Budget Challenge: Grocery Shopping on Kaua’i

Brett and I have a standing challenge whenever we go food shopping: buy what we need but try to stay under budget if possible so there’s something leftover to put into the travel savings. Between Walmart, Costco, Safeway or Big Save Market, and the weekly farmers’ market we have a wide selection of places to shop, but staying within our budget can be difficult because prices here can be high, sometimes a good deal higher, than they are in most places on the mainland. We’re very good at knowing the difference between a need and a want though, and telling ourselves “no” whenever we have to. We shop for groceries three times a month, weekly if you count our Wednesday trips to the farmers’ market, and we try very hard to not have to go to any store in-between shopping trip if at all possible. We no longer do “big shops” or stock ups because we don’t have the storage space like we did in the past nor do we like spending such vast sums.

Last week was a good week for us, shopping wise. We had budgeted $160 for the week, but spent only $128.80, and put $31.20 into our travel savings ($11.20 into the change/$1 bill jar and an additional $20 bill for good measure). Here’s how we did it:

We ALWAYS shop with a list, and by the time we make it to the store it usually looks like the one above. The circled items are the items that made the final cut; others were deemed either not necessary or not necessary now and were added to this week’s list. Two of the circled items on the Costco side did not get purchased: sparkling water and a beach towel ($9.99 at Costco). Costco had no affordable choices for sparkling water, and although we had the funds for a beach towel we decided it could wait. It will eventually need to be purchased and will go on a list in the future.

We spent exactly $41 at Walmart, and got everything on our list except for soba noodles and Yoshida (teriyaki) sauce, neither of which they had. We couldn’t find suitable substitutes there for either so decided to look for those items at Safeway, which was going to be our last stop of the day.

Our Costco list ended up being quite short, but we didn’t need much. We spent $50.10 there and now have enough dental floss for months to come (it was on sale this month). It’s sort of strange to leave Costco with so few things these days – when we lived here before any trip to Costco meant a cart filled to overflowing.

We sometimes stop at Safeway because it’s pretty much right next door to Costco and on our way home. Along with the head of lettuce and the big locally-grown tomato for our hamburgers we also found the brand of soba we like and some teriyaki sauce that worked for us. The soba cost more than it usually does at Walmart, but the teriyaki sauce was on sale and cost less so it evened out. Still, we spent $17.70 total for these four items, which is a lot and a good indicator of why we don’t regularly shop at Safeway here. Milk was also on our list but they didn’t have what we were looking for (a quart of 1%), and we decided we didn’t need it this week after all.

We budget $20 every week for the farmers’ market, and this past week spent every bit of it on a big bunch of bananas, two huge papayas, a large dragonfruit, three cucumbers, green beans, green onions, and a head of cabbage. 

We will go shopping again tomorrow, but with a smaller allotment than last week, and then go once again next week. Both shopping trips will pose additional challenges as we need to make sure we shop smartly to get ourselves through a three week stretch before our next piece of income rolls in again. That’s a long time to go without shopping, but we have plenty of protein on hand (meat, chicken, and fish) for the two of us, a good supply of other pantry staples, and along with the produce from the farmers’ market every week we should make it – fingers are crossed!

(If you have any questions about individual prices here for items we bought, let me know in the comments and I’ll look them up.)

Sunday Morning 9/20/2020: Hot Weather, Chickens, and Too Much Fruit

We had some pretty sunsets this past week!

Good morning!

M enjoying breakfast with his spunky little girl last year.

Happy birthday today to our son, M (his birthday is already over now in Japan though)! He has been a delight since the moment he was born, was pretty much the world’s easiest child to raise, and we couldn’t be prouder of him if we tried for all he has accomplished both personally and professionally, as well as for being such a great husband and father. One of the very cool things he does every year is walk the Komazawa Challenge to raise funds for a charity in Japan that supports and assists children with terminal or incurable diseases and their families. He believes this year he will go over $30,000 total that he’s personally raised for the charity during the five years since he founded the walk in 2017. He usually holds the event in June, but because of Covid-19 it was postponed until September this year (the walk is next Saturday). We’re not-so-secretly hoping he’ll do the same in 2022 when we’re in Japan so we can walk with him, for at least part of the distance anyway as the total walk is near marathon length.

I have now grown sick to death of the scent of guava, something I never believed could happen. Guava have a naturally sweet, perfumed aroma that I used to love, and in the past we’d set a bowl of ripe guava out on the counter in the kitchen (we had a guava tree in the back at our old house that produced about six to ten fruit per year) and it would perfume the whole house for a short period every year – it was lovely. With the daily bags of fruit now coming off our tree, the scent in the house is ever present and getting into everything, and the aroma now is overly cloying and overly sweet. Brett took two huge bags of fruit up to Monkeypod this past week, but the ripe fruit just keeps on coming. I love the jam we made, and Monkeypod is happy to receive all of our excess fruit, but the amount the tree keeps putting out has almost been overwhelming. Even the birds seem to have had enough.

One day’s guava pickings (and an almost-ripe lilikoi in his right hand)

Brett received a notice this week that beginning January 1 he will be charged $25/month for our Tricare Standard insurance, the same insurance that was guaranteed to be free for life when Brett enlisted in the navy in 1970 as well as when he retired in 1992. We have to have a Tricare Standard policy to cover YaYu until she graduates in 2022, but thankfully our separate Tricare for Life insurance remains no cost, for now anyway, but we expect that will soon change as well. While it’s frustrating to see our benefits erode, the $300 dollars/year will be thankfully much, much less than Bryn Mawr’s mandatory health insurance cost. This year was the first where students could opt out of that insurance if they could show proof that their personal insurance was as good or better than what the college offered. Health insurance in this country is a flat-out mess, and I am hoping in the next few years that something similar to our military plan will be made available for everyone. Having lived with “government insurance” for over forty years, I can attest that it works well and beats anything else currently out there. 

None of these guys wanted their picture taken – they never stopped moving!

