Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Chili Verde Pork

We hosted supper club last weekend and I made this Chili Verde Pork, along with Tortilla Soup, for our "South of the Border" themed dinner. I'm planning to make this again for the community pool closing party, which means I'll need to scale this to feed about 150 people (and borrow several crock pots from neighbors!).

Chili Verde Pork

Chili Verde Pork

Prep time: 45 minutes
Total time: 4 hours
Servings: 20+

    8 fresh poblano chile peppers
    3 pounds fresh tomatillos, husks removed
    4 fresh jalapeno peppers
    2 yellow bell peppers, seeded and chopped
    1 bunch cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
    1 pork butt (6 to 8 pounds), cubed
    ¼ cup vegetable oil
    2 large yellow onions, chopped
    7 tablespoons brown sugar
    6 cloves garlic, minced
    ½ tablespoon sea salt
    freshly ground pepper, to taste
    1 tablespoon ground cumin

  1. Broil the poblano peppers until the skins start to blister and blacken. Turn them over and do the same for he other side. Place the poblanos in a zippy bag to sweat and set them aside.

  2. Broil the tomatillos until they begin to blacken. Turn them over and do the same for the other side. Put the tomatillos into a blender—be sure to include any tomatillo juices from the pan.

  3. Peel and seed the poblanos and add them to the blender along with the yellow bell peppers, the jalapenos, and the cilantro and give it a whirl until pureed. (I do this, and cube up the pork, the night before.)

  4. Heat oil over high heat in a large stock pot or frying pan (the high sides of the stock pot helps to minimize oil spatter) sear the pork in the vegetable oil until golden brown. Remove the pork and place in a crock pot.

  5. Reserve 2 tablespoons oil in the pan and saute the onions and garlic until onions are tender. Season with salt, pepper, and cumin, then add the mixture to the crock pot and add the tomatillo puree.

  6. Carefully give it a stir (my crock pot was brimming—I even had to remove some liquid part way through the cooking) and set the crock pot on low for at least 4 hours.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Lull

Things at work still seem to be feast or famine, and I'm taking advantage of a little lull today to try and catch up here. I'm still learning, and I'm still asking for additional training/guidance/instruction on the same things as I was a month ago. It's frustrating.

On the up side, my superiors are now acknowledging the requests and the fact that they have been lacking in providing the direction and resources. So, yea.

My latest frustration has been discovering that there seems to be no standard process documentation, either that or there is too much documentation. I like to have a main overview checklist, with milestones and responsibilities clearly laid out—Do X, then hand it off to Dave and proceed with Y. Even better if it includes a time frame—X should take about 6 hours.

I like to save the really detailed documentation for procedure—To complete X, step 1, step 2, step 3, ... I usually only need the heavily detailed things when I'm learning something new, once I learn the procedure it is nice to have the reference but I don't usually need on a day-to-day basis. But I do still need the overview milestones and it is frustrating when the two types of documentation are combined as one; it just means I have to repeatedly sift through unhelpful information to find what I need.

So I have begun creating the documentation I want, sharing it with my boss, and pointing out the holes that still need to be filled with training. I am good at distilling a massive amount of instruction down to the main points.

As of yesterday, I've also been given more direction on how my position will grow within the company and how it will intersect with other departments—I will be the conduit between the clients and the Solution Center, educating the client on our workflow and how they can expect to interact with us during production, and facilitating getting price quotes and SOWs to include what the clients' need.

And again, there does not seem to be a standard process, each sales rep seems go go about it in a different way, and the price quotes they get from the Solution Center all seem to be structured differently. I don't mean to say I think it should be a soulless process, but there should be some standardization. And they should be able to tell me what information I need to gather from the client in order for them to produce an accurate quote.

Additionally, Four of the six clients I'm working with have asked for guidelines for multimedia assets—what resolution should images be, what audio format to use, maximum files size—and each time the sales rep has written the information in an email, and not all of them are saying the same things.

