Physicians (Including Female Physicians) Are People Too

I am posting a compelling article written by Nina Shapiro which calls attention to an article which went viral, then was retracted due to uproar and outrage.
The original post can be found here.

Viral #MedBikini Response To Controversial Manuscript Leads Editor To Retract Article

Remember that time you saw your teacher at the grocery store? Maybe you’re still recovering from the trauma. Even though nine-year-old you knew that your teacher was, well, human, the idea that he or she engaged in human behaviors similar to those of your own family was a tough pill to swallow. Spotting a teacher on vacation? Perish the thought. What about your doctor? Your surgeon? They don’t actually eat food, do errands, or (gasp) go to the beach like the rest of us, do they? Well if they do, just hope you don’t have to witness it, right? With social media, oftentimes a click of a button will save you a trip out in public to peek at the private lives of those who care for you or your children. One group based in Boston sought to take their own peek into the lives of young surgeons via fabricated social media accounts. And they wrote about it in a highly respected academic journal.

In the August 2020 issue of the Journal of Vascular Surgery, a manuscript entitled “Prevalence of Unprofessional Social Media Content Among Young Vascular Surgeons,” was retracted by the journal’s editorial board yesterday. The article sought to identify what the authors consider to be “inappropriate” and “unprofessional” behavior on various social media platforms by young vascular surgeons, in efforts to recognize and, in turn, discourage, any such behavior which could have a negative impact on patient respect for physicians. While some of the issues addressed are clearly critical for patient care, including patient privacy violations, slander of colleagues, and illegal drug use, many of the other issues addressed can be construed as privacy violations into the lives of young physicians. Particularly female physicians. The investigators focused on recent vascular surgery residency and fellowship graduates, putting the average age of the study subjects (who did not give permission to be studied) at around 30-35 years old. They created “neutral” (translation: fake) Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts to search the social media feeds of young surgeons.

  • The three fake accounts to search for unprofessional behavior were created by male students and fellows, ages 28-37 years old. Included in what they considered to be unprofessional behavior were photographs of “provocative” Halloween costumes and poses in bikinis. In addition, any reference to politically or socially-charged issues such as abortion and gun control were included as unprofessional behavior. The real social media world got word of this publication, and responded loud and clear. The notion that the focus was targeting young female surgeons on how they dress during their non-work time was met with disgust and uproar. The hashtag #MedBikini went viral on Twitter and Instagram, bringing countless women (and men) to proudly post pictures of themselves in bikinis or other casual attire, along with the #MedBikini hashtag, in mutual support of so-called “unprofessional” behavior outside of the operating room.

While the authors did address issues of patient privacy and uncollegial behavior, the focus on female surgeons wearing bikinis, especially tracked by male students and fellows under fake social media accounts, raised the “creep” factor to higher and higher levels as the issue came to the public. Hearkening back to the #ILookLikeASurgeon hashtag, which began in 2016, pointing out that, yes, even bikini-clad, all-shapes-and-sizes, all-genders-regardless-of-identity can be and are surgeons, #MedBikini is a trend to humanize, not de-professionalize, women in a traditionally male profession.

Dr. Mudit Chowdhary, a Chief Resident in Radiation Oncology at Rush University, shared his concerns with the study and on social media. When asked why he felt so strongly about the manuscript, he stated, “I have issues with the definition of unprofessional behavior…it is inappropriate to label social issues as unprofessional. We are humans first before physicians. Plus, the issues they label as controversial (gun control, abortion) are healthcare issues. Physicians are taught to be community leaders in medical school and we need to speak up in order to help our communities.” When asked about whether or not physicians should be held to higher standards, even on social media, he responded, “I do believe physicians should have some higher standards. For example, disclosing HIPAA information is something nobody else has to deal with. However, much of the issue is that the medical field is highly conservative and misogynistic.”

In response to such widely disseminated disgust with this publication, one of the lead authors, Dr. Jeffrey Siracuse, issued a public apology on Twitter:

And soon after, the editors of the journal issued a public statement with plans to retract the article from the journal. In their statement, they reveal that there were errors in the review process, including the issue of conscious and unconscious bias on the part of the investigators, as well as failure to obtain permission from national program directors to use the database in searching private and public social media accounts of recent graduates of training programs. Their retraction statement concluded as follows:

“Finally, we offer an apology to every person who has communicated the sadness, anger, and disappointment caused by this article. We have received an outpouring of constructive commentary on this matter, and we intend to take each point seriously and take resolute steps to improve our review process and increase diversity of our editorial boards.” (Peter Gloviczki, MD and Peter F. Lawrence, MD, Editors, Journal of Vascular Surgery).

