Home Cooking: Basil Beef Stir Fry

I discovered this recipe in our Costco magazine a couple of months ago. We had two packages of ground beef left, and I wanted to use them to make something other than hamburgers. The flavor profiles in the recipe were a good fit for us, so I clipped it out and finally got around to making it.

Brett and I absolutely loved this recipe, and agreed it was almost enough to keep us eating beef. It was so good in fact that I was actually happy to have a second package of ground beef just so I could make it again. We have a package of plant-based ground meat substitute in the freezer, and I plan to make it with that later.

I was a little concerned the samba oelek called for in the recipe might be too much, but it turned out to add just the right amount of heat. You know it’s there, but it’s not enough to overwhelm the other flavors. I also didn’t have any fish sauce on hand, but substituted a teaspoon of rice vinegar and the sauce flavors were terrific. I don’t think I added anywhere near enough basil – this is the one ingredient where you don’t want to skimp. We got the flavor from the amount I added (about one big handful of leaves), but more would have been better.

We ate this over rice, but I think it would be terrific with soaked mung bean noodles added to the skillet, which is what I’m going to try the next time I make this (which will be soon).

BASIL BEEF STIR FRY

Sauce:

  • 3 TBSP dark brown sugar
  • 5 TBSP soy sauce
  • 2 tsp fish sauce (I substituted 1 tsp rice vinegar)
  • 2 tsp sambal oelek (chili garlic paste)
  • 2 TBSP water

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 large handfuls of fresh basil leaves

In a medium bowl, blend together the sauce ingredients and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef and break up into small pieces. Add the pepper, onion, and garlic and cook until the beef if cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 7 minutes.

Ready to serve!

Add the basil leaves to the beef mixture, then pour in the sauce. Stir to combine and let simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve over steamed rice. Makes four generous servings.

(If using mung bean noodles, soak the noodles for at least five minutes in very hot water. Drain the noodles, and then cut with kitchen shears into smaller pieces. Blend the noodles into the beef mixture before serving.)

Here & There: A Story

On our return trip to Florence from the Cinque Terre, an incident occurred on the train that shook Brett and I to our core, and still haunts us to this day.

We were assigned seats at the back of a car on the train. There was another couple sitting up toward the front, but otherwise the car was empty. Right before departure two young men entered the car. They spoke to each other briefly, in a language other than Italian, and one sat at the window in the row directly in front of us; the other chose a seat across the aisle and one row forward and they ceased communication. Both had small bags with them, and after sitting down produced laptops and stayed busy with them.

After a short distance, the conductor entered the car from the rear, to check on tickets. We showed him ours, then he asked the young man in front of us who showed his ticket. Then he approached the second young man across the aisle. He did not have a ticket.

The young man started out playing dumb, like he didn’t know what the conductor wanted and couldn’t understand what he was saying. The conductor was persistent, in both Italian and English, and offered to sell him a ticket if he didn’t have one. The young man continued to shrug his shoulders, try to look helpless, and so forth. The man in front of us watched carefully, but made no move to help his friend.

The standoff escalated, and eventually both the young man across the aisle and the conductor were shouting at each other. The tension grew thick enough you could have cut it with a knife. Brett and I sat in our seats, feeling more and more terrified as we began to feel there was a good chance of a gun being produced, with the conductor being shot. We calculated where we were sitting, and that we would be in the line of fire with no place for us to go or hide if shots were fired. We were too afraid to speak to each other, but held each others’ hand tightly and hoped things did not get any worse than they already were.

And then we remembered we were in Italy. The conductor was not armed, and although he got in the young man’s face he did not physically touch him or threaten him in any way. The chance of a gun being produced was not impossible, but about as close to zero as it could get. This was not America, where the young man could easily have been carrying a gun in his bag and less hesitancy to use it. Our joint relief at this realization was almost palpable and our grip on each others’ hand eased.

At the next stop the conductor escorted the young man out of the car; police were waiting on platform. The young man in front of us left as well, staying a short distance behind the conductor and his friend. We wondered if he had been the “handler” for the other.

Men, women, and children have been shot in U.S. while shopping at the supermarket or at the mall, while watching a movie in a theater, or attending a ball game, sitting in their classroom, or while in church. There is no place anyone is truly safe from being shot in our country any more, and I think we all carry that fear inside of us, whether we’re willing to acknowledge it or not. We know a shooting can happen anywhere, at any occasion, and affect anyone. The small incident we encountered on a train in Italy brought that fear home for us, and we remember and feel it again every time we read about another shooting in our country.

I have no problems with gun ownership whatsoever, but there is something much deeper going on in our country than any arguments over “freedom” or the ownership of guns, and a sickness that has taken hold. And we seem to have made a choice to live with that sickness day in and day out.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (7/18 – 7/24)

I am a label reader. I want to know what’s in the food we buy. We try to buy food using four of Michael Pollan’s rules:

  1. Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. “When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can’t pronounce, ask yourself, “What are those things doing there?”
  2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.
  3. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
  4. Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot. “There are exceptions — honey — but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren’t food.”

While we often miss on the five ingredient rule, we do look for ingredients we can pronounce and know, for whole grains, and for natural sugar or sweetness (anything with high-fructose corn syrup will be immediately rejected). We do buy processed foods that meet these rules. Locally-produced will almost always win over national brands if the price isn’t too outrageous, and almost all the produce we eat is grown on Kaua’i or in Hawaii, with exceptions mainly things like apples, stone fruit, and berries. About 20% of what we buy is organic, but we don’t go out of our way to shop at natural food or health food stores for organics. Costco carries many organic products at good prices, and other organic items we often find at Big Save or Safeway. I don’t think organic is healthier or more nutritious, but it is cleaner in my opinion.

