Friday, August 3, 2018

Instant Pot Caramelized Fish Sauce-glazed (Frozen) Cod w/ Baby Bok Choy and Jasmine Rice

I was recently given an 8 Quart Instant Pot for my birthday (thanks, babe!) and have started exploring IP recipes and cooking techniques. I started out simply by making this IP Honey-Garlic Chicken. It was delicious and yielded plenty of extra sauce to pour over plain chicken for lunches for the rest of the week.

After my initial excursion, I was looking for a recipe that I could make pretty quickly with ingredients I had on-hand, including some frozen cod fillets that I wanted to use up. I came across this fantastic recipe for Caramelized Halibut with Bok Choy from Williams-Sonoma, which I then modified to use in the Instant Pot.  The modified recipe is included below. Enjoy!

3 Tbsp + 2 Tbsp water
1/3 c. Asian fish sauce
2 Tbsp soy sauce
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp oil (peanut oil is common in many Asian recipes, but any light-colored oil will do)
3 shallots or 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger or ginger paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 dried shitake mushrooms (or skip this and use chicken or fish stock instead of the 1 1/2-2 c. water--somehow I was out of chicken stock when I made this recipe, but this modification worked beautifully!)
1 1/2-2 c. water (depending on the size of your IP!)
4 halibut or cod fillets, about 1 1/2 lb. total, each 1 inch thick - FROZEN IS FINE!
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 lb. bok choy, quartered lengthwise, or whole baby bok choy
Steamed jasmine rice for serving


For sauce: In a small bowl, stir together 3 Tbsp water, fish sauce and soy sauce. 

In a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and the room-temperature water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high, stop stirring and swirl the pan until the sugar syrup turns light amber, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully pour the fish sauce mixture into the syrup. It will bubble and spatter. Stir until the bubbling subsides. Set aside. 

Add the inner pot to the IP and turn to "Saute."  Once it is hot, add the oil and let heat for 30 seconds. Add the shallots (or red onion), ginger, and garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the steamer basket and enough water to come just below the basket.

Line the steamer basket with bok choy or baby bok choy (I halved my baby bok choy, and they were a little overcooked--that's why I recommend including them whole), then place the whole, frozen fish fillets on top of the bok choy*.  Pressure cook for 3 minutes, then QPR.

Transfer the fish and bok choy to a platter or individual bowls and spoon sauce over top.  Serve with steamed jasmine rice. 

The cooking liquid from the pot makes a great quick soup (toss in any extra rice and fish you might have) or can be used to cook rice/pasta/couscous later in the week. Leftover caramelized sauce can also be saved to top plain chicken or fish later in the week as well.

*Because of my inexperience with the IP, I steamed the frozen fish above the braising liquid and poured the caramelized fish sauce mixture over top during plating. Next time I might try adding the fish sauce mixture directly into the IP with the rest of the aromatics and braising the fish directly in the liquid, like the original recipe calls for.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast Series, Asian, by Farina Wong Kingsley (Oxmoor House, 2007).

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Year Ago Today - Morning Glow

The night shift nurse who cared for me in the maternity ward was an absolute angel. She was comforting and reassuring and compassionate. She gave me answers without having to ask questions. She asked if I wanted to try and pump, then aim to feed my baby around 6:00am.
6:00am. That was the best gift I could have hoped for at the time.  It wasn’t going to be days (as I had feared) before I could see my baby. It was going to be hours. I was able to rest more easily, knowing that I was gathering strength to make my trip in the morning.

She came in at 2:00am to help me set up pump. She told me that it was completely normal to only pump 1-2 milliliters of colostrum. I pumped 11mL. H had just come back from visiting the baby around that time and I sent him right out to feed W. If I wasn’t able to give my child his first feeding directly, then it wasn’t going to be a nurse when his father was available.

My nurse had me out of bed less than 7 hours after having my abdominal muscles rendered apart. She helped me get up out of bed and helped me walk the short distance to the restroom.  Knowing that I was strong enough to get out of bed and walk that short distance did wonders for my morale. If I could make it out of bed to the bathroom, I could surely make it into a wheelchair.

At 6:00am, she came back. She helped me dress and called for a wheelchair to take me down to NICU while H slept on the couch.

After so many long months of waiting and hours of uncertainty, I finally met my son. I finally held my son.

