Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (5/23-5/29)

(Posting a day later than usual because of yesterday’s holiday).

I’ve been having a good time searching for new vegetarian recipes. For now, my research has all been online, but I’ve got three all-purpose cookbooks on hold at the library, to see if I like them and feel they would be worth purchasing. One is How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. His original How to Cook Everything has been our most-used cookbook for many years, and we’re eager to see what the vegetarian version holds. Two other books we’re waiting on are from America’s Test Kitchen: The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook and Vegan for Everyone. I’d also like to find a vegetarian cookbook for the InstantPot, but our library doesn’t have the one I’d like to start with so I’m still looking. I’d love any suggestions you may have for vegetarian cookbooks!

Big changes are coming this week to our breakfasts and desserts. I am going to be giving up yogurt and instead will be having cereals with oat milk instead. I love shredded wheat so that’s what I’m starting with, but there are other good cereals out there are well. Cereal with oat milk has more calories than my usual yogurt breakfast, so I am going to have to be careful about everything else when I menu plan. And, we are giving up ice cream and cakes for dessert (sob!). We’ve decided to eat something healthier instead, and our first treat will be a dish traditionally eaten at breakfast: baked oatmeal! There are so many yummy, healthy versions out there so we can mix things up and still feel like we’re getting something special. We’re also going to try and have more fruit for dessert, easier now as summer fruits, both tropical and otherwise, become more available. It didn’t help that Costco didn’t have any melons last weekend, but we did get strawberries, blueberries, and bananas. Peaches will be appearing soon as well.

We managed to have three vegetarian meals this past week – the spicy black bean bake was both easy and tasty and I’m already looking forward to having it again (although I want to use pepper jack cheese instead of the cheddar next time and leave the red pepper flakes out of the beans). We could have eaten more vegetarian meals but our goal right now is to use up the meat in the freezer (without going crazy). Here’s what was eaten for dinner last week:

Sunday: Pork & apple stir fry; green beans

Monday: Spicy black bean bake; Fritos; wilted cucumber salad

Tuesday: Pasta with meat sauce; roasted zucchini

Wednesday: Burritos with rice, beans, chicken, and cabbage; honeydew melon

Thursday: Tofu & sweet potato curry; honeydew melon

Friday: Cheese board

Saturday: Italian sausage & roasted squash mini pizzas

We head into June this week, so according to our plan there will be three vegetarian meals on the menu this week: a cheese board, chicken-less nuggets, and roasted artichoke sandwiches. Our once-a-week cheeseboard and mini pizza dinners continue, but the chicken-less nuggets are something we found at Costco and want to try. The mini pizzas this week will be topped with leftover Italian sausage and probably roasted squash for a second week. We’ll have the teriyaki chicken with zaru soba.

  • Grilled teriyaki chicken
  • Pasta with marinara; Italian sausages
  • Hamburgers
  • Cheese board
  • Mini pizzas
  • Chicken-less nuggets
  • Roasted artichoke sandwiches

Last week was a great week for walking. Sunday was our regular day off and on Monday we visited Waimea Canyon and got in over a mile of walking there, and could have done more except for the weather. Tuesday through Friday though we walked the golf course perimeter every day (3.6 miles) – great workouts – and Saturday we did our Costco and Walmart shopping trip, walking over two miles. That trip is also a good workout, for me anyway, because I’m also pushing a cart the entire time, and then we also have to carry all we bought up two flights of stairs to our apartment. We always finish our shopping trips feeling more tired than we do after walking up at the park!

It’s amazing how quickly we can walk a couple of miles in Costco, but the store is HUGE. They’re always moving things around as well so we have to walk practically the entire store at times to find what we’re looking for.

We walked our shortest total distance this past month though, only 67.1 miles. We had seven days where we walked less than a mile, almost always because of the weather. In April we walked a total of 78.5 miles.

An additional “benefit” we’ve discovered of the perimeter walks around the golf course is that we almost always find golf balls, at least one a day but sometimes two or three. We walk in the out-of-bounds area and guess some golfers just don’t bother to look if they hit their ball out of bounds. We’ve got quite a collection of balls now, both white and colors, and should have a couple of bags of them to sell when we get ready to leave the island!

Home Cooking: Green Bean, Basil & Parmesan Salad

Last week Brett and I bought a two-pound bag of fresh organic green beans at Costco, a lot of beans for two people. We love, love, love green beans though, and most often have them either steamed or sautéed with salt, pepper, and garlic. However, with so many beans to eat in such a short time I very much wanted to find something new and different and this salad more than fit the brief.