As we get ready to enter August we have very little meat left in the freezer: two 12-ounce packages of ground beef, two pork chops, two quart bags of meat sauce for pasta, one package of chicken thighs, and a half-pound package of roasted chicken breast. We’re now down to just one meal with meat per week going forward. This week it will be grilled teriyaki chicken thighs along with zaru soba, and we’ll continue this way until it’s all gone, hopefully by the end of September.

We had some very good and tasty meals last week. Vegetarian lasagna was not to be found, and the ingredients to make our own were costly, but we found organic sweet corn ravioli at Costco and it made a surprisingly good substitution along with a little bit of pesto.

Sunday: Spaghetti with meat sauce; roasted zucchini

Monday: Plant-based chick’n sandwiches; watermelon

Tuesday: Sweet corn ravioli with pesto; roasted asparagus

Wednesday: Sweet & sour pork with steamed rice

Thursday: Spicy black bean bake with Fritos; sliced cucumber

Friday: Cheese board

Saturday: Mini Margherita pizzas

Our dessert this past week has been an olive oil lemon cake. Very yummy, and a small piece is more than enough. We have a couple more days of it left and then I’m going to make a cherry baked oatmeal.

On the menu for next week’s dinner meals are:

  • Spaghetti pasta salad
  • Guadalajara quesadillas
  • Cheesy white bean-tomato bake
  • Panzanella with beans and feta
  • Mini pizzas
  • Cheese board
  • Grilled teriyaki chicken with zaru soba

Getting up to the park to walk this week was very hit or miss because of the weather. We took Sunday off, but walked the perimeter on Monday. Tuesday was our Big Shop and we put in nearly two hours of shopping (including pushing a heavy cart) – it was exhausting. Wednesday it rained most of the day and I decided not to risk getting wet but Brett went up to the park and walked the paths. He did get a little wet and had to take cover a couple of times, so I was glad I stayed home. We got in a full perimeter walk on Thursday although it started to pour again just as we got to the car so we timed that perfectly. Friday was a total washout, but Saturday the rain cleared in the afternoon and we got in a full perimeter walk, or at least until the last eight minutes or so when the rain started falling again (and we got soaked). We still found a total of 17 lost balls last week, something of a miracle since we thought we had cleaned them out last week.

Stormy weather at the park on Thursday, but we made around the course perimeter.
Lost balls show up in completely random locations – there is no rhyme or reason to the places we find them. The location of the above ball I found last week had absolutely no relation to any fairway, green, or other location on the course, but there it was, hiding in some tall grass I walked through.

One of the things we have enjoyed most about our walks are the other walkers we have met and become friends with over time. Sadly, many do not not come to the park any more for a variety of reasons, although we keep in touch through Instagram and Facebook. We sadly said goodby this past week to a walker we have become very fond of, an 80-year-old retired judge (we know his name, but always called him The Judge or Your Honor). He was recently diagnosed with a rapidly progressing neurological condition, and will be moving back to the mainland to be closer to family and better medical facilities. He will be as greatly missed as much as the others have been. We continue to meet new people, but the ones we met during the pandemic when we were new to the park will always be special to us.

Sunday Morning 7/25/2021: Gloomy Weather, Beautiful Sunsets, Busy Week

Gloomy weather during the day created some beautiful sunsets in the evening.

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

Tomorrow morning at 9:10 I will be checking in at the hospital for an upper endoscopy to hopefully determine for good the reason for my ongoing stomach issues. I personally think all that’s going to come of it will be confirmation that I do indeed have a hiatal hernia but it will good to have things settled. I’ve had every other test performed and nothing else that could be causing the GERD has been found so this procedure is all that’s left to do (i.e. cancer, ulcers, bacteria, and so forth have been ruled out). I can have no water, food, etc. after at midnight tonight, and Brett will drive me to the outpatient surgery clinic in the morning and bring me home later. I was scheduled to have this procedure done in 2018, before we left on our adventure, but it was before I had Medicare coverage and we would have paid a hefty amount out-of-pocket. Today, between Medicare and our military insurance, 100% is covered.

After a busy previous week with Etsy, this week has been blissfully peaceful with just three small orders and I’m fine with that. It’s given me time to get better organized and redo, update, and add some listings. One big project was corralling and organizing all the for sale goods and shipping materials into one convenient space. We sold our sofa table at the beginning of the week, and put the slatted bench that had sat at the foot of our bed in its place, which works much better for us and gave me room to organize everything. Another Etsy project accomplished was cleaning up and re-photographing the antique Japanese cast iron tea kettle that’s for sale. I sort of quickly threw pictures of it up on the site when I first got started, but after some serious cleaning and new photographs it looks much better and will hopefully have a better chance of being sold. I went through the house again and pulled out a couple more Japanese things, got them photographed and listed, and got some photoshopped items back from Meiling and have one of them listed as well. There are still more things to be photographed and photoshopped, but I’m going to wait a couple of weeks to get to those. I expect sales to go more slowly now after an initial burst of interest, but for now time is on my side. Brett is still working on getting his eBay site going.

The yard is nice and green, but otherwise it’s been mostly wet and overcast this week with lots of rain.

