Happy Anniversary To Us!

Brett and I celebrated our 42nd anniversary this past Monday. In the past we’ve usually gone out to dinner to celebrate, but this year we ended up doing something different that gave us more for the same amount of spending. 

We had originally thought we’d have dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant, but we turned out to be nervous about dining in, especially with the return of visitors to the island and cases of the virus already starting to climb again. Also, we knew the restaurant would be expensive, and we just weren’t as keen as we thought on spending so much for one meal.

However, the idea of someone else doing the meal prep and cleanup continued to appeal to us and we came up with the idea of giving ourselves a Day of No Cooking. We wanted to challenge ourselves to keep the cost of a full day of restaurant meals the same or less than what we would have spent for one meal at a fancy restaurant. We knew there were plenty of affordable restaurants offering good food, outdoor dining or socially distanced seating, and enhanced cleaning in our area that could make our plan work.

Here’s how the Day of No Cooking went:

The first stop of the day was for breakfast at the nearby Kalaheo Cafe. They offer both socially-distanced indoor or outdoor dining, and we chose an semi-isolated indoor table by an open window. We each had a cup of coffee, and shared an order of kalua pork Eggs Benedict. I am not sure how anyone finishes a full order of this – one half of it (and no hash browns – Brett got those) and I was stuffed! It was very, very delicious though and a wonderful start to our day. The pastries on offer were very tempting as well but we managed to leave without eating or buying one.

We had planned to head to Hanapepe after breakfast to explore the Habitat for Humanity thrift & rebuilding store as well as drop off some clothes, but we sadly discovered it was closed on Mondays. We don’t need or want anything but have always wanted to check out this big store. Our upstairs neighbor furnished over half of his apartment with some very nice things from this place, and we’ve heard other good things about it from others. We ended up going back home for a while with a decision to visit later this week.

It was pouring rain by the time we started down to Hanapepe Old Town for our lunch at Japanese Grandma’s Cafe. We had heard good things about this restaurant, and had wanted to eat there since before we left the island in 2018. We figured lunch would be less expensive than dinner, and we were not disappointed. I had originally planned to order tenzaru (tempura shrimp and vegetables with cold soba noodles) but the calorie load for that meal is outrageous, so instead ordered hayayako (chilled tofu) and vegetable futamaki (sushi). Brett ordered a tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) bowl topped with a soy-ginger sauce and a nice salad. Even though it was raining it was still warm enough to eat outside (under cover). Our waitress surprised us with a very tasty slice of house made matcha cheesecake to help celebrate our anniversary!

One taco al pastor for each of us.

Plans for the day had included a late afternoon walk at Kukuiolono and then picking up takeout for dinner from Paco’s Tacos up at the park clubhouse. A continuing downpour kept us from walking, but we still wanted those tacos! Brett somehow also included beans and rice when he placed the order so he had those as well, and we enjoyed our delicious tacos with some added cilantro, onion, and a few tomatoes and along with a couple of celebratory gin & tonics.

The day was supposed to end with scoops of Lappert’s ice cream, but when it was time for dessert neither of us wanted to go back out in the rain, and we also really didn’t want another dessert. We had eaten enough.

The total cost for our three meals ($88, including tips) was slightly less than we would have spent for dinner and drinks at the restaurant, and our time together was priceless. The total number of dishes that had to be washed in the evening was six: morning coffee cups, glasses for the G&Ts, and the plates for our tacos. We had such a good time that we decided to make a Day of No Cooking our annual anniversary event, no matter where we are in the world at the end of every March!

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (3/21 – 3/27)

We currently budget $400/month for food shopping (it was a little over $500 when YaYu was with us). That’s for everything though, including paper products (except for toilet paper, which we buy separately from Amazon by the case), once-a-week farmers’ market visits, and health-related items outside of prescriptions. $400 is not very much when you’re living on Kaua’i, but we’ve worked out a twice-a-month shopping system and have so far managed to stay just under that amount every month. We use shopping hacks learned when we lived here before, and stagger purchases of proteins and bulk items from Costco. When we arrived back in 2014, our food budget started at $1000/month (!!!) as we figured things out, but it didn’t take long to get that down to under $600/month for four of us, and it stayed there as long as the girls were with us. Although prices are going up every week it seems, $400/month works now for just the two of us. We also budget extra at the beginning of the year to stock up on items like toothpaste, deodorant, and other toiletries so we don’t have to include them in our monthly shopping, at least not for several months.

