finding balance and a blueberry buttermilk tart

I feel as if I’ve been running a marathon, but without all of the calorie-burning and health benefits. And without the sweating.

My work-life balance has been wonky lately. When my mind drifts in the evening, I find myself thinking about work projects or emotionally-difficult patient encounters. My sleep has been disrupted with dreams of work, dreams filled with patients and their diagnoses. I’m certain my children are sensing my preoccupation, at least in some subconscious way. My five-year old has been especially clingy, refusing to sleep in his room, and Madeline is more on-edge and sensitive than usual.

Last night, after a particularly dramatic melt-down with no apparent cause, Madeline hugged me tightly, her face still wet with tears. “Can we bake something this weekend, Mommy?” she asked. “Can we bake a cake together?”

Creating balance between work-life and home-life is a daunting task. When I juggle my important roles — wife, mother, doctor, employee, daughter, sister, friend — it’s a struggle to keep from dropping one of those balls, much less all of them.

The motivating factor that helps me keep those balls in the air? Guilt.

As much as I hate that feeling of guilt, it’s the third hand — and fourth and fifth hands — in my daily juggling act.

This blueberry buttermilk tart was an effort to overcome my guilt last weekend after spending Friday and Saturday  away from my family for a work meeting and to speak at a conference. We had one remaining bag of frozen blueberries from our blueberry picking excursion last summer. The bag held two cups of plump berries, not enough for a pie, but just the right amount for this tart. I battled with the sticky dough for the crust, throwing out one batch entirely after it misbehaved. I finally used Dorie Greenspan’s tart crust method, and it came out wonderfully.

And this weekend? I predict another round of guilt-induced baking.

 

Blueberry Buttermilk Tart

While you can use a pre-made dough for this crust, I recommend making your own. The baked crust has a texture like shortbread - sandy and almost-but-not-quite crumbly. The method for the crust comes from Dorie Greenspan. Rather than risk the irritation that comes from watching the dough tear and stick as you try to roll it, just use this method. It works.

Ingredients:

For the tart shell:

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 1 tablespoon cold or frozen unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon ice water

For the filling:

1 cup buttermilk
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons minute tapioca
2 cups fresh blueberries, picked-over and rinsed

Directions:

Prepare the tart shell:

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, and salt a couple of times until combined. Add in the cold bits of butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add in the beaten egg yolk and process for long, 10-second, pulses until the dough starts to come together in clumps. The sound the food processor makes as it works the dough right before the clumps form will change, so listen closely. Pour out the dough onto a work surface, and knead it a couple of times, just to incorporate any loose bits that try to escape.

Press the dough into the bottom and sides of a non-stick, 10-inch, fluted tart pan with removable bottom. Chill the shell in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter the shiny side of a sheet of aluminum foil and place the buttered side down tightly over the tart shell. Bake for 25 minutes, then remove the foil. Press down any puffed up areas of crust with the back of a spoon. Bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the crust is a light golden color. Cool the shell in the pan, on a cooling rack.

Prepare the filling and tart:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a blender or food processor, combine the buttermilk, egg yolks, granulated sugar, lemon juice, butter, nutmeg, vanilla, salt, and tapioca. Blend until the mixture is smooth. Spread the blueberries over the cooled tart shell, and pour the buttermilk mixture over the blueberries. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the filling is just set.

The tart crust and method come are adapted from Dorie Greenspan's recipe in Baking: From My Home to Yours. The filling is slightly adapted from a recipe in Gourmet, July 1990.

techmunch, tampa: creating content and finding time to blog

A night away from home can bring so many opportunities. A chance to go to bed as late as I want; or, in my case, as early as I want. A chance to keep the television turned off, and maybe even order room service. A chance to write and read in complete silence. A chance to refresh and recharge. A chance to have a wonderful kid-free dinner with a long-time friend, a friend I haven’t seen in too many years.

Last night, I did just that. All of the above, minus the room service.

So, what had me away from home last night? This:

Some time ago, Babette Pepaj — the founder of BakeSpace, the Cookbook Café, and the TECHmunch food blogging conference series — asked if I’d be interested in speaking when she brought the conference to Tampa. And I said yes!

I’m speaking on a panel with Sara from Average Betty and Sandi from Midlife Road Trip, and the panel is moderated by Erik Deutsch. Our topic is on planning and developing editorial content — blog content — and getting it out there for all to see.

When I tell people what I do — about all the things that keep me busy on a daily basis — I’m often met with an incredulous look. “How do you do all of that?” I’m asked, or “Where do you find the time?” It’s true, I’m busy. But really, I’m just like any other mother-of-two who works full-time outside the home. Who also writes a blog.

If you’re really interested in how I keep things going here on the blog, keep reading. Just like I’ll do in my panel later this morning, I’m sharing with you my tips for coming up with blog posts while still finding time to check off all of those other boxes on my daily to-do list.

*     *     *     *     *

Creating content — stories and recipes — is about being open to inspiration.

I’m always ready for inspiration, and it’s been known to strike at the most inopportune times. Inspiration comes when I’m in the shower, when I’m in the middle of my clinic at work, or as soon as I’ve gotten in the car for a long drive. To overcome this, to take advantage of inspiration when it hits, I keep a pen and paper around at all times. While I’m driving, I use the voice recorder app on my iPhone. I carry my camera with me everywhere. If I don’t use my camera, I’ll use my iPhone camera. Visuals – images – can be inspiring, and they can trigger memories or word associations which can lead to an essay or recipe, or both.