The recipe makes a large amount of salad, enough that it lasted us for three days, and I have to say the longer the salad sat in the fridge the better it tasted. I fixed it about five hours before our dinner so it would have time to sit and marinate, and even in those few hours the flavors improved greatly. The next day it was even better, and by the third day it was fantastic.

I cut the beans before boiling and they ended up with a lot of water inside the cut pieces; cutting them after they were out of the ice water would have meant much less water to get rid of. I also cut them into three-inch pieces which were a bit too long, in my opinion. Two inches pieces would have been more manageable.

The salad is a wonderful warm weather side dish, but I had a big bowl for lunch one day and felt with the addition of either some toasted pine nuts or toasted walnuts and some croutons or toasted bread cubes it would have made a perfect main dish salad.

GREEN BEAN, BASIL, and PARMESAN SALAD

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh green beans
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion (can use shallot if preferred)
  • 2 TBSP balsamic vinegar
  • 4 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • freshly ground black pepper

Dice the onion, then place the pieces in a bowl of cool water to draw out some of the sharpness.

In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add the green beans and blanch for 2-4 minutes (less for young beans, longer for older, larger beans). The beans should be crisp-tender and still bright green when finished. While the beans are cooking prepare a large bowl of ice water. When the beans are finished, remove them from the boiling water and put into the ice water to stop the cooking. Drain the beans well, then cut into 2-inch pieces and place in a serving bowl.

Drain the onions, and mix with the green beans, then toss with the olive oil. Next, add the balsamic vinegar. Finally, add the chopped basil and Parmesan cheese and toss again. The salad can be eaten immediately, but the flavors will improve by letting it sit a few hours in the refrigerator. Serve chilled

Three-quarters cup toasted pine nuts or toasted walnuts, and/or croutons could be added just before serving.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (5/16-5/22)

This past week there was a lot of discussion between Brett and me about whether it was maybe time for us to become vegetarians or vegans or whether there was another path we could or should take. The end result was that there are changes coming, but they will be gradual. We currently have a freezer full of meat, but we’ve decided to stop buying meat going forward and gradually stop eating it, segueing into a vegetarian diet. We like meat, we don’t eat a lot of it, but it will be healthier for us to learn to do without it. It will also be a more frugal way for us to eat.

Our plan is to finish this month with two vegetarian meals included in each week, then move to three days per week in June, until all the meat in the freezer is finished. We may have enough on hand to get all the way through June, and if so will go to four days/week of meatless meals in July, but I honestly don’t think we have that much in the freezer. A gradual change will give us time to revamp our pantry, do more research, find recipes, etc. I’ve put several vegetarian/vegan books on hold at the library, to see if we like them or at the least find some new recipes. If yes, we’ll buy the Kindle version so they can be used on my Kindle, or on Brett’s iPad or my laptop while we travel.

We’ve set a few ground rules to get ourselves started. Limited dairy will be OK going forward (I cannot live without cheese – I’ve tried – and we like ice cream in small amounts), but we won’t be buying any more cow’s milk. Same for eggs. Brett has firmly stated he does not want to become a full-time vegan, and as long as we live on Kaua’i he would still like to eat fish once in a while. I’m OK with those two things. However, goals for both of us are to move to a more plant-based diet. Our son has been a vegan for the past two years and has seen dramatic positive changes in his health, and we think moving in the same direction will be beneficial to us as well and also help maintain our current weights.

Anyway, stay tuned as our menus begin to change!

Here’s what we ate for dinner last week though. We had two meatless meals:

Sunday: CookDo chili shrimp; steamed rice; wilted cucumber salad

Monday: Mississippi pot roast; mashed potatoes; green beans

Tuesday: CookDo pork & pepper stir fry; steamed rice; fresh pineapple & strawberries

Wednesday: Leftover stuffed peppers; green bean & parmesan salad

Thursday: French dip sandwiches; roasted mixed vegetables

Friday: Cheese board

Saturday: Roasted vegetable mini pizza

Ice cream is our dessert of choice these days: two flavors, 1/3 cup of each. This week we’ve been enjoying mint chocolate chip and mocha almond fudge.

Besides having mini pizzas each week, I’ve also decided to add a cheese board to our menu each week. It will help us end up with three meatless meals next week as we get started, maybe four if we go meatless on the pizzas. Here’s what’s planned for dinners next week:

  • Tofu & sweet potato curry
  • Cheese board
  • Black bean bake
  • Pork & apple stir fry
  • Mini pizzas
  • Pasta with meat sauce
  • Chicken, bean, & rice burritos

Our walking was very inconsistent last week thanks to the very inconsistent weather. We got in a good two miles worth of walking on Sunday as we shopped through Costco and Walmart (pushing a cart around also helps with the calorie burn). We stayed home on Monday because of rain, and then Tuesday did a perimeter walk at the golf course. Wednesday we got in only two laps around the Pavilion before the rain started, but managed three loops on Thursday. Friday we went to the beach. We had planned to walk after we got home but the heat that day left us feeling completely drained so that didn’t happen. Saturday we were able to get in three laps again although it was sprinkling by the time we got back to the car. Fingers are crossed on both hands that we have better weather and a more consistent amount of walking this coming week.