Creating varied, healthy meals on a tight budget has been a long-time effort for me, especially when I was trying to feed a family of five. It remains a challenge now to create meals for Brett and myself that don’t break our monthly food budget but are nutritious and not loaded with calories. We’re committed to this budget as less spent on food each month means more for our travel fund and other things. It’s a constant balancing act though between wants and needs.

We shop at five different stores on the island:

  1. Costco: We spend the most of our budget at Costco, where we buy items we use frequently. We also buy the majority of our protein there, usually two or three different items every two weeks. While Costco prices are slightly higher here than they are on the mainland, we would not be able to maintain our budget if Costco wasn’t here. Buying a few high-frequency products in bulk means we always have a variety of food on hand to create meals. Once of the biggest constraints on our Costco shopping is that we don’t have the space in our apartment to store much, but we stagger our purchases so that there’s usually a good variety of items on hand.
  2. Walmart: I had never set foot in a Walmart until we moved here, but it’s become a big part of keeping our food costs down. Walmart is where we get the items we don’t need or want in bulk, like rice, flour or sugar, or things like sauces or canned vegetables and some dairy. The prices at Walmart are very low compared to any place else on the island. They have an awesome Asian food section, Hawaii-grown vegetables (like green peppers or onions, which can be hard to find at the farmers’ market), and it’s a great place to find niche ingredients at a lower price. I also prefer some of their store brands over name-brand because they don’t contain things like high fructose corn syrup, thickeners, or other additives. Who knew? Although I have nothing to compare it with, I’ve been told more than once that the vibe at our Walmart is very different from any on the mainland.
  3. Local grocery store: Big Save, Times, and Safeway are our go-to markets, although we prefer the first two (both locally owned by the same company). We shop at these markets for milk (1/2 gallon every other week), a few produce items now and again that we can’t get at the farmers’ market or Walmart, and for the very few items we can’t find at Costco or Walmart, like arborio rice for example.
  4. Farmers’ market: We are blessed to have such great markets operating year round, and with the produce so affordably priced. We budget $15/week at the market, and can bring home quite a bit for that.
  5. Amazon: I bought a lot more through Amazon when we lived here before, but the only three items we buy now are toilet paper, Pacific Foods roasted pepper and tomato soup, and Thai Kitchen pad Thai kits. The toilet paper and soup are delivered by subscription, and I only buy the pad Thai mix when I can’t locate it here.

Before we shop I go through our pantry, fridge, and freezer to see what we have on hand, and then make a menu before I make the shopping list. We always take something off the list before we shop, and then try to figure one or two things we don’t need or can do without while we’re shopping. So far it’s all working to keep us on track with our budget.

Here’s what we ate for dinner this past week:

We had everything on hand to make this dish for less than $5.00.

Sunday: Tom Colicchio’s one pan pasta with ham and broccoli; pumpkin cake

Store bought but still delicious.

Monday: Spinach and cheddar quiche; pumpkin cake

My fried rice doesn’t hold a candle to YaYu’s.

Tuesday: Ham fried rice; pumpkin cake

We weren’t sure if the salad and sausages would go well together, but it was a very good meal!

Wednesday: Grilled chicken & apple sausages; guacamole salad; rum cake

Lots of green onions contrasted nicely with the sort of-sweet chicken sausage – it was a very good pizza!

Thursday: Mini pizzas with leftover chicken sausage and green onions; rum cake

A very satisfying meal, and no need (or room for) for dessert!

Friday: Breakfast for dinner (pancakes with lilikoi curd, sausages, and papaya)

The red pepper sauce was low cost and super easy to prepare – we will be having this again!

Saturday: Cheese tortellini with creamy red pepper sauce; green beans; rum cake

Here’s what’s planned for next week, in no particular order:

  • Chicken pad thai
  • Egg foo yung with bean sprouts; egg drop soup
  • Grilled Polish sausages in a bun; coleslaw
  • CookDo pork & pepper stir fry
  • Chicken adobo with bok choy
  • Mini pizzas with roasted peppers and sausage
  • Anniversary dining out

Rum cake will be our dessert all week.

