Stew Chicken with Rice & Beans

I’m stashing this here because I’m terrible about improvising on recipes, nailing one, and then not having any record of it later for reproduction (look, my brother’s the scientist in the family, my strength is logic, not careful replicable procedures (although I’m working on that with this weekend’s ReimageFest(tm))) (also, I’m the one in the family who’s comfortable with Lisps, as you might well glean from my rampant use of parentheses)

But tonight we’re making a variant of our beloved Belizean stew chicken with fried plantains, rice & beans, and coleslaw and I wanted to learn from my mistakes/victories. Here are the base recipes:

I’m futzing with them in the following ways:

  • 1/2 the amount of chicken in the recipe, but full amount of spices & vegetables. (Probably twice the cumin, tbh. Also, using achiote roja instead of recado because we’re out of the latter).
  • used white vinegar, not lemon juice.
  • adding the optional green pepper and a tomato (technically two seeded roma tomatoes but that’s roughly the size of a normal tomato). The jury is out on the cilantro and brown sugar. Cilantro doesn’t scream ‘belize’ to me.
  • roughly 3 cups of water to cover the chicken etc.
  • I totally don’t understand the “Heat the oil in a heavy pan or deep skillet and sprinkle flour, stirring to dissolve (like a thin roux) before adding chicken pieces.” No oil was specified in the ingredient list, nor flour. I winged (ha) it with about 2mm of grapeseed oil to cover the bottom of the pan (quite a wide pan – ~14″ diameter?) and ~3 tsp/1Tbsp flour.
  • oh, and I had it on medium-high heat. Also not specified 🙂
  • For the beans, we cheated on the soak time b/c we’re using an electric pressure cooker (hi, Instant Pot!). We got some small red beans (supposedly Chilean (I’m really annoyed that I didn’t make room in my suitcase to bring back the “Central American Red Beans” that I bought in NYC – surely those were the exact right ones! (GOYA brand, in case you care))) and soaked them for 3.5 hours.
  • We’re making 1/2 the recipe of this as well, so 1/2 lb beans & ~2.5 cups water (I used the soaking water because I’ve heard that helps with… um… digestion).
  • 1 onion, 3 cloves garlic, the soaked beans, the 2.5 c soaking water into the Instant Pot & set to ‘beans/chili’ for 10 minutes and then natural pressure release. Research suggested 8-9 minutes for beans soaked overnight & ~25 min for dry beans. No one is very clear on how much water so I winged that as well. If the beans aren’t done when the cooker is done, we can throw ’em back in before adding the rice.
  • We actually bought ‘normal rice’ for this! (My understanding is that normal rice is long grain white rice. YMMV. We have about a dozen different kinds of rice in the house but that was not one of them.) Plan is to halve that as well, which should be about 2 cups, but I’ll check the ratio of beans:rice when adding it before re-cooking on ‘rice’ setting.

Update: the beans lie like a rug. 10 min at pressure was not even close. 10 MORE minutes still wasn’t done! (although I may have needed to add more water that I didn’t. Fine. FINE. Added another cup+ of water & back in for another 10 minutes. Still waiting to add the rice. Apparently we’re eating at midnight.)

Chicken update: very flavourless – added all the rest of the achiote roja we had (which, to be fair, was probably stale & had suffered a loss of potency.) Finally, between adding that (about 6x the suggested amount of recado), about 1 Tbsp of Frank’s Red Hot sauce (because we’re almost out of Marie Sharp’s), and about 4 Tbsp of Worcestershire sauce and taking the lid off, we have something that is still basically flavourless to me but Bill says is really good (the peril of being the chef is that spending so much time among the odours means that you become desensitized and can’t necessarily judge the taste properly). So, original recipe, quintuple the spices, add Worcestershire & hot sauce, and we’re good, apparently.