It would be easy for us to take chickens for granted here on Kaua’i, and most of the time we do, but others times some will surprise and amuse us. We’ve been walking long enough up at Kukuiula Park now that we can recognize different roosters and chickens and have gotten to a point that we look for the ones we know. We’ve also started to give some of them names (perhaps an early sign of insanity?). One of our favorites these days is a rooster we’ve named Chatterbox, that will occasionally walk along the path with us for a while, singing/chatting the entire way, or if he doesn’t walk with us, will just come over and greet us and chatter a bit as we walk past. Another rooster we always look for is General Custer, named for the blonde feathers that cascade down his neck and gold feathers on the back of his body. Both Chatterbox and the General are wild jungle fowl and they hang out up in the park. The most stunning rooster I have ever seen though is one we’ve spotted in the parking lot at the bottom entrance to the park. We’ve named him Mr. Beautiful because he is simply gorgeous (and he knows it). He is large, and perfectly proportioned from the comb on his head to the tip of his beautiful brown tail feathers. His other feathers are in blocks of tan, rust, burgundy, and gold and are beautifully glossy – he’s just something else to look at. We don’t get to see him very often, but when we do he always has large harem milling around him. Several of the other regular walkers feed the chickens in the park from time to time with stale bread, but we haven’t gone that far yet (mainly because we never have leftover bread), but that doesn’t keep most of the chickens from running up to us almost daily to make sure.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished Breasts and Eggs mid-week and got it back to the library on time, and am now reading Love and Other Consolation Prizes because of positive comments from two readers. It’s an interesting book, based on a true story, and a fairly quick read. I’ll be on to Sex and Vanity in a few more days.
  • Listening to: It’s deliciously cool this morning, and I’m listening to the drip, drip, drip of rain outside as I write and sip my coffee. The rain started last night and is supposed to continue throughout the day, and will most likely make this the first time in weeks that we don’t get to go out for a walk. Otherwise, it’s very quiet inside – Brett’s reading – but I’m going to get up in a short while and make us a bacon and eggs breakfast.
  • Watching: We’re still watching Bordertown and One Foot In the Grave. Bordertown has been “interesting” – the story lines are good and keep our interest, but the show comes from Finland and has been both dubbed and given close-captioning. Those two rarely match so it can get confusing at times as to just what’s really being said or inferred. Also, the dubbing is terrible – the voices for each character basically just read a script – there’s no emotion or “acting” whatsoever, or no real effort to match the words to the actors’ lips moving. It’s funny to listen to if I close my eyes for a moment as it sounds almost robotic at times and nothing like a television show.
  • Cooking/baking: We had a change of plans mid-week when we couldn’t find eggplant at the farmers’ market and therefore couldn’t make mabo nasu. I had some stuffed bell peppers in the freezer so we had those instead, and will keep our fingers crossed that we can find eggplants and have mabo nasu this week. Coming up later in the week will be a Mississippi pot roast and then French dip sandwiches made from the leftovers. Tonight we’re having Cuban beans and rice along with sautéed green beans, and we still have one serving left of ice cream for dessert. I’ll be making the Bacardi rum cake tomorrow. The ice cream has been a lovely treat though. I’m already thinking that after we finish the rum cake I should make a British coffee walnut cake – it was my favorite when we were in England – and then we’ll go for a pumpkin pie from Costco. Having a small, sweet treat after dinner each evening has been so nice to look forward to, and helped both of us each less during the day.

The most hellish part of our daily walk are these two sections where the sun beats down and the breeze/wind stops. Thankfully they don’t take too long to get through, but we do each of them three times and dread them.

  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I moved up to Level 4 Japanese in Memrise! I scored 100% on the review questions for Level 3 and got a notice that I had completed the course. Yeah me! I hope to see the kanji and grammar patterns I learned repeated from time to time in Level 4 so that I don’t forget them. Brett and I again walked over three miles every day this past week. It was difficult at times because temperatures were up this past week as was the humidity at times, especially yesterday as we walked right after some rain. The hand weights seem to get lighter every day.
  • Looking forward to next week: Brett and I have been talking about visiting Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park this coming week but haven’t decided which day yet. We have another food shopping trip to make on Wednesday so will work around that. Otherwise it’s a pretty ho-hum week.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: 1)WenYu finished her first paid commission, an amazing piece of animation to accompany a recording of a poem! Her animation is lovely, moving pencil sketches that highlight scenes and words in the poem, and gratifying to see because animation is what she loves and wants to do. We think this is how things are going to go for a while, that she’ll freelance and wait tables before finding something more permanent. 2) Our back yard got a trim this past week – it always looks good to me, but it’s still amazing what a difference a quick visit from the yard crew makes. 3) Although temperatures have been higher this week, the weather has mostly been lovely, although it was exceptionally windy on Friday morning and rained yesterday afternoon (and today).
    Finally: a frugal floral solution for the bathroom.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) We put an amazing $31.20 into our travel savings this past week thanks to a successful and frugal food shopping trip last week. 2) I clipped two ferns from the back yard to put in a vase that sits on our bathroom sink. I had been thinking I was going to have to buy something artificial as nothing else I tried from the yard seemed to last more than a day, but the ferns have been holding their own for days now, are pretty and tropical, and of course were free (and there’s a HUGE supply in the yard). 3) I earned 2,206 Swagbucks, another very good week. 4) It’s been the same-old, same-old eating all the leftovers and not throwing away any food. One of my leftover creations this week was loco moco made with leftover hamburger patties – easy to put together and we loved it!  5) Other than our food shopping and the farmers’ market on Wednesday, it was a no-spend week.
  • Grateful for: I have been profoundly saddened by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg but am beyond grateful for her many years of service to our country and her work for women’s equality. So many of the rights many women take for granted today are there because of her, including the right to sign a mortgage without a man; the right to have a bank account without a male co-signer; the right to have a job without being discriminated based on gender; and the right for women to be pregnant and/or have kids and work. The second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, RBG had a powerful legal mind and was a brilliant jurist who fought not just for gender equality but for equality, justice, and fairness for everyone. My favorite quote from the Notorious RBG was I’m sometimes asked: when will there be enough [women on the supreme court]? And I say, when there are nine. People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody raised a question about that. Justice Ginsberg wrote to her granddaughter shortly before her death, My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new President is installed, but it now remains to be seen if the Senate will follow the rule they imposed on President Obama and not push through the nomination of a new justice before either the election or next year’s inauguration.
  • Bonus question: What’s something you were expected to be good at but weren’t/aren’t? What’s something you were/are good at that was completely unexpected? From an early age I was told that I was “artistic” which is funny to me because I can barely draw a stick figure. Where the “artistic” came from, I think, is that I was quite good at a young age at coloring inside the lines, and using the “right” colors. Anyway, I am not artistic but I am good at arranging colors and things . . . Brett calls it “doing installations.” He, along with Meiling and WenYu are the true artists in our family. Something I turned out to do quite well that surprised both me and everyone else was that I actually had some musical talent. I learned to play the clarinet at age nine, played for just over four years, and entered and won several superior awards at solo festivals before I turned 14. However, I never came to love playing the clarinet or developed any real belief in my musical ability – my parents had chosen the instrument for me (I wanted to play the flute) and I absolutely hated having to play in the school’s marching band, which was a requirement if you played an instrument other than strings. I quit before I entered high school so I could take art classes (and did poorly at those). I finally learned to play the flute in my late 30s, and was told by my teacher then, a professional flutist, that I had genuine musical talent, but at that point I thought I was too old to pursue it and eventually quit that as well. I can still read music but that’s as far as it goes these days.

