Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (6/13-6/19)

This is so me.

I will never give up coffee, especially now that it’s been determined that drinking four cups of coffee a day can possibly extend your life. Current meta-studies are showing that drinking coffee, either with caffeine or without, can potentially extend men’s lives by 12% and women’s by 16%. Four cups a day seems to be the ideal, with anything after that providing little to no benefit.

What’s so great about coffee (besides being delicious)? Coffee, it turns out, is loaded with antioxidants. While fruits and vegetables contain more, the amount of coffee consumed by Americans ends up providing the greatest amount of antioxidants each day. Beyond living longer and providing antioxidants, coffee drinking also provides several other potential health benefits:

  • better processing of glucose or sugar
  • decreases the risk of developing heart failure
  • decreases the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease
  • decreases the risk for liver cancer and other liver diseases
  • decreases breakage in DNA strands
  • decreases the odds for colon cancer
  • decreases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease
  • decreases the risk for strokes
  • decreases the risk for Type-2 diabetes

The secret to receiving all these benefits it seems, is drinking the right amount. As with Goldilocks, there can be too little or too much, but the sweet spot seems to be three to five cups a day. I currently drink two cups of half-caff in the morning, one cup of decaffeinated most afternoons, and then share a cup of half-caff with Brett in the evenings. The downsides for coffee for me is that it can irritate my stomach, and also affect my sleep, but my current consumption does not seem to affect either of those, so I am going keep it up! I have tried giving up coffee, or going 100% caffeine free, but both of those have made for a very miserable Laura.

Below is what we ate for dinner this past week. I did not get a picture of our dinner at Japanese Grandma’s Cafe last Sunday, but you can see below that I devoured it all LOL. It was healthy and delicious!

Sunday: Vegetable futamaki (sushi); Cucumber & seaweed sunomono (salad); seared tofu & vegetables; matcha cheesecake (shared with Brett)

Monday: Chicken tikka masala with peas; steamed jasmine rice

Tuesday: Cheese white bean bake; toasted baguette; steamed artichoke

Wednesday: Mezze plate (tabouli salad, baba ganoush, hummus, whole wheat pita)

Thursday: Italian sausage sandwich with sautéed peppers and onions; roasted cauliflower

Friday: Cheese board

Saturday: Mini pizzas w/leftover Italian sausage, sautéed peppers and onion, & roasted cauliflower

Our desserts this past week were apple pie baked oatmeal and vegan arroz con leche (rice pudding).

There are only two, possibly three, meals with meat planned for next week because we’re finding the meatless meals much more enjoyable these days. However, once again all the meatless meals contain cheese. We love cheese but are trying hard not to go overboard.

  • Panzanella with chickpeas and feta
  • Guadalajara quesadillas
  • Egg roll in a bowl
  • Pork & pepper stir fry
  • Mini pizzas
  • Cheese board
  • Avocado pasta salad

We had a week of varied walks: four days of perimeter walks at the park, a day of shopping (which wears us out more than anything), and a hike at Barking Sands. It was hot, hot, hot the day we walked there, with little to no shade, but we slathered ourselves with sunscreen, stayed hydrated, and did OK, although we were more than ready to get under our umbrella on the beach afterwards. Our golf ball hunt yielded 11 this past week! Looking for them has become a game and made the perimeter walk a lot of fun.

The Waiokapua Trail starts out looking green and inviting, but a few hundred feet ahead it dumps you out into the hot sun for the rest of the way. Shady areas are small, and few and far between.

The way our apartments are set up, when our neighbor comes up the stairs to his front door he can look right into our living room. No big deal, but every time I see him (and he sees me) I am sitting on the sofa working on my computer or reading. He must think I never get off the sofa! It has made me think about how sedentary I am outside of our daily walks. I do move around a lot, but also think I sit around too much as well. I work a lot on the blog each day, and now as I set up my shop on Etsy, and those two things take time, but I’m more conscious these days of making sure I get up and move around more frequently versus planting myself on the sofa for the day.

Sunday Morning 6/20/2021: Happy Father’s Day!

Monday evening’s sunset was absolutely amazing. It bathed the whole interior of our apartment in color.

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there! Hau’oli la makuakane! I hope all you dads will get a bit spoiled today. Brett and I are heading out in a short while for brunch at the Little Fish Cafe in Poipu. They have a wonderful bagel sandwich menu, and we’re going to choose one to share. I also got him a (very) small gift, and he’ll be off KP duty tonight as well.