Last week was a great one for walking. After so much rain, wind, and generally lousy weather for the past few weeks, this past one gave us two absolutely gorgeous days on Monday and Tuesday, with bright blue skies, soft breezes, and low humidity. We did our regular walk on Sunday although it was sketchy the entire time, but on Monday we went up to the park later than usual and were able to walk the perimeter of the golf course for a nice change of pace. We had debated not going because Monday way our day off but because the weather was so nice we couldn’t resist. On Tuesday the weather was if anything even better, and since it had been dry for a couple of days we headed back onto the trails through the woods, something we’d been missing. Both day’s walks were nearly five miles. Rain was predicted for Wednesday, but never showed up. However, my hay fever did show up and made me miserable, so I ended up taking the day off while Brett walked on his own. Thursday was once again gloomy, but we got in a shorter walk between showers, and Friday and Saturday were both lovely again and cool, and we did long walks each day.

We had hoped to be able to add another half mile or so to our distance this month, but it became pretty obvious toward the end of the month that was not going to happen. With all the weather-related interruptions there have been we feel grateful we didn’t lose ground, and were able to maintain our current pace and distance.

According to TikTok, because I can put my palms on my shoulders I am either intensely flexible or a freak of nature.

The doctor was very pleased with my weight the other day – 32 pounds gone since I was weighed at the doctors’ office last June. He said the walking is helping to combat osteoporosis in my hips as are the strength training exercises for my upper body. Maybe those upper body strength exercises are providing more benefits than I realized though because I have no trouble putting my palms up on my shoulders. I am pretty flexible overall (can bend over and put my palms on the floor without bending my knees, for example) but the shoulder one surprised me.

Sunday Morning 3/28/2021: Sunny Days

In spite of better weather this week, there were only pastels one evening when it came to sunsets.

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

I dislike the new editor and that I didn’t get any warning it was coming.

I was dropped into Blogging Hell this past week. When I opened up the blog on Wednesday morning to do some writing, I discovered that WordPress had done away with the classic editor once again, and this time there seemed to be no easy way to get back to it – absolutely nothing worked, even the little classic editor button they provided. Also, everything I had been working on and saved was gone except for the first paragraph of each post and could not be restored (including backups). I eventually figured out that preview mode actually worked this time around so I was able to copy and paste from there and eventually got things recreated into the new editor. This took a l-o-n-g time though as I had been working on several posts. There is a classic editor button, but it’s connected to the new editor in a weird way that I haven’t quite figured out how to use it yet. Anyway, if pictures are out of alignment or there’s weird spacing for a while, that’s what’s going on. And, thanks for nothing, WordPress.

The view while I sipped my coffee on Tuesday morning – pure bliss!

After weeks of depressing rain, high winds, and generally lousy weather, we have had some very nice days this past week, enough to renew my hopes for better days ahead. Monday and Tuesday’s weather was absolutely perfect, and although we were supposed to see the return of rain and wind on Wednesday it never appeared, and we had another nice day before gloomy weather returned on Thursday. The warm weather apparently stirred things up though and I was laid low on Wednesday by allergies (sore throat, stuffy head, runny nose, watery eyes). Also, when I went to bed on Tuesday night I kept hearing water running outside and it took me a while to realize that because wind wasn’t roaring through the yard I could once again hear the water moving through the koi pond that sits outside our bedroom window. It had been so long since I heard it that I’d forgotten it was there.

While spring brings new blossoms to our yard . . .

. . . it also brought the return of things we’d rather not have in our home (props to Brett for getting this monster – easily four inches across – back outside where he belongs).

My new/old doctor was very happy with my overall general health, weight, and all when I saw him last week, but is still a bit concerned about my ongoing stomach issues so I’ve been scheduled for a consult with a gastroenterologist in early May. The issues are nowhere near as bad as they were earlier, but the fact that they continue to linger is something he feels needs to be looked at. All that may be needed is doing something as simple as changing my medication, but he wants to hear from the gastroenterologist before going forward. Otherwise all is very, very well!

