An Odd Job

Another beautiful sunset captured on my way to a patient's home.
Another beautiful sunset captured on my way to a patient’s home.

Four years ago this week, I started my research job.  And over the course of those four years I’ve been in hundreds of patient homes and done everything from asking simple questionnaires to performing ultrasounds of patient’s ankles.  I’ve driven tens of thousands of miles from Muncie to Terre Haute and from Lafayette to North Vernon.  And along those many miles I’ve witnessed every kind of wildlife:  deer, coyotes, turkey and squirrels.  I’ve also experienced every kind of  weather:  Everything from blizzards to blazing hot days.  I’ve driven in thunderstorms and wind storms.  I’ve watched the sun rise over the Hoosier horizon and enjoyed more than my fair share of fantastic sunsets.

In addition I’ve met every imaginable family pet and in the process I’ve been sniffed and humped by dogs as well as rubbed and bitten by cats.


Another supper on the road.

Along with hours of driving, I suspect that I’ve eaten nearly 300 lbs of french fries, drank 50 gallons of diet coke and eaten the equivalent of two heifers.  All of this happened in my car as I travel from one house to the next.

But my job is not just about driving and eating and viewing wildlife.  It is about much more.  In fact, occasionally we actually conduct research.

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve conducted more than 200 sleep studies in patient homes, nursing homes and hospitals.  A primary aim of our research is to learn how many stroke patients have Obstructive Sleep Apnea.  To that end, we perform in-home sleep studies on the research subjects.

A "self-hookup" to ensure the study equipment works correctly.
A “self-hookup” to ensure the study equipment works correctly.

A typical study begins when I arrive late in the evening, lay out my equipment and hook the subject up to wires, belts, sensors and probes.  After two hours of pain-staking gluing and taping, each participant in our study looks like the backside of my 1979 home-made stereo system; wires sticking out in every direction!

Even though it is my favorite part of the job, it is also the part that I’m most anxious to end.  I’m just a little tired of sleep studies (no pun intended).  I’m not tired of hooking up the equipment, visiting the patients in their homes, or even the meals on the road.  For me, the hardest part of the job is the odd hours I have to keep in order to complete the studies.

Winter weather makes the travel even more of an adventure.

For instance, I have two sleep studies scheduled this week.  The first is tonight and the second is on Thursday.  Tonight’s study will begin at 7:30 pm.  I’ll be done and out the patient’s door around 9:30.  Tack on another 1/2 hour for driving and I’m done with my work day at 10:00 pm.  But I’ll be back at the patient’s home tomorrow morning at 7:30 to pick up the equipment, upload the study to the scoring center and then cleaning the equipment to prepare for Thursday night.

And I do that twice this week.

I've met my fair share of family pets in my journeys.
I’ve met my fair share of family pets in my journeys.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love my job.  I enjoy the freedom of getting out of the office from time to time.  On warm spring days I crank up the jams on my car stereo and cruise with the windows down as I drive the highways and byways of this beautiful state.  I even enjoy a good cheeseburger from time to time.  But if I’m honest, I’m looking forward to the day when the end of my shift on Tuesday isn’t so close to the start of my shift on Wednesday.

I suppose it will all end soon enough.  By my calculations I have only 11 more months and another 60 studies until I’m done.  That’s nothing.  Right?

The Perfect Roasted Chicken

A perfectly roasted chicken is an essential first step in learning the art of cooking.
Yesterday’s Bird:  A perfectly roasted chicken is an essential first step in learning the art of cooking.

Julia Child begins the sixth chapter of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” with these words: “Some of the most glorious dishes of the French cuisine have been created  for chicken, and almost all the fundamentals of French cookery and sauce making are to be found somewhere in the chicken realm.

In one episode of her famous cooking show, Child states, The real test of a good chef is a perfectly roasted chicken.

Last year I started learning how to cook.  I used it as a means of feeding my family good food but I also used it as an outlet for my creativity.  Not one to limit my options, I moved beyond my award winning Macaroni and Cheese from a box.

I wanted to learn how to cook real food;  food that people would ask for, come to the dinner table to enjoy.   The first step in my culinary adventure  was to purchase Child’s cookbook; $24 on Amazon.  I read it from cover to cover, marking the dishes I thought I could handle, making notes of the equipment I had and needed.  The next step was to start practicing different recipes.  I jumped in with both feet and tried mushroom soup, asparagus covered in Hollandaizes, potato  and leek soup, roasted Brussels sprouts, and Beef Bourguignon.

