Home Cooking: Namasu (Japanese Pickled Cucumber Salad)

This refreshing, easy, and healthy cucumber salad from Japan has become a big favorite with our family. It doesn’t take long to put together, and makes a great side salad, especially with Asian dishes. The cucumbers are also delicious on sandwiches.

The secret to making namasu is slicing the cucumber super thin – I aim for 1/8-inch slices. A mandoline slicer makes short work of this, but I use nothing more than a sharp knife and it doesn’t take long to get two cucumbers sliced and ready to marinate. Japanese or English cucumbers are best as the peel is edible, and a little peel left on enhances the green color of the pickles.

Some namasu recipes call for the cucumber slices to be salted before mixing with the dressing, but I’ve found I get a crisper salad when I don’t salt ahead of time. The salt draws out moisture from the cucumber and makes them limp, so without salting first there is more liquid at the end but crisper slices.

The amount of sugar called for almost seems too much, but it balances perfectly with the vinegar and ginger so that the dressing is neither too sweet or too sour.

NAMASU (Japanese Pickled Cucumber Salad)

  • 2 large Japanese or English cucumbers
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 TBSP grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 to 1 tsp salt
The dressing can be mixed right in the measuring cup

Mix together sugar, vinegar, and ginger and allow the sugar to dissolve completely.

Wash cucumbers and peel, letting a little peel remain. Slice the cucumbers approximately 1/8-inch thick. Place in a large bowl – a low, almost flat bowl works best.

Thinly slicing the cucumber is critical.

If salting ahead is preferred, sprinkle the salt over the cucumber slices and let sit for around 20 minutes to remove some of their water. Afterwards, rinse the cucumbers well and squeeze out as much moisture as possible before placing back in the bowl.

After marinating for an hour, the dressing will completely cover the cucumber slices.

Pour the dressing over the cucumbers and let sit at room temperature for at least one hour, although two hours is ideal. The dressing won’t initially cover all of the cucumbers slices, but as the salad sits the cucumbers will wilt and eventually all will be covered by the dressing. If the cucumbers were not salted ahead, add only about 1/4 tsp salt before serving.

Namasu can be served at room temperature or chilled. Remove the cucumbers from the dressing to serve.

Several things can be added to namasu to kick things up a bit, if desired. Some of the more popular additions are below and can be used individually or mixed and matched according to taste:

  • 1 1/2 TBSP toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/4 tsp dark sesame oil (our preference – it’s added to the dressing)
  • 1/4 cup grated carrot
  • thinly sliced onion
  • mung bean sprouts
  • thin strips of kamaboko (Japanese fish cake)
  • wakame seaweed, reconstituted in water, then drained

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (1/2 – 1/8)

I’ve really enjoyed cooking with YaYu these past few weeks. She and I make a good team: I create the mise en place (i.e. do all the chopping and other prep) and then she comes in and magically puts it all together and seasons everything perfectly. All three of our daughters have become good cooks, but YaYu is the one who enjoys it the most.

With YaYu leaving at the end of the week, Brett and my new motto going forward is “use it up.” We will still shop and continue to follow a vegetarian diet, but our main goal will be to finish up the many things we have on hand in the pantry and refrigerator, like condiments or baking supplies. There’s not a lot and it’s going to take some creativity, but hopefully we will be able to use everything and not have to replace anything. I doubt we’ll be buying much at Costco before we leave other than travel supplies, produce, and a couple of other things we use regularly, but I’m still hoping we can keep to a healthy well-balanced diet while not blowing up our food budget.

Meals last week were fairly simple. The spicy Singapore noodles YaYu made were amazing, and because she and I did it together it didn’t require as much effort as it would have for either one of us on our own. The cheeseburgers and grilled ahi tacos were also exceptionally good.

