Independence Day

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Those of us in the U.S. are celebrating the Fourth of July by kicking back and grilling things. But if you’re here for a food-related post, you might want to head over to my Recipe Index or archive instead, ’cause today’s post is all about me quitting my job.

That’s right: I’m celebrating my own personal independence day. After 14 years as a clinical pharmacist at the local hospital—the last dozen of which was spent working overnights in a fluorescent-lit ICU pharmacy—I just wrapped up my final graveyard shift.

Independence Day by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

My last night at the hospital was more emotional than I’d expected. One minute I was rocking out to Europe’s “The Final Countdown” (which was blasting triumphantly in my head all night), and the next, I was weepy over leaving my happy little nightshift family. (Goodbye, Will and Deb!) I’d been working at this hospital since 2000—when Bill Clinton was in the White House, Buffy Summers had no idea she had a sister, and Mark Zuckerberg was just some 16-year-old kid. I won’t miss the 70-hour workweeks, but on some level, I’d become weirdly fond of my nightshift routine. My Indow Windows blackout panel is pretty awesome, and I love my Tempur-Pedic Sleep Mask. Call it the Stockholm Syndrome, but I’ll even (kind of) miss the jetlag I’ve suffered every Wednesday since Ben Affleck and J. Lo got engaged.

Independence Day by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

In some ways, I loved being a zombie drug dealer. (The job title has a nice ring to it, too.) Believe it or not, I actually chose to switch from my position as a critical care pharmacist to a generalist nightshift pharmacist back in 2002 because I craved predictability; I figured the seven-nights-on, seven-nights-off schedule would allow me to make restaurant reservations weeks or even months ahead of time. (Yep, I had my priorities straight.) The routine was fabulous…

Independence Day by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Independence Day by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Independence Day by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

Independence Day by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

…until it wasn’t anymore.

In hindsight, it’s telling that I titled my nightshift primerSurviving the Night Shift” and not “Thriving on the Night Shift.” No matter how you slice it, staying up all night is neither natural nor healthy; numerous studies show that nightshift zombies like me are at higher risk for sickness and death. No bueno. For over a decade, I felt like I was able to keep it (relatively) together and avoid (most of) the ill effects from regularly punching my circadian rhythm in the face. Plus, my energy levels and sleep quality improved by leaps and bounds once I started eating Paleo—but looking back, perhaps experiencing the benefits of Paleo only prolonged the inevitable.

Independence Day by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

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Surviving the Night Shift

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A few days ago, a reader named June left this comment on my site:

"Michelle, I know this is a food blog, but I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you make nightshift as healthy as possible for you. I am a new nurse and I love night shift, but I am freaked out about the health consequences of flipping back and forth all the time."

Surviving the Night Shift by Michelle Tam http://nomnompaleo.com

This question has popped up more than once, so I thought I’d share in detail what my work schedule looks like, and how I’ve managed to cope with working night shifts for over a decade. I’ll also pass on some sleep strategies that apply to everyone—even you lucky ducks who don’t have to work through the night.

Interested? Read on!

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Paleo Eats: 11/2/12

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I’m back on the zombie shift at the hospital. Hooray — I can pay for more bacon and cookbooks! I guess that balances out the sky-high cortisol levels caused by sleep disruption. Sorta.

At work, I ate leftover Damn Fine Chicken and veggies, and guarded the narcotics ‘til the sun came up.

I got home just in time to kiss Big-O good-bye for school and watch Lil-O prance around the family room impersonating Weird Al. I’d managed just two hours of shut-eye before starting my shift, so I needed to get horizontal pronto.

Alas, my sleep was fitful and abbreviated — which is fairly typical after my first shift of the week. Even after twelve years of working graveyards, it takes a day or two before I get back into the groove of sleeping during the day. With less-than-adequate sleep, I wasn’t about to prepare a fancy feast. Instead, I opted for a simple, no-fuss dinner: garbage soup and burgers!

I posted a different version of garbage soup yesterday, and I meant it when I said that you truly can make it with just about anything in the fridge.  After taking a peek in the crisper, I found a head of Napa cabbage…

…and some carrots, which I cooked with shallots in the pressure cooker.

I added a handful of crunchy dried shiitake mushrooms (they soften under high pressure)…

…chopped cabbage…

…and leftover bone broth to the pot.

I locked the lid in place and cranked up the heat ‘til the contents reached high pressure. Then, after lowering the heat to a simmer, I cooked the soup at high pressure for seven minutes. And then the soup was done. Really. That’s all it takes.