There was some favorable response to this statement and retraction, yet many continue to feel that an assessment of professionalism was carried out in an extremely unprofessional manner, underscoring the irony of such an endeavor. Not to mention the lack of diversity in the editorial board, comprised of two male surgeons who happen to share the same first name.

While the issue of professionalism on the part of physicians should remain paramount, and does, indeed, require further exploration, monitoring, and careful attention, especially when it comes to patient privacy, social issues outside of the medical sphere should, perhaps, remain just social. But if you do see your surgeon out at the grocery store, or even at the beach, all that should matter right now is that they (and you) are wearing a mask.

The journal’s editor, Dr. Peter Gloviczki, commented that the paper had gone through the journal’s standard editorial review process, with three reviewers accepting the manuscript after major revisions. While the board is racially diverse, Dr. Gloviczki acknowledges that it lacks gender diversity. Soon after the concerns for the paper were made public, the editorial board “immediately reviewed the data collection, methodology, gender bias, results, and conclusions. It was obvious within our board that we found issues, including the fact that the list of doctors obtained from the Association of Program Directors in Vascular Surgery is designed for internal society use, not for clinical data collection.” In addition, Dr. Gloviczki noted the journal’s failure “to identify definitions of unprofessional behavior and we missed the issue of subjectivity and bias in the review process.” He emphatically apologized for the errors, stating “We learned from this. We will be changing our review process, initiating a series of changes, including expanding the editorial board to include more women.”

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Hug A Plant…It’s The Cool Thing To Do

One of the hottest trends over the past few years, which definitely intensified this year as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown, has been the heightened interest in indoor houseplants and home gardens. There is something about being forced to stay indoors that makes the idea of nurturing different types of flora very appealing.

Before I dive into this topic, I will admit that I have fallen headfirst into the plant obsession trend, and though it has made my wallet leaner than I would have liked, I have gotten immense enjoyment out of nurturing the close to 50 indoor plants and 36 outdoor potted plants (this number doesn’t include the soil-filled lot in my side yard which probably holds about 30 succulents) which are now in my home.  Never mind that I had SIX indoor plants and about half the number of outdoor potted plants before lockdown began.

Curious about which plants are the hottest right now?  Here’s one article which has a pretty interesting list:

16 Trendy Indoor Plants for 2020

Out of the list of 16 trendy indoor plants featured on the above link, I only own 4 of them:

  • Money tree
  • Raven ZZ
  • Split leaf philodendron
  • Monstera deliciosa 

As for the other plant species listed in the article, there are numerous reasons why I don’t currently own them.  Some plants simply don’t appeal to me, such as snake plants (though I used to have several Sansevierias in my home years ago), cacti, zebrinas, ceropegias, and maranta.  I am hesitant to get any type of palm because my home environment is simply not humid enough for palms to flourish.  As striking as alocasias are, I try to avoid plants which are toxic to cats, and since this entire genus is known for being toxic to pets, I’m steering clear of them. Stephania erecta caudex is just plain WEIRD and I have zero desire for one.  Peperomias are a bit temperamental, so I will just stick with the Peperomia species I have (scandens, caperata “Rosso”, obtusifolia).

I actually have a Euphorbia, but it is not inside my house.  It sits on my balcony along with several jade plants, dracaena, aloe vera, and assorted other succulents.  As for the White knight philodendron and the Hoya imperialis, well, let’s just say that I am not willing to hunt all over the internet to find either plant, only to spend exorbitant sums of cash on plants which really aren’t that special.

Some plants are so ridiculously rare and expensive that I just had to share them here.  The first description is of rare Albo Monstera variegated CUTTINGS (not even a live plant!).  The Etsy listing is no longer available, because someone actually purchased it.

Rare Albo Monstera variegated gorgeous multi leaf cuttings US seller

$475.00

Only 1 available

Thaumatophyllum (previously Philodendron) stenobolum VERY RARE Hard to FIND

$850.00

Only 1 available

At first I thought the listing  for the Thaumatophyllum stenobolum might have been for the gigantic plant the guy is holding in the featured image, but alas, no.  It looks like the plant the lucky buyer would get comes in a 6 inch nursery pot.  All for $850, with free shipping, thank goodness.

Finally, here is the most expensive plant I found:

Variegated Adansonii Plant Monstera Adansonii Albo Half Moon – Rare + Free Shipping

$5,500.00

I have a Monstera adansonii in an 8 inch pot which is not variegated, which I purchased for $15 at a local nursery.  Who in the world would want to pay such a ridiculous amount of money on a plant?

If you are interested in reasonably priced and popular houseplants which are easy to maintain, here are some of my personal recommendations.

Pachira: I have one which I purchased in April, and it has more than doubled in size since then.  Feng Shui practitioners state that these plants, also known as money plants, bring good luck and good fortune to their owners.

