Nashville-Style Hot Chicken

Hot chicken.  I had never heard of this phenomenon until David’s coworker, who went to med school in Nashville, told us about this local specialty.  It’s basically super spicy fried chicken (although nothing like Buffalo chicken so don’t be fooled!), which sounded really good to me!  David’s coworker is a great cook so when he made some and invited us over, we were there in a heartbeat.

Eating this hot chicken was quite an experience.  At first I was self-conscious that I kept having to wipe my forehead, blow my nose, but then I realized that everyone else at the table was doing the same.   Apparently the experience in the actual restaurant is similar; everyone is sitting there sweating and eating.  I’ve never eaten fries and ketchup out of desperation, but I did that day – it was necessary in order to balance out the burn.

I was hooked after that.

But I was also intimidated to try and make it myself because I’ve never actually made fried chicken before.  So I started doing some research on both hot chicken recipes and also techniques for making Southern fried chicken.

This is what I came across:

http://www.homegourmetcooking.com/files/Nashville%20Hot%20Fried%20Chicken.htm

http://www.fromaway.com/cooking/nashville-hot-chicken

And after all the research, bone-in chicken breasts went on sale  which nudged me to finally go ahead and try it!  The first obstacle that I faced was that I could not find lard in any of the usual grocery stores that I go to.  I probably could have tried an ethnic store but I really didn’t feel like driving all over the place. So I did the next best thing and rendered my own lard from pork fat from a local butcher shop.  I felt super accomplished when it was done! 🙂

1 3/4 pounds gave me 2 jars this size.

Lard

Isn’t it pretty??  I don’t think I would use it for baking because there was still a little bit of meat attached.  But for savory cooking, most definitely.

Next, I soaked the chicken overnight in a brine of water, hot sauce, salt, sugar, and spices.  This is to keep the breast meat from drying out and also gives a deeper flavor into the meat itself.

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100% pain. Thanks Mollie!

Next I made the paste to coat the chicken after frying, which is typically 1 part lard and 3 parts cayenne pepper, along with some other spices.

Finally, the most important part…frying the chicken!  I read a lot of recipes and articles, but this one from Seattle Times was the most helpful.  What I did: removed the chicken from brine, dunked it in buttermilk and shook off the excess, then let it rest in the fridge for an hour after a single light dredge in plain flour.  I fried in a deep stainless steel skillet in about 1/2 inch of canola oil + a few tablespoons of lard.  Our meat thermometer is pretty useless, so I kept it at medium heat after the oil was completely heated up and ended up frying for a total of 25 minutes.

This was the result:

Hot chicken

This photo is now husband’s wallpaper on his phone.

The chicken itself was juicy, well-seasoned, and a tiny bit spicy from the brine. The crust was crunchy and not super thick or greasy, and with the spicy paste on top on top, it set my mouth on FIRE.  So good!  My mouth is watering as I type this.  As a side note, hot chicken is apparently typically served on white bread with pickles, but I like the fries 🙂 And the beer is a must.

So this was my experience with making hot chicken.   Too bad Nashville is not on our way to California, or we would definitely make a stop!

Followup on Future Decisions

First of all, thank you so much to all of you who reached out with your prayers, encouragement, and advice last week!  I was so touched by your kind words.

So, I wanted to share some followup so that we can all have some closure.

The final verdict is that I’m going to move forward with applying for another residency.

(You can stop reading here if you don’t feel like delving into the details) 🙂

I spent a lot of time  last week praying, talking with husby, and also being prayed for by my small group.  As this was happening, I had a couple of epiphanies.  The first was that I actually like being a doctor and taking care of patients, which is the reason why I was struggling to imagine myself in another career.  Yes, I was afraid of the difficulties, exhaustion, and frustrations of training, but deep down, I realized that I still enjoy medicine and being able to serve people with it.

