Slow Cooker Carnitas

(Sorry there are no photos because I realized something: I suck at photographing meat. It was also so delicious that it didn’t last long.)

When I was a little kid my idea of Mexican food consisted of bean and cheese burritos and chips with bean dip. I didn’t even venture into salsa until well into my teens. I know, I was the whitest little kid ever. I remember my mom would get batches of homemade tamales from her friends and I would never eat them. They looked weird. What was with the leaves they were wrapped in? No thank you.

Now that I am well into my adulthood and also dating someone who knows his way around some good Mexican food there are now several things I love, tamales among them. Every once in a while Vahid will make wonderful frijoles from scratch and they are the best thing ever. About once a month I will make a big batch of carnitas and we eat them throughout the week. Usually I would make them on the stove cooking them for a few hours. Recently I have adapted the recipe to make them in the slow cooker which is so much more convenient. I can set it to cook overnight and wake up to wonderful delicious food in the morning.

Slow Cooker Carnitas:

  • 3 lbs pork shoulder, cut into chunks
  • 2 stips of bacon to line the bottom of the slow cooker (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 tablespoon oregano
  • ground black pepper or ground nigella seeds to taste
  • apple cider vinegar
  • (optional: ½ teaspoon ground garlic or one chopped up garlic clove; dash of onion powder, dash of cayenne pepper)
  1. Chop of your pork into about 2 inch chunks
  2. Line the slow cooker with strips of bacon if using then cover the bottom with the pork
  3. add your seasonings as evenly as you can. (Note: if using the optional seasonings you can omit the oregano. I try to limit my garlic and onion consumption due to the cognitive effects they can have and sometimes cayenne upsets my digestion so I sub oregano to add a delightful flavor)
  4. cook on low for 8-10 hours
  5. Pork should be soft and easily pulled apart when done
  6. After cooking add some apple cider vinegar to the cooked pork. It adds a delightful tartness to the meat

Now I’m sure this isn’t an authentic recipe or anything but I call it carnitas and it’s delicious in a taco or burrito or anything else you want to put it in. It has a great taste and is savory with just the right amount of flavor and is great as a base for guacamole or salsa. Sometimes I’ve even added some to my eggs to make a quick scramble in the morning.

If you try out this recipe let me know how you like it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Drink Your Breakfast

I know I’ve told you about my breakfast drink that I have every morning. It’s delicious and filling and I honestly love having that ritual of sitting down to a warm drink before starting my day. However I have recently stopped drinking tea and started drinking coffee. I know, I’ll let you recover for a moment before I continue.

Let me back up and give you a bit of background information. I get headaches. A lot. I don’t mean every once in a while my head will kind of hurt. I mean I get them on an everyday basis and in fact right now? A sharp pain sitting behind my left eye just poking my brain like “does this hurt?” In January I started a  bunch of things for my health, I stopped having all the sugar, I also started meal planning and I am eating 95% healthy. My headaches have become less frequent. I know part of the problem is my glasses and my headaches become more pronounced when they are out of alignment with my eyes. All that eye strain. But part of the problem resides in what I am putting into my body.

Back to breakfast. I started really paying attention to the way my body reacted after certain meals. Is my heart beat noticeably sped up after consuming this meal? Do I feel fuzzy and a loss of cognitive control after eating these foods? And I noticed that an hour after breakfast I would get a sharp headache. I changed what was put into the shakes, having protein, not having protein and nothing helped. On a Thursday I told Vahid that I wanted to try a coffee version. He looked at me skeptically but agreed. (I’m surprised he did because that meant I was drinking his expensive, fancy coffee and if I liked it then it would be gone twice as fast.)

Friday morning rolls around and he whips himself up a coffee for me. I didn’t hate it. I don’t love it the way I loved the tea but it’s not the worst thing in the world. But more importantly I didn’t get the headache afterwards. In fact that day I cleaned the entire apartment and washed, folded, and put away the laundry. I was epically full of energy. It’s been coffee every morning since.

I still don’t like coffee. I won’t just brew a cup and drink it. But having one cup in the morning has done wonders for my energy and headaches. I still drink that tea from time to time but I know that when I do I am subjecting myself to the possibility of a headache. I’m still not sure what is causing the reaction but my hunch is the cinnamon oils that are used have something in them that reacts negatively to my person. But I am not breaking out my test tubes to find out. I just won’t have it most days.