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I downloaded and read Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories and finished it this past week. I’m now reading (and almost done with) the second book in the series, One Good Turn. I will be ending March four books ahead (maybe five) of where I need to be to reach my goal of reading 52 books this year.
  • Listening to: I can’t really hear anything outside right now because Brett is making so much noise in the kitchen as he puts away the dishes (I had to use quite a few to make last night’s dinner)! It’s very windy outside once again, and all the trees being blown around, but at least it’s not raining like it was last night and earlier this morning. The coffee will soon be ready though, and Brett will be done putting away the dishes, and quiet will return, at least inside anyway.
  • Watching: We finished watching The Sinner last Monday evening, and started watching Wandavision the next day. It took us a few days to get into it, but now we’re hooked. I’m still watching the Olympic year episodes on Great British Menu, and have gotten through the teams from Scotland, Central Region, Northern Island, and the NW, and just got started with London and the SE, with Wales and the SW regions still to go before the finals. Some of the cooking this season hasn’t been as good as it seemed to be (in my opinion) during the first season I watched although some of it has been amazing. There was a bit of drama when a chef walked off the set and swore at the judge when he got a low score, and I’m also finding myself getting emotional from time to time when my preferred chef doesn’t win.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Brett and I drove up to Kilauea on Thursday for back-to-back appointments with our former physician and got prescriptions renewed and other things taken care of. We liked seeing him when we were here before, and decided the occasional drive up to the north side every few months was worth it to have him as our doctor again. We got started on a possible itinerary for the next Big Adventure by creating a list of places we haven’t visited yet and places we’d like to see again, but it’s going to be a while before that is firmed up. Otherwise I spent way too much time getting up to speed with the new blog editor.
  • Looking forward to next week: Brett and I will celebrate our 42nd anniversary this coming week and we have planned an affordable “day of no cooking” to celebrate the occasion. Brett also will get his second dose of the vaccine this week, and will have his pre-op meetings with the surgeon and anesthesiologist. We will also do another food shop following that appointment.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: After our visits with the doctor on Thursday, we drove over to the Kilauea National Wildlife Preserve and walked out to see the lighthouse and views. We spotted two small whales frolicking right off the point, very exciting because we definitely were not expecting to see any whales this time of year. We had a couple of days of absolutely perfect weather at the beginning of the week, absolutely glorious and much appreciated. Because we walked on Monday, our usual day off, we were able to see a fellow walker and friend that hadn’t been up at the park in a while. She has changed to swimming at the YMCA everyday instead of walking but had decided to go back to the park that day, and we had a great time catching up. We (and all the other regular walkers that know and love her) asked her not to stay away so long again! The State Department finally cashed my check this week so they are now officially processing my passport – yeah! I rearranged a few things in the living room yesterday and can’t believe how less cluttered the room looks, especially since all that got taken out of the room were two houseplants that weren’t doing very well.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We used our National Park Senior Pass to get into the Wildlife Refuge at no cost. I bought two pairs of cropped denim pants from L.L. Bean this week – my old ones are completely too big now – because the L.L. Bean ones finally went on sale. My purchase earned $10 off a future purchase, which I plan to use to get something for Brett that he can use on our travels. Other than that purchase, and a trip to the farmers’ market, it was another no-spend week. We put $3.50 into the change/$1 bill bag, left over from the farmers’ market. I earned 1,934 Swagbucks and I am now over halfway toward earning another $500 Delta gift card. We also did all the other frugal, no waste things we usually do.
  • Grateful for: I’m very thankful for the better weather that showed up this week. All the rain, wind, and gloom was starting to get to me.
  • Bonus question: Do you have other allergies besides hay fever? Yes, although hay fever (can I call it hay fever here when there’s no hay?) only recently showed up – I was never bothered by plants, pollen, etc. at all when I was younger. I have always thought of myself as allergy free, but I am allergic to sulfa drugs. I have also had allergic reactions to red wine, but it’s never been consistent, and I drank red wine in France with no problems. Same with perfumes – I’ve had a reaction (rash and hives) to some but not others. Those reactions have caused me to go to the emergency room a couple of times with fast-spreading, full-body rashes but I’ve never figured out what actually caused the reactions. With wine, doctors think it might have something to do with the level of tannins in the wine. At first it was assumed to be sulfites that were causing the problem, but there are sulfites in white wines and I’ve never had a reaction when I drink them. Anyway, I only drink white wine these days (except in France) and don’t wear perfume just to be safe. Finally, I am not actually allergic to most lettuces, but I do have an intolerance to many of them and get a bad gastric reaction whenever I’ve tried to eat them. Romaine, endive, and arugula are the worst, butter lettuce at the other end of bad with everything else in the middle. Iceberg lettuce is OK though, and a wedge salad is my favorite for good reason!

