Home Cooking: Easy Baked Ziti Casserole

I doubt this recipe anything close to authentic Italian, but I love this casserole because a) it’s really easy to make; b) it’s inexpensive to make; and c) because I can get at least two dinners out of one casserole plus lunches for a few days from the leftovers and we just about can’t get more frugal than that!  When I made it in the past I used to add a pound of turkey Italian sausage to bump up the flavor and protein, but these days leave it out.  

While it does contain dairy in the form of cheese, this dish fits in perfectly with our current way of eating. The recipe serves 8, but even then it was fairly low calorie and still very filling: true comfort food.


The main recipe calls for just five ingredients
  • 12 – 16 ounces ziti or penne pasta
  • 1 24 – 26 ounce jar of commercial marinara sauce
  • 1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes with garlic & basil
  • 1 pound Italian sausage, cooked until crumbled and well-drained (optional)
  • 15 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 8 ounces grated mozzarella or Italian-blend cheese
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the pasta in a large pot according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, in another saucepan heat together the jar of spaghetti sauce and the can of diced tomatoes (and cooked sausage if you’re including it). When the pasta is cooked to al dente, drain it well and then return to its cooking pot. Remove half of the spaghetti sauce mixture and set aside, than add all the ricotta cheese to the remaining sauce and blend well (leaving no lumps of ricotta). Add the sauce and cheese mixture to the pasta and blend to coat all the pasta.

Blending ricotta into half of the marinara and canned tomato sauce
Add sauce mixture to the cooked pasta
The layered casserole, ready to be covered with foil and go into the oven.

Place half the pasta mixture in a well-oiled 9×13 baking pan. Top with half of the grated cheese, then layer the rest of the pasta mixture over the grated cheese. Cover the top of the casserole with the remaining spaghetti sauce mixture and finally cover with the remaining grated cheese. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 40 minutes. After removing from the oven, let the casserole sit for at least 20 minutes before cutting and serving.

Taking Another Look At PLan B

With a new Covid variant, named Omicron, making its name known while concurrently remaining mysterious, Brett and I figured this might be a good time to take another look at our Plan B, or at least come up with a couple more Plan Bs, just in case.

Much remains unknown about the Omicron variant, but scientists are working hard at figuring it out, looking for patterns, how infectious it is, and for other factors. The variant’s numerous mutations are the major cause for concern, and it’s unknown whether these make the Omicron variant more transmissible. It’s unknown whether this new variant will be as deadly as previous variants, such as Delta, and resistant to the antibodies produced by previous vaccines and boosters as well. And, because it is spreading around the world, it’s unknown at this time how the variant might affect cross-border travel long term. The current travel bans in place offer only short-term solutions, but may slow things up enough to give scientists and doctors time to get a better handle on what this variant brings to the ongoing COVID pandemic and what needs to be done to fight it.

We’ve always had a Plan B whenever we make travel plans. Plan B for our upcoming travels was to buy a car and drive around the U.S. for a while staying in Airbnbs at each destination. However, this option no longer seems as fun or exciting as it once did, especially as we have been looking forward to being outside of the U.S. for a while. The plan could be adjusted in a myriad of ways; for example, we could rent a car for a few months versus buying, and then travel internationally when it’s viable again, but mostly it just doesn’t interest us much any more and would also require a lot of work to pin down the logistics.

A new Plan B is taking shape though. This one has us moving to our settle-down location, renting an apartment, and changing future travel plans from full-time to occasional. We learned a lot of valuable lessons on relocation during our abrupt move to Kaua’i in 2020, and there were (expensive) mistakes made then that we know how to avoid this time. We’re not particularly crazy about this idea either, but it would be the most practical.

Our feeling right now is that we’re going be able to travel as planned next May. We’ve been vaccinated and boostered, and even if the Omicron variant requires a new vaccine, pharmaceutical companies (Pfizer, Moderna, etc.) have said they can move into rapid development and roll out new ones in a short amount of time as much of the research needed in creating a new vaccine is already done. Most are already working on new vaccines/boosters for this variant. A bigger fear for us is getting started on our travels and then a destination we’re booked into will shut down or the border will be closed (we can deal with quarantines and mask mandates). We’ve always been very flexible and able to roll with the punches, but something like this happening would affect us financially, and not in a good way.

We’ve decided that now is not a time to be fearful, but to think positively, and have faith in science and in our plans for the future. No matter what happens, we will still be leaving Kaua’i in May of next year. There are many unknowns right now, and we’re preparing ourselves for the possibility that changes may be required but keeping positive thoughts for the future.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (11/21 – 11/27)

Except for the ziti casserole, all of last week’s meals included some kind of meat substitute. The reason for that was mostly to use up what was on hand in the freezer in order to make room for upcoming food purchases for our daughters’ visit. We bought a ham on our last shopping trip which will be used in three different meals (the girls LOVE ham), but I still need to get ground pork, a pot roast, ground beef, and maybe some chicken. We will be purchasing meat from Big Save this time as we don’t need or wants the amounts that would come from Costco.

We have enjoyed all the meat substitutes we’ve tried these past few months. They taste good, they’re easy to prepare, and it can be hard at times to tell we’re not eating meat. I don’t miss what we used to pay for meat, and I definitely haven’t missed handling meat. However, if I’m honest I do miss the flavor of meat sometimes, and Brett and I are looking forward to enjoying a few favorite meat-based dishes again while our daughters are here. We feel healthier and better overall for not eating meat these past few months, our food bills have been lower, but we remain undecided about adding meat back into our diet.

Whenever I look at the photos of our meals my first thought is always that seems like an awful lot of food! However, the biggest plates we own are salad plates and a serving fills those plates. The ziti casserole was comfort food at its best and our Thanksgiving casserole was also delicious and filling. Besides tasty dinners, both casseroles also provided us with plenty of leftovers (some of the ziti casserole even went into the freezer).