So I’ve finally joined everyone else and am now drinking coffee in the morning. This new breakfast drink, coupled with all the changes I am doing for my health have really shown. I’ve lost weight and I am getting stronger but more importantly I am feeling better day-by-day.

What do you do that helps you be your best self? Would you like for me to do a recipe on my new breakfast coffee? Let me know!

Shot of Joy 12

-reconnecting with friends I had lost touch with, working on several projects at work and finishing them, keeping the winter blues mostly at bay, brunch dates

-my winter boots, wearing leggings to work with long sweaters, walking in the crisp morning to wake up (I walk five blocks to work), all the sunshine that has been happening lately, not having to walk in the rain all the time
Surf and kites
-apple cider vinegar, jasmine green tea, continuing my journey to be present with myself and be healthy, feeling like I am coming into my own, avoiding the cake that was brought into my office from my favorite bakery because I didn’t need it

-my homemade salad dressings, having some good go-to sides to bring to work, taking time out of my workday to eat lunch (even if that isn’t always honored), taking time to disconnect from my computer and take my time eating, finding enjoyment in each day (even though it’s some times hard to do)
What is making you happy this week?

Doodle of a Memory

I found myself doodling on a notepad at work one morning. It was a slow day and I spent most of it waiting for information from others before I could complete the few projects I was working on. I spent an hour filling up the page with random shapes and lines, little creatures, bits of body parts, anything really. I found myself so enraptured by what I was doing that before I knew it the whole morning had passed me by.

I’m not an artist. Sure I can draw things and it mostly looks like what I am aiming for but something is always off. The parts don’t quite add up to the whole, the shadows and highlights never quite end up where they should be, one eye is always bigger than the other, giving the subject a very startled look. But I’ve always doodled and drew and while I wasn’t going to have an art show any time soon it’s fun to do.

I’m whiling away the morning drawing when a coworker comes up to me and asks what I’m doing. I’m bored, I say. The words escape my mouth before my brain and pull them back, back behind my teeth and down my throat, where they will die in my lungs. But they ran out my mouth and into the world, dancing on the quiet air. I looked up at my coworker, my eyes were wide in my own surprise. She laughed and made a joke of how hard I was working and that was the end of it. But it wasn’t the end of it because as things do the words triggered a memory and I was off down the rabbit hole of my own mind.

For some unknown reason I thought it would be a good idea to take a 6:40am math class. I would always say that I’m never good at math, I don’t like math, my brain just doesn’t understand math. But that’s not true. It’s more honest to say I don’t care about math even though it was at it’s heart the core of everything I was studying. Chemistry was math, Biology was math, I loved Biology and the math never bothered me the way it would in my math class.

I was late almost every day to that class, often pulling into the parking lot as the class was starting. I showed up with wild hair, still in pajamas half the time, trying to remember if I brushed my teeth. I slid into my seat by the door and she would always have a comment.

Her name was Ms. Tanaka. At the time she was the bain of my existence but looking back she is one of those teachers I remember fondly and if I could go back in time I’d slap myself for being so mean. She was young and perky and she was so good at explaining math and making it understandable that if I had tried I could have enjoyed myself. But I was 18 and trying too hard to be cool in a school full of people who were also trying to be cool and no one cared and no one went on to do anything better.

I had my notebook open and I was doodling something down the spine of my notes, barely following what was going on when she called on me. In my memory she knew my name and I was called on a lot. But I’m sure the reality was that she didn’t know my name, the girl who was always late and sullen. But she did call on me and I remember not looking up from my desk and just stating “huh” to the class.

“What are you doing? Are you taking notes?”

“I’m bored.” I remember freezing as I said it, chastising myself. Stupid, stupid, stupid, I repeated as a mantra to myself. I looked up at her then. Her eyebrows were raised.

“I’m sorry this bores you. If you don’t like the class feel free to not take it.” She finished her example and the time was up. Everyone gathered their things, giving me glances. I was the girl who said she was bored and I wished that the ground would part and swallow me whole. It didn’t though. I had to walk out the door, I had to face her.