Storm coming across the golf course on Saturday.

I’ve decided I’m not going to worry any more about whether I’m losing more weight or at a plateau or if this is the weight I’m supposed to be at or whatever. Enough!! I am happy with how I look, and I am going to work on building muscle, getting in even better shape, and eating better – that is all. Strength training will continue, walking will continue, and with the planned changes to our eating I plan to end the year in great shape!

Home Cooking: InstantPot Chicken Risotto

The rosemary for this dish comes from our yard!

I wouldn’t call myself a fanatic, but I do love my InstantPot. I bought the Mini last year, a great size for the two of us. I generally use it about one a week, and hands down my favorite thing to make is risotto. With the InstantPot I end up with creamy, cheesy risotto in less than half an hour, without having to stand over a hot stove, and it rivals anything we ate in Italy. I usually cut the recipe below in half and it makes plenty for both Brett and me.

The one must-have ingredient needed for perfect risotto is arborio rice. It’s a short, starchy rice from Italy that when cooked retains its shape and yet develops a creamy, chewy texture. It can be found in supermarkets but at a price. This creamy comfort food makes it worthwhile though.

(I apologize in advance for the poor photo quality – the light in our kitchen is abysmal.)

To start the risotto, heat 1 TBSP butter and the olive oil in the InstantPot using the Saute function. Cook diced onions and garlic until soft, then add the rice and continue to cook until it’s fully coated and toasted.

Add the wine and cook until it evaporates. The little bottle above is one of my favorite kitchen hacks these days. No more having to open a large bottle when wine is called for, and the 4-packs with the little bottles come in a wide variety of wines.

Turn off the Saute function, and add the chicken. I like to use shredded roast chicken just because it’s easier, but chicken thighs can be cut up, seasoned, and sautéed in the InstantPot before cooking the onions and garlic.

After adding the chicken, pour the chicken broth into the pot and mix everything together.

I add three sprigs of fresh rosemary (we have a huge rosemary bush in the back yard). Dried rosemary can be used if desired; a couple of teaspoons will be enough.

Lock the lid on the InstantPot, close the vent; and pressure cook on High for just five minutes. When complete, quick release the steam. The rice will seem soupy, but stir in the Parmesan cheese and 2 TBSP of butter and in a few moments you will have rich, creamy risotto, ready to serve and eat!

If using fresh rosemary, don’t forget to remove the rosemary stems before adding the cheese!

CHICKEN ROSEMARY RISOTTO

  • 3 TBSP butter, divided
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup roast chicken breast, shredded into large-dish pieces
  • 4 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, or 2 teaspoons dry
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt & pepper to taste

** If using fresh chicken thighs:

  • 1 tsp each thyme, oregano, and paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces

Turn on the Saute function on the InstantPot. When hot, add 1 TBSP butter and the olive oil, then cook the diced onion and garlic until the onion is soft.

Add the Arborio rice and cook until it’s coated in the butter and oil, and lightly toasted. Add the wine and cook until the wine has evaporated.

Turn off the Saute function. Add the shredded chicken into the rice, then add the chicken stock and stir to mix. Add the fresh rosemary sprigs (or dried) and mix into the rice and stock.

Close the InstantPot lid, lock, and close the vent. Pressure cook the rice for five minutes. When complete, immediately quick release all the steam.

Open the lid; carefully remove the rosemary sprigs. Stir in 2 TBSP butter and the Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

** If using fresh chicken, blend together the thyme, oregano, paprika, salt, and pepper. Coat the thigh pieces, then saute in the butter and olive oil until browned. Remove from the pot before adding the onion and garlic (may need to add a little more olive oil at this point).**

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (5/9-5/15)

I mainly like the way Brett and I eat now. We’re eating what we like, and I’m enjoying menu planning and cooking because nothing is off the menu and we’re not following any special type of diet. Brett has never been a picky eater – I don’t think there is anything I have fixed ever that he has said he hasn’t liked, although the first time I served him an artichoke he couldn’t figure out what the big deal was (he loves them now). He has no allergies or intolerances either, so anything is fair game as far as he’s concerned. The only things that could said to be missing from our meals are lettuce and potatoes. I can’t eat lettuce, and although we can eat potatoes, they’re not a favorite for either of us other than the occasional serving of buttery mashed potatoes (yum).

