All posts by brianS

End of an Era

Last week, I closed out the Girl's 529 Account and this week, we'll be making our last ever(?!) tuition payment. We are now entering that netherworld between having "children" and becoming grandparents (with no guarantee that we will ever graduate to grandparent status).

So, what now?

Thankfully, we've been able to transition gradually, via the mostly-empty-nest, for about three years. And let me tell you, having the house to ourselves is pretty awesome. The Mrs and I can have conversations not about the kids, and we can, like we did Friday night, head up to bed at 7:30 p.m. with nobody to give us shit for being old.

Still, the "senior advisor" role takes some getting used to. When do you offer, when do you keep your damned mouth shut?

I'm like many guys, oriented toward fixing problems when I see them, rather than mere, passive availability of emotional support. I have seen my daughter struggling emotionally--with relationship issues, in particular, but also with mild mental health challenges, and found it very hard to find the right pitch. She's a brilliant, talented, highly opinionated, intensely moral, tightly-wound personality, slow to make friends but fiercely loyal when she does.

I've seen her fall in love. It was glorious. She positively shined. And I ached for her, knowing that there are tremendous risks that go with giving your heart to someone, particularly for the first time.

And I've seen that love crumble, as often happens, not-just-but-particularly with first real loves, and wondered how I could support her and give her what she needs.

I went through something vaguely similar when I was a college junior. A long-term, intense relationship died, not of my choosing (although to my long-term benefit). Picking up the pieces after is one of the signature challenges of becoming an adult. So I know that it's something that she mostly has to do herself. Knowing that doesn't make it much easier for a parent.

She comes home in two weeks for her last spring break. I get to wrap her in my arms again, maybe hold her hand on a walk, and tell her I love her. Maybe along the way, we'll get to have one of those conversations that two adults sometimes have with one another about things that matter. And then we'll send her back across the country for a last time as our dependent, before she goes out into the great, wide open.

Blind Mole

Adventures in Instant potting: making mole chicken.

We went out for dinner this weekend with friends to the locally famous Tower Cafe, where I happened to have a very, very good plate of chicken mole enchiladas. So I had a taste for mole.

Now, "real" mole is an all-day sort of affair. There's a reason I don't make it very often (like, almost never). But with the Miracle Machine (and some cheating), just maybe I could pull this off in a reasonable amount of time.

The recipe template

The ingredients
one large (28 oz) can red chile sauce ~a dozen assorted dried chiles (I used a combo of ancho/mulato, New Mexican Brown, and Guajillo) one onion, chopped
~six cloves garlic, smushed one small can diced fire-roasted tomatoes two chipotles and some of the sauce
1/3 cup raisins 1/3 cup sliced or slivered almonds 2 tbsp cocoa powder (Valrhona not required)
2 tbsp granulated onion 2 tbsp granulated garlic 1 tsp cinnamon (omitted because the Mrs is allergic, but it's authentick)
1 tsp dried oregano 1 tbsp ground cumin about six boneless, skinless chicken thighs

The technique:

stem and remove most of the seeds from the chiles. Toast for a few minutes (3-4 max) in a medium oven to bring out their fragrance. Break apart into largish pieces and set aside. Meanwhile, put your pot on "saute". When hot, add a tbsp or so of oil and saute the onion for a couple minutes, then add the garlic and saute for a minute more. Then stir in the tomatoes and all the dry ingredients (so they don't burn, but all get incorporated), the raisins and nuts, the chipotles, the dry chiles, and then the red chile sauce. Close the lid and set to about 8 minutes on "Manual." Release the pressure, scoop the sauce into a blender and blend until desired smoothness (or use a stick blender if you like things a little more chunky; I used the Vitamix to get a mostly smooth sauce). Reserve the sauce and wash the pot out so that you don't have any residual stuff to burn while starting the chicken. This will make a lot of sauce. You could omit the canned red chile sauce and instead use maybe a cup or two of chicken stock to get a smaller volume of sauce.