Addendum: We’re also having cole slaw & fried plantains. Bill is a staunch advocate of plain mayonnaise (rather than Miracle Whip, which I prefer) so we based the recipe for cole slaw around that. Turns out that “salad cream” is what we really want (which is apparently better approximated by Miracle Whip than mayo, so there!) so we had to improvise. “Steve” suggests this approximation & although we don’t have any icing sugar, we made do with cane sugar. We shredded cabbage & carrots for the cole slaw & nothing else. The plantains are just plantains, fried in butter. Some things are best in simplicity.

Trying something new

For quite some time now, I’ve been telling myself that I want to write more. There’s plenty of research that shows that writing is a great way to get to know yourself better and, in many situations, to feel better. A lot of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is based on getting your thoughts out of your head and out into the real world where you can see how distorted they are.

And I have been writing more! Since December 12th, I’ve been doing the ‘morning pages’ exercise from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and I’ve been finding it to be really helpful for my overall mood and willingness to try new things.

But that’s really only basically stream of consciousness writing, not anything more structured. And it’s just thoughts, not creativity, really (I mean, it COULD be – you can write anything you want in the morning pages, but for me it’s a cross between a ‘brain drain’ (Cameron actually refers to it that way and it’s a good metaphor) and a bit of a journal (which I ALSO want to do more of). It’s not really the type of writing I think I want to try.

So day after day I say to myself “I should sit down and write something.” (THAT sentence shows up in the morning pages pretty regularly). I borrowed “The Writer’s Lab” from the library & it’s due back tomorrow, unused. So I decided to get curious about what was really holding me back.

My first thought was “well, I don’t really have a place to write” Sure, nobody ever does any writing in coffee shops or in bed or at the desk or at one of the THREE computers they own (in fairness, two of them are over five years old).

That was followed by “but I don’t know what tools I should use!” Ah yes… The self-perpetuating variant of yak-shaving that is tool-smithing. Perhaps the greatest method of procrastination ever invented by humans (and one particularly beloved by software developers because we can make new tools to avoid doing what the tool is supposed to make easier).

But there’s a little bit of truth in that last one. I am very much enjoying writing with pen & paper for the morning pages and have developed a bit of a fetish for nice stationary and writing tools. But there are pragmatic reasons to write on a computer, not least of which is the complete illegibility of  my handwriting (not good to start with and completely devastated by a career in software). It’s also pretty much a given that any publication of what I write will be done via computer. Transcribing my own writing doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to me, although there are benefits to that type of process. It forces a write/edit/revise cycle that can too easily be short-circuited by ‘live’ writing. But I think it makes sense for me to start out on the computer and go from there.

“Medium” or “WordPress”†? “WriteRoom” or “Sublime”? “Scrivener”? OK, now you’re just fucking around. Pick one and get on with it. Delay any decision you can (a good rule in general, as long as you’re taking into all the factors that make up whether ‘you can’) and start.

So I am. I am making one concession to my poor mind that is afraid of failing/rejection/mockery. I’m going to do all the fiction-type writing on the MacBook Air, using WriteRoom, with wifi turned off. That machine will become THE place to write creatively and that will also lend a bit of ceremony to the act of sitting down to write. Not so much that it’s ‘precious’ but enough to give it a bit of a sense of occasion and to celebrate that I’m trying something new.

† While I was trying to figure out what it was that was stopping me from getting started, I realized something surprising. I was worried about writing on WordPress at this site because I was afraid no one would find and read what I wrote. But I was also worried about writing on Medium because I was afraid that people WOULD find and read what I wrote. Recognizing that last part was the thing that got me moving.

 

Today in computery things.

Success! I sorted out a git merge problem all by myself and it worked! And wrote some unit tests in Xcode, thanks to Natasha The Robot!

Fail! My mac had two kernel panics today. The first time I suspect Xcode because it had been a bit crashy, but it wasn’t running the second time. So I’m now side-eyeing Spotify and vagrant.