Our Big Shop on Tuesday completely wore us out and about midway through shopping we decided to go ahead and overbuy so we didn’t need to do it again at the end of the month. Costco was a three-ring circus with all the visitors in the store (the amount of liquor in their carts is always the big giveaway) and Walmart wasn’t any easier. Once the new Target finally opens the crowds at Walmart will hopefully dwindle, but that opening is already behind schedule and no one seems to know when that will happen. The traffic into Lihue was pretty unbelievable as well, one more reason for us not to go out any more than we have to. We did have to go back to Walmart yesterday to pick up more shipping supplies which they were out of on Tuesday but that were thankfully there the second trip. On top of everything else going on this past week else the weather has also been quite gloomy and unpleasant with very strong winds and/or rain every day and we’ve had to run around between storms to get things accomplished. There’s never a dull moment here, I tell you.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished The Witch Hunter but The Magus continues. The Witch Hunter was great, and very suspenseful, and I had forgotten what a pleasure The Magus is to read but also how strange it is. Of course two more books had to come off hold this past week, The Lost Man by Jane Harper and The Cruelest Month by Louise Penney. I downloaded the latter and am now reading it along with The Magus, but postponed receiving The Lost Man. I was hoping for break so I could enjoy reading one book instead of two, but it seems to always feast or famine when it comes to getting books from the library.
  • Listening to: This past week has been LOUD, with the wind blowing through our yard almost constantly and sounding like freight train moving through. Even wearing earplugs at night hasn’t been enough to cut the noise. Add in heavy rain, and it’s been a very noisy, wet week. This morning however is pleasant and quiet for a change, with only a gentle breeze blowing (for now). Birds are singing for a change, and I can even see some blue sky peeping over and through the clouds. Sadly, it’s not expected to last. Inside it’s quiet although Brett has already set up everything in the kitchen for me to fix mini-waffles so it won’t be long before I have to get up and make some noise.
  • Watching: We finally got to the end of Marcella which had quite the ending. We’ve been watching Clarkson’s Farm (thanks to a suggestion from reader Vicky) and and are really enjoying it, especially since we were in the Cotswolds when some of it was being filmed (we were there for the nonstop rains that affected his planting, for example). We didn’t realize at first that it was a documentary and thought it was a comedy show, but we’ve had fun seeing all the twists and turns Clarkson goes through trying to run his farm (how hard can it be? he thinks at the start). We’ve been surprised by how much money he seems to end up spending whether that’s buying farm equipment or a herd of sheep or fixing a stupid mistake he’s made. I’ve gotten through quite a bit more of Great British Menu but have a few more episodes to go before I’m done (for good). I’m definitely ready to watch something different.
The woman who bought our sofa table creates tables that look like this. She wants our coffee table as well whenever we’re ready to sell it.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I’m happy to have my Etsy materials better organized, and my listings updated. All of that had been sort of overwhelming before. I was also glad to finally get the teakettle cleaned up and learning more about it so that I could write a more accurate listing. Hopefully it will sell soon as it’s the most looked at and favorited item in my shop. I listed and sold the sofa table in less than 30 minutes! The woman who bought it is a local artist who paints the top of tables with wave design in resin, and our table was perfect for her projects. She also asked us to contact her first whenever we decide to sell our coffee table! We did our big shop last Tuesday and are good to go for the next few weeks, with only produce needed to be purchased between now and next month.
  • Looking forward to next week: We didn’t get to either the beach or the Maha’ulepu trail because of this past week’s sketchy weather (especially in the mornings), so fingers are crossed both of those can happen this week. I’m hoping my procedure goes well tomorrow and that I have some better answers about what’s going on with with my upper digestive system. I am not looking forward to not even getting a drink of water, let alone any coffee, tomorrow morning when I get up. It will be hell.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: There were no real standout good things this week. We had some days that were harder than others, but things got done, good meals were enjoyed, good books were read, more things left the house, and money went into our bank account. Life continues to be pretty wonderful.
My sweet husband went out in the rain to the farm stand yesterday morning to get me a bouquet . . . of basil!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We had a very good week when it came to side hustle income. Besides selling our sofa table, Etsy paid out a nice piece of change into my savings account, and I even randomly found a $1 bill blowing around on the golf course one day! We put $27.06 into the change/$1 bill bag, and I earned 1,863 Swagbucks, although that was a bit of a slog this past week. We went well over budget with our Big Shop but it was intentional. We made a command decision while we were in Costco to go ahead and buy enough to get us through a month. After the craziness there we want avoid the crowds as much as possible going forward. For now, all we should need to buy at the end of the month is coffee, produce and oat milk (which Costco didn’t have this past week). Other than the big food shop, buying gasoline, a quick trip to the farmstead for basil, and having to purchase a few boxes for Etsy sales (less than $5), we had another no-spend week. We ate all our leftovers, used up odds and ends in the freezer, and didn’t throw any food away.
  • Grateful for: I am feeling very thankful these days for my daughters’ suggestion that I open an Etsy shop to sell our Japanese stuff. Sales have been slow but steady, and I feel happy that these things we have enjoyed for so long are now going to others who want them and will equally enjoy them. It has been a bit more work than I imagined, but I get better organized as I go along, and have earned more than I imagined – I had no idea the hashioki would be so popular!
  • Bonus question: This week the question is directed outward: what would you like to know? Bonus questions are the most difficult part of writing the Sunday post, mainly because at this point I feel like I’ve asked everything at least twice. But maybe you all have some good ideas or things you’d like to hear about or know? It doesn’t have to be anything major or earth shattering either. Maybe it’s time to change things up and instead of a question have Pet Peeve of the Week or something else? Anyway, I’m open to all and any ideas or questions you have. Please let me know!

I miss going to the farmers’ market every week, and almost went this past week but in the end neither of us were ready or willing to deal with the crowds of tourists that go now. With cases of the virus on the rise on the island and in the state, we prefer not to mingle. However, I miss the variety of produce, the low prices, and checking in with our favorite farmers. We’ve missed lychee season this year because we haven’t gone, but dragonfruit season is coming up and that will probably get me to go back if nothing else will. For things like cilantro or basil we can make a quick stop at the nearby farmstead, but otherwise I’m buying most of our produce at Costco these days (because they carry a lot of Hawaii-grown and organic items).

