Thursday, July 31, 2008

may you never

There is a lot of laughter. About fifteen years ago, I wrote a little something, an imagined story about me and a fellow conspirator, how we would mock the pretentious, how we could look at each other and see the joke coming. Today, that little string of sentences is a premonition. We walk around hushed, dimly lit rooms mercilessly taking the piss out of Chihuly. It is the sort of thing I'd normally only write of doing, but given circumstances, we are both emboldened.

It's happened to him, not to me. I keep reminding myself of that. But it doesn't feel like that, as we're standing on the observation deck, looking over the city. He fails to see the charm, and I don't have the heart to argue today. Instead, I look out and see the exact spot below where Q and I stopped, paused, and noted the frames of this building, just a skeleton still. It's happened to him, not to me, I tell myself, but then that memory of Q drifts in and it just makes it all the more evident how temporary and fleeting everything can be.

We have a good dinner, he keeps in good spirits. But then it's just the two of us in the car, and he gets quiet as he's done periodically through the day. He gets quiet and suddenly breathing is a conscious effort for him. He lets out a breath and turns to me, says, nearly pleads, "Tell me I'm going to be okay."

And I say it without hesitation. "You're going to be okay." And I mean it and he knows this. That I say it with such certainty, with so little hesitation, surprises even me. Is he really going to be okay? Am I really being sincere? But he is, and I am. I just don't know how. I do not know how it happens, never came up with a series of well-planned steps. I only know that it does happen, almost miraculously. The things people can survive are a lot.

It just doesn't always feel that way.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I'm never alone, I'm alone all the time

Really, it's shameful to title my post this way. True mark of a kindred spirit- early on in our friendship, RR and I spent the better part of a half-hour discussing the idiocy of Bush's Glycerine. Of course, what both of us smoothly glossed over, implicit in even having the little bash-a-thon, was that we both clearly knew the song well enough to quote the lyrics to each other.

It's shameful, and no way in all of the decreasingly green Earth would I give Rossdale credit for it, but I've put a lot of meaning into that one simple line. I extract it wholly, lift it from the song as if it can stand wholly on its own. The song, after all, has no meaning, I contend. You can try to convince me otherwise, but RR & I took a hard look at those lyrics and concluded Rossdale was just clumsily grasping for a rhyme or two. Still. I heard the line, completely out of context- I was starting to drive and the radio came on and there wafted Rossdale's voice crooning just that line- I'm never alone, I'm alone all the time.

And I don't know why, but for some reason, it meant something today. I guess that's the thing about music. Musicians are not exactly rocket scientists, but the way they express things, well, you just never know. You can hear a song a million times, and all of a sudden, on the right day, in the right moment, it can surprisingly mean something to you.

Today, when I heard it, I just, at that second, thought- I think this might encapsulate my entire life. Because that's really just about it. It's this weird oscillation, or maybe even a dichotomy. I'm never alone, I'm alone all the time. I don't even know what else to say. It's the great tragedy/comedy of life, that, so often, the people that are around you are no substitute for the people you miss. Or, perhaps more to the point, the people who want to be around you often do not overlap on a Venn diagram with the people you want to be around.

It's the ultimate in being a malcontent, really, to complain about that. But I'd note, I'm not complaining really. It's sort of gone on for far too long to whine about it nowadays. Nowadays, all I can manage is a plaintive I'm never alone, I'm alone all the time.

I owe some people some comments and thoughtful responses, and they are coming. I just had to mark this down, because I am crawling the walls in study-mode, and needed a quick little outlet. Thank you, as always, for indulging me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

it's gonna be a glorious day

And now we come to that of which I often dare not speak. And that is this- you have to believe. Believe in whatever, it doesn't matter.

I'm supposed to be studying neuroanatomy right now, and my professor really loves talking about how the cerebellum would float around without a care in the world if it weren't for the cerebellar peduncles that hold it in place, connecting it to the rest of your brain. An oversimplification, to be certain. But something to believe in. The cerebellum, you need it for balance, to keep the steadiness in your gait. The steadiness, not the gait, you see.

