Monday, December 30, 2013

Three Things That Blew My Mind in 2013

Last week I shared how a short conversation can lead to a small shift in perspective which, in turn, can clear up a huge misunderstanding. Isn't it true how it's often little things that can have the biggest impacts on our lives: A quick decision, a tidbit of information, a new short cut? There are three little things I learned this past year that kind of blew my mind and changed my every day life and health in big ways. They don't have anything to do with empathy, compassion, or communication, bu I thought it was worth the departure to pass them along.

1. You can make pasta, with sauce from scratch, in one pot, in about 20 minutes. For real.

One evening this past Summer I found myself in an unfortunate dinner scenario. Cadence and I had been out visiting with friends and it went later than expected so that I didn't have time, when we got back home, to make what I had planned. To make matters worse, we were overdue for grocery shopping, so I didn't have anything to make one of our quick fall back meals (no bread for pb&j, no butter or milk for mac'n'cheese). Cadence was tired, hungry, and beginning to melt down, Jason was out and wouldn't be home to help with dinner, and I was beginning to panic.

Then I remembered an idea from the June edition of Martha Stewart Living, in an article titled Test-Kitchen Wisdom (1). It described making a pasta dish by simply throwing everything in one pot and promised that you would end up with perfectly cooked pasta in sauce. I had some tomatoes, basil, and one ripe bell pepper from our garden, so I gave it a go - and I was amazed!

In twenty minutes, I had perfectly cooked pasta with a fresh, tasty sauce. Cadence loved it, as did Jason when he returned later in the evening. When I told Jason how it was made he said, "Oh! Like Pastaroni." Sigh.

Here's how you do it:

  • In a large pot or skillet, pour a couple glugs of olive oil and set it over medium heat. 
  • While the oil is heating, chop up some produce for the sauce and throw them in the pot. 
  • Add dry pasta and water (I used 12oz of pasta and two cups of water, which worked well). Cover the pot and increase the heat to high. 
  • When you get to a boil, remove the lid. When the water boils off to the point that you're happy with the consistency of the sauce, you're ready to eat. I like to finish it off with a bit of cream, if I have it on hand. 
Farm-to-table quality dinner in less than half an hour and I only have one pot to clean? Hell yes! Mind blown. 

2. You can make steel-cut oats in 10 minutes (with minimal prep).

I love steel cut oats, but at 30-45 minutes, they just take too much time. It feels like a small miracle when we're able to get everyone dressed and fed before Jason leaves for work. Our morning time is at a premium. I've tried several short cuts to make them a more realistic breakfast, to no avail: Toasting the oats doesn't reduce cooking time enough, parboiling the day before still takes too much time on both ends, and making them in the slow cooker overnight produces a gluey mess.

Luckily, America's Test Kitchen was working on this problem and came up with a beautiful fix (2). It does require some pre-planning, but it's minimal and the oats only take 10 minutes to cook in the morning.

  • The night before you want to have steel cut oats for breakfast, put one cup of the oats in a pot, add 3 cups of boiling water, cover, and leave it on your stove top overnight. I use an electric tea kettle to boil the water, so this takes about five minutes. Totally doable. 
  • In the morning, add one more cup of liquid: water, milk, juice (the America's Test Kitchen recipe used half milk, half apple cider) - whatever suits your tastes or whatever you have on hand will work. Bring it to a boil and then simmer and stir until you like the consistency. 
The morning step has consistently taken me exactly 10 minutes. Uncanny. And mind-blowing. 

3. I'm not allergic to Penicillin. 

And neither are 80 to 90 percent of adults who think they have a penicillin allergy (3). Seriously. 

I found this out a few weeks before my due date, when I was reviewing my birth plan with the midwives. I was "diagnosed" with a penicillin allergy in high school, when I developed a rash following penicillin treatment. It turns out that most penicillin allergies are diagnosed similarly during childhood, but the rashes are more likely to be caused by a virus than by the penicillin.  

This is a pretty big deal. Penicillin is often more effective than other antibiotics because fewer bacteria strains are resistant to penicillin. Penicillin is often a cheaper option, as well. 

In my case, I ended up being positive for Group B Strep and, therefore, required antibiotic treatment during labor (4). Penicillin/ampicillin is the first choice for treatment in this case. For patients who are allergic, there are other options, but the bacteria strains can be resistant to some (they were in my case) and others require administration in the hospital (when I was hoping for a birth center delivery).  Happily, I was able to be tested for penicillin allergy before I went into labor and found out that I was NOT allergic. Crazy! 

If you've walked around most of your life believing that you have a penicillin allergy, I highly suggest you talk to your primary care physician about allergy testing. It doesn't take much time and it will keep your antibiotic treatment options fully open. 

Here's to lots of A-ha!, Wow!, and other mind-blowing moments in 2014!

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(1) Sweet! The article is available online: Test-Kitchen Wisdom
(2) If you sign up at the America's Test Kitchen site (free), you can access their recipe: Ten-Minute Steel-Cut Oatmeal
(3) Salkind, AR, Cuddy, PG, et. al. (2001) Is this patient allergic to penicillin? An evidence-based analysis of the likelihood of penicillin allergy. JAMA, 285(19): 2498-2505. Click here.
(4) This is an excellent and thorough article that helped me immensely when I was working through my GBS drama: Group B Strep in Pregnancy: Evidence for antibiotics and alternatives. 


  1. Completely appreciate the 'three glugs of olive oil' as I never measure that part ever. :)

    I had seen the steel cut oats and was curious to try that since I usually use Quaker but not the one minute instant. I use the one that takes (gasp!) 5 minutes (or so).

  2. You'll have to let me know what you think of the steel cut oats! One thing that's really nice about them (in addition to having a badass name, of course) is that you can make a big batch and keep them in the fridge for a while. They don't get mushy when reheated.

  3. This three things are really awesome. I like pasta and oats. If you have any doubts about how to write a good research paper, ask me. Thank you.