As much as the number of tourists can drive me crazy, this has been one of those weeks where I feel sorry for those who spent a lot of money to come here only to have to spend it indoors most of the time.

That’s all for this week. Supposedly this weather is going to continue through next week, but I hope we catch a break now and then. This has been the strangest summer we’ve experienced here, very cool and rainy. Usually by now we’re wilting from the heat and humidity. We know it’s coming though, just maybe a little later than expected. Anyway, here’s to another good week coming up and getting lots accomplished!

Creating a Travel Budget Occasional Nomads Style

(Photo credit: Scott Graham/Unsplash)

We continue to dream and plan for travel in spite of not knowing what the future holds. While our first post-pandemic trip won’t be until spring of next year, doing what we can to be ready remains our primary focus. Since we are not those people who can take out their checkbook or credit card and pay for everything without a thought, we save, save, save and have already started work on setting up a budget for next year’s travels. There are many pieces of a travel budget: lodging, transportation (getting there and back, on the ground, car rentals, etc.), dining, activities, tours, and other things as well, and it takes time and thought to get it right

The first thing we do whenever we create a travel budget is to think very carefully about the maximum we know we can save and have on hand before traveling along with the maximum we want to spend. Both numbers help us set our goals and budget parameters. Once we’ve figured them out we figure out the purpose of the trip and what we’d like to do. Are there things we’ve always dreamed of doing and this is our chance? Or, are we just looking forward to spending time with family members. Are we willing to try something new and/or different? What are things we won’t budge on? Where we stay, how we travel, and so forth are things that will strongly affect our planning and the budget for each trip. The overall goal is to make sure what we want to do matches what we can save, and that Brett and I are on the same page for what’s achievable.

The most important thing we keep in mind as we go along is: be realistic. While we’d love to fly first class or stay in 5-star hotels, we know that’s not usually possible, and we go with what we know we can afford and what pieces of the budget cost rather than what we’d like to do. We always strive to come in under the maximum amount we’ve allowed for a trip while getting the biggest bang for our dollars, but that’s only possible if we have figured costs accurately, and are honest with ourselves about costs. We know it’s possible to upgrade in one area if we can save in another.

Then it’s time to research, research, research. I look at a variety of flight schedules, airlines, and costs balancing upgrades with perks (i.e. saving on checked luggage costs and comfort for long flights versus lower cost for main cabin) to get an upper limit of what our flight will cost. If we’re driving I research mileage and cost of gasoline. I search for what lodging will cost at different levels of service, check Airbnb, VRBO, hotel sites (Hotels.com, Trivago, etc.) and other travel sites to see what’s possible and where things are located. For dining costs I generally use TripAdvisor recommendations and restaurant reviews; we’ve always found great, low-cost places to eat through their site. Cooking for ourselves always saves money, but we always enjoy eating out now and again. If we’re staying in a hotel we try to find ones that offer a free breakfast if possible (although some of those are pretty pathetic) and allow us to have some (simple) meals in our room. We also check how easy it is to get around – is there good public transportation available and what does that cost? Can we do more if we rent a car? How walkable is the area?

It’s not unusual to discover that what we’d like to do and the maximum we want to spend are not a good fit. That means we either have to adjust our wants or increase our maximum. We’ve done both, either giving up some things or downsizing our wants, or deciding we weren’t going to budge on some items and increasing the upper limit of our budget and finding ways to save more.

The very first budget item we focus on is our upper limit for lodging. That amount is determined by how long are we are staying somewhere, what sort of accommodation we want or need (hotel or our own apartment). We also think about any certain location we want to be near and then how far away from that location we are willing to stay. That is, do we want to stay in the center of things or are we willing to stay a little further out to possibly save? In Japan, for example, we always try to find lodging near our son’s home that has room for the grandkids to sleep over, something that affects the cost of our lodging there.

Are we driving, taking a bus or train, or flying? For now, from Hawaii, it’s always flying, so we look at things like the length of the flight, the schedule, layovers, and do we think we need or want more legroom? Are we willing to pay more for a shorter and/or more convenient travel time? What are the charges for luggage? Weight limits for luggage? Will we need to rent a car at our destination or can we use public transportation? Once we’ve researched all the options, figured out costs and times, we set a realistic upper limit for what we are willing to spend for transportation costs and then keep our fingers crossed we find a great fare sale.

Using convenience stores for prepared foods is one of the ways we save on dining costs in Japan.

Food is one of the easiest parts of the budget to figure out. We generally start with a dollar amount based on what we spend on food at home each month and then add anywhere from half again to double the amount depending on whether we’ll be cooking our own meals or mostly eating out. This always seems like so much at first, but having an adequate amount for eating is crucial, especially if we know we will be eating in restaurants, even only occasionally, or don’t know what food shopping opportunities await us. Food costs also require that we think carefully in advance about what part of the travel experience we want dining out to be and if there are special places or dishes we want to try in the location(s) we are going to.

When setting up the activities we many want to do we consider whether we’re going to want to do a lot of sightseeing, explore on our own or possibly take a tour, maybe go to a concert or visit a museum, or whether we’d like to take a class. Or, do we just want to relax. We enjoy taking walking tours, free if possible, and the classes we’ve tried have been great experiences and worth the cost.

Once we have done our research, set the upper limits of different sections of the budget as well as what we’re willing to pay, we work with the information we have gathered and start filling in the blanks. We start looking for deals and where trade-offs can be made. These need to be carefully considered (for example, we almost always go for a more comfortable flight as we’ve found it makes a difference in the whole experience for us). The further out we can book or make reservations, the better the deals or price we usually can find. I used to book air travel early, but these days with airlines making so many changes and so many unknowns booking closer to travel seems to be the better and safer choice even though it may cost more.