That's the point. Believing doesn't cure all. It doesn't make the world dissolve away, doesn't immerse you in cotton candy clouds and lavender skies. But it lets you walk through the world without the crushing weight of what you see around you. If you look around, if you pay attention, it's not a far fall to despair. It's all around you, the proof, the facts. Things fall apart. Entropy always wins.

But if you took all that at face value, what would keep you waking up every morning? What would keep you from drinking three shots of scotch and calling it a night? What would keep you from feeling the whole world was entirely absurd? Not much. And I should know, because there have been plenty of times that I've let go of belief.

I'm not a religious person. I'm not a person with deep roots, not someone who has had a permanence that serves as a center. I believed in one person once, had the courage to put all my faith into science once as well. It's a thin line, faith and fanaticism. I came to think of that kind of belief as not necessarily healthy.

Now I'm not so sure. It's fundamental, this need to believe. It doesn't matter in what. Sometimes it's as intangible as a well-placed melody. Sometimes it's as simple as the feeling of fog on the tip of your nose. Sometimes it's as small a gesture as someone inviting you when you are otherwise feeling spurned. Sometimes it's bigger. I can see that now. The further you fall, the more let down by faith, the bigger, insurmountable your need to believe. And that's when you need it so badly that you fear you can't live without it, won't know how to put one foot in front of the other, not without the belief that it's not all for naught.

But it's not really true. It doesn't make you walk. It just keeps you from walking in circles, stumbling, tripping. You can do without it for a little while. As long as someone is around to watch out for you, keep you from falling for those moments you've lost your faith, you will live. And at times, that's the best we can hope for. At times, that's where I place my belief.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

there's no happy ending, so they say

It took me back to the times I felt inconsolable. Comparatively, proportionally, he was doing well. I'd fallen apart at the seams for much less. I remember one of the worst moments, stranded in Southern California, young, naive, the sun cheerfully shining incongruously to the ruins my life felt to have become.

Before that, all month before that, I'd had this uneasy feeling. Drenched in sunlight, feeling the world so filled with possibilities, hearing everyone sound so sure that the pieces would fall into place for me, I had gone there with the kind of confidence and hope that I'd never previously exhibited. Inside, I found it strange, the shift. But I thought, well, after dark years, the world has turned around. I did not think I was on the verge of failure.

And so I was alone and the sunshine made things worse, I remember. I recall walking aimlessly down the street, arms limp, feeling that sun beating down on me oppressively. It wasn't too hot. But the sun surrounding me only served to make me feel more lonely. I longed for drenching rain that dripped from my hair. I longed for the cold night to bite at my cheeks, to give me a headache. Instead I walked about aimlessly like a zombie in broad daylight.

Tomorrow I will write about recovery, about the weirdness of recovery, how it does not have any prescribed process, how it often has no explanation or order, how it just miraculously happens. But right now, I keep wondering how people manage to put themselves at risk of falling apart, like I did that sunny afternoon.

Monday, July 21, 2008

see you break, break away into the light and to the day

So I have had a tugging at the back of my throat all afternoon. It's too much to bear, and it's not even mine to bear really. I don't want to write about it really, because it's not fair. It's not mine, it's his, that's why.

Something occurred to me though, even as I was sitting down to write this. Sometimes you have no idea what shifts have happened inside of you, no awareness of them whatsoever. It's not that you are ignoring them. They just come to flow rather seamlessly into your life, and there was no need to make an announcement, record the moment.

But then something happens and you have to take note. As I've been on the brink of tears this afternoon, it occurs to me. My oldest friend in the whole wide world is not speaking to me currently. I love him dearly, still, but he's always someone with whom I have had an oscillating relationship- he comes and goes, we have our highs and our lows, yet somehow I always viewed him as a constant. And somehow, regardless of whatever had come to pass between us, he was always the one person I unleashed upon. When I had a case of the mean reds, when I fell on black days, when I was in a downward spiral, I always felt he was the person I could tell. He always indulged me.