Sunday: Plant-based meatball subs; 3-bean salad

Monday: Baked ziti casserole; roasted zucchini

Tuesday: Crispy mandarin orange chick’n; steamed rice; sweet & sour coleslaw

Wednesday: Plant-based chicken nuggets; onion rings; roasted cauliflower; roasted cherry tomatoes

Thursday: Chick’n & butternut squash casserole; roasted vegetables (zucchini, cauliflower, & tomatoes)

Friday: Baked ziti casserole; leftover roasted vegetables; apple slices

Saturday: Vegetarian cheeseburger mini pizzas

We enjoyed a Pepperidge Farm coconut cake for dessert the first four evenings of the week, then began another Costco pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. We’ll be eating it all through next week.

Next week’s goal is to continue emptying out the freezer and refrigerator before stocking up in preparation for the girls’ arrival. None of next week’s meals will be anything new or exciting but they will help free up space for other things, including all that meat we’ll be buying for the first time in months.

  • Vegetarian lasagna
  • Vegetable fried rice
  • Pasta with vegetarian “meat” sauce
  • Chick’n patty sandwiches
  • Coconut squash dal
  • Mini pizzas
  • Butternut squash ravioli with pesto

With nearly perfect weather all last week we got in lots of good walks. Most of our walking was done up at the park, but on Thanksgiving Day we hiked part of the Maha’ulepu Trail, which runs along the southeastern coast from Poipu eastward. Brett has hiked it several times, but this was my first time out there, and all I kept thinking was why had I put this off for so long? It was stunningly beautiful the entire way. Some of the trail was over ancient lava flows, where we spotted several “bowls,” created when lava bubbles burst, and there were other fascinating lava formations along the way. Some of the trail was as sandy as a beach and our legs got quite a workout, but views along the entire way were spectactular. We turned around a little after a mile, at the site of a huge ancient heiau (sacred native Hawaiian temple). Some of the boulders that had been used to create part of the wall were massive, a true architectural feat. It was weird though to realize that behind the heaiu walls now sits the giant Grand Hyatt resort golf course. I can’t wait to get out there and walk the trail again, hopefully to the end, maybe with the girls when they are here.

Views along the Maha’ulepu Trail

The trail was difficult for me in spots because of its uneven nature and even though I walked with the aid of a hiking stick, my bursitis still kicked in. With more frequent walking on pavement these days as well, I am experiencing more aches and pains in my hips again overall. I try to remember to take pain relief before we walk, which is the most effective for me (Aleve is my medication of choice because I need to take less for more relief).

Sunday Morning 11/28/2021: Goodbye November, Hello December

Saturday evening’s sunset was really the only one of the week . . . because it was the only evening with clouds! The rest of the week the sky was clear so it just got dark. The color in the sky above disappeared in less than five minutes.

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

(photo credit: Enrique Macias/Unsplash)

Happy Hanukkah! Chag sameach! Wishing all who celebrate a joyous eight days filled with love, happiness, and blessings, along with a lifetime of light.

Brett and I enjoyed a lovely, quiet Thanksgiving last week. We took a hike on the nearby Maha’ulepu trail in Poipu, had a simple but yummy dinner, and watched The Descendants. Thanksgiving was always the one holiday I could count on Brett being gone when he was in the navy, so I enjoy being together now even if it’s just the two of us and all we’re having is a vegetarian casserole. Back in the day, when Brett was gone, our son and I would often go with friends to the enlisted chow hall on base for our Thanksgiving meal – for around $2.50 we could enjoy an amazing turkey dinner from soup to nuts, with delicious appetizers, every side dish imaginable to choose from, an amazing array of desserts, and even ham or roast beef if turkey wasn’t your thing. Loads of people of every rank showed up for that meal!

Part of a Maha’ulepu Trail hike involves walking over an ancient lava flow.