If I had to pick my biggest challenge when doing meal planning it would be variety. It was easy when I was cooking for the family to fall into a rut and cook the same dishes over and over again, but for the two of us I like to mix things up a bit more. The same items do show up again and again, but I try to put a few weeks’ distance between when they’re served. I also limit my menu planning to using what’s on hand, and as we’re on a budget there are certain types of protein that I either avoid or don’t buy very often.

However, we’re talking about decreasing the amount of meat we eat. We’re not ready to go full-on vegetarian or vegan, but we want to add more plant-based meals to our menus. A few years ago I went full vegan, or tried to, but it was very difficult as Brett, YaYu, and WenYu still wanted to eat meat. Brett has said he’s ready now though to cut back or eliminate meat, so it’s something we’re going to look into and segue into gradually as we still have quite a bit of meat in the freezer. We don’t eat a lot of meat, only three ounces or less per serving, and a little goes a long way for us, but it’s something we can let go of.

Below is what we ate for dinner this past week:

Sunday: Cheese tortellini with marinara sauce; steamed artichoke

Monday: Grilled fish (ono) tacos; honeydew melon

Tuesday: Slow cooker chicken adobo with bok choy; steamed rice

Wednesday: Grilled beef Polish sausages with sauerkraut; wilted cucumber salad

Thursday: Barbecue pulled pork sandwiches (the mystery meal from the freezer); coleslaw

Friday: Barbecue pulled pork mini pizzas

Saturday: Stuffed peppers; roasted zucchini

Here’s what planned for next week. I’m especially excited about the charcuterie board – we’ll probably have that on Friday and enjoy a glass of wine with it:

  • CookDo chili shrimp
  • CookDo pork & pepper stir fry
  • Mississippi pot roast
  • French dip sandwiches
  • Leftover stuffed peppers
  • Mini pizzas
  • Charcuterie board

Last week was a great week for walking, and we walked the golf course perimeter three days: Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday as we figured out how to get out there without getting called back or yelled at. First, we went up to the park later than usual, and timed our course so we would arrive at the club house a full hour after the last tee time (making it hard to rationalize that there are golfers on holes 1-4). As an added precaution we also cut down and around the corner of the miniature golf course, a shortcut that took us out to the main course without having to walk by the clubhouse. These two changes made all the difference.

Rain chased us out of the park on Wednesday after one loop around the pavilion, and on Thursday we walked the Waiokapua Trail at Barking Sands. It was much nicer than our last time there as was a breeze was blowing and it wasn’t as hot as it was before. Kukuiolono was great almost every other day and the perimeter walks gave us a good workout, reminding us of our walks through the fields in England. Friday’s weather was unpredictable so we stuck to the Pavilion loop and walked nearly four miles there; our golf course walks were three and a half miles each.

Views from the golf course perimeter walk

I think my body must like what it weighs now because I’ve been stuck at the same place for a long time now. I’m starting to think I may not lose any more this year. I’m hoping though that it’s only a plateau and things will start moving again someday. However, I’m very happy with how much weight I’ve lost (32 pounds) in the past year, and how strong I’ve gotten, so if this is what I’m meant to weigh, so be it.

Home Cooking: Slow Cooker/InstantPot Pork Chops with Sauerkraut, Bacon, & Apples

Brett and I like sauerkraut, but it was forbidden territory with all four of our children. They would not go near it so it was rarely seen for years.

Charcroute with sausages at the Porcus restaurant in Strasbourg. The restaurant is upstairs; downstair is a full charcuterie with an amazing selection of pork cuts and house-made sausages.

Pork chops with sauerkraut was a dish that always sounded delicious to Brett and me, but something that was never made in our home. During our stay in Strasbourg in 2018, Brett and I made a point of going out for charcroute garnie “dressed sauerkraut,” one of the most classic dishes from the Alsace region of France. While there is no fixed recipe for charcroute, traditionally it’s a big mound of sauerkraut topped with a variety of pork sausages, roasted and salted pork cuts (ham hocks, bacon, salt pork, etc.), and potatoes. We ate our charcroute for lunch, and kept our orders to just a variety of house-made Alsatian sausage; anything more would have been too much. While the sausages we ordered were delicious, the sauerkraut was out of this world, flavorful and crisp without being sour. It was a revelation.