We always build in a cushion for emergencies. Always. Besides buying travel insurance, we add an additional 10% – 15% of our total budget as a cushion for emergencies or other contingencies. If it turns out we don’t use our emergency cushion then it goes right back into travel savings. Same for any money we save and don’t spend on a trip.

Brett tracks our spending daily when we travel in a journal.

The most important part of our travel budget? Keeping track of what we spend as we go along, even before we set out on your travels. We tracked every single penny when we were on our Big Adventure because it was critical we stayed at or under our budget. Brett kept a daily log of what we did and what we spent, we saved receipts for everything, and tracked our spending every day. The biggest benefit of doing this was that we could see when we needed to cut back or when we could splurge a bit and where.

Home Cooking: Sweet Potato & Black Bean Enchiladas

When I set out to make black bean enchiladas last week I had every intention of using the sweet potato filling from the addictive sweet potato burrito recipe that we love. However, when I looked at the recipe that morning I remembered that it took a bit of work and had several steps, and I wondered if I could find something easier.

I began to search for sweet potato enchilada recipes and through the miracle of the Internet I discovered the recipe below from The Girl Who Ate Everything. It sounded promising, only called for things we had on hand, and although it required some chopping and cooking to prepare the filling, it was overall much simpler to achieve than the burrito filling.

Ready for the oven – the cracked and split tortillas are very evident. The enchiladas still tasted great.

The recipe calls for flour tortillas, but I prefer corn tortillas for enchiladas. In the past I’ve always softened my tortillas in enchilada sauce before filling and rolling, but I foolishly tried to use them like flour tortillas, warming them first in the microwave. The end result was cracked and split enchiladas. Grrrr. I will definitely be softening them in the enchilada sauce next time versus just pouring the sauce over the enchiladas at the end. I also didn’t have heavy cream called for, but had some vegan sour cream on hand that needed using up, so I softened that with a little oat milk. It made exactly 1/3 cup, used up the last of the sour cream, and worked perfectly in the recipe!

Ready for rolling. I forgot to add the cheese inside and ended up putting it all on the top at the end.

Layering the tortillas, filling, and cheese is an even quicker way to make enchiladas than rolling them To make layered enchiladas, soften corn tortillas one at a time in heated enchilada sauce and set two tortillas side by side into a well-greased 9″ x 13″ pan. Spread some filling on the top of each tortilla, add a little cheese, and then repeat the layers five times ending with a tortilla on top. Pour any remaining enchilada sauce when done over the tops of the two stacks and then add some more cheese and maybe some chopped green onions for a little color. Bake for around 25-30 minutes, and then cut into wedges to serve. This method is less authentic, but much easier and less messy when it comes to assembling enchiladas no matter what the filling is.

SWEET POTATO & BLACK BEAN ENCHILADAS

  • 3 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 medium large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/4″ cubes (the smaller dice is needed for cooking the filling). There should be about 2 cups
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced small
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup corn (frozen, canned, or fresh)
  • juice from one lime
  • 1 10-ounce can of red enchilada sauce
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (pepper jack, Monterey Jack, or other Mexican cheese)
  • 10 6-inch flour tortillas
  • Sour cream, avocado or guacamole, salsa (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large skillet or saucepan, heat the olive oil and then saute the sweet potatoes, onion, salt, chili powder, and cumin until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. You do not want crunchy potatoes!

Preparing the filling. Because the potatoes were diced so small it didn’t take long until they were tender and ready to fill the tortillas.

Add the garlic and cook for around a minute, the remove the pan from the heat and add the beans, corn, and lime juice.

In a small bowl, combine the enchilada sauce with the heavy cream. Add 1/4 cup of this sauce to the sweet potato & bean mixture and spread another 1/2 cup of the sauce on the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ pan. Set aside the rest. Also set aside one cup of the the cheese.

Fill each tortillas with about 1/3 cup of the sweet potato bean mixture and some cheese (about 2 TBSP), roll up and place seam side down in the pan. When all the tortillas are in the pan, pour the remaining sauce over the top, spreading it to make sure all the tortillas are covered, and then top with the remaining cup of grated cheese.

Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes. Serve with sour cream, avocado or guacamole, and additional salsa if desired.

COVID Will Always Be With Us

(Photo credit: Fusion Medical Automation/Unsplash)

This is my opinion, but Covid isn’t going anywhere. In fact, cases of the virus are once again on the rise, with over 99% of deaths occurring in people who are not vaccinated. People who have been vaccinated have also caught the new Delta variant of the virus. As much as I’d like for COVID to eventually fade away like the flu, I now believe it’s always going to be around, going forward in one variant or another, and killing people as it moves around. Vaccinations, if people get them, will help keep it in check, but that will always depend on the willingness of others to be vaccinated. Realistically, there are always going to be those who will not get vaccinated for a variety of reasons, from a lack of health care options to their personal politics. However, the more people who don’t get vaccinated, the bigger the chance for newer and more deadly variants to arise.

(Photo credit: Adam Niescioruk/Unsplash)

Are we always going to have to wear a mask? For now I think yes, at least in certain situations. I will always wear a mask if I’m going to enter an area where the possibility of unvaccinated people will exist, places like Costco, supermarkets, farmers’ markets and so forth. With the return of tourists and flights going back and forth to the mainland and other islands, our little island has been averaging six to seven active cases diagnosed per day for the last week or so. I’m sure other situations are going to arise where masks will either be required or recommended, and because of our ages Brett and I will always follow those rules, regulations, and suggestions.

Will we stay socially isolated? Again, for the most part I think yes. The two of us have grown comfortable being together so much, and have no problems going forward this way. We will have occasional social outings, getting together with family and friends, whenever possible, but for the most part we are fine with our own company these days.