I rarely plan ahead, so a pressure cooker is the perfect appliance for a busy, disorganized mom like me — especially when I’m craving rib-sticking comfort food and I’ve only got an hour to get food on the table. I’ll definitely be visiting my buddy Laura’s site, Hip Pressure Cooking, to get more tips. (Her Morrocan Lamb Tagine recipe is on my to-cook list.)

As I waited for the cooker to naturally release its pressure, I seasoned a pound of ground beef with Magic Mushroom Powder and formed them into patties.

I fried them up…

…and plated them with leftover Oven-Roasted Tomatoes.

Before I ladled soup into our bowls, I cut a fistful of dulse into each one.

I got this idea from my buddy Diana, who’s been encouraging me to get more nutrient-dense sea vegetables into our bellies. I’m going to spike all my soups and stews with dulse ‘cause it also adds a bolus of umami (due to its high glutamate content!), too.

Speaking of nutrient-dense traditional foods…who’s heading to Wise Traditions 2012 in Santa Clara next week? I’ll be there with my pals Diane, Bill, Hayley, and Liz. Come say hello if you spot us!

Paleo Eats: 10/31/12

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Happy Halloween and a belated happy birthday to my kickass mommy!

Our neighborhood takes Halloween very seriously. With herds of costumed kids traipsing from house to house, we all do our part to creep ‘em out with spooky porch decorations.

After helping Henry strew styrofoam skulls and fake cobwebs all over the front of our house this weekend, I barely had time to get ready for another string of hospital nightshifts. So this morning, I made myself useful in the kitchen as soon as I hopped out of bed.

I threw some random frozen animal parts in the defrost bowl in the fridge, made a batch of pressure cooker bone broth, and blitzed a double batch of Magic Mushroom Powder. (The Magic Mushroom Powder recipe’s available on my iPad app. And if you don’t have an iPad, ask a buddy with the app to email it to you. All the recipes in my app are emailable at the touch of a button!).

I’ve found the simplest way to mix the seasoning salt is to pour everything into a jar through a parchment paper funnel and shake it like a Polaroid picture. (Yeah, my pop cultural references date back to my pre-kid days. Sad.)

While I was waiting for the bone broth to finish cooking, I breakfasted on eggs…

…and packed the boys’ lunches. Both of the kids had Halloween parades at their schools, and they were already bouncing off the walls in excitement.

As we were hustling to get out of the house, Lil-O put on a costume (like Lady Gaga, he has more than just one) and horse-danced around the house, Gangnam Style.

We were hoping he’d wear his Psy outfit to preschool today, but at the last minute, he decided that his Batman suit would be more appropriate. (His reasoning: “Batman has a cape, but Psy doesn’t.”) 

While Henry escorted our space alien and superhero to school, I headed off to CrossFit Palo Alto for a special Halloween-themed Tabata workout.

After a fun but exhausting hour, I had to speed over to volunteer at Big-O’s classroom party, and for a moment, I considered just going as a sweaty mom. But then I spied Big-O’s old hamburger costume, and slipped it on. Yep — for Halloween, I’m the pink slime in the middle of a fast food burger.

My favorite part of Halloween? Watching kids werk it at the school parade.

Once I was back home, I made a quick and satisfying lunch of fried chicken gizzards and baby kale. The gizzards were already braised and stored in duck fat, so I just fished them out and seared them in a hot skillet to brown each side.

After I removed the gizzards from the pan, I tossed in a bag of baby kale and wilted them in the remaining duck fat.

Crispy braised gizzards are definitely my favorite nasty bits.

 

Next time, I’m gonna sous vide or pressure cook them so I can use less duck fat — that stuff ain’t cheap.

Before I caught a few winks in the late afternoon to prepare for my all-night zombie drug dealing shift, Big-O and I pored over two new books I ordered via Amazon. These two dense references are perfect for culinary nerds like us: Modernist Cuisine At Home

…and Cook’s Illustrated new tome, The Science of Good Cooking.

I can’t wait to sink my teeth into these books, but in the meantime, I’m gonna count on my tiny sous chef to give me the Cliffs Notes version.

I couldn’t pry ‘em out of his hands anyway.

When I woke up in the evening, the kids were itching to collect bags of candy — and not because they planned on eating their loot. We had struck a deal with the boys: We’ll give you cold, hard CASH in exchange for your sugar bombs. Our kids did the math: Mo’ money, mo’ Legos. And Legos > candy. They were in.

Sidney and Jory came over with Captain America to trick or treat with us, and before heading out for the night, we dined on take out from Sancho’s Taqueria. I ate a house salad with added carne asada, grilled shrimp, and guacamole.

Once our bellies were full, the boys dashed out into the neighborhood to collect their loot.

