All posts by Mike

Chicken Tacos and Black Beans, Instant Pot Style

I made these two dishes over the last week, and they both ended up being really, really good.  Plus, they even go well together; I'm planning on having the leftovers from these two for my lunch tomorrow.  And I'm sure these recipes would be doable without the technological marvel that is an Instant Pot, but this is how I made them.  Plus, it gave me another reason to use the steam diverter my wife got for Christmas, which my kids call "angry daddy."  It looks pretty funny when it goes off, plus it makes it easy to turn the release valve without using a hot pad.

Chicken Tacos

(taken from here, with some small changes)

I had some leftover poblano peppers when I found this recipe, and thought I'd give it a shot.  It ended up with a bit more liquid in it than I would have preferred for tacos, but the chicken was tasty, and not at all dried out.  I'll probably try less liquid next time.  I was also worried beforehand that it would taste too much like orange juice,  but it ended up just having a hint of orange flavor.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large chicken breasts (about 3 pounds)
  • 1.5 tablespoons Kosher Salt
  • 1 teaspoons Pepper
  • 1  red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 Poblanos, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1.5 cups chicken stock
  • 1.5  cups orange juice

Set Instant Pot to sauté mode, and add a little oil.  Season chicken on all sides with salt and pepper.  When oil is hot, work in batches to sear chicken on both sides, leaving it alone for long enough to get a nice brown on it (not sure this step actually did much; could probably skip it, but I could get the chopping done while the chicken was in, so it probably didn't add that much time).  Remove to a plate when they are done browning.

Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then add peppers and onions.  Cook 5 minutes or so, until tender.  Then, add cumin and garlic, stirring for about a minute until fragrant.  Add back in the chicken along with the stock and orange juice.

Seal up the cover, and set for 35 minutes.  When timer goes off, wait 5 minutes, then release steam.  Remove the chicken, shred it, then stir it back in to the sauce.  Serve on lightly-charred corn tortillas with lime, cilantro, cheese, guacamole, hot sauce, etc.

I didn't think of writing this up until after dinner, so I didn't take a picture of the tacos, but here's what part of the leftovers looked like:

 

Black Beans

(taken from here, with some adjustments)

So those chicken tacos were good, but these black beans are great.  Everyone it the family loved them.  Both of my kids ate  multiple rounds at dinner, and one said they are his favorite beans ever (which is saying something from a kid who could probably eat an entire can of refried beans by himself).  They end up tasting rich and salty, with the creamy liquid pairing with the just-slightly-al-dente beans to make a perfect texture combination.  Plus, it's super cheap and easy, and no soak required.

This is the recipe for half the original batch on the website above, which still makes a lot of beans.  They save well in the fridge, but a full pound of beans is more than we can get through in a week.

  • 0.5 pound dry black beans
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 0.5 yellow onion, sliced in rounds
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced in half
  • 0.5 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce

Put everything in the Instant Pot.  Seal the lid, and set if for 30 minutes. (The recipe I took this from called for only 22 minutes, but the beans were still pretty crunchy at that point, so I kept adding time and testing it, and it ended up being about 30 total.)  Let it sit for 10 minutes when the time is up, then release the steam and serve.

These beans are great on their own or with some hot sauce.  Sour cream would make some sense here, too.  They work as a side for grilled meat or tacos, as a vegetarian burrito filling,  or just on their own; a bowl of these beans makes for a pretty great lunch.

I also didn't take a picture of this when I made it, but it still looks pretty good after a couple of days in the fridge.

My wife is pregnant. It’s not mine…

…. and it’s not hers, either.  She is acting as a surrogate for someone else.  

We initially signed up to do this without knowing who the intended parent would be.  We (mostly she, but I had to some of this) signed on with an agency, expecting this would be for someone we had never met before.  But, when she started telling some of her friends about this, one said she had been in the process of looking for a surrogate, and asked if my wife would do it for her.  So, in the end, the intended parent will be someone we know, and are friends with.  That’s been nice, to get to see her excitement and anticipation grow as we get closer.  The baby mamma’s parents are also super excited; the mom is an only child, so this will likely be their only grandchild.  It’s definitely a nice feeling, knowing that all we are putting into this is going to cause such happiness for someone else.  

She’s due on November 1, so about 6 weeks left.  That means that it’s really, really obvious she is pregnant, so of course we get lots of comments from random people all the time*.   Depending on the question and the situation, my wife will often respond that the baby is not ours, which leads to reactions in two main categories:

  1. Wow, that’s so amazing!  What a gift to give someone!  You are so awesome!
  2. Wow, I could never do that because...
    1. pregnancy was awful for me, I can’t imagine doing that again for someone else
    2. it would be too much like giving up my own baby.  Won’t it be hard to birth a baby and then give it up right away?