(Photo credit: Nick Fewings/Unsplash)

Will we continue to stay vaccinated? Absolutely. As new variants arrive and new vaccines or boosters become available we will make every effort to take advantage of them.

Did we (the U.S.) learn anything last year? Some did but others did not, sadly. Every time I see a large gathering of people, especially if they’re not wearing masks, I see a certain percentage passing along COVID and another percentage catching it, vaccinated or not. Just like the flu, in all it’s many permutations, has been around for a long time, the new reality sadly looks like COVID is going to be with us as well for a long, long time as well, and failure to adjust to the new reality will be at our own peril.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (7/11 – 7/17)

I love cheese. And, although I can easily give up all other forms of dairy, cheese is here to stay, although in moderation these days. We currently use oat milk, don’t eat yogurt or ice cream any more, but there are no substitutes for good cheese.

I don’t think we’ve met a variety of cheese we don’t like except for vegan cheese and Velveeta. My favorite section in any market has always been the cheese counter, and I give thanks for the many cheesemongers who have offered me samples and opened my palate to new varieties and tastes. My exposure to cheese varieties were fairly limited when I was young: my mom stuck to American, and longhorn or Colby cheddars. I remember us “discovering” Monterey Jack cheese and falling in love, but Parmesan came in a green can, cottage cheese came from the supermarket, and I didn’t know about mozzarella until I was in my 20s let alone any other variety.

We thought we’d entered paradise when we stepped into our first French fromagerie, or when we had four levels of gorgonzola to choose from in Italy (firm to runny and a couple of steps in between). England’s cheeses were equally amazing, with more varieties to choose from than I could get through in a lifetime and some fun names too, like Stinking Bishop. These days I’m grateful for the varieties that our Costco carries, and the few gourmet (and expensive) markets on the island that carry more of the ordinary varieties, On the whole though cheese doesn’t feel like a big thing here. I long to taste Cowgirl Creamery Humbolt Fog again, or some Rogue Blue or Stilton, or a good Normandy camembert, but we make do with gouda, manchego, brie, Irish cheddar, and the other varieties we can get here.

We enjoyed some great meals last week. The sweet potato enchiladas were delicious and easy to make; the falafel and homemade tahini sauce were perfect; the basil beef stir fry was so good that I’m saving my last packages of ground beef to make it again; and the plant-based orange chick’n turned out to be deep-fried mushrooms in orange sauce and was very, very good – we can’t wait to have it again either. Mabo tofu is always good, and the pizzas and Friday’s cheese platter were tasty as always. The Hami melon was fun to try but I don’t think we’d go out of our way to buy another one.

Sunday: Sweet potato & black bean enchiladas; Hami melon

Monday: Mabo tofu; steamed rice; Hami melon

Tuesday: Falafel sandwiches with tomato, cucumber, and tahini sauce; roasted vegetables

Wednesday: Basil beef stir fry; namasu

Thursday: Mini pizzas with roasted vegetables

Friday: Cheese board

Saturday: Wednesday: Plant-based orange chick’n; fried vegetable rice; watermelon

Desserts this past week were peanut butter-banana baked oatmeal, s’mores, and arroz con leche. I’m planning to make another apple pie baked oatmeal this week.

Nine seconds are all that’s required to make perfect microwave s’mores.

Below is what’s planned for dinner this week. I haven’t made up my mind whether I’ll make the lasagna from scratch or look for a pre-made one tomorrow when we shop. Right now I could go either way. There isn’t a new recipe this week either as I didn’t have time to look for one last week.

  • Spicy black bean bake
  • Plant based chick’n sandwiches
  • Vegetable lasagna
  • Sweet & sour pork
  • Spaghetti with meat sauce
  • Cheese board
  • Mini pizzas

We had another great week of walking, getting in five perimeter walks. Because of the sketchy weather Wednesday was the only day we missed, but otherwise we were up at the park and ready to go by 4:45 every day. There must have been a whole lot of really bad golfers out on the course last week because we found a record-shattering 33 lost golf balls, finding four on Monday, five balls on Tuesday, 10 balls on both Thursday and Friday, and four more on Saturday. Just unbelievable. Brett’s skill is seeing balls sitting off in the distance (it’s amazing how many people just leave balls out on the fairways) while my skill is spotting them hiding in the tall grasses at the edge of the course.

Thursday’s collection of lost golf balls. Most of the red dirt scrubs of easily and they look good as new.

We didn’t get to hike Maha’ulepu this past because I overslept a couple of mornings, and the weather interfered a couple of other days. Hopefully we’ll get out there this week – we need some variety.

Neither Brett nor I has lost any weight lately, but we continue to change shape and thin down and that’s just fine with both of us!

Sunday Morning 7/18/2021: A Busy Week

We enjoyed another nice variety of sunsets this past week.

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

Wednesday morning, not a rain cloud in site at 9:00 a.m. . . .

Every day Brett gives me a weather report for the next day. And almost every day, it usually turns out to have nothing to do with the actual weather that shows up. This past week he told me on Tuesday that it would be pouring rain when we woke up on Wednesday and would rain all day. I was given percentages and times for rainfall. We woke up to blue skies, gentle breezes, and fluffy clouds. I asked him what happened to the rain and he said it was now scheduled to arrive at 4:00 p.m., and if we wanted to walk we should go early, at 2:00 instead of our usual time of 4:30. The rain did arrive, but at 12:30 p.m., blowing sideways along with the strong winds that arrived at the same time. It rained off and on the rest of the afternoon but was over by 5:00. Sometimes I honestly don’t know why he continues to tout the daily weather report, rain percentages, times, etc. when the weather here always does whatever it wants, when it wants, in spite of what he or forecasters believe will happen. We’ve got ocean currents, weather gyres, mountains, etc. operating around the islands and each and everyone of these can upset the weather in a moment’s notice and usually do. In my book, if you want to know what’s happening with the weather, look out the window.