Sunday: Pasta with marinara & plant-based meatballs; roasted squash

Monday: Vegetarian cheeseburgers; 3-bean salad

Tuesday: Vegan corn dogs; onion rings’ 3-bean salad

Wednesday: Spicy Singapore noodles with shrimp

Thursday: Grilled ahi tacos with fresh mango salsa

Friday: Be’f pot pies; garlic roasted cabbage

Saturday: Vegetarian meatball mini pizzas

Our dessert almost all week was the remainder of the pecan pie we started the week before. It was very delicious, but also very sweet and sticky and it will be a l-o-n-g time before we need to have one of those again. We made s’mores outside one evening, and enjoyed a Pepperidge Farm coconut cake the rest of the week (the orange cake will get made this week).

Next week’s dinners will continue to be easy to put together, with YaYu making her yummy fried rice for us one more time. Brett and I will have the spring rolls and mini pizzas after she departs. We’re going to miss our girl and all her spicy concoctions (she adds lots of red pepper flakes, sriracha, or chili crisp to every on her plate, sometimes in combination. We don’t know how she does it, but she loves the heat.

  • Fried rice with imitation crab & vegetables
  • Chick’n patty sandwiches
  • Vegetable spring rolls with rice
  • Mini pizzas
  • Cheesy white bean & tomato bake
  • Macaroni & cheese
  • Vegetable barley soup & toasted cheese sandwiches

Breaks in the weather at the beginning of the week allowed us to walk up at the park last Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. By the time we finished walking on Tuesday though I knew something was seriously wrong with my right foot and took the rest of the week off to let it rest. We went to the beach on Wednesday, and on Thursday Brett and YaYu took a hike in Waimea Canyon while I stayed home and got things accomplished. On Friday we went back to the beach at Barking Sands, but all of us took a long walk on the sand versus using the Waiokapua Trail as usual. The sand was much easier on my foot, and sand walking burns at least half again the calories of walking on a hard surface. On Saturday Brett and YaYu went for another hike, this time on the Maha’ulepu Trail while I again stayed home and continued to rest my foot. It still hurts a bit, but nothing like it did last Tuesday.

Kukuiolono was beautiful on Tuesday after all the storms. Lots of interesting and pretty mushrooms had appeared in all the damp ground around the park.

Ever since Brett and I stopped hunting for golf balls and walking the perimeter of the golf course we have been quite literally pounding the pavement doing two pavilion loops and then up the road to the clubhouse and back down. Constant soreness in my hips returned, and I apparently also developed a Morton’s neuroma in my right foot. Toward the end of our walk last Tuesday the pain was excruciating, shooting through my foot and up my ankle as we walked down the road from the clubhouse to the car – I wasn’t sure if I could finish the walk or not. I want to continue walking though so we have decided to return to perimeter walks in the park later in the day as the soft terrain is easier on my foot. We will also walk at a slower pace as the brisker walks on the (very uneven) pavement were also part of the problem, even for all the calories burned. Hopefully my foot will improve as I’m not sure what can be done otherwise in the time we have left here other than possibly a cortisone injection.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (1/2 – 1/8)

We polished off all of the meat in the house last week and are happily returning to vegetarian/vegan meals this week. We did a Big Shop on Thursday and stocked up and the freezer is full. Brett and I didn’t mind eating meat again, but we much prefer not eating it so are looking forward to a return to our former ways. YaYu is also thankfully happy to eat vegetarian and helped me come up with some ideas for the new few weeks. We’ll still be eating seafood now and again.

Our goal for next year is to continue to eat healthy, mostly plant-based meals and manage our portions so that we can maintain our current weight. Another task will be to better manage food purchases going forward so we don’t end up with a lot of food that has to be thrown out when we leave. For example, I passed on a big bottle of olive oil at Costco last week because I knew we wouldn’t be able to finish it before May, and it was the same for a couple of other items. We did buy three Costco-sized packages of vegan items (chick’n patties, vegetable egg rolls, and plant-based burgers), but that’s probably it for Costco other than a few things like wine and such. The store has been a lifesaver for our budget, but we just won’t be able to use up any more of those big packages before we go.

