraged. I was engulfed with blinders on part of the time; that is the worst way to become one with the bear of residency.
When I started working at Kaiser last year, I was struck by the teamwork. There was a bear, actually a cub rolling around instead, when I first started. You mean you tell me when the patient is ready? I don’t have to keep poking my head out of an overcrowded shared office to see if the room is occupied? Wait, and I get my own office? With my own chair? And computer?! The medical assistants call patients back for basic questions, thus keeping me off the phone and seeing patients face-to-face? In residency, I was so used to the dictates of the attending physicians, trying to keep up with their ebb and flow (the patients’ and the attendings’ moods), with a throw-you-to-the-wolves (and perhaps bears) mentality in the beginning, that I didn’t expect a slow cooker start to my attending-dom. Now, the bear cub plays sometimes, but it is usually busy with other new attendings just starting out.
After a few months of working last year, I finally started to relax and enjoy myself. I listen to interesting people tell me their stories not just about back pain, but about books they recommend, food they like to cook, and family dynamics. I look at spine MRIs all day and talk to patients on what is clinically relevant to them. I am often a detective, trying to determine their pain generators and what treatment path may be the best. I talk about alternative treatments like yoga and acupuncture. Yes! This is Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation medicine!
While the bear did ruin any cooking I could do in the beginning of medical school and attendingship, I occasionally would venture into the kitchen and comfort myself with my purple potato salad with gorgonzola and bacon. Or sometimes it was as simple as persian tea. Today, I give you comfort food with a twist. I usually am wary of pan-asian recipes, this intermingling of Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, and others but this recipe is quick and satisfies my craving for my mother-in-law’s cold sesame noodle dish. It’s not quite the same as hers but similar. My stomach grumbles a bit like that bear cub, and in my mind, the noodles twist up its legs and arms, sometimes its muzzle just when it tries to bite. I often used my mother-in-law’s sesame noodles as a time to eat and remember pre-medical school days, where I thought I was sooo busy (I really wasn’t), and post-residency-post-baby days where ‘busy’ has taken on a harried definition. The great thing about this recipe is that you can mix up the sauce, cut up the vegetables, and keep them in the fridge for a few days, providing numerous lunches and dinners. All you need to do is boil the noodles just before serving; if stored correctly with a little sesame oil to prevent sticking, you could also boil those ahead of time and store them in the fridge for a couple of days too.
Enjoy the noodles. Bring down the bear in your life.
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
- 11 ounces dried soba (or other similar noodles -- I used soba)
- 3 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, divided
- handful fresh cilantro, long stems removed
- ¾ cup natural peanut butter (no added sugar)
- ¼ cup soy sauce (or less -- see note below)*
- 3 tablespoons packed, peeled, and finely chopped fresh ginger (from about a 3-inch piece)
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 2 limes)
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 1 teaspoon chili oil
- 2 small scallions
- ½ medium English cucumber, thinly sliced crosswise (I used my lovely mandolin to slice)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the carrots and cook until just crisp-tender, about 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the carrots to a colander.
- Add the noodles to the pot of boiling water and cook according to the package directions. While the noodles are cooking, transfer the carrots to a small bowl and set aside. Place the colander in the sink.
- When the noodles are ready, drain them through the colander and rinse under cold water until cool. Transfer the noodles to a large bowl, drizzle with 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil, and toss to coat; set aside.
- Place the remaining 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, cilantro, peanut butter, HALF the soy sauce, ginger, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, garlic, and chili oil in a blender. Blend until smooth, stopping as necessary to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula (if the mixture is too thick, add hot tap water 1 teaspoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached). Taste and decide if you need more soy sauce for saltiness.
- Add the reserved carrots, scallions, and cucumber to the bowl with the noodles and pour the peanut sauce over top. Toss until well combined. Sprinkle with more scallions and garnish with cucumbers and carrots, if desired. Serve at room temperature or cold. I like the sauce just a little warm -- more of a comfort food for me when warm rather than cold.
- Note when reheating: the sauce may thicken quite a bit once stored in the fridge. I suggest a few sprinkles of water before reheating. Also, the dish is best stored without the added vegetables, as they get a bit mushy in storage with the noodles.
- Also, the sauce stored alone keeps for about 2 weeks refrigerated.