It’s honestly a bit unbelievable to me that we will slide into December this week. There are less than three weeks left until the girls arrive for Christmas, and all of us are getting more and more excited about being together again. This week I’ll finalize the menu for when they’re here so when that Brett and I shop this week as well as the day before Meiling’s and WenYu’s arrival we don’t forget anything. I wish we had a bigger refrigerator and freezer, but we’ll manage somehow. We’ll be spending time while they’re here sorting through their things and deciding what to keep and what to let go of or throw away, and also figuring out how to get everything they’re keeping back east. Most of all though we want to relax with them and enjoy being together on Kaua’i one last time. We’ve already got all our fingers and toes crossed that the weather will cooperate so we can get to the beach at least a couple of times, enjoy an evening out by the fire pit, and take a couple of hikes.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: Another satisfying mystery, A Slow Fire Burning, was finished last Sunday afternoon, and afterwards I had to do some searching to find something new to read as none of the books I’ve got on hold are close to being available. The Scandinavian noir genre always seems to provide something new and different, and now about halfway through the Norwegian mystery, I’m Traveling Alone, by Samuel Bjork. It’s just as creepy as hoped for. I have just one more month to go in my year of reading mysteries, procedurals, suspense, etc. but there will be no theme next year – I have a stack a mile high now of other things I want/need to read.
  • Listening to: It’s quite breezy outside this morning (and also quite cool) so sort of noisy whenever the wind gusts. Not a whole lot going on otherwise though so it’s mostly quiet out there. Brett’s eating his breakfast and reading, so once again it’s also a perfectly quiet morning inside. I still can’t get over how calm and peaceful our neighborhood is here versus when we lived in Kapaa.
Thanksgiving 2019 was the only year we missed watching The Descendants; we were on a plane that day (that we caught by the skin of our teeth) flying back to the U.S. However, we had watched it earlier in the month in our Edinburgh Airbnb rental!
  • Watching: Our annual viewing of The Descendents on Thanksgiving was as special as always – we love the Kaua’i scenes even if they frequently get the geography wrong. We’ll finish the second season of Ted Lasso and Little Fires Everywhere tonight – both have been great. Friday evening we watched the Great British Bake Off finale, and my favorite baker this season, Giuseppe, won – I was so happy! We’re going to start watching The Morning Show tomorrow but are looking for a second show to go along with it.
  • Happy we accomplished this past week: 1) Brett and I got started organizing and assembling some of the things for the girls to go through when they’re here. We pulled stuff out of closets and off shelves, and we put together a packet for each girl with all their important paperwork (adoption, citizenship, birth certificates, etc.) They’re all adults now and there’s no reason for us to be responsible for these things any more. Each girl will also get a package with the clothes they were wearing on the day we met them. 2) We got started as well on putting together a box for our son, with his baby book and some of his paperwork we still have for some reason. 3) Brett and I studied French every day for 20 minutes – we’re getting better but of course the lessons are getting more difficult as well.
  • Looking forward to next week: There is nothing special on our calendar, but we’ll do a semi-Big Shop on Tuesday, and plan to continue getting things ready for the girls’ arrival. It feels good to sort through all these things we have. Another day at the beach is definitely a possibility, weather permitting.
Friday’s beach day at Shipwreck Beach was near flawless.
We watched all sorts of people, young and old, jump off the cliff at Shipwreck while we were there. This was a mom jumping in after all four of her kids had already made the leap (you can see them swimming below). The kids all jumped from halfway down the cliff, but mom did it from the top.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: 1) Last Friday, we enjoyed what we believe was the most perfect beach day we’ve ever had in Hawaii. The weather, temperature, breeze, number of people, etc. all came together for a wonderful, long afternoon at Shipwreck Beach in Poipu. There was lots of cliff jumping going on during the day and we had a birds’ eye view of it. The Maha’ulepu trail starts at the beach, after our hike on Thursday we decided to give the beach a try on Friday versus going to Barking Sands or Salt Pond. It turned out to be a very good decision! 2) I had seven Etsy orders this week, all hashioki. I love seeing which ones people choose and am happy the hashioki are heading to new owners. 3) I watched the Rick Steve’s Monday Night Travel show on England – he covered Oxford and the Cotswolds, with memory and anticipation coming together for me as we watched those sections of the show. We’re super excited to be going back to England next year. 4) Meiling sent photos on Thanksgiving of the traditional turkey dinner she prepared, with everything made from scratch – it was very impressive! All three girls have become very good cooks, with no thanks to me. Our son had to take a major licensing exam on Thanksgiving Day (which is obviously not a holiday in Japan), but our daughter-in-law and grandkids attended Thanksgiving at the American Club in Tokyo and enjoyed the full turkey dinner experience. 5) Our new avocado tree is ready to move from its jar into a pot with soil this week! 6) And, we got a new visitor last week – a kitten! He/She looks to be related to Allie Cat, is very shy and ran away anytime we got close, but did drink some of the water we put out. We’re hoping for a return visit!
So cute!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) I ordered a pair of Duckfeet boots on Thanksgiving Day and received 20% off, a nice bit of savings on something I need/want for traveling. The boots I thought I would be purchasing were out of stock but I was able to find another pair in a color I liked. The price for the boots I got was slightly less than expected as well, so there were more savings. 2) We bought a much-needed roll of packing tape (between the past two weeks’ sales I went through an entire roll of tape), but otherwise we had a no-spend week. 3) We put 13 cents into the change/$1 bag (Brett found it on the ground yesterday), and our total saved so far this month from change/$1 bills is $12.59, although there may be more after Tuesday’s shopping trip (November 30). 4) We didn’t spend anything on eating out, ate all our leftovers, made a good start on emptying out the freezer, and didn’t throw away any food.
Three orders ready to go!
  • Adding up the things we sold: Thirteen hashioki (seven orders) left the house this week and we sold the last two boxes of golf balls, so $110.53 will be going into our travel account this week. Three of the five Etsy orders were just one hashioki. It takes me less than 10 minutes to get an order ready now as I’ve gotten the packaging down to a science. There are only seven of the small boxes left that I use for mailing hashioki orders (a box can hold up to five or six of them), and I think when they’re gone I will close the shop or turn it over to one of the girls. The total for all the golf balls we collected over the past few months and sold was just over $200. Not a huge amount, and we could have probably made more selling them on eBay, but local sales worked for us: everyone was happy, it was easy, and it was pure profit for us. We had a lot of fun hunting for all the lost balls and got in some good exercise as well. November was a good month for side hustles: total going into our account from sales was $889.40.
  • Grateful for: I am feeling both terribly sad about and thankful for the verdict in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial this past week. If not for a videotape that surfaced of his last moments and the police interacting with Arbery’s killers, there would have been no trial and the three men responsible for his death would have gone free. The horrific video showed that the police did nothing for Arbery when they were called to the scene (and he was still alive), and they even coached the murderers on how to behave and dress. While I am grateful justice was done with the murderers convicted and the first state prosecutor in jail for her abject failure to prosecute, I’m also terribly, terribly sad for the effort it took for the case to go to trial. I have to wonder how many other black men have been murdered for what seems to be basically sport, and the deaths and cases that never make the news let alone come to trial.
  • Bonus question: What’s been your worst travel experience? I’ve probably told this story before, but back in 1999, I traveled to China with a friend to adopt WenYu (Brett stayed home with Meiling). She and I flew into Hong Kong for a couple of days of sightseeing and then orientation before heading to China to meet WenYu. On the long drive from the Hong Kong airport to the city my suitcase fell out of the trunk of our taxi where it was run over by a bus and sent flying to the complete other side of the freeway (I was very lucky the suitcase did not fall out on a bridge and end up in the Hong Kong Harbor). While we were stopped at the side of the road to figure out how to get over and get the suitcase, we watched a car stop and take my suitcase! I remember the taxi driver, my friend, and I standing on the side of the freeway jumping up and down, waving our arms, and screaming at the man not to take the suitcase, but even though he saw us he put it in his car and drove off. The suitcase contained baby clothes, diapers, formula and baby food, as well as my clothes for the trip so it was a very, very depressing moment and an inauspicious start to our journey. It turned out though the man who picked up the suitcase was a police detective! Apparently through communication between the police and the taxi company, the driver was told to bring us to a police station where after answering a couple of questions I got my suitcase back. We learned later the driver was heavily fined for not properly securing the suitcase and for keeping the meter running while we were in the police station! The suitcase had been smashed flat, but once we got in our hotel room I was able to get it open and found everything inside had somehow survived, even the glass jars of baby food (shout out to Samsonite hard side luggage!). The only things damaged besides the suitcase itself were some granola bars. I bought a new suitcase later that afternoon and the rest of the trip came off without any issues.