. . . and Wednesday at 12:30, after I had been informed that the rain wouldn’t show up until 4:00 p.m.

I’ve been trying to figure out what we can sell next from the house, something that won’t impact our day to day lives too much. The slatted bench at the end of our bed could go, except it’s the perfect place to sit while I do my strength exercises. Our sofa table could also go, but we like it and it holds the jubako for now. Most of the items in our cabinets that we’re planning to sell are more suited to a garage sale versus online, but I want to keep the downsizing momentum going, if possible. I think I’ll be able to let a lot more go after the girls’ time here, and after we get back from YaYu’s graduation next spring, but I love adding $$$ to our savings account now, and not having to worry about whether something will sell next year or not. Brett has started going through the boxes in our closets and getting those sorted, and along the way discovered a collection of vintage navy cloth patches he put together while he was on active duty (and had forgotten about). He’s going to put them up on eBay and see what happens.

Brett took this picture of me standing in what appears to be an oil (benzene?) slick out in the water the last time we went to Salt Pond.

We got word first from YaYu, and then from Costco, that the sunscreen we have been using, Neutrogena’s Beach Defense SPF 60, has been recalled because it contains benzene. Ugh. We’re taking the one can we have left back to Costco this week to receive a full refund, and will keep our fingers crossed that they have the Alba brand they sometimes carry in stock. Otherwise, we’ll pick up something new at Walmart. Hawaii has strict regulations about the sunscreens sold here because of environmental issues, and this was a major breach of those regulations by Neutrogena. If you travel to Hawaii, it’s always recommended that you buy your sunscreen here versus bringing it from the mainland so that the sunscreen will meet Hawaii’s environmental standards, and this appears to be one that slipped through the cracks. We prefer to use spray on sunscreen because of the coverage it provides (I always miss an area when I use lotion), so fingers crossed we can find a good substitute for the Neutrogena.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished Transient Desires and Shadowland mid week, and as nothing else was available from my hold list, I thought I would try some old school Agatha Christie. Hah! Every single one of her books had multiple holds, so that idea fizzled quickly. I finally checked out The Witch Hunter, by Max Seeck, for some Nordic noir. Of course that meant that just a few hours later the next book on my hold list, The Magus by John Fowles, became available even though the day before when I checked I had been several numbers down the list. So, once again I am reading two books at the same time. Sigh.
  • Listening to: It’s wet, windy, and cool this morning. The weather was very loud last night (absolutely pounding rain and strong wind) and although things have calmed down it’s not much quieter outside this morning. It’s almost hard to believe it’s July. Brett just finished putting away last night’s dishes, and making the coffee, so it’s very quiet inside and I’m looking forward to enjoying it for a while!
  • Watching: I’ve lost interest in Marcella although Brett is still following it. The story took a completely different turn in the third season and just isn’t that interesting to me anymore. Great British Menu keeps moving along though – I think I’ll be done rewatching everything next week, or at least be close to it, and am going to have to come up with something else. I’ve been thinking of rewatching all of the Top Chef episodes that are available because I’ve found cooking shows are the easiest to keep up with while I do Swagbucks in the evening.
Found in the box Brett went through this past week was this watercolor of me as an infant, painted by an unknown relative. I looked like the Gerber baby! Bugs did some damage (brown spots), so I took this photo of it and let the original go.
  • Happy I accomplished last week: Not the most ambitious of weeks, but I kept busy all week. I updated my Etsy shop name and look, got a few more things listed, and took care of four big orders. Most of the Etsy action seems to happen over the weekend with weekdays slow and perfect for doing other shop-related tasks, but three of this week’s orders came during the week. I got our shopping list made for this coming week, always a bit of work, and will tidy it up tomorrow in preparation of Tuesday’s Big Shop. Not my accomplishment, but Brett got out a big box of papers that we had put in storage, went through everything, and got rid of most of it. What’s left is stuff to go to the girls and our son. It’s the first of a couple more boxes that need to be gone through, but a good start.
  • Looking forward to next week: Other than shopping on Tuesday there’s once again nothing special on our calendar for the coming week. We’re hoping to get to the beach, although will have to get new sunscreen first. We’re also hoping to do a short hike on the Maha’ulepu Trail in Poipu – we were going to go last week but didn’t make it. I’m hopeful too for at least one Etsy sale next week – fingers crossed.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Costco had ripe peaches! I thought we were not going to have any peaches this year as Costco just didn’t seem to be getting in their usual mid-summer boxes of them, but this past week they had a few smaller boxes available (nine peaches for $6) and we bought one. I’ve been having one every morning on a bowl of Cheerios – so good! My two Etsy sales this past week were both big ones, so that was a good thing too.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We did a small a mid-week shop last Tuesday to get us through until next week, and bought only five items at Costco, a new record, with the only thing not on our list the small box of peaches. Otherwise it was another a no-spend week for us. We put $5 into the change/$1 bill bag, and I earned 2,001 Swagbucks. We produced a lot of leftovers this week, but all were eaten and enjoyed for lunches, and the only food that was thrown away was the remaining bit of a head of lettuce that had completely frozen in our crappy refrigerator and then turned to mush.
  • Grateful for: So thankful once again we are living on the south side of the island these days. It was cool and breezy when we left our apartment to head up to Costco last Tuesday, and when we stepped out of the car we were hit with heat, humidity, and no breeze – ugh. It reminded us of what summer felt like up in Kapaa and how much we disliked it then. We love staying cool and comfortable on the south side and feel grateful to be here.
There is actually one variety of snake in Hawaii: the Brahminy Blindsnake, or Hawaiian Blind Snake. As you can see, it’s a monster. We came across one once out on the eastside beach path – it looked at first like an earthworm, but moved like a snake. (Photo credit: Explore with Diane)
  • Bonus question: Are you afraid of spiders? Not really. Spiders and other bugs don’t bother me much at all and I tend to just leave them alone and let them go their own way. The centipedes here frighten me out of my wits though – they can get very large, are poisonous, and their bites are very painful. I hate snakes (one of my favorite things about living in Hawaii is NO SNAKES), but I am terrified of frogs or toads and they have poisonous ones here. I am also very afraid of lizards, especially big ones like iguanas, but love the little geckos here that dash all over the place (and eat bugs). They used to be regular visitors in our previous houses here, but I’ve only seen them three or four times inside our apartment since we’ve lived here – they seem to enjoy being outside more.