You may have noticed there are now ads popping up on the blog. For the past couple of weeks I had been thinking about whether or not the time had come to monetize this blog and allow ads to appear in order to earn some income for our travel savings. The number of daily viewers coming to the blog has grown quite a bit over the past year, and I decided this was finally the time to take the leap and allow some ads. I don’t think I’m going to earn any great amount of money, but every little bit adds up.

During his solo walk on Wednesday, Brett snapped some pictures of some of the flowers he encountered in the woods. He is always entranced with the tiny ones.

What a week this has been, with everything it seems from the sublime to the ridiculous. Still, there was good weather, good books, several good things happened, and we have another week to look forward to. Here’s to it being a good one!

Home Cooking: Sweet & Sour Pork (Subuta)

One of our favorite things to eat when we’re visiting Japan is sweet & sour pork, called subuta (su = vinegar, buta = pork). We’ll often order it if we’re eating out at a Chinese restaurant there (Chinese food in Japan is affordable, authentic, and very, very good) but I can also easily make it myself using CookDo – it’s one of the over 60 varieties of sauces the brand offers.

We can buy a few varieties of CookDo sauces here on Kaua’i but subuta is not one of them. A while ago, when we had a craving for subuta, I went to a favorite website for Japanese dishes, Japanese Cooking 101, and was frankly surprised to see how easy it was to make authentic subuta from scratch. While the author deep fries the pork (coated with potato starch) in her recipe, I found it was very easy to adapt and stir fry the ingredients instead, which we prefer, and which is faster and less messy. The result is a very flavorful dish that doesn’t contain a whole lot of fat or calories overall.

Subuta doesn’t require special ingredients, or take a lot of time to pull together. The sauce is primarily made from pantry staples, with all the ingredients easy to find and inexpensive. In my opinion, Japanese sweet & sour tends a bit more to the sour side than what is typical for the U.S., but the Japanese do not prefer the amount of sweetness that’s found in American foods or recipes, and I’m guessing the sugar could be increased slightly or the vinegar reduced if a little more sweetness is desired. Pineapple chunks can also be added at the end, right before serving, which would bring more sweetness. There’s also no reason tofu couldn’t be substituted for the pork if you don’t eat meat.

When I made subuta a couple of weeks ago the whole process took around a half hour:

Preparing the vegetables

Cutting pork into cubes

Starting the sauce. It had something of a dull, thin look, but as it slowly heated it will turned thick and glossy.

Sautéing the pork in a large skillet until pieces are browned on all sides.

Cooking the vegetables until crisp-tender, then adding back in the pork.

Finally, mixing the pork and vegetables into the thickened sauce

JAPANESE SWEET & SOUR PORK (Subuta)

  • 2 TBSP vegetable oil, divided
  • 12 ounces lean pork
  • 1/2 large onion
  • 1 green pepper
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 TBSP soy sauce
  • 2 TBSP ketchup
  • 3 TBSP sugar
  • 4 TBSP rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp dark sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 TBSP cornstarch

Cut the pork into 1.5″ – 2″ pieces. Cut the green pepper and onion into 1.5″ – 2″ inch pieces, and the carrots into 1-inch pieces.

In a medium saucepan, blend together the soy sauce, ketchup, sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, and water. Put the cornstarch into a small bowl, add some of the sauce mix into the cornstarch until blended, then add the cornstarch mixture back to the rest of the sauce (if you try to add the cornstarch to the sauce mix it will create lumps). Heat the sauce on low, stirring frequently, until it turns thick and glossy.