Pothos: Some varieties now fall under the Epipremnum genus, while others fall under Scindapsus, but if you look for the characteristic thick green, heart-shaped leaves, chances are you will easily find Epipremnum aureum, which is found in just about every nursery and big box store.  They are very easy to care for and will survive different light and watering conditions.

ZZ plant:  If you want a truly indestructible plant which actually PREFERS to be dry, then get a ZZ plant.  Zamioculcas zamiifolia features beautiful, glossy, dark green leaves and thick stems which sprout from a very unique root system.  The roots are rhizomes, bulbs which are designed to hold water.  I purchased several back in late April, two regular ZZ’s, and two ravens, which have glossy black leaves and are considered relatively rare.  The large ZZ plant which I purchased is in an 8-inch nursery pot, and the plant itself stood 11 inches in height when I brought it home.  The plant is now 24 inches tall, with tons of new growth!  The best thing is, I’ve watered it only ONCE since I bought it.  ZZ plants can tolerate low light conditions, and actually seem to prefer slightly lower light versus bright indirect light.

Hoyas:  Hoyas are my favorite plant genus now, partially because there are several hundred varieties, partially because they are relatively easy to care for, and partially because some of the species have attractive foliage.  Most Hoyas also produce very interesting, fragrant clusters of flowers.

 

Children and Weightlifting

I wanted to share this post from artofmanliness.com which discusses the benefits prepubescent children can obtain from weightlifting.  I was inspired to discuss this topic after three of my nephews and my niece, all ranging from 7 to 10 years in age, invaded my home gym during my dad’s memorial dinner and begged me to show them how to lift weights. I obliged, all the while monitoring their form and also making sure they were lifting a reasonable amount of weight.  They enjoyed the session so much, they have asked their parents to let them have a sleepover at Aunt Stacey’s so they can train, and play with the cats, and have fun in an environment other than their own homes.

Source: 123rf
Image ID : 50131018

Original post can be found here: Art of Manliness Article

Brett and Kate McKay • March 1, 2018 Last updated: March 24, 2020

When Can Kids Start Lifting Weights?

vintage young boy lifting dumbbell teachers look worried

Maybe you’ve been following a barbell training program for a while now. Maybe you do your workouts in a garage gym at home, and your curious kids have been hanging out with you while you exercise and cheering you on for getting swol.

Maybe they’ve even wanted to imitate you, and would like to start lifting weights just like Dad. You start letting them hoist an empty bar a few times, and they feel like they’re ready for more.

But your wife catches wind of what you and the gang have been up to and starts raising Mom concerns. “Is it safe for kids to lift weights? Doesn’t it stunt their growth?”

Bless Mom’s heart, but she needn’t be worried.

Below we deconstruct the myths about kids and weightlifting and discuss how to safely get your kiddos started with pumping a little iron.

The Myths About Kids And Weightlifting

Weightlifting can stunt a child’s growth. This is probably the most common fear surrounding kids and weightlifting. Supposedly, if a child lifts weights it can stunt their growth in a couple of ways.

First, there’s concern that weightlifting will cause the growth plates in a child’s bones to fuse together prematurely, which will in turn hinder their overall growth.

The other concern is that weightlifting can somehow fracture growth plates, and consequently stunt growth that way.

But no proof exists that either of these worries are valid. According to Jordan Feigenbaum and Austin Baraki, who are both medical doctors and strength coaches, no evidence exists that suggests weightlifting inhibits a child’s growth. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Further, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, a growth plate fracture from weightlifting hasn’t been reported in any research study. In a Barbell Medicine podcast on this topic, Dr. Feigenbaum explained that growth plate fractures are extremely rare and require a severe amount of trauma, more than a child would ever experience lifting weights safely.

So don’t worry about weightlifting stunting your child’s growth. It’s a myth.

Weightlifting is just dangerous. Okay, weightlifting may not stunt a kid’s growth, but doesn’t the activity carry other dangers? Couldn’t children hurt their back, pull a muscle, injure their rotator cuff, damage their tendons, etc.?

In fact, your kid is more likely to get injured playing soccer or baseball than they are lifting weights. Contrary to popular belief, weightlifting is one of the safest physical activities to take part in, for folks of any age.

In my podcast interview with Dr. Feigenbaum, he highlighted research that shows that the injury rate for weightlifting injuries per thousand participation hours pales in comparison to injuries in other supposedly kid friendly sports. For example, one study found that the injury rate for weightlifting was .013 injuries per thousand practice hours. For soccer it was 1.3 injuries per thousand participation hours. So your kid is 100 times more likely to get injured playing soccer than lifting weights. Yet despite the prodigious injury rate for soccer, you don’t see parents keeping their kids from taking the field.

Bottom line: when done with proper form and supervision, weightlifting is an incredibly safe activity for your kid to do. 

