Friday, July 4, 2014

Mexican Shredded Chicken Slow Cooker Recipe

Two of our kids love shredded chicken from our local taqueria, so I decided to give it a try at home.

Found several recipes online and mixed and matched.

2lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts. (first try was about 1.8 lbs)
1/2 packet of McCormick Taco Seasoning
A full 16oz jar of Safeway's Mild Southwest Salsa
Three packets splenda

1. Place chicken in bottom of slow cooker
2. Dust top with the 1/2 packet of seasoning
3. Pour salsa in gently to evenly cover chicken
4. Cook on low for 4 hours
5. Mash (shred) the chicken. Pretty easy with a fork or even a broad spoon. Don't over do it - the goal here is to let all of the chicken marinate in the sauce, and it will naturally fall apart with more cooking and even transferring out of the pot.
6. Cook for another 2 hours

Taste Test: Delicious! The kids should love this tomorrow. The chicken is tender and tasty and would be perfect on a burrito or taco. Together with the sauce, the flavor and texture is almost stew-like. The salsa's corn, beans, and onion are perfect with the shredded chicken.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Three kids in car seats. Options and reviews.

Just posted this to a coworker, figured I'd post here as well.

We have three as well. Here is our car setup:

Honda Accord Sedan - 2006
Evenflo (always hated that seat - claimed up-to 56 lbs, but our 33lb 2 year olds are getting too tall for it)
Radian (fantastic car seat. I wish we got these earlier instead of the Evenflo)

Honda Odyssey 2009 EXL (includes middle-row center "jump seat" with legal & functional seatbelt for car-seat install)
Graco Nautilus (surprisingly happy with that seat, accomodates our large kids well, inexpensive)
Britax Marathon (great, but does not age well. clips don't work well after any food gets in them. cover loose after just 18mo)

FYI: I was very reluctant to go the minivan route, but we're extremely happy that we did. When you have three kids, looking cool becomes much less important than convenience. Getting them all in and out of the Odyssey is much easier than the car, and from what we've seen better than SUVs as well. The power doors with remote control are a great feature helping onboard the kids after a stop and instantly cooling down a hot car. The massive trunk has even helped on runs to the Home Depot and Goodwill.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Converting the family videos from raw DV format to MP4 with Handbrake.

Going on 3 years in the parenting saga, we have a bunch of MiniDV tapes yet to be imported and shared with the family. I refused to use the built-in windows software as it doesn't support the most common or open formats, making an automatic "Windows Media Encode" out of the question.

Finally, I found a solution that is, at this moment, about 75% of the way through the latest MiniDV tape.

Steps and 3-line windows script (batch file) are:

  1. Import the raw DV files from your camcorder to disk. This part should be the easiest and requires little cpu, but a lot of temporary disk space (about 60G/hr).
  2. Install Handbrake if you haven't already. On Windows, the GUI download option now includes the CLI (command line interface). You can test one-off compression while tweaking settings in a mostly-complete UI. Note: Some options in the CLI are not yet in the Windows GUI, such as the latest de-interlacing option which uses less cpu while producing far higher quality video.
  3. Run the following script, by copying it's contents exactly to a file "compress.bat" in the directory with the video files you wish to encode. Note: you can rename the compress part, but need the ".bat" suffix. Also, this script will by default compress *all* *.avi files in the directory.

for %%i in (*.avi) do (

  "C:\Program Files (x86)\HandBrake\HandBrakeCLI.exe" -i "%%i" --decomb -t 1 -c 1 -o "%%~ni.mp4" -f m4v -p -e x264 -b 1500 -2 -T -a 1 -E faac -B 160 -6 dpl2 -D 1 -x ref=2:bframes=2:me=umh -v 


Items of note:
  1. As of today, the Handbrake Windows GUI didn't support the --decomb option, so I added it manually while removing the older-style de-interlace flag.
  2. The "%%~ni.mp4" line is something I copied from another script on the Handbrake forum. I thought "ni" was part of the filename so changed it to "vi" (i.e. *.avi"), and this broke the script. Thus, leave as-is for an exact filename usage while substuting the .avi for .mp4.
  3. I used the current Handbrake defaults, with the exception of --decomb, so this is probably pretty safe.
  4. Always make backups and do not run this script on files that are not backed-up. I take no responsibility whatsoever if this script does anything crazy. No warranty blah blah...
  5. You may need to change the path to "C:\Program Files (x86)\HandBrake\HandBrakeCLI.exe" to match your local install.
Hope this helps someone out there... Good luck!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Things you want for your first baby (i.e. registry items).