So this week I created a one-sheet table for asset specifications by ebook platform and had each of the tech teams sign off on the accuracy of the guidelines. And someone said, "Wow, that would be a really good resource for the sales reps to have and provide to clients."

Ya' think?

Oh, I don't mean to grouse so much, especially since you don't hear from me that often these days. I do still like the job and find it challenging, in a good way. Sometimes I wonder how they decide which titles to assign to whom. Some of my most recent assignments have included a book for getting organized (I lost track of an assignment and had turned it in late just before getting that assignment), a guide for wine lovers (maybe I'm mentioning having a glass too often on Facebook), a guide for hosting dinner parties (posts about supper club), an encyclopedia of trees and shrubs (posts about gardening), but I have no plausible rationale as to why I was assigned 3 OBGYN titles and an anesthesiology title.

Speaking of medical things, I am happy to say my migraine has not come back today. (Knock on wood.) I began getting migraine auras last Friday off and on. Monday night was miserable and I could be found either huddled and whimpering in bed, or hanging my head over the toilet. Even though the excruciating part passed by Tuesday, I was still getting auras and would have hours where I could not see or write, so Thursday I went in to the doctor's office and got a Toradol shot. The pressure on my head was gone after about 20 minutes and I've been aura-free for 24 hours! Woot!

So, last time I wrote I promised to share our front yard project. We got way more yard than we bargained for when we built the house, and Scoob does not like to mow it. Or water it. Or weed it. So we thought we would make a few adjustments and reduce the amount of lawn we have to deal with. Scoob and I have been talking about doing this for a while, and in April we got to work expanding the planting beds in the front yard.

The before.

The area around each of two trees was expanded 3 feet all around.

We expanded this flowerbed by about 4 feet so we no longer have to mow around that water box.

Scoob cut out a 3 foot strip along side the walk to the front door.

We topped off the existing planting beds and the newly expanded areas with hardwood mulch, and added some clay breaker and compost to the new areas to help condition the soil. We've planted a few things along the front walk, but the other areas are still empty. Money is still tight as Scoob is getting his business up and running and we have more important priorities.

I'll have to get some daylight pictures of the walkway with the plants, but it's been raining here for the last few days, and it is forecast to keep right on raining for the next 4, so I'm not sure when that will be.

I added solar powered path lighting and I love it.

I got 10 of these little solar-powered path lights back in February. We've known we wanted to add the lights since we moved in, so I finally bit the bullet and bought them. Easily worth the $30 I spent. I enjoy hanging out on the front porch in the evenings and watching them flick on one by one. Yes, we have an exciting life.

Our new walkway to the garden boxes.

I got the inspiration for this DIY walkway from Pinterest and this path made from a recycled wood pallet. Scoob wasn't too excited about it at first because if felt too Asian-inspired for his liking and because he wants a flagstone walkway. We had a realistic conversation about what we could afford to do and we knew we needed to make the path a more permanent fixture if we didn't want the forest to keep trying to reclaim the path.

(I really wanted to try pouring concrete to try to get this look:)

(But that may have been a bit ambitious for us.) As luck would have it, one of our neighbors needed to lay down some sod, and they had all these left over 2 x 6 boards from foundation molds. So we traded them our ripped up sod for their boards. I think the wider boards sort of give me the look I wanted from the concrete pavers.

Scoob cut the boards to 3 foot lengths, weatherproofed them, and gave them a termite treatment. We then worked to level out the area, laid down some weed cloth, spread out some sand, placed the boards, which Scoob then anchored in place with some big spike nails, then added some pea gravel and hardwood mulch along the edges.

I think it looks great!

We're now making a similar pathway along the side yard near the kitchen. Eventually we'll cut out another 4 foot swath of sod from the front steps to the end of the front yard and add a walkway there, too. Eventually the boards will rot out. Maybe by then we'll be able to afford the stone, but until then, I think this looks great and does exactly what we need it to do. I love that we did it ourselves and it doesn't look like a cookie-cutter walkway.