We did a great job of cleaning out the refrigerator last week, using up odds and ends of things, eating leftovers, and so forth before we shopped on Thursday. Some of our meals look pretty uninspiring though. We had a last few meals with meat during the last week of the year: a meatloaf from Costco, one of YaYu’s favorites; Snake Alley noodles with ground pork and shrimp; and lumpia, which also is made with ground pork.d

We are selling the lamp that sat on our table up until the last couple of weeks – it provided such great lighting for food photos. The only place to take a photo now is in the kitchen and the light there is awful, so I apologize for the poor quality of the food photos these days.

Sunday: Ham & vegetable fried rice

Monday: Noodle bowls topped with ham, fish cake, kim chee turnip, onion, and bok choy

Tuesday: Tofu in Thai red curry sauce; steamed rice; kim chee coleslaw

Wednesday: Potstickers; steamed rice; roasted vegetables

Thursday: Meatloaf; mashed potatoes; roasted squash

Friday: Snake Alley noodles; namasu

Saturday: Pad thai & pork lumpia; leftover namasu

We had a Pepperidge Farm cake for dessert at the beginning of the week, and then picked up a pecan pie at Costco along with some lactose-free ice cream at Times Market for YaYu (we would have preferred having apple pie but all that was available were pecan or pumpkin). YaYu tried one serving of the pie and that was enough for her and she’s been enjoying a small bowl of ice cream every evening instead. Enough oranges should be ripe on our tree that I can make an olive oil orange cake after we finish the pie next week.

YaYu helped me come up with this week’s menu. She is going to make the noodle dish with shrimp using a recipe from the Padma Lakshmi cookbook she received for Christmas (Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet) and also asked for fish so we’ll have that later in the week in some tacos.

  • Spicy Singapore noodles with shrimp
  • Plant based burgers
  • Pasta with marinara & plant-based meatballs
  • Vegan corn dogs & onion rings
  • Be’f pot pie
  • Mini pizzas
  • Grilled fish tacos

The gloomy weather this past week kept us guessing each day whether we’d be able to get out for a walk or not and it turned out to be mostly not. Monday surprised us and we did our regular 4+-mile walk at the park, but there were storms on Tuesday and Wednesday that kept us at home. It was still stormy on Thursday, but we did our Big Shop at Costco and Walmart so got two and half miles of walking done that day, but were stuck inside again on Friday and New Year’s Day. We took advantage of a break in the storms yesterday afternoon though and got in a full walk.

Kukuiolono Park was a soggy mess, but it was great to get out for a walk again. Golfers were stacked up at every hole!

Brett keeps a spreadsheet of our walking distances, and by the skin of our teeth, we walked over 1100 miles last year. We were walking longer distances at the beginning of the year, but like the distance we do now, around four miles, and are going to stick with that until we leave. I have more aches and pains than I did at the beginning of the year, especially in my hips, but nothing that keeps me from doing anything. We see a lot of walking in our future this year and are excited about the walks coming up in France and the UK (and hopefully Japan by the end of the year).

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (12/19 – 12/25)

Validation! Now that the girls prepare their own meals for themselves every day, or like YaYu (and occasionally Meiling), for their partners as well, they told me last week they finally understand and appreciate all the effort I put into creating healthy meals for the family for so many years. I enjoyed cooking for them again but also was feeling glad to only have to do it for a few days and not full time again. YaYu took over the kitchen on Wednesday to give me a break, and I got loads of help with the dishes and clean up, but last week made me grateful that I am “retired” from cooking other than for Brett and myself.

I worried that some of my bad eating habits might return with the girls here (too big portion sizes, snacking, sweets, etc.) but that thankfully didn’t happen. I kept up with my daily food diary and kept my portions small, avoided meat when I could, didn’t snack other than maybe a bite or two. I surprised myself because this was exactly a situation in the past where all my good efforts would fall apart but didn’t.