Golden-brown and buttery soft.  Perfect.
Golden-brown and buttery soft. Perfect.

My family loved the dinners but I knew I needed to center in on one dish and make it right, rather than simply try a variety of recipes that were hit and miss.  And so after careful consideration, I started with the basic and most beloved, Roasted Chicken.

A few dozen chickens later, and I think I’ve finally perfected this meal.  I’ve tried roasting the chicken whole, quartered and butterflied.  I’ve served it sliced into thin strips, in soups and with noodles and over roasted potatoes.  But, to quote Mrs. Child, “A chicken should taste like chicken and be so good in itself that it is an absolute delight to eat as a perfectly plain, buttery roast...”  I’m proud to say that the last three birds have lived up to this standard.  I now know that I can prepare the chicken in minutes, cook it and serve it within an hour, without any question of the final outcome.  I mastered this one.

Now on to sauces!

Seat Yourself

A Perfect Place for a Perfect Pint.

After putting in a hard eight-hour day, there is nothing I enjoy more than trying to kill two hours before a 7:00 p.m. meeting.

But earlier this week, I discovered that there is NO better place to kill those previously painful minutes than at the Chatham Tap in Fishers, Indiana.

So there I was, sitting in a quiet corner of the dining area, a Christmas tree aglow, oldies Christmas music playing at the perfect volume, a Black and Tan in one hand and a fork full of the best Ribeye Steak Salad in the other.  To top it all off, the All Blacks Rugby Team was killing Wales.

After dinner, I ordered a coffee and wrote a little and watched the two teams scrum until my meeting was about to start.  As I packed up my things, I left a big tip and assured myself that I would see this place again very soon.

Julia’s Guidance

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I don’t know if you’ve ever tried cooking a real meal but if you want to take a chance, don’t do it alone.  Tonight was another great success and Julia Child led me all the way.

Tonight we enjoyed a mushroom soup and cheese bread followed by the main course of Roast Pork, New Potatoes and Pearl Onions with French Bread and Roasted Brussel Sprouts.  Our dessert was a fantastic Apple Tart with glazed Apricot preserves and cream.

Each bite was a huge hit and we left the table full and fully satisfied.


Eat Your Potage

A potato can be so much more, with a little love and a lot of time.

I’ve encouraged you to try new things from time to time.  Take up a hobby, read a book, try a new adventure:  It challenges your senses and gives you confidence.  It breaks the routine and opens your mind to new ideas.

In that spirit, I cooked a potato.

But, before you laugh, I’ll have you know that I also cooked pearl onions and baby bell mushrooms and burgundy wine and leaks and carrots and three pounds of stewing beef.  Over the course of seven hours of cooking, I whisked, stirred, chopped, and tasted.  I even pealed oranges with a potato pealer or all things.

It was my daughter’s 20th birthday and we celebrated with a most successful candlelit meal.  We aren’t usually high-class folks; pizza and coke will serve our needs most of the time.  But last night we pulled out all the stops and ate like the French:  No Italian Pizza for us!  Each course of the dinner was made from Julia Child and her wonderful book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”  Julia didn’t let us down.

For the Appetizer we had Potage Parmentier with Asiago Cheese Bread.  This beautiful, creamy potato and leak soup was topped with freshly chopped parsley and provided the perfect beginning to the meal.  We enjoyed small bowls of the soup along with a crisp glass of Chardonnay.  After the slurping stopped, our appetites were primed and ready.

The Salad was a tossed green salad with Julia’s perfect Red Wine Vinaigrette.  We enjoyed various cheeses to compliment the salad, including Goat Cheese, Parmesan and Gouda along with a fresh loaf of crackling French Bread.

The Main Course was a huge success:  Beef Bourguignon, Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce served with a nice Burgundy wine.  This was the richest, most wonderful food I’ve ever tasted.  The meat was tender and full of flavor.  The Hollandaise sauce was buttery, lemony and smooth.  The asparagus was tender and crisp.  The house is still filled with the aroma of the beef and my mouth waters even as I describe the plate.

We ended the evening with the Candy-Glazed Oranges, a Port wine and coffee.

Emily was most pleased with her birthday dinner.

If you ever tire of the routine you’ve created, the rut you are in, the daily grind that awaits you, I implore you to try something new:  Grab a cook book and spend some time in front of the stove.  But be warned, you’d better have Julia at your elbow helping you along the way because it is a challenge not intended for the faint of heart…but worth every minute and every amazing bite.