Neutral, followed by hilarious! I thought of a Zulip feature I wanted to add that I thought would be pretty quick to do because there were examples in other parts of the system for all the required ‘chunks’ (display sublist over here, find all PMs over there – should be a pattern matching exercise. And it was, at first, as I added code and tested it in the Chrome dev tools. (Have I mentioned how freakin’ ecstatic I am to have access to a proper debugger in a browser? I learned about it two weeks ago and I still catch myself giggling with delight). Then all of a sudden Zulip completely stopped working. So I undid my most recent change. Still busted. Undid the previous one. Still busted. Here’s where I start shaking my fist at dynamically typed/interpreted languages that don’t have compiler errors. I worked on it for a while and finally sent up a flare, asking for anyone who knew python well and the Zulip codebase at least a bit.

A fellow Recurser came to my aid and I started walking him through my code, talking pretty quickly until I saw the look of confusion on his face. I asked him what wasn’t clear and he said “I thought you said you were having trouble with python. This is Javascript.”

He was, of course, correct. I had been working in Javascript all afternoon (c.f. delight for the Chrome debugger above – bit of a tip-off, eh?). I just had been so used to working in the Zulip back end, which is written in python, that my brain had set WORKING_LANGUAGE=”python”. I mean that context was well and truly set, to the point where I had looked up the best way to determine if a python Dictionary contained a key and written some code in that format. But I had deleted it before saving & running it because I’d realized I didn’t need that check.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I can work in a language without knowing which one I’m in (in truth, I tend to base so much of my coding style on the style of the code that I’m modifying that it’s not terribly surprising) but I’m guessing it didn’t boost my credibility very much 🙂

At any rate, I have fallen back to what all of us with more than a couple of year’s programming experience do when we hit these types of errors-that-can’t-be-possible: copy all my changes somewhere else, grab a fresh copy of the pre-modified code, and reapply each tiny change one by one, testing & committing after each change. Same as it ever was.

It has been ‘a week’ (wait for it – there’s an upturn at the end)

Of the 6 subway trips I have taken (so far) this week, the first 4 had major issues: train taken out of service, “sick passenger” at a downstream station (which I truly hope is not a euphemism for someone on the tracks), track situation (based on the MTA ads, likely a track fire due to litter (people, pick up your litter!)), and just an unknown ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ delay. Each was 30 minutes minimum. I didn’t mind much: the out of service was the day I took the J, so I was above ground & got a lovely view of early morning sun, the ‘sick passenger’ was no doubt having a MUCH worse day than I was, the track situation one I was on the train with a friend who I enjoyed talking with, and for the ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I was listening to a Pema Chödrön track I had somehow not heard before!

The thing that had bothered me a bit was that I finally gave into the pressure to drop off my laundry instead of doing it myself and that.. did not go well. I stopped to drop it off Monday morning (including pyjamas) on my way in to the Recurse Center with the expectation that it would be done for pickup that evening. It was going to be $8! Less than it cost me to do it myself! But… apparently it would be done Tuesday evening.

That’s not what I had been led to expect. ALL my clothes were in there (like I said – even pyjamas!). I asked if there was a way to pay more for express service and the gal behind the counter looked slowly over her shoulder. As I gazed along the wall of bags of laundry, I knew what the answer would be. No. Ok, that’s fine, I hate sleeping in clothing anyway – it’s only b/c I’m at an Airbnb that I even bother. And I have either some summer capris or some fancy clothes I can wear on Tuesday. [Note: this was before the first of the Train Events so I didn’t know what was coming.]

Fast forward past a lotta train stuff to me stopping by Tuesday evening (7pm) to pick up my laundry. When I dropped it off, I tried to pay for it but the credit card processor wasn’t working (shoulda been a tip-off). The woman gave me a receipt anyway (which confused me because I hadn’t had any coffee yet – it was for my actual laundry pickup as opposed to a credit card slip) and told me to call to make sure it was done. In a fit of optimism (and because the laundromat is only 2 blocks from my place) I stopped by without calling.