It was difficult taking pictures of our meals last week, and many of these pictures are of leftovers enjoyed the next day. I managed somehow to stick to my eating plan, and keep my portions right sized, but I did indulge a bit on Christmas Day because the girls gave Brett and I a big box of chocolates and WenYu and YaYu gave me a BIG container of caramel corn, a dangerous food where I’m concerned. Arggggghhh! Although we enjoyed all our meals while the girls were all here, both Brett and I are looking forward to returning to meatless eating.

Sunday: Spicy black bean bake nachos

Monday: Chili shrimp; pork lumpia; Korean beef potstickers; namasu; steamed rice

Tuesday: Tom Colicchio’s one pan pasta with ham & broccoli

Wednesday: Mabo tofu; steamed rice

Thursday: Grilled Italian sausages; risotto with peas

Friday: Christmas Dinner: Mississippi pot roast; mashed potatoes; green beans

Saturday: “Mexican” mini pizzas (salsa, onion, and pepper jack cheese)

Brett and I thought the girls would decimate the Costco chocolate cake we bought in record time, but like us, a small piece was plenty and we finally finished it last Tuesday. After that I had dorayaki (a traditional Japanese sweet) one evening while Brett and the girls had s’mores, and we all shared apples with toffee dip on another evening before enjoying a lilikoi chiffon pie for our Christmas treat.

Hamura’s lilikoi chiffon pie is amazing.

I’ve planned meals for next week that continue to use what we have on hand although we’ll be shopping again before the end of the week and I don’t know what YaYu wants to get then or wants for future meals. She’s open to vegetarian eating though so I think we’ll be moving in that direction. This week’s dishes contain lots of Asian-influenced dishes and flavors that YaYu prefers. Brett and I are going to try our hardest to only have meat two or three evenings per week while YaYu’s here, or at least try to have dishes where she can add her own meat and we can skip it.

  • Snake Alley noodles
  • Fried rice with ham
  • Mini pizzas
  • Noodle bowls
  • Potstickers & rice
  • Pad Thai & lumpia
  • Tofu in Thai red curry sauce

The few times the weather was nice enough to walk last week, it seemed the girls were out with the car. If the car was available, it was raining, we didn’t get much walking done. There was a break on Wednesday and Brett and I hiked the Old Hapa Road Trail from Poipu to the old St. Raphael church in Koloa and back, about 3.5 miles or so (WenYu and YaYu ran it), and we got a short break on Thursday as well and walked at the park. We did a perimeter walk with YaYu late Christmas Day (lots of walkers but the golf course was deserted. We still found six golf balls). If we weren’t walking there was still plenty of packing, organizing, etc. to take care of and Brett and I ended up on our feet a lot. We’re are looking forward to getting back to our regular walking schedule this week though, weather permitting.

Along the Old Hapa Road Trail

Brett and I have walked over 1,000 miles this year (we’ll have a final total next week). We have been blessed with the great walking venue at Kukuiolono, had a lot of fun hunting for golf balls for a few months, and we’ve done some other great hikes on the island as well. Plans for our last four months on Kaua’i are to continue what we’ve been doing so that we’re in our best possible shape when we begin Big Adventure II in May.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (12/5 – 12/11)

I occasionally get questions from readers wondering if I’m getting enough protein, or too much salt, or too many carbs these days. The answer is I’m/we’re doing fine in spite of eating vegetarian. I’ve posted a screen shot above from MyFitnessPal of last Tuesday’s meals and snacks. At the bottom of the page, my daily calorie limit is now at 1500 as I’m no longer trying to lose weight but maintaining my current weight, and I was below that by 36 calories. My carbs, sugar, and sodium numbers are very slightly over the recommended amounts (thanks to the lemon meringue pie). My protein intake looks low compared to what MyFitnessPal recommends (75 grams daily), except that for a woman my age that recommendation is quite high; a daily intake of 45-60 grams of protein is what’s a more realistic range for my age and activity level, and at 49 grams I’m right in the ballpark. I check these macros every day and adjust what I’m eating, if necessary, so that my diet is in balance and I’m meeting my nutritional goals. Brett eats larger portions than I do, but he stays within his range each day as well. Also, I don’t count calories when it comes to fruits and vegetables – I eat as many of those as I want, and we eat a lot of vegetables (and not as much fruit)!