Finally, we have a new neighbor upstairs, a German woman who has moved in with the doctor living there. Brett asked him if she was visiting but he said, no, this was something “more permanent.” The two of them met just a couple of weeks ago, so things apparently got serious very quickly. She seems to work on a beach somewhere because there’s been a lot of sand appearing almost daily on the stairs up to our apartments, and we can hear the vacuum running upstairs many evenings as well. We think she might be either a yoga instructor, tai chi instructor, or a massage therapist because they’re the only occupations we know other than lifeguards that work out on the beach. According to what the doctor told Brett the other day, she left everything behind in Germany to come live on Kaua’i several months ago (and gave herself a Chinese name when she arrived). She doesn’t look a day over 30, if that, while the doctor is somewhere closer to 80 years old, so we honestly hope things go well for them. He still clomps around upstairs as much as always, but she is thankfully quiet and doesn’t make a lot of noise. He’s also hinted they may not be staying in the apartment upstairs much longer, but he paid us for another three months of Internet access so we’ll see.

This week was a good end to the month, with great weather, a lovely holiday, a beach day, a hike, and more. It’s still somewhat hard to believe December and the end of this year will be here so soon, but we are ready or as ready as we can be. I hope everyone had as a lovely week as we did – here’s to the one coming up!

Finding Your Way On Kaua’i

(Updated from a post originally published in November, 2017.)

That’s the St. Regis Hotel in the upper left of the picture, and Hanalei Beach in front. There’s no way to directly walk from one to the other.

Every year on Thanksgiving Brett and I watch The Descendants, starring George Clooney. It’s a wonderful film, and part of it is set on Kaua’i. Every year though we roll our eyes and sigh when Clooney and his movie family climb into a jeep with a cousin at the airport and head north, and yet somehow end up overlooking the ocean on the south shore at Kipu Kai Ranch, a geographically impossible feat. Or, when he and family walk from Hanalei beach to their hotel in Princeville along Anini Beach, making it look like there’s a seamless beach the entire way. Nope. The hotel sits perched on the top of a bluff to the east of Hanalei, and you’d have to cross a golf course, scramble down a wooded cliff and cross the Hanalei River at the mouth before arriving at Hanalei Beach. And, Anini Beach is to the east of Princeville and the hotel, Hanalei Beach to the west. There are other scenes where locations are out of place, but we chalk it all up to “Hollywood magic.”

George Clooney and family look out over the south shore of Kaua’i, after heading north from Lihue and passing through Kapaa on the east side.

Back in November of 2017 I was alerted to an article in the New York Times: 36 Hours in Kauai, Hawaii (subscription required – sorry). The article listed quite a lot of interesting places to see, shop and/or dine at on the island, but I was completely worn out by the time I finished reading just the first day! The author has visitors starting their 36 hours at the Kaua’i museum in Lihue, on the east side of the island, at 3:00 p.m (right after arriving from a long flight and picking up a car), then driving out to Hanapepe on the south side to order a custom aloha shirt at 4:30. We live between Lawai and Koloa, on the south side of Kaua’i, and the drive from here to Hanapepe with no traffic takes around 15-20 minutes. Add in the time it takes to get from Lihue to Lawai, and that’s another 20 minutes. To get to Hanapepe by 4:30 when there’s no traffic, a visitor is going to have to leave the museum after only 15-20 minutes (after paying admission to the museum at $15 per person). While the distance from Lihue to Hanapepe might not look all that long on a map (18 miles), the reality is any drive at that time of the afternoon will involve mixing with the pau hana (“quitting time”) crowd heading home to the south and west sides, and that seemingly short drive can take up to or over an hour, especially on a Friday.

Anyway, if someone has somehow managed the feat of both visiting the museum and making it out to Hanapepe on time, the suggestion is to then drive all the way back to the Kilohana Plantation in Puhi to participate in a rum tasting at the Koloa Rum Company at 5:30. Oh wait – the last tasting of the day is at 5:00 p.m. However, the next stop on the itinerary is the evening luau next door at Gaylord’s restaurant (reservations required). Following the luau, readers then are directed to drive all the way back past Hanapepe and through Waimea (in complete darkness) to spend the night at the Waimea Beach Cottages.

The proposed schedule for the first day is exhausting and impossible, even more so if one decides to follow a recommendation to take in some of the Friday evening Hanapepe Art Night (which doesn’t start until 5:00 p.m.) before heading back to Puhi. For someone from the mainland the amount of driving might not seem all that excessive, but for those of us who live here it’s positively crazy and makes no sense whatsoever.

The next two days’ schedules are equally frenetic, and involve an insane amount of driving back and forth from one side of the island to another. The lodging recommendations are bizarre considering how long it can take to get around the island (most of the highway is only two lanes). If I remember correctly, one suggestion on the second day is driving from the north shore all the way down to Old Koloa town for dinner and then back up to Princeville to spend the night. Again, insanity! Needless to say, it’s more than extremely likely that any visitor trying to follow even some of this article’s schedule will encounter the reality of Kaua’i traffic fairly quickly along the way causing everything to fall apart in a very short time.

Most of all though, the 36-hour schedule in the Times misses the whole point of visiting Kaua’i. The best reason to come here is not to try to see and do as much as possible and fill every single moment, including negotiating Kauai’s traffic, but to relax, most especially if all someone has is 36 hours to spend with a long flight on either end. Life moves slower on Kaua’i, and the best and most authentic experience of all is to embrace the slower place. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast, sit on the beach for the day or go for a hike, take a nap, maybe pick a place or two to visit, go out for a wonderful dinner or attend a luau, but don’t try to squeeze in everything.