Some close friends just emailed asking what they need for their first baby, arriving in a few months. Thought I'd post here:

Their questions:

In my opinion, cribs are overpriced and rather silly. Most kids outgrow them in ~2-3 years, so it's a short-term purchase. I've only read negative things about convertable crib-beds, which can easily end up costing more than a regular crib and separate toddler (or normal) bed. So - go for something simple and, imho, avoid Jardine enterprises. Our two cribs were recalled by them and the process was rediculously bad. Also - our cribs have drop-sides, which seemed like a useful feature - in 2 1/2+ years and 3 children later, we've never used them except by accident. Keep in mind you do want an adjustible height mattress-frame in your crib, and I think even the least expensive cribs have these.

Crib Mattress
I don't recall which exact one we got, but we got medium/high end of what they had in-stock at BabysRUs. The second time around, grandpa got the highest end one (hypoallergenic, etc). I don't think kids know the difference, but baby comfort may help all of you sleep better.

Car seat
For the first ~6-9 months, you'll almost certainly use an infant car seat. By law (and safety) these are all rear-facing. Our kids are all large and out-grew theirs in 6-9 months. We were very happy with the Graco SafeSeat and SnugRide (SafeSeat is newer and has a higher max-weight/height, so you don't out-grow as fast). A great thing about the Graco seats is that there is a ~$59 snap-and-go style stroller from Graco that folds up tiny in your car/garage, but the car seat clips securely into it. That was by far our preferred stroller for the first ~6 months.

Playpen/Play yard and/or Bassinet
We highly recommend any of the pack and play models. Our three kids *never* used any of the entertaining accessories (mobiles). However, the clip-on noisemaker with battery powered light was very useful when travelling with our oldest. It helped us see him in the dark and the noisemaker helped him fall asleep.

Absolutely avoid any of the "delux" / "travel" / "combo" offeres. Those strollers end-up being give-away or leave-by-the-curb items. They're heavy, hard to push, don't fold well, etc. Basically, they're registry fodder for eager grandparents and family. Again, you probably won't need anything but a snap-n-go to snap your infant carrier into for at least half a year. By ~6mo most kids can hold their heads up and you'll want to look for a stroller then.
Note: The second-hand market for strollers is huge. Most parents, at least that I know in the bay area, seem to go through 2-5 strollers for their first kid, so there are tons available on craigslist for 20-50% of the new cost and only a couple years old.
For in the car / travel: Highly recommend middle-level (non entry-level) MacLaren strollers. We have one of their doubles and it's awesome. Their high end stuff is often heavier which is actually a big negative, while their low end stuff looks quite uncomfortable for the kids. Their mid level models usually have more seat padding and adjustable leg support and recline. The MacLaren strollers also seem quite well built and while we got a very used one, everything on it works perfectly and easily.
For big walks around town or in parks: Highly recommend the Mountain Buggy Urban (Single/Double). We have both the single and double (three kids) and they're all great. When you're tired and pushing a cranky kid back from the park one-handed while trying to call your spouse on the cell, these strollers are a lifesaver. Seriously, we've had several other models and nothing compares to the ease of pushing these and one-handed operation. They're expensive but (a) you can get used and (b) they hold their value very well for resale on craigslist. Most of the people I called to get a used one had sold them by the time I called.
Breast pump
Hopefully you won't need one. If you do there seem to be about two decent options. Keep in mind, if you end up pumping milk full time, this will be a major effort for both the Mom and Dad, with the latter doing the ~6x/day cleaning of parts etc. A great option is renting a high-end ($1000) Modela pump from a local medical supply store or from a Day One early-parenting center. With something like a ~$75/yr membership you get unlimited book rentals and discounts on all of the equipment. On the middle-end don't look at anything under ~$200. We bought and threw-away several cheaper travel models before paying for a middle-end pump. Also, hospitals should provide pumps for mothers as-needed so you really don't need to think about this (I think) until after your baby arrives. They'll have consultants as well who can direct you to local suppliers (in our case there was a medical supply store across the street from the hospital so me, Dad, ran over there and came back with a Modela).

And "what do you wish you had from the start...":
Noisemakers - i.e. nice alarm clocks with high quality white noise. All three of our kids like these. They help them sleep and helped us tell the time when we were doing middle of the night feeds etc. They also serve as mini night-lites. We got this model, which is now cheaper than we paid ($18, non affiliate link): and liked it enough to purchase a second exactly the same.
Good quality Baby Monitors. We have two of these: One super-cheap and mostly annoying (hard to tell if it's on or getting signal, no battery, etc). One nice sony with built-in rechargeable battery, signal monitor, status-led, etc. The rechargeable is great as Dad can do things like take out the garbage and still listen in on baby.
Crib Bumper -We didn't get one of these in the the second time around and, on several occasions found one of our twins with an arm or leg stuck in his crib slats. Not really stuck mind you, but for a moment. We like the very basic and inexpensive "breathable crib bumper". It basically keeps Baby and their accessories (pacifiers, small stuffed animals, etc) in the crib and early-on prevents bonking against the side of the crib.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

... and they're crawling!