We are eating more prepared foods these days than we did in the past. With just the two of us to feed, it does not make sense to fix big meals every day, and I honestly also no longer enjoy cooking as much as I once did. We have a very small kitchen, and only a small amount of storage space in our refrigerator and freezer so it’s impractical to make dishes that create a lot of leftovers and that we’d be eating for days. Once in a while is okay, but definitely not every day. When we buy prepared foods we are careful to avoid “frankenfoods.” I always read the ingredients and if there is bunch of stuff I don’t understand or know what it is, I’ll pass. The prepared foods we buy add variety to our diet, and allow us to enjoy dishes we wouldn’t otherwise.

We continued cleaning out the freezer last week, and also enjoyed some of the vegetarian entrees we picked up on our last shopping trip. All of them were good and we would purchase them again!

Sunday: Vegan chili dogs; steamed artichoke

Monday: Vegetable enchiladas; seasoned rice; cucumber spears

Tuesday: Tikka masala mini pizzas with roasted squash and feta cheese

Wednesday: Vegetable potstickers; steamed rice; namasu

Thursday: Baked ziti casserole; steamed artichoke

Friday: Vegetable yakisoba with shrimp

Saturday: Be’f pot pie; roasted vegetables

We enjoyed a small slice of lemon meringue pie for our dessert last all week. It was soooooo good, but we finished it last night. We’re having the last of the cream puffs tonight, microwave s’mores tomorrow, and after that it will be whatever we have when the girls are here (fingers are crossed that Costco has their chocolate cakes in stock!).

We’ll start this week with four meatless meals but then switch things up and meat will make its first appearance on Thursday. Meiling has asked me to fix the broccoli & tofu stir-fry, one of her favorite dishes, but YaYu doesn’t like it, so I’m making it the evening Meiling and WenYu arrive (to be fair, YaYu wants a dish that Meiling doesn’t like that we’ll have after her older sisters return home. For the record, WenYu eats everything without complaint.)

  • Lentil soup & toasted cheese sandwiches
  • Spaghetti with plant-based ‘meat’ sauce
  • Mini pizzas
  • Broccoli & tofu stir fry in spicy peanut sauce
  • Italian sausage & pasta in garlic wine sauce
  • Ham with macaroni & cheese
  • Chinese 3-color salad (hayashi chukka)

Last week’s rain put a damper four days of walking. We took our regular day off on Sunday, then sat inside and watched it rain all day Monday. We were expecting more of the same on Tuesday, but ended up with a beautiful afternoon so we headed up to the park and walked just over four miles. We thought we might get out on Wednesday but Brett went out to check what was happening in the direction of the park, came right back inside and said “no,” and sure enough we had rain coming down less than a minute later. Thursday it was very windy but once again it was nice up at the park and the wind kept us cool during another four-mile walk. It rained all day Friday, but Saturday’s weather surprised us and we walked four and half miles at the park. So, only three days of exercise this past week but we were grateful for that. We watch our calories very carefully on the days we don’t get to walk.

Thursday was very windy at the park, but perfect for a long walk. Exotic and noticeable chickens are again making an appearance after a long stretch where they all looked alike.

Brett and I are looking forward to doing some hiking with the girls when they’re here if the weather cooperates. I hope to hike the full Maha’ulepu Trail with them, and maybe the Waioukapua Trail at Barking Sands but I’m pretty sure they are going to want to hike Sleeping Giant as well and that’s out for me. We plan to do some golf course walks with them up at the park (they want to look for golf balls and go into the gully) but otherwise we’ll just continue with our regular walks (WenYu and YaYu will probably run).