What a great week we had! We had a wonderful evening with my good friend’s daughter last Sunday evening, sold something during the week, and even a miracle (for us) occurred! Of all the things that were in the box the movers lost last year, the one thing we could not get over losing was an antique cotton Boy’s Day banner, found in a pile of old textiles during our last tour in Japan. It’s a one-of-a-kind piece, with a warrior tangling with a tiger (symbolizing strength for Boy’s Day), and was created using a wax resist method. I initially used it to cover some holes in the wall of the Japanese house we were renting (long story) but we’ve enjoyed it in every home we’ve lived in since and were miserable about losing it. The banner had been clearly marked on the shipping manifest for the lost box (“1 fabric banner and poles”), so we had accepted it had been lost along with the other things in the box. However, this past week I got out WenYu’s hat lamp to put on Buy & Sell next week – the lamp’s base had been sitting up in the top of our closet, still wrapped in paper, and marked “lamp.” As I removed the paper, a thin bamboo pole caught my eye and lo and behold, there was our Boy’s Day banner, rolled and packed next to the lamp base! Brett hung the banner this past week, and we are so happy to see it in our home again, a favorite piece of art restored to us. It’s one of the few things that will not be sold when we move and will be sent to stay with one of our girls for safekeeping. Anyway, finding that banner counts as a miracle in my book, and made me especially glad that I decided to go ahead and list the hat lamp now rather than waiting until later.

The much loved hat lamp that kept our banner safe – we bought it when WenYu was a baby. It used to have a big bow tied around the hat, but the ribbon didn’t make it through storage. One section of the base was also lost in the move.

The virus has returned to Kaua’i. After a few weeks with no cases on the island, COVID has returned, and there are currently 20 active cases on the island. I’m beginning to think this is going to be the new normal going forward, that vaccinated or not we will need to remain careful for a long time coming. Apparently if we are vaccinated we will be safe from the virus, but can still transmit the new Delta variant because it’s so contagious. I was surprised and disappointed to learn this past week that a woman my high school class has apparently chosen not to get vaccinated and for nothing more than political reasons as far as I can tell. She was very angry that she was required to wear a mask at a hair salon while others who had been vaccinated didn’t have to. I honestly don’t get it, because I’m sure she’s never had a problem with getting vaccinated for school, travel, the flu or other things, but COVID is apparently a bridge too far.

I made my first travel reservations for next year this past week – very exciting! The date for YaYu’s commencement has been set, so I started looking at hotel prices in the area last week and was able to reserve a room in a very nice hotel less than five miles from the BMC campus for more than $400 less than I thought we would be paying! That’s a huge savings. I also reserved a car for our time back there, including a toll pass, for less than $400, another big savings. These were the two reservations I wanted to make early because prices will only be going up during the next year as we get closer to the date, and hotel rooms will become more and more difficult to find. Neither reservation involved a pre-payment, good for us in case things get changed. Our flights back east will come later though – it’s still way too early for those, but we have $1500 in gift cards to put toward that expense. We already plan to do most of our dining at the hotel’s complimentary breakfast or in our room to keep our food costs down. The room comes with a refrigerator, and there is a Trader Joe’s nearby, so we’ll stock up when we arrive.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: It’s been very enjoyable having only one book to read, and I’ve been slowly going through Kate Atkinson’s Blue Sky. There are links back to the earlier Jackson Brodie series and I sometimes have to stop from time to time to think about things and link characters and incidents to what’s going on in the current book. John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold is up next.
  • Listening to: Even though it’s Father’s Day, Brett is making the coffee and putting last night’s dishes away. Our upstairs neighbor is thumping around upstairs a bit, but nothing too loud. There’s also a pretty good breeze blowing outside that’s making some noise, but the sky is blue and it’s delightfully cool so all is well. After our bagels we’re going to head over to Salt Pond for some time on the beach!
  • Watching: We’ve started the third and final season of The Unforgotten, and are contemplating what to watch when it’s over. The second season was incredibly sad and finished unresolved, but the topic was child sexual abuse and that’s something that’s both incredibly sad and really never resolved, so the ending made sense. I finished the final episode of Great British Menu on Friday and have decided to rewatch the series again because I loved it that much, and want to watch some of the chefs cook again. Brett and I tried to watch The Longest Day last Wednesday, but our Internet connection kept skipping (a sometimes frequent occurrence here) which made it impossible to watch on YouTube. We’re currently looking for another way to stream it.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: 1) Our grocery shopping trip was a genuine chore this last time because we visited three stores versus two, and had to take several things off of our list in order to stay as close as possible to our budget (we still went over). It didn’t help that all three stores seemed to be out of things we wanted, but we eventually found what we were looking for or substitutions. 2) I created an Etsy shop to start selling our Japanese items, but it’s a work in progress, and more difficult than I imagined. I try to add a couple of items every day (and get help/critiques from Meiling and WenYu who are helping with photos). Once I get it up to speed I’ll provide a link. 3) I am so happy to have gotten the reservations done for our hotel stay and rental car when we go to Pennsylvania next year, and to be saving so much from what we thought we’d have to pay. 4) We had a wonderful day at the beach last Thursday, along with a hike on the Waiokapua Trail. 5) I got a new set of activity cards made up for the next six weeks. The last six weeks went by very quickly.
My beach boy is very tan these days
  • Looking forward to next week: So far we have nothing on our calendar, so we’re looking forward to maybe a couple of trips to the beach, and some nice walks up at the park in the evening.
So happy to see and spend time with Jess (and eat at Japanese Grandma’s Cafe too!)
  • Thinking of good things that happened: 1) Our Sunday evening with Jess was grand, and we spent nearly three hours eating and talking and catching up. 2) I cried when I saw that banner sitting next to the lamp this past week. Finding it safe and sound was just the best thing. 4) We had a perfect hike and day at the beach on Thursday, and just a lovely week overall. 5) Our landlord gifted us a 1.75 liter bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin as a thank you for being such good tenants!
Gin & tonics coming up!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) Besides the frugal travel deals I found this week, I also sold a Le Creuset baking pan that I hadn’t used in years. I had earned it as an incentive back when I sold cookware, so what I got for it was pure profit. I also sold another lamp that we never use. 2) We went $12 over budget on our grocery shopping, and that’s after removing several things off the list, but I still consider it a win all things considered. Costco prices have remained steady, and Walmarts are always low, but Safeway’s prices were off the chart. Unfortunately, it’s the only store in the area where can find certain things (e.g. cannellini beans). 3) We put $7.69 into the change/$1 bill bag, and I earned 1,930 Swagbucks this past week. I am growing more and more annoyed with Swagbucks each day though, but I am determined to earn at least one more $500 Delta card by the end of the year so I grit my teeth, curse under my breath at times, and continue. 4) All the leftovers were eaten, and nothing was thrown away this past week.
  • Grateful for: We’re feeling grateful for good weather, good friends, a great landlord, and in spite of the rising cost of living our life on Kaua’i. Island life is a good fit for us and we plan to enjoy our time here as much as possible until it’s time to hit the road again.
  • Bonus question: What albums do you count as the most influential in your life? For the past couple of weeks, the albums above have been popping up in my Facebook feed, from when I did an Album Challenge to pick 12 favorite albums that have had an impact on me. I was nominated by our son and had a lot of fun – it was very thought provoking. The above 12 are not ranked in any way, but all are still favorites, and I can still sit and listen through them all with the same joy I felt when I first heard them. There are more, but these are the original dozen. Sadly, they all make my age very clear.