For 2.1, my wife had very easy pregnancies for both of our kids.  And so far, everything is going fine this time.  She’s getting more and more uncomfortable, but nothing more than the usual third trimester issues (back pain, swollen legs and ankles, exhausted, sore all over, etc.).

And for 2.2, it really hasn’t been a problem for us at all.  This has never been our child, so it’s not like we are giving away our own kid.  Some of that is having no genetic connection; this was IVF, with the intended mother’s egg and donor sperm.  But I think more of it is just the mindset that it isn’t our baby.  When we started this, I was a little worried how our kids would respond to this, but they seem to completely understand that this is not our baby.  They say momma is growing a baby for someone else.  It’s kind of like babysitting, just for a long time (and internally instead of externally, but sort of alike at least).

It’s a new situation for us, but not in a bad way.  It does feel a bit weird to be dealing with a pregnancy and preparing for a birth, while not at all preparing for a baby.  It’s not like we need to be getting a room ready, or setting up a crib, or getting baby clothes, or anything else.  The intended mom is doing all that, of course, but that’s not our job.  Once the baby comes, our part of this is done.

I don’t know for sure if we’ll do it again for someone else, but that’s definitely a strong possibility, depending on how this last month and a half goes.  I know agencies are always very interested in having women with previous surrogacy experience do it again.  That way, the biggest worry the intended parent could have (that you’d run off with their kid to a state with less favorable surrogacy laws [like Michigan; if you birth a baby there, it’s legally yours] before it’s born and keep it for yourself) gets allayed a bit.

Overall, so far so good.  We’ve been very happy with it, the new intended family is super excited, and all the pains and problems my wife has had (both during the pregnancy, and the many, many hormone shots at the beginning of all this) have been as expected.  I know doing this is not something for everyone, but based on how well this has gone, I think it really is something for us.

 

*I don’t really understand why seeing a woman that appears to be pregnant makes strangers feel that they have a right to ask invasive, personal questions.  I personally don’t mind all that much, and I don’t think my wife does, either, but I’m sure there are others in different circumstances that would.

Who Wants To Be An Astronaut?

Did anyone here used to want to be an astronaut when they grew up?  I don’t remember ever wanting to be an astronaut as a kid.  I think it seemed like a job that regular people don’t ever have, so I’m not sure I ever even thought of it as a real possibility.

NASA announced a new call for astronaut applicants at the end of 2015, and I didn’t seriously consider applying.  I have the degrees and work experience that I would certainly meet the minimum qualifications.  Not saying I would be highly ranked among those who have the required background, and I don’t hold any illusions that I would have been one of the few selected, but I don’t think I’d be the first one removed from the list, either.  Since I teach astronomy, my students often ask me if I would ever try to become an astronaut.  If I had to option to go to space tomorrow, I would sign up immediately.  But, the actual day-to-day work of an astronaut, the years of training, that is not a job I actually want to do.  I love teaching, and don’t really want to become an engineer.

My outlook on the possibility of being an astronaut has changed a great deal since I was a kid.  It is of course still a difficult job to get, but it’s now so much more attainable to me than it seemed as a kid.  I know a few people who have applied in previous years and who also applied this time, some from the civilian side and some as active duty military.  My wife considered applying to this most recent call for applications, and even started working on it, but never actually submitted it.  (Turns out it probably wouldn’t have mattered either way; 18,300 people applied for 14 or fewer positions, so being selected is certainly a long shot.)

For my wife, being an astronaut was something doable, something that could really happen.  She grew up with an astronaut in her family, and lived in the same neighborhood as a bunch of other astronaut families.  Current Administrator of NASA Charlie Bolden’s kids used to babysit her.  For her growing up, being an astronaut was a job real people have, not just something she saw on TV or read about in books.

My youngest son is almost 3, and he’s started saying he wants to go to the moon.  He has spent the last four months saying he wants to be a construction worker when he grows up, but now he’s shifted to saying he wants to be an astronaut construction worker who builds things on the moon.  For my kids, being an astronaut when they grow up seems like more of a possibility than it ever was for me.  For them, it can be “I want to be an astronaut like ______ was.”

I hope that big, long-shot jobs like becoming an astronaut remain a possibility in their minds.  I’m of course not the first parent to hope their kids will see the whole world as a possibility, I just hope I can help them keep feeling like they can do anything.