I write about things I enjoy, or topics that hold my interest. I’ve learned that if I’m not having fun during the process, then I’m doing something wrong and I need to take a break. If I don’t like what I’m writing – or the process of writing it  - then the odds are that you won’t like reading it.

If I can find time to write a blog, so can you.

Finding time in your day is all about making priorities and sticking with them. I believe in prioritizing life and the various roles we play in it. My family is always top priority, with work somewhere close behind. I’ve learned, over time, that in order for me to be happy, I must make myself a priority, if not daily then at least weekly. Taking 30 minutes to write — or to read or to sit on the porch and listen to the birds or to exercise– is critical to my well-being. It makes me a better person.

I’m a believer in saying NO to things that don’t impact me in some positive way. If an opportunity will not make me happy, will not benefit someone I love, or will not help me become successful, I say no. If something I’ve been offered or asked to do will not be in my best interest, or if it goes against my gut feeling, I say no. Saying no can free up some valuable time for something else that ranks high on my priority list — like spending time with my family. Or writing.

Sometimes I must make sacrifices in order to write here, but because I value this site — I love this site — it’s worth it to me. I might get less sleep when I stay up late to write. I might have to skip watching Mad Men. (Thank goodness for DVR.) I might let the dishes pile up in the sink or the laundry sit, unfolded, in the hamper.

And finally, there are some practical tricks and tips that help me get blog posts written.

  • I work in the cloud: GoogleDocs and DropBox allow me to work anyplace, at anytime.
  • I often write posts, or at least start them, in advance, and I write on them as I find time. Sometimes it’s first thing in the morning, before work. Sometimes it’s when I have 30 spare minutes during lunch.
  • I make lists of ideas as they happen. This gets back to the notebook and pen I carry around. I also use a couple of note taking apps on my phone.
  • Using a social media app that allows for scheduling of tweets and Facebook posts comes in really handy. I use HootSuite, but I believe that TweetDeck will do this to.
  • I often schedule time on my calendar for writing. My calendar is incredibly important to me. If something is on my calendar, I make it happen.

Really, this is all about multitasking. I have found that the busier I am, the more I am able to accomplish. There’s a saying about that, isn’t there?

Now, I’d love to hear from you on this topic. What inspires you to write? How do you channel that inspiration, and how do you find time to create your own blog posts — or your book, or your photography portfolio, or whatever it is that you hold dear?

How do YOU do it?

the inadequate $20 bill and a recipe: oatmeal double-chip cookies

The man sat with his hands folded in his lap, legs dangling off the edge of the salmon-colored exam table. As we talked, he occasionally rubbed his fingers, swollen from arthritis. He had been my patient for some time, and I asked him about his cancer, his reason for seeing me, and about the rest of his life, something I’m always interested in when I see my patients. I learned that he had recently lost his job. With the income loss, he was in the process of losing his home. In fact, he would be homeless within the week.

He told me this in a straightforward, direct manner, but I could sense the swell of panic rising in his voice as he told me more of the details. He had been through this before, but this time was worse. Plus, he needed two prescriptions, and he couldn’t fill them because he had no money.

“You don’t have any at all?” I asked.

“None,” he said, gravely.

I turned away from him and stared at my computer screen, where I had his medical chart pulled up. I scanned through various screens of his chart as if I were hunting for a critical piece of medical information that would aid in my diagnosis or treatment of this problem. In truth, I was flustered and I felt helpless. I hid those feelings from him by focusing on his chart, on his list of diagnoses and prior surgeries and documented family history. Not surprisingly, I didn’t find any of the answers I was looking for.

Finally, I wrote the two prescriptions he needed, and then I said, “I’m sorry you’re going through this.”

I fished a $20 bill from my wallet, handing it to him. “For your medications,” I said.

That $20 felt so inadequate, so trivial. When someone doesn’t even have a roof to shelter them from the elements, or money for food, does filling a prescription really matter?  Does keeping a doctor’s appointment really matter? I left work that day with a heavy heart, believing that I should have done more.

I still wonder if I could have done more.

I baked these cookies this past weekend, the first baking I’ve done since returning from our cruise. Baking is therapy for me, maybe more so than cooking is. The precision of the measurements, the exactness of technique – it’s a comforting process. And, of course, taking a bite of a warm oatmeal cookie, fresh from the oven, provides the solace like that of wrapping a warm blanket around yourself on a damp, chilly day.

I wish I’d had some of these oatmeal cookies, warm from the oven, to give to my patient along with that $20 bill.  He deserves them right now, more than anyone I know.

Yield: approx 45 cookies

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Oatmeal Cookies with White Chocolate and Peanut Butter Chips

Is there anything more comforting than a warm oatmeal cookie, especially when loaded with peanut butter chips and white chocolate chips? I don't think so.

Note: This dough can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. Or, freeze balls of dough in the freezer for up to one month.

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1-1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
8 ounces white chocolate chips
6 ounces peanut butter chips

Directions:

Place oven rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Add oats and stir until well blended. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, on medium-high speed, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in vanilla, then add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour and oat mixture. Add white chocolate chips and peanut butter chips, beating until just combined.

(Note: You may store dough in refrigerator, covered, at this point.)

Form rounded tablespoons of dough into balls (measuring 1-1/2 inches across) and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper about 2 inches apart.

Bake cookies in batches in middle of oven for 20 minutes, or until pale golden. Cool cookies on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to baking rack to cool completely.