Friday, November 30, 2007

Goodbye Fall! Hello Winter! And Hello Christmas Countdown!

Fall has come and gone, and you know? It's officially winter. I didn't order it, and it doesn't seem to come with a "return"-option. I'm not sure I'd use it if it had one though - I kinda like winter. But you see, summer? Almost didn't happen around here. We had the hottest spring for the last 50 years, but then summer was nothing but a grey and rainy mess. And of course, this summer, I had decided to not work and just kick back and enjoy. Fall? Well, fall is supposed to be all grey and rainy, but still. They could've cut us some slack, now that summer was such a bummer. A girl needs her vitamin D. But winter is welcome - it may be cold, but at least you have an excuse for bulky knit sweaters and hot chocolate with whipped cream!

Today also marks the last day of NaBloPoMo - you know, that thing with the writing ALL the time, every day, no excuse. It's not like I did it - see, that sidebar? Only one (1) - now 2!, with this post - entries to show. I was contemplating joining NaBloPoMo, but you know, life got in the way.

It's not like life got any less in the way, but I really need to get back in the blogging game, and I think I need a little pushing and shoving. And determination. And plain sitting my behind down in front of the computer and start WRITING. So I was thinking: I like countdowns. I like Christmas. I'm looking forward to Christmas. Why not do a Christmas Countdown?

Therefore, every day, until the 24th. ('cause that's the day we celebrate Christmas around here, so you people celebrating on the 25th. will have to make do yourselves), I'll put up something. Some of it may be food-related, some of it more thought-related, there'll be short-short post and long ones. And probably not all of it will make sense. We'll see as we go along. Like Michèle said, there's just no way you can get decent pictures in this darkness, so in the photo-department, you can probably expect a lot of cake and breads (and left-overs). I might even throw in an old photo or two.

But for the next 24 days, there'll be a new post for you, here on Food & Thoughts, every day. All for you, m'dears. And if you feel like joining the madness, please do - there's nothing like being surrounded by people you like around Christmas ;)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Humble Cake (it is not)

I know the person least suitable for explaining traits of one's personality is one self. At least you can hardly call it objective. So then, let me put it this way: I think people I know would call me reasonable. I'm not one to make hasty decisions (unless of course they need deciding NOW-NOW-NOW), I'm not one to jump at conclusions, I'm not one to get myself into things without having thought them through, I'm not one to let my emotions get the better of my judgement. I occasionally get the odd idea of something outragous, but I usually have enough common sense to stop myself in my tracks. Usually.

Except for this Monday. This Monday, I stormed out of a doctor's consultation, a consultation in which I was supposed to be merely an observer. Or, at least, so I thought. Turned out the good doctor had an idea of running me over with through an anatomical review of the eye socket. Actually, he thought I was the one supposed to give the lecture. Unfortunately, it's just shy of four years since I read up on that subject.

To my defense, I'd briefly, during my morning train ride, glanced at the chapter in the book about the patient group I was to see that day. And yes, a few of the diseases within the group will sometimes have symptoms from their eyes, but it is, I have since learned, not very many. I'm all for deducting symptoms from the knowledge you have of anatomy, physiology, bio-chemistry and pathology, rather than just learning symptoms and categories by heart. But you just can't know everything about everything, in detail, all the time. At least I can't.

I guess I just ticked the man off from the beginning. And I'm not quite sure what I did, but if I'd gone with my gut feeling from when I entered his office, I should've turned around and run, RUN, 'cause that's what I felt like after just a few seconds. For some reason I stayed. When the patient arrived, the doctor didn't introduce me. Which isn't necessarily an unexpected event in the life of a medical student in a hospital. So I introduced myself - afterall, it feels more right to have done so when you're about to sit in on a private conversation between a patient and his/her doctor. If I was the patient, I'd like to know the name of the persons in the room, no matter the reason they're there, or how many pledges of confidentiality they may have sworn.

On it went, and for some reason, the conversation turned into this overhearing of me and my knowledge of the beforementioned eye sockets, synovial membranes, and their likeness with hand brakes for bikes. Because this is a comparison that is often used. Or not.

Regardless. He kept asking the kind of questions were you know the person asking it has a very specific answer he wants, but you really aren't quite sure what he asked in the first place. And he looks at you over the rim of his glasses, expecting you to not be able to answer. So you try an answer, just to see if you're in the ballpark, and if you're lucky, you're right. And I was, lucky, a couple of times. But not much wiser, 'cause I wasn't sure what question I'd answered. In the end, when there was no more guessing to be done, he answered his own question. Maybe with a little scorn in his voice. Glad it seemed to be over, I mumbled "Oh, yes, that's right!" because I actually, faintly, remembered the existence of the structure he just mentioned.