(You do know when I say "we" and "ourselves" I really mean "he" and "himself," right?)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Where to Begin…

It seems like a lot and nothing has happened since I last wrote. I am still working some long days, but the last couple of weeks I have found some pockets of down time during the workday and I've been thankful for the breathing room and the restoration of some work–life balance. The job is still evolving and I've approached my boss to talk about next training steps. I'm hoping they'll send me out to California for training, but there's really no telling what they'll do.

I've been happy. I've had days where I've been pass-out exhausted, days where I really don't want to do what I have to do, and finances are a constant concern since Scoob hasn't found work yet, but his freelance work is starting to attract paying clients. But I find that underneath it all, I. Am. Happy.

Maybe it's just because spring is here. The lawn started to subtly turn again green in March and then we turned our backs and it was up to our shins. We have a lawn project underway and we finished the first phase this afternoon. I'll post more about that later. No, really. I will.

In addition to the greening of the grass, things are blooming! First it was the bright yellow forsythia (I am now thinking of planting a bush or two somewhere in the yard so we'll have that early spring color) and now it is the dogwoods. I don't know why I get so excited about the dogwoods, but I do. And the trees surrounding the house are lousy with them. So I walk around house and oooo and aaah at them and feel utterly content.

My favorite dogwood, just off the back porch, has been the first to open up two years in a row.

Blooms and bees everywhere.

We went to the community St. Patrick's Day party, which was fun, and we met several new people moving into our little community. And had a friend over for Easter dinner.

I made the Bo-Ssam for Easter dinner.

And I think I finally figured out the trick to eliminating the excessive smoking problem I had with that recipe—the roasting pan I was using was too large so the juices would spread out too thinly, crust to the bottom of the pan, and start smoking. I've had great success using a smaller roasting pan.

Like the table cloth? It's a scarf/shawl I picked up in India. I hadn't thought to use it on the table at the time, but a friend mentioned it and I thought I would try it out. I like it. Of course, first thing I did was drop some greasy bo-ssam on it Easter night. Gah.

And we enjoyed it under the newly installed dining room light!

We also attended a Welcome Brunch for new residents. (Yes, we have been here for 1½ years as of yesterday. The welcome wagon is a little behind.) Which was followed by an afternoon nap (I should have known better than to have a mimosa with lunch) and the wine club. At some point during brunch the subject of the pool opening luau came up and our usual person who roasts a pig for the event will be at a soccer tournament, and I mentioned how easy Scoob's kalua pig is to make, and I'm now strategizing how to cook kalua pig for 160–200 people around mid-May. (Another reason not to drink mimosas at brunch!)

I'll admit I had a panic moment, but then I remembered all the times I've helped with cooking for family reunions and powwows and settled right back down. Then I started planning. I've rounded up 15 crockpots so far and have a couple of volunteers to be Crock Masters with me. Every time I see Crock Master I think "full of crock" and start cracking up. And Scoob has been talking to a local meat market about arranging for the quantity of pork butt we'll be needing.

We helped a friend move into her new house week before last and I've been deep-cleaning the house in preparation for supper club tomorrow night. I chose a Middle Eastern theme because I love Persian food, but I'm afraid I've stumped the rest of the group as to what to bring. I'm making lamb-stuffed eggplants (bademjan-e shekam por) and Persian rice with lentils (adas polow). I'm sure it will be alright, but now I'm wishing I'd gone with a Mexican food because I am craving some pozole and it would probably be an easier theme.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Red Carpet Nariyal Burfi

A friend of ours is hosting an Oscars viewing party tomorrow and I decided to bring something Oscar themed. I started by reviewing all the nominations, because we haven't been to the movies in ages and I know next to nothing about the films nominated—Brave is the only nominated film that we've actually seen, and I don't think haggis would receive a very enthusiastic welcome at the party.

