24 April 2016

(Seriously) Easy Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate

I've always had a complicated relationship with coffee. I go through bits where my body can handle it and I soak up the caffeine and feel pleasantly a-jitter. Then there's other times where I accidentally consume 3+ cups in one day and if I don't repeat that same amount the following day I get crazy withdrawal headaches and feel miserable. When that happens, I must reset my system, cutting out coffee (not caffeine entirely - I switch to the maté I should have been drinking all along) for at least 2 weeks and feel much better. In March, I cut out coffee completely. I would be lying if I said that my entire life did not vastly improve: I slept better, I thought clearer, and I felt more in control of myself. Unfortunately, right now I'm struggling to get a full night's sleep, running on whatever I can to get me through these final days of school and subbing before summer, and coffee is once again my crutch, my OTP, my savior.

And don't get me wrong - I love coffee. There is something romantic about pouring heavy cream into a hot cup of coffee, sipping it slowly as the sun rises and reading a good book. There is something romantic even about a bad cup of coffee. There is something romantic about catching up with a friend in a coffee shop. (Side note: I recently read and listened to this badass old podcast on NPR featuring Steven Johnson about how coffee houses can be held accountable for major advancements of the past 3 centuries.)

My boyfriend and I discovered the Califia brand cold brew coffee last year. That lead us both down an artisanal, overpriced rabbit hole of cold brew coffees. We've tried them all, even the Stumptown on nitro at Whole Foods. And we loved them all, very deeply. But they are fucking expensive, as I'm sure you all know. Like, Starbucks expensive. And packaged in plastic bottles, which I refuse to purchase.

Our solution: homemade cold brew coffee.

It's almost embarrassing to post this "recipe" on here because it's not really a recipe so much as it's a guideline. And it's so easy you're going to want to slap me silly for even having the audacity to devote a whole post to this. But, as promised, here it is.

Homemade Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate

  1. Step One: Get a glass, air-tight container. I was so blessed to find these amazing glass Stagioni milk bottles at the Container Store. They were so cheap - like, $3.99 - and I have definitely got my money's worth.
  2. Step Two: Fill your glass jar about 1/3 full of freshly ground coffee of your choice (today, it was organic hazelnut from Sprouts).
  3. Step Three: Fill the glass jar with cold, filtered water (straight from your Brita) until there is about 2 inches of space left at the top.
  4. Step Four: Shake the heck out of your jar until all the coffee is mixed around with the water.
  5. Step Five: Fill in the remaining two inches of air space with filtered water.
  6. Step Six: Place in refrigerator for at least 12 hours (can leave in the fridge for up to 48 hours).
  7. Step Seven: When you're ready for your first amazing cup of homemade cold brew coffee, strain the coffee grounds (using a French press or strainer - I don't have a French press, and my fine mesh strainer does the job).
  8. Step Eight: Dilute your coffee concentrate (and yes - it will be CONCENTRATED) with hot water (for, um, hot coffee) or cold water with ice (for the cold kind of coffee). Add milk or cream or coconut milk or almond milk or drink that shit black - the world is your cup of cold brew coffee - enjoy it however you please.
Namaste! 


19 March 2016

Sagan Saturday: Pale Blue Dot Poetry


I was introduced to the work of Carl Sagan about 4 years ago, and since then I have had a posthumous crush on this incredible astrophysicist. Prior to reading his work, I never imagined that I, an English major and lover of beautiful prose, could ever digest and understand (let alone be moved by) a scientist's writing. The first time I picked up a Sagan book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, my life was forever changed. His words and ideas investigated the very issues I myself have wrestled with for years. I began to understand science as a framework through which to deal with life - not in this cold, factual way- but instead through this eloquent, we-are-all-connected-to-each-other sort of way. By understanding the Laws of Thermodynamics that govern our Universe on a small and large scale, I have begun to accept that everything is unfolding as it should. Through Sagan, I have come to know and understand myself better by knowing and understanding the world, the Universe, and how I fit into it.

Carl Sagan's beautifully eloquent and awe-inspiring speech reflecting on his time in space, Pale Blue Dot, is one of my all-time favorite videos (right up there with NDT's Most Astounding Fact - which also inspired my own poetry from the transcript).


In this humbling video, we hear Sagan discuss his emotions experienced while turning back towards earth from deep space and seeing the planet appear like a small "mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam." Consider that image for a moment: our Universe is so vast, so large, so infinite that our seemingly large Earth, full of everything you have ever known or will know about anything - appeared as small as a piece of dust floating in a ray of light. This thought gives me chills and makes me feel so ... what's the word? ... humbled.

The quote I stole from his transcript is a different part of his speech. Here, he's talking about how scientists are not considered eloquent (ah! how I used to feel) because they know how the world works and that mystery of beauty is gone. The quote begins: "It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery - " The following poem is the rest of that quote, broken out into line breaks to make the speech become a poem. May you be inspired and moved in such a way that I myself have been.  
But is it not
stirring
to understand
how the world actually works —
that white light is made of colors,
that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light,
that transparent air reflects light,
that in so doing it discriminates among the waves,
and
that the sky is blue
for the same reason that the sunset is red?
It does no harm
to the romance of the sunset
to know a little bit about it.
Rat Beach, Torrance, CA - 13 March 2016

Namaste.