Heat a large skillet on high, add 1 TBSP of the vegetable oil, and saute the pork pieces until browned on all sides. Set the pork aside, and wipe out the pan.

Add the second TBSP of vegetable oil to the pan, and stir-fry the carrot pieces for 1-2 minutes before adding the pepper and onion. Continue stir-frying until the vegetables are crisp-tender.

Add the pork back to the skillet, and fry for another 1-2 minutes. Turn off skillet and mix the pork and vegetables into the sauce; stir until everything is well coated. Serve immediately with hot steamed rice.

Let the Adventure Begin . . . Again

. . . again.

For the past few weeks, as Brett and I have researched and discussed options for our future, a few things became clear:

  • We do not want to own a house again. We came to realize what we liked was the idea of owning a house, but actually have no enthusiasm or real desire for taking on the reality of home ownership again.
  • We are also unenthusiastic about car ownership. Again, we like the idea of buying a new car but are less than excited by the reality of car ownership.
  • We do not want to accumulate a bunch of stuff again, which is exactly what we could see happening if we bought a house.
  • We could easily imagine ourselves feeling restless, unhappy and possibly even miserable if we permanently located in one place.

Over the past few weeks we researched living in New England, and other places on the east coast, to be nearer our daughters. We then went across the U.S., state by state, and asked ourselves if any place there appealed to us. Although some areas ticked off many of the criteria on the list we had made, no place sparked any joy whatsoever. We examined and evaluated all of our options and outcomes for staying on Kaua’i, from best- to worst-case scenarios and got nowhere with that. For a few days we got excited about possibly relocating overseas. We looked into moving to Strasbourg or Bordeaux in France, or to Florence in Italy, but after an initial burst of enthusiasm and looking at the realities of having to obtain visas, learn a new language, set up housekeeping in a foreign location and all that goes along with that, it became a non-starter as well.

Feeling very discouraged at one point last week, I sighed and said, “I miss our nomadic life. Maybe we could just go back to that.”

And that was the spark for both of us.

Although travel days were hard, during the time we were traveling full time we were involved in new places, learning new things, meeting new people, and seeing and experiencing locations we had only dreamed about before. We were happy, never bored, we lived the way we wanted, and we were still able to see and connect with family, much more in actuality than we can now on Kaua’i. Brett and I enjoyed each other’s company to the fullest and we enjoyed working as a team.

We know we have a few more good years in us. We continue to be in good health and good physical shape, and agree we want to use this time to our advantage. Settling down is something that can wait for a few more years.

We have decided to once again become full-time nomads beginning in the spring of 2023. We don’t feel that international travel is a good idea for the rest of this year, vaccines or no, and we already have commitments for 2022, and would also like to see how things shake out COVID-wise in that year, to decide if traveling will be safe or whether it makes more sense move to some kind of Plan B. We need time to rebuild our savings, and much planning needs to take place before we could travel full-time again. We learned a great deal during our previous time as nomads, but would like to do an even better job of it the next time around. There are logistics to be figured out, an itinerary to plan, a budget to be set up, and decisions to be made about our remaining stuff, and lots more on top of that. One more seeming small but important part of waiting until 2023 is that both of our driver’s licenses expire in early 2023, and we want and need to renew them so that we can continue to rent cars overseas as necessary or desired.

We have already made a few decisions that will drive our planning going forward. We want to do at least one long stay (90 days) in Japan every year, and otherwise spend at least 30 days in a location as we do not want to move around as frequently as we did before. We both want to travel once again with just one checked suitcase each along with our rolling carry-ons. While we have a few ideas of places we’d like to go this time, an itinerary is still very nebulous and won’t be firmed up until later. There are places we want to revisit, but loads of places we didn’t get to last time and we want to balance those two things.

We’ve presented our decision to our kids and every one of them was and is excited for us. There will be much to do before we leave, but based on past experience we know the time will pass somewhat quickly. In the meantime, we will enjoy our time on Kaua’i to the fullest and continue to work at staying healthy and getting ourselves in even better shape than we are now.

I hope you’ll stay along for the ride as we plan and get ready for our Big Adventure, Part Deux!

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (3/14 – 3/20)

“I get up in the morning because there will be coffee” is a guiding principle in my life.