This went over a couple of times. For the third time, I answered "I don't know". I looked down into the floor, tears welling up in my eyes, my throat turning into a knot. And by the way, why is it that when I get really, REALLY mad, I can't seem to stop myself from tearing up and growing hoarse and just generally not look or sound like a very intelligent woman?

His attention turned back to the patient for a second and I thought: You know, Zarah. You have two choices. 1, you wait this out, keep answering yes and no and I don't know, with the risk of you starting to cry, right here, in front of the patients and him. And then tell him afterwards that he's a bastard and that when he heard the second "I don't know", heck, when he saw the third, fourth or fifth quizzical look on your face, because you didn't even know what he was asking, he could have caught up on the fact that he was WAY beyond the scope of your pretty basic knowledge, and he could've stopped. You could tell him that this is no way to educate anyone, and for that matter, not a way of conducting a consultation. I don't know much about teaching (or conducting a doctor's consultation for that matter) but I'm pretty sure humiliating people ain't the way to go by it.

Or, 2, you can get up and walk out of here. This isn't the first time you hear about these situations. You'd never imagined yourself to be in one, but hey, here you are. You have to stand up for yourself, because it's becoming more and more obvious, during the time you've spent in the hospitals, that noone else is going to do it. Ever. You could let this guy continue, and you could put up with it, and you could feel even more humiliated than you do now. And you can be sure that somewhere along the way, there will be more people like him. And some day, you're going to have been walked over by so many people you no longer know who you are. Or you can say stop, and stick with what you believe in. That you're good enough, and that no man and his twisted view of the world should tell you otherwise.

So I got up, just as he was about to turn his attention back to me and I said: "I think I'll say thank you for now" and he was all "Why?". I pointed (I actually did - that wasn't very polite, but I had to strengthen myself somehow) towards him, saying "because you have no right to behave like you do". And left. Storming down the hall, tears starting to trickle down my cheeks.

I was furious. I was MAD. No, I didn't know the answers to his questions (later, my co-students has assured me they wouldn't have known the answers either), I had no idea what he was asking me, but I tried answering, initially, at least. I tried to seem interested and wanting to learn.

Yes, I am a poor little medical student. Feel sorry for me. Ya-dah ya-dah. But the irony is that that is exactly the feeling I've had the last couple of months. Poor me. I hate this. I don't like hospitals. People smell there. The doctor's are stupid. We, the students, have to fight like cats and dogs to get in on the operations, the ward rounds, the consultations, to get to see patients. And get nothing but ignorance from the senior doctors. Medical students - oh, they're here again, are they? No, no, I'm not doing anything interesting today - you better go find someone else. Well, you're the only one left, dude. It's a struggle, and I mean that very litterally - to actually get the chance to learn.

That's how I used to feel. But last Monday, I didn't feel like that. That day, I was looking forward to getting some questions answered, I was actually interested, and not just pretending to be. I was actually willing to fight for some knowledge. And then this was what I got.

I know it's a privilige to have the opportunity to learn. I know I'm lucky. But darn it, sometimes, it sure doesn't feel like it. Sometimes, it feels like the only thing you get is a slap in the face. Wanting to learn and actually acquiring it seems miles apart in this field. It's a minefield, and one where you're sure to get yourself hurt, stepped on and humiliated, it seems.

So if you're wondering why I'm questioning my whole carreer choice, this is just one of a whole lot of reasons. And pardon me for loading of here - at least now I have more room for cake. Not of the really humble kind, though - I have to hold my head high, at least in some aspects of my life ;)

Pear-Marzipan Cake - an adaptation of Maria's Pear Cake from

250 grams unsalted butter
100 g. soft brown sugar
200 g. sugar
4 eggs
300 grams flour
pinch each of ground cardamom, ginger and grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons milk (or cream)
100 g. grated marzipan
2-6 pears, depending on size and personal taste (I used 4 largish ones)
demerera sugar (for sprinkling on top)

Butter and sugar-dust a spring form cake pan, 24-cm. in diameter. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Cream the butter with the sugars. Add the eggs, one by one, beating well after each addition.

Sift together the flour, spices and baking powder. Fold this into the batter, alternately with the milk. Lastly, fold in the grated marzipan. Spoon half the batter into the cake pan.

Peel and core the pears, and cut half into chunks. Spread the chunks on the batter. Top with the rest of the batter, then lay out slices of pears in a nice pattern (or just cut the rest of the pears into chunks too, and sprinkle on top - all up to you!) Sprinkle the whole thing with a nice layer of demerara sugar. Bake for 40 minutes to one hour, or until a cake tester comes out clean. The total baking time will depend on how many pears you've used - mine took closer to one hour than 40 minutes.

Serve with crême fraïche or vanilla ice cream - or as suggested in the original recipe, with caramel ice cream. The cake keeps - and actually improves, I think - after a couple of days on the counter, so this is one to make in advance, if need be.