I didn't even notice it, never paid attention to the change in tide. I suppose I should have. When I felt like The Goal was unattainable and crushing me, RR was the one giving me pep talks, telling me to suck it up and make it happen. When Q popped back into my life and I started entertaining allowing myself to get pulled back into a truly unproductive situation, it was RR sitting me down and pointing out how obviously stupid and self-destructive my impulse was. We used to waste time at work bullsh*tting about pop culture, or about my problem, because one of RR's favorite pasttimes is figuring out why I'm single (which is sort of a compliment, kind of)- when he's hypothesizing, he always starts with "you know what your problem is?"

Opposite of me in so many ways. OCD to my slob. Gordon Gecko capitalist to my pinko liberal socialist. He's quick to call someone out for stupidity, I'm quick to note it for a future anecdote. He hates being alone, I can think of nothing better. The only guy I know who likes to talk about feelings, the only girl he knows who runs out of the room when the topic comes up. He teased me for over a year because I characterized us as work friends a long time back.

A really long time back it seems. Because somewhere along the way, he became my closest friend. I don't know how it happened. Maybe it was his ability to say just the right thing at just the right moment, his bottomless reservoir of humor, and the feeling that he always is on my side, always hoping I'll get what I want, even if it makes him jealous or takes me away from what is convenient for him.

It didn't really matter before. I don't like to talk about best friends- it seems like a term you use in 5th grade, when it means nothing and you have a new BFF every month or so. I probably try not to use the term for that reason. Best is superlative, it means something permanent to me, and I have a long-standing distrust of permanence, especially where relationships are concerned. We're constantly evolving and different people grow closer to us and others grow further apart. So I try not to dwell on it and just let it happen. My oldest friend has grown distant, and that is sad, but it happens. All you can hope with your closest friends is that they always stay in your life.

But RR is as close to a best friend as can be had. It didn't really matter before. He told me I was his once, but hilariously finished the sentence with a hurried "and I know that makes your skin crawl and you don't have to say that I'm yours". If it would not hurt him more to say it right now, I would tell him I realized today how much of a part of my life he is. I could tell because, as his world was falling apart, as he had gone weightless and found himself tumbling uncomfortably around, I could feel it too. I felt the sucker punch, the pinch in the chest, the impossibility of going forward, the wish to make it all go away and live in the dreams of the past. If only it were enough, if only it meant I was feeling it for him.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

what would you give for your kid fears?

When I woke up, I had the feeling that I had not slept soundly. On the phone, there were 19 missed calls, all from one number. They had started at 3 o'clock in the morning. Were I younger, I would have concluded I was getting drunk-dialed. But I'm not younger, so instead, fear seized me, as I assumed something horrible had happened.

I thought it must be a death. A stillbirth, a complication. But as the fog of drowsiness cleared out of my head, I started to doubt myself. With death, there is tragedy and sadness, sometimes inconsolable sadness. But so little to discuss, in some ways. It is so final.

Opening my laptop, I found three emails, the first starting at 3 a.m, begging for a phone call. A wave of shame swept over me that I had slept through all these calls. It started to dawn on me that something irreversible had happened. I didn't even want to anymore, but I steeled myself to the news about to arrive and called.

He had two rules- don't say "I can't believe it" or "I would never have thought that this would happen to you." Fine, simple instructions.

I wanted to tell him to say it quickly, like pulling a bandage off the skin. Say it fast, it will hurt less. But I was wrong. Whatever the speed, the pace, nothing was going to change how horrible the news was. In my head, I was thinking I can't believe it and I would never have thought that this would happen to you. But I held my tongue. It wasn't a death, but wasn't it really? It was the death of everything he believed in and built his life around, everything that gave him his unswerving assuredness and ambition.

He was paralyzed. We talked for two hours, but in circles. Waves of realization kept crashing down on him, toppling him over. He, usually the first to sit me down and analyze a problem with precision and logic, could not even get his hands around the magnitude of what was facing him. What he wanted was for none of it to be true. Beyond that, he did not know what to want.