At What Age Can a Child Start a Serious Weightlifting Program?

So weightlifting is safe for your kids — it won’t stunt their growth, and they won’t kill themselves doing it. That means you should definitely start your eight-year-old on the Starting Strength program, right?

Wrong.

According to Feigenbaum and Baraki, while it’s perfectly fine to let your kids do a few sets of deadlifts or squats with some light weights, you shouldn’t put them on a regimented, progressive training program (where they’re increasing the weight every session) until they’ve reached Stage 4 on the Tanner Puberty Scale. When a teenager is in Tanner Stage 4, they’re basically in full-blown puberty. Pubic hair is adult-like in both males and females. Females have almost fully developed breasts; males have larger testicles and penis, and their scrotum has become larger and darker. Males in Tanner Stage 4 will have underarm hair and the beginnings of facial hair growth, and their voice will also be deeper.

The reason you don’t want to start regularly weight training a child until they reach Tanner Stage 4 is that before then, they just don’t have the hormone levels (specifically, testosterone) to drive progress and recover from session to session.

Generally, children enter Tanner Stage 4 between ages 11 and 17. It’s different for each child. You might have a 12-year-old who’s in Tanner Stage 4 and physically ready to train when they’re in sixth grade. But you also might have a child who’s a late bloomer and won’t be ready to train until they’re a junior in high school. Don’t try to rush it. Let your child’s physical maturity determine when they start a dedicated training program.

My Prepubescent Kid Wants to Lift: What Should He Do?

Until your child reaches Tanner Stage 4, they don’t need to follow a set program; just let them lift weights in a sporadic and playful way.

The goal with weight training in prepubescent children isn’t to crush PRs, but rather to learn the movement patterns for the lifts and cultivate a lifelong love of fitness.

Research shows that prepubescent children can get stronger following a supervised weightlifting program, but the strength they gain comes from an increase “in the number of motor neurons that are ‘recruited’ to fire with each muscle contraction.” Basically, as your kids practice the barbell lifts, their motor neurons become more efficient, and they’re better able to display strength. Your kids won’t start packing on real muscle from strength training until they reach Tanner Stage 4 puberty.

Here are a few guidelines on how to guide your prepubescent children in weightlifting:

Don’t force weightlifting on your kids. If they express an interest in lifting, encourage it. But don’t force them to do it. That’s a surefire way to instill a dislike for exercise later on. They’ve got the rest of their lives to be serious with their workouts. Most of the professional, super strong dudes I know who have kids have never proactively tried to get them to lift weights. For example, powerlifter Chris Duffin makes his living being strong and teaching people how to be strong. But he has a policy of not actively encouraging his kids to lift. If they want to, he shows them how, and he keeps the session light and fun.

Keep the weight light. Your kids shouldn’t be grinding out super heavy singles when they lift. The focus should be on form, not weight lifted. Most adult-sized barbells will be too large for a child. Get a bar specifically made for kids from Rogue. They weigh about 11 lbs.

Standard barbell weights should be just fine for kids. They probably won’t be using the 25-45 lb plates for a while, but most kids should be able to lift a barbell with 2.5-10 lb plates depending on the lift. My four-year-old daughter, Scout, can press the Rogue kid’s bar with 2.5 lbs on each side 5 times without any trouble. That’s 16 pounds total.

If you’d like to have your kids lift even lighter weights, consider buying some microplates. They allow you to make .5-2.5 lb increases in load.

Keep weightlifting sessions fun and playful. The primary goal when kids start lifting weights or doing any exercise program is help them get the movements down and to instill a love fitness in them. Also, a lot of young children just don’t have the attention span to follow a regimented program yet. Just let them play with barbells and provide feedback on form. With my kids, when they come down to “train” with Dad, they put some weight on the kid bar and bust out a few sets, then they go play with something else, before maybe coming back to do another set. It’s not structured at all.

If your kid wants a program, keep the reps high and increase weight gradually. If your kid really wants a program, create one for them but keep the reps high, and increase weight in small increments over a long period of time. One study that looked at youth weight training found that 1 to 2 sets with 6 to 15 repetitions per set was ideal for young children.

Start kids with a weight that they can lift 10-15 times, with some fatigue but no muscle failure. Then gradually make small increases in the weight. Once your kid can easily do 15 reps of an exercise, you increase the weight by 5-10%.

Your kid should always be able to do 10 reps without much strain. If they can’t, then the weight has gotten too heavy for them.

If the weight is kept light and you’re not increasing it every session, letting your kids do 2-3 sessions a week (on non-consecutive days) should be fine. Even just one a week may satisfy their nascent curiosity and interest.