Last fall I bought a jar of sauerkraut from Monkeypod Jam at their going-out-of-business sale, and put it away thinking that Brett and I would enjoy it after YaYu went back to school. However, I found a recipe for slow cooker/InstantPot version of pork chops with sauerkraut with the addition of bacon and apples, and asked YaYu if she would be willing to give it a try. She said that part of being a grown-up eater is that you try everything at least once, and that she was finally ready to try sauerkraut. She ended up having two servings of this recipe because she loved it so much! The sauerkraut was not sour, but mild and flavorful, with boosts of flavor from the smoky bacon, and a bit of sweetness from the carrots and apple. Monkeypod’s sauerkraut also contained caraway seeds, and although the recipe I used doesn’t call for them, they add another great bit of flavor to the dish and are a must-have for us now.

The original recipe also suggests the pork chops and sauerkraut be served with mashed potatoes, which we skipped, but I can imagine that along with a good German sausage or two this could be as close to charcroute garnie as we might get.

Rinsing and draining the sauerkraut is the first step, and the most important. Sauerkraut from a jar versus a can is best in my opinion. Our favorite is Wildbrine Organic – it’s nice and very crisp.

While the sauerkraut is draining, saute the bacon pieces, then add the carrots and onions and continuing cooking until onions are soft. (I was using an InstantPot, and did this part using saute function.)

Cover the sauerkraut mixture with apple slices.

Brown pork chops, and then place on top of the apples (the pork chops can also be browned in the InstantPot).

SLOW COOKER PORK CHOPS WITH SAUERKRAUT, BACON, and APPLES

  • 3-4 boneless pork chops, 3/4″ – 1″ thick
  • 2 TBSP vegetable oil
  • 4 slices bacon, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into small pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 32 ounces of fresh sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
  • 1 TBSP caraway seeds (optional)
  • 1 – 1/2 cup chicken broth (if using an InstantPot; use larger amount for a standard, the smaller amount for a Mini)
  • 2 large apples, cored and quartered (can be peeled if desired as the peels will come off during the cooking)
  • Mashed potatoes (optional)

Pour the sauerkraut into a strainer and rinse well with cool water, then let sit to drain for approximately 15 minutes (this step can be omitted if a stronger sauerkraut flavor is preferred). While the sauerkraut is draining, in a large frying pan, saute the bacon until it releases some fat, then add the carrot pieces and diced onion, and saute until the onion is soft. Add the garlic toward the end so that it doesn’t burn.

Place the sauerkraut in the bottom of the slow cooker, then add the bacon and vegetable mixer, and caraway seeds if using, and combine. Place the apple pieces over the top of the sauerkraut mixture.

Add the oil to a large frying pan, and lightly brown the outside of the pork chops. Place the chops on top of the apples. Cover and slow cook for 6-8 hours on low.

Serve with mashed potatoes, if desired.

If using an InstantPot, add the oil to the pot, and using the Saute function, lightly brown the pork chops on each side. Set aside. Continuing with the Saute function, cook the bacon, carrot pieces, onion, and garlic. Turn off Saute, mix in the drained sauerkraut (and caraway seeds, if using), top with apples, and place pork chops on top. Pour the chicken broth over the top.

Lock the lid, close the vent, and pressure cook on High for 15 minutes – anything shorter will make for some tough pork. If fall-apart tender pork is desired, set for 20 minutes. Natural release for 10 minutes, then quick release the remaining steam.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (5/2 – 5/8)

This past week here could have been called “Leftover Overload.” Other than the mini pizzas, every dinner I fixed created leftovers, and we ended up with way more than usual. The tikka masala leftovers were frozen, but otherwise it took some creative effort on both Brett’s and my part to make sure everything got finished. An entire Costco bag of avocados ripening at the same time as well (7 of them!) didn’t help either. They usually ripen a day or two apart, but not this time! It would have made sense for us to eat leftovers one evening for our dinner, and we will be doing that in the future if we ever get in this same situation again, but in the end we did get through everything, and by the end of the week things had returned to a normal level, and the refrigerator once again had some wiggle room.

The biggest challenge for me with so many leftovers was making sure I did not go overboard on calories, something that’s easy to do. Portion sizes sometimes had to be cut back to balance everything each day. I’ve been doing a daily calorie intake count for almost a year now, and while some of it is now second nature, it still can be easy to overdo it, even with something as simple as having one extra breakfast sausage or grabbing a few peanuts for a quick snack. After years of experience trying every other diet and food plan, I am a firm believer in the “calories in<energy out” school of weight loss and maintenance, at least for me. Although I don’t restrict any foods, the only way I lose weight and maintain it is to track my calories and get enough exercise. The minute I let up and get lazy, back comes the excess weight. Counting calories is often pain to do, but it’s become a habit now and I intend to stick with it.

