Hello, it’s me… and beer brownies

Hello friends! Sorry it’s been ages. We’ve just finished up our renal block (now offering free advice and guesses answers on all things kidney stones, abnormal urination, and urinary tract infections!) and I’m officially on Christmas break. I sincerely apologize for not writing sooner. I’ll quote my girl Adele here: “I know I’ve been quiet, I just wanted to come back and surprise you. I didn’t want to tell you anything because I wanted it to be a surprise.” 100% honesty, I cried real tears when I watched her NBC live performance. The legend is back and I couldn’t be happier.  Anyways, hello, it’s me, with no big surprises like a Grammy-winning album. Only surprise is that I haven’t failed out of med school yet and I come bearing beer brownies. Over the past couple months I’ve unashamedly made this recipe more than a couple times. I know around this time everyone’s all gingerbread this and peppermint that, but when you’re sad about school and only want to eat warm, fudgy, gooey chocolate, maybe with some alcohol thrown in, this recipe does that for you from the lovely Kitchy Kitchen:

BEER BROWNIES:

1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 ounces semi sweet chocolate
8 tablespoons of butter, browned
1/2 cup of West Sixth Cocoa Porter
4 eggs
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Melt your semi-sweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli) either double boiler method or in the microwave (the latter if you’re super classy like me). Sift together the flour and cocoa powder. Brown your butter until you see brown bits and it smells like caramel. Pour the delicious butter goodness into your bowl of melted chocolate, then add the beer. Feel free to drink the rest of your fabulous porter straight from the can; you deserve it. Beat together the eggs and sugar for about two minutes. Add your flour and wet ingredients, alternating mixing in between. Finish with the vanilla and fold in the chocolate chips. Muster all self-restraint to resist gulping down the batter. Don’t be a heathen like me. Instead pour it into a 9 x 13 pan and bake for 30 minutes for extra gooey brownies (or longer if you have no soul and like dry brownies).

Much love and hugs,
Jthumb_IMG_4501_1024thumb_IMG_4510_1024thumb_IMG_4516_1024thumb_IMG_4520_1024

“You think that’s a miracle?”

  
Below is an excerpt from Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros, the advice from a grandmother to her granddaughter… and to you and me.

“There’s no sin in falling in love with your heart and with your body, but wait till you’re old enough to love yourself first. How do you know what love is? You’re still just a child.
But I saw God when we made love.
Of course you did. You think that’s a miracle? Smell a flower and you’ll see God too. God’s everywhere. And yes, he’s in the act of love too. And so? That boy’s not the only one who can love you like that. There’ll be others, there ought to be others, you must have others. Ay, Celaya, don’t wind up like me, settling with the first man who paid me a compliment. You’re not even a whole person yet, you’re still growing into who you are. Why, all your life you’ll be growing into who you are. That’s the trouble. God gives us the urge for love when we’re still children, but the age of reason doesn’t arrive till we’re well into our forties. You don’t want somebody who doesn’t know his own heart, do you? Look, he’s a little boy, and you’re a little girl. You’ll find someone who’s brave enough to love you. Some day. One day. Not today.” — The Awful Grandmother in Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

I read this chapter on a bus in Lima, Peru, and laughed. And between you and me, my eyes were full of that salty water that hurts and heals. Receive wisdom when you need it, friends. Even when it’s 6 months, 1 year, or 5 years later than when you thought you needed it. When the words you needed to hear finally arrive, you may chuckle to yourself, thinking how funny life is and your tears might surprise you. You thought you moved on. And you did. Sometimes the truth of how you’ve grown and what you’ve learned is enough to grow that lump in your throat, make you pause at how ordinary yet universal your hurt was. You think that’s a miracle? It is.

God bless Texas

An odd fact about me: since high school I’ve held an obsessive fascination with Texas. Until last month, I had never set foot there, and didn’t know anyone from Texas until college. Yet somehow I knew in my heart of hearts that I had to live there. Maybe it was a combo of great advertising, watching old Westerns with my dad, and a healthy crush on tacos and bbq. But the more people I befriended who hailed from Texas, the cooler it seemed. Binge-watching Friday Night Lights didn’t hurt either <3.