We enjoyed other pretty sunsets this past week beyond Monday’s showstopper. There are so many things we love about our apartment, but the sunset views from our front door are at the top of our list. As the days grow longer we have to wait later and later for them to appear, but the warmer weather seems to produce better sunsets than we get in the the winter, and they last longer as well.

And that closes the book on another very good week here at Casa Aloha! I hope everyone enjoyed a great week as well. Wishing a happy Father’s Day to all the dads reading – I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful day. And, I’m hoping the week coming up is another great one for all!

Home Cooking: Carrot & Cilantro Salad

A month or so ago I watched Padma Lakshmi prepare this salad on Instagram. My mouth watered as she put the salad together and I knew it was something Brett and I would love. However, it did require a couple of special ingredients I knew would be difficult, if not impossible, to locate on Kaua’i, and a quick check of Amazon’s prices showed they would not be inexpensive. I have a bad memory of giving away or throwing out so many special ingredients and spices that I had ordered or bought when we lived here before but then rarely used, and I really did not want to go down that path again. I knew I could make the salad without the two special ingredients – orange oil and za’atar – but she had stressed in her video that they really made a difference.

Fast forward to my birthday in May, and I received an Amazon gift card from my son. I spent part of it on a new pair of earrings, but had enough left over that I decided this was my chance to purchase the orange oil and za’atar. I searched Amazon again and found two affordable choices, and a few days later they were in my possession!

This is honestly one of the best dishes I have made in a long time. I cut the recipe in half for the two of us, but Brett and I could have finished off the regular recipe on our own in one sitting . . . it was that good. The recipe comes from Padma’s Tangy, Tart, Hot & Sweet cookbook and this salad is all that and more. And the orange oil and za’atar were worth the expense; in fact, I would say the orange oil may be the salad’s key ingredient. We could taste the orange flavor in every bite, even with the tiny bit that’s used and up against all the other flavors. It was the same with the za’atar, and the jalapeño also added a necessary kick without overpowering anything else. The whole salad goes together very quickly too, with the most difficult part of making it the task of grating the carrots. A food processor would have made that task go quickly, but alas, I no longer have a food processor.

The recipe below is for the full, big salad, which makes enough for six generous portions. Cutting it in half made more than enough for the two of us. The salad would makes a wonderful side dish for grilled chicken or fish, but was a great part of a meatless meal for us. We used leftovers on sandwiches a couple of days later and it was still very yummy.

CARROT & CILANTRO SALAD

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 TBSP balsamic vinegar
  • 2 TBSP lime juice
  • 1/4 tsp food-grade orange oil

Salad:

  • 2 pounds carrots, peeled and grated
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh cilantro leaves (don’t chop)
  • 1/4 cup lightly toasted white sesame seeds
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and finely diced
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 tsp za’atar
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

In a large salad bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients.

Add the grated carrot, cilantro leaves, toasted sesame seeds, jalapeños, and cranberries and toss together.

Sprinkle the za’atar and salt over the salad just before serving.