After a long night of demanding candy from strangers, the boys exchanged their bags for TEN DOLLARS from Henry’s wallet. 

"But I want TEN HUNDRED MILLION dollars," Lil-O protested. You and me both, kiddo.

Next holiday: Thanksgiving. I am so not ready.

But speaking of Thanksgiving, you can get free shipping on all Spreadshirt T’s TODAY ONLY (11/1/12) with the coupon code: GIVETHANKSSHIP

C’mon. You know you want to sport my mug on your chest.

Paleo Eats: 10/19/12 (& My Belated Blogaversary)

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I completely forgot that my blog turned two years old on Thursday.

Oops.

Happy Blogaversary to me! To celebrate, I did what any exhausted seasoned blogger would do — take a day off from posting. Turns out that cranking out over 1,300(!) posts over the course of two years makes a girl tired. Go figure. 

Before I get to my eats for the day, I want to take just a moment to express my gratitude to all of you, my super-awesome readers. This year, I’ve met a ton of ridiculously great people, traveled all over the country, won a couple of groovy awards, and launched a bestselling iPad cooking app — none of which would’ve been possible without readers like you.

There’s been bad mixed in with the good, too. But dealing with a death in the family and a mini tsunami in our home opened our eyes to what’s really important in our lives: relationships, health, family.

So anyway, thank you for your eyeballs and your support these past couple of years. I appreciate you like you wouldn’t believe. (Unless you’re a mean troll, in which case you can suck it.)

Now back to the usual programming: The diary of a ravenous zombie drug dealer.

With the onset of cold and flu season, my shift at the hospital was busy, busy, busy. In the middle of the night, I paused to eat my packed leftover eggplant-lasagna-thingy

…a small container of organic full-fat Greek yogurt and sliced strawberries, and a few squares of dark chocolate.

By the time I got home in the morning, I was hungry again. I didn’t want to make anything complicated, so I made a simple French omelet and ate it with some roasted yam purée from the fridge.

The Double-Os had the day off from school, so they serenaded me with Weird Al songs before I went to bed. If Putting on the Hits was still in syndication, my guys would get perfect scores on originality, appearance, and lip-syncing ability. Please tell me I’m not the only one here old enough to remember Allen Fawcett’s atrocious blond ‘fro.

I wish I could’ve stayed up all day with the boys, but my old bones were ready to collapse. I kissed the kids goodnight and headed to the bedroom to conk out.

When I got up in the evening, I checked the mail and found a cool present from my foodie soulmate, Melicious. I lurve my Well Fed bracelet!

By the way, you can enter for a chance to win one yourself right here.

I wanted to sit and admire my pretty bracelet, but the kiddos were grousing about how their stomachs were digesting themselves. Puh-lease. Whiners.

As usual, I didn’t have a plan for dinner, but I knew that I had a pound of ground pork in the defrost bowl, a bunch of kale, and kombucha squash. I cut, peeled, and roasted half of the squash in the toaster oven

…and made a quick garbage stir-fry with the ground pork, onions, garlic, and thinly sliced kale. 

I seasoned the meat and greens with Red Boat fish sauce, coconut aminos, freshly ground pepper, and a squeeze of lime juice.

We all formed our own low-rent moo shu pork rolls by tucking the filling into sheets of Pure Wraps.

Not too shabby for an improvised pantry meal. And that brings up yet another thing I’m thankful for: Keeping a daily blog has kept me from falling into a food rut. I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t bother coming back if all I made was chicken breast and steamed broccoli every night, ammirite?

Okay, gang: Your turn. What’s happened in the past two years that you’re thankful for? Better health? Learning about a new ingredient or kitchen shortcut? Mastering that cup song thing? Let me know in the comments!

Paleo Eats: 10/17/2012

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Ack. Seven consecutive night shifts were staring at me in the face, but I couldn’t pull the trigger on preparing food for the week ahead. Too lazy, I guess. The best I could muster was to sprinkle Magic Mushroom Powder on a couple of rib eyes before plopping them into the SousVide Supreme.

At least one of our meals this week will be a no-brainer.

After depositing the spawn at school, I headed to the women’s class at CrossFit Palo Alto, where we grunted under barbells to hit our CrossFit Total.

Although I PR’d on all three lifts, I’m embarrassed to admit that my total score was just a smidge above Alma’s and Webby’s over 300-pound one rep max deadlifts. No matter — I’m just proud that I can finally deadlift a decent amount more than my body weight.

When I came home, I made myself a frittata with the leftover saucy sausage and baby kale stuffing from last night’s dinner

…and crammed some roasted yam purée into my belly.

Before the kiddos got home from school, I managed to get piles of laundry done and conked out for my pre-work power nap.

