Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Cure for the Spaced-Out Scientist

Somewhere between manuscript submissions, my ability to concentrate evaporated. I would sit in front of a new Cell paper and the words would swim around on the page. E-mails had to be read multiple times to find the gist. And forget listening to five days’ worth of talks at the Neurobiology of Drosophila meeting; I had to excuse myself from a number of talks because there was no point in sitting through a talk when all I could do was daydream about how much I love fall. I even lost my patience with Passionate Vegetarian, my very favorite book to read during times of high stress and anxiety. I simply could not retain new information. Honestly, it was scary. Could my brain be too full to learn anything new? Even if that were possible (which I doubt it is), I had to believe that my lack of focus was the direct result of the intensive writing that has been my work life for the past two months. So in short order, I needed to regain my focus so I could move on with experiments and grant revisions (sigh…).

As I’ve said before, I am a firm believer in the power of kitchen therapy. Too many days without cooking makes me cranky and sad, while a good kitchen project lifts me out of my dark mood and sends me on my happy way. The problem with kitchen therapy is that it requires supplies: groceries. And sometimes life is so hectic that a trip to the grocery store seems impossible or overwhelming because 1) I have no time or 2) I am too exhausted to shop. At this point, I have no choice but to get creative with a limited amount of time and ingredients. My solution this time? Eggs. Specifically, egg burritos.

I actually did find some time to shop for groceries last week. During this trip, I was forced to choose a tortilla other than my normal Wild Oats whole wheat tortillas, and thus I found myself purchasing a package of Cedar’s Six Grain Mountain Bread. These “Mountain Breads” (aka tortillas) are delicious! Now I’m hooked: these 10-inch multigrain tortillas are both chewy and tender AND they have 5g of fiber and 7g of protein per tortilla! Quite impressive for an edible wrapper. Best of all, the 10-inch diameter makes wrapping up a generous amount of filling a cinch. I like a lot of filling in my burritos, so I need a big wrapper. After all, isn’t the best part of a burrito the stuff you put inside the tortilla?

And so it was that I found myself puttering around the kitchen, piling scrambled eggs with salsa into my new favorite tortillas, trying to regain my focus and my peace of mind. I figured the egges would help with the task: eggs are a nutritional powerhouse*, loaded with protein, vitamins, minerals, and choline** (used to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, an essential component for nervous system function). And while eggs are high in cholesterol, Walter Willett’s research*** suggests egg-eating does not play a significant role in the frequency of heart attacks in the general population. So bring on the eggs! But for health and ethical reasons, I recommend purchasing organic, free-range eggs. These eggs are often of superior nutritional quality (depending on the composition of the hen’s diet), and they are made by hens that are treated much more humanely than their non-free-ranging counterparts.

Egg Burrito for One
Serves 1

I love egg burritos. They are fast, reasonably healthy, and satisfying. The key to an excellent egg burrito is to use high-quality ingredients. When I make egg burritos, I tend to keep things simple because when I make them, I am too tired to fuss with a complicated filling. But feel free to adapt the basic recipe to your own tastes. For example, the filling could be made more substantial by the addition of beans, cooked vegetables (roasted potatoes might be particularly tasty here), cooked rice, or more cheese. If you use a nice 10-inch tortilla to wrap everything up, you’ll have plenty of room for the extras.

Nonstick cooking spray
2 eggs, preferably organic eggs from free-ranging hens
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ - ½ oz. Neufchatel cheese (lower fat cream cheese), cut into tiny chunks
Several tablespoons of your favorite salsa
1 “slice” of Cedar’s Six Grain Mountain Bread
Several leaves of fresh cilantro, optional

1) Preheat the oven to 300˚ F.
2) Crack the eggs into a bowl and scramble them with a fork.
3) Spray a skillet lightly with non-stick spray. Heat the skillet over medium heat for about thirty seconds. Add the eggs to the skillet and push them around with a pancake flipper to coat the skillet with uncooked eggs.
4) Add some salt and freshly ground black pepper to the eggs while they are cooking.
5) Place the mountain bread on a cookie sheet and put it in the preheated oven to warm.
6) Before the eggs are done, add the Neufchatel cheese and mix it into the eggs. Continue cooking eggs until they are done to your liking.
7) When the mountain bread is warm, remove it from the oven. Pile the eggs in a line down the center of the bread and top with salsa and cilantro if desired. Roll it up burrito-style and eat immediately.

So did the egg burrito cure me of my spaciness? Perhaps the effect was not immediate, but I am feeling more like my old self these days. It’s a relief—because I have experiments to do, manucripts and grants to revise, and of course, new recipes to be tried!

*I found this summary of the nutritional content about eggs in Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Café.
**Neuroscience nerd bonus.
***I have paraphrased a quote from Walter Willett found in Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Café. For more about Willett’s research written by Willett himself for a lay audience, check out Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating , an excellent summary of groundbreaking nutritional findings based on several huge epidemiological studies.

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