Even If Your Kid Is Following a “Program,” Mix Things Up

Even if your 10-year-old is following a semi-structured weightlifting program, make sure they mix in other exercises. Kids should be exposed to as many physical movements as possible when they’re young. Specializing at a young age can be detrimental to athletic performance later in life, so make sure they throw medicine balls, swing a kettlebell, do pull-ups, and perform simple bodyweight movements and MovNat exercises.

Bottom line: Weightlifting is perfectly safe for your children to do. It won’t stunt their growth and they aren’t likely to injure themselves doing it. Before your kid hits puberty, let them practice the movements as much as they want with a light bar made for children. Don’t introduce regular training that progressively adds significant load to each session until they hit Tanner Stage 4 puberty. Keep on being a good example of fitness until they’re out of the house (and beyond!).

The Michael Kors Jacket Nightmare

Source: 123rf
Image ID : 102290706
Copyright : Jonathan Weisswarm

On March 5th, when I was waiting to board the plane which would take me from LAX to Haneda, Tokyo, I walked by a Michael Kors store and saw a nice ivory puffer jacket on display.  I took it off the hanger and tried it on, and instantly loved it.  My reasoning was that since it was a puffer jacket, it would be incredibly warm and would keep me snuggly and comfortable while I was in Sapporo.  I promptly decided to purchase it, and decided to wear it out of the store.  The sales associate asked me to take it off so that she could scan the tag, whereupon another associate cut the tags off before I could stop her.  Though I was upset, I hoped that I wouldn’t have to return the item.

About 30 minutes after I purchased the jacket, I placed it in my carry on bag, deciding that I should wait until I arrived in Japan to wear my new jacket.  Then I put the jacket to the test, not in chilly and snowy Sapporo, but in Sendai, which was far more moderate in temperature, with highs in the mid-40’s.  Well, I ended up freezing in that darling jacket, and because I purchased the jacket for warmth and not to make a fashion statement, I tucked the jacket away in my luggage and vowed to return it once I was back home in the states.

I returned to Los Angeles on March 19th, and learned that the area was on full lockdown, with retail stores closed.  So began the ongoing contact with MichaelKors.com, engaging the chat function, calling local stores, and emailing them regularly, each time inquiring when they thought stores might reopen.  This was a major headache for me to deal with, but since I was in possession of a $213 jacket which conferred almost no protection against the cold, I persisted.  I was told that return windows were being extended as a result of the lockdown, and I didn’t need to worry about the return window closing on me.

Then on June 29th, I called a local MK store, and not only did someone answer the phone, but she also stated that the store was indeed open to the public. I rushed over to the store the next day, but as I was walking towards the store, I got a funny feeling in my gut that something was about to go very wrong.   I walked into the store, explained my situation, and as soon as I mentioned that I had purchased the jacket at the Michael Kors store at LAX, the salesperson grimaced and said, “Oh, I don’t think we can process the return here.  You see, the store you went to isn’t owned by Michael Kors, it’s owned by Hudson Group”.

The salesperson tried to enter the SKU, but the number was not accepted by the register, and he told me that I had to contact the phone number on the purchase receipt.  By this time, I was fuming, frantically dialing the numbers as I exited the store, cursing under my breath the entire time.  I called the number, only to be told that wasn’t the proper number, and that I had to call yet another number.

Little did I know that the second phone call would connect me to the bossiest, bitchiest, rudest woman I have encountered in years.  She was VERY nasty to me and kept interrupting me as I told her the situation.  It took everything in me to remain calm as I spoke with this witch.  She explained that Michael Kors was franchised, yadda yadda yadda…but all I cared about was, would they allow me to return the item?  Finally, she stated that the Hudson Group would issue a return, provided I sent numerous specific images of the jacket, a pic of the receipt, and proof that I had been in Japan from March 5th through March 19th.

I sent all the information over, then heard absolutely nothing.  So I re-sent the emails from a different email address, thinking maybe there was an issue with the email server.  Still nothing.  I called her once again, and she got nasty with me, stating that she hadn’t received my emails, and why was I wasting her time?  Then she provided a different email address when I implored her to do so, and I re-sent all emails from two different email servers once more.

Once again, I heard nothing.  So I sent the Hudson representative another email yesterday, marked urgent, which asked her to please get in contact with me if she received that particular email.  She called me today, stating that she had only received the one email, then started yelling at me, stating that I hadn’t followed directions, that I was wasting her time, and that she didn’t have to help me at all.  When I tried asking her to check her spam folder, she interrupted me, started yelling again, and HUNG UP ON ME.

I re-sent all the emails yet again, from both email servers, this time with hands shaking in rage.  Imagine my surprise when she responded and said that she received all my emails, FINALLY!

This battle isn’t over yet, though.  Tomorrow I will mail the jacket to her office, at my expense, and wait to see if a refund is actually granted.  This woman should NOT be in customer service.