I woke up still unsure of what to make for dinner. Scavenging through the fridge, I eventually cobbled together the ingredients for an impromptu Paleo casserole: a large eggplant, marinara sauce, homemade dairy-free “cheese,” leftover braised beef shanks, and baby kale.

First, I sliced the eggplant into discs…

…before brushing on melted coconut oil and sprinkling the slices with Magic Mushroom Powder. 

I stuck the tray of aubergine under the broiler (the only part of my busted wall oven that’s currently operational) for a couple of minutes on each side until they got nice and toasty.

I reheated the braised shanks in a cast iron skillet and added chopped mushrooms and baby kale.

Next, I messily poured Rao’s Marinara Sauce on the bottom of a baking dish…

…nestled the broiled eggplant slices in the sauce, and added dollops of my homemade “ricotta.”

I piled on the reheated meat and veggies…

…added more “cheese”, another layer of eggplant…

…and a final glop of marinara sauce.

I stuck the casserole in my super-awesome countertop toaster oven until the sauce was bubbly.

This casserole was a mash-up of two of my favorite Italian dishes: eggplant parm + lasagna with braised beef.

I know what you’re thinking: PALEO CHEESE? What’s in this dairy-free “ricotta”?

Any guesses?

Methinks you’ll be seeing this “ricotta” in a bunch of my dishes this fall…

Paleo Eats: 10/4/12

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With our trip to the snow-capped Rockies already receding into memory, I find myself reminiscing about it with the same fondness I feel for the one and only season of Freaks and Geeks. (I’d be such a proud mama if the Double-Os grew up to be Asian Sam Weirs.) Oh, well. Back to reality.

Since returning from Colorado, I’ve been making up for lost time in the kitchen. I hadn’t veered off-course too badly on this trip, but I’d experienced a bit of GI upset that I wanted to remedy with some clean eats. No, I’m not embarking on a full-blown Whole30 like Mel or a coffee-free protocol like Holly, but I did dial in my chow for a few days. I simmered steaming pots of meaty bone broth and chocolate chili, roasted a tray of sweet potatoes, and filled up my defrost bowl with meaty surprises from the freezer.

The payoff? I was Well Fed (punny!) on my first night back at the hospital after diving into a LunchBots Thermal filled with chocolate chili-topped microwaved spaghetti squash.

In the morning,  I put on my chauffeur cap and shuttled Big-O to school and Lil-O to gymnastics before coming home to pass out ‘til dinnertime.

Like a vampire, I skulked out of the bedroom after the sun dipped below the horizon, and headed to the kitchen to suck blood make dinner. When I’m groggy, I have to keep my dinner plans simple. I roasted a tray of green beans…

…coated with coconut oil, Red Boat Fish Sauce, and freshly ground pepper…

…and threw together some Asian Cauliflower Fried Rice using chopped-up dregs from my fridge. 

For the “rice,” I sliced the florets off a head of cauliflower…

…pulsed them in batches in the trusty Cuisinart

…and set the bowl of “rice” aside.

As I waited for the coconut oil to melt in my cast iron skillet, I diced half an onion….

…and sliced a handful of mushrooms.

I whisked four eggs with pepper and fish sauce…

…and ladled it into my cast iron griddle to make thin omelets.

Then, I dumped the onions…

…ginger…

…and garlic into the skillet to soften.

I added the mushrooms…

…and dumped in the cauliflower once the ‘shrooms were cooked through.

I seasoned the rice liberally with coconut aminos and (more!) fish sauce before covering the skillet with a lid to allow the veggies to steam.

Once the cauliflower was cooked al dente, I added some thawed leftover carnitas (emergency protein from the freezer!)…

.

…minced cilantro and scallions…

…and the egg omelets, cut into ribbons.

When the rice was ready, I plated the roasted green beans…

…and liberally dressed ‘em with balsamic vinegar.

Not too shabby for a garbage meal.*

After putting the kids to bed, I rifled through mail and found a shiny gift addressed to moi from Sarah at Fashletics:

I’m gonna wear this necklace proudly all the time. Like a boss. That way, if I get lost at the mall, someone will be able to Google “Nom Nom Paleo” and figure out how to contact my mommy.


*Garbage Meal: gar·bage meal \ˈgär-bij·ˈmēl\ a portion of food made from ingredients that would otherwise be discarded

Paleo Eats: 9/24/12

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Just in case I encountered another crazy-busy night shift, I packed a no-frills lunch that I could eat without reheating: smoked wild salmon, leftover greens, tomatoes, and broiled summer squash

I hate being right. Work was non-stop.

