saying thanks with dinner, and pound cake for a crowd

After a productive but exhausting two weeks, I wrapped things up by making dinner for my team of medical students, internal medicine residents, and hematology-oncology fellows. Most of them are continuing on for the remainder of the month, before switching to another rotation in the hospital. That’s one of the quirks – and necessities – of an academic (i.e., teaching) hospital – no one is on the same hospital floor, on the same service, for more than a month or so.

We did good work during those two weeks that I served as the attending. We held hands with our patients. We listened to their stories. We did all we could to relieve our patients’ pain, their suffering. We gave people cancer diagnoses, and we treated their cancer. We helped people die comfortably, in peace and with dignity.

My team did all of this, while I mostly just had to supervise.

I thanked them with dinner.

When I was an internal medicine intern, my very first rotation in the hospital was on the gastroenterology service. I worked much longer hours back then, hours that make me cringe when I think about them now. That first month flew by, mostly in a sleep-deprived and adrenaline-fueled blur, but I came away from it with a couple of vivid memories.

On that first July morning, a nurse came up to me and asked if I would write an order for Tylenol for a patient under my care, a patient I’d not yet met. The nurse called me Doctor, and when she did, I looked around to see who she was referring to. When I realized that it was me, that I was the doctor, I looked at her blankly. Inside, I felt panicked, anxious, and stupid. Was I allowed to write for Tylenol for him? Did he have some reason not to be allowed Tylenol? Would it make his liver disease worse? What would my attending think if I wrote the order…or if I didn’t? Would I kill him with the two 325 mg Tylenol?

That was usually my fear, that I would kill my patient accidentally. On that morning, I was nearly paralyzed by that fear.

Finally, after what seemed like an hour, but was probably only a minute or so, I did what any smart new doctor would do. I asked the nurse what she would recommend.

“Write the Tylenol,” she said, patiently. “It’s fine.”

I nearly hugged her, but I restrained myself. And somehow I got through the rest of that day and the days after that.

My other memory from that month of July was  being invited to dinner at my attending’s house. My attending physician that month was a woman, and  she was brilliant. Her patients would drive for hours to see her in clinic, to let her take care of them. She valued efficiency and speed on rounds, and she seemed to work as hard – or harder – than the rest of us. I respected her, but I also feared her a little. She was tough, and I never wanted to be on her shit list.

My husband and I showed up at her house for dinner that night, and I remember being so very amazed that she had an actual home outside of the hospital. I knew she did, of course. But, it was still surprising. She prepared an amazing meal for us, dishes that were part of her Spanish heritage, flavors that I didn’t realize could come out of a home kitchen. I peeked in her kitchen at some point – it was behind closed doors – and was shocked and delighted to see that she’d made a complete disaster in there. Pots and pans were stacked everywhere, dirty dishes piled high in the sink. It was well-used, that kitchen.

She was immediately real to me. A real person. And I loved her for that dinner. I still do.

I’ve taken to cooking dinner for my team, whenever I complete a block of time on the inpatient oncology floor. We spend a pretty intense period of time together, watching our patients go through life and death experiences – helping them when we can, comforting them when we can’t.  And those young doctors work hard, very hard. I figure it’s the least I can do to thank them for what they’ve done for our patients.

Plus, I like that they can tell I’m real. Just a woman with a messy kitchen.

Yield: 10-12 servings

Pound Cake For a Crowd

This pound cake is perfect for a crowd of hungry people. I served it with a side of homemade whipped cream, but that was entirely unnecessary. The glaze alone is enough of a topping.

I used a 10-inch bundt pan for this recipe, but you can also use a tube pan.

Ingredients:

For Pound Cake:

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups (10.5 ounces) cake flour
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups (21 ounces) granulated sugar
7 large eggs, room temperature
3 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup heavy cream

For Cream Cheese Glaze:

1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons milk

Directions:

Prepare Pound Cake

Place oven rack in middle of oven but do not preheat oven. Butter and flour the bundt pan, knocking out any excess flour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together thoroughly the flour, salt, and cinnamon.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat on medium-high speed the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each egg. Beat in vanilla. Reduce mixer speed to low and add half of the flour, then all of the cream, then the rest of the flour (beating well after each addition). Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat at medium-high speed for 5 minutes.

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Rap the pan on the counter once or twice to get rid of any bubbles in the batter. Place pan in the cold oven and turn oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake until golden and a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 60 to 75 minutes. Cool cake in the pan for 30 minute. Run a thin knife around the edges of the cake and invert onto rack to cool completely. When cool, drizzle cream cheese glaze over cake.

Cream Cheese Glaze

Whisk together the confectioners sugar, cream cheese, lemon juice, and milk until thoroughly combined. Let sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes to thicken. Drizzle over completely cooled pound cake.

Cake only slightly adapted from this recipe from Gourmet, 2005.

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22 Responses to “saying thanks with dinner, and pound cake for a crowd”

  1. 1
    Paula - bell'alimento — September 19, 2012 @ 8:19 pm

    Your team is very lucky indeed. I have a soft spot for pound cake.

