Recipes: Slow-roasted pork tacos

Ta da! Finally another recipe. I will start off with the disclaimer that this is a more time-intensive recipe than others I’ve posted, but it’s still super simple. I love eating tacos, and when I don’t want to go all-in on effort I default to ground beef and taco seasoning. But 1) sometimes that gets boring, and 2) for the life of me I have not been able to find any good taco seasoning at my local Safeway. (I looked for the kind in packets and legit stuff like Goya — couldn’t find anything. But I digress.)

However, pork shoulder was on sale, and I am trying to learn how to be as good at cooking meat as some of my elder family members. I’m humble enough to say we’re not there yet. But I also don’t suck.

This recipe was a bit by the seat of my pants from techniques I’ve learned over the years and cooking temps/times that I googled on the fly. So I’ll add comments of things I think might have improved the recipe along the way. Last note: The amount of ingredients here isn’t integral to the recipe, so feel free to scale it as needed as long as you keep the ratios roughly the same.

Ingredients:

  • 2.5lb. pork shoulder roast
  • 5-8 cloves crushed garlic (don’t be shy here)
  • about 1.5 tbsp. minced ginger
  • 2 limes
  • 1 can dark soda (I used Dr. Pepper, but Coke or Pepsi work too)
  • salt & pepper
  • tortillas
  • cheese, salsa, or other toppings as desired

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Instructions:

  1. Make sure your pork roast is thawed all the way and put it in a large bowl. Season it liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. (Pro tip: Do the side with less fat first, then flip it over and leave the fatty side facing up.)
  2. Stab the meat. This is your opportunity to be violent in the kitchen. Grab a knife and stab it into the roast as if you were aerating a lawn — holes should be an inch or two apart and a few inches deep.IMG_5353
  3. Spread the crushed garlic and minced ginger over the meat (I also added a little more salt and pepper at this stage), and then take your fingers and poke the seasonings into the holes. It is very weird, but it gets the marinade to soak in better. Trust. Also, make sure you wash your hands well after.
  4. Time for the liquid part of the marinade — lime and soda. I need you to hear me out on this: DO NOT SLICE A LIME BEFORE ROLLING IT. EVER. That is for people who hate flavor. Lay the whole lime on the counter and roll it under your palm like if you were rolling out bread dough, putting moderate pressure on it. Then you can slice it. Squeeze one or both halves of the lime over the roast (up to you), and then follow that up with about 1/2 can of soda. Feel free to drink the rest!img_5358.jpg
  5. Cover the bowl (mine has a handy lid), and stick that in the fridge to marinate. How long is ultimately up to you — I’d recommend a minimum of 4-6 hours, but ideally overnight. I actually let mine marinate for like 36 hours, but that much time isn’t always available.
  6. After your meat is all marinated and such comes the actual cooking part. I really wish I’d done this in a crock pot because you basically turn it on low in the morning and leave it alone all day, then it’s pull-apart tender by dinner time. But I don’t have one yet, so we tried it old-school.
  7. Preheat the oven to 475ºF. When it gets there, pull your meat out of the marinade and set (fatty side up!) it in a baking dish with at least 1″ walls to collect the juices — you really don’t want that dripping into your oven. Top it with some more salt and pepper, and bake it for 15 minutes to pseudo-sear it. (You can also broil or sear it if you’re feeling fancy.)
  8. Then drop the temp to 275ºF and bake it for about an hour and 45 minutes. This will vary with the size of your roast and each oven, but when it’s getting close you can check it one of two ways. If you have a meat thermometer, the internal temp should be 160ºF. If like me, you’re not that cool, make a narrow cut as close to the center of the meat as you can. If the juices run mostly clear, you’re good. If they look too pink or are red, leave it in.
  9. Once you pull it out of the oven, let it rest for 20ish minutes. This traps the juices in and keeps it tender.img_5371.jpg
  10. Because mine wasn’t as pull-apart tender as I’d hoped, I then chopped it into small pieces. Either way, once you pull it apart, toss it in a big skillet on medium-high heat, squeeze another lime over it, and brown it up a little.
  11. Serve on warm tortillas (my absolute favorite homemade recipe is here), and top with cheese, fresh guac, or homemade pico de gallo! (You will note in the photos that I had store-bought tortillas and a stark absence of guac or pico. I wasted my good toppings on a different taco recipe earlier this month, so don’t @ me.)img_5372.jpg