From the first world, retired lady problems file: it now seems I have almost too much to do every day – Etsy, blogging, meal prep and cooking, family, housework, Swagbucks, exercise, reading, etc. – and no time to stop, rest, think about anything. None of it is major, overwhelming, or very time consuming on its own, but lots of small things that seem to take up every second of the day. I often go to bed at night feeling exhausted and like I’ve left so much undone that I’ll have to face the next day. However, since there’s nowhere to go right now I just keep plugging away, and remind myself I’ll be grateful for my efforts later. I also try to remain grateful that I have things to keep me busy instead of not having anything to do. I can’t wait until it’s time for us to go somewhere again, but that’s another 10 months away at the earliest. With virus cases on the rise again, even that’s feeling a bit wobbly at the moment, and I’m hoping we can pull off next year’s trips (Japan in the fall of 2022 is still very iffy right now).

And that’s all for this week. I stayed busy, got a lot done, and am tired but looking forward to the week coming up. Here’s too good books, good food, and good things happening in the coming week!

Full-Time Saving

(photo credit: Mathieu Turle/Unsplash)

Yes, yet another savings post, but this is where we’re at right now.

Although travel remains out of picture for the rest of this year, Brett and I have big plans for the future, and our Number One priority now is to save, save, save. We want to sock away as much as possible to not only cover setting off on our next big adventure but to have enough to get ourselves to YaYu’s graduation in the spring of next year and to Japan in the fall.

Back in 2017 and last year I posted the list below of ways to save for travel. Since Brett and I are once again back into savings mode big time we are following our own saving advice and it’s making a big difference. Besides getting YaYu through school, future travel is our priority now, and in spite of rising inflation we’ve made a game of seeing how much we can put away each month.

Here’s how things we’re doing currently are going (using our own savings tips). Even on a fixed income there are still ways to save if travel or something else is a priority:

  1. Set up a dedicated travel savings account, and start a monthly allotment to that account. We have gone over our budget with a fine-toothed comb and found ways we could cut back so we’ve been able to increase the amount that goes into this account. The current amount will increase again once we get YaYu’s final bill paid in December – just a few more months to go!
  2. Save on regular budget categories, and then put the difference into travel savings. We do this every month, although it’s not easy lately with prices creeping up everywhere. One way we’re saving this way is rather than filling the tank when he goes for gasoline, Brett stops at a present amount about $7 under what a full tank would cost. The amount nearly fills the tank and seems to be enough for now to cover our driving. The extra $7 goes into our savings.
  3. Do a “no-spend” week, or month, and deposit all usual discretionary spending amounts into your savings. We have a full-time needs over wants mindset and do very little spending outside of fulfilling our needs. We have almost no discretionary spending, and what we do have is planned. Every week is pretty much a no-spend week, and almost all spending we do is planned in advance.
  4. Save change and $1 bills. Saving $1 bills and change is a habit for us now, but we are not shopping much these days and are putting away less than we used to. Only one store, Safeway, now lets us round up to the nearest $5, and we rarely shop there. The goal these days is to put away at least $300 per year. It’s not much, but like everything else, it helps. We have compared this to using a cash back credit card, and this method provides more savings.
  5. Recognize needs versus wants. We’ve got this down.
  6. Dedicate all refunds, rebates and gifts to travel savings. We don’t get many rebates/refunds now, but they still all go into the travel savings account when they do show up, like our Costco rebate last February. Once a year two of our three daughters refund us the cost of keeping them on our phone plan; next year all three will be sending us an annual payment.
  7. Get a travel rewards credit card. We use our rewards card to buy groceries and then pay the card balance immediately. It’s not a lot, but again, it adds up.
  8. Sell unused or unnecessary things. We have started going through our apartment and are already selling items we don’t use and know we will not be keeping. This includes items we have been storing for the girls and they have said they no longer want. I created my Etsy shop to sell our Japanese things, including my hashioki collection. We are putting nothing into storage when we leave this time, another big savings. We also try to sell one item a month through our local Buy & Sell group.
  9. Get a part-time job. We still have absolutely no interest in taking on jobs, even part-time, but I am now earning a small income from the blog, my Etsy shop is bringing in some income, we sell something on Buy & Sell, and we get a monthly payment from our neighbor for sharing our Internet. None of it is going to make us rich, but it does add up to a few hundred dollars a month.
  10. Be creative. I have earned three $500 Delta Airlines gift cards through Swagbucks for future travel and want to earn two more before we leave Hawaii. Swagbucks can drive me mad at times, but those gift cards will make a real difference. We still pick up change when we find it, and recycle bottles and cans as well. There are loads of other ways to earn extra money as well; these are the ones that work for us.

These ways to save got us over to Hawai’i in 2014, and helped us set out on our Big Adventure in 2018, and we’re confident will get us on the road again in style in 2023! Game on!