I seem to be entering another one of my biannual rounds of insomnia, but in a somewhat different way. This past week I have been waking up early, very early sometimes. In the past my insomnia caused an inability to fall asleep at night, but with all the walking we’re doing now I’m not having any trouble with that – these days I put my head on the pillow and I am out like a light, and I sleep deeply through the night. However, waking up at 6:00 in the morning like I have on a few mornings is definitely weird (and annoying). I wear earplugs and a sleep mask at night so I know it’s not the light coming through the windows in the morning nor noise from the birds or wind that’s waking me, so am not sure what’s going on. Hopefully this is something temporary because I dislike feeling sleepy in the afternoons, especially right before it’s time to head out for our daily walk.

Also, the past couple of weeks I’ve been able to comment on a couple of Blogger-platformed blogs using my phone, but with others comments from my still vanish into the Internet ether. I still have no idea why that is or how to fix it, but I keep trying!

What a year this week has been! Actually, we’ve personally had another good week, but it’s been a strange and sad one in other ways. Hopefully it was a positive week for all of you, and you had several good things happen for you. I glad we got through it, and I’m looking forward for all of us to the week coming up!

Home Cooking: Zucchini Frittata

(Photo credit: Real Simple magazine)

Mid-September always meant the last of the zucchini when we had a garden, sad because our plants always provided so much and because zucchini was a favorite summer vegetable. Thankfully zucchini is now available year round in supermarkets, and here on Kaua’i we’re fortunate to find it almost all year at the farmer’s market, both the green and yellow varieties. I pick some up more weeks than not as Brett and I love it, especially roasted or grilled.

This long-time favorite recipe comes from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book and uses quite a bit of zucchini so it’s a great recipe if you’re being overrun, and it’s delicious both hot and cold. A frittata is nothing more than an Italian egg-based dish similar to an omelet or quiche, and it can be either simple or enriched with additional ingredients including meats, vegetables, herbs. It’s easy to make, and can either be baked or started in a skillet and finished in the oven. Along with some good bread and a salad, a frittata makes an easy and low-cost meal.

Getting as much liquid squeezed out of the zucchini is crucial to getting this frittata to set set up properly. Our method for squeezing out the liquid it to put the grated zucchini in a clean cotton dishtowel, roll the towel up lengthwise, and then twist the ends in opposite directions (over the  sink, or outside if that’s not possible). One of the girls usually helped me with this task when they were at home, but these days Brett helps me, and between the two of us we’re able to get a tremendous amount of liquid squeezed out using this method.

By the way, what I remember most about growing zucchini was that in spite of checking our plants every day and harvesting what was ready, I could often go out the next morning and discover a squash the size of a baseball bat! Did it grow that big overnight, or was it just well hidden and I missed it ??? It was one of the mysteries of the garden that I never could figure out.

ZUCCHINI FRITTATA

8 cups shredded, unpeeled zucchini (about 3 pounds)

1 TBSP olive oil

1 tsp butter

2 TBSP finely chopped onion

1 clove garlic, finely minced

6 eggs

2 TBSP milk

1/2 tsp crumbled oregano

1/2 tsp crumbled dried basil

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

dash of hot pepper sauce or cayenne pepper

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Squeeze as much liquid out of the shredded zucchini as possible – try to get it as “dry” as possible. Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet (preferably non-stick) and sauté the onion and garlic for around 30 seconds. Add the zucchini and cook over moderately low heat, stirring often, until the zucchini is just tender. If any liquid still collects in the pan, pour it off.

In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, milk, oregano, basil, salt, pepper, hot sauce or cayenne and 2 TBSP of the Parmesan cheese. Add to the zucchini mixture and pour into a well-greased 9″ x 13″ pan. Top the mixture with the rest of the Parmesan cheese and bake in a 350° oven for approximately 35 minutes, or until the eggs are set and the cheese has browned on top

OR

If you are using an ovenproof skillet, you can add the egg mixture to the zucchini in the skillet and cook everything together, stirring often, until the eggs begin to set. Sprinkle the frittata with the remaining Parmesan cheese and place the pan under the broiler or in a 500 degree oven and cook just until the top is lightly browned. (This only takes a very few minutes, so watch carefully).

Let the frittata stand for a few minutes before slicing. The frittata can easily provide six servings. It can also be garnished with tomato slices or a sprinkle of fresh herbs, or with sliced olives, if desired.

Changed the Location But Not the Goal

The Nakasendo Way in spring (photo credit: Walk Japan)

Just a few short weeks ago (August 3, to be exact) I announced that Brett and I had committed ourselves to walking the entire length of the Cotswold Way in the fall 2022. That goal has been a strong motivator for getting us out every day to walk, and to come up with a plan for gradually increasing our walking endurance to where we could manage the daily distances required of us to finish the walk.

Last week though we came across a company called Walk Japan, which provides “off the beaten track walking tours in Japan.” We began pouring over their website, and this past weekend we decided that while we still intend to do a long-distance walking tour in 2022, we will do it in Japan instead of England. In particular, we want to do Walk Japan’s 10-day Nakasendō Way tour from Kyoto to Tokyo. 

Scenes like this one of persimmons drying will be more common when we walk in the fall.

The history of the Nakasendō (Central Mountain Road) is what drew us to this walking tour. It was one of five main thoroughfares from Kyoto to Tokyo (and back) during the Edo Period of Japan (1603-1868), when the Tokugawa shogun lived and ruled in Tokyo (called Edo then; the Emperor remained in Kyoto and was virtually powerless at this time). In order to maintain the loyalty of those under him, the shogun required the highest lords (daimyos) throughout Japan to travel to and live in Tokyo every other year and their families to remain in Tokyo during their absence, under the “protection” of the shogun. The Nakasendō, along with the Tokaidō, which ran along the coast, was heavily used by the daimyo from the west and their families during these times. The road had 69 post towns along the way where papers and permission to travel were checked, and where travelers stopped to eat, drink, and rest. The road also served as an important route for communication for the shogunate. The Nakasendō was well developed, and was often preferred for travel because no major rivers needed to be forded along the way.

One of the historic post towns along the ancient Nakasendo route connecting Kyoto and Edo (old Tokyo).

Our decision to change the destination for our walk was not a casual one. We spent days carefully weighing and discussing several factors and the pros and cons of using Walk Japan before deciding to change our plans.

These were the two arguments for sticking with the Cotswold Way tour:

  1. The Nakasendō walking tour costs quite a bit more than a Cotswold walking tour. This was probably the biggest factor that we debated. However, the Nakasendo tour comes with a full-time guide, and not only covers each night’s lodging, almost all meals, and all interim transportation necessary to get from Kyoto to the road. We had to think long and hard about whether we were willing to pay more for these amenities but in the end figured out it wouldn’t be that much over what we would have spent going to the Cotswolds again. Walk Japan offers an unguided Nakasendo Way tour which costs less but we both think we’d rather have a guide along because of our ages and because our Japanese is limited.
  2. We would not get to go back to the Cotswolds. This was a major factor for not switching. We loved the Cotswolds and would love to experience more of the area.
The “lobby” of a traditional Japanese inn, complete with irori (sunken hearth).