The other issue that came to light was my inability to fully trust God.  I was still afraid to move forward because of everything that has happened in the past.  There were so many “what ifs?” floating around in my mind: What if it gets taken away again?  What if it just plain sucks and I end up really unhappy? What if…?  But God has been trying to bring me to the place where I can just trust him, and simply be delighted with life again rather than afraid of whatever challenges it may bring.  Because walking with him, although not necessarily safe or easy, is always good (yay Chronicles of Narnia), therefore I don’t have to be anxious about every possible outcome of my decisions.  All I need to do is take the next step and follow him.

And for the first time in awhile, I am actually excited to experience whatever lies ahead. 🙂

 

 

Future Decisions

Now that husband’s job situation is sorted out, I have recently been thinking about my own future.

The major questions that I’m considering are:
1. Should I go back into medicine or not?
2.  If I do go back into medicine, which field?

This impending decision has loomed over me all year, always at the back of my mind.  Because the time to start gathering all of the material required to re-enter the residency match is approaching, I know that I need to make a decision soon, like within the next few weeks.

My thought process on answering question 1 is that I’ve already invested an enormous amount of time, energy, and money into getting my MD, so the logical next step would be to continue in medicine but in a different field.  The problem is that my whole being is completely rebellious to the idea of starting over again.

Why?  Well, my former classmates will be done with their fellowships and out in practice by the time I finish even a 3 year residency.  Plus, residency isn’t exactly a walk in the park, even with the work hours rules and even at a supportive program like the one I used to be a part of.  Now that I know what’s coming – long hours, exhaustion and stress, lots of paperwork and red tape, overwhelming busyness, constant anxiety about whether or not I’m making the right decisions – I’m finding it difficult to choose this path again willingly.  That is, assuming that there’s a program that will even take me.  A non-surgical residency will probably be less physically demanding but I am sure that every field has its own frustrations and challenges.  And with the increasing dissatisfaction of physicians across the board, life beyond residency doesn’t appear to be all that appealing.  See also this article – the comments are particularly depressing.

Some people would say that this opportunity to get out of medicine is actually a gift.  I also happen to have a wonderful husband who is incredibly supportive and who genuinely wants me to pursue something that will make me happy.  In fact, he is constantly suggesting alternate career paths for me: art therapy, public health, counseling, caterer, event planner, etc.

But if I’m honest with myself, I’m afraid to leave medicine.  If I jump ship and start over in a new career, it’s just…completely unknown (scary), plus I will have wasted the last 12 years of my life* and thrown away $250K that would still need to be paid back.  But I’m also fearful of the alternative, that I will end up miserable, bitter, and a stranger to my (future) kids if I continue in the medical field.

I wish I could write a neat conclusion here and just be done with the whole thing.  But man, making these decisions is hard.   And I haven’t even gotten to question 2 yet!  So as I continue to sort through these thoughts, the only things I can do are: spend time with my heavenly Father who is so good and faithful, and look to Him to clear away this haze of fear and help me to follow where He is leading me.  That’s all.

*edit to the above: I wrote this in a pretty negative state of mind, but I would actually never consider any of this time a waste in terms of the amazing people that I’ve met during those times, skills and knowledge learned, and life lessons experienced.

Moving Again

Yes, we are moving yet again….

…to Sacramento!

I can’t believe it’s been 9 years since my parents and I took that long cross country drive from San Diego to Wisconsin.  Another 4 years after that, we drove from Wisconsin to Massachusetts in one very ltiring day.  It was intense.  And now this July, husband and I will be driving ourselves, Speedy the Chinchilla, and Mister Fish from Connecticut to California!

We had a pretty difficult time making the decision to take the job offered here or the one in California.  I won’t go into the details here for privacy reasons, but the hardest part was to know what we actually wanted — for David, in terms of his job/career, and for me, in terms of a possible residency/next steps.  We spent hours going over the pros and cons of each decision without knowing what it was that we actually preferred for ourselves.