Visitors are always welcome on Kaua’i, and there are lots of things to see and do here. But finding one’s way on Kaua’i requires a change in how one experiences time and place. Geography is more than just places on a map, or distances between towns, or times posted on Google Maps. It’s more than pretty scenes in a film. The geography of a place is about how and where people live, and how they use the mountains, beaches, towns, roads and the surrounding environments. It’s about how local residents spend their time, and what they value about where they live. Even a small amount of knowledge about these things can make a visit to Kaua’i, to anywhere, more enriching.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(Photo credit: Unsplash/Thanksgiving)

The gift of wonderful readers is one of the nicest blessings of all, and I am giving thanks for all who stop by The Occasional Nomads every day. Wishing everyone good health, good times, whatever is beautiful and meaningful, and whatever brings happiness this holiday season and throughout the coming year to you and yours.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (11/14 – 11/20)

With the approach of Thanksgiving and the holiday season, we are entering what I call “the time of dangerous eating.” Brett and I did okay last year with just the two of us and YaYu at home, but this year, with all three of our daughters here, is going to be difficult. The girls love to eat, and pretty much can and will eat anything, including candy, cookies, cakes, as well as savory things like chips and such. It’s easy to avoid eating those things when they’re not in the house, but they will be expected when the girls are here.

I’m frankly not sure what to have on hand for them. I’ve thought about making pecan pie bars (one of Meiling’s favorite things) but realized Brett and I would have no trouble whittling away at them as well. I’ve also thought about making a batch of peanut brittle, one of WenYu’s holiday favorites, but peanut brittle is one of those things that if I take one bite I’m probably going to finish all of it. We plan to binge-watch the new Dexter series, so I’m thinking of putting out chips and salsa while we do that, but otherwise I’m stumped about what else to have on hand, for now anyway. Candy is out of the question as are cookies – Brett and I can’t leave them along – but maybe we could avoid eating cake these days. There will be lilikoi chiffon pie following our Christmas dinner, but otherwise I’m trying hard not to think of all those other oh-so-troublesome-but-so-delicious things that are part of the holidays.

Last week’s menu got several things out of the freezer, which was the plan going in. I’m going to go shopping for meat in a couple of weeks and there needs to be room for it.

Sunday: Curry with tofu & vegetables; steamed rice

Monday: Vegetable yakisoba

Tuesday: Vegan mini corn dogs; 3-bean salad; onion rings; pickle slices

Wednesday: Vegetarian lasagna; roasted peppers

Thursday: Chick’n tikka masala mini pizzas

Friday: Split pea soup; toasted cheese sandwiches

Saturday: Vegan mabo tofu; steamed rice

One-sixteenth of a key lime pie – a wonderful ending to our meals

We enjoyed a small slice of key lime pie most of last week for dessert (we had mini cream puffs again on Tuesday), and when the pie was finished on Saturday we started in on a Pepperidge Farm coconut cake which we’ll finish just before Thanksgiving. We bought a big Costco pumpkin pie to enjoy for that day and beyond. Pies seem to be our thing these days.

I haven’t made ziti casserole in several years but I found two packages of ziti at the back of the pantry this past week, and other than ricotta cheese we had everything else on hand to make it (and we picked up the ricotta at Safeway). The casserole will provide our main dish on two evenings. On Thanksgiving Day we’re having the Chicken & Butternut Squash casserole which contains a couple of things we’d be enjoying with a traditional turkey dinner. We’ve got pumpkin pie for dessert. Between the two casseroles we’re set for lunches for the week as well.

  • Baked ziti (2 meals)
  • Mandarin chick’n
  • Vegetarian chick’n & butternut squash casserole (Thanksgiving)
  • Chick’n nuggets
  • Mini pizzas
  • Plant-based meatball subs

We got in some good walks again this week, including a hike on the Waioukapua Trail and through Costco and Safeway during our Big Shop (slow, but we cover over two miles). Otherwise we walked up at the park. Brett walked alone on Friday because I was under the weather from the shingles vaccine. Packaging up Etsy orders on Saturday kept us home although rain threatened outside as well, but we made up for the two missed days by walking yesterday, our usual day off. We miss walking out the golf course and reverse walked it on Wednesday but only found two golf balls (although we weren’t really looking for any this time). There have been a lot of golfer the past couple of weeks, so it was sort of obvious that other hunters had been going through our usual spots.

It was very hot out on the Waioukapua Trail last Tuesday, but even though I drank more water than I usually do, ate a small snack at the halfway point, wore my hat, and remembered my wet neckerchief to help keep cool, I still ended up feeling shaky, dizzy, and slightly nauseous by the time we got set up on the beach. After some more water and with the shade from the umbrella and a cool breeze I felt better quickly though. I also got overheated out on the golf course when we did our reverse walk of the perimeter on Wednesday. We took that on after we had walked two Pavilion loops and then up to the club house and it really was too much, especially since it was hot and quite humid. I drank a lot of water along the way and just kept going, but I won’t push myself to do it again. When did I become so heat sensitive? Hopefully this will not be an issue next summer when we’re in Strasbourg and Oxford.

Sunday Morning 11/21/2021: Was That More Time Just Flying By?

We had a few pretty/interesting sunsets this week, but they all were over quickly.

Good Morning! 🌴🌺🌴 Aloha kakahiaka! 🌴🌺🌴

We now officially have less than six months left until we depart Kaua’i for Pennsylvania and then France! Time is moving along very quickly, with the days flying past, which is actually getting bit concerning as we have much left to do. Lots has been accomplished already with things continuing to get sold, money going into our travel account, plans being made, research getting done, and so forth. I am trying to focus as much as I can on our girls’ upcoming visit and getting ready for that (less than a month to go until they arrive!) but I still feel like there are a lot of plates I need to keep spinning.