There were a few more positives however which helped to sway us to a Japan walk:

  1. We would already be in Japan and not have to worry about paying for and taking long flights to England and then back to Tokyo. All we would have to purchase is a one-way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Shinkansen.
  2. We would get to walk one of the most historic routes in all of Japan along with a knowledgeable guide, learning about the history of the road as well as the villages and old post towns we would pass through along the way. The architecture alone is a huge draw.
  3. We would get to stay every night in traditional Japanese inns and hotels, and enjoy fine Japanese cuisine in those places and along the way.
  4. The tour offers transportation alternatives for the three longest walking days. For example, if we didn’t feel up to walking 15 miles on the longest day, we could walk for around 6-7 miles and then take a train or bus to that evening’s destination.
  5. The Nakasendō walk finishes in Tokyo, where we would only need a couple of days’ rest at our son’s before heading back home to Hawaii. If we went to England we would need at least two to three days’ rest at the end of the walk before flying to Tokyo, and then would have to rest up again in Tokyo from that journey before heading back to Hawaii. It was overwhelming just thinking about the jet lag.

Our task now is to figure out how to save a few thousand more dollars than we had initially planned, but we’re sure it can be done. We remain as motivated than ever to find ways to save as travel always comes out of our discretionary funds, which aren’t much right now with YaYu’s college expenses. Time is on our side though as we have two years to make this goal a reality.

Besides saving enough, we also are more motivated than ever to stay healthy and get ourselves in the best possible physical shape. I will also continue to study Japanese, not because I expect to be able to speak it, but so I can understand more during our stays in Japan and while we travel there. The big unknown at this point though is whether Japan will be reopened for American visitors by Fall 2022, and whether the virus will be under control by then as well. We certainly hope so, and not just because we want to go to Japan.

Game on!

Sunday Morning 9/13/2020: Cloud Magnets

This week gave us one sunset with some color. Otherwise there were either dark gray clouds or nothing.

Good morning!

We’ve finished up another very nice week which included not only going out for breakfast one morning, but getting in two trips to the beach. We enjoyed ourselves both times, but seemed to be cloud magnets for some reason. Last Sunday, when the skies clouded over at the apartment, we decided to head down to the beach at Barking Sands for some sunshine. Hah! It was sunny the whole way down, but when we arrived at the beach it was dark and gloomy with heavy clouds overhead, squalls out at sea in front of us, and low, dark rain clouds behind us. It was also obvious there had been some less than ideal weather there recently as the high water mark from the waves was halfway up the beach and there were still large ponds of water in places on the beach. We didn’t even bother to take our umbrella out of the car, but set up our chairs and nibbled our lunches, then took a l-o-n-g walk down the beach and back before calling it quits. We got in our car just as the rain finally arrived. Ironically, there was barely a cloud in the sky the entire way home once we left Barking Sands!

Friday looked like another a perfect day for a beach visit so we headed back to Salt Pond Beach Park. We set up our umbrella, and had just settled ourselves in our beach chairs when a large, dark cloud moved overhead and parked itself right above us! There was sun to the left of us, and sun to the right, but our location was in shade the entire time (we took the umbrella down after a few minutes). There had been a brush fire burning on our way into Salt Pond that was producing a lot of smoke, and while we were on the beach we watched a helicopter fly in to pick up water from the ocean to help fight the fire – that was interesting to watch. After a while we couldn’t see any more smoke, but as we left to come home we noticed there were still plenty of fire and police personnel and trucks/cars around, and fire trucks were still arriving so apparently the fire was still burning or smoldering somewhere.

LOTS of ripe guava appear every day now – it’s a race to get them before the birds.

Our guava tree continues to produce amazing amounts of ripe fruit every day. Brett goes out and picks as much as he can, and has been taking at least a full shopping bag of the fruit up to Monkeypod Jam each week for the past three weeks (and will do the same probably for the next two, at least). MJ has been happy to take the guava as they use only local fruit for their jams, preserves, and baked goods. Our lilikoi are coming along but won’t be ready for another month or two, and we’ve noticed the oranges are starting to change color. They’re not close to orange yet, but have been turning a lighter shade of green getting ready to go in that direction. The orange tree is loaded with fruit as well, which makes us happy as it produces very sweet and juicy oranges. The first ones should be ripe by late November, and the tree will continue producing into spring.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: Breasts and Eggs has turned out to be a longer book that I initially thought. I have been reading lots every day but am just barely over 55% of the way through. I’m enjoying it though, especially since the protagonist lives in Sangenjaya, the same place we stayed on our past two visits, and I can recognize many of the places she visits and the train lines she rides on. Anyway, I’ve only got eight days left from the library so the push is on to get it finished before it has to go back.
  • Listening to: The usual cool morning breeze is blowing through the yard and the trees. Brett is making our morning coffee and taking care of his morning chores (putting away the dishes, getting the trash ready to go out) and making a bit more noise than usual for some reason! There were also blue skies when we got up, but in the last hour the sky has filled with clouds and now it’s raining! One of the things I love about living here is that we can always hear the rain arriving as it moves across from the mountains.
  • Watching: We finished both Mindhunter and Hinterland this past week and have started watching Bordertown, a Finnish detective show, and are (re)watching One Foot In the Grave on BritBox. We loved that show and how much it makes us laugh (still does). The actor who plays Victor Meldrew is a gem.
  • Cooking/baking: Although we’re going food shopping this week, it will be minimal as the freezer and fridge are still quite full. Tonight’s another beans and rice dinner though – we’re having A Dozen Cousins curried chickpeas (our favorite) over brown rice along with some cucumber. This week we’re also planning to have grilled burgers; fettuccini with pesto; and grilled teriyaki chicken and zaru soba, but otherwise it will be leftovers or whatever else we can pull together to use things up. I was going to get fancy and make a Bacardi rum cake this past week, but when we bought our gin last week we noticed Safeway was also having a big ice cream sale, so we went back and picked up two containers: Blue Bunny Banana Split and Tillamook Mountain Huckleberry. We’re enjoying a small scoop of each now for our after-dinner treat.
    “Give your tongue a sleigh ride” – what my grandmother always said when she served us ice cream.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I’m not sure how long we walked on the beach last Sunday, but it was a workout. In some places our feet were sinking into the sand almost up to our knees! We walked 3+ miles every other day at the park last week and will be sticking with this distance for the next two weeks before pushing ourselves to do closer to four miles per day. I’d like to say that carrying the hand weights is getting easier, but at least it’s not getting more difficult. I found a great step-by-step guide for preparing for long-distance walks (10-16 miles) that we can use once we get our daily distance up to five miles, so we’re now very motivated to work toward that. We still have the window cleaning to look forward to – if it stays overcast this would be a good day for it – and nothing much else got accomplished either.
  • Looking forward to next week: We have no plans at all for next week. Every day will be a blank canvas for us to fill however we wish.