Refrigerate the salad if not serving immediately. It’s best served same day but the dressing will start pickling the salad after that, which is fine but the taste will be slightly different.

What Would You Take Along?

A couple of our fellow walkers up at the park moved to Mexico last month. They apparently moved everything they owned down there, including a baby grand piano! From some of what we gathered, the move cost them more than a small fortune but they were unwilling to part with anything.

Listening to their experience got Brett and I thinking about what we would take along if we moved to another country and we’ve talking about it ever since, off and on. After shipping things to and from Hawaii not once but twice, and having a good understanding of the expense of shipping even a small container full of furniture and other things, we quickly decided that if we ever moved to another country we would take nothing other than what could fit into suitcases. The number of suitcases would be limited to how many suitcases we were willing to check, and after some discussion we decided three full-size suitcases each as well as a carry-on bag would be our maximum because that’s all we think we could manage.

What would we take if everything had to fit into six suitcases? Below is the list we came up with:

  • Clothing & shoes: What and how much in this category would be determined by where we were moving. If we were going to Japan, for example, taking clothing for all seasons would be a priority as it’s difficult there to find clothing in our sizes there, and what’s available in military exchanges is limited as well. If we were going somewhere in Europe however, we would most likely be able to find clothing and shoes that fit so less clothing would need to be packed. Basically, the clothes we own currently for both both cold and hot weather would be enough to give us a good start.
  • Keepsakes: I can only think of a very few keepsakes I would want to take along: a few of our Japanese clay bells, one of our porcelain stacking boxes, and our remaining small Chinese teapots. There are six or seven pieces of art we would probably take, all of which would fit into a suitcase. Otherwise, we agree that everything else can pretty much go.
  • Kitchen items: Believe it or not, we would take along some but not all of our everyday dishes (unless we were moving to Japan, where they could easily be replaced), our cutlery, and some basic cooking utensils, including all our OXO tools. At first it was hard to think about living without my wonderful All-Clad cookware, which I’ve owned for nearly 30 years, but I realized I can cook just as well in pretty much anything.
  • Electronics: We would each take a laptop, a new iPhone, our Kindles, and one tablet that both of us can use along with two or three converters, and additional chargers.
  • OTC medications: If we were moving to Japan these are things we could find on any base, and the same for some places in Europe. However, there are locations where this would not be convenient so a good supply of OTC medications to start off with would be a good thing to bring. Painkillers, vitamins, nutritional aids (probiotics/prebiotics), stomach aids, cold medication, laxatives, etc. would go with us. We would carry written prescriptions for other medication so we could get those filled if necessary, although finding a local doctor would be a priority.
  • Tools: Brett has said depending on where we were going he would take along a basic set of quality tools (screwdrivers, wrenches, etc.), especially in metric sizes.

We imagined living full time in every place we visited during our travels and then paid attention to what was available in stores, the prices of things, clothing and shoe sizes, etc. Could we easily buy furniture there? What did it cost? Was used furniture available? Was there an IKEA in the area? Were our shoe sizes available and in stock? It was a helpful exercise, and we learned that what we would actually end up taking along with us on a move to another country could only be decided after an extensive amount of research about what’s available there, and after reading others’ experiences of moving to that country and the advice they offer.

Living in another country was a fun thing to think about when we were traveling and it’s still interesting to think about now. Could we get all of what’s listed above in six suitcases? Who knows? What I do know is that with time we could probably cut back on what’s listed above to where it did fit.

What would you bring along? What would be non-negotiable for you?

Sunday Morning 4/25/2021: Another Week of Good Things

We had beautiful sunset following Tuesday’s storms . . .

… and last night we thought we were in for a real treat. However, three minutes after this shot it started breaking up, and a couple of minutes after the picture below was taken the winds picked up, dark clouds filled the sky, and it started raining!

Good Morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

We went to the beach! We drove over to Barking Sands last Monday and enjoyed perhaps the most perfect beach day we’ve had in I don’t know how long. We stopped at the commissary on our way in and picked up some cold drinks, then hiked the Waiokapua Trail and back (and got overheated) before sitting down and enjoying the picnic we had brought along. Afterwards, Brett put up our umbrella and we sat out on the beach to read and enjoy the the view for another couple of hours. To make things even better we also had the entire beach to ourselves the whole time we were there! We’re hoping for another beach day again this week, although this time we’ll probably go to Salt Pond, which is closer. With visitors arriving in large numbers every day, Poipu beaches are no longer an option for us.

Our stimulus payment arrived on Wednesday, but not before I had trouble falling asleep on Tuesday wondering if it had been lost and what we would have to go through if it had. And, we got a bit of a surprise because it came in the form of a debit card versus a check, something we definitely were not expecting. We first felt a little stunned – “a debit card?” – but after some reading figured out we could download the entire amount directly into our bank account – easy peasy. Two-thirds of the amount will go into our savings account, and one-third will go into YaYu’s account to help cover college expenses in the fall. After nearly four weeks of waiting, debit card or not, it is a relief to have that money in our account.