  2. 2
    Lana @ Never Enough Thyme — September 19, 2012 @ 8:33 pm

    I think your team is lucky to have such a thoughtful attending and your patients are extremely lucky to have you and your team. I speak from experience when I say that patients and their families appreciate, maybe more than you can imagine, a kind word and a thoughtful gesture from those who provide care. But, you already knew that. That caring and thoughtful shows through every word of this post :-)

  3. 3
    Mallory — September 19, 2012 @ 8:40 pm

    Lovely. Those first days can be so scary and intimidating and with monthly rotations, first days occur, well monthly. Thank you for sharing and there is nothing better than pound cake – so simple, yet always hits the spot.

  4. 4
    Macaroni Mama — September 19, 2012 @ 8:48 pm

    I love this blog, MJ.

  5. 5
    Lana — September 20, 2012 @ 1:21 am

    It could have been me standing there that July, second-guessing myself, the heart threatening to jump out of my chest, the pulse in mid-hundreds:) That’s what makes you a great doctor and a wonderful human being.
    My dad is a doctor (retired, but it never stops:) and I remember him silent and grave on many days and nights. When I was in Serbia this last summer, I went to see a woman he personally mentored and taught for years (ObGyn). She still adores him, and I can only imagine what a great impression you leave on your interns.
    Your story touched me, especially after my mom succumbed to cancer this summer. I know how important is that human touch, a kind word, and understanding only your MD can offer.
    Hugs!
    BTW, the pound cake looks lovely and I don’t doubt for a second that the students look at you with awe:)

  6. 6
    Kathryn — September 20, 2012 @ 4:25 am

    Every post of yours is so finely crafted and yet it seems so effortless. It’s a complete joy to read.

  7. 7
    Jenny @ BAKE — September 20, 2012 @ 6:32 am

    this is an absolutely brilliantly written post, it really made me smile!

  8. 8
    Melanie @ Nutritious Eats — September 20, 2012 @ 10:40 am

    Great stories and lessons shared. I admire Doctors so much and you amaze me that you have all these other talents too.

  9. 9
    Winnie — September 20, 2012 @ 10:51 am

    Echoing the thoughts of everyone who has commented that this is a terrific post. You are such a special person…I am so honored to call you my friend. xoxo

  10. 10
    Paula — September 20, 2012 @ 10:52 am

    I’m sure members of your team have peeked into your kitchen and experienced the same thing you did when you peeked into your attending’s kitchen years ago. Loving you and working with you must come easy to all of them.

  11. 11
    ~ callee ~ — September 20, 2012 @ 11:17 am

    I adore the plate you served the pound cake on – those are gorgeous! I absolutely love saying thank you with supper as well. I am so glad you have such wonderful groups of people to work with!

  12. 12
    Aggie — September 20, 2012 @ 11:27 am

    You are so real MJ, I just loved reading this. I know your students appreciate everything you have taught them.
    This cake is absolutely gorgeous.

  13. 13
    Denise — September 20, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

    I love that you bring your team into your home as well as your heart by nurturing them with food. We recently started doing the same when he hire staff for a big project, and was surprised by how grateful they were. Not only for a home-cooked meal but to be let into our lives beyond work.

    I applaud people in your line of work – strong and courageous. Our niece is studying to become an oncologist, I find her very brave, I do not handle death very well and feel I would be a basket case all the time. Bravo for what you do and the difference you make in people’s lives.

  14. 14
    Heidi — September 20, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

    What a fabulous blog, loved reading this and that cake looked amazing x

  15. 15
    Diane Barnes, RN — September 20, 2012 @ 7:04 pm

    After 28 years of nursing, I can tell you it is true: a smart doctor knows what a valuable resource the bedside nurse can be. It’s great to be appreciated. Thank you!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — September 22nd, 2012 @ 7:39 am

      No, thank YOU!

  16. 16
    Lynda - TasteFood — September 20, 2012 @ 8:34 pm

    I like women with messy kitchens. xo.

  17. 17
    Mary — September 20, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

    I am continually blown away by your beautiful humanity and attention to the nuances that knit everything together. Bravo!

  18. 18
    Di — September 21, 2012 @ 11:23 am

    The cake looks delicious. Preparing food is so wonderfully comforting, isn’t it? It’s like a good friendship, always there when you need it. What did you make for dinner?

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — September 22nd, 2012 @ 7:39 am

      My husband cooked three chickens on the Big Green Egg smoker (love when he helps!) and I made some macaroni and cheese and a roasted ratatouille to go along with it.

  19. 19
    Carolyn — September 22, 2012 @ 5:38 am

    Such a wonderful, touching post. Today is my birthday, and this is definitely one of my gifts, so thank you. My dad passed away a few years ago from a messy combination of Hodgkins and CLL, and although he had wonderful, compassionate doctors, it helps a lot to feel this much genuine humanity behind your profession. xx

  20. 20
    Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — September 30, 2012 @ 10:28 pm

    Pound cake is one of my all-time favorites, and this version looks just perfect. What a lovely way to say thank you! :)

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