He did not know what to want anymore. He was left to choose between two equally distasteful paths and none of them led to a time where this ceased to be reality.

I know this did not happen to me. I know I didn't have much to say to him, didn't have a magical solution to transform his life back to the idyllic haven it had once been. A part of me thinks I was lying when I told him he would be okay. I am hardly okay and it did not happen to me. It occurs to me that I have watched some things fall apart in my lifetime, and every time, it shakes my foundations too. I believe in the people around me. I believe they have made better choices than I have. I look up to them, I suppose. So when something like this happens, it shakes my faith too. Things suddenly felt so dark when I put down the phone on such a sunny day. I can't imagine the sort of permanent midnight he is now inhabiting.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

some days I think I'd feel better if I tried harder

I'd just recovered from the last time there was a black-out in hellville my neighborhood. Granted, it has been at least 6 months since the last time, but:
  • that time, it lasted for over 4 days and ruined almost the entire contents of my refrigerator.
  • the building I occupy is so dilapidated and poorly wired that the place spontaneously blows a fuse if I have the A/C going for more than an hour. This led to a few hair-raising moments of returning home after a brief sojourn out and about this summer to find my refrigerator without power again.
  • I just went grocery shopping yesterday and I have those two batches of gelati mentioned in my last post sitting in my freezer. Sadness. Furthermore, there is some cookie dough in there as well- also, no fair.

Last time this happened, I had some serious anger management issues I had to wrestle. I was generally unhappy about various things and the electricity shorting out for almost a week was kind of the rancid whipped cream on a cup of lukewarm hot chocolate actually made of carobs. This time, it wasn't so bad- I am generally more content at the moment, and also a bit more aware of my utter helplessness in such a situation.

As it happened, it was an extremely quick black-out- fixed within an hour. But remaining so calm disturbed me too. Count on me, never satisfied. But I mean, is this what has become of my life? I've just become accepting of flat-out power shortages, the inevitable rotting of my freezer contents, the very hot condition of my apartment without any fans running? I feel like I did during vacations visiting my paternal grandmother in a small village in Gujarat, although, truth be told, I suspect if I went back there now, the little bungalow would have better electrical wiring than my current crack-shack.

I used to accuse my friend AL of being too content with life. I thought it was holding him back from making changes that would really make him happier. After all, if you make your life too comfortable, what will ever fuel you to strive for more? He eventually did make those changes, and was all the better for it. I sometimes think if you merged our two life philosophies, you would have a well-balanced human who actually did things on a proper timeline.

I try to tell myself I'll just appreciate it all the more when I live in a presentable place that is fully-functioning. But you know, I tell myself a lot of things, and very few of them are true. Isn't that always the way?

Speaking of fantasies, I hope you all have watched Dr. Horrible's Singalong. Only the NPH can add the phrases "Whatever!" and "Balls" to a musical without missing a beat.

Monday, July 14, 2008

fascinating new thing

I experimented with gelato instead of studying for a midterm. I now have 5 hours to study for it, but I have a feeling I am going to fall asleep instead of being sufficiently scared to give it my all.

Anyway. The gelato. Pictures to follow, because I am supposed to be studying right now. Initially, I went all desi ish-tyle, and, used this recipe to make pistachio gelato. The recipe was spot on and a great excuse to use both a bag of pistachios and some agave syrup I had bought for no apparent purpose some time back. At first, I thought perhaps it had come out a bit bland, and that maybe it called for too much sugar or that my pistachios were not of the right caliber. However, after it churned in the ice cream maker, was treated with some limoncello (mmmm, limoncello), and, oddly enough, was allowed to rest for a day in the freezer, the pistachio flavor really came through distinctly. Now, it didn't have that pistachio-flavor that you get when you order a cup of pistachio flavored ice cream at any old place-- you know, that oddly foreign flavor that people associate with pistachios even though real pistachios do not taste like that at all. This gelato tastes of pistachios. So, if you like pistachios, it would meet with your approval. If, on the other hand, you are nostalgic for the ice cream of your youth, this would be a disappointment.