Put the (dried) pot back on saute. Add some oil and brown the chicken a bit (if desired; it doesn't really matter that much). Dump the sauce on top of the chicken. Don't bother to stir it in. Put on the lid and set to about 12 minutes on "Manual" (the recipe called for 10 minutes for thighs, which I used, but that did not get the chicken as done as I would have liked). Let cool ("natural release") for maybe ten minutes, then release any remaining steam manually. Mine had very little steam to release at this stage.

Remove chicken and shred. Return to pot. Check salt and correct seasoning.

Start to finish, this took about 90 minutes, less than half the time it would have taken on the stovetop. The sauce could have used more sweetness to balance (more raisins, maybe a touch of sugar) and the cinnamon. Sauce also needed some salt.

Serve with tortillas, chopped onion, sour cream, chopped cilantro, your favorite cheese for tacos, and a side of beans (I made Peruanos, which come out a creamy tan color, lighter than pintos in color and flavor -- these are often the paler refried beans you get at Mexican restaurants). And a beer or sangria or margarita.

Instant-aneous Indian: Instant Pot Shrimp Biryani

Bonus Appetite post this month. I heard an interview with Urvashi Pitre ("The Butter Chicken Lady") recently and saw a recipe on the NYT for pressure cooker shrimp biryani that she swore would taste authentic and take mere minutes. She was right on both counts.
Biryani on the stovetop takes a long time and a lot of prep. This version is quick and easy, once the (not so lot of) prep is done.
1. Soak 2 cups of your favorite long-grain rice for at least 30 minutes in water to cover by 2 inches or so. I used basmati, but jasmine would work well too. When you are ready to start sauteeing the veg, drain and rinse the rice and set aside.
2. Chop an onion
3. Finely chop about a tbsp of ginger and 3-5 cloves garlic
4. I wanted more veg than the recipe called for, so I cut a handful of green beans into 1-inch lengths and chunked a half of a yellow pepper and seeded/chopped a jalapeno (use a serrano for more bite). Even more veg would be good.
5. One small can of diced tomatoes, with juices.
6. Spices: a tsp of black mustard seeds plus 3-4 crushed green cardamom pods in one container. In another container: 1 tsp each turmeric, hot chile powder (such as cayenne; I used an Indian chile; use to taste if you don't like super spicey, although this amount did not make the dish hot, per the Mrs, who is not a chile head), smoked paprika, and granulated garlic, plus 1 tbsp kosher salt and ten fresh curry leaves, torn into small pieces (this is an optional, as curry leaves can be hard to find).
7. 1.5 cups boiling water.
8. Juice of a lime plus wedges for garnish
9. A half cup or so of chopped cilantro for garnish.
10. At least a dozen extra large or jumbo shrimp (I used 21-25s, which worked fine; bigger would be even better), peeled and deveined. At least 3-4 per serving. This amount of rice will easily serve 4-5 as a main course. Mine were frozen, so I had to thaw. They were very cold still when they went in, which probably helped them not over-cook.

1. Put the Miracle Machine on "saute" to get hot, then add a nub of butter (I used about an ounce) and a tbsp or so of oil. When the oil is hot, add the cardamom and mustard seeds. Let sputter for a few seconds, stirring, then add the onion and saute for 3-4 minutes.
2. Add the veg and saute for a minute or so.
9. Add the ginger and garlic and stir for a few seconds.
10. Add the remaining spices and stir for a few seconds until fragrant.
11. Add the boiling water. Scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any fond.
12. Add the rice, shrimp and tomatoes. Stir briefly, then put the lid on. Set to manual, high pressure for THREE MINUTES. I actually added the rice, stirred in the tomatoes, then put the shrimp on top.
13. When the timer goes off, do a manual release (mine did not even release any steam!), remove lid and stir in the lime juice. Turn off the machine. Put the lid back on and let rest for five minutes.
14. Serve. You can stir in the cilantro or use it for garnish if you have some cilantro haters.
15. Enjoy.

Start to finish, this took about 30 minutes.
shrimp biryani