Cost about $15, makes about 8-10 tacos (the meat is the only pricey part)

As is often the case, this recipe was new to me. The meat came out a little less seasoned than I would have liked, but to fix that you can add in some regular taco seasoning or Goya, which are available at most local grocery stores. Also, I’d hoped the meat would be tender enough to be shredded, but a crock pot would have fixed that issue. I actually liked this recipe best when I made it as a quesadilla! But I’m looking forward to making it again with those changes.

What are your favorite ways to make tacos? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

Loss & grief

Today’s post is a little less than chipper, but unfortunately it’s a topic that’s inevitable. I have a huge family and a lot of friends that feel like family, and though I feel really lucky to not have experienced more loss than I have, I’m no stranger to it. My guess is that no one reading this is.

The upside is that this means other people know what you’re going through. The bad part is that does nothing to change the fact that it sucks. Unfortunately, emerging adulthood is a time of life when loss tends to be more common than it was in younger years, and can be even more difficult to deal with when so much else in life is uncertain or in transition.

But there are some things that can help:

  • Get a hug. Comforting physical touch — or even just being next to someone — makes a huge difference. It gives you someone to lean on, reminds you you’re not alone, and can actually lower your heart rate and release oxytocin (aka it lowers stress and stimulates bonding).
  • Don’t bottle up emotions. It’s bad for you in pretty much every way. Instead, give yourself some time to feel all those things, and then temporarily set them aside when you have to.
  • Write your way out, or whatever that looks like for you. Honestly any tactile hobby can be a good way to keep your conscious mind occupied while your subconscious mind processes the information. When I’ve lost family members in the past, I usually wrote a poem or two and/or journaled, but you can cook or craft or do anything that gives you something to focus on.
  • Talk to someone about it. There’s no rush on this. It’s when you’re ready, as much as you’re ready for. This can be a friend or family member, a mental health professional, or even your pet. Sometimes just speaking is a good way to process your feelings, and though no one knows exactly how you feel, almost everyone knows what loss feels like.
  • Find a metaphor. Unfortunately, pain is one of those things that is nearly impossible to accurately describe — the only thing to compare it to is more pain. But that can be enough. For me, grief is like waves. It comes and goes; sometimes I have my head above water and sometimes I feel like I’m drowning; sometimes I’m being pushed down or tumbled; sometimes I can’t see anything else until I wait for it to ebb. It’s often calm on the outside, but always dangerous under the surface.
  • Get outside. Go to the park or look at the stars, whatever. But fresh air will do a lot more for a heavy heart than we often give it credit for.
  • Do or buy a small thing that reminds you of them. Don’t go crazy out of budget here, but if it’s flowers or a small decoration, or going to a particular place they loved to visit, the reminder can help you focus on the happy part of knowing them instead of just the loss.

Grief is a process, and it will take time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Admittedly I’ve even had to write this post in pieces, because sometimes I’d be midsentence and all the feelings the topic brings up would crash on me for a little while.

Whether you’re dealing with recent loss or not, I hope these tips prove helpful for others as they have for me. If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear what things have helped you handle loss in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. As always, thanks for reading, and good luck adulting.

Yours for the reading

Anyone who knows me knows that I am, as my dad once put it, a voracious reader. After the initial kindergarten outrage that the words didn’t follow the rules, they started to come together into stories and facts and tapestries that have captivated me ever since. I mostly have my parents to thank for the fact that I grew up loving books so much, and for making sure I never, ever ran out of things to read.