As we shared our dilemma with friends and family, we heard over and over again, yeah…that’s a tough decision.  Sometimes it felt like my head was spinning with the choices as we went back and forth over and over again.  What helped me to calm down was when our small group prayed over us.  Specifically, they prayed that we would know what we actually wanted and then we could present those heart’s desires to God and ask for wisdom.  So that’s what we did.  I was finally able to admit that yes, I did want to be back in California so that I could be closer to my sister and parents, but I could also honestly say that I would be really happy and completely supportive if we stayed here.

This attitude was a huge change from where I started 9 years ago.  When I first moved away, all I could think about was going back to California.  I really loved Wisconsin and all of the awesome people that I met there.  But I had set my hope so much on being back in California that I cried on Match Day after I found out I was moving to Massachusetts (don’t worry, I made it home first).

But then being in Massachusetts turned out to be an enormous blessing.  I got to take weekend trips to visit my grandma in what would be her last years, which definitely would not have been possible in a surgery residency in California.  David and I got to spend Thanksgiving holidays (when we weren’t working) with my uncle, aunt, and cousins, which was SO much fun.  We both met amazing people who will be lifelong friends 🙂  We got to enjoy weekend visits in New York and Boston.   In fact, I was actually starting to get quite comfy here on the East Coast.  We don’t hate it here (maybe except for the endless winters…it’s snowing right now as I write this), which made the decision even tougher.

In the end, David stayed up all night the night before he was supposed to give his final answer to the place in California.  I’m not sure what he was thinking about, because I was sleeping quite soundly, knowing that whatever decision he made would turn out just fine 🙂

So that’s the story!  And now we are anticipating a move across the country in just a few short months.  It’s exciting to be starting a new chapter in a new city.  We’ll definitely miss our friends and family here, but our door is always open for guests! 🙂

Snickers Cheesecake Bars + Salted Caramel Recipe

I learned an important lesson these last couple of weeks – always share the desserts that you make!!  We didn’t share any of the cupcakes that were made in that last post, so I ended up eating a cupcake every day for a week.  So good, yet so bad.  Oops.

So anyways, here is something sweet to start off your week.  Make some to share! 🙂

As per usual, my recipe came from Sally’s Baking Addiction.  Great website for simple, delicious, and pretty desserts.

Snickers Cheesecake Bars

My modifications: I doubled the recipe to make a 9×13 pan and added a cup of peanut butter to the cheesecake batter.  I should probably just buy a 9×9 pan so I can stop having to double recipes all the time.  I also used all neufchatel cheese and it whipped up just fine.  Then I topped it with homemade salted caramel (Recipe below) and melted some chocolate to drizzle on top. YUM.

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Husband’s only critique was the the crust seemed a bit too crunchy, so he wanted me to try it with a brownie base next time.  Pure evil genius! 🙂

Here’s the recipe for homemade salted caramel, adapted from here.  It’s SO good and really easy!  This recipe makes enough to fill about 2/3 of a regular mason jar.

1 cup of white sugar
1 tbsp water
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Stir water and sugar in heavy sauce pan with high sides until combined over medium-high heat.  Swirl pan until sugar is evenly browned, dissolved and a bright amber color.
Remove from heat and add butter, stirring until melted (be careful, it’ll bubble and foam here!).  Then add cream, vanilla, and salt, and stir until combined.
Let cool to room temperature.  You can add an additional 1/2 tsp sea salt here if you want crunchy salt crystals in your caramel.  Store in glass jar and refrigerate.
When I’m ready to use it, I usually just take the lid off and microwave it 15 seconds at a time until the caramel is soft enough to drizzle. 🙂 Enjoy!

Frosting Win!

This week, I used our anniversary as an excuse to make more cupcakes.  And finally, after 2 previous attempts using 2 different recipes, I found a smooth, fluffy, not too sweet, not too buttery frosting that doesn’t make me want to wipe off my cupcake.