The photos of our dinners always look like we’re eating large portions, to me anyway, but they’re really not and all under 400 calories. For example, that’s only a half-cup of tikka masala and a quarter cup of rice. There’s only half of an Italian sausage in the sandwich, a half cup of pasta with a quarter cup of sauce, a cup of fried rice, three-quarters cup risotto, and so forth. Brett’s servings are a little larger, but not much. We’re mostly satisfied with smaller portions these days, and hope getting the set will keep us from gaining once again when we start traveling.

Sunday: Italian sausage sandwiches with sautéed peppers and onions

Monday: Chicken tikka masala; steamed jasmine rice honeydew melon

Tuesday: Pasta with marinara sauce; Italian sausages; roasted zucchini

Wednesday: Ham fried rice

Thursday: Sausage & pepper mini pizza

Friday: Pork chops with sauerkraut, apples, & bacon; green beans

Saturday: Chicken-rosemary risotto; steamed artichoke

Below is what’s on the menu for dinner next week. Brett made the tortellini for my Mother’s Day dinner last night and served it along with our last artichoke.

  • Cheese tortellini with marinara
  • Grilled fish tacos
  • Stuffed peppers
  • Grilled Polish sausages with sauerkraut
  • Mini pizzas
  • Mystery meal (a frozen container of some leftover is sitting in our freezer, and we can’t remember what it is)
  • Slow cooker chicken adobo with bok choy

Our dessert all this week will be lemon cake with lemon buttercream.

We had an okay week for exercise. We took a planned day off on Sunday, and then it rained all day Wednesday to keep us at home. On Thursday we only got in two Pavilion laps (1.6 miles) before the rain came rolling in and sent us home. Otherwise, we walked over four miles each day, and got a turn out on the golf course perimeter on Saturday. Every time we start out to do this, a woman yells at us from the clubhouse, “there are still golfers on the course!” We check the course very carefully as we walk up to the clubhouse because we only walk the perimeter of the course around holes 1-4. On Saturday, the only golfers still playing that afternoon were on holes 7 and above. Plus, even though it was well past the last tee time, we checked with the guy who takes care of the golf carts and asked when the last person had tee’d off (an hour earlier!). He told us to go on. It’s frustrating though to have this woman always trying to stop us, and even more frustrating to then see other walkers strolling across the course with their kids and dogs while we’re so careful to stick to the edge. I told Brett I think she just doesn’t recognize or remember us and thinks each time that we’re tourists, rather than locals who have been walking up at the park for over a year.

However, a couple of unplanned events this week brought about some positive changes. First, I randomly changed the type of OTC pain relief I’ve been taking from ibuprofen to naproxen one day and that brought about a noticeable difference in pain relief. Second, a consistent part of our walks at the park has been climbing the hill up to the clubhouse and then back down to walk the Pavilion loop. The climb up and down is 1.6 miles, as measured by GPS. This past Tuesday, because of the weather, we skipped the hill climb and instead walked four Pavilion loops. The loops are flat, with two loops equaling the hill climb. I had absolutely no hip pain during or after that walk. Hmmm. We tried another couple of days of skipping the hill climb with the same result, so climbing up and down seems to be part of what’s been causing the pain in my hips to flare. Actually, we climbed up the hill on Saturday and that didn’t cause any pain either, so maybe it’s downhill that causes the problem? I don’t want to give up walking the hill completely as it’s a good workout, but we’ve decided not to make it an everyday part of our walks, and do more Pavilion loops and golf course walking for the time being.

Home Cooking: Perfect Pancakes

In his magnificent cookbook How To Cook Everything, Mark Bittman writes that “Americans must have been sadly alienated from the kitchen for pancake mixes to ever have gained a foothold in the market, for these are ridiculously easy to make.”

Ridiculously easy is an understatement when it comes to making his Basic Pancake recipe because the batter for these pancakes can be ready before the pan gets hot. It takes only a very few minutes to pull the batter together, and the pancakes that result are light and fluffy. Although I think the Tip Top Cafe’s pancakes are the best I’ve ever had, these easy ones are a close second, and I think with a few tweaks I may be able to get even closer.

Blueberry pancakes coming up!

In How To Cook Everything, Bittman gives several ideas for variations: Regular milk can be replaced with buttermilk, or partially with yogurt or sour cream. The pancakes are a great way to use up milk that’s soured or going sour. Fruits such blueberry, banana, or apple pieces can be added to the batter as well. I’ve been known to replace a little of the milk with orange juice and add some grated orange peel, or add pumpkin puree for some of the liquid. Buckwheat flour can be substituted for some of the all-purpose flour, and we’ve also made these using 100% whole wheat pastry flour with great success. Finally, the batter can also be made ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator for several days, until ready to use.