A couple of films, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, started me thinking about Persian and Middle Eastern dishes. We're hosting supper club in April with a Middle Eastern theme and I thought I could try out a couple of dishes for tomorrow. I was thinking of trying ash-e-jow, an Iranian/Persian barley soup.

But then I learned we'll be going out for a meal before the Oscars start and I decided to focus on a dessert or snack-y food and settled on nariyal burfi—also called nariyal vadi, nariyal barfi, or khobra pak. Think of it as coconut fudge. Since Life of Pi  is nominated and nariyal burfi is a common sweet throughout India (and I recently returned from India), I thought it sounded good.

I don't usually like super-sweet sweets, so I cut the sugar called for from the inspiration recipes in about half. I also swapped unsweetened coconut for the sweetened coconut some recipes called for—I figured if some were calling for freshly grated coconut, it probably didn't need to be sweetened. The result is still plenty sweet, but not cloyingly so. I could see adding some cocoa powder if I make this again. Combining coconut and chocolate makes sense, though I'm not certain how I would like cardamom and cocoa.

Hang on—I have some Dutch dark chocolate cocoa powder in the pantry and dipped a burfi ball in it to check—tastes fine, not really chocolatey, but it does temper some of the sweetness and makes the overall flavor more complex.

Nariyal burfi—Coconut fudge

Nariyal Burfi

Total time: (I forgot to keep track) 1–1½ hours

    3 cups shredded coconut—fresh or unsweetened dry
    1½ cans (14-ounce size) of sweetened condensed milk (450 ml in the measuring cup)
    ¼ cup sugar
    4 Tbsps ghee (if you can't find ghee at the store, you can make it yourself—it is essentially clarified butter)
    1 Tbsp ground cardamom
    1 cup slivered almonds

  1. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat; add the coconut, condensed milk, and sugar, and mix well. Cook until the condensed milk is reduced by about one-quarter and the mixture has a fudge-like consistency.
  2. Add the ghee and mix well. Cook until the ghee begins to separate from the mixture.
  3. Add the ground cardamom, mix thoroughly and remove from heat.
  4. Grease a 9X9 pan (a spritz on non-stick will do, or smear on some leftover ghee if you have any), transfer the mixture to the pan and smooth out. Sprinkle the surface with the almonds.

  5. Allow to cool a little and cut into squares while still warm.

  6. I may have a few OCD tendencies.

  7. Allow it to set, then remove from pan and store in an air-tight container.

So, you may notice my burfi are not squares. That's because I did not not allow them to set before trying to remove them from the pan. So I ended up rolling them into balls.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Valentine's Day Conversation

For Valentine's Day, I spent the iTunes gift card I received for Christmas on some new music and was enjoying listening to my new tunes while making dinner. Scoob and I were both at the kitchen counter when we had the following conversation—he was on his laptop and I was having a glass of wine while dinner cooked:

Scoob: Why are you smiling?
Me: Just feeling chill and happy.
S: Chill?
Me: You know, relaxed. Content.
S: Oh. So why aren't you dancing around?
Me: I did. Back when I was feeling energetic and happy.
S: Oh.

S: So, I guess porn is out of the question.
Me: Uhhhh…
      *eying dinner in the oven*
      (what the hell) I guess we could watch some porn, if that's what
      you want to do. What did you have in mind?


S: Or we could look at woodpecker pictures.
Me: *puzzled look/amused chuckle*


S: What do you mean that's going to cost $200?
Me: *laughing seriously hard*

S: What?
Me: *laughing with tears* You can be so random.

S: Why are you laughing?
Me: Because I love you.

I can't decide whether I know him so well that I understand and can follow his random train of thought, or if he's a comedic genius and understands me well enough to know what makes me laugh. Either way, we're perfectly matched.

Oh, and he gave me jewelry—a couple of bracelet bangles I was admiring last weekend.