It was very noticeable that tourists have come back when we went up to Kapaa last week – traffic was heavy once again and we crawled through Kapaa to get to the beach path and the hair salon. It’s only going to get worse too as we get nearer to summer. I felt glad for a couple of things though as we sat in traffic that day: 1) that we no longer live in Kapaa and have to deal with traffic any more when going to and from shopping, medical appointments, etc. and 2) that we had this past year to experience life here without crowds of tourists everywhere. Visitors to Kaua’i are what support our local and state economy, and they are very welcome, but everything seems to be moving at a quicker pace once again, the traffic grows worse every week, and shelves in stores seem to be empty more often.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: Choosing to read mysteries, etc. this year is turning out to be a very good (and fun) decision. I have enjoyed everything I’ve read so far, am finding all sorts of new books and authors, and am super pleased with my progress as well as I’m nearly at the half-way point of my goal of reading 52 books this year, and it’s only April! I finished another book this past week, Dead Scared, by Sharon Bolton (second book in the Lacey Flint series), a real page turner, and am nearly two-thirds of the way though with another book, Sun Storm by Asa Larsson. When that’s done I will begin reading both Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir and The Trauma Cleaner, by Sarah Krasnostein. The Trauma Cleaner is non-fiction, about a person in Australia whose business is cleaning up after violent crimes, suicides, and so forth.
  • Listening to: Right now I’m listening to it pouring rain outside along with a strong wind, which is practically blowing the rain sideways. At least it’s warm enough that the French doors can be open – the air is nice and cool. Brett’s in the kitchen making his breakfast – I can hear him chopping up an apple – and he’s finishing the coffee. Another nice quiet morning inside, another drippy morning outside! I’ve got my fingers crossed that the rain blows through and some nicer weather blows in.
  • Watching: Brett and I are still watching DCI Bates, with four more seasons to go. The stories are getting better, but they still seem to do a lot of yelling. The actress that played Doc Martin’s wife has joined the cast – she’s fun to watch. The finals are now underway for the latest season on the Great British Menu, and my favorite chef has made it second time in a row, and I am hopeful he will be chosen to cook for the banquet again. There have been too few standouts this season otherwise (in my opinion) and I’m ready to see what the next season brings. The show remains a lot of fun to watch nonetheless.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Once again, there were no big accomplishments last week, but everything that needed to be done got done and that’s good enough for me!
  • Looking forward to next week: And, we have nothing on the calendar once again, so all we’re looking forward to is hopefully another beach day.

Brett and I both enjoyed Tip Top Cafe’s banana pancakes at his birthday breakfast, and they were as wonderful as ever, the fluffiest pancakes we’ve ever eaten. The restaurant maintains social distancing which meant the line was still long late into the morning.

  • Thinking of good things that happened: We again had lots of good things happen this past week, including a fantastic beach day and a hike at Barking Sand on Monday; finally going back to the Tip Top Cafe for Brett’s birthday breakfast on Wednesday – their pancakes are, if anything, better than ever; getting my hair cut and taking a nice walk on the beach path that day, and finding some more driftwood. We have been collecting pieces for a while (we use it in our fire pit), and since I seem unable to keep much of anything alive inside the apartment, I’ve been trying to create an arrangement with some of the driftwood. I was thrilled this past week to see that Mavis has done something similar at her home in Maine and it looks beautiful (ours is currently a work in progress though). The gardenia blossoms are opening and because the bush is located just outside our bedroom window we are getting the full, aromatic benefit of them as we fall asleep. We also had a long video conversation with our grandkids the other day and got all caught up. It’s hard to believe it’s been over a year since we’ve seen them and my be over a year before we see them again. They’ve both grown up so much, and so quickly.
Our driftwood arrangement is a work in progress. It’s lacking one more tall(er) piece, and then some pieces to fill in around the bottom.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: This was a pretty typical frugal week for us on top of getting our stimulus, which went right into our savings account. We did a small food shopping on Tuesday (Costco, Walmart, and Times Market) and with some effort stayed under what we had budgeted. We’ll be doing a bigger shop next week and I’m already working on the list for that. We put $11.70 into our change/$1 bill bag last week, leftover from food shopping and a quick stop at the farm stand. I earned 2,138 Swagbucks last week and it looks like I will be able to end the month 5,000 SB ahead of the goal I gave myself for the month. Leftovers have been eaten, and nothing was thrown out this past week.
  • Grateful for: We are very, very thankful for this latest stimulus payment, especially that there were funds this time for YaYu to help with her college expenses next year, her final year at BMC. We have been contributing as much as we can, but it’s taken a real effort to make sure all her costs are covered and the stimulus will give us all a big boost. We’re thankful to be able to save our part of the stimulus payment this time, providing a real boost to our savings as we work to build it up again.
  • Bonus question: You’re handed a round trip plane ticket to anywhere in the world for a weekend and $1000 cash. The catch? You have to go alone, right then & there with only whatever you have on hand. Do you go? Where would you go? Would I go? Does an accordion player wear a pinky ring? Of course! Where would I go? Japan would be one destination, to see our son, DIL and grandkids again even if it’s just for a weekend and the flight is long – it’s been too long. The jet lag wouldn’t have time to catch up with me until I got home! I could stretch $1000 pretty far there for things I need (a few extra pieces of clothing and other supplies from the navy exchange, for example), especially if I stay with M & M. I’d be equally happy with heading back to Boston to see Meiling and WenYu. They could help me find extra clothing and supplies with lots left over to make sure we had a great time together. I honestly wish this was a real challenge, although I know I would miss having Brett along and would feel a bit guilty for traveling without him (although I know he would not be up for such a short trip and turnaround).