UPDATE 8/10/2020:  I finally received a refund several days ago!

 

My Home Gym…

Here is my home gym as of late June 2020…I have since added a decline abdominal bench which is stored in the closet, and am also in the process of putting up wall decorations which would be appropriate for a gym setting, but I am set on equipment.

I am so thankful for my home gym, because it rivals what I can do in a commercial gym.  Who knows when (or if…) gyms will ever reopen and remain open?  With my home gym, I can literally get out of bed, go downstairs, and start training, without having to wear a mask or full fingered gloves.  And for those who are wondering, I keep my gym VERY clean, and clean the equipment after every session.

For those who are curious about where I purchased equipment, there are links in the video description.

Sparkling Water: The Hottest Beverage Trend

What’s refreshing, comes in a wide assortment of fruit flavors, and is the hottest beverage to hit grocery store shelves in recent years?

Sparkling water.

If you visit any grocery store canned beverage section, you will see numerous brands and varieties of sparkling water.  The new drink trend reveals the changing American palate, with a step away from corn-syrup laden sugary sodas and artificially sweetened diet sodas to calorie-free, sodium free effervescent water with a splash of essential fruit oils.  This trend has exploded into a 1.2 billion dollar industry.

Two of the biggest soft drink companies, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo,  have jumped into the ring, vying for the title of best selling sparkling water brand with AHA and bubly, respectively.   However, the clear category leader is National Beverage, with its LaCroix line, which commands about 80% of the sparkling water market.

Admittedly, I have become a huge fan of AHA and bubly, and have determined the best flavors after trying the majority of the ones which appealed to me.  Apparently, the flavors which captured me the most (AHA Orange-Grapefruit, AHA Blueberry-Pomegranate, bubly Mango and bubly Pineapple) have also appealed to others, because I keep having a devil of a time finding those particular flavors. I’m definitely tempted to check out LaCroix varieties since I have also sampled Spindrift, Waterloo, Perrier, and S. Pellegrino, but have yet to do so.  According to some sparkling water aficionados, LaCroix reigns supreme in the flavor department.

Now that summer has hit in all its blazing glory, this is a perfect time to try some of the sparkling water brands if you haven’t yet done so.

Gustatory Challenges In The Land Of The Rising Sun

A lovely sashimi lunch in Tokyo…

The biggest bucket list destination on my list has always been Japan, so when I finally went there in March of this year, I set out to absorb as much of the country as I possibly could, traveling through Northern, Central, and Southern Japan over the course of 14 days.  I had a bit of a concern about encountering odd food items, but since I grew up eating Japanese food, I felt pretty confident that I would fare well through most of the trip.

One of my favorite Japanese food items, umeboshi

There are many Japanese food items which I love to eat, and some of them are comfort foods for me.  Things like manju, chawanmushi, umeboshi onigiri, tsukemono, and just plain old gohan (rice) give me a sense of great joy whenever I eat them, because they take me back to my childhood.  I knew that I could always order my favorite food items without any issues.

Overpriced imported strawberries and tomatoes

One thing I noticed immediately was that the sashimi I ordered in Japan was not only far superior to most of the sashimi I have had in the states, it was also much cheaper.  What would cost me about $25 in the U.S. ran only $11 to $13, and the fish was incredibly fresh and flavorful.  The food items which were outrageously overpriced were imported fruits like baby watermelon ($15), strawberries ($30 for 6 jumbo fruits), tomatoes (also $30 for 6 large fruits), and I wasn’t interested in those items anyway.

I wasn’t about to limit myself to safe food items like sashimi and ramen, but I also had some trepidation about encountering bizarre, Fear Factor type foods. What also added to the challenge was the fact that some restaurants which didn’t give a hoot about gaijin (foreign) customers refused to put out menus in any language other than Japanese.  So I struggled to decipher a few menus while I was in Japan, searching for the kanji and kana I knew, like 肉 (niku, or meat), 魚 (sakana, or fish), ご飯 (gohan, or rice), and 野菜 (yasai, or vegetables).

The first evening I was in Japan, I walked to a quaint little restaurant near the hotel I was staying at in in Ota-ku.  The proprietors were lovely, gracious, spoke a bit of English, and also served a tasty chirashi bowl which I happily devoured.  I was tempted to return to the same restaurant the following night, but I wanted to explore, and ended up in a very bizarre restaurant which featured the first nihongo-only menu.  The instant I walked in, the proprietors and guests all stared at me, making me very uneasy.  At that point though, it was late, I was hungry, and I needed to eat, so I put up with the icy reception.  One table in particular was quite loud, and one middle-aged man clad in manga covered pajama pants was making the most noise at that table.  He kept talking and cackling while taking long drags off his cigarette, creating clouds of off-putting fumes which wafted over to where I was sitting.  There was no way I would have a relaxing evening at this place!

