Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Magic Pot

Like thousands of people this year, I got an Instant Pot for Christmas.  When I first started hearing about the cooking appliance, I was skeptical.  I have a Crockpot, and figured that's all I really needed for a cooker in addition to my stove/oven.  After hearing more about it though, I was intrigued.
I've been on winter break since Christmas so once the holidays were over, I have spent a little time rying to get to know the new pot.
The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker.  I know a lot of people who were raised in families who used an "old school" stovetop pressure cooker.  I was not raised in one of those families, so don't have (fond) memories of it exploding all over the kitchen.  With that being said, I don't really understand the concept of pressure cooking and all its ins and outs.  Therefore, I have not made anything from my imagination - I don't understand enough yet just to throw something in and figure out how to cook it.  However, I've been having a lot of fun just trying it out using yummy recipes I find on the internet.
I started off slow with basic chicken breast (shredded, portioned, and put in freezer for quick meals) and macaroni and cheese.  Both were super easy and worked just like the recipe said they would.

On my third try, I MADE CHEESECAKE!  I joined a Facebook group for Instant Pot users because a lot of time there are a lot specific questions asked that aren't addressed in recipes or online information.  I've liked that, but something else I found out while searching through the can make freaking cheesecake in the Instant Pot.  I've NEVER made a baked cheesecake in my life because it just seemed too hard.  Well, in this FB group EVERYONE has been posting their cheesecakes.  So making one in the Instant Pot is a thing, and I decided to try it!  OMG!  I am wowed!
I made it on Thursday night and topped it with ganache and peanut butter cups Friday morning.  I took it to a party on Friday night, and everyone was stunned it came out of the Instant Pot.  I was very impressed with myself.
Last night I made beef stroganoff, and it was delicious.  Stroganoff isn't the prettiest meal, so I'm not sharing pictures, but I couldn't have been happier with how it turned out.  The round steak that I used was so tender after just 15 minutes cooking time.  When I make it on the stovetop I leave it simmering for at least an hour after browning to make it tender.
So this is my take on the Instant Pot so far...It's similar to a slow cooker/crockpot in that you throw everything in and wait until it's finished without doing anything while it cooks.  This frees you up to make additional parts of the meal (pasta, veggies, etc) or to do something else not even related to cooking.  But the most important differences are that it is FAST, and it doesn't over cook the contents.  At first, I was a little annoyed by the time it takes to come to pressure as it can take upwards of 20 - 30 minutes, but now that I'm aware of that I can factor the time in.  It's still much faster than a lot of other cooking.  While a crockpot has it's place for certain types of meats that you want falling apart - pulled pork for example.  Most things I would cook in the crockpot all day came out falling apart, and sometimes that isn't want you want.  The IP cooks fast while making things tender and juicy, but not overcooked.
I'm kind of a kitchen appliance/gadget geek.  The Instant Pot is making me geek out hard!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Being quite close to "Hollywood", the suburbs where I live is used quite often in both television in movies.  From the time I was in kindergarten, I've watched my city as the setting of various shows and films.  The "Industry" has boomed here, and we now have several studios.  Many have taken to calling it "Hollywood North" as you can find a film crew set up somewhere on any given day.  So it was no surprise when earlier this week, we got notice at school that there would be filming taking place for the television show SWAT in the neighborhood closing a couple of our streets.  In addition, they wanted us all to be aware that there would be several "police" vehicles on the premises as well as "armed officers" shooting their "weapons" so we didn't call a lockdown.
I am not a starstruck person and driving past filming  doesn't make me even slow down.  The only emotion I usually have over it is irritation when the street I'm trying to turn onto is blocked or the gas station I want to use is closed due to filming.  However, since I watch the show SWAT and like it, my interest was peaked at the notice.  I remember as a kid watching the first SWAT television show with my dad back in the late 70s.  When it premiered last year, I recorded it due to those memories with my dad.  I watched the whole season over the summer and really enjoyed it.  It's an entertaining police favorite!
When the notice came out, some of the kids asked about it and there was some excitement over my explanation, some of the kids had even seen the show.  So on the day of the filming I told them I'd take them out to see what we could see at the end of the day.  Our school property is huge and the back part, where the playground is, is surrounded by a tall metal fence.  We walked out towards the street until we got to that fence to take a look.  There wasn't a lot to see from where we were as most of the street the school is on was being used for trailers, security, and craft services (food).  However, along the corner of the fence we could see the street that runs perpendicular and there were police cars, and a lot of people milling around as they do.  We spent about 5 minutes looking and talking about what we saw.  A member of the crew walked up to the fence at that time and called me over.  I thought I might be told we were in the way or something.  Instead, he asked me if we'd like to meet the actors.  Ummmmm, ok!
When the cast of the show came out to see us, they seemed genuinely as excited to meet the kids as we were to meet them.  They were so kind, shaking hands and talking with the kids.
I had not planned on this happening at all, so had left my phone in the classroom when I picked up the kids from lunch to walk them over.  Thankfully, we have a yard supervisor who loves the be "in the know" and she followed us out to the back of the school. When we found out they were coming over, she whipped out her phone.  

