Science vs. Spirituality and Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries

Today is my husband’s birthday.  I made him bacon and then cooked eggs in the bacon fat and served them over a sliced avocado with our last heirloom tomato.  I hope he has a happy birthday.

I am excited for next week’s bento menu, lot’s of Totoro!

My first four days of bentos/blogging taught me that I need to stick to my weekly schedule of bento menus as spontaneous recipes are too time-consuming for me right now, especially as I spend an inordinate amount of time self-correcting my post.  Missing vocabulary, thoughts gone adrift and focus issues challenge me but I love that I can compensate for these deficiencies and it is as if they were never there.  I exhausted myself this week, but feel I am really onto something important to my recovery.  When I blog, I have the benefit of a time delay, google as a resource and unlimited editing even after posting.  I am able to correct for TBI symptoms that would be obvious in a real-life conversation and actually express what I am trying to say as I would have before the accident.  My brain can’t consistently do that when I am on the spot and I become hyper-aware of mistakes and omissions.  This causes me stress which exacerbates my symptoms. Writing, especially with access to a computer, makes me normal.; I am aware of my deficiencies and with time and resources I can correct them.  If I could pause a normal conversation and ask questions or use google, I would experience the same benefits.  Blogging is making me feel less stupid or disabled or however I express my frustration with symptoms on a particular day.

My neurosurgeon stands by his certainty that nothing but time will aid my recovery, but being able to share my thoughts and be understood and feeling like I’m not stupid can’t hurt.  Blogging is also forcing me to use the computer, which I have hated, and it is turning out to be such a helpful tool that I can forgive the bright screen and impossible passwords.  My therapist believes that writing my thoughts down longhand helps rebuild neuropathways and this is how I begin each post.  When my pencil nub is dull and eraser all but gone, I type my outline into the computer and rely on information and editing tools to correct and round out the conversation.  I continue to edit, even after posting. (At least one post had a completely different ending depending upon the time that it was read)   I spend as little time staring at the screen as possible, while trying to maximize the benefits my computer offers as a resource and a tool.

Simply making the kids’ bento boxes without posting doesn’t offer these advantages, but I do believe it provides others.  I know that throwing myself into this activity has helped with depression and feelings of uselessness, common post-concussive symptoms.  Being charged with this task has also sparked creative thought where it was sorely lacking. For a long time after the accident, I was unable to talk about anything other than my symptoms as my biggest complaint was that I had no interesting thoughts. My mind was pretty empty (maybe I would’ve been really good at meditating)  except for vague ideas involving pain and fear that ran on a constant loop.  I had no vision before this endeavor and feel this has opened the door to that part of my brain.  I can find bento inspiration in anything and feel certain that my creative flow won’t always be limited to this  activity.  The floodgates aren’t yet open, but I have experienced little hints of imagination when helping Connor with his diorama and assisting the boys with Scout fundraising. Finally, because finances are tight and  I am not yet able to drive,  making bentos forces me to plan.  I organize lists of ingredients, determine  when and how they will be acquired,  strategize to avoid waste and track costs to stay in budget.  In addition, I try to keep menus nutritious, organic if possible, and to use produce from our garden as well as staples or leftovers we have on hand.  The skills required to manage lunches in this way extend to the running of the entire household, not just lunch, and I believe bento boxes are a baby step taking me in that direction.

I wish I could wrap my head around a way to scientifically measure my progress both when I am involved with bentos/blogging and when I am not.  I am curious to see if there is actual evidence to support what I feel to be true.  If I tracked my symptoms and the hours I spend in this pursuit, I could see if there is any correlation between bentos/blogging and improvement in post-concussive manifestations.  To measure whether or not this culinary experiment is causing positive change over time would require me to have a clone with all the same afflictions who did not engage in bentos/blogging but deviated from my treatment in no other way.  In other words, I cannot prove the validity of my current regimen with facts.  If I am going to continue to benefit from this peculiar course of treatment, I have to take it on faith that perceived progress is real and not coincidence.  In fact, it is possible that I have been taking the completely wrong approach in my evaluation of this phenomena and that my experience is the result of something higher and less tangible than anything science can prove.    A spiritual explanation does not feel out of the realm of possibility, especially when you consider that I survived flipping my car six times.   A magical exposition for my recovery actually leaves more room for hope because it is outside my neurosurgeon’s area of expertise.  Science or spiritual experience, I am predicting my story will have a happy ending.  April 6, 2017 will be one year since the accident, and while I don’t feel comfortable predicting my full and complete recovery 6 months from now, I do believe the anniversary will provide a benchmark by which to predict my complete convalesce. Who knows what the universe has in store for my family.

Instead of making cake or fruit tart as I often do for my husband’s birthday, I made our favorite, Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries.  This recipe was introduced to us years ago by my father-n-law’s girlfriend and has become our go-to dessert.

Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries

1 packet unflavored gelatin

3 Tbsp cool water

3 c organic heavy whipping cream

2 c organic whole milk plain yogurt (we use our own)

2/3 c sugar

2 tsp vanilla

3 pints fresh strawberries

5 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 Tbsp sugar

ground black pepper

8 custard cups

In small bowl, dissolve gelatin in water and set aside.  In large bowl, measure 1 1/2 cups of the cream and the yogurt.  Add vanilla and whisk together.  In medium saucepan, combine remaining cream and 2/3 cup sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Remove from heat and dissolve gelatin mixture into cream.   Pour into yogurt mixture and whisk until blended.  Pour into 8 custard cups and chill 8 hours to set.  To serve,  place custard cups in shallow baking dish and fill with hot tap water.  Using a butter knife, make a circle around the edge of the panna cotta to separate it from the custard cup.  Invert and slide panna cotta onto center of dessert plate.  Generously ladle strawberries and balsamic over dessert and serve.

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