“I know you are probably taking this class as a requirement but it would be nice if you could act like you care while you are hear.” She said the words to me but not to me. She said them to all the students who were disrespectful of her time. After all she was here every morning too, ready to teach and answer questions and help us learn. Help us be the adults we were supposed to be.

I failed that class and had to retake it. I retook it with her and did really well the second time. It would be many years before I doodled again. I often found myself drifting in and out of lectures but I never took pen to paper quite the same way I used to. Something had changed. I wouldn’t say I became a better student, in fact as the years dragged on I became worse and by my senior year I was terrible to have in class. But I never displayed such outright boredom for a class since that experience.

It’s funny because the experience itself is nothing really, a small exchange between a crappy student and a teacher. In the grand scheme of things there are bigger memories, bigger moments, defining times, but it was this memory that came to me on a quiet Monday morning.

That memory led to others and I was winding through my late teens/young adulthood in no particular order, hopping from year to year going forward and backwards in a lazy zag.

My memories don’t work in chronological order. If you asked me what happened when I was three and four and five I’d have a hard time answering you. But if you asked me what happened with the pinata on my birthday I could tell you all the details about that, I was three I think. I could tell you about the time I tried to feed a bone to my dog and she bit me because I was a dumb kid who didn’t understand how she worked. I could tell you about the time I had to change my other dog all over the playground at school because he followed me there one afternoon. Or the time I lost a lens from my glasses and didn’t notice until an hour later. Or any of the number of times I had to climb in through my window or the bathroom window because remembering to take my keys was the most difficult thing as a kid. But these don’t come in order but rather they flit around, hover at the edges until a seemingly innocuous thing as a doodle brings them roaring to the surface and I am reminded of just how interesting life can be.

Monthly Triumphs: January

triumphsIt’s the end of the month which means it’s times to look back and see what was all accomplished. I wrote about my hopes for the new year and what I hope to accomplish overall but I also like to break down some of those things into smaller, monthly goals. Seeing something through for 30 days feels much easier than seeing something through for 365 days. Plus it’s just nice to look back and find some good things and think, “oh yeah that month wasn’t all terrible crap.” Here’s what my January looked like:

  • I realized I have a big sugar problem and so I made the goal of going “sugar free” in January. There are four times I know I failed at this and for starting out I think that’s pretty good. All of those times involved going out for brunch or drinks. I did not have any of the sweets at work (there are cookies/cake/chips brought in twice a week) and I ate healthy, nutritious, meals at home. Overall I would call this a success. I don’t crave sugar all the time the way I used to. Sometimes I’ll see something and think “Oh I want that!” but that never happens unless someone physically hands me something. I’m feeling really good about being able to limit my sugar intake overall and subbing healthier options when I want something sweet.
  • I also started making a real effort at meal planning this month. I have a shared calendar with Vahid and my goal was to be able to plan meals for two weeks at a time. This way I would know exactly what I should get from the farmer’s market, what meat we needed to buy/eat, and take the guess work out of taking lunch (and thus not having to run out and spend $15/day eating). This was more of a miss than a hit. I never got two weeks planned at a time but I am averaging about four days at a time which is better than before which was at 5pm everyday going, “what’s for dinner?” So it’s a work in progress.
  • This month I started (a few times) doing the 200 squats program. Last year I had much more strength that I do currently and I need to build up a bit more base strength before I feel comfortable picking up my kettlbells again. So I started this to get the strength in my body back so I can start really working out without fear of hurting myself (which I have done before by not watching my form and using a kettlebell that was too heavy for me). Right now I am on week three as I had to start over a couple of times due to missing days. But it feels nice to come home and work out for a bit before settling into my evening routine. It’s only the start to much more!
  • I think my biggest triumph this month is picking a venue and a date for the wedding! Vahid and I finally agreed that we needed to get married this year and actually dig into planning and figure out our finances around the wedding, what our budget for it was, etc. Literally a week later I was in talks with a venue that fell within our budget wonderfully and includes many aspects that usually drive up the cost. Right now we are signing contracts and setting up a pay schedule but we have a date! I’m so excited for our September wedding and getting on to the other details.

What did you accomplish this month? What good things are happening for you?