A book I recently finished was looking at some of the differences between kids who grow up to be successful adults*. One of the most significant factors? Books. Not everybody loves reading, and I get that. But reading — well, frequently, and on a variety of topics — is genuinely one of the most indispensable methods of learning and preparing for success. Reading expands your vocabulary, sharpens your cognitive processing, and fosters empathy; which is something the world sorely needs more of.

When I was a kid, I was remiss to go anywhere without a book. I would pack a quarter of my suitcase full of them on vacations, and used to follow behind my mom in the grocery store, just using my peripherals to navigate so I didn’t have to put the story down. College made reading what I wanted more difficult because I was busy, exhausted, and all my homework was reading, but I’m slowly picking up books more frequently.

Of course, some books are just for fun. But some made a huge difference in how I saw the world, and how I wanted to live in it. So just for fun, below is a list of some of the books that have influenced me most. (Disclaimers that I get no compensation for any recommendations I put up on this blog, and though I’ve included links to them on Amazon because it’s convenient, please consider supporting local and independent bookstores!)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Don’t knock it — this was absolutely my favorite book as a kid, and the one I always wanted to read after a rough day. Fun fact: I can still recite the whole book from memory (though I sometimes muddle up Saturday).

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

When I was in 4th grade, my mom recommended I read this for a book report, and frankly I didn’t want to. I reluctantly started it, and didn’t put it down for the next four days. This book is one of the first that made me not just fall in love with stories, but with words, in addition to igniting my love of all things C. S. Lewis.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

To be honest, this book isn’t particularly high on my list of favorites. But it had a lasting impact on me, and one that I only realized the extent of later. Stargirl is flawed and thoughtful and leaves an impression, and showed me all the potential of quiet, everyday magic.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

History has rarely afforded us the preservation of firsthand accounts from any besides the most powerful, and this slim autobiography is honest, harsh, and hopeful — it implores the reader to open their eyes, and deepened my dedication to looking for stories and perspectives beyond my own. (Also y’all, this one is $1.62 on Amazon right now — pick it up if you haven’t read it.)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This remains my favorite book in the world, and no other book has caught me the same way. The narration is striking, the story is poignant, and it talks about things we can’t imagine in a way that is surprisingly, hauntingly familiar.

Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis

This books dances on the line between essays and fiction, but it helped teach me how to view life— in all its pain and pulchritude — as even more wondrous. The book talks about prayer while not shying away from any questions or challenges that might arise.

It’s also worth noting that books are by no means the only thing worth reading. Newspapers have taught me more than I could possibly put into words, magazines have been a consistent source of ideas and inspiration, and comic books tell far more true and relevant stories than we often give them credit for. There’s something to learn everywhere you can find words to read. What stories have impacted you most? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

*The book is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell if you’re interested — he’s one of my favorite nonfiction authors.

Debunking dream jobs

Although I doubt it comes as a surprise, your first job more than likely isn’t going to be your dream job (and if it is, it’s really likely that your dream is going to change). Most emerging adults these days are more than aware of that fact, and a job at all is great, while a job in one’s field is pretty sweet.

My very first “real job” (aka not babysitting) was working at the call center at my college. I worked part time in the evenings calling potential donors, and it sucked. My co-workers were great, but asking a bunch of people who usually didn’t want to be bothered to give money over the phone usually isn’t a recipe for a fun experience. Sometimes people would be kind or chat for a bit, some people would be irritable or angry, and sometimes the computer would accidentally dial a fax machine and an insanely loud tone would blare through the headset. Understandably, I didn’t stay there super long.