I think I'll keep him.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Delhi Day

After a rough start this morning, I am feeling much better this evening. I still have a sore throat, but at least I can swallow and speak tonight. Went down to McDonald's tonight for a McFlurry thinking the cool soft serve would help soothe my throat. (At least that's the excuse I'm giving myself.)

I did not get to do everything I wanted to do today, India Gate was still cordoned off from yesterday's Republic Day celebration so we could not get close to see it and I wanted to do more shopping at the marketplace but my shyness took hold today--I know my coworkers are giving up their day off to take me around and they had to bargain for me at the market to get a fair price, and I did not want to monopolize their whole day. I know they said it was okay and that they wanted to, but I also know my boss had to bargain with them to be with me on their day off and they have family at home waiting for them.

Even so, I was still able to see some amazing things today. I'm a little bummed that the air quality was so bad today (who am I kidding it's bad every day and probably what triggered my sinus issues) because it makes my photos look washed out. I may spend some time trying to clean them up with Photoshop once I return home.

We started the day at the Baha'i Lotus Temple. It is a beautiful, perfectly symmetrical structure made to look like a lotus blossom. We had to remove our shoes near the grounds entrance, about a quarter mile from the temple, in order to go inside. No photos are allowed inside, but it is one huge room for prayers open all the way to the top with nice acoustics. I couldn't understand a word of what was being spoken, even in English, because of the echo, but the sung prayers were beautiful. The Baha'i welcome all faiths, and there was a mix of Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh worshipers inside.

Baha'i Lotus Temple in Delhi.

This is the conceptual model for the crown I will someday wear when I rule the world. Just so you know.

After the Lotus temple we went to Qutub Minar. I had though the Qutub Minar was the only thing to see there, but it is part of a larger complex constructed by a series of rulers and includes the world's oldest existent mosque (Quwwat-ul-Islam), the iron pillar of Delhi, a madarsa (seminary), and several tombs. The entire complex is not very well preserved and my coworkers were debating whether the structural damage was a result of age or some conflict in the past. (It was also their first visit to the Qutub complex.)

The iron pillar was created around 400CE and is important to archaeologists and metallurgists mainly because it is highly resistant to corrosion. The pillar was originally dedicated the Hindu god Visnu before being brought to the mosque. The Qutub Minar (built around 1200) is 5 stories tall, made of fluted red sandstone and marble, and has verses of the Quran carved all around it. It is the tallest minar in India and was used to issue the Muslim call to prayer at the neighboring mosque when it was still in use.

Qutub Minar from mosque.

Qutub Minar from madarsa.

You know who.

Classic redwood shot works with red sandstone too.

A close up of the first level balcony.

Detail of the Quran carvings.

Iron pillar of Delhi.

A jumble of pillars and angles in the mosque area.

A colonnade near the mosque.

The colonnade from another angle.

Arches in the madarsa.

Me in the madarsa.

After the Qutub complex, we went to Delhi Haat, a permanent open-air marketplace with lots of touristy, and not so touristy, stuff for sale. We had an Indian lunch from one of the stall vendors and did a little shopping. I ended up buying a touristy bangle bracelet, a pashmina shawl, and a painted box. All market purchases require haggling, and an outsider like me is sure to end up paying far more than a fair price. But, my coworkers were with me and bargaining on my behalf.

Turns out the vendor I was purchasing from was from the Kashmir region, as is one of my coworkers, and I noticed they were not speaking the same dialect of Hindi as the haggling became down to the wire. My other coworker was laughing as he listened to them slip into their native Kashmiri dialect. In the end, the pashmina shawl that would have cost me 1000 rupee came down to 350 rupee thanks to my skilled negotiator. I did not take many photos at the market because I was too distracted looking at all the items on display for sale.

Vendor stall at Delhi Haat.