Whether sticking to the recipe or dressing them up a bit, these really are perfect pancakes, and perfectly easy too.

Blueberry pancakes with a little lilikoi curd: perfection!

BASIC PANCAKES

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 TBSP baking powder (I often add 2 TBSP to make very fluffy pancakes)

1/2 tsp salt

1 TBSP sugar

2 eggs (we use 2)

1 1/2  to 2 cups milk

2 TBSP melted and cooled butter (or vegetable oil)

Preheat a griddle or large skillet over medium-low heat while you make the batter. Mix together the dry ingredients. Beat the eggs into the milk, then stir in the melted butter or oil. Whisk this into the dry ingredients, mixing only enough to moisten the flour (don’t worry about a few lumps). If the batter seems too thick, thin with a little milk.

Dry edges and lots of bubbles mean this pancake is ready to flip
The pancakes rise up nice and fluffy after they’re flipped

If your skillet or griddle is non-stick, cook pancakes without any additional oil. Otherwise use a teaspoon or so every time you add batter. Pour the pancake batter onto the hot surface; when the edge of the pancake looks dry and bubbles appear all over the top, turn the pancake. The bottom should cook in 2 -4 minutes, or when lightly browned. Turn and cook until the bottom is browned as well and serve hot. If necessary, the pancakes can be held in a 200° oven for up to 15 minutes.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (4/25-5/2)

Brewing mugicha in a half-gallon jar.

The arrival of warmer weather means it’s time again to start brewing mugicha, or roasted barley tea (麦mugi = barley, 茶cha = tea). Last year I ran out of the tea bags we had brought with us from Japan, and when I asked our daughter-in-law if she would send me some more she sent packages enough to keep me in mugicha until we leave in 2023! I brew a half gallon every other day, and have been enjoying two big glassfuls every day.

So refreshing!

I first tasted mugicha when I was 18, and thought it was absolutely awful (I actually gagged). How could anyone drink, let alone enjoy, this bitter beverage? Although it’s definitely an acquired taste for Western palates, over the years I have come to enjoy and appreciate how refreshing mugicha is, and it’s now my favorite hot weather beverage, much more than iced tea which I also love. Besides refreshment, mugicha has many beneficial properties, including being rich in minerals and antioxidants, and it’s a natural source of melatonin, benefitting sleep (it’s also naturally caffeine free). It is also believed to improve blood circulation and help prevent cancer among other healthful properties.

A 22-oz bottle of the most popular commercial mugicha costs around 50 cents in Japan. It’s the one place I don’t mind buying a plastic bottle as I know it will be recycled.

We had some great meals last week, helped by our big shopping trip last week and picking up a couple of things at the farmers market. Artichokes take me to a happy place and they were a good deal at Costco with four giant globe artichokes for only $6.99. They’re each big enough that one is almost too much for both Brett and me to finish. Steamed is my favorite way to enjoy an artichoke along with some sort of dipping sauce, preferably with lemon in it.

Sunday: Grilled ham & cheese sandwiches; roasted red pepper & tomato soup

Monday: Pasta with Thai peanut sauce; spicy coleslaw

Tuesday: Breakfast for dinner (bacon and scrambled eggs with green onions); steamed artichoke

Wednesday: CookDo mabo nasu; steamed rice; cucumber spears

Thursday: Grilled chicken & apple sausages; sautéed green beans; artichoke

Friday: Thai chicken mini pizzas

Saturday: Pork & rice burritos; honeydew melon

We repeated last week’s Thai chicken pizzas as there was spicy peanut sauce to be used up (and they’re delicious!), and the planned chicken tikka masala was bumped to this week after we bought some beautiful eggplant at the farm stand and used it for mabo nasu. Here’s what’s planned for next week’s dinners:

  • Italian sausage sandwiches with peppers and onions
  • Chicken-rosemary risotto
  • Chicken tikka masala (bumped from last week)
  • InstantPot pork chops with sauerkraut and apples
  • Mini pizzas
  • Pasta with marinara and Italian sausages
  • Ham fried rice

Out and about in the park last Thursday. I always get a kick out of seeing what appears to be a schefflera tree growing out of the palm tree.