Breakfast date at the Kalaheo Cafe

  • Thinking of good things that happened: Brett and I had a lovely breakfast date on Thursday morning at the Kalaheo Cafe. We ate outside on the lanai because the weather was so nice and because there were hardly any people out there. Brett broke with tradition and ordered a Belgian waffle instead of French toast, and I enjoyed a smoked salmon Egg Benedict – very yummy. Brett picked up his new glasses on Thursday afternoon – a new look for him (and I like it!). This past week I discovered a company that offers great walking tours throughout Japan, both guided and self-guided, and we have been going through them wondering which one we should do first (whenever we can get back to Japan). Our DIL sent us loads of grandkid pictures again this week – we miss those two so much. They’re both enjoying being back at school. K loves her preschool, and C has moved over to the “big kids” building at his school this year.
    New clear-frame glasses for Brett
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: This was not the most frugal of weeks, although we did keep our spending (ice cream, gasoline fill-up, Brita filters, and breakfast out) as low as possible. Having to buy the Brita filters was frustrating because we ended up having to get an expensive 10-pack at Costco as we couldn’t find them anywhere else (on the plus side we’re good for filters for at least the next two years, if not longer). We put $3.60 into the change/$1 bill jar this past week. We sure don’t seem to get much change these days as we haven’t amassed enough of any coins to roll since we’ve been here. I earned an amazing 1,912 Swagbucks this week (!!!) and have decided that rather than redeem for $100 gift cards I am going to work toward earning as many $250/$500 Delta and Southwest gift cards as I can before we travel in 2022 to help keep our costs down. I have a nice system now for earning Swagbucks, nothing that requires a lot of my time, and so far it’s been working better than expected. On the food front, we currently have a few leftovers to finish, but we’re keeping up with them, and no food has been thrown out. I recently discovered that I can fix just a half-cup of rice in our rice cooker, which is perfect for just Brett and I, and creates fewer leftovers.
  • Grateful for: I am very thankful right now that we stocked up our food supplies the last couple of months because this month we don’t need to purchase much. We have plenty of protein on hand and a good variety as well, so our focus this month will be more on fruits and vegetables from the farmers’ market and pantry staples. Anything we don’t spend out of our grocery budget will go into travel savings!
    These were the original kimekomi temari I made (the blue one on the right was the first). I do mono-chromatic temari as they have a very elegant (shibui) look to my Western eyes and taste; traditional Japanese temari are multi-colored.
  • Bonus question: Do you enjoy doing any sorts of arts or crafts? These days my answer would be no, but I used to enjoy doing artsy/craftsy things. I have done sewing, embroidery, tea box covering, quilting (by hand), knitting, and scrapbooking, well enough that I could use/wear/gift the things I made but these days I have no interest. My final fling with crafting was making kimekomi temari, or traditional hand balls, which I learned to do during our second tour in Japan. Kimekomi is the process of pushing and glueing fabric into grooves carved into a compressed wooden shape to create a smooth surface – it is most often used to make dolls. My daughter-in-law helped me get supplies from Japan, and I sold them through a Japanese goods shop in Seattle – they went for more than I imagined and also sold more quickly than I imagined they might. A few of my temari were also exhibited in Japan as my Western style and color choices are very different from traditional Japanese kimekomi, and besides using only traditional satin brocades I also had covered a few temari with vintage Japanese cotton indigo fabrics. I stopped making the balls when the girls’ schedules became so crazy that I had no time to make anything but dinner. It’s the one craft I’d love to go back to but I haven’t taken that last step yet to start it up again.
    Wearing my white linen capris in Sydney . . .

Finally, a goal I set for myself earlier this year was to get in shape enough to fit back into my white linen capris once again. The last time I had worn them was in January of 2019, when we visited the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. I faithfully carried them around with me after that, but couldn’t squeeze myself back into them last summer in Portland, and I was in even worse shape when we arrived back here in March. However, with all the walking we’ve been doing I’ve been changing shape, and along with 14 pounds lost I decided to give them a try again this past Friday and . . . voilà! They were actually easier to put on then they were in 2019! That gave me a happy feeling, and another goal has been met!

. . . and again this past week (finally).

Even with our less than perfect beach days, we had a very enjoyable week and accomplished (most) of what needed doing. Good things happened, we ate well, and I hope the same happened for everyone as well. Here’s to good weather this coming week to help to tamp down or eliminate the fires raging in the West – my goodness, it’s awful in California in Oregon, and my heart aches for all those affected in any way. I’m hoping for a good or better week for all.

Home Cooking: Vegetable Side Salads x3

Wilted cucumbers (photo credit: almanac.com)

Because of my lettuce intolerance, other than bland (but cool and crunchy) iceberg lettuce, and an occasional spinach salad, I cannot eat a green salad. No romaine, no bib, no mache, no endive, no other leaf lettuces can pass my lips without unpleasant results. The rest of my family enjoys salads though, so we have grown lettuce in the past and I have made lots of tossed salads for them, but I have always had to avoid them. My parents never got it when I was young, that my avoidance of salads was more than not liking the taste of lettuce, that lettuces other than iceberg actually made me sick, so I was often stuck at the table until I “finished my (romaine or other variety) salad.” What that meant was that I became very good at hiding salad in my clothes or napkin, or at passing it over to my sister or a brother.

I’ve always loved vegetables though, so was always happy when there was something other than a green salad being served. When I began cooking for my own family, I often made vegetable side salads so I could enjoy them right along with the rest of the family (who also all like vegetables). We still enjoy these salads frequently, but especially in the summer.

The wilted cucumber salad comes from Mollie Katzen’s Enchanted Broccoli Forest. It is easy, versatile and inexpensive, and the cucumber slices are a nice addition to a variety of sandwiches as well as being enjoyed on their own. I always make a big jar of this to take camping as they kept well (but usually were eaten fairly quickly). The three bean salad is an old standby from years ago (I can’t remember where I got my recipe), and again is inexpensive and easy to make. I often look for cans of beans on sale when I go to the market to have them on hand, and the type of beans used in the salad can be varied depending on what you have in your pantry. The cauliflower salad recipe comes from my grandmother, who lived on a farm and cooked with what came out of her garden. I never really enjoyed this salad all that much when I was young, but when I found the recipe one day in my mom’s recipe file I figured out why: Mom always made it with Miracle Whip, which I didn’t (and still don’t) care for, instead of the sour cream the recipe calls for. With sour cream, it is cool, crunchy and completely yummy.

WILTED CUCUMBER SALAD

Make at least a day ahead so that the cucumbers can fully “relax” and absorb the marinade. When the marinade is first poured over the cucumbers it won’t seem like you made enough, but as the cucumbers wilt, the marinade will fully cover them. These can keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, although they never seem to last more than a few days at our house.