I wasn't satisfied to stop there though. I like pistachios, sure, but I like almonds about 150 times moreso. I know, more reasons to kick me out of desi-ville (I don't really like mangoes either, so feel free to start the petition to have me voted out). And though I'd never really heard tell of it, I mean they're both nuts, so why not- why couldn't there be such a thing as almond gelato?

Now that I've made it, I have a feeling that I am not the first to do it. It's pretty simple and straightforward, and it's worth the effort because the taste is yum. Instead of limoncello, this time, the frozen mixture got a tiny bit of vanilla and a little helping of amaretto (mmmm, amaretto, and no, I am not an alkie). You might wonder why I keep saucing up these gelati-- well, I actually have an excuse: alcohol of this kind tends to keep homemade ice cream/gelato from getting too solidified, which can be a real problem. No one likes trying to scoop out homemade ice cream when it's become the consistency of a brick after sitting in the freezer for a day or two.

And here's where things get ridiculous. So now I have made two batches of gelato, but there's something I have to remind everyone. I can't really indulge in all of this stuff. I am fairly lactose intolerant, which means that I pretty much get a tiny teaspoon of these treats, and that's about it. Complicating matters further, let's just say that my current peers are not exactly the most adventurous folks on earth- while I can bring them cookies and even pound cakes that disguise the presence of olive oil, they are unlikely to give these gelati a chance.

But I've thought of a way around this too- I made chocolate sauce a few weeks ago. I'm pretty sure you can solve all of life's problems with a little chocolate sauce. Scared of pistachio gelato? Here, put a dollop of chocolate sauce on top of it. There, better now, right?

Okay, I have officially slacked off beyond reason now. I will just note that I hope you have all heard She & Him's Why do you let me stay here?-- as if I wasn't already a big enough fan of Zooey Deschanel, her work with M. Ward is so twee, it makes me gleeful.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

caught up in the action

Remember how I was complaining of the heat previously? I'm not even going to bother complaining about it anymore, because it has actually grown hotter and more intolerable over the past few weeks. Previously, I had to wait until early morning or late night to turn my oven on- now I might as well have the gas shut down in my apartment, because it's been stiflingly hot all the way until the late, late night.

I've taken to hiding in air-conditioned places, studying or playing at studying (never underestimate the power of medical students when it comes to procrastination). But I got tired of walking home late at night, the unwelcome blanket of heat and smoke still enveloping me. Instead, tonight, I went home early and read.

Well, at least, I intended to read. I did read, in fact. It was actually a really productive day. But, and maybe it's just because I've been reading about abnormal neurological findings, I think the heat may have caused a lesion of some kind in my brain. Because that is the only explanation I have for reading about nerve conduction studies while watching... Tashan. Yep.

You guys, the last time I watched a Bollywood movie was at some party that Indian uncle forced me to attend, at which I mercilessly mocked the silliness of the movie in question, while also being offended when non-desi's made the same jokes (more brain lesions to blame for that logic, I'm sure). The last time I actively sought one out on my own was... um, never.

It must be the heat, too, because I found an even stranger thing happening- I thought Tashan was funny. And not funny in that oh that goofy Bollywood way. Granted, it's still a typically stupid action movie, but really only slightly more stupid than your standard Hollywood action movies (and maybe less stupid than the 4th Indiana Jones fiasco). The movie wasn't even subtitled, and my Hindi is horrible, but that fit right in with this fill-um.

Of course, you should take this all with a nano-sized grain of salt, considering the next movie I am dying to see in the theaters is not, in fact, the Batman sequel- it's Tropic Thunder. And this cracks me up. So let's just say it's a good thing I'm studying neurology at the moment.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

you're a vegetable

So I hesitate to even post this, but I can't stop myself. In my opinion, one of these guys is a buffoon:

I leave it to you to guess which one, but it shouldn't be too hard to tell. First of all, how do you judge the greatness of a match, by the personalities of the players? I will grant that I've never been a fan of Sampras (sorry V) because I found him to be less than exciting to watch on the court. But that was more because of his style of play, not the fact that he didn't crack his racket into pieces and curse at referees.