This week’s blooms: Hibiscus along the eastside beach path, and gardenias in bloom in our yard.

When we moved here in 2014, I told my mom that I wished we could bring her along. She would have loved it here, especially the variety of beautiful and interesting plants and flowers on the island, and how many of her favorites can be found all over and grow all year versus seasonally. Mom was a botany major in college, and to the end of her life stayed interested in plants, and had a real skill in making things grow and reviving plants that you didn’t think would or could make it. I would have loved taking her on walks and drives to see all that grows here, and I’m pretty sure she would have gotten a kick out of the farmers’ markets as well and the variety of produce that’s available year-round. I think of Mom every time I stop to snap a picture of plants and flowers here.

That’s all for this week – it was another good one. I hope the week was great for everyone, and that all are looking forward to the one coming up as much as we are.

Facing Reality

At the beginning of the year, Brett and I started looking into home-buying options on Kaua’i. We had no plans to buy right away, but wanted to be better educated about what’s available and be ready to buy if something suitable came along. We had already decided that a condo would be our best option as houses here are unaffordable: the current median home price on Kaua’i is $985K 😱! We also aren’t interested in all the maintenance, yard work, etc. that comes with owning a home here. A couple of weeks ago there were only four single family-homes on the island in our price range but two were already contingent, all were very small, one needed a lot of work, and three were in a location that doesn’t work for us. There were also issues here with the few available condos in our price range as well (fee simple versus leasehold, for example). We’re definitely not keen on living in a building with tourists coming and going most of the time, but purely residential condos are few and far between and expensive. A condo we considered purchasing five years ago now costs $100K+ more than it did then. The massive elephant in the room with any condo purchase here is always the HOA fee. While there are some that are less, the usual HOA fee on Kaua’i is over $800/month and climbs rapidly from there, and can often double any mortgage payment.

While our current income is more than adequate to allow us to do many things, live comfortably, and save, if Brett dies before me I will lose close to 2/3 of that amount – his military retirement will go away (although I will retain health insurance and all other benefits) as will my Social Security (I would receive his higher amount instead). Unless there’s a miracle, my student loans will continue and I will be paying those until I am 83 years old. A big factor for us in any home purchase therefore is keeping our mortgage payment (including any HOA fees) at an affordable level so I will be OK financially if something should happen to Brett. 

Both Brett and I are veterans and qualify for a VA loan, with no money required for a downpayment, and no mortgage insurance required. However, we can see that our best bet going forward will be to start with as large a down payment as possible to reduce the monthly payment. So, after much thought and number crunching we gave ourselves a deadline of early 2023 and decided that between now and then we would save, save, save as much as possible toward a down payment. We would continue to save for travel, but adjust those plans to fit a smaller amount of savings and tighter budget.

We also know that housing prices on Kaua’i are going to continue to rise – it’s frightening how much they’ve gone up since we left two years ago – and HOA fees are only going to go up as well. What if even with a downpayment we can’t meet our price goal? Can we accept having to rent versus owning with those costs going up as well? We love living here for many reasons, but should we honestly reconsider moving back to the mainland? And if so, where would that be? 

The discussions over this are ongoing. For the past few weeks the pros and cons of staying in Hawaii or possibly moving back to the mainland have dominated our conversations, and there has been no good answers. Our three daughters all live back east now and will be staying there. Meiling is currently in NYC, but wants to eventually move to Boston, to be closer to WenYu who lives in the area. YaYu currently attends college in eastern Pennsylvania, and has said she is planning to stay back east as well if possible (it will depend on where she goes to grad school). When we spoke with Meiling and WenYu last week they both said they would be thrilled if we lived closer to them. They know we are are happy here and love living on Kaua’i, but at the same time now admit that they wish we were closer to them, especially as we age and as they move closer to raising their own families. We miss them terribly – celebrating Christmas from a distance really drove that home – and wish we could get together with our girls more often. We recently looked at pictures of houses back east though, most currently covered with snow, and Brett and I both said, “I don’t think we can do this . . . ” (or want to).

What we know now is only that we will have to make a decision one way or the other one of these days. In the meantime we are going to stick with our deadline of early 2023, and continue to save as much as possible and then see where that takes us in the real world. 