We made a couple of positive financial discoveries this past week. One. our little car is apparently worth quite a bit more than we imagined, more than double what we thought we’d ask for it. With the current shortage of cars on the island, both new and used, we now may be able to get a couple of thousand dollars more than planned, although we’re not going to get greedy as the point will be to sell the car quickly. And, we had planned to take the train from Paris to Strasbourg, but discovered we can save $$$ by flying. Taking the train would require taking a taxi over to Gare L’Est (60 Euros) from the Paris airport and although the train is non-stop to Strasbourg tickets cost more than flying with the travel time the same. The wonderful and affordable Strasbourg tram system runs out to the airport, so by flying in it will be just as easy to get into the city after our arrival. Anyway, I am always happy when I find a way to make money as well as save on travel expenses! However, as of November 1 France is no longer providing their health pass online for free; we will now have to pay (36 Euros each) to get one at a pharmacy after we arrive Strasbourg. You win some, you lose some.

My Etsy shop now fits into the blue box and the plastic box on top. Everything else is packing materials. The fish plates sitting in the bottom of the blue crate were sold yesterday.

My Etsy shop has now shrunk to one box of hashioki, an antique basket and a small jubako. Although selling online has had it moments, I am so grateful to have been able to downsize through Etsy sales, and be able to sell so much of my hashioki collection (close to half of it has now been sold). We have earned far, far more selling this way than we could have otherwise. I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to keep the shop open though, or what I’ll do with the remaining hashioki. WenYu had said in the past she would take it over but she’s very busy these days so not sure that will be possible any more. We are done with eBay though. We sold a few things, but for the most part it was a very unsatisfying experience for us.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished both Truth Be Told and The Brutal Telling last Sunday, and have been reading A Slow Fire Burning this week. All three are so different from each other, and transitioning from one author to another required a major adjustment.
  • Watching: Two of our three favorite bakers on Great British Bake Off are going to the finals! We were positively shocked when Jurgen was eliminated after the semi-finals last Friday, but unsurprised that Chrystelle was sent through to the final. She’s photogenic but an inconsistent baker (she has done poorly on every technical challenge), but I sensed the fix was in with her from the beginning and she is indeed going to the finals next week as expected. Oh well – fingers are crossed that either Guiseppe or Chigs wins next week. We finished Inspector Morse on Tuesday evening – the final episode, “The Remorseful Day,” still remains hard to watch and as always, I got choked up at the end. Our time with Inspector Lewis will begin after the new year and then we will be on to Endeavour before we leave so we will be well-prepared for the Morse tour when we’re in Oxford. And what can I say about Squid Game? It was crazy, violent, and yet very thought provoking – I’m glad we watched. We also watched another episode of Shetland, we absolutely love Ted Lasso, and we just started Little Fires Everywhere (on Hulu).
A beautiful Kaua’i morning! Lots of hibiscus are in bloom behind the fence. And, just to show how fast things grow here, a little over 18 months ago there was a house visible behind the trees on the right.
  • Listening to: I was curious what the weather would be like this morning because it was very humid yesterday, rainy and cloudy at times, but there’s not a cloud in the sky this morning, and a lovely cool breeze blowing. Brett’s already made his breakfast, I’m enjoying a hot cup of coffee, so it’s a perfect, quiet morning inside and out.
  • Happy I accomplished last week: Big Shop done: check. Eye exam done, new glasses ordered: check. French studied every day: check. Christmas shopping finished and gifts wrapped: check. My shingles and flu vaccines done: check. Everything that needed to be accomplished this week: done! (P.S. The shingles vaccine knocked me out! I was tired and sore by Thursday evening, but I felt truly awful all day Friday. I was mostly fine again yesterday though, thank goodness. Still glad I got it done, because who wants shingles? I will be better prepared for Round II.)
The Descendants has been our traditional Thanksgiving viewing for the past nine years.
  • Looking forward to next week: 1) Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday of the year as it centers on family and food without all the hoopla about presents, decorations, and so forth. Once again this year it will be just Brett and me, but we’re planning to take a long walk, watch The Descendents, and enjoy a simple but tasty meal that ends with some pumpkin pie. 3) Hopefully we’ll get another beach day.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: 1) A day at the beach is always a good thing. We headed out to Barking Sands on Tuesday and enjoyed relaxing under the umbrella with the whole beach practically to ourselves again (we also walked the 2+ mile Waioukapua Trail before getting set up on the beach). 2) Our daughter-in-law sent us another huge batch of photos and videos of the grandkids’ fall activities. I think I’ve looked at them more than 100 times now. 3) I enjoyed this week’s episode of Rick Steve’s Monday Night Travels and learned a lot about the current state of travel in Europe and how we can be better prepared. We also got some ideas for future travel destinations. 4) I had six sales from my Etsy shop, something that’s always a good thing. 5) My vision had only very slightly deteriorated from last year and it will be a while before I need cataract surgery – yeah!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) Our upstairs neighbor finally paid us for another three months of Internet sharing, and that went right into our travel account this week. We asked him if he wanted to pay for six months, up until we left, but he said he might be moving on in another three months. 2) Because of the cost of gas and known delays due to highway maintenance, we combined all of our errands in Lihue into one this past Thursday. We first shopped at Costco, then went for my eye appointment, and followed that with a small shop at Safeway, where we used one of our $10 off $50 coupons. I also got both my shingles and flu vaccines done at Safeway while we were there and received a 10% off any purchase coupon (and, I’ll get a second coupon when I got back for the second shingles shot in a few months). 3) Although we put $0 into the change/$1 bill jar last week (we used our debit card), we ate all of our leftovers. and didn’t throw away any food. 4) Between Costco and Safeway we went approximately $45 over our shopping budget, but that’s because we picked up two instead of one of a few items where stock was low. For example, I bought two bottles of the wine I drink because that’s all that was left in Costco: two bottles. The apples we usually buy were gone so we bought a larger package that cost more. On the other hand, a couple of items we had planned to buy this trip had completely sold out since our last time there, and Costco still didn’t have their organic peanut butter in stock – it’s been missing for months. Overall though we found what we needed. We know things can disappear quickly here though, but lots of floor space at Costco these days is being used for non-food items with the area for food items shrinking.
Just two boxes of golf balls left to sell!
  • Adding up what we sold last week: Fourteen hashioki (five orders), a book, two sets of blue fish plates, and three more boxes of golf balls left the house for a total of $152.91 into the travel account. We have two more boxes of golf balls left to sell (whenever) but from now on the only potential sales happening until next year will be on Etsy. The fish plates were a challenge to get ready to ship (we had to build our own box). Packaging and postage ending up taking a good portion of my profits, but I still made more than we would have selling them at a yard sale, the buyer is thrilled to be getting them, and they’re something else now out of the house.
  • Grateful for: We grow more thankful all the time for Medicare and that Brett stayed in the navy to retire and receive continuing healthcare insurance. Our savings this week for two health-related tasks were considerable. I was told my shingles vaccine might cost up to $250, even with Medicare, but the entire cost of the vaccine was covered by Medicare and Tricare For Life so there was nothing out of pocket. Same for my eyeglasses – I paid less than 25% of the total cost for both the exam and new glasses that have all the bells and whistles, much less than expected. When Brett was serving we gave no thought at all about having insurance later in life, but this benefit alone has provided us a quality of life that was unimagined back then.
  • Bonus question: What’s been the most influential change in your lifetime (so far)? We memorized phone numbers. We memorized driving directions. No one knew what we looked like. No one could reach us. We were gods. (from a tweet I read this past week). I honestly wonder sometimes though how we ever managed without the Internet, Google, etc. in the past. Actually, I do remember how we managed but I am much, much happier with the technology we have available today. If I need or want to know something it takes just moments to search and find the information I’m looking for whether it’s the definition or spelling of a word, comparing flight schedules, the cost of something, and so forth. I can buy food, clothing, airline tickets, a car . . . anything but the actual experience of being somewhere online now (and I guess that could happen with virtual reality, but no thanks). It’s beyond amazing when I think about what we can do now, something our children and grandchildren take for granted. I love my cell phone, and use it constantly, but still have mixed feelings about its (potential) intrusiveness. And, also the impatience it engenders. Still, a (good) camera in my phone? Amazing and absolutely wonderful. And, the best part about technology? It’s maybe the only thing gets cheaper as it gets better, unlike cars, houses, and other items.