The proprietress handed me a menu and mumbled something very rapidly in Japanese, then shuffled off hurriedly.  I took one look at the menu, took a deep breath, then scanned the menu for kanji I could recognize.  I ended up ordering a bowl of rice, tsukemono, edamame, gyoza, and a whole fish which was so tiny that I had to order 3 more to fill up on the meal.  The food was ordinary, unimpressive, and it was incredibly expensive.  Thank goodness I was leaving for Sendai the following morning!

On March 9th, I took the shinkansen from Haneda Tokyo to Sendai, and once there, I was determined to have a bowl of ramen.  I had fantasized about eating ramen while in Japan, and I wasn’t about to wait any longer.  Luckily, I was able to find a tiny yet popular ramen house in Sendai, and I was rewarded with a spectacular bowl of ramen.

Later that evening, I became hungry again and began to scan the area for a place to have dinner.  My travel companion noticed a restaurant which was perched on the second floor of a building and suggested we try it, so we trekked upstairs for what would become the most bizarre and costly meal of the entire trip.  The menus were only in Japanese, and the waitstaff spoke absolutely no English.  We ended up ordering sake, rice, gyoza, sashimi, chicken skewers, and tsukemono.

The menu at a small restaurant in Sendai

The tsukemono, sashimi, and chicken skewers were not what we were expecting, and our taste buds were definitely offended by the experience.  The tsukemono featured vegetables like eggplant which, in our estimation, does not produce an ideal pickle, due to its mushy texture and bland flavor.  Next was the sashimi, which included some very strange seafood selections which were a very different texture and flavor from what we have enjoyed, even in other restaurants throughout Japan.  Let’s just say there were some neglected morsels of seafood after we relinquished the plate.

Lastly, there were the chicken skewers, which were also quite surprising.  There were eight skewers, but only two had chicken muscle meat, and those two consisted of chicken thigh and not chicken breast.  Two skewers were chicken skin, two were chicken kidney, and two were chicken gizzards.  I was a sport and ate one kidney skewer, but I could not tolerate the gizzards or chicken skin, and my buddy wouldn’t touch any of them.  We learned our lesson from that restaurant and avoided ordering any chicken skewers for the remainder of our trip, because we noticed that all chicken skewer dishes in Japan seemed to include the undesirable organs which we were served while in Sendai.

The next day, I had another bizarre food experience which almost completely turned me off from ikura, or salmon roe.  I visited the Mitsukoshi in Sapporo, and saw numerous vendors selling the bright orange, salty roe which was my grandmother’s favorite.  I alighted upon one vendor whose ikura looked especially fresh, and was offered a sample, which was absolutely divine.  I promptly selected a tray and paid for it, not noticing the mentaiko which was also on the tray.  For those of you who don’t know what mentaiko is, just click here for a description.  Despite the fact that I had only heard about mentaiko, and didn’t know that it was sold with the roe sac.  I quickly found out that it was tough, rubbery, very strong in flavor, and so disgusting that I spat out the first bite, drank a bunch of green tea, then brushed my teeth to get rid of the taste.  They say that people either love or hate mentaiko, and I found out I am definitely a hater!

 

 

Green Thumb

Source: 123rf
Image ID : 119619406
Copyright : sonjachnyj

 

Like many others who have been sequestered at home for the last few months and have gained a  new appreciation for the homestead, I found myself gravitating towards cultivating plant species which I had never grown before.  At first, I thought it would be nice to add a collection of vegetables, fruits and herbs to my side yard, so that is where I started.  I ended up with a small collection of edible plants which are a nice addition to the succulents I have out there.

Evidently, the side yard project wasn’t enough for me, and I slowly began adding numerous new houseplants into the interior of my home towards the end of May.  In the span of less than a month, my indoor plant collection grew from 6 to 35.

A view of my kitchen plants

 

I’ve had this Aglaonema commutatum “Silver Bay” for many years. I bought it in 2003!

 

Before you start thinking that I had suddenly taken on more than I could handle, I once had over 70 plants inside a 1,320 square foot cottage-style apartment back when I was in the midst of my medical training, as well as a whole patio full of outdoor plants, and rosebushes at my front door.  During that time, I proved to myself that I did indeed have a decent green thumb, and thought nothing of allowing my vining and creeping plants to encroach the walls of the place and assert their presence.  Entering my abode was like entering a lush jungle, and people would remark constantly on how many plants I managed to squeeze in that space.

My largest Zamioculcas zamiifolia plant, which threw out all this growth less than one month after I purchased it.