As this week is our one-year anniversary of returning to Kaua’i, I’ve been reflecting on all the positive changes I’ve made this past year for my health. I exercise more, I eat less, I’ve given up Diet Coke (still miss it now and again though), and changed my coffee drinking habits. 

I love coffee. I’ve been drinking it since I was around five years old. My grandmother took a coffee break almost every afternoon, and when I was over at her house she would make me my own little pot of coffee (with more milk and sugar than coffee), and we would sit in her breakfast room and chat while we sipped from our cups. My mom also drank heavily sugared coffee with lots of milk, and was notorious for leaving half-finished cups around the house – I would also take sips from those whenever I could. As I grew older I ditched the sugar, and then the milk, and by the time I finished high school I was drinking my coffee black which is how I prefer it now. I am hooked – I can think of a hundred things that would be easier for me to give up than coffee.

A year ago I was drinking four or more cups of coffee per day, mostly half-caffeinated. Last year my new doctor here suggested I cut back to just one cup a day, and I did . . . for a while. A few months ago I added back a second cup in the morning and am finding that’s the perfect amount for the day although I occasionally also have a cup of fully decaffeinated coffee in the afternoon. One cup a day was just not enough for this girl but I don’t need four cups any more.

Hawaiian comfort food

Sunday: Loco moco; cucumber spears; pumpkin cake with whipped coconut cream

A half-cup of pasta, half cup of sauce; and some grated Parmesan = perfect.

Monday: Spaghetti with meat sauce; pumpkin cake with whipped coconut cream

The rosemary in this dish comes from our yard!

Tuesday: Chicken risotto; roasted vegetables; pumpkin cake with whipped coconut cream

A perfect meal on an evening when I didn’t feel like cooking.

Wednesday: Roasted red pepper & tomato soup; ham sandwich; pumpkin cake 

Mabo nasu is mabo tofu with eggplant instead of tofu.

Thursday: CookDo mabo nasu with steamed rice; pumpkin cake

No pineapple allowed.

Friday: Ham & green pepper mini pizzas; pumpkin cake

The “Mexican” coleslaw was dressed with olive oil, lime juice, pepper, salt, and chili powder.

Saturday: Chili pork burritos; coleslaw; pumpkin cake

On the menu for next week’s dinners are:

  • Guacamole salad and grilled chicken sausages
  • Cheese tortellini with roasted red pepper sauce
  • Broccoli quiche
  • Ham fried rice
  • Tom Colicchio’s one-pan pasta with ham and broccoli
  • Breakfast for dinner (sausages, pancakes, and fruit)
  • Mini pizzas

Mid-week I’ll be making a Bacardi rum cake for our dessert.

It’s been another very irregular, and at times difficult week for walking. We took our regular day off last Monday (the weather was sketchy anyway), Tuesday was literally a washout, but Wednesday was lovely and cool and we walked nearly five miles. Thursday we were back to blustery and wet throughout the day, but things cleared up enough in the afternoon for us to walk nearly five miles again. The wind was ferocious though – at times it felt like we were either being pushed down the path or were walking in place and getting nowhere depending on which direction we were headed. Friday looked OK, but rain started shortly after we arrived and forced us to stop after walking only around a mile. Saturday was very windy again, but otherwise seemed OK until the rain started 10 minutes before the end of a nearly five-mile walk – we were pretty wet by the time we made it back to the car. Yesterday was beautiful again and we got in one more long walk for the week. To say we are looking forward to some consistent good weather at this point would be an understatement! 

There were rainbows almost every day this past week.

One of the benefits of the current awful weather we’ve been having though is that there’s been a rainbow almost every day, either over by our house or up at the park. I don’t think I will ever get tired of seeing rainbows, especially not the big, beautiful full arches that appear here. They never fail to take my breath away.

My upper right arm was quite sore from the vaccine for a couple of days, but I did my strength training without the weights and got through it, and was able to use the weights on Thursday. I have a much better idea now of which muscles are being worked on with each exercise!

Sunday Morning 3/21/2021: Good Week, Bad Week

We had a somewhat pretty sunset on Monday evening, and another evening with a pretty afterglow, but otherwise it was nothing but gray clouds all week.