My first paid full-time job is the one I’m in now. It is, thankfully, infinitely better than the call center. Pay is good, I like my co-workers, and the work is something I’m both skilled at and decently enjoy. But like any job, it’s not perfect. My desk is in a weird spot and my work is super feast or famine — I’ll be slammed with a bunch of assignments, and then may have nothing come my way for multiple hours. I still do side jobs now and then for the extra income, and I honestly have no idea how long I want to stay in this role.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a job I’m both happy with and super grateful for — but dream job? Like any other little kid, growing up I went through a host of jobs I thought I wanted to do when I grew up, from waitress to teacher to writer to grocery store bagger (and yes, the last one is for real). But here’s the thing: Just like how what a little kid wants to be when they grow up often changes, your dream job can and probably will change as an adult too.

One of the most noticeable differences in terms of career with today’s emerging adults when compared to generations past is that we don’t start working with one company and then stay there for 40 or 10 or sometimes even 2 years. Today’s culture means each of us will likely change jobs and even career paths multiple times. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person will hold more than 11 jobs in their lifetime. That’s kind of a lot. But the moral of the story is simple. Don’t freak out if you don’t know what you want to do for the rest of your life. Don’t freak out if your first job isn’t the dream. And don’t freak out if your dream changes over time. (Are you sensing a trend here?)

In his book Outliers, which is about what patterns contributes to success, Malcolm Gladwell explains that there are three necessary characteristics for meaningful work: complexity, autonomy, and a clear relationship between effort and reward.

Not every job out there is going to fulfill all those things for you. And a job that does for one person may not for another; you are perfectly allowed to have your cup of tea. But if you’re still trying to navigate jobs and career paths — which in truth, is most of us — it can be a really helpful tool to see if the work will feel meaningful while being less intimidating (and less potentially misleading) than “Is this what I want to do with the rest of my life?”

Try some stuff you’re good at. If you’re still in college, take classes or do internships in things that interest you. Do research online. If you know exactly what you want to do, awesome. But if you’re still figuring it out, or realize what you want to do has changed, that’s totally okay. I still love bagging my own groceries, but that’s no longer my career aspiration, ya know? I hope that was helpful, and I’d love to hear any feedback you have in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

Something like love

Today was going to be a recipe for y’all, but honestly I wasn’t pleased with how it turned out and I won’t put up a recipe I don’t stand behind. Which forces me to face the calendar. When it comes to Valentine’s Day, I only have two modes: all-out (for friends and family) and forget this (for forced romance). I have friends who are single, dating, engaged, and married — and sometimes having peers at significantly different life stages than you can feel odd or even make you question how you’re doing.

Therein lies the great challenge of emerging adulthood. There is no longer an instruction manual, there is no longer one standard path (or at least a standard timeline), and it leaves a lot of us feeling confused or stuck in-between. The good news is no matter where each of us is at, there’s a lot of love to go around.

So today we’re doing something different. No romance, no expectations of flowers and chocolate, no candy hearts that no one wants to eat anyway. Instead, I took some time to list out all the people and things that remind me of love.

  • Family – Some family we choose and some family we don’t, but these people are the ones who taught me more than any what love looks like
  • Friends – My best friends know they’re in the family category, but whenever I’m with good friends it reminds me just how much love people have in their hearts
  • Faith – When everything else is cracked or crumbling, there’s a hope and love that rest here, and it’s what I always return to
  • The ocean, the stars, and the forest – These three pieces of nature are my touchstones and my constants when the world feels too harsh or too cold, and in each of them there’s a peace I haven’t found anywhere else
  • Food – Y’all think I’m kidding. Nope. Food (in reasonable levels of indulgence) reminds me of all the love and care people are willing to put into things, and the simplicity in familiar things
  • Music, books, and other stories – All of these remind me in different ways that none of us are alone
  • Animals – Dogs, (friendly) cats, and pretty much any other little creature that makes our collective hearts melt — because some things remain joyful no matter what

So if today isn’t your favorite day — or even if it is — take a little time to think about the things that make you feel loved. If there are particular people (or pets!) on that list, go ahead and let them know. How do you remind people you love them? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! As always, thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

P.S. If you need a song for the day, I highly recommend “Candy Hearts” by Relient K

(Photo credit goes to my second mom, for always sending pictures when I wish I could be there.)