After arriving home, I conked out for a solid 7 hours and 7 minutes, registering a whopping 99% sleep efficiency. How do I know? My FitBit told me so. Don’t worry: I’m not using this handy clip-on activity tracker to obsessively monitor my caloric intake/output. Instead, I wear it to remind myself to get my butt out of my chair and run around the hospital — and to go to bed at a reasonable hour. I’m determined to minimize the hazards of sitting at work and working nightshifts.

When I popped up in the evening, I took out leftover Slow Cooker Korean Short Ribs from the freezer, which was conveniently coated in a layer of protective ice. (Five points if you got that reference.)

I plopped the slushy stew in a pot…

…and as the beef thawed on the stove…

…I preheated the toaster oven…

…and prepped a kabocha squash for roasting.

(You can find the step-by-step recipe for Roasted Kabocha Squash here.)

As an additional side, I threw together a pot of Pressure Cooker Kale and Carrots.

When the squash was finished…

…I ran cold water over my pressure cooker to quickly release the pressure….

…and drizzled on some aged balsamic.

I ladled the stew into a serving bowl, topped it with chopped cilantro…

and brought all three platters to the dining table.

One more thing before I sign off: Colorado food lovers, I need your help! 

I’m excited to be joining Melissa and Holly in Estes Park, Colorado this weekend for our Paleo seminar

…but where should we chow down?

I’ve had zero time to research dining options in the area, so I need you to fill me in on the best eats in Boulder. I know Internet strangers never lead anyone astray, so please leave your recommendations in the comments! Thanks in advance!

Paleo Eats: 9/11/12

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Once more, with feeling: I had leftovers yet again during my hospital night shift. I ain’t complaining —  I’m just happy I’ve still got braised shanks and Asian cauliflower fried rice from earlier in the week to eat at work.

Once I got home, I checked on my boys, and save for a few sniffles, the Double-Os seemed to be feeling much better.

Phew. 

Henry, on the other hand, is still sick as a dog. Nonetheless, he’d gamely dragged himself out of bed to pack Big-O’s school lunch of pastrami-wrapped sautéed mushroom roll-ups…

…held together with toothpicks.

Doesn’t everything taste better when skewered with a toothpick?

Big-O’s lunch was rounded out with a handful of baby carrots, strawberries, applesauce, and almonds.

It was Picture Day at school, so before leaving the house, we made sure Big-O was ready for his close-up. As we styled his hair into a miniature fauxhawk, my little guy asked me if I was sad that the only time adults have Picture Day is when we go to jail. I guess I’m reading too much TMZ around the kiddos.

After escorting my well-coiffed second-grader to his classroom, I staggered home and collapsed in bed — but not before announcing to no one in particular that I wouldn’t be cooking dinner. I’m on strike.

When I regained consciousness, I called in our usual order to Asian Box: five-spice pork over undressed Asian salad and topped with herbs, lime squeeze, pickled veggies, and a caramel egg.

I drizzled the housemade sriracha on my salad and savored the grub with my family.

It’s nice to know there’s a dependable take-out joint in the neighborhood, and that I can decide on a whim to ditch my kitchen duties.

We herded the children into bed, and I packed my stuff for work for the last time this week. As my feverish husband shuffled off to bed, my day was just beginning…

Paleo Eats: 7/31/12

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I’m suffering from writer’s block again. After working another night shift and scrambling after the kids during my waking hours, this old lady’s synapses are battered and fried. My neural transmissions are sludgy. Words…not…come.

I don’t want this acute malady to turn chronic, so I need either a brain transplant or some much needed rest. And unfortunately, human brain transplants currently exist only in science fiction. So on my Flip Day, I’m going to do my best to relax and not worry about documenting every single thing I eat. I may actually kick back while on vacation and skip a few days of blogging. Imagine that!

But until then, the blog must go on…

On my second-to-last night at the hospital, the scowl on my face rivaled that of the Queen at the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Luckily, it wasn’t crazy busy, so I had time to  dig into a LunchBots Clicks filled with my brother-in-law’s homemade smoked salmon, broiled zucchini, and half an avocado.

By the time the sun blazed across the horizon, I was slapping myself every few minutes to stay awake. My eyes were like slits on the drive home due to a combination of drowsiness and lack of sunglasses. And no, it’s not just because I’m Asian.

As soon as I stumbled through the front door, I mumbled that I wasn’t going to fix dinner tonight and headed straight to bed.

When I woke up in the evening, my husband was already home with takeout from Asian Box. It’s these small gestures that make me love him more every day. 

I ate my usual — a bowl piled high with pork, veggies, egg, and housemade sriracha…

…and my better half had the same thing, only with Hot Box sauce on the side.

And that’s all, folks!