Still, there's no denying it is fun to watch a lot of emotion on court. It's fun to watch Goran cracking a racket, or McEnroe dressing down a referee, or even Connors making smart aleck remarks. Still, still, still. To be so dismissive of Sunday's Wimbledon final as being possibly the best of all time can only be called ignorant.

Nadal and Federer have personality, they have a presence on the court. But you have to appreciate the game to see it. Here's Federer hitting forehand after forehand, running Nadal around. There's Nadal hustling for every point, like an eager, hungry younger brother. Nadal wins two points, showing real threat of breaking Federer's serve. So what does Federer do? Two aces in a row, just like that.

Or here's Nadal breaking Federer's serve in the 4th set tie break, the match in his hands for the next two serves. He double faults the first, flubs the second, and the expression on his face says it all. You can't give away two points this critical to Federer and get away with it. Or can you? Any other player would have probably been slaughtered by Federer at this point. Nadal, on the other hand, shook it off like it was nothing- big deal, I lost two points that could have made me a champion, I'll get another chance. And he did.

Sure, there was no hamming it up for the camera, no goofing around, no arguing with the referees or with Hawkeye. And yes, off the court, Federer and Nadal are the picture of two gentlemen, complimenting each other as if they had signed an agreement ahead of time to keep up a good front. So, I guess from Skippy whoever's perspective, this makes it less than the best championship in the history of Wimbledon. I don't know. For me, that's why this match was so amazing. All the drama of this game was on the court, and in the tennis. I'm paraphrasing, but one of the folks covering the game on Sunday said that these two do not just bring the best out in each other, they bring out the superhuman in each other. That's what I felt I was watching on Sunday.


In completely unrelated news, I updated my muxtape instead of starting to post songs on a weekly basis- check it if you like. For the timebeing, this seems to work better. And it's timely, because we are in the dog days of summer over here. Today, I took the thermometer out of my oven and put it in my living room, because I am convinced it is over 130 degrees in my apartment because of its magical heat-retaining properties. If it's anywhere near there, I'm going to start leaving cake batter out in my living room in the morning- that way, when I get home, I'll still melt, but I'll have a treat waiting for me.

Also, a commenter asked me about what I am interested in specializing in when this whole medical school thing goes to its next logical step-- there's probably a post necessary to answer that one. For the timebeing, I'll just say I don't know with 100% certainty, and that is kind of part of the fun at the moment.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

you just take it or you leave it where it was

Breakfast at Wimbledon was fun when I was living on the East Coast. You made a lazy Sunday of it, and it could be a communal thing, the family getting together to watch McEnroe or Becker or Agassi or Sampras (snorrrre) or Ivanisevic (mmmm, Ivanisevic) claim their victories, lots of arguing over which player was better, why the other one was losing, and who wanted some batata powa.

On the West Coast, it's by necessity solo. I really do not know anyone willing to get together at 7:30 in the morning to watch, and besides which, I'm not sure I would drag myself out of the house at that hour. Instead, with a bowl of cereal in my lap, I sit down and watch on my own. Usually this is just fine. When you're watching Federer trounce his latest victim, gathering in groups is not so important- most of the time, the group mentality starts pushing away from the favored player, and honestly, I love Federer too much to hear people talk crap about him. I do not mind that he is so good- to watch someone play tennis as well as he does is a beautiful thing to watch, and I get the goosebumps knowing I'll be talking about him some decades later the way that people a generation before me talk about Bjorn Bjorg.

And yet, today, I sort of miss the East Coast. Watching the Fed play flawless tennis and skip lightly to a Championship is one thing. Watching him and Rafael Nadal unglue each other is quite another. This is the kind of game you want to watch with a legion of tennis die-hards- not Rafa fans or Fed fans, but people who love tennis. Only when these two play each other could one player go up two sets, and you still have no idea how the match is going to turn out.