Walking was somewhat hit or miss this week, because the weather was so unreliable. Last Sunday was beautiful, so we decided to take advantage of it instead of taking a day off like we usually do. Monday we stayed home because of rain, and the only walking we did was the over two miles we accomplished during our trips to Costco and Walmart. Wednesday brought more bad weather, but then Thursday and Friday were gorgeous, with blue skies and cool breezes, and we got in two days of walking over five miles. Saturday we went to the beach for the afternoon instead of walking, and then stayed home on Sunday to get our regular day off and a no-drive day. This coming week doesn’t look much better as far as weather is concerned, but I always make my daily eating plan and calorie allotment based on not getting to walk

My hips have been bothering me lately, more consistently than in the past. There’s nothing excruciatingly painful going on, but I have become aware of a dull ache that’s there more often than it’s not. I don’t think it’s arthritis (I hope it’s not arthritis!) as the ache is more on the outer side of my hips, and believe it’s more related to my bursitis. But who knows? The interesting thing for me is that I usually don’t feel any pain when I’m walking, or at least not until the end of the walk, but more when I’m not walking. For now, over-the-counter pain medication helps, but I guess it’s something I need to ask my doctor about next time I see him. I may also check with our upstairs neighbor, a semi-retired orthopedic surgeon, and see what he has to say. Maybe it’s time to mix things up a bit when it comes to exercise?

Home Cooking: Individual Mini Pizzas

Once a week our dinner is mini pizzas, one each. They’re easy to make, taste delicious, never top 300 calories, and best of all, often use up leftovers and other odds and ends out of the fridge. We love traditional pizza (it’s my all-time favorite food), but enjoying a mini-pizza once a week allows us to indulge without overeating or overspending.

What goes on our pizzas each week is only limited by our imaginations and what we have on hand. I often start at the beginning of the week thinking, “well, maybe we’ll just have cheese pizzas this week,” but by the end of the week I’ve almost always figured out other things that can be added to create something tasty.

Every pizza starts with a Stonefire mini naan bread (Indian flatbread) for the crust. They work well as because they can safely hold the toppings and the edges and bottoms crisp up nicely but still have= a nicely chewy middle. The size is perfect for one person. We buy the mini naan breads at Costco, but I’ve seen them in stores everywhere.

In my opinion, there are no limits when it comes to creating a pizza – all it take is imagination. We love a pepperoni pizza as much as the next person, but we also love to experiment and cheeseburger ingredients, pesto & feta, barbecue chicken, or seafood are equally as good as any of the traditional standards. I like that with mini pizzas they can be custom made for each diner.

Below are some of the sauces and toppings we’ve used over the years:

Sauces:

  • Traditional pizza sauce or tomato sauce
  • Pesto
  • Alfredo sauce
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Salsa
  • Enchilada sauce
  • Spicy peanut sauce
  • Hoisin sauce
  • Steak sauce

Toppings:

  • Leftover meat, including grilled or roasted chicken; steak; pork chops; ground beef, pork, or lamb; or grilled fish or shrimp.
  • Any kind of sausage, from chicken to breakfast to Italian
  • Pepperoni (of course!) or salami
  • Bacon or ham
  • Roasted vegetables of any kind
  • Fresh vegetables of any kind, diced or very thinly sliced
  • Dill pickles
  • Chopped herbs

Cheeses:

  • Mozzarella, either shredded or fresh
  • Marinated mozzarella balls
  • Shredded cheddar or smoked gouda
  • Feta crumbles
  • Brie
  • Blue cheese

To create a pizzas, we let our imagination soar! Each pizza starts with a thin layer of sauce on the naan bread, layer on the toppings, and finish with some cheese in combinations that works for us. I’m careful about not going overboard on the sauce which only results in soggy pizza, cutting the toppings into small pieces or slicing them thinly. Finally, the pizzas are topped with cheese, placed on a baking pan, and baked in a preheated 425 degree oven. I know they’re done when the cheese is melted nicely and the edge of the naan bread is browned and crisp. The pizzas are cooled for at least two minutes before we eat them so we don’t burn our mouths.

Putting together some Thai chicken pizzas: 1) spread about 1 TBSP spicy peanut sauce on each naan bread; 2) top with some shredded carrot, diced onion, and diced cooked chicken; 3) then add some chopped peanuts and coarsely chopped cilantro; 4) and finally sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of grated mozzarella cheese. Bake at 425 degrees until the cheese is melted and the outer rim of the naan bread is browned and crisp.

Below are a couple of other favorites – I love when I have everything on hand to make them:

  • Barbecue chicken: Barbecue sauce; shredded barbecue chicken; diced red onion; chopped cilantro; shredded smoked gouda cheese
  • Cheeseburger: Traditional pizza sauce; cooked, crumbled ground beef; diced tomatoes; diced dill pickle; diced red onion; shredded sharp cheddar cheese.