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (11/28 – 12/4)

While Brett and I were going through paperwork the other day, I came across a photo of our family taken in December 2015 at luau. We’d been here about a year and a half, and the girls and Brett all had nice tans while I was still the color of a pale pink shell. I was also quite a bit larger than I am now, but back then I wasn’t walking five to six days each week and I definitely wasn’t counting calories.

I am terrified of gaining back the pounds I’ve lost and kept off once we begin traveling again. I like the way I feel now, and the way my clothes fit, but wonder if I will be able to maintain the same level of exercise and keep track of the calories we consume. Brett and I have been having a bit of fun talking about what sorts of things we can eat for our meals that will help us maintain our current shape. For example, we know eating a croissant, pain au raisins, or scones and jam every morning is definitely not the way to go but having them once or twice a week will be okay. We can share a sandwich at lunch instead of each having our own, or a bowl of soup or have a small amount of cheese and fruit. Whatever we do it’s going to require effort and discipline on our part because there will be so, so many tasty options. We’re confident we will figure it out – we’ve come too far not to – but there still remain so many unknowns right now.

We continued to use up what was in the freezer last week, but picked up more produce at Costco (cucumbers, artichokes, and butternut squash) and a couple of vegan/vegetarian entrees at Walmart. We will be our last Big Shop before our daughters arrive next Tuesday, but the focus next time will be on getting things they love to eat and want me to fix for them.

Sunday: Butternut squash ravioli with pesto; roasted zucchini

Monday: Coconut squash dal; steamed rice; Indian-spiced coleslaw

Tuesday: Pasta with plant-based ‘meat’ sauce; steamed artichoke

Wednesday: Chick’n patty sandwiches; onion rings; cherry tomatoes

Thursday: Tikka masala mini pizzas with roasted butternut squash & feta cheese

Friday: Plant-based chick’n pot pie; roasted butternut squash

Saturday: Vegetable fried rice

We ate pumpkin pie all last week, but finished last night. We’re having cream puffs tonight and tomorrow we will begin a lemon meringue pie which will take us all through this week. We’ll have the last of the cream puffs when the pie is done and then be ready for the girls’ arrival and some new desserts. We’re hoping to pick up a Costco’s chocolate cake for them because they love it (and it’s a dessert I can pass on as it’s too rich for me).

Walmart had vegetarian entrees that have either been out of stock for a while (pot pies) and and one we haven’t seen before (enchiladas). The vegetarian potstickers were a new item at Costco – they’re very good. Everything else we’re having this next week will get a lot more out of the freezer. We liked the tikka masala and squash pizzas so much last week that we’re going to have them again this week as well.

  • Vegetable yakisoba
  • Vegan chili dogs
  • Tikka masala pizzas with roasted squash & feta
  • Baked ziti casserole
  • Vegetable enchiladas
  • Vegetable potstickers
  • Be’f pot pie

After all the beautiful weather preceding this last week, we were due for some rain and it arrived! We somehow slipped in a walk between storms on Monday. It looked great when we arrived, but as we turned around we noticed a beautiful rainbow fronting a huge, dark bank of clouds – oh oh. We took a detour through the woods, and when we came out the clouds were gone, headed off in another direction! We headed out again on the Pavilion path, but noticed another rainbow leading another bank of clouds our way, this time from another direction. We walked fast and got around the loop and back to the car before the rain arrived.

Starting counter-clockwise from the top left: Monday’s walk.

On Tuesday we shopped, and for some reason this past week I ended more tired than any walk up at the park! I think it was because Costco had moved so many things so we were circling the aisles looking for items on our list, with the same happening at Walmart (our total was two and half miles combined through the two stores). Thursday it rained all day and Friday started out equally gloomy, but was glorious, if a bit cool, in the afternoon. Saturday weather was questionable, very cold (for Hawaii) and with rain threatening all afternoon, so we stayed home. This week’s weather has been a roller coaster but we walked when we could and watched our calories on the days we couldn’t.

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.

BAKED ZITI CASSEROLE

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.

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).

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.

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!