The twins are now crawling and pulling up on everything and everyone.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mountain Buggy Urban Double - Review from a happy family!

After four months enduring a "standard" double-wide stroller, we finally got a Mountain Buggy Urban Double. Wow!

What a huge difference. We live in an urban downtown with rough sidewalks and grassy parks. Where it used to take two hand and strong effort to walk around, we can now easily push our MBUD with ease. One handed walking while drinking a coffee works fine too!

Our three kids all love the MBUD, although only one of them is old enough to tell us as much. Our older son frequently runs for it and tries to climb in, before we can put one of his younger twin siblings in it.

In short, it was well worth the extra money. Which, by the way, should mostly be returned in resale value many years from now. I think another reason we waited so long was to find a good deal on a used one. I wish we hadn't waited; we would have happier backs and more fun and fulfilling walks about town.

Happy parenting of two or more!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Child proofing

We live in an expensive part of the US, and the DW got an estimate from a local baby proofing place. Their answer, somewhere in the range of $600 to $1000, with an in-person estimate needed of course.

Are you kidding!

Dads out there, you can easily do all baby proofing tasks, if you're even the least bit handy around the house. I'll cover the following projects:

1. Power sockets
2. Toilets
3. Safety gates
4. Cabinets (kitchen, bath).

First, a bit of strategy. One thing we've learned with our toddler is that the challenges and dangers just keep changing. One month it was the coffee table. The next it was dining chairs. Now it seems to be climbing. Given that we never leave our son alone, except perhaps in his crib for naps or for brief moments, our concern wasn't building the fort-knox of baby proof houses. To do so, even with an unlimited budget, would require getting rid of all chairs for example, which is simply a non-starter. Thus, we aim to make our time supervising our little ball of energy and curiosity as low stress as possible. Make dangerous / messy things as tough to get to (and boring!) as possible, while making toys and fun accessible.

1. Power sockets. Our son is extremely strong and inquisitive, however he has never even come close to defeating the simple & cheap push-in socket covers. These are the two-pronged one-socket plastic plates that push in. You'll need two per normal power socket pair.

2. Toilets. We started with one from the Safety 1st brand from Babys R US, or Home Depot (I don't recall). It was a disaster. The instructions had about 20 steps and 5-10 moving parts on the thing. Then, I found out about the "Mommy's Helper" brand "Tot Loc". We purchased two, and they are great. Installation was very easy with no adhesive or modification to the toilets - just a pressure / clamp mount that was easy and tool-free. I suspect that if left alone for a great deal of time, our son might defeat one of these. However, he's completely given up trying as he now knows that he can't get in there. They are easy to open and close single-handed, and were inexpensive (under $10 online).

3. Safety gates. I was torn between the "easy" to install pressure gates and a stud-mounted gate. I went for the stud / drill-in mounted gate and am extremely glad that I did. I purchased three of the Evenflo Top of Stair Gate, for around $30 with free shipping on Amazon. These simple gates are easy to install (read on for important notes), and have excellent qualitites. They are very sturdy, and when not in use can both turn aside and slide / collapse together minimizing the space taken up along your wall. The main note, which is obvious after installing one of these, is that the wall must be vertical (duh!). Of course all walls are vertical, however for optimal safety, you will need to install the bottom bracket in a narrow height range above the floor (something like 3 inches). Our place of course has thick 4 inch baseboard moulding, so these could not install
"vanilla". A very simple solution worked out well - I went by the local hardware store and cut a pair of few-inch-wide moulding scraps that matched our mouldings thickness and general style. Simply use those up top, and everything is now in alignment.

4. Ah, cabinet latches. I suspect the reason that people are purchasing really expensive latches (those magnetic ones), is that they start out like I did with the really cheap plastic ones. You
know, the one that came as a baby gift, from a baby shower or something. Those ones are the work of the devil - hard to install, don't work well, etc. It turns out that for just a tiny amount more money more, you can get really nice and easy to install plastic latches.

Here are the awful ones for reference: "Safety First Cabinet and Drawer Latches" - A 12 pack goes for $2.99, and will take you hours to install poorly.

Here are the great ones: (I can't find the brand right now), but a 4 pack goes for $5, and a good install will go much more quickly. Silly as it sounds, the reason the great ones are great is that
their mounts are much broader, helping avoid finger injuries, and they include pre-cut double sided mounting tape, which is only used pre-drilling / securing, but really helps out.

Happy daddying!