As fans, we win either way. The Fed wins, we get to see a man getting closer to smashing record books and writing a new history. Rafa wins, that's a moment for history too- to win the French & Wimbledon in one year is no small feat.

Of course, since this historic battle is in the UK, we have to deal with the rain as well. Looks like it's going to be a lazy Sunday after all.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

through the light projected

It was cool this morning, finally. It takes the night to cool down the apartment enough, such that I go to sleep feeling like I am going to melt, and wake up in the morning clutching the covers. This, it should be noted, is not a complaint. I love cool mornings. I like cool nights too, but my apartment does not seem to want to accept them into its company until well past the time I have closed my eyes.

So it is that usually the apartment is simply too warm in the evenings to turn the oven on without feeling like an idiot. But in the morning, if efficient enough, the oven can be turned on justifiably, or at least tolerably. Even though baking in the summer is borderline insane where I live, I cannot seem to resist the temptation. Last night, I had been thinking of Spain for some reason- I think perhaps because we were talking about what I now call my temperature training trial in Granada prior to moving here- and I suddenly remembered the way Spaniards put their own touch on baking. Sure, there were the regular pleasantries of pastries and the like, the butter-filled wonders. But, and perhaps this is true of most of Europe, but at a lot of restaurants, Spanish desserts turned to what they had on hand locally. No imported butters, no reserve wines from France. The wine may not have been wonderful, but it was local, and that's all you had to choose from, and there is a certain comfort in that simplicity.

The desserts, on the other hand, were wonderful. In Barcelona, especially, I was more adventurous than I sometimes tend to be. I turned down straightforward chocolate (do not be alarmed, it was a temporary thing!) for a fascinating cake made of ground almonds and a kind of cheese somewhat akin to ricotta, but in its own special Spanish class. And I allowed something else that I normally think just plain wrong: olive oil in dessert.

My distaste for olive oil in dessert started, hilariously enough, with Anna. At a blogger-birthday-fest in her honor, in a restaurant in DC, somehow we wound up with olive oil ice cream at our table. I think it was Anna herself that first tasted it, turned up her nose in disgust and then urged me to taste. I had the same reaction, this reaction of GROSS, followed by try it!

After that, I had concluded that olive oil and sweetness are simply not a good match. Olive oil and garlic? Yes, please, any time. Olive oil and chocolate? WTTTTTT...?!? But after 3 weeks of taking train rides through expanses of olive trees, and breakfasts of bread, olive oil, and tomato, the olives just got the best of me. And so, in Barcelona, on a beautiful and warm summer evening, placed before me were two little mounds of chocolate mousse drizzled scantly with olive oil and topped with a sprinkling of sea salt. And I am here to tell you that it was delicious, and olive oil once again suggested sweetness.

To further encourage this romance with olive oil, one of our instructors spent an entire lecture last year extolling the virtues of olive oil, and how one ought to replace butter with olive oil wherever possible. So this morning, I settled on giving it a shot for myself, the madness that is combining olive oil and sugar:

summer, summer, summertime

Half of this cake came to school with me this morning, where it was promptly consumed by my classmates at lunch time. I warned one of my classmates that it might taste 'oily', and he looked at me strangely after eating it, and said, "Umm, I think it tastes... yummy. In fact, can I have more?" I know, it's not exactly clearing a high bar to get a male classmate to compliment you on providing him with free food. Still, I tasted it myself, and I found it to be okay. The key here is that lemon and olive oil go well together- without the lemon, the olive oil flavor might have overwhelmed the cake and we might have had another olive oil ice cream incident.

This was very much a spur-of-the-moment concoction, based on what I had languishing in my refrigerator, but yaz very sweetly asked for directions based on the photograph. It's bastardized from another recipe here, but below is my version, with a wink to yasmine:

    Morning Sunshine Cake

    First things first- Preheat the oven to 350; grease and lightly flour a loaf pan.