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I started by searching for “light not too sweet frosting.”  And what came up on the first page was a post by The Pioneer Woman about the best frosting.  A quick glance at some of the other recipes on the first page revealed that the magic ingredients are FLOUR and milk to balance the taste and mouthfeel of 2 sticks of butter.  Who would’ve thunk it?!?  I had seen this so-called “cooked flour frosting” during my previous frosting searches but it sounded gross so I had always glossed over it.  But if the Pioneer Woman says it’s good, then it must be good!

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Next, I looked for some ways to flavor it, because I had it in my head that I wanted to make coconut frosting to top a coconut cream cheese-filled chocolate cupcake.  So my next search was for “cooked flour frosting”, which landed me here.  I used this recipe, substituting the milk and cream for unsweetened coconut milk.  This recipe tweaks the technique of cooking the milk and flour by melting in the sugar also, which keeps it smooth (because apparently some people have had trouble with the frosting turning out gritty from the sugar).  Plus it gives very helpful troubleshooting tips and flavoring options like cream cheese, peanut butter, chocolate, nutella, etc.

IMG_5298Thanks for the lovely new cake stand, husband!

I found this frosting really easy to make.  The trick was to keep whisking and whisking the milk/flour/sugar mixture the whole time to prevent lumps from forming.  It’s a good arm workout!  After that, all you do is whip the room temp butter in your mixer until fluffy, then pour in the *cooled* flour mixture and add whatever flavors you want.  So simple!  The result was a yummy, not too sweet frosting that I could actually eat by the spoonful (which is the ultimate test for a frosting, right?).   🙂

Celebrating 2 Years

Today is our 2 year anniversary!  It feels like it has been so much longer, but in a good way. 🙂

Anyways, I am incredibly thankful every day for this hilarious, comforting, goofy silly, stubborn, forgiving, and sweet husband who also happens to be my best friend.  Yes, of course we have our rough moments and days, but I am so happy that I get to be married to this guy, especially with how much we’ve been through together already.  He has been so unbelievably supportive and comforting during this really difficult year.  I can’t wait for so many more years of doing life together!

We celebrated by spending a quiet weekend in the Berkshires at a B&B.  I loved our cozy room with a wood fireplace and beautiful view from the window.  We enjoyed plenty of delicious food of course, at breakfast and at our favorite restaurant in the Berkshires, Nudel. 🙂

I wanted to share some of our wedding photos but I can’t upload anything for some reason!

Anyways, happy anniversary to my husband!  And thank you to everyone who has been a part of our lives, both as individuals and a couple.  We love you!

Nutella Peanut Butter Banana Bread + Perfect Banana Bread recipe.

This is a post dedicated to banana bread, which I think is a delicious and not too unhealthy comfort food.  Husband says the smell of banana bread in the oven reminds him of Christmas.

I’ve been wanting to try this Nutella-swirled peanut butter banana bread ever since my mom sent me the link a couple months ago, and finally was able to make a double batch this past weekend.  One for us to keep, one for a friend 🙂  My Nutella didn’t swirl as nicely (or at all, really), but who cares?  It tasted SO good.  Slightly crispy on the outside Nutella topping, and deliciously soft and moist bread with a perfect balance of peanut butter, banana, and chocolate chips.  And this was even with not-quite-ripe-enough bananas!

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My recipe modifications – I added 1/4 cup of plain low-fat yogurt because my perfect banana bread recipe (see below) calls for yogurt to make it *always* moist and soft.  I also used peanut butter chips instead of chopped up Reese’s since I had some leftovers that I needed to finish up anyways.

So, after you make this fancy stuff and you feel like you just want something classic and delicious, try making the perfect banana bread, which was adapted from this recipe.  Ask anyone who has had it (husband, my parents, my sister, my neighbors)…this foolproof recipe makes some really yummy banana bread!