A look back

So, I originally thought I was going to be doing a FKB in November, and started writing something up.  Then, someone else did one, and I sort of forgot about it, and now I’m up for reals.  But, since I wrote up a bit of a post a few months ago, I though it’d be interesting to see how things have changed in the past three months.  This was a pretty enlightening exercise for me, seeing how much things have changed in what seems like such a short period of time.  Then again, to a 2 year old, 3 months is a pretty substantial chunk of his life, so maybe I shouldn’t be quite so surprised.  To try to make it clearer which section is from which time, I put what I wrote in November in normal font, and today’s in italics.

(As a background, we have two boys; one is 4.5, and the other just turned 2 in January.)

Then vs. Now

Then: In general, they are both great kids.  The older one is amazingly helpful to us and his brother, and rarely does much to cause any big problems.  Of course there are things that could be better (still having frequent accidents and lying are the two biggest), but he’s always been such an easy kid to deal with.  I see how he acts compared to his classmates in preschool, and am constantly amazed at how mature he acts.

Now: It took a very long time to get to this point, but the frequent accidents from our 4-year-old seem to be mostly done.  In November he was still having accidents at least 3-4 days per week at school, but today it almost never happens.  I had always hoped we could wait this out, and turns out we did.  As for the lying, that also seems to have been a bit of a phase.  I think he figured out at some point that he could sometimes get away with not telling the truth, and was sort of testing it out for a while.

Then: However, lately we’ve been having a lot of difficulty with our almost 2-year old.  Whenever he gets bored, or we aren’t paying attention to him, he acts out.  That includes throwing things, dumping everything from a bookshelf onto the floor, intentionally hurting his older brother, just general crappy kid stuff.

Now: This seems to have mostly passed as well.  He still certainly has his momentary tantrums, but they are now far less often, and far less destructive.  His newest move is to pour his (or his brother’s) cup of water out on the floor or table.  Certainly annoying to have to clean up, but not that terrible a thing to do.

Then: Plus, bedtime has become a huge problem, which I could believe is the cause of these issues, or an effect of the same phase.  As recently as 2-3 weeks ago, bedtime with the young one was so easy.  We’d read him a book, lay him in bed, turn on his music box, and he’d go to sleep.  Easy as pie.  Then, for whatever reason, everything changed.  Instead of going to sleep, he would open his door, bang the door against the wall, and yell.  There’s a baby gate in front of his door, so he can’t get out, but he sure can be a huge pain.  We had already put up the little door stoppers that attach onto the hinge of the door, so that he couldn’t actually hit it into the wall.  Well, he managed to push the door hard enough to break a hole in the hollow door, which then allowed him to break a large hole in the drywall with the door handle.  Good times on that one.

Now: We’ve adjusted bed time regimens, and it has certainly helped.  Rather than leaving right after reading him a book, we stay with him for a while.  The downside is we now end up laying in his room for 20-30 minutes most nights, waiting for him to fall asleep.  It still beats holes getting punched into the wall, but I’d rather not be spending that much time sitting in there, waiting for him to finally go down.  I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to keep improving this part of our day-to-day routine, and hopefully getting where we can leave while he’s still awake.

Then: I’m pretty sure these bedtime tantrums will pass (hey look, I was right!), but I worry a bit about how we are dealing with it.  It seems like between my wife and I, there is always at least one of us that has been stretched to (or past) our limits.  That leads to too much yelling, too much anger, and too much escalation, which of course never helps the situation.  When we’re both available, we do a pretty good job of tagging the other one out when we see that they’re in too deep, but that’s of course not always possible.  Dealing with this, along with a ton of extra duties at work, have stretched us both pretty thin.  It’s almost the end of the semester (my wife and I are both professors), so I can at least see the end in sight.  But while we’re in it, I know I’ve been too quick to anger, and I don’t like the way things go after that.

Now: This is still an issue, but we’re getting better at it.  The triggers have changed, but I still feel like we don’t deal with our emotions as well as we could.  We’ve both been frustrated to no end by both kids just flat out ignoring us lately.  Having to say everything over and over just eventually drains me, and leads to poor results for everyone.  My wife and I are both making a big conscious effort to get more/better sleep, and I feel like this is helping.  If we can keep up this better sleep schedule, hopefully we’ll be able to keep ourselves from getting quite so overwhelmed.

 

Well, I feel like I’ve rambled on enough, and hopefully others will find this retro account interesting, too.  For me, writing this all out helps me remember a bit better that, whatever is going on with the kids now is temporary.  For better or worse, things will change.