The cast spent several minutes with us before saying their goodbyes.  The kids haven't stopped talking about it since...neither has their teacher.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

What a Waste

This past week was quite hectic with a few nights of getting home later than usual so I did not take the dog out on her regular long walk on Wednesday or Thursday.  When I walk the dog the long route, we pass by the mailbox, and I pick up mail.  Since we didn't go by on those two days and since it's not conveniently located, I didn't pick up Wednesday's or Thursday's mail until we walked by Friday after work.  With the midterm elections quickly (thankfully) approaching, we are inundated with campaign ads both on TV and through the mail.  The junk mail is bad enough when we're not in election season, but when we are it's not a good idea to skip mail pick up.  It doesn't seem so bad when it's picked up and tossed out on a daily bases.  After three days accumulation, it's appalling.
There are 21, mostly full color, campaign mailers in this picture.  The majority of them are the size of a regular sheet of paper or larger and all are double sided or have several pages.  A few are different ads for the same candidate or proposition.  I know that there has to be some kind of positive result for candidates to keep sending these out, along with paying the expense of them, but I feel like they are really a big waste of money and paper. As a fairly knowledgable voter, these do absolutely nothing to sway my vote (and even less so since I already voted last week) and really only further irritate me on the waste of money that is a political campaign.  I don't know if junk mail like this is helpful to the undecided voter in the internet age.  I wish they'd eliminate it as it seems like such a waste.  What's your take on campaign mail?  Does is sway you?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween Odds and Ends

Tomorrow is Halloween!  Personally, I could take it or leave it as a "holiday".  Being that it falls during the week is the part I like least about it.  It's not the 31st that is really the problem but rather the day AFTER halloween when you are a teacher.  While I don't mind an hour or two of "celebrating" on the day of, dealing with sugarcoated tired little kids for 7+ hours the next day is NOT my idea of a good time.  I have a pretty good group this year, so fingers crossed that they don't completely lose their minds (or that I don't lose mine) on Thursday.
For years, I've been saying I want to get a proposition on the California ballot (it only takes 350,000 signatures) to celebrate Halloween on the last Friday of the month rather than on whatever day the 31st happens to fall on - which is the day before a school day 5 out 7 times!  Just this past week, I read an article that there is an online petition on for making that move.  Actually, theirs is moving it to Saturday.  Friday is a much better choice...more days to recover before going back to school or work, but I'll take a Saturday over a Wednesday any day.
Speaking of Halloween articles, I read one this weekend about some towns making it "illegal" for children older than 12 (some 14, some 16) to go Trick-Or-Treating.  I don't know how I feel about this.  When I used to man the door for trick-or-treaters back in the day, I will admit it was a little irritating to have some 6 foot 4 ninja, zombie, or trench coat wearer show up at the door and take the candy you bought for the little ones.   However, if they weren't causing trouble or being mean or nasty to the little kids, who really cares.  Kids 12-15/16 are at that odd age where they are thought of as too old to don a costume and trick-or-treat, but they aren't really old enough to party either.  If the older kids want to celebrate by going door-to-door for candy, I'd prefer that to them TPing or vandalizing the neighborhood.
Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 11, 2018


