spring break and a recipe: slow-cooker sweet-and-sour pork

I wondered whether I would be able to withstand almost five days without checking my email, without sending and receiving texts, without Twitter. I had a bit of anxiety about missing out on things happening with my patients at work, not being available by phone if necessary. I worried that something would happen to my brother or my father and my mom wouldn’t be able to reach me.

Those were irrational thoughts, of course, and I knew that. But it took some convincing.


Even though I couldn’t be reached by email or cell, the world outside continued on without a hitch. Everyone fared well while we were gone; there were no emergency room visits or catastrophes, medical or otherwise. The house and our two cats were pampered by our friend, Deanna.

And the days of technological silence were bliss.

As it turned out, I needed the break. I needed this:

And this:

And I really needed this:

We disembarked in Port Canaveral early in the morning on Thursday. After one last breakfast on the ship, we were shuffled through Customs and finally in the car, headed home. I turned on my iPhone to find over 300 emails waiting for me. Strangely enough, I didn’t mind.

We’re settling into our end-of-spring-break routine. The kids are reminiscing about the cruise, wondering where the ship is now, at this exact moment – “Is it in the Bahamas now? Are they eating dinner or lunch?” The swimsuits have all been washed and put away, and the half-empty bottles of sunscreen have been put back in the bathroom cabinet.

And sadly, we’re having to convince our stomachs that no, we really don’t need an ice cream cone at 10am or a basket of french fries at 2pm simply because they’re free and available. Or that frosty glass of piña colada, just because the pool boy has been kind enough to bring a tray around to my lounge chair.

This was one of our first home-cooked dinners after the gluttony of dining on the Disney Dream. I wanted something relatively light, a dish that went easy on the butter and fat. I also wanted my slow cooker to do most of the work for me. Slow-cooked sweet and sour pork, served with jasmine rice and steamed broccoli, fit the bill.

And I’m already thinking of my next technology-silent vacation…

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 8 hours (low setting) or 4 hours (high)

Slow Cooker Sweet-and-Sour Pork

Most of the prep work for this dish can be done the night before, making this easy to assemble before you leave for work in the morning. Serve the sweet and sour pork over jasmine rice and with some steamed broccoli for a complete meal.

Ingredients:

1 can (20-ounce) pineapple chunks, packed in juice
2 carrots, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large onion, sliced into thin wedges
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 pounds boneless pork loin, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca, crushed
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Directions:

Drain pineapple chunks and reserve juice. Refrigerate pineapple chunks until ready to use.

In a slow cooker (at least 4 quart), combine carrot, onion, red bell pepper, and pork. In a medium bowl, stir together the reserved pineapple juice, brown sugar, rice vinegar, tomato paste, tapioca, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, salt, and sesame oil. Pour over the vegetables and pork.

Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours. Stir in reserved pineapple chunks. Taste for seasoning, adding additional salt as needed.

 

remembering a moment

Sometimes when I write, food doesn’t take center stage.

Sometimes, food is in the wings, waiting for the right time to enter the story. And, at times, it never enters.

I’ve just wrapped up a 6-week creative writing class, and this class has been just what I needed at this time in my life. I’ve had the opportunity to branch out from my usual professional writing (at work) and food writing (in this space). I’ve written a little fiction even, and I’ve explored some hidden corners in that right-brain side of my head that doesn’t see as much daylight as it should.

I’m sharing a piece with you today, a moment remembered from the past, from last fall. I wrote it last week when I was in Austin, sitting at my hotel room desk with only the sound of the tapping of the keyboard to keep me company. When I was nearly finished writing it, I ordered room service. A glass of champagne and a slice of chocolate cake.

Food is glaringly absent from this memory, as it should be.

*    *    *    *    *    *

My birthday was tomorrow, Wednesday. On Thursday, Sam and I were to fly to Manhattan for a long weekend, in theory to celebrate my birthday, but really, that was just an excuse to get away. We were to have dinner that Friday night at Gramercy Tavern.

Instead of packing, I was in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit at the hospital I work in. But instead of wearing my usual professional, “Attending Physician” attire, I was dressed in jeans and sneakers. I was there as a family member of a patient. I was there as the daughter, the daughter who also happened to be a doctor.

The night before, Dad had fallen. It seems so trivial – just a fall, a simple fall. But my father, a large man – maybe 5’10″ and 270 pounds – landed hard. The back of a straight backed wooden chair, positioned just so, broke his fall when it caught him squarely in the rib cage. The impact fractured five ribs, in multiple places each, driving one of those ribs into his right lung.

Now, I stood by his side, holding his hand carefully so as to not disturb the bandages protecting the IV and the arterial line in his wrist. My father looked confused and uncomfortable, his face covered by a clear plastic mask attached to the oxygen tubing. He struggled to breathe, and the forced intake of air with each breath caused a sharp wheeze, as if he were trying to breathe through a plastic straw. Dad had stridor, that awful
harbinger of a narrowed airway that often leads to complete respiratory failure.

The respiratory therapist, Eric, a cocky young man who, despite the arrogance he exuded, seemed to know what he was doing hovered on the opposite side of the hospital bed, positioned between my father and the beeping electronic monitor that gave continual readings of my fathers vital signs.

“I think I’m going to have to get intubation kit,” Eric said to me in a quiet voice. He was trying not to alarm my father. “I’m also going to bring a ventilator in.”

Eric left, and in less than a minute, the surgical chief resident entered the room and moved directly to my father’s side. I moved out of the way so that the surgeon could listen to my Dad’s chest with his stethoscope and inspect the chest tube protruding from my dad’s collapsed lung. The surgeon looked up from my father, meeting my eyes.

I cut him off, before he could say anything. “Just do what you have to do,” I said.

He nodded and left the room. I could hear him calling for the crash cart.

“Dad,” I said, moving close to my father again, leaning in close to speak in his ear. “Dad, the doctors are going to try to help you breathe better, okay?”

He looked at me, not understanding, but unable to talk because he was so out of breath.

“I’ll be right here,” I said. “And I’ll be here when you wake up. I promise.”

He nodded. A calmness took over his face.

“I love you. It will be okay, it really will.”

But I wasn’t sure about that. I had a strong feeling that I had just lied to my father, and I would never forgive myself for it.

 

my austin experience, an iphoneography photo tour

My first trip to Austin was filled with plenty of meetings on gynecologic cancers, a decent amount of networking with some very smart people, productive brainstorming of ideas for work, and plenty of rest. I didn’t have a car, so my time there was limited to what I could explore in the downtown area on foot – except for one night when a good friend took me out for dinner.

I present to you my iPhone photos (mostly) of my Austin experience. My experience, other than meetings? Food.

a cocktail at parkside -- the korean spring

fried oysters at parkside.

the meeting

a portrait of me by my friend, Christy, taken at Olivia.

charcuterie at Olivia.

a darn good margarita at la condesa

guacamole tasting

 

brussels sprouts with bacon and grapes. best sprouts. ever.

cream cheese ice cream

tacos with spinach, giant white butterbeans, salsa verde