Yeah. Not only was it not done, it wasn’t started. And when I asked about it by the receipt number, it wasn’t in the job log. The only reason she found it was that ‘black mesh bag’* was written on the slip (and the fact that I could see it as one of the foundation blocks in the new laundry wall and pointed at it). Here’s where it was a blessing that the CC didn’t work because when I said “Can I just have it back?” she asked “Did you already pay?” Since I hadn’t, she gave it to me. (I assume that she’d have given it to me anyway if I was willing to forfeit the $8, but clearly there was no way to give a refund).

So today, the day when the trains didn’t turn on me, I left RC early to do laundry. [It was windy & rainy enough today that an RC-er from Seattle went to buy an umbrella. Remember how I have a mesh black laundry bag? It’s technically a scuba fin bag which is great for letting wet fins drain and not so great for protecting freshly dried laundry from the rain] I loaded up the Stanford iTunes U Swift course on my iPad, grabbed the noise-cancelling headphones, wrapped the mesh <smdh> laundry bag in my trenchcoat & headed out.

The laundromat actually didn’t require the noise-cancelling headphones that early (by comparison, when I stopped by last night to pick up my clothes, there was a kid literally racing around the place on a razor scooter and three others screaming and hunting each other. At least I assume it was hunting. It didn’t look like playing) and things were going well. When it was time to change over to the dryer, I had to go get one of those baskets to move my clothes. I was overloaded with raincoat, trenchcoat, annoying mesh bag, backpack to protect iPad & headphones, iPad & headphones, laundry soap and dryer sheets. I dashed over to get the rolling basket & came back & piled all the stuff on the clothes, loaded & started the dryer.

Then I went to check my email on my phone.

So, I didn’t mention my iPhone above b/c it’s usually attached to me. iPad is extra, headphones extra, backpack extra, etc. iPhone is in pants or coat pocket. But this time, because all clothes are in the laundry (and coats are piled on the laundry) I’m wearing running tights & an exercise shirt and have no pockets.

Hm.

Thus began a 14 minute panicky search for my phone. Is it somehow in the dryer? (IS IT MELTING?) No. Is it in the coat pockets, all wet? No. Is it on the washer I just left? No. Is it in the laundry soap bag? No. Is it … wait. There IS nowhere else. Is it over by the rolling baskets? No? The dryer? (yes I checked again) No. The coats?? NO. THE WASHER? NO. THE???? NO!

I started looking at the three other people in the laundromat panically. I went to the front and asked “did… did anyone turn in a white iPhone?” No. (I mean, of course not, right?)

So. It’s gone. Given the way the week had been going, this was almost to be expected, right? I mean, there are a couple of other things about the place I’m staying that I didn’t mention (but were in my mind) that just made me feel “oh, so THIS is what the week was building to”. And yet…

I wasn’t angry. I was barely even sad. I mean, it’s just a ‘thing’, right? The only part I was really upset about was that I was chatting with Bill and was worried that he’d be concerned about me and I needed to wait for the clothes to be done before I could got home and tell him what happened. The only other bit that pissed me off was that I wasn’t even supposed to be doing laundry b/c I had dropped it off and that was supposed to have worked. Anyway. I took a deep breath and did some walking meditation (I credit a lot of the buddhist stuff for my fortitude and equanimity on the trains this week) and there it was. On the top of a dryer (that I had looked at before but not seen due to panic).

I was so elated that I went to tell the woman at the front – I thought “I want to share this happiness with other people”. She was very happy for me (as was the ~70-yr-old woman doing her laundry who had tsk-tsked when I asked if anyone had turned it in), but very sincerely warned me to be careful because “some people aren’t nice”. This was a lovely young woman, max 22 years old, working at a laundromat in NYC who was really genuinely concerned for me because she thought I might not be taking enough care. (Which, partly true, but still…) That was so sweet and kind that I found myself wondering if all the shenanigans that had occurred up to then, including the laundry fail, were just a set up for me to experience that moment of faith in humanity.