31 January 2016

Hate your job? QUIT!

"This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often. If you don't like something, change it. If you don't like your job, QUIT."

I discovered this poster a few years ago on Brainpickings. I was just entering my quarter-life crisis, and I was struggling in every way imaginable - emotionally, physically, psychologically. I had a fantastic job, doing exactly what I thought I wanted to do. I was trained properly, the work was challenging and engaging. The people were good to me. On paper, I was climbing the proverbial career ladder, making all the right proverbial moves up the right proverbial steps. All this, and yet, I felt dead on the inside.

So I moved on. I moved on to a place that was the furthest from what I wanted, but I spent 10 months convincing myself that this was good for me, that I would come out ahead, that I would start to love it like I had once hated the taste of chipotle peppers and now love them, or how sauerkraut used to be my worst nightmare and now I snack on it. I stayed 10 months, until finally my therapist told me to leave because my mental wellbeing was more important than any form of resume-embellishing, promotional potential.

And I moved on again. This time, at this place, I hit my wall. It was in this job (being general because I don't want to offend anyone) that I not only learned the value in loving what you do, but also loving the people you do it with.

I needed an escape route. I scanned the job postings I was qualified for mindlessly and nothing - I repeat NOTHING was what I could picture myself doing long term. All I could picture was myself becoming a teacher and thriving in an environment of ideas and learning and knowledge. And I know that some people grow to love their jobs and that yes, this could have happened to me, but I wasn't interested in trying to love my job anymore.

So, I fucking quit. 


I am not naive. I understand how blessed I was to be able to just quit - I didn't have any huge overhead: no kids, no huge bills to pay. I didn't have any plans. I do have a supportive family that allows me to live rent free, cooks and cleans for me, and hugs me when I cry. I have the best boyfriend in the world who helped me to see that killing myself at a dead-end job was sucking the life out of me.

Before and after I quit, I spent hours reading and writing and imagining what my Best Life looked like. My Best Life was discovered after daydreaming about what kind of job I could see myself doing every day for the next 30+ years. Did I see myself sitting at a desk (regardless of how fancy the view and how comfy the chair) writing and editing? Every day? For 30+ years? Did I see myself engaging students in foundational skills and helping them to be the best they could be? Every day? For 30+ years? I wrote and I questioned and I discussed and I observed and I wrote-questioned-discussed-observed some more.

It wasn't black and white, hardly anything in life ever is. I had so many fears and questions and negative future fantasies about what was going to happen. But I put them aside for small moments at a time and began taking steps toward going back to school. I took the CBEST, I applied to school. I spent hours talking to my teacher friends about their jobs, pluses and minuses and curriculum and administrators and students and parents. And all this just further reaffirmed that I was doing the right thing, and that I was doing it at the right time.

Flash forward a year and a half. I'm almost done with my credential, subbing on my days off of school, I student teach next fall, then I have a whole new set of skills to enter an entirely different industry. I have to remind myself to be patient, but I am overall crawling-out-of-my-skin ecstatic at the prospect of having my own classroom.

I am not advocating that y'all go quit your jobs and come teach. Let me repeat: I am not advocating that if you hate your job that teaching is for you. Teaching was something I wanted to do, deep down, since about second grade. It is not an easy job. It is not going to be all sunshine and roses and student notes saying what a wonderful teacher I am. What I am advocating is this: if you find yourself like me, slowly dying at your work desk each day, don't waste time waiting for things to get better. They might, but they also might not. Spend every free moment you have imagining and writing what your dream job would be - in any industry. And take the baby steps you need to get there. Above all, know yourself well enough to know when enough is enough.

Be patient. Be honest with yourself. And if you hate your job, please, quit.

Namaste.

18 January 2016

#carnitassunday

About a year ago, my boyfriend and I had grown tired of ordering carnitas taco (or plate) after carnitas taco (or plate) and being disappointed. Every place we entered - be it roadside taco truck or upscale Mexican restaurant - failed at wowing (or even, like, wooing) us. Not one place had put much thought into the flavor of the meat, and texture wasn't even an afterthought. To us, a true carnitas is a little limey, a little spice-y (the flavorful kinda spice), and crispy. The crisp factor is what we really longed for - so that when you bite into your taco, there's a synergistic reaction where the corn tortilla is soft and chewy and the meat is crispy and you are taken down this dichotomous road of soft and crispy - it's like the sweet and salty of textures.

So I decided to start making my own. It was a Sunday in November. I didn't really know what I was doing, but I had read enough traditional recipes and watched enough videos to give myself a basic understanding. I was so happy with my creation, I posted it on Instagram as #carnitassunday, and each subsequent Sunday that I have made carnitas has used that same hashtag.