I took a photo at that first meeting. The sun is shining through the window behind us and everything has a soft, ethereal glow. More than just being the first photo of us, the image captures the sense of joy and relief and peace I felt as I sat in that rocking chair in the quiet hours of the early morning, bonding with this new little person as we began our new lives together.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Year Ago Today - The Best and Worst of Delivery

The details about what happened get a bit hazy for a while. From the moment we decided that the C-section was the safest option, things started moving really quickly. Several over-eager surgical residents paraded through my room to introduce themselves. One of them asked if they could announce whether the baby was a boy or a girl. I pointed out that my husband had earned that privilege, even if the baby was being delivered by C-section.  In fact, to me it seemed that would be the lone part of my birth experience that would go according to “plan.” 

I remember being given instructions about how things would work. I was rolled down the hallway and all I could imagine was the hallways in Grey’s Anatomy—Meredith and Cristina and Bailey, running down the hallway with a gurney telling everyone to get out of the way. I remember passing by people and not wanting anyone to look at me.  I was covered, but I felt raw and exposed, and I didn’t want to be seen.

At some point, hubs went off with a nurse to get dressed in scrubs while the nurses moved me to the operating room.  I was transferred to a table, the drape was set up, the anesthesiologist introduced herself to me. 

I remember feeling very cold. I remember gasping because the epidural made me feel like I couldn’t breathe, even though my lungs worked fine. I remember my doctor telling me that I would feel some pressure and some tugging—but once we started, the baby would be out in less than 5 minutes. It would take another 20 to put me back together.

The clearest moment from this entire experience, the one that I will never, ever forget, is the sound of my husband’s voice when doctor held up our child and told him to make the announcement.  He said “It’s a boy… he’s so beautiful.”  I will remember that moment—his exact words, his inflection…the way he choked up in the middle of his sentence… the sheer, raw emotion in his voice—I will remember that moment forever.  It is, possibly, the only moment of the actual delivery that I can cling to with any positive sentiment.  But it may just be powerful enough to drown out the rest.

I remember craning my neck to look over at the table where another set of doctors were working on cleaning up my son. I remember the doctors and nurses asking if we had a name picked out. I remember that my son was brought over for me to see for the briefest of moments before he went down to NICU—and my husband with him.

I remember the feeling of sheer desolation. Of not having anyone with me for hours as I was moved from the operating room back to Labor & Delivery and then to the maternity ward. I remember laying on my back, staring at the ceiling, tears sliding past my temples and my ears and dripping down to the pillow.  Sobbing for the experiences that I didn’t have—like laying the baby on me right after birth until he crawled up and nursed for the first time. Because my baby was in NICU and I didn’t know how he was. Because I didn’t know when I would be allowed to get up out of bed to see him and hold him and get to memorize every detail of his face.

I remember feeling so very alone in a room full of people.

A Year Ago Today - Laboring and Chorio

Although my water had broken in storybook-like fashion, I wasn’t having contractions at the time. In labor-land, this means that the doctors started me on a Pitocin drip in order to encourage my contractions to start. They were mild enough at the start that I was able to rest my eyes for a bit, although I couldn’t sleep; the adrenaline and excitement coursing through me wouldn’t allow for that. H slept on the sofa in the room while I shifted in bed. Every few hours, they upped the dose and the contractions intensified.

The morning rolled around and I had shifted position. I moved to a chair and rested my head on the bed. My knees were set apart to rest my enormous belly between my thighs. I breathed through the contractions as they pulsed through my body. The sensations weren’t painful, but they were uncomfortable.  Around 11:00am, I was told that it would probably be another six hours before I would be ready to deliver the baby. I thought about whether I could handle another six hours of this and decided to ask for an epidural.

The anesthesiologist came around after a few minutes. (“You’re lucky, he’s the best in the hospital,” the nurses reassured me.)  The whole process was uneventful, and I was soon resting comfortably. I spent most of the day trying to nap and sending last minute school emails and anticipating the ever-nearing time when I would get to meet my new son or daughter.

Around 5 or 6pm, the doctors came to check on my progression. The good news was that I was fully dilated and effaced. The bad news was that the baby was still at zero station.  I was also starting to get some chills and was starting to run a fever. The doctor suggested that I try laying on the “peanut ball” to see if shifting position would help the baby descend.
I started to get particularly emotional at this point. The contractions were getting stronger and I knew that, minute by minute, I was inching closer to finally meeting my son or daughter. 

After about 30 or 40 minutes the doctor came back to check. She checked my temperature and looked at the monitor and shook her head. 