Home Cooking: Goat Cheese, Artichoke, and Smoked Ham Strata

photo credit: Better Homes & Garden

Whenever I want to serve a special breakfast/brunch dish that can be enjoyed at any time during the morning, either cold or reheated, a strata fits the bill perfectly. A strata is convenient because it can be prepared the night before and be refrigerated overnight, so that all that has to be done in the morning is heat the oven and pop the pan in to bake. Because a strata is basically a savory bread pudding, the variations are endless, and they’re a great way to use up leftover bread, meats, vegetables, or those last bits of cheese that are hanging around, and they’re perfect for main dishes other times of the day as well.

This recipe, from Cooking Light magazine, is a long-time family favorite of ours. It blends tangy goat cheese into the milk and egg mixture, and the middle is filled with diced ham, artichoke hearts and parmesan cheese. It works perfectly as a main dish any time of day.

Although you don’t have to use lower fat ingredients, I typically keep it lean by using egg substitute and skim milk, and making sure all the fat is trimmed from the ham. And, even though it only calls for a small amount, I also usually skip the nutmeg as it’s a flavor I don’t care for in savory dish (there’s a long story there). I’m not exactly sure about a substitute for the fontina cheese as I always just bought a piece when I make this, but a mild cheese like Jarlsberg would work, I think. Finally, the original recipe asks for sourdough bread, but French bread works just as well. Day-old or leftover bread works better than fresh no matter what bread is chosen.

GOAT CHEESE, ARTICHOKE AND SMOKED HAM STRATA

  • 3 1/4 cups low-fat or skim milk, divided
  • 1 8-oz. carton egg substitute or 4 large eggs
  • 1 4-oz. package goat cheese
  • 3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme, or 1/4 tsp dried
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 10 slices sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 8 ounces coarsely-chopped smoked ham
  • 2 14-oz. cans of artichoke hearts, well-drained and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded fontina cheese

In either a food processor or blender, combine 1 cup milk, egg substitute or eggs and goat cheese and process until smooth. Add the goat cheese mixture to the remaining 2 1/4 cups milk in a large bowl, then add pepper, thyme, nutmeg and garlic and whisk to combine. Add the bread cubes and stir gently to combine. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Place half of the bread mixture (the cheese/mil mixture will not be completely soaked in) in a 9″ x 13″ pan coated with cooking spray. Arrange the chopped ham, artichoke hearts and Parmesan cheese over the bread mixture, then cover with the remaining bread mixture. Pour any leftover cheese/milk mixture evenly around the pan. Sprinkle the top with the fontina cheese.

The strata can either be baked (uncovered) at this time, or put into the refrigerator to sit overnight for baking in the morning. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until the edges are bubbly. Let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving. Makes 8 servings.

So Very Thankful

In spite of everything 2020 has thrown at us, Brett and I have much to be thankful for this year. Plans and dreams were thrown to the wind back in March when the pandemic began to rear its ugly head, both while we were in Japan and in the U.S., but in spite of some roadblocks that have popped up now and again we’ve had a very good year overall.

Gratitude for all that we have is what has kept me sane this year, and I have much to be thankful for:

  • Health: I am extremely grateful for our continued good health, the health of our children and their significant others, and our grandchildren. Also, who knew at the beginning of the year that this would be the one where Brett and I finally got our act together as far as diet and exercise? We’ve at last figured out a way exercising that we enjoy doing and that works for us, and we’re getting in shape and losing weight. We’ve also set goals that make sure we maintain and improve on what we’re doing now.
  • Family: We are also truly blessed that all of our family is thriving, and in spite of not being able to get together this year following our departure from Japan, we’ve all done more than a good job of staying in touch and checking up on each other. We’re feeling hopeful and optimistic that we’ll be able to put together a reunion next year. As always, I’m grateful for the love, support, friendship, and companionship of my husband, Brett. I got lucky with this one.
  • Kaua’i: Our sudden return to Kaua’i last March was frankly a shock to our system, but now we couldn’t be more happy that we decided to come back, and are beyond thankful that our kids encouraged us to return and settle here again. This time we seem to be better at appreciating what we have here, and are more appreciative of our quiet lifestyle. While not free from the virus, Kaua’i continues to be an extremely safe place to be during the pandemic, and we are grateful for the commitment of those who live here and now visitors about wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and practicing other safe behaviors. While we enjoyed the months we had this year without visitors and traffic, we’re genuinely glad to see businesses picking up again and people going back to work, and are thankful that Hawaii’s testing protocol and quarantine seem to be keeping the virus at bay.
  • Many blessings: Both Brett and I have received many blessings this year, from spending time with friends here on the island to a long stay near our family in Japan at the beginning of the year to finding a great place to live when we unexpectedly returned to Kaua’i (and the good fortune of being able to buy back our old car). We’re blessed to have a solid, dependable income, always enough to eat, and to be able to live in such a beautiful part of our country. 
  • My readers: I have the best readers in the world, and I am always thankful for all who continue to visit the blog and read whatever I have to say. I’m grateful as well for the advice, support, and kind comments I receive. I am lucky beyond measure to have met several readers in real life and become friends with them, and hope I am able to meet many more in the years ahead.