You don’t need to be sorry all the time

I say sorry all the time. I saw it when I’ve made a mistake on purpose or unknowingly, when I feel bad for someone or a situation, and sometimes when I don’t know what else to say. And I’m really trying to stop.

A lot of us say sorry too much. Of course, if you hurt someone or genuinely screwed up, please apologize. It’s kind and helps heal things. But if you say sorry every time you pass someone in close quarters, make an insignificant error, or even do your job, it’s probably best to cut back.

I’ve realized that my tendency to apologize needlessly is massive. While it is indicative of caring and not wanting to inconvenience others, it builds up poor psychological habits and patterns. To explain a bit further, I’ve broken down times I needlessly say sorry with what I often say, what I mean, and why saying sorry isn’t helpful.

  • When passing along an assignment at work
    • What I say: “Sorry to be giving you more to do on this.”
    • What I mean: “I feel badly that me doing my job creates more work for you.”
    • Why that isn’t helpful: It suggests that me doing my job (and doing it to the best of my ability) is something to feel guilty about. Not cool, or true.
  • When I feel bad about someone else’s situation
    • What I say: “I’m really sorry.”
    • What I mean: “That sucks, and I wish I could do more to help.”
    • Why that isn’t helpful: I (usually) had nothing to do with it, and it gets off the more important topics of their feelings and/or any help I could give.
  • When I make insignificant errors, like a mishit in tennis
    • What I say: “Sorry!”
    • What I mean: “Oops, I did not mean to do that.”
    • Why that isn’t helpful: Mistakes happen, and when the stakes are low, constant apologizing just reinforces guilt that it does zero good for me to be feeling.
  • When someone goes out of their way to help me
    • What I say: “Sorry, I could have gotten that.”
    • What I mean: “I appreciate the help, but don’t want you to feel obligated to help me.”
    • Why that isn’t helpful: I’m literally making myself feel bad that other people are being nice to me. That’s harmful to me, and doesn’t properly appreciate their helpfulness anyway.
  • When I take up space
    • What I say: “Sorry.” (usually very quietly)
    • What I mean: “I don’t want to take up too much space and inconvenience you.”
    • Why that isn’t helpful: This one gets a longer explanation. I don’t care who you are, listen closely. There is absolutely no need whatsoever to feel bad about the physical space you take up existing in the universe. Ever. If you’re spreading out to take up extra space in a crowded spot, or purposely not making room for someone who has less room than you, that’s a jerk move. But if you find yourself scrunching up or making yourself smaller to accommodate people pulling that kind of jerk move, stop. You don’t have to shrink yourself just because they’re rude.
  • When I’m contributing to a conversation or solution
    • What I say: “Sorry, but what if…” or something similar
    • What I mean: “I’d like to add/suggest…”
    • Why that isn’t helpful: This is something called hedging, which means basically softening what one is saying with less direct language or phrases that self-impose inferiority. It can cloud the value of what you’re saying, and give people who don’t want to listen to you (which is on them) an extra excuse to think what you’re saying isn’t a big deal. If what you’re saying has caveats, by all means voice them — but there’s no need to undercut your own message.

It’s worth noting that these behaviors tend to be significantly more common from women than men. But they’re also something a lot of us as emerging adults — aka young and less experienced than a lot of other adults we’re around — tend to fall into. If you find yourself apologizing unnecessarily, spend some time analyzing that and utilizing helpful alternatives (getting to that in a moment). If you don’t tend to over-apologize, be conscientious of when people around you might be doing so. You can gently remind them that there’s no need to say sorry during whatever situation, as well as monitor your behavior and expectations to curb anything that might be making other people feel like they need to say sorry.