Carnitas, like many Mexican-style meats, is very versatile. With the exception of Vapril (vegetarian + April) that I do each year, carnitas fits the macros of nearly any eating plan: high-fat-low-carb, Whole30 (being mindful of your meat quality), open diet (hopefully using homemade tortillas!), and anything in between. I find that Sunday is best day to make a carnitas. Done correctly - with the right amount of lime, garlic salt, and crispiness, your carnitas is a religious experience. If you get a big enough roast, you are guaranteed to have leftovers, which means the religious experience continues throughout the week.

Below, you will find my recipe, which isn't so much a recipe as it is a guideline. The best part about a carnitas is that it tastes different each and every time you make it - some days you will forget to buy an orange, other days you'll want to use star of anise to see how that tastes. There is no such thing as a bad carnitas (except for that one time I grossly overcooked mine).

I hope this recipe inspires you to start your own #carnitassunday tradition. 

Ingredients + Tools

  • Crockpot
  • 2-5 lb bone-in pork butt/shoulder
  • 1 white onion
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1 orange
  • 6-10 limes
  • Organic or high-quality butter (ghee for Whole30 compliance)
  • Cumin
  • Coriander seeds
  • Dried oregano
  • Dried chile de arbol (ground chile powder is fine)
  • Salt-free garlic herb seasoning (like Mrs. Dash)
  • Garlic salt
  • Any toppings you like, dependent upon your method of consumption (tortillas for tacos, guacamole, salsa, cheese, pico de gallo, more limes, chopped cilantro and onion, pickled radish, etc.)

Procedure

  1. Prepare the crockpot: chop the onion in random slices and line the bottom of the crockpot. 
  2. Prepare the herby dry rub: in a molcajete (if you have one, otherwise I recommend buying high-quality ground spices) combine your desired amount of coriander, cumin, chile de arbol, and salt-free garlic + herb seasoning. Grind the herbs until powdery (and enjoy the smell while doing so). The amount of powder needed is dependent upon your size of meat - eyeballing is fine. 
  3. Massage the meat: rub the mixtue all over the meat, covering it completely. I recommend using gloves and doing this in the basin of the crockpot itself to avoid a serious mess. 
  4. Add the citrus: squeeze the orange over the meat and leave the rinds in the crockpot while the meat cooks. Squeeze about 1.5 limes over the meat, being careful not to allow the juice to rinse the paste off the meat. 
  5. Take the whole garlic cloves and shove them into the crevices of the meat (sometimes it’s loose around the bone). 
  6. Shake oregano to cover the entire outside of the meat. 
  7. Set the crockpot to low and meat will be ready in 6-7 hours (for small roasts, aim for 6-6.5; larger ones aim for 7). 

Browning the Meat

Browning the meat is the most important step in the #carnitassunday process, and unfortunately many restaurants miss the crisping step. 
  1. Once the meat is cooked, (carefully) lift the meat out of the crockpot. Often, the meat is so tender that it slides right off the bone. Use caution when lifting the hot meat out of the crockpot. Hold on to the juices (there will be plenty) for later.
  2. Once the meat has cooled enough so that you can handle it with your fingers, begin shredding the meat into large chunks. Do not shred the meat too fine, as this will dispose of the juices that give the meat its flavor. 
  3. Heat up a skillet (preferably cast iron) on medium heat. Coat the skillet with a small amount of butter/ghee. 
  4. Once the skillet is almost smoking, add a large handful of meat to the skillet. The meat should sizzle and pop - this is good. Using a large spoon or ladle, scoop some of the juice from the crockpot onto the meat - this will add immense flavor. 
  5. Allow the meat to stay there until it is golden brown/almost burnt on one side (about 2-3 minutes). Flip over and brown the other side. 
  6. Place browned meat in a large bowl. Squeeze enough lime juice to lightly coat the meat and sprinkle garlic salt to taste. This is the only salt used on the meat, so keep this in mind when salting. 
  7. Continue until all the meat is browned. 
  8. (Optional) Save the leftover juice and onions from the roast (even the bone) and use as a base in your optional black bean side dish - you will not be disappointed in the flavor. 

Post your own #carnitassunday pictures to Instagram using that hashtag.


20 November 2015

The Universe is in us


The following poem is a remix of one of my favorite videos of (literally) all time. It is adapted from a clip of a podcast with astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson in which the interviewer asked him what the most astounding fact about the entire Universe is.  Please, enjoy.


The Universe is in Us
Adapted from Neil DeGrasse Tyson

So that when I look up
at the night sky
and I know that yes, we
are part of this universe,
we are in this universe,
but perhaps more important
than both of those facts
is that
the Universe is in us.

I look up.

Many people feel small because
they’re small
and the Universe is big.
But I feel big,
because my atoms came
from those stars.

There’s a level of connectivity.

That’s really what
you want in life,
you want
to feel connected,
you want
to feel relevant
you want
to feel like you’re a participant
in the goings on
of activities and events
around you.
That’s precisely
what we are,
just by being alive.

And the Universe is in us.

The Most Astounding Fact. Adapt. Max Schlickenmeyer. Perf. Neil DeGrasse Tyson. YouTube. N.p., 2 Mar. 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9D05ej8u-gU.