Wishing all my readers, their friends and family, a very happy Thanksgiving. It’s been a wild ride this year, but worth remembering that “It’s not happy people who are grateful, it’s thankful people who are happy.” 

Home Cooking: Addictive Pumpkin Burritos

photo credit: allrecipes (I think someone went a little nuts with the cilantro)

Several years ago a friend sent me this recipe for burritos and when the girls were young they quickly became a favorite and a nice change from more “traditional” burritos. They’re not only delicious and easy to make and the ingredients don’t cost a lot. They’re also quite nutritious, and surprisingly low fat (and can be vegan with the cheese left out). They can also be wrapped individually and frozen to reheat later for snacks or a quick meal.

The original recipe called for cooked and mashed sweet potato, but I substituted pumpkin and it worked perfectly. With pumpkin, add the water to the bean mixture gradually though as canned pumpkin tends to be a bit “wetter” than  baked sweet potato and the bean mixture doesn’t need to quite so wet (which risks making the burritos soggy). Canned refried beans can be substituted for the kidney beans in the recipe to save on time, although I personally never thought it took all that much time to mash the kidney beans. There’s no reason either why other types of beans, such as black beans or pintos, couldn’t be substituted if you prefer them, and pureed butternut squash or a large can of sweet potatoes (follow the same advice about adding the water) can also be substituted. The spices might seem excessive to some, but I happen to think they’re just enough (and we have also added salsa as well). The friend who sent me the recipe halved the chili powder, cumin, mustard and cayenne pepper and said they still tasted great.

If you do end up with some leftover bean mixture it can be added later to scrambled eggs for a breakfast burrito!

ADDICTIVE PUMPKIN BURRITOS

  • 3 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 cups canned kidney beans, drained
  • 2 cups water or less, as needed
  • 3 TBSP chili powder
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 4 tsp prepared mustard
  • pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 3 TBSP soy sauce
  • 4 cups cooked and mashed pumpkin puree, sweet potato, or butternut squash
  • 12 10-inch flour tortillas, warmed
  • 8 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese (or Pepper Jack if you’d like a little more spice)

Preheat oven to 350°. Heat oil in a medium skillet, and saute onions and garlic until soft. Add beans and mash well. Gradually stir in water, and heat until thick and warm. Remove from heat and stir in chili powder, cumin, mustard, cayenne pepper (if using) and soy sauce. Divide bean mixture and pumpkin puree evenly between the warm tortillas; place next to the lower edge and top with some cheese. Fold the edge over tightly, then fold up the sides and fold over again to close. Bake for 12 minutes in the oven and serve warm. Chopped green onion and sour cream go well with these burritos.

You can freeze these burritos for later use. Don’t bake them, but wrap each one individually in foil, then place in a bag and freeze. Heat by taking off the foil and microwaving for two and a half minutes, or defrost and bake according to directions.

Home Cooking: Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting

(photo credit: chocolatewithgrace.com)

Fall has arrived (well, everywhere but here) along with pumpkin season. If I remember correctly, Trader Joe’s and lots of other places probably have a pumpkin version of just about everything they sell (pumpkin cream cheese? pumpkin coffee?) on their shelves right now, both sweet and savory, or at least they did a few years ago. My favorite pumpkin item from Trader Joe’s was the pumpkin spice toaster pastries, which were a fun breakfast treat. 

We are still big fans of pumpkin (although we gave the pumpkin cream cheese a pass and I may be the only one who doesn’t like pumpkin spice lattes). I have been known to stock up on organic canned pumpkin in the fall (when prices are low) so that I have it available year round, and back when we had a garden we grew our own pumpkins and then baked them and froze the puree. We love pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin coffee cake, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin nut bread and roasted pumpkin, but I think our whole family would agree that these pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting are at the top of our list of ways to enjoy this iconic fall squash.

This pumpkin bar recipe comes from a restaurant Brett and I used to regularly dine at, especially for special occasions: Ron Paul’s in NE Portland. The restaurant closed many years ago, long before we left Portland, but while it was open the wonderful Mr. Paul put out a regular newsletter which included this recipe. They’ve been a favorite since the first time I made them.

The bars are rich and moist, and the frosting adds just the right amount of sweetness without being overpowering. Mini chocolate chips can be substituted for the nuts if you want to take it to the next level, but we prefer pecans (or walnuts).

PUMPKIN BARS WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

For the bars:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (or mini chocolate chips)

For the frosting:

  • 3 oz. softened cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup softened butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a large bowl, blend together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, then add sugar, vegetable oil, and pumpkin stirring until well mixed. Add pecans (or walnuts or chips). Pour into a well-greased 10″ x 15″ x 1″ (jelly roll) pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly golden and set. Cool and frost.

To make the frosting: Beat cream cheese and butter together until fluffy; add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat on high speed until smooth. Frost when bars are completely cooled. Makes 32 bars.