So here’s the helpful part. Here is a list of a bunch of things that you can say instead of sorry:

  • “Thank you for taking care of this” or “I appreciate you doing ___” — one of my favorites to use at work
  • “Thank you” — sometimes that’s enough!
  • “Oops” — I try really hard to substitute this one when I make insignificant errors
  • “Excuse me” — when I inconvenience someone slightly, especially things like passing in close quarters (note to say this one nicely! Sarcasm undercuts the helpfulness)
  • Whatever else I was going to say — when speaking up in a conversation or contributing to a solution; sometimes “excuse me” is also appropriate, but often it’s okay to just pipe up
  • Nothing — particularly in terms of how much space I take up. I purposely have just kept quiet when walking down one edge of the sidewalk and someone else with more room refuses to scoot over, or when I take up one seat and one armrest on crowded transportation. It can feel kind of rude initially, but if I’m not taking up more space than is reasonable, there’s no reason to feel badly

As a last note, take some time to thank the people in your life who help you in this area, regardless of what that looks like. There have been people in my life who made me feel like I needed to apologize all the time, but I’m fortunate enough that a lot of the people close to me have reminded me that I don’t always need to be saying sorry. I hope that was helpful, and I’d love to hear any feedback you have in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or on Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

Nobody gets to decide your dreams for you

What did you dream of when you were younger? Do you dream of the same things now? As much as I am a planner at heart, I was always very careful not to dream about my own future too specifically. I knew things I wanted: to travel, to enjoy my work, to write, to eventually get married and probably have kids. But I wanted feelings more than things; feelings like hope and peace and wonder.

That meant that trying to explain my future goals to people often felt difficult, and often led to me likely coming across as more indecisive than I really was. Most of the things I dreamed about when I was younger are still things I want, and some of them I’m a lot closer to. I have a job I enjoy, graduated in 4 years with a degree I deeply cared about from a place I by and large enjoyed my time at. I’ve gotten to travel, and had my eyes opened. I’ve got a ton of people who care about me, and still live within reasonable driving distance of most of my favorite places.

When I was in the process leading up to those things, I had a lot of encouragement. I also got a lot of questions, and even some doubt and opposition. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today — or who I am today — without all of those things. The challenges made me reconsider what I wanted until I was sure beyond anything, and the encouragement picked me up every time I stumbled, so that the goal was never lost.

Emerging adulthood is a time when a lot of us are trying to figure out if we can finally make happen all the things we’ve been dreaming of — and when there are more opportunities than ever to veer or get knocked off course. Maybe your dream is college or getting married or going to Thailand or being an auto mechanic. As long as you’re positively benefiting your environment and the people around you, and you enjoy it, guess what? Go for it.

There will always be someone to tell you that it isn’t a good idea. As is my usual policy with advice, listen, but do not necessarily live by it. I realize that it’s very much an upper-middle class, individualist attitude to take, and not everyone is willing or able to seek out the things that most draw them in. But it is important to figure out how to live a life you’re content with.

When it comes to big decisions, I tend to consider three main questions, and the answers usually tell me what the best decision is.

  1. What and who is it going to help? Is there anyone or anything it will hurt? I’m not saying I’ve never made decisions that came with hurt, but the benefits have to outweigh the drawbacks.
  2. If I don’t do this, will I regret it? Regret itself isn’t something I spend a lot of time focusing on because it’s rarely helpful to get mired down in the past. But considering whether I might regret a particular choice is usually a good metric of my gut instinct on a decision.
  3. What story do I want to be telling my grandkids one day? I make mistakes all the time, but especially with big decisions I want the stories I tell my grandkids to be ones I’m proud of, with thoughtful reasons behind them — not things I’m ashamed of or disappointed in.

It can be really difficult to commit to following a dream or goal, and sometimes it might be wiser to take it in small steps rather than one giant leap. But as emerging adults, we’re still relatively early on in life, and have the chance to do some things we’ll be really proud of. One of the challenges we face is actually making those decisions, and dealing with the risks and rewards they bring.

What dream or goal are you most excited about? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!