[j/k, I don’t believe in serendipity or fate or superstitiony things, but I do believe that meditation practice, and certain kinds of emotional and mental practice can help you find this kind of grace when it happens rather than not noticing it]

I think I am going to move

I’m staying in the farthest east part of Bed-Stuy and it’s about a 1 hr commute door-to-door to the Recurse Center and as a result, I’m not going to some events in town in the evenings because I feel like I have to go home.

I’m nervous about it because I’m worried about upsetting my Airbnb host. Because I have an overactive loyalty gland. One that trumps market realities, apparently! There’s a 30 day cancellation period, so I found myself thinking “oh, is it really WORTH moving for just one month left at the end?”

Well, duh. I brought ONE suitcase. I can move in 10 minutes. I HAVE moved in 10 minutes in the past, while traveling, out of pure need/fear. So it’s silly to have hangups about moving – I should move every week!

[Update. Not moving, and here’s why 🙂 ]cat on bed

[Update to update. Moving. But not until mid-late Nov]

Recurse Center, Day 4

I’ve been doing the Stanford iOS development in Swift course for the past few days (as well as attending talks and doing a bit of C pairing (I apparently remember C! Huzzah!)) and I’m feeling a bit… static. Lots of other people are already writing code and I’m just doing tutorials. I do want to write a couple of iOS apps, so I want to get through that course, but I think that I might be using it as a procrastination tool. So I’m going to mix that up a bit today.

Here is a list of things that, as a programmer, I basically nopetopus away from:

nopetopus gif
Nope to ALL of these:
  • UTF-8, Unicode, any of that sort of thing
  • Cryptography
  • Bash/shell scripting
  • Audio, video, general media formats/manipulation

I’m sure that list will grow, but in the spirit of diving deeper into understanding and moving closer to things that make me uncomfortable rather than avoiding them, I’m going to spend today (and possibly tomorrow) working on the Matasano crypto challenges. And I’m going to try to do them in  Rust (learning that language as I go). Wish me luck!

Placeholder for things to come

I’m in NYC for the next 3 months; I arrived at Newark on Friday at 5pm local time and have been pretty slammed since. I’m here for a few reasons, but specifically the reason for NYC is that I’m attending The Recurse Center (Fall 2 batch) to reboot my software development skills. After I left Amazon, I spent about 8 months supposedly doing that, but mostly what I was doing was purchasing online courses about how to be a web developer/etc and not completing them because they always started at way too basic a level. I also realized that I work better with others and that I was unlikely to ever make progress on my own. The Recurse Center is not a software developer bootcamp, but more of a programming ‘retreat’ where people go to become better programmers (and boy, did that stump the border guard). So I think the odds of me actually making progress here are much greater.

But that’s not the only reason I’m here. I’ve fallen into a lot of bad patterns and habits at home, health & well-being wise and the plan is for this to be a bit more of a traditional ‘retreat’ as well as a programming one. I have goals to meditate daily, eat vegetarian, exercise 5 times/week, stretch and roll out my bad muscles daily, and not drink any alcohol. I also plan to write and reflect a lot more. To that end, I’m spinning up two new sites (one is a relaunch of a sadly abandoned venture but I actually had it printed on business cards this time, so you KNOW it’ll happen 😉

I’ll be launching learnwithkara.com and beupstry.com next Monday.

LWK will be a journal and writeup of all the stuff I’m doing at the Recurse Center as well as a writeup of that site’s creation overall (unlike this & the other, I’ll be using a static site generator at first and then gradually migrating that to hand-coded). It’ll also include host any projects I actually manage to complete that are web-demoable.

The Beupstry will be, as originally intended, a place where I reflect on becoming a happier, better person and talk about the things I am learning about how to think differently, how to react differently, and listing the resources I have found helpful in doing that. It’ll probably be pretty heavy on lay-buddhism and self-awareness and self-compassion.

But right now, it’s 9:51 EDT and because I have to get up early and exercise before going to the RC, I am going to sign off now (as noted in this Beupstry v0.1 post, sleep is critical to mental and physical well-being). Have a fantastic day!