 

My Peperomia shelf…Peperomia scandens, Peperomia caperata rosso, Peperomia obtusifolia variegata

 

Now I am in a 1,632 square foot townhouse, with less than half the number of plants I once nurtured.  These days, I favor more hardy plants like Hoyas, Senecios, and Zamioculcas zamiifolia (aka ZZ plant) which won’t beg to be watered constantly.  Not that I plan to traipse all over the globe anytime soon, but 1) you never know, and 2) I don’t want the responsibility of taking care of petulant plant babies.

Lovely Hoya shepherdii in the master bath…

 

Hoya obovatas are so cool…I’m training this one on a loop…

 

Hoya pubicalyx…I loved this plant so much, I bought a second one!

To be honest, I cringe at the phrases “plant mom” and “plant dad”, but I can see how people would be compelled to fuss over plants in the same way they fuss over pets or children.  Whenever I see new growth on a plant, I get a bit giddy, and tend to monitor it to see how it is progressing.  I now also juggle a staggered watering schedule, which means that some plants are watered weekly, some every two weeks, a few every three weeks, and once every six weeks, my largest ZZ plant gets a drink.  However, other than watering and fertilizing, the needs of my plants don’t interfere with my normal daily life.  I also don’t worry about light needs, because I have intentionally chosen prime spots for the plants which require more sunlight.

The science nerd in me also enjoys learning all the nomenclature, which is no surprise coming from someone who memorized the longest word in the English language (pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis) at the tender age of nine, and who was forced to learn about 15,000 terms while in medical school.  There is something about scientific language which absolutely thrills me and satisfies my constant thirst for learning.

Who has developed a new interest in gardening since the lockdown started?  I’d love to hear what other people have been drawn to plant-wise.

 

 

 

ALL The Ramen!

Sendai ramen

As a result of my Japanese heritage, my palate has always been primed for ramen.  I’m not talking about the economical dried version which has become a rescue meal for most monetarily challenged college students (admittedly, I availed myself of this habit when I was a struggling college student and also holding down two jobs).  I’m talking about authentic, Japanese ramen which can be found in ramen houses in Japantown areas around the United States, as well as ramen shops and yatai (stalls) throughout Japan.  A steaming bowl of authentic Japanese ramen is a masterpiece, full of slurpy golden noodles, briny broth, meat, and vegetables, irresistible and unforgettable.

There are over 32,000 ramen houses throughout Japan, and there are enough ramen varieties and regional variations to steep your fascination for this delectable soup.  It is quite common to see long lines of people spilling onto the street in anticipation of a bowl of heaven from the more popular noodle joints.

In the months leading up to my trip to Japan, which took place in March of 2020, ramen was the dish I was the most excited about eating while in my maternal grandparents’ native land.  Even though I am supposed to avoid wheat and eggs, I was NOT about to deprive myself of ramen while in Japan.  I ended up paying the price every single time I consumed a bowl of ramen, developing abdominal cramping within 20 minutes after ingesting each bowl of those incredible noodles.  Then the next day, I was ready to eat more ramen, even though I knew full well that my belly would writhe in digestive protest.

There wasn’t a single bowl of ramen I had while in Japan that was less than spectacular, and I truly got a kick out of the bizarre yet efficient way in which most ramen houses had their patrons order (basically, you order from a station and pay through it as well, without any human interaction).  I was also intrigued by the distinct regional variations which popped up depending on what prefecture I was visiting.  Curious about the main types?  Click here to learn more.

Sapporo Ramen…miso base with ground chicken, crabmeat

I quickly noticed that in Sapporo, miso ramen was featured in many of the ramen-ya.  And before you think it’s just a basic miso, noodle masters add in fresh garlic and ginger and simmer with pork broth for an unbelievably tasty concoction.

Kyoto Ramen

Kyoto Ramen

I had both shoyu ramen (first image above) and miso ramen while in Kyoto, and loved both.  Then as I headed further south, I encountered creamy, extremely flavorful broth.  In Okayama, I encountered a specific type of  tonkotsu style broth, made from slow simmered pork, but with Okayama-specific seasonings.  Delicious.

Okayama ramen

Then I arrived in Kumamoto, my grandmother’s birthplace, and noticed that the ramen houses featured a very milky, rich, flavorful broth which was also made from pork bones for many hours.  Though I am not a big consumer of pork, I was happy to ingest it daily as part of my almost daily ramen indulgence.

Obviously with all the ramen around, I didn’t follow a low carb diet.  In fact, I had rice balls to snack on whenever I rode the shinkansen (bullet train), and I had a devil of a time finding high protein meals or snacks of any kind.  So I just allowed myself to enjoy the constant carb bump for 2 weeks straight. If you ever travel to Japan, don’t deprive yourself of ramen, rice, mochi, manju, and other carb-heavy foods.  You will be moving around so much during the day that you will burn off the carbs pretty steadily.

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