For one 9×5″ loaf:

Ingredients:
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup of granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2-3 very ripe bananas, mashed (2 large, or 3 medium)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Plus 1/2 cup chocolate chips if you want 🙂
Directions:
1.  Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan
2. In a large bowl, cream together butter, oil, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in eggs one at a time, mixing well with each addition.  Add in vanilla.
3. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt separately, then add to butter/sugar/egg mixture.  Mix until flour mixture is just moistened.
4. Fold in yogurt, bananas, chopped walnuts, and chocolate chips.
5. Bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool in pan for at least 15 minutes before removing to cool on wire rack.

Life of the Unemployed, Part 2

I went back to read some of my old posts and realized that quite a bit has changed since I last posted about my unemployment.  Well, at least some things have changed, and some things haven’t:

1.  I’m still unemployed (or in between jobs, as I’ve learned to say).
But at this point, I am definitely more at peace with it and with the circumstances that led me to it in the first place.  I think that my identity used to be completely wrapped up in working and in being a surgeon.  But God took it away to show me that my identity is in Him, in being His child.  And then after that struggle, it took me awhile to realize that God wanted me to just be with Him, instead of always asking for answers or solutions or a life plan.  Hard to grasp, and I am still learning.

2.  I’m a bit burned out on crocheting since Christmas, but I still do a lot of cooking and baking. 🙂  I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that!  I just made my first tart, a raspberry almond pear tart.  It was not photo-worthy, but it tasted pretty good.

3.  I’m definitely NOT as regular about going to the gym.  Back in October there was something wrong with my knee so I cut out Zumba and kickboxing and stuck to low-impact workouts like yoga, Pilates, and walking on the treadmill.  And since the treadmill is so boring, I got out of the habit of going every day.  But I still go a couple times per week, which is better than nothing I guess.

4.  I started taking some classes, which has been great.  Currently, I’m taking an online Spiritual Formation class through my church and a basic drawing class through a community program.  I’m also excited to start my Italian pastry course in a few weeks and a cupcake decorating class in a month!

5.  I have been helping my pastor plan a series of retreats for Vineyard pastors in the northeast region, from Philadelphia to Maine.  Anyone who knows me knows that I love planning getaways, looking at vacation packages, and investigating all of the options and finding a good deal for a nice place.  So this little project fits well into things that I already enjoy doing.  It has been a lot of work, with scouring the internet and making dozens of phone calls and sending out even more emails, but it makes me happy to have a small part in helping pastors get some rest.

So, that’s my life right now.  We are still in limbo with the job situation, but despite that, I feel completely at peace and very content 🙂

Thank Your Doctor

First of all, thank you so much to those of you who reached out to me during my sadness last week.  I appreciate your thoughts and prayers more than you know.  Husband and I are so beyond blessed to have friends like you!

So, on to my reason for posting:
Earlier this week, I went to my doctor’s office for a followup.  I brought them a plate of chocolate chip cookies because (1) it’s almost Valentine’s Day and I wanted an excuse to put pink M&Ms in something, and (2) I was so grateful for the care given to me and just how NICE everyone has been, from the front desk people to the nurses, techs, and doctors.

chocolate chip cookiesDelicious, soft, chewy chocolate chip cookies with dark chocolate M&Ms stuck on top. Recipe here if you would like to bake some too 🙂

It struck me how such a small gesture surprised them so much.  The nurse came in and gave me a huge hug (as my vitals were being taken, haha).  My doctor thanked me profusely and said, “All of the staff are just so excited because all we ever hear are complaints.”

Does anyone else think that this is just sad??

Yes, this is our job as physicians, it’s what we signed up for, and most of us did not choose this field because we want people to fall over in gratitude all the time.  But as with any line of work, a little bit of appreciation goes along way.  During residency, being thanked by a patient or family member would change the whole tone of my day.  I found that I could look beyond the exhaustion, cynicism, stress, and crazy busyness and just feel happy and thankful to be doing what I was doing.

So, consider taking the time to thank your doctor (or PA, NP, therapist, etc.) the next time you go in for a visit.  Write a note or bake some brownies or whatever.  As you show your appreciation, you may help turn a discouraging, frustrating, or overwhelming day into a good one 🙂