After Dellhi Haat we went to Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the most famous Sikh temple in Delhi dedicated to Guru Hari Krishna, who became the eighth guru of the Sikh in 1661. When Guru Hari Krishna visited Delhi, he stayed in a palace that stood where the Bangla Sahib stands today. While he was in Delhi, an outbreak of cholera and small pox swept the city and Hari Krishna walked the streets feeding the sick and providing water from the well at the palace, and aid as he could.

Today, the water from the well is considered holy among the Sikh and believed to have healing properties, and in continuing with Hari Krishna's selfless deeds, the Sikhs feed anyone who comes to Bangla Sahib needing food.

To enter Bangla Sahib, we needed to remove our shoes and socks again, and cover our heads in respect. We also needed to wash our hands and feet. Let me tell you, the marble stairs and courtyard are dang slippery with wet feet. Before entering, you get a small pie dish of what tastes like a corn meal porridge and take the dish to a stand where a Sikh scoops out a little bit of the porridge. You then keep the rest and enter the temple. Most people knelt and either placed their foreheads on the marble steps of the entry way or touched the steps, then either their hearts or heads.

The inside is under reconstruction, but is layered in gold leaf with a dazzling chandelier and carvings. throughout the entire complex you can hear the day's verse being recited over a PA system; the singers and drummers are seated in this entrance area. A verse is chosen from the Sikh holy book as the daily lesson and is recited for 24 hours. I am told the verse is chosen by what would be the Sikh Vatican and all Sikh worldwide recite the same daily verse at their temples.

People offer their prayers in this entrance area, then move to the sides to sit on the carpet to meditate, or contemplate, or just rest. Upon leaving the temple, you receive a scoop of porridge, equivalent to what was taken from your pie dish before entering, from a communal pot. I am not sure why this is done, but it seems very symbolic as a melding of many individual pieces. The wife of one of my guide/coworkers is Sikh and offered a lot of insights, though he, himself, is Hindu.

Testing out the covered head look. (The whole reason I've been wearing a scarf, because I don't know where I will be required to cover up.)

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib.

Bangla Sahib interior. The Sikh holy book rests on a pillowed stand under the gold canopy in the center.

Bangla Sahib exterior.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Day at Agra and the Taj Mahal

It has been an incredibly long day and I am definitely fighting a sinus infection. I drank 5 cups of herbal tea and a huge bottle of water last night, skipped dinner and went to bed early hoping I would feel well enough to go to Agra today. Thankfully, I did feel much better this morning, but started losing steam around 4pm. (I just got back to the hotel room around 8pm.)

So, I am going to keep this short and sweet so I can take a hot shower and get to bed early again--I have another day of sightseeing planned for tomorrow. We'll just call this a photo essay of my day at Agra. (I have lots of pictures of my coworkers, too. But since I don't have their permission, I won't be posting them here.)

Cute little Ganesha on top of the welcome center.

Taj Mahal's north gate. There are 22 little domes on top (11 on each side) for the 22 years it to build the compound.

Me and the north gate.

First view of the Taj Mahal, passing through through the north gate.

Me and the Taj Mahal.

Taj Mahal, full frame.

Taj Mahal domes and trees.

Taj Mahal domes.

Taj Mahal marble inlay. A total of 28 different precious and semi-precious stone from all over were used for various inlay designs, including lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, carnelian from Arabia, malachite from China, and turquoise from Tibet.

Me in front of the inlay work.

Taj Mahal tomb chamber. (Actually not supposed to take pictures of this room, but our guide told me to.) Each of the screens are carved from a solid marble slab and the most intricate inlay work is in the tomb chamber.

One of the 4 minar surrounding the main building.

Taj Mahal from the east courtyard.

The Taj Mahal mosque to the west. An identical red sandstone building stands to the east.

Red sandstone screen.

A couple of views of the Taj Mahal through arches.

Taj Mahal with reflecting pools.

A colonnade at the east gate.

More inlay work.

A close up of one of the minarets on top.

Aerial roots of a ficus in the Taj Mahal gardens.