The trip this summer was mostly about the beauty of the Oregon Coast, but we did make a few educational (and in this case yummy) stops, one of those was the Tillamook Cheese Factory.  The city of Tillamook sits west of Portland on Tillamook Bay.  Located on the bay and also having 5 rivers, the city is known for fertile land and mild temperatures which makes for happy cows.  Not as happy as California cows of course.  The dairies there are part of a dairy cooperative called the Tillamook County Creamery Association, and the Cheese Factory is where they produce their cheese.  They have recently added a modern visitors' center which was a fun way to spend an hour or two.
When driving through town, the factory is hard to miss.
 The factory used to allow visitors onto the factory floor, but in the late 60s that was (thankfully) stopped due to safety regulations.  Now you can view some of the factory from a viewing area up above.
 Here they were checking cheese blocks for correct formation.  Those in the bin behind the checker were not acceptable.  Those were then sent to the cheese shredder for bags of grated cheese.
 This area wrapped the finished cheese in its packaging.
 The best part of the self guided tour was that it ended with cheese samples.  I can't say for sure, but we might have spent A LOT of time in this area.  Duh.
 The new visitor center has a huge food court with all things made from dairy.  A vegan or someone lactose intolerant would have been very sad at this food court.  Since I'm neither, it made me happy.  We had taken our time in Cannon Beach that day, so by the time we arrived at the factory is was dinnertime.  We had planned to share some cheese curds and macaroni and cheese - healthy stuff!  Sadly, the cheese factory was OUT OF cheese curds, so we just had mac and cheese.  It was very good.  But the ice cream was even better.
We still had a little over an hour drive to the next stop in Newport, so we couldn't spend too much time eating dairy products.  Tillamook was a quick but fun stop.

Friday, September 28, 2018

A Big Difference

When I arrived at school yesterday morning at 7:00, it was 58 degrees.  When I left school at 4:00, it was 107.  Almost a 50 degree difference in temperature.  When the hot weather comes, we are not usually so cool in the mornings.  Must mean fall is here!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A School Chuckle

Spending most of my life at school with little kids means I experience chuckles, giggles, eye rolls, and belly laughs on quite a regular basis.  Some are funny enough to share...
Last year, the state of California passed a new Ed Code law that went into effect this school year requiring Title I (low income) public schools to provide feminine hygiene products in at least 50% of the restrooms on campus.  Research has shown that girls who come from low-income homes are likely to miss school several days each month due to their family's inability to afford these products.  The state will reimburse schools for these products.  While this is not something I have experience with since I teach the little kids, I have several colleagues in the upper grades who purchase these products, along with other hygiene products like deodorant to help out their students who need them.  So while this requirement may seem trivial, there certainly is a need for it, hoping to keep kids in school.
As with most things in public education, passing the law seems like the easy part.  Actually implementing the plan isn't always easy.  Our facilities department was tasked with putting the storage containers with the product into the restrooms.  Facilities is known for showing up to work on a project and leaving before anyone ever sees them, but the project isn't always executed correctly.  We have three multi-stall girls' restrooms on campus.  There is one in the main building, one in the breezeway between the main building and the playground, and one in the new building.  Facilities put those containers in the main building and the breezeway restrooms.  The only problem is the upper grade students don't use the restroom in the main building.  The main building houses kindergarten and first grade classes only, and therefore the restroom in there is for those kids.  The new building houses all the 3rd-6th grade classes, and that building's restroom didn't get any containers.  And since the teachers are always the last to know about anything, the only reason we were aware of the new products was because the first graders found them.  Upon the daily cleaning by the custodian, it would seem the little girls thought of them as good wall decor items as he found them stuck all over the walls.  A work colleague of mine recounted when a couple of his first grade girls came back from a restroom trip with them stuck to their hands and clothes, proudly announcing to the class that there were "stickers in there!".  Their innocence is so cute!  Imagine going through your life thinking they are stickers and then finding out what they are really for.
Anyhow, since then, the product has been removed from the main building's restroom and put into the new building and a quick information meeting between the district nurse and the upper grade girls has been scheduled.  Both good plans, but thankfully they were put in the wrong place to start or we never would have been able to laugh about the 'stickers".