Breaking Bread And Forgetting Podiatry

By John McCord, DPM

   I don’t think about podiatry much on the weekends. My mind goes to another place, namely my kitchen. My wife and I built a new home 13 years ago and the kitchen is the center of our existence. We made it large enough to accommodate our friends and family, and everybody participates in the preparation of dinners.    The Viking range is a commercial style stainless steel kitchen appliance that has become a status symbol in cooking and lifestyle magazines. I like it because it is precise. It simmers low enough to melt chocolate chips on typing paper and it can set a stock pot boiling in a few minutes when cranked up to 15,000 BTUs.    I enjoy entertaining podiatric and medical colleagues with gourmet dinners and good wine. The first rule in my kitchen is that we don’t talk about medicine or managed care. That can ruin a good meal before it hits the table. The best times are when everyone gets into the cooking process.    This weekend, I am cooking Cuban-style braised lamb shanks in a red wine sauce. None of my colleagues seem to like lamb so I am cooking solo with classical music playing in the background. The main thing is that my mind is taking a break from podiatry and all the stress that the practice of medicine creates during the week. As soon as I finish this column, I will settle back in my library and read another chapter of a good novel while the aroma of the slow cooking lamb permeates the house.    A favorite dish of many of my colleagues is fillet of salmon, marinated in single-malt scotch and grilled on a cedar plank. I like to serve this with saffron risotto, an Italian rice dish. Last week, a pediatrician friend called and let me know that he had caught a king salmon and wanted to come for dinner. I told him how I wanted it filleted and to bring it up three hours before dinner so I could start the marinating process with scotch, soy sauce and olive oil. He agreed to prepare garlic mashed potatoes and bring the wine.    Four hours later, we all sat down to a dinner that would blow a hole in an expense account at an upscale restaurant. It was pretty close to free for me except for the $1.98 I paid for the cedar plank.    Whether it is a referring medical colleague or a competing DPM, once you have shared a good dinner, good conversation and good wine, the relationship takes on a higher quality.    I once had an argument with a vascular surgeon. It wasn’t over patient care. We shared office space and it was some unimportant issue but the discussion became heated. In the end, neither of us was ready to apologize but he said I could make it up to him by inviting him and his wife to dinner.    Dinner was a mixed seafood salad with olive oil and balsamic dressing, veal osso buco, garlic mashed potatoes, Cornas (really good French red wine) and a blackberry cobbler. Whatever difference we had between us was forgotten and though it has been six years, he still raves about that dinner.    Hosting good dinners hasn’t hurt my physician referrals. While I do not invite guests based on their referral potential, I have noticed they somehow seem to equate my skills in the kitchen with my skills as a foot surgeon.    The thing about being in the kitchen is that I am in control but don’t have to be. It is different in the practice of medicine. We are expected to be in control while the world seems to conspire to turn our clinics into chaos. I can continue to cook while taking a phone call whereas a phone call disrupts my clinic. If I screw up a recipe, like the time I accidentally used sweetened condensed milk in a clam chowder, I can throw it out and start all over. I can’t screw up in the clinic or there will be dire consequences.    An afternoon in my kitchen is better than all the therapy and tranquilizers that some of us need to cope with our practices.    One word of advice to doctors who think they want to be cooks: clean up after yourself. I have met physicians whose spouses will not let them use the kitchen. I guess I am not in total control of my kitchen. I also get to play the role of maid and janitor. The place has to pass a military style white-glove inspection right after my wife finishes her dinner.    Now I have to go turn the lamb shanks and clean the prep island. Mozart or Bach will help. Dr. McCord (pictured) is a Diplomate with the American Board of Podiatric Surgery. He practices at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.

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