She said that my fever and the fact that the baby was starting to show signs of distress now qualified me for a diagnosis of chorioamnionitis. In short, I likely had a uterine infection. The only cure for me was to deliver the baby—and the baby might be sick as a result. In fact, it was entirely possible that my water broke because I had an infection (especially since I had already tested positive for Strep-B.)

I was nearing the 24-hour mark past when my water had broken, but I still had options. I could try pushing for a few hours to see if the baby would descend, but it might end up just causing more distress and resulting in a C-section…or I could just have a C-section. Put in the context that she gave, it seemed to us that there was no real choice. A C-section seemed like it was the safest means of delivery for both me and the baby. Although I had tried to keep my “expectations” for birth pretty well-managed, I couldn’t help but to feel disappointed that I wouldn’t have the experience I had hoped for.  Even worse, because I had been diagnosed with chorio, the baby was going to be whisked off to NICU after birth for monitoring and to receive prophylactic antibiotics.  

A Year Ago Yesterday

I taught what I had expected to be my second to last day of school. I was looking to one more day with students, then one day of cleaning up my classroom while the rest of the school was on a field trip.

After school rehearsals with 7th graders are draining under normal circumstances. There needs to be another word to convey the sheer exhaustion I felt after holding a 90-minute after school rehearsal while 39 ½ weeks pregnant. After the students left, I put my head down on a table and took a nap in order to summon the energy just to drive home.

My bags were already packed and by the door (and had been for several weeks.)  Within each suitcase was an assortment of items, divided into plastic bags. Labeled, and neatly arranged. Both cars had an emergency bag with trash bags and old towels with which to cover the seats (if necessary.)  The car seat was installed. The baby’s room was ready. My sub plans were in a hazy state, but my sub was applying to become a middle school band teacher so I figured that I would give him a general outline and let him work out the rest of his plans.

I made dinner—penang chicken with jasmine rice, I think.  I laid down on the couch as I had done many times before: TV tuned to some inane show, laptop open on the coffee table. I was watching “Catastrophe” on Amazon while chatting with friends. A colleague (who had herself only just returned from maternity leave) sent me a message to ask how I was doing. I told her I was tired, but based on my appointment a few days before I thought I would go past my due date—nothing had been moving.

20 minutes later, I felt a pop.

At some point along the way to preparing to birth a child I had been told that only about 10-15% of women had that “gush” you see in the movies when a woman’s water breaks.  Lucky mean, apparently I was in for a Hollywood ending

I squeezed my knees together for dear life and rolled my way off our brand new couch. Like a penguin, I waddled my way down the hallway to check. I called out to my husband “Hon… my water just broke.”  I heard the surprise in his voice when he responded and I knew that we were both feeling a mix of shock and excitement, mixed with a smidge of fear and apprehension. Nothing really prepares you for this moment.

I took my time getting ready to go to the hospital. I knew that things were not likely to move fast. I took a shower and braided my hair while H packed the car. We stopped to take a photo because I wanted to mark this occasion—our transition from being a couple to becoming a family of three. 

As we got into the car, I called my OB’s office to let them know I was on my way to the hospital. Was I sure that my water broke? “Well, I’m sitting on three towels to absorb the fluid and every time I move more gushes out…”  I answered a series of questions that I was prepared for at the time and now, in retrospect, can no longer remember. 

We pulled up to the hospital as planned. We parked in the designated area. H grabbed a wheelchair, which I tossed some towels onto before shifting into the seat. I was capable of walking, but I didn’t want to leave a trail that some poor orderly or custodian would have to clean up.  We went up to the Labor & Delivery floor. He moved the car while I checked in. We waited for a while, then I was brought into my private room to change, get into bed, and get my first dose of antibiotics.

Everything went as planned. Until it didn’t.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

On Headstands and Fear

Crouch into child’s pose. Interlace fingers, cradle crown of head with palms. Fold over, pinky fingers and elbows press into the mat, the head lightly touches as a balance point.  Stabilize shoulders, extend legs to lift hips, engaged belly, strong back, walk feet forward, press arms and shoulders down, extend one leg up...

…come back down before ever really leaving the ground.  The same script every time.

Hand stand? No problem.

Plant hands, square hips, bellybellybelly, kick off the ground—one leg, then the other.  Float to the sky, hold for a few seconds. On a good day, rock back and forth between fingertips and palms to fine tune balance before floating gracefully and cat-like back down to the mat. 