2/3 cup apple cider vinegar (rice vinegar works well too)

1/3 cup water

4 TBSP sugar

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

4 medium cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced

black pepper to taste

2 TBSP minced fresh dill (optional)

Combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a small saucepan; heat just to the boiling point, then remove from heat. Layer the onion and cucumber slices in a medium-large bowl, and pour the hot liquid over them. Cool to room temperature, then add pepper and dill (if using). Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid and chill until cold.

Classic three-bean salad can easily accommodate four beans if you prefer! (photo credit: food.com)

THREE-BEAN SALAD

The canned beans listed below are for the “classic” salad, but can be varied, although there should always be either a green bean or yellow (wax) bean. I have used garbanzos, white beans, and others, depending on what’s on hand in the pantry.

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup cider vinegar

3/4 cup sugar (or less, to taste)

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 can each, well-drained:

  • wax beans
  • green beans
  • kidney beans

1/3 cup finely chopped onion

1/3 cup finely chopped green pepper (optional)

Combine oil, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper; stir until sugar is dissolved. Place beans, onions and pepper in a large bowl, and toss with the dressing. marinate for at least 8 hours before serving. Can be eaten cold or at room temperature.

CAULIFLOWER SALAD

3 cups finely chopped raw cauliflower

1 cup seeded and diced fresh tomato

1/4 cup finely chopped celery

2 tsp cider or rice vinegar

1/3 cup sour cream

salt & pepper to taste

Mix together the vinegar, sour cream and salt and pepper. Combine cauliflower, tomato and celery in a bowl; toss with sour cream mixture and chill well before serving.

You Can Go Home Again

My view from the sofa

I am happy these days. It’s not just a things are going well kind of happy either, but a deeply contented happiness that comes from realizing I’m living in the right place, right now.

I loved traveling and living on the road, and was happy then too. I loved not owning or wanting things other than the clothes in my suitcase, and waking up each day knowing there was going to be something new out there for Brett and I to discover and/or learn. I was crushed when it all suddenly had to come to an end.

We watch amazing sunsets right from our living room.

Contented and happy was not what I was feeling when we left Kaua’i in 2018, and neither of us was sure then whether we wanted to come back or not. When I reflect on that time though I now can see the reasons for our unhappiness. We were miserable in the place we were living. Our landlord was a jerk and getting weirder by the day; the house was nice but very difficult to maintain; and it was nearly always hot and humid inside with no breeze and nothing to look at from the windows but the house next door. Getting through the constant bumper-to-bumper traffic in the Kapaa area was miserable as well, as were the drives to and from Lihue and down to Costco. Any trip in the car involved sitting in traffic, or adding mileage and time to get around congested spots (and even the bypasses could be heavily congested at times). The humidity on the east side could be brutal at times, and for me was compounded by a lack of air circulation in the house. Finally, Brett’s and my lives back during our four years were completely constrained by YaYu’s and WenYu’s busy lives and schedules with school-related activities, sports, or work, YaYu’s in particular. There was a purpose in all that they did, we supported their efforts, and it paid off in community recognition and scholarships for both girls, but Brett and I often felt like we had no life of our own outside of wherever they needed to be or what they needed to do. It was often difficult for us to find the time to see and do the things we wanted.

These days I get to savor my morning cup of coffee along with a beautiful view and a cool breeze blowing through the living room.

It was with some trepidation that we came back to Kaua’i this past March. Our girls had told us last December that they all thought we should return, and we loved being back when we visited in January, but we still weren’t so sure it was the best place for us to settle. However, once we did decide to come back we made a second decision: no repeats of the things that had bothered us before, and to start again from scratch. That decision was the smartest thing we did, as our second time around has turned out to be a very different experience in every way, with the result that both of us feel deeply happy to be back on the island. After nearly six months here I cannot think of even one thing I don’t like about where we live (and I have tried). Our landlord is definitely not weird, and a genuinely nice guy, born and raised on the island. We love our apartment’s location out of the tourist bubbles. We love the layout of the rooms, the amount of storage we have, the massive bathroom, the big, beautiful private yard with its flowers and fruit trees. Most especially we love the steady flow of air through the rooms that keeps the apartment feeling cool and mostly humidity free. We’ve had absolutely no need of an air-conditioner here. We’re very happy with the furniture we chose and how it fits into the space. The apartment’s size is perfect for us although we easily accommodated YaYu this past summer, and we have nice neighbors. It’s a less than 10-minute drive each week to a great farmer’s market, and although Costco and Lihue are actually further away from us than they were before, the drive to those places is easier and faster these days as we don’t have to deal with Kapaa’s stop and go traffic like before. We have a great walking venue nearby and our south shore location is also an easy distance from several nice beaches. Salt Pond Beach Park is just 15 minutes away, and the base at Barking Sands with its long beautiful beach is just a 30-minute drive. We can go the other direction to the Poipu beaches and be there in under 15 minutes. Finally, and maybe best of all, Brett and I make our own schedule these days, and mostly go with what we feel like doing at the moment rather than make plans in advance. Our time is fully our own. (Note: Currently the traffic moves nicely through Kapaa because of the lack of visitors to the island. When they return, so will the traffic.)

The beach is always a happy place for me.

It seems you can go home again, maybe as long as you bring a different set of expectations along with you the second time around. I know that things can change for the worse on a dime (been there, done that) but I’m so happy we decided to give Kaua’i a second chance, and that we’re now, as Oprah says, getting to live our best lives here. The only thing that could make me any happier than I am now would be to have it easier for our children to get here or for us to get to them. Until that happens though, I am going to enjoy this happy place we’re in to the fullest.

Sunday Morning 9/6/2020: Another Very Nice Week

Most evenings the sky just went gray, then dark, but a couple of times . . . oh my!

Good morning!

It was quite hot when we visited Hanapepe but our masks stayed on the entire time.

We’ve had a lovely week with errands run, visited nearby Hanapepe, and had a beach day at Salt Pond. We did a small-ish food shopping at Walmart and Costco on Tuesday, went to Hanapepe on Wednesday afternoon, and spent Thursday afternoon on the beach. Several businesses have reopened in Hanapepe, but many still only open by appointment only. While it was quite hot there and not all that nice to be outside (especially wearing a mask), we still managed to look around the Talk Story Bookstore, stop in a couple of other shops and chat with the salespersons, look through windows at the art galleries (and learn paintings by our favorite local artist go for over $2000 – yikes!), and share a Meyer lemon danish at the Midnight Bear bakery. Before we left we took an obligatory walk over Hanapepe’s historic swinging bridge and back, always an enjoyable (but shaky) experience. There’s a walking path up on top of the levee that runs alongside the Hanapepe Stream, so we’re going to investigate and see how long that is and hopefully get out there for a long walk some day (when it’s cooler).

