This week I delivered bad news to a patient. I had done it before, but I was an audience member then, watching the doctor gently tell a woman about her newly diagnosed cancer. This time, it was just me and the patient, an elderly gentleman I had met in the emergency room just four days earlier. In those short four days, I helped him adjust to the hospital room, explained our plans for his treatment, distracted him from his pain with jokes and conversation. We even celebrated his 89th together, I tried my hardest that day to distract him from his surroundings and lift his spirits. It was working, he was getting better in the short term, but then we found what was exactly causing his pain, and it wasn't going to go away any time soon.
As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I felt uncomfortable and awkward, wanting to leave the room as soon as I could. But then I looked at his face. I could see all the emotions going through his head - confusion, sadness, then resignation. And I stopped myself from walking out of the room. I sat next to him, held his hand, and just listened as he tried to organize his thoughts. I didn't try to put words into his mouth, or wrap up the discussion into a neat little package to leave at the door. I just wanted to be there, be present. I think that's all he needed at the time.
Medicine is such a fast field, one where we are pressured to make decisions quickly and responsibly. One where you are trying to balance the care of multiple patients at once. But we have to recognize the moments where we need to slow down. Imagine ourselves in the reverse role, and process the situation. I guess some would call that empathy. It's something that is so easily lost when you've got a million and one other things to manage. But I think it's the trait that makes us exceptional physicians rather than just a good one.
I said earlier this week that this was one of those life-changing patient interactions I'll never forget. And that's true. I also said that I'm still sorting out exactly what I got out of the whole thing, and that's also true. Writing this post has certainly helped. And the last thing I said was that I feel thankful. I am grateful for so many things, and I say that countless times on this blog. Today I am thankful for that patient, for teaching me such an important lesson without even realizing it.
These brown sugar cupcakes have deep caramel tones from the dark brown sugar that replaces the typical white sugar used in cakes. To keep them light and fluffy, it's important to whip the butter and sugar for a solid 3-5 minutes on medium speed - this will aerate the whole mixture and trust me, lead to better cupcake results. I was inspired by Sarah of The Vanilla Bean Blog to pipe the cupcakes with a two tone frosting because it looked beautiful and elegant. Overall the cake is sweet but certainly not one-note. It's an easy and tasty treat to make, to eat, and to share.
Brown sugar cupcakes, adapted from Food 52 - makes 6 cupcakes, and you can easily double the recipe for a dozen cupcakes
- 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- Scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon milk
- Blueberry jam, for filling - you can use homemade, I used Bonne Maman to save some time
For the frosting
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2-3 cups powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1-2 tablespoons milk
- A few spoonfuls of blueberry jam
- Preheat oven to 350 F and line a cupcake tin with 6 liners.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whip the butter and dark brown sugar for 3-5 minutes until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl in between each addition. Add the vanilla extract and milk and beat until incorporated. Finally, add your flour mixture and mix until just combined.
- Pour the batter into the cupcake liners and bake for 17-20 minutes, until the tops of the cupcakes spring back up slightly if you touch them. Place the cupcakes onto a cooling rack and let them cool until room temperature.
- For the frosting, whip the butter and salt, then add 1 cup of powdered sugar and mix until combined. Add in the vanilla extract and mix. Add in 1/2 cup of powdered sugar at a time until you reach the desired consistency - if it becomes too thick add in a tablespoon of milk and see if that loosens up the frosting. Scoop half of the frosting into another bowl and mix in the blueberry jam, it should turn into a purple color. Scoop the frostings into a piping bag so that one side of the bag has the vanilla flavor and the other side has the blueberry flavor. Pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes however you'd like. Enjoy!