    Now whisk together the following dry ingredients in a bowl:
    1 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    2 tsps baking powder
    1/2 tsp finely ground sea salt

    In a larger bowl, combine:
    1 cup lemon yogurt (I used Trader Joe's nonfat, an entire 8 oz container)
    1/2 cup olive oil (Don't overdo it- in fact, consider going a little easy on this.)
    3 large eggs (I didn't say this was a healthy recipe.)
    1 cup of sugar (See?!?)
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1/2 teaspoon organic lemon extract (optional)

    Stir together the bowl with wet ingredients until smooth. Now add in the dry ingredients and combine until well incorporated and no major lumps apparent. Pour into the loaf pan. Bake in the oven for about 50 minutes or until a toothpick placed in the center comes out clean (or until you start freaking out that you are going to miss class if you don't get the cake out of the oven). Let cool on a rack for ~15 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan. Let cool completely.

    Extremely precise and scientific icing recipe: In a small cup/bowl, place several tablespoons of powdered sugar. Add a few drops of lemon juice, a few drops of milk, and 1-2 drops of lemon extract. Mix together with a butter knife. Add more milk and/or lemon juice until a spreadable consistency is reached. Drizzle or spread over the cake.

Sorry to bore you to tears with such repetitive tales of baking and Spain. I am nothing if not predictable. I'll try to throw some music into the mix during the long weekend so that I can at least add another worn out aspect to my repertoire.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

they always said that you knew best, but

I ought to be in bed, but it seems like I'm regressing to that adolescent stage of wanting to do whatever it is I ought not to be doing. As in everything, I like neither extreme. I've realized I cannot deal with the absence of structure. I need some form, some outline, some excuse to get up every morning and look presentable. In other words, I could not be engaged in an effort that amounted to: 'here is some lab space, party on, and let me know when you're ready to present your thesis.' On the other hand, and of course with me there is always an other hand, I also cannot deal with too much structure. I need some wiggle room, some ability to draw outside the lines.

This is somewhat incompatible with medical school, but not completely. A friend I've previously mentioned who is rather antagonistic about my decision to go to med school brings rather true criticisms of it-- it's mindless, in the sense that, once you're in, you are set on a path, and you can proceed through it like one of the zombies on Shaun of the Dead (and yes, I'm choosing the spoof movie-zombies, because you seriously can't take med students seriously enough to be afraid of them in the 28 Days Later vein). You don't have to figure out how to become a dermatologist. For the low low price of a bajillion dollars in loans, an advisor will tell you that you need to get XXX Step 1 scores, have published in a scientific journal of merit, have taken on a major extracurricular activity, and perhaps gone on a medical mission in Guatemala.

So all of this is true, and if you wanted to, really, you could sleepwalk your way through an entirety of medical education, training and specialization. However, my dislike for following the straight and narrow, well-trodden path in some ways gets me off the hook from all that. I may not know exactly what I want to do with my future, but I know that whatever it is will not require that I do a number of things simply as a jumping-through-hoops exercise to demonstrate that I fit some perfect mold. If anyone is looking for the perfect little medical student that can be shaped into their image, then they are obviously not looking for me anyway.

What is nice about this is that I can appreciate the format of school- it is a good way to keep me going, to get me to amass the information I want into my head. But I can also appreciate that I don't have to follow every piece of advice, that I don't have to join the rat race. At clinic today, two 'perfect little students' were anxiously writing their note into the file, fretting over every last word, asking for a hand to hold through the whole thing. I stood beside them and just wrote, just wrote what I felt was appropriate and what seemed like common sense. When our notes were reviewed, they all got a fairly similar response: 'Good job, try X next time.'

And it just demonstrated what I already had felt when I was last taken to task for engaging in this pursuit. I get the structure that I want, the structure that is beneficial to learning what I want, but I have enough sense to know that I have choices within that structure. There are so many choices, so much room in these tracks that have been set down- it's just that not everyone can see them.