We also made a trip to my happy place this week. We went to Salt Pond Beach Park on Thursday. It was my first time to the Salt Pond beach, and in spite of some very strong winds I really liked it there and look forward to going back. It was nice enough that I even went out in the water for a while! Salt Pond has beautiful, clear water and a protected area that’s perfect for little kids, so I’m already looking forward to visiting there with the grandkids in the future. We had hoped to go over to Barking Sands yesterday, but the weather didn’t cooperate so we’re going to try and go today (although the weather still isn’t that great).

It was very windy the day we went to Salt Pond Beach Park, but still sunny and warm.

WenYu called early last week to let us know she had been hired as a waitress in a high-end Italian restaurant near where she lives. She had been looking for work since she graduated last May, but hadn’t been feeling all that enthusiastic as jobs in her field are pretty much all in Boston, over an hour’s commute for her each way. So, when this local position was advertised she decided to go for it as it’s close to where she lives, will provide her with a cash flow, and gives her time to work on her portfolio, figure out what she really wants to do, and spend time with her boyfriend. The wait staff position was apparently highly competitive, but we felt somewhat confident when we learned she was made the cut for an in-person interview. She’s that person everyone enjoys having around and wants to have on their team, the one who can always find the positive any situation (plus she has waitressing experience). She always interviews well, and she’s a hard worker who always puts in extra effort. Anyway, she’s happy and we’re happy for her. We know she’ll eventually find a place where she can use her considerable artistic talents, but for now this is a good place for her.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I almost halfway through Breasts and Eggs. I am enjoying it, but it’s very Japanese, both the topic and the writing, and it sometimes jumps around a bit. I’ve put Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on hold at the library – almost can’t believe I just have one more in the series to go. The books have gotten so much better, exciting, and enjoyable as the series goes along.
  • Listening to: Brett is puttering around in the kitchen (putting dishes away, making coffee), and outside there’s a soft breeze blowing through the palms, birds are singing, and a couple of roosters are doing their thing off in the distance now and again. In other words, it’s a lovely morning in spite of the sky being filled with clouds. Hopefully they’ll clear out in the new few hours so we can go to the beach!
  • Watching: We’ve had a few nights where we couldn’t get into Netflix because the girls were all watching something (Netflix is provided by our phone plan so they all can access it as well), so Brett and I watched some other shows on Amazon and Britbox (Wild Bill, with Rob Lowe) those evenings. One favorite was A Suitable Girl on Amazon, a documentary about three young women in India and their quests to find a suitable husband and get married. It was fascinating and we enjoyed seeing scenes of India again. WenYu has recommended Indian Matchmaking on Netflix as a complement to that show, as well as a couple of others we now have on our list. When we can get on Netflix we’re still watching Mindhunter and Hinterland, but we should finish those this week.
  • Cooking/baking: We’ll be having be another (A Dozen Cousins’) beans and brown rice dinner tonight – tonight it will be Mexican Cowboy pinto beans. Other dishes on the this week’s menu are chicken adobo with bok choy; grilled ribeye steaks one night; and chicken and vegetable curry. Leftovers will fill in the gaps. I didn’t end up making the lemon cake last week because there were no lemon cake mixes at Walmart, and I refuse to pay nearly $4 to buy one elsewhere. I would have made the lemon cake from scratch except that we unfortunately didn’t have any lemons! I instead made a vanilla cake which we’re topping with apple pie filling. It’s not as good as the cherries and chocolate cake, but still very tasty and a nice sweet treat to end the day. I’ve promised myself though that our next cake will be something a bit more spectacular.
    Watashi wa tomodachi to nomi ni dekakemasu – got it on the first try!
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I feel like I turned a corner this week with Japanese. It was easier for some reason to read and remember kanji, and even though I still made mistakes, there were no where near as many of them as before. Before it often took me several tries for me to get things like the sentence above correct, but this past week I was able to get through review exercises without an error, a big step for me. We again walked every day (and got soaked on Monday – the rain started before we were able to get back to the car), and had five 3+-mile days. I’ve started carrying hand weights along when I walk. It’s been a bit of a challenge though as I thought I ordered two one-pound weights but instead ordered two two-pound weights. I know it won’t take long until they start to feel lighter. We didn’t get any of the windows washed this past week, so that job has been moved to this week, although we need to have a day when the sun is not shining brightly. We also did not get to see our friend on the north side as she was having a difficult week recovery-wise, so that’s been postponed until she’s feeling better.
  • Looking forward to next week: Brett and I are planning to go out on a breakfast date this week, to the Kalaheo Cafe just down the road. They do several different Eggs Benedict variations, so I know I will find something I like (and Brett will no doubt have French toast). Weather permitting, we also plan to get back to the beach, starting today, and hopefully get to go more than once. Otherwise, we have no specific plans for the week.
    Heaven in a bowl for breakfast.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Costco got flats of peaches in once again, and we found one with ripe peaches (soft to the touch and smelled like peaches versus hard as a baseball and no aroma). My idea of heaven for breakfast is nonfat vanilla yogurt topped with a fresh peach and a sprinkle of Anahola Granola, so getting to have peaches one more time is a wonderful thing in my book. Ally the cat continues to come by each day for water and a little attention. I never thought I’d say this, but we actually got worried one day when she didn’t come until late afternoon.
    She has made her peace with us, and us with her.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We stayed right on budget with our food shopping this week – I actually put a few things back at Costco just so we wouldn’t go over. We put $15.27 into the change/$1 jar. Our only other spending this week was the farmers’ market, the shared pastry at the Midnight Bear Cafe in Hanapepe, and some gin. Brett and I are not big drinkers – we only have one gin & tonic three evenings a week – but Safeway recently remodeled their liquor department and currently have a big wine and liquor sale going on, so this past week we stocked up on some small batch/specialty gins we’ve been wanting to try: Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice, Roku Gin from Japan, and Aviation Gin, distilled in Portland. Safeway’s prices were good to begin with, but we saved an addition $40 on top of those! We have enough gin now to last us for months. Otherwise in frugality, our travel savings balance at the end of August was $853. I got lucky and did several high-SB surveys, and along with receiving my monthly bonus award, I earned 1,854 Swagbucks this past week! Without YaYu here the amount of leftovers has dropped considerably, and all were quickly eaten. No food was thrown away this week as well.
    Pretty nice gin joint we’ve got set up now. This is definitely a want sort of thing and not a need, but we enjoy good gin and aren’t doing much of anything or going much of anywhere else these days, so why not? The Midsummer Solstice we enjoyed yesterday evening was amazingly delicious.
  • Grateful for: We’re thankful that all three of our girls is settled and healthy. Meiling is working (still full time from home) and she and her boyfriend moved this past week into a larger apartment (still in Manhattan); WenYu is now employed, and is otherwise happy and doing well; and YaYu is back at school and ready to start classes tomorrow. We couldn’t ask for more.
  • Bonus question: Where do you get your news these days? We don’t have cable TV, nor receive any local channels, and don’t currently subscribe to any newspapers. These days I keep up with what’s going on via Twitter. It may be seen as a strange source, but I have a highly curated list of (trusted) people I follow and I skim though tweets from them a couple of times a day to see what people are talking about and what issues, if any, I want to find out more about. Some of the stuff being put up on Twitter is frankly silly, and not worth my time, but there are other issues appearing almost daily where a tip from someone posting on Twitter gets me digging deeper. I then try to read articles from a variety of sources, and hear and weigh different viewpoints. At the same time I almost always refuse to read comments on Twitter because those can easily devolve into a trip down the rabbit hole or a bunch of name-calling or worse. Almost nobody follows me on Twitter because I rarely if ever tweet anything myself. I actually had one tweet of mine go viral last year, but it wasn’t enough to make me want to keep trying for that again.

