Four years ago this week, I was removing all of my personal belongings from my office and going through the painstaking process of transferring business contact information from email accounts and card files – something I’ve done every time I’ve left one job for another. But this time there would be no other. I had recently submitted my resignation notice to my employer and began to close the door on a career I enjoyed for many, many years. There were times I thought I would never leave, but I began having that kind of internal dialog with myself where I questioned my longevity in the position and where it was going to take me. Realizing the answers, the question of if was very easily easily replaced with when. The nature of graduate medical education was rapidly changing, and I just couldn’t see myself manning the compliance-driven machine forever. I kept wondering when when would present itself.
In the midst of my uncertainty, my husband and I decided to uproot our young family and move 45 miles north of Los Angeles to an area where we knew no one. We wanted to leave LA for a variety of reasons, the greatest of which was to slow down the pace of our life. When a sudden and unexpected opportunity knocked, we answered, but it came at the most inopportune time: about a year before I was prepared to resign. Our decisions are usually well thought out, but the timing of this one was a bit off. Adding a commute to my already full day was complete insanity. But we happily landed in a small community nestled between strawberry and vegetable fields where cars often shared the road with tractors, yet we were on the fringe of city life with Ventura and Santa Barbara a little further up the highway. Being able to walk our kids to a newly-built school each morning only sweetened the deal. However, the charm of it all quickly wore off during my commute to and from UCLA.
All the while, my husband’s career in the fire service continued to require 24-hour duty assignments scheduled indiscriminately throughout the week and on weekends. I began to notice the extra hours needed for my commute cut into our family time to the extent that we were hardly ever a foursome. We were a threesome with an alternating parent. What good was moving away from a hectic life only to drag it with you and create stress on everyone? Being able to slow down and enjoy the life we were creating for ourselves was the whole point of moving. The when finally identified itself; it was time for me to resign.
As I packed up my office and tidied up the loose ends as much as I could, my excitement began to build in between the frenetic moments of closure. I started to look forward to the little things like cooking dinner for my family every night. It sounded so simple, so common, so peaceful. And while I did my fair share of cooking while working, the thought of being able to leisurely approach dinner without running in the door and slamming a meal together had so much more appeal.
But I must confess, there are still times when I run in the door and slam dinner together. But it’s different now. Rather than arriving home annoyed from an hour’s worth of traffic, I scurry into the house with two hungry kids, whom I’ve just picked up from sports practice or who are helping me unload the numerous materials from a school book fair I’ve been running for the past week and a half (which explains my disappearance around here). I feel the challenge of preparing a healthy meal on a short time frame just like before. But my ability to approach dinner with the sense of accomplishment I have achieved from being able to use my time throughout the day to benefit myself and my family has renewed my spirit. That comes through in my attitude and in my cooking. Whether we are a threesome or foursome at dinnertime, we are gratefully together with a wholesome, home-cooked meal before us. Without question, this is the best job I’ve ever had.
LINGUINE WITH SHRIMP AND LEMON OIL
Recipe adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis
This is one of those recipes that doesn’t really need a recipe. Each time I make it, it comes out slightly different because there is so much room to play around with it. It comes together very quickly. Make it once and you’ll see what I mean.
For the lemon oil:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, zested
For the pasta:
1 pound linguine
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
16 ounces frozen uncooked shrimp
1/4 cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 lemon zested
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups arugula (packed)
1 1/2 cups baby spinach (packed)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Combine the olive oil and lemon zest in a small bowl and reserve.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, in a large, heavy skillet warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook until pink, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked linguine, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Toss to combine. Turn off the heat and add the arugula. Using a mesh sieve, strain the lemon zest out of the reserved lemon olive oil and add the oil to the pasta. The zest can be discarded (see notes below). Add some of the cooking water if needed to achieve desired consistency. Add the chopped parsley to the pasta and toss to combine. Serve immediately.
- The type of lemon you use can make a difference here. I have made it with Meyer and Eureka (grocery store type) lemons, both yielding excellent results. When using Eureka lemons, I cut back on the amount of lemon juice. It was too tangy for my taste. In either case, I would suggest measuring out 1/4 cup of lemon juice and tasting as you go.
- Quite often, I leave the lemon zest in the oil because I love lemon and I don’t like to throw anything away that adds flavor to a dish. If I’m craving garlic, I will crack a small clove and let it hang out with the lemon zest and oil. In that instance, I discard the garlic clove and taste the oil to see if it is necessary to discard the zest as well.
- I love that I can use frozen shrimp for this dish. It is a weeknight cook’s best friend and I always have frozen uncooked shrimp in my freezer.
- If I’m watching my carb intake (or using up any leftovers), I will serve myself a smaller portion over a bed of arugula and spinach. It’s become my favorite way to serve this.