Well last month, my dreams came true. My friend and I decided to take a spontaneous 16 hour road trip from KY to TX. When I say spontaneous I mean we decided on Friday, booked our airbnb’s on Saturday, and drove down on Monday.We hit up Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin (w the majority of our time spent in Austin). You guys, it was EVERYTHING and we’ve been plotting ways to get back ever since. We got to meet up with some our med school friends who were back home in Dallas for summer break as well as one of my dearest college friends living and working in Austin. I couldn’t recommend road-tripping with friends more, especially ones that you vibe really well with. On the ride there, we listened to almost all of the Serial podcast, taking breaks for T-Swift jam sessions and which-would-you-rather scenarios (which natural disaster would you rather die from, a hurricane or wildfire?). Our Texas adventures consisted of drinking green smoothies by day and local beers by night, soaking in all the hipster vibes from Deep Ellum to East Austin, admiring the never-ending and sometimes strange public art, all the coffee always, thrift store and vintage browsing in South Congress, Dirty Sixth-ing it up, dancing w strangers in a honky tonk, eating A LOT (of Torchy’s tacos, Gourdough’s donuts, and Salt Lick BBQ mmmm), remembering the Alamo, splashing around in Barton Springs, hiking the Greenbelt and Mount Bonnell, being simultaneously terrified and amazed at the the thousands of bats under Congress Bridge, and lots of evening strolls. Perhaps one of the best parts of this trip was the spontaneity. So my family loves traveling, and we do a lot of it, but we also love planning. This Texas trip was the exact opposite of planned. When a tropical storm was approaching Dallas, we hit the road for Austin. When we felt like tacos, we got them. When MK had to fly home for a family emergency, I got sole custody of Jimmy (her car) for the 18 hour solo trip back home (subtext: lots of Beyonce happened). When we were itching to line dance, we googled the nearest honky tonk. When you enjoy the company you’re with, almost anything can be an adventure, even if it’s just sitting on a bench and people watching. I hereby resolve to embark on more spontaneous adventures. Join me friends; let’s live our lives with somewhat emptier itineraries! Our experiences may be fuller for it. Pictures below for your visual pleasure.

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Diabetes! (and Boston)

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Hello to the whopping five of you that read my blog!

Last month I got to spend a week in Boston, helping the old company I used to work for in SF cover the American Diabetes Association Conference. The ADA conference is the biggest diabetes conference all year, and so they often ask alumni to come help write up talks. My job (healthcare journalism) was pretty stressful at the time, but coming back as alumni was much more relaxed and I actually got to enjoy the talks I was assigned and learn about a lot of cool new stuff happening in the diabetes field. For example, one session I got to cover focused on a class of drugs called PCSK9 inhibitors that basically work like a super statin. PCSK9 inhibitors prevent uptake of LDL receptors, effectively lowering plasma LDL cholesterol (the bad kind). This is actually pretty huge for cardiovascular outcomes and in turn diabetes patients, because cardiovascular outcomes trials are the bane of the diabetes drug development field right now. A lot of people are excited about this new class because PCSK9 inhibitors have been able to lower LDL by as much as 60%… which is huge!! Anyways, if you wanna talk diabetes drug or device development, hit me up, it’s pretty exciting to me. I love ADA because you get to hear from physicians and researchers who are so so so excited about the work that they do and the patients they help. One of my personal highlights was attending the Al Mann gala that my boss hosted. For those of you who don’t know who Al Mann is, he’s basically a legend in the diabetes field and has most recently been in the press for the newest kid on the block, Afrezza, which is an inhaled insulin (a total game changer for patients!). I almost teared up during the speech my boss gave for him and then got to shake his hand. It was pretty neat. My favorite sessions though are usually public health ones because diabetes is such a pressing issue in the most underserved communities. I even got to see my old PI from UChicago lead a panel on diabetes disparities in low-income neighborhoods. Spoiler: it was awesome! She was/is still a total badass.

In other fun news, I got to spend the rest of the week hanging out with one of my college besties (hi B, miss you!). She lives in Boston right now, working at a super cool company and is well on her way to being a #girlboss. I tagged along with her to work one day and it was like take your kids friends to work day; I ate all the free cookies laying around). We also reunited with my big sis figure from college, A (hi oldie, love you!) and we had pints of the best ice cream eva while I let them listen to my favorite Migos song lol. B and I had lots of fun adventures, including but not limited to: eating as many donuts as we could shove in our mouths, falling asleep in her apartment and locking her out lolz, traversing the entirety of the city by foot, getting sunburnt, eating olive garden food truck sandwiches (?! those are a thing), lol-ing at what a diva Isabella Stewart Gardner was, almost causing a ruckus between a crazy homeless man and the old guys playing Chinese chess in Chinatown, playing with giant jenga blocks, having the most out of body ramen-eating experience I will probably ever go through, soul night in a Cambridge club, and predicting a couple’s engagement in the Boston Commons. I miss B all the time and was so happy to have gotten to spend time with her in her new hood as a hip, thriving, young adult. It’s cool seeing my friends live their adult lives. Stay tuned for my recap of my spontaneous road trip to Texas!