We are so accustomed now to seeing everyone here wearing a mask that when we spot someone who isn’t it’s both shocking and maddening. The other day at the farmers’ market a women with five kids (definitely visitors) was shopping without a mask but instead had it dangling around her wrist. I guess she couldn’t be bothered to put it on, or though masks were for suckers or something. There are tons of signs throughout the market too reminding people that mask wearing is mandatory. I’m hoping someone eventually stopped her and told her to put it on. We also received an email from Bryn Mawr letting us know that apparently last weekend there were indoor gatherings on campus with no one wearing a mask, and several people had left campus to head into Philadelphia and elsewhere. Both activities are in violation of the agreement that students were required to sign before being allowed to return to campus. Being that the Honor Code at Bryn Mawr is a BIG DEAL, apparently these students are being dealt with individually, but the campus has gone into serious shutdown mode as well with ALL classes now online for the next week or so. YaYu says that almost everyone is trying very hard to stay safe and healthy, and everyone she knows is pretty upset about the actions of the few who chose to break the agreement and possibly endanger other students. The campus is also having issues with outsiders (not wearing masks, of course) wanting to walk their dogs on campus, etc. even though there are lots of signs posted that no visitor are allowed

That’s a wrap for this week. It was a very nice one for us, and moved along fairly quickly. Hope all of your weeks were good ones as well, and that you’re looking forward to the one coming up!

Home Cooking: Caramel Pecan French Toast

(photo credit: Allrecipes)

And now for something completely different . . . .

This recipe favors those with a sweet tooth, or with a desire for an occasional special sweet treat.

Brett’s all-time favorite breakfast item whenever we go out for breakfast is French toast. If it’s on the menu, in any form, from plain to stuffed, I know it’s what he’ll order. I found this decadent recipe on a B&B recipe site a few years ago when I was looking for a stuffed French toast recipe to make for his birthday. There were an incredible number of French toast recipes to choose from, but knowing Brett also loves caramel sticky buns (me too) when I saw this one I knew I had to give it a try.

It’s a surprisingly easy dish to put together. Although the recipe calls for a baguette, I used a brioche loaf from Trader Joe’s and overlapped the slices somewhat to get them to fit in the baking dish. I think challah would also work well. I also substituted Lyle’s Golden Syrup, made from cane sugar, for the corn syrup. Lyle’s comes from England and can be purchased from Amazon.

This French toast really does taste just like a sticky bun. Reviews over the years have included “The best thing you’ve EVER made for breakfast” and “I want this for my birthday cake next year.” Although it’s too much for Brett and I to have on our own these days, I do plan to make it next time our family is all together again, whenever that eventually happens.

CARAMEL PECAN FRENCH TOAST

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup butter

2 TBSP light corn syrup or golden syrup

1 cup chopped pecans

36-40 1/2 slices baguette-style French bread, 18 2-inch slices of French bread or a 8 slices of a heavier white bread

6 beaten eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla

1 TBSP granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium saucepan, stir together brown sugar, butter and syrup. Heat and stir until the butter is melted and the brown sugar dissolved. Pour into a well-greased 9″ x 13″ baking dish and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the pecans. Arrange half of the bread slices in a single layer over the sugar mixture and pecans. Sprinkle with the remaining pecans and top with the remaining bread slices.

In a medium bowl, blend the eggs, milk and vanilla, then slowly pour over the bread. Press lightly with the back of a large spoon to make sure all the bread is moistened.

Stir together sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, then sprinkle over the bread. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours.  Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. To serve, remove individual servings with a wide spatula and invert onto serving plates. Makes 9 servings.

Empty Nesters, For Real This Time

Brett and I are finally empty nesters.

Our youngest, YaYu, began college two years ago, but at that point we had no nest. We had sold most of our stuff, our car, and when she took off so did we. The label “empty nesters” didn’t seem to fit.

But, once again we have a nest. We have furniture, appliances, linens, and dishes again. We have a car. We have our clothes hanging in closets instead of folded into a suitcase. We’ve been sleeping our own bed since the first of April. The few things we put into storage are back with us. We are happy to be settled again.

When YaYu headed back to college last week, her absence delivered an unexpected jolt along with a deep feeling of emptiness. She had been with us full time since the end of March, and it took us a few days to realize she wasn’t just hanging out back on the deck, or laying on our bed to read. She wasn’t going to help me fix dinner. She and I weren’t going to study Japanese together. Even though we were ready for her departure, it was quite a shock.

Brett and I were full-time parents for 40 years, with only a short six-month break between taking our son to college and Meiling joining our family. There were always kids around doing kid things, needing kid things, from babies through high school. They kept us constantly busy, made messes, argued with us, studied hard, played hard, ate us out of house and home, made us laugh, made us cry, and a couple of times even scared us to death. They always made us proud though. We loved them unconditionally and always felt loved unconditionally in return. Our goal was always to give all our children roots and wings, and prepare them to fly out of the nest on their own to live as good citizens and good people. We feel like we accomplished that goal.

So now it’s just the two of us. We don’t have a new destination or another adventure to fall back on these days and are instead socially distancing ourselves at home most of the time. Brett and I make our own calendar, arrange our own time, eat what we want, fulfill our own needs. It’s wonderful but it’s also a very different experience for us, almost unreal at times. The lack of children in our home has also been a reminder of our own mortality – we knew how old we would be when YaYu left home, and we’re now past those ages.

We are thoroughly enjoying being a couple again, but we also miss our little birds. Other than YaYu coming back at Thanksgiving, we’re not sure how long it will be until we’re able to see our other children again. We have always gathered for the holidays, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen this year. It’s not just because of the pandemic – they have jobs, and adult lives and responsibilities that don’t allow them to easily get back here these days. Life goes on though, and there is video messaging, Zoom, and other ways to stay close and in touch. But the nest is finally empty, for real this time.