Healthy Kitchens and the cookie that changed my life (weekly recap)

I spent the majority of the week at a conference in Napa called ‘Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives’. This conference was a big financial investment for me (especially factoring in the travel costs), but if you’re interested in nutrition, cooking, or better yet — nutritious cooking — it’s a wonderful three days. I attended in 2019 and liked it so much that I manhandled it into my schedule again this year, and I’m glad I did. The conference program is quite didactic, and my only minor complaint is that the content and speakers were unchanged between the two years (minus some minor updates to slides and presentations to accommodate recent research), so I didn’t get hit with that much new content. Although, that’s not always a bad thing. Each of the conference days are peppered with breakout sessions, which include workshops with presenters (meet-the-professor style) as well as hands-on cooking classes with chefs…which is possible because the conference is held at the beautiful Culinary Institute of America, Copia campus! It also doesn’t hurt that there’s a breakfast and lunch buffet each day, prepared for attendees by CIA-trained chefs.

So, yeah. It perhaps feels a bit more like you’re on vacation than at a conference when attending this thing, but it was exactly what I needed this week. Even though this wasn’t a research-based conference (no abstracts), and networking wasn’t high priority for me at this meeting (although I’m trying to strategically prioritize this more), I always find that being away at a conference unlocks some sort of creativity floodgate in my brain. I was able to get a lot of research writing done in the afternoons and evenings, and also mapped out some ideas for new studies.

As part of my research writing endeavors, I was able to finish a review article that I’ve been working on since the Christmas holidays. To provide some context, once a year, everyone in my university’s endocrinology division has to present at least once at our weekly ‘grand rounds’.  The vast majority of the talks are very thorough and high-level, so there is always pressure to do a good job. I generally spend between 40 and 80 hours preparing for mine. We get academic credit for some — but not all — of this time. I presented last week. This year, I decided to try a new preparation tactic, to see if I could kill two birds with one stone. I did a more formal literature review than I usually would (with a proper search strategy), and I drafted a review article as I was preparing my talk. By the time I gave the talk, I had a reasonable draft in place. It still needed a decent amount of wordsmith-ing and reviewing of citations (~10-20 hours in total), but because I’d just given the talk and the topic was fresh in my mind, the process wasn’t too onerous. I was able to get a polished draft hammered out during my conference downtime and will now be submitting for publication. Hurrah!

As a side-note, review articles are often highly cited, so if you’re doing all the work of reviewing a topic for a talk anyway, it might be worth it to write a paper. Also, it’s often worth sending out presubmission query letters to high impact factor journals in your field to see if they’re interested  in your topic. I co-authored a review with two colleagues a couple of years ago, and we had good success with getting a review into a highly rated gastroenterology journal on the basis of a well-timed query.

As a second side note, I don’t recommend writing a review if you don’t enjoy the subject matter, or if you don’t really want to write a review. While I’m now very happy I did it (in large part because now the draft is done), I’m not going to lie and say there weren’t moments of second-guessing myself, and despairing that the article would eventually be relegated to my unfinished drafts folder as a perpetual resident.

I think that’s enough about review papers for now. Sorry.

Back to my trip.

In what ended up being a bit of a happy accident, I mistakenly booked my flight back home a day later than I planned, resulting in some extra ‘luxury time’ on the back end of the conference. I spent a lot of this time working on my novel, which made me happy…although the third (fourth?) round of edits is feeling like a Sisyphean task (PS- is this normal?). I also spent some time walking around San Francisco while listening to podcasts, and shopping.

Oh! I must mention my Mundane Pleasure of the Week: the cookie that Changed My Life. It is called a toffee milk chocolate chip cookie, created by Annie the Baker, and I found mine at Ritual Coffee Roasters (a stall at the OxBow Market in Napa). I bought it on a whim, expecting to be underwhelmed. It was a teensy nubbin that looked like it might be harder than I typically like my cookies. But…I had found myself in need of a sugar fix, and I figured that it would at least be able to do that. It was all that, a bag of chips, and more. I texted my husband immediately to tell him that my life had been changed by a cookie…to which he responded ‘please don’t tell me it was from Starbucks’.

Seriously, though. If you’re in Napa…just try the cookie.

This week, I’m back at the usual grind, but feeling rejuvenated and excited about some of my upcoming work projects.

I did a lot of podcast-listening while I was away, so I’m sharing my top three take-aways from those this week:

  1. I listened to an old episode of Forever 35 with Rachel Wilkerson Miller, which was recently re-released. This was my first time listening to the episode, and it was filled with gems. I know clothing uniforms are nothing new, but Rachel discussed how she cut down on meaningless spending by coming up with a ‘dress code’ that consists primarily of white jeans and pastel sweaters. I couldn’t really picture it while I was listening, but here is an article with photos, and I love it! I am too messy to feel comfortable in white jeans, but I’m on a journey to curate my own dress code over the past couple of years…sometimes I’ll wonder if I’m getting bored, or get tempted to buy something that just really doesn’t work with my other clothes, but this podcast episode reminded me how good I feel when I stick to me. Like Rachel, this practice has helped me spend less on clothing.
  2. On the same podcast episode, Rachel also talked about organization as not only a form of taking care of yourself BUT ALSO as a gift to other people. Specifically, she talked about how prioritizing being organized and being on time can help you feel less stressed, and also demonstrate your care and respect to your friends, family members, colleagues etc. Obviously, entropy happens and it’s futile to expect to be able to control the universe, but there are a lot of things in our control that we can do to help get our shit together…like autopaying some of our bills, leaving ourselves buffer time to get places (most of the time, at least), and saying no to things that will jeopardize our ability to fulfill something else that we’ve already said yes to.  I’ve never really thought about organization as a way to care for myself or as a gift to others, so I really loved this perspective shift.
  3. I listened to an episode of the Hello Monday podcast about thinking like an underdog. Guest Troy Carter is a music producer; he’s actually the one who signed Lady Gaga back in 2006. He’s also an investor (in big deals like Dropbox and Uber). In this episode, he talked about how he chooses which artists or companies to invest in. He says it’s not generally about the music or the idea. Rather, it’s about the person. In his experience, the right person is someone who has the ability to reflect and recalibrate. They’re not beholden to a specific vision or idea, and they’re willing to fail, adjust and grow to find something that works. As someone who is guilty of abandoning ideas at the first sniff of failure (but working to change this trait), this idea really resonated with me.

Happy week! May your Wednesday be mundane and wonderful!

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