love and hugs,
j
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M1 and done

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When people ask me how my first year of med school went, I wish I had something extremely profound yet succinct that could describe the last year of my life. I would like to sound both cool and self-actualized, while also humble and funny. Sadly, I usually end up with some variation of, “It was really hard, but I loved every second of it.” I’m not sure how else to describe med school, other than hard. It was hard in a way that leaves you feeling satisfied after a long run. Hard like trying to grow up and start a new season of life. Hard in the easy way of falling in love, with a new city and new friends, while saying goodbye to old ones. It was an adventure, a grand one.

Ten years from now (much less right now), I won’t remember the vitamin deficiencies, the rare bacterial diseases, or the spinal cord tracts and neurodegenerative disorders. But I’ll remember the time when we danced all night at Trust in our Halloween costumes (and I lost my phone and didn’t even know it until you found it face down in the snow when we were going home). Those hikes at the Pinnacles, Raven’s Run, and the Gorge. When I was heartbroken and showed up to class puffy-eyed from crying all night and you told me I looked like shit. But you brought Magee’s donuts because you knew my heart. When we did BRS anatomy practice questions in your living room, and overdosed on your “go go beans,” laughing hysterically at how we learned so much yet knew absolutely nothing. That time in New Orleans when we walked to Cafe Du Monde twice in one day, the first with happy grins over dark chicory coffee and fluffy crisp beignets and the second to sop up our UK Final Four heartbreak tears with round 2 of beignets. When we hated every single second of neuro block and watched all those Thursday night movies at “our theater”, the cheap one with expensive hotdogs. The times you wouldn’t let me study alone, because you knew I would just fall asleep. When my car got towed from Common Grounds. When my grandmother and dog died in the same week and you were the first person I called. When we discovered Maria’s burritos. The nights we stayed in and baked cookies instead of bar hopping. When you waxed my legs and we drank all the wine. When we put each other on suicide watch and told each other it would all be okay, wouldn’t it? And it was okay. It was better. It was hard, soul-crushingly, inspiring and amazing.

And I’m better for it. Stronger, weaker, braver, kinder. Thank you for making the hardest year of my life, the most amazing so far. Cheers to three more years and ever after.

xoxo,
j

Browned butter makes everything better

 …even Step 1 studying. Fyi, Step 1 is basically the first step in medical board exams that allows you to move on from your preclinical years (end of M2) to your clinical rotations (M3-4). It also determines the rest of your future medical career, like where you match into for residency. I thank God that I’m not at that stage in my life yet, because I honestly don’t think I’m physically or emotionally ready for that yet. Imagine the ACT/SAT/MCAT/LSAT/GRE and any other standardized test you’ve ever taken but times a billion. Some of my older med friends are studying for it right now, and as an example to elucidate the torture of this period, I know a girl who has locked herself (plus suitcase, sleeping bag, pillow, and food rations) in one of the hospital study rooms for a couple weeks now and only leaves to take showers. A campus security guard actually asked if she was homeless because she was sleeping there.

Anyways, the point of this being that I made some Step 1 care packages which included possibly the best cookies I’ve ever made. They are adapted from this recipe (Joy is a straight up genius).

BROWNED BUTTER WALNUT CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
1 cup (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (or more depending on your stress level) milk chocolate chips
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
coarse sea salt for sprinkling

Heat half the butter (8 tbsp) in a small pan over medium heat (it will froth a little and crackle) until browned bits appear and a delicious, nutty aroma fills your kitchen. Cream remaining 8 tbsp of butter w brown sugar and vanilla. Add cooled brown butter with the granulated sugar and beat until smooth. Add the eggs and beat until mixed. Now remove your electric mixers (!) and use a spatula to incorporate the flour, salt, and baking soda. Lovingly fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts. We want to do this by hand so we don’t over mix the flour, which would result in disappointingly non-chewy/soft cookies (because ew who wants that?). Muster your courage and try not to eat all of the cookie dough; refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350°F, scoop 2 tbsp-sized balls onto a lined baking sheet (mine made 28), sprinkle with coarse sea salt (optional), and bake for 12-15 minutes (depending on how soft you like your cookies – I like mine melty-soft so I only did 12). Let cool (or don’t and try them immeds from the pan). I save my old coffee bean bags specifically for storing/gifting cookies.  