With the holiday season starting up, the number of visitors to the island is already starting to increase again. Traffic is getting worse, there are more shoppers in Costco, Walmart, and Target, but thankfully the changes are fairly subtle for us so far as we tend to stay down in our little un-touristy neck of the woods. We noticed several retired couples on the beach at Barking Sands the other day, far more than usual, but we are guessing the beach cottages are probably fully booked through the summer by now. We avoid going anywhere near Poipu, or driving up beyond Lihue because of the crowds and traffic. We are starting to wonder how crowded it will be in Europe next year. Rick Steves said it will be something of a “transitional” year for both tourism and businesses that serve them, and he feels the crowds will be less than pre-COVID times but building again. I read this week that there is yet another version of the Delta variant now in England, more infectious than the current variant but apparently less deadly, but vaccines are holding their ground against it. COVID, like the flu, is always going be with us going forward, but people want and are going to travel and will make adjustments. I think though most countries are going to require a vaccination for entry, or at least a negative test at the barest minimum, and require mask wearing for a long time going forward. Fine by me!

And, there goes another week! It was a lovely one, with mostly good weather, lots accomplished, a beach day, and more. I hope it was as lovely for everyone else. I’m looking forward to the coming week and Thanksgiving, and wishing the best for all!

Home Cooking: Thanksgiving Leftovers

With Thanksgiving arriving a week from today, I thought it was time to re-up this post from last year (even though we won’t be eating turkey this year):

photo credit: The Washington Post

I’ve always thought that one of the best things about Thanksgiving was the leftovers, and in the past I always made sure we roasted a turkey big enough to give us several days of meals following the holiday. Even if we ate at someone else’s home, or went out to a restaurant, I would still either roast a small turkey or buy some roasted turkey breast, and make the sides so we could enjoy “leftovers” for a few days following Thanksgiving.

My favorite leftover dish has always been a nice, big hot turkey sandwich, very easy to prepare using leftovers, and 100% comfort food. Ron Paul’s restaurant in Portland always had a hot turkey sandwich on the menu, and it was what I always ordered whenever we dined there, no matter the occasion. Hot turkey sandwiches were always our dinner the day after Thanksgiving, usually followed in order by turkey divan casserole (my version was adapted from a much fancier recipe), turkey Waldorf salad, a turkey pot pie, and we always ended our turkey binge with turkey noodle (or rice) soup, made with a rich broth and filled with lots of meat and tasty vegetables. Our daughters especially love the turkey divan casserole, and it’s still requested any time we get together, no matter what time of year. The Waldorf salad is also good no matter the season, and a complete meal when served with a good crusty bread, like fresh sourdough or French bread. The pot pie is based on a recipe I saw in a magazine one year and although I keep my version pretty basic, there are loads of ways to adapt it.

Below are the recipes for our four favorite ways to use up Thanksgiving leftovers. None of them is complicated or fancy, but all are very, very good:

photo credit: Pinterest

Hot Turkey Sandwiches (for four)

  • 4 big, thick slices of good sourdough or French bread
  • 4 thick slices of turkey breast, enough to cover each slice of bread
  • Leftover stuffing
  • Leftover mashed potatoes
  • Leftover turkey gravy
  • Leftover cranberry sauce

Lightly toast bread slices and place one slice on each plate. Top with warm leftover stuffing and turkey slices. Reheat mashed potatoes and place a large scoop on each plate, then top everything generously with hot turkey gravy. Serve with leftover cranberry sauce.

photo credit: bettycrocker.com

Laura’s Turkey Divan Casserole

  • 1 16-oz bag frozen broccoli florets
  • 2 cups turkey, either cut into 1-inch cubes or shredded
  • 2 10.5-oz cans cream of chicken soup
  • milk
  • 1-2 TBSP curry powder
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 16-oz bag eggs noodles
  • 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 350°. Cook broccoli florets according to package directions; drain well. Cook egg noodles according to package directions; drain and set aside. In a large bowl mix together the cream of chicken soup, a small amount of milk (enough to create a thick but creamy sauce), at least 1 TBSP of curry powder (more if you want), and salt & pepper to taste. Add cubed or shredded turkey and 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese to the sauce and mix well. Add the cooked broccoli florets and noodles to the turkey mixture and combine well. Pour into a 9″ x 13″ baking dish and top with remaining 1 cup of cheddar cheese. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the casserole is bubbling and the cheese is melted and browned on top. 