Try again. DO again.  And again.

But headstand?  That quintessential yoga pose?  I can’t do it.  Or really, I can’t don’t won’t let myself do it.

And yes, I know, I KNOW that all of these are simply “yoga party tricks.”  Yoga is far, far more than asana practice—and I work hard in my life to practice yoga in the greater sense. To practice the steps of the 8-fold path. To try to live by the principles of self-study and non-harm and truth and… and… and…

I don’t have a problem being the yogi (or the yoga teacher) that doesn’t “do” headstand. I have a problem being the yogi (or yoga teacher) who doesn’t headstand because she’s afraid of it.  Because, really, that’s the issue here.  My body has the strength. My brain understands the mechanics, knows that I am physically able to do it.  But my heart? My heart’s not in it. 

The problem isn’t the pose, the problem is the fear of the pose.

It’s like that for me in life sometimes. I build things up in my head to be far worse than they actually (usually) are. I role play conversations in my head and go through worst-case scenarios. I make plans and back-up plans and back-up-back-up plans. In my head I make up tragic newspaper headlines for the stories that might-or-might-not happen.  All the while, I find every possible way to make myself stable and rigid and rooted down, because anything else requires change—and change is scary.  Change is uncertain. Change is hard.  And I’ve had enough uncertain and hard and scary in my life, and I just plain don’t like it.  Or, at least, I assume I don’t like it. Because by avoiding change, I often avoid finding out whether something could be better.

The problem isn’t change, the problem is the fear of change.

The ironic thing is that I am a generally confident person. I've been called fearless more than once. But that confidence stems from the fact that I also happen to be calculating and logical and rational and risk-averse.  I find confidence from knowing who I am and where I am and knowing (or thinking I know) how events will unfold. 

But change, by its very nature, is disruptive and sometimes transformative. A butterfly cannot emerge unless the caterpillar is first willing to change

Acceptance of this truth—true, deep-down-in-the-pit-of-my-heart-that-I-don’t-like-to-acknowledge-exists kind of acceptance—requires crossing the bridge from rational and logical to emotional and vulnerable.  It’s crossing the divide “where courage and fear meet.” (Brene Brown, “Daring Greatly”). It’s going to the “touchy-feely” kind of place that I avoid at almost any cost.

In the in-between, it means setting aside my ego, asking for help and support and love and encouragement. It means letting go of the conversation in my head, of the assumption that I know how things will turn out (because hasn't the universe already let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I have no way of knowing how this life will turn out)?  It’s accepting that “truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” (Brene Brown, “Daring Greatly”)

In the end, stability is good. It’s a necessary starting point, but it’s only that—a starting point.  At some point, growing requires letting go of fear.  It requires accepting that I will likely stumble, I will fall. But I will have people there who love me, who will catch me, who will encourage me to try it again. 

And then I will breathe, find the strength that I know is in me, and simply have the faith to see how far I rise. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Impermanence of Things

I'm visiting a good friend on the other side of the country right now, and as busy as my life has been lately, it's been really nice to get out in the fresh air with sunshine and friends.  

While I'm out here I decided to catch a few yoga classes.  Between grad school and National Board Certification and life in general, my yoga practice at home is only a fraction of what it used to be--maybe one or two classes a week as opposed to the 6-8 that I used to take.  And while I absolutely adore my studio at home, I also now realize that it's always nice to get "out there" and learn from new studios and new teachers.

As I've said here many times before (you know, back when I used to write more regularly), one of the best and most important reasons I continued to practice yoga once I started had nothing to do with the physical practice and everything to do with what my studio lovingly calls the "mumbo jumbo." The teacher for today's class spoke about anicca or impermanence, and the way it ebbs and flows moment to moment through life.

Throughout class, I thought about what anicca meant to me.  The physical discomfort of a workout? The 1 minute "hard interval" on my bike? The stressful day or week or month (or, let's be honest, year) when there are a million things which need to be done at once? I (and you) can get through them because they're all temporary. And even during that period of discomfort, there are moments when the difficulty lifts. It can be hard, but it's important to take that time to enjoy the moment (however fleeting), to take a breath and be happy that just to be there, to be alive, and to be able to enjoy this ebb and flow of life. Even when there is another hill to climb or another paper to write or another challenge waiting around the next corner.  

And in that moment, I remind myself, "YOU are strong and alive and beautiful and the hard parts won't last forever. You can do it."