 So how good are these cookies? Not trying to brag, but I’ll offer these testimonies as proof that you need these cookies in your life, stat.
“Those cookies are a wonder of the world. *cookie emoji* *globe emoji*”
“I will def have to ration these or else they’ll be gone in a day!”
“This is sooooooo yummy!!!! I love them!!!!!”
“Girl you need to open a Jenny’s Cookies branch or something. Honestly I am not playing, these are literally the best homemade cookies I’ve ever eaten.”

*brushes off shoulders*… point being, dear readers/friends, if you’re stuck in a windowless room studying for the hardest exam of your life, you’re having a rough/tough/bad day, or you’re just hangry for some cookies, take an hour break and make these beauties. Your soul will thank you.

xoxo,
J

One of these is not like the other

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It’s been awhile… my apologies! I’ve been trapped in my apartment studying for our second neuro exam and a couple weeks ago I traveled to New Orleans for a conference. The conference was for Student National Medical Assoc (SNMA), a student group which I have the joy of being involved with at my school’s chapter. For those of you who aren’t familiar with SNMA, it targets med students of color, minorities, and first generation scholars. While I’m technically not considered a minority (in the medical field), as someone who wants to work in a medically underserved area, SNMA seemed like a good fit for me. Also as only one of four Asian-American students in my class, I feel like a minority more often than not.

Let me start with a story from our NOLA trip that I feel sums up my conference experience (aside from eating as many beignets as fast as I could shovel them in). At a conference after party one night, I was getting busy on the dance floor. I think my girl T-swift said it best when she described her dancing as “a baby giraffe learning to walk.” Yep, that was me. Then something happened… the DJ started to play “Back that Ass Up” and the room instantly fell silent, like a kind of lull before the storm. My friend grabbed my arm, looked at me with both exhilaration and terror in her eyes, and said “Jenny. You are not prepared for what is about to happen.” She was right. If you haven’t been in a similar situation before, see this buzzfeed for appropriate response.

This little anecdote was one of the most evident examples of how “not prepared” I was for this conference. If you haven’t already guessed it by now, I was one of the only Asian students at this conference. Most everyone in our chapter and even at the national level of SNMA is Black or African. Given that SNMA is focused on minority medical students and serving minority populations, this racial make-up should not shock you. Yet, this poses some interesting questions, one in particular that I’ve wrestled with for several years since I began to consider practicing medicine with a focus on health disparities: Why am I one of the only Asian students at this conference?

At present, it’s no secret we have a shortage of med students of color, moreover students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including inner-city, rural, international, and first generation to attend college. Yet health disparities for these general population groups continue to widen. The numbers just don’t add up. The supply of black and hispanic physicians does not nearly meet the demand of their patient counterparts. That’s where I come in, the random Asian girl who found herself at a conference in New Orleans for minority med students. Throughout the conference, I sometimes felt like an outsider looking in. Did I belong here at this conference? What part do I have to play in serving a community where I don’t look anything at all like my patient population? I was explaining this to an older med friend (who is herself Black), and she pointed out that under-represented groups could not have gotten to where they are now without non-minorities standing by their side. While true, does that historical vantage point have as much weight today in modern medicine?

A relevant experience: during my research in undergrad studying diabetes disparities on the South Side of Chicago, I had two PI’s, one a Chinese male and the other a Black female. During community outreach days, our team would set up shop at local events around the South Side to do basic physical exams and check-ups. Take a guess at which doctor all the community members would line up to see. There is an inherent trust when your doctor looks like you. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Yet it makes me wonder what sort of role I will have as a practicing physician in such communities. Will I always feel like an outsider looking in? And if so, will it even matter? If I believe that my patients have a voice worth listening to, stories worth being amplified from a physician’s platform, then does it even matter that I feel like “a baby giraffe learning to walk” when the DJ puts on Back that Ass Up?

Thoughtfully yours,
J