photo credit: simplyrecipes.com

Easy Leftover Turkey Pot Pie

  • Crust for 2-crust pie (premade crusts are OK)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded or diced turkey
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas
  • 3/4 cup carrots cut into 1″ pieces
  • 3/4 cup potato, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1/2 cup diced onion (optional)
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms (optional)
  • 2 cups leftover turkey gravy
  • salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°. Prepare crusts for a double-crust pie. Line the bottom of a 9″ pie plate with one crust. Steam together the peas, carrots, and potatoes until tender but not soft or mushy (or use already cooked leftover vegetables instead). Combine the vegetables and turkey in the pie plate up to the top edge, then pour turkey gravy over everything (you may not need all the gravy). Cover the pie with the top crust, crimp the edges to seal, and make five small cuts in the top to vent. Bake at 400° for 30-35 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the pie is bubbling. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve with cranberry sauce, if desired.

photo credit: simplyrecipes.com

Turkey Waldorf Salad

  • 1 large apple, washed, cored, and cut into 2″ pieces
  • 2 ribs of celery, cut into 2″ pieces
  • 3/4 cup red or green grapes
  • 1 cup turkey, cut into 2″ cubes
  • 1/2 cup walnut halves or large pieces
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup non-fat plain yogurt
  • 1 TBSP curry powder

In a large mixing bowl, combine apples, celery, turkey, and walnuts (and dried cranberries, if desired). In a separate bowl mix together mayonnaise, yogurt, and curry powder until well blended. Pour over salad and combine all. Serve chilled with some good crusty bread.

Other great leftover turkey recipes are Kentucky Hot Brown sandwiches (turkey and bacon on toasted bread with a big tomato slice on top, then covered with either a Mornay sauce or cheesy rarebit sauce); Goodbye Turkey casserole (a creamy turkey and rice casserole), and of course, a big pot of turkey noodle or turkey rice soup! 

Noho’ana Hau’ole: Life Is Good

(photo credit:Dustin Belt/Unsplash)

Some of you reading this may recognize the title of this post! It was the name of an old blog that I segued into as we moved from paying off our debt to getting ready to move to Hawaii in 2014. It rolled over to another blog, The View From the Treehouse, which eventually became The Occasional Nomads in 2015.

You know what though? Life is still very good. It’s definitely not perfect, nor do we expect it to be, and things go wrong from time to time, but mostly things go right or we’re able to figure out another path to reach our goals. I have always been a “glass half full” kind of girl, and these days we look at life through a lens of positivity, and try to find joy every day.

Over the past few years, Brett and I have been able to pare down many of the things we thought we needed to live a quality life. We are living more simply these days, with fewer needs and a lot less stuff. Doing so has not only helped us reach our travel goals, but left us happier and with more time to pursue the things we enjoy. We consider ourselves a work in progress – we still have a ways to go to reach true minimalism.

Below are a few more reasons life is good these days:

We’re in good health and in good shape for our ages. Brett is 71; I’m 69, and all things considered we’re doing very well, health wise. Neither of us is without aches and pains and other issues of aging, but in the grand scheme of things these things are minor. We have been blessed with good health insurance (Tricare and Medicare), dental insurance, and vision insurance that will go with us anywhere in the world. We are vaccinated against COVID which opens up most of the world to us, and between mask wearing and social distancing we have avoided getting sick (with our fingers are crossed for the future). The (mostly) good weather in Hawaii allows us to exercise almost daily, and we can afford to eat a healthy diet.

Our income is sufficient. We have never made much money. When I look back and remember how little we had when we were raising our kids I’m frankly stumped by how we did it. Life is financially easier now because it’s just the two of us, but we are still not what anyone would call rich or wealthy by any means. We’re . . . comfortable. We’ve developed strategies for coping with high prices over the years, and those strategies have meant we haven’t felt inflation’s effects too much. We’re still able to put money away into savings each month, and help out with college expenses, and between our savings and income we can afford to travel and cover our Christmas expenses this year.

We live in an amazing place. The beauty of Kaua’i inspires us every day, even if we’re only walking at the park, looking out into the yard, or watching the sun set from our living room. We experience the beauty and grace of aloha every day as well in a myriad of ways. The experience of living here has been life-changing, and moving here one of the best choices we ever made.

Our children are doing well. We finally are on the cusp of having a truly empty nest. We always felt our goal as parents was to help our children develop the skills to fly and succeed with their own wings while still feeling grounded and rooted in our family, and as our youngest gets ready to graduate from college in a few months we feel as if we have succeeded beyond our wildest expectations.

We have something to look forward to every day. We are excited and full of anticipation over our upcoming travel schedule, but we always look forward to each day, and even the small things we do each day. We still have much to do to get ready for next year’s adventure, but every day we do at least one thing that brings us closer to our goal.

We have everything we need. We have what we need and more, actually, something we’re discovering almost daily as we downsize and get ready to go. Choices we have made along the way, the things we have bought, have served us well and brought us happiness, but it’s time for most of them to be passed on to others. We don’t want for anything.

A long time ago, when I became pregnant, a wise friend, a psychologist, told me I could experience my pregnancy in one of two ways: I could decide to be miserable, or I could decide it was the most wonderful experience ever no matter what happened. I chose wonderful, and in spite of being separated from Brett for most of the time (we were stationed in different places), plus having a physically difficult pregnancy followed by a difficult delivery, it still remains a completely wonderful experience to this day. Brett and I decided would enjoy retirement in the same way, that no matter what came our way we would enjoy this time of our lives to the fullest. Our lives and situation are not perfect nor will they ever be, but for now we are not only surviving but thriving, and looking forward to getting to do what we love most in the near future: travel! We are living the good life in a way that fits us perfectly, and each day is a blessing. Noho’ana hau’ole!