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

I was a giddy as a child going to Disneyland for the first time as I waited for my turn to be vaccinated last Monday. The staff at the hospital was wonderful, everything moved along swiftly even though there were lots of people in line for the vaccine, and it didn’t hurt. Well, it didn’t hurt when I got the shot. However, by Monday evening my arm was sore, and I had trouble going to sleep because of that. Tuesday it was downright painful. We did our shopping on Tuesday and I’ve never felt so grateful for Brett’s help. I could push the cart along, but that was about it – he did all the heavy lifting otherwise. By Wednesday morning though the pain was gone although I had a runny nose and a bit of a sore throat, but that was due more to the weather we’ve been having than anything else, and was gone by Thursday. I will get my second dose on April 5.

It’s going to be a few weeks before we see our stimulus money – it was sent to our bank for direct deposit, but the bank screwed something up and THOUSANDS of accounts had their direct stimulus deposits rejected and sent back to the IRS, ours included. Some people only had half of their stimulus deposited, some were told the deposit was pending but it never showed up. Brett spent nearly an hour on hold waiting to talk to the bank on Thursday to try to find out what was going on and we knew something was up then because we usually get right through. The customer service rep wouldn’t tell him what exactly was wrong either other than it was something to do with our account number, and we learned later customers were getting all sorts of different reasons for the screw up (while others got their money with no problems). We haven’t changed anything with our account, there were no issues getting the last two stimulus payments or any previous refunds from the IRS, but for some reason this time it wasn’t going to happen. Anyway, the IRS has informed us a paper check will be mailed to us at the end of this week, so we’re hopeful we’ll get it within the next few weeks. Brett and I don’t need the money now, but it sure would be nice to have it sitting in our savings account.

On a brighter note, Brett and I have made a decision about our future plans! We realized this past week that none of the places we were looking at were sparking any joy whatsoever even though they met many of the criteria we had set. The whole experience was becoming very depressing, to be honest. But we eventually came up with an idea that not only met a few of our wants but also gives us great joy and excitement. All will be revealed soon!

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished Now You See Me in just three days – I could not put it down – and then planned to get through Interior Chinatown in a few days as well, but yet another book came off of hold on Monday: The Woman In Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware. It was another page-turner, and I finished it before the end of the week. I finished Interior Chinatown on Friday(which turned out to have a murder in the story that had to be solved but was the not the central focus of the book), and then dedicated myself to The Woman In White and finished it yesterday. I will be spending part of the afternoon today finding new things to read at the library.
  • Listening to: The wind is blowing loudly outside again but at least it’s not as loud as it has been this past week. The wind has been intense. There’s also some blue sky out there as well for a change. We’ve gone to bed every night listening to the wind blowing and rain falling and dripping off the house, and it’s beginning to get to us – we’re getting anxious for some quiet. And it’s been cold! Except for the noise from outside it’s quiet inside – Brett’s working on his bookkeeping and our upstairs neighbor isn’t moving around too much.
  • Watching: We’re finishing up the last season of The Sinner, and it’s just as compelling as the first two seasons but very weird this time. We still wish there were more seasons to watch! Bill Pullman is the star and he has been great in his role as the older police detective. I’m now watching the third season available of the Great British Menu (the second season was unavailable for some reason). My least favorite chef from the previous season was advanced to the final, but so was my favorite chef, who did not make it to the final in the first season I watched. He’s also the first chef so far to be awarded a perfect score for one of his dishes. The theme for this season is “the Olympics” as it was filmed in 2012, when London hosted the them. I’m so glad I discovered this series!
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Getting my first dose of the vaccine was #1. Coming to a decision on our future plans was also a big accomplishment, and we’re very happy about it. There is lots to do going forward, but at least we now know what we’re working toward.
  • Looking forward to next week: Better weather? Is that too much to ask? Please?
    The little jade plant that could.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: 1) Padma Lakshmi – PADMA LAKSHMI! – liked a tweet of mine this past week. I respect her so much, so this was like reaching the top of the mountain for me. 2) We learned the income tax deadline has been extended until May 17, a good thing as we have to pay taxes this year and we like to hold onto our money for as long as possible before we send it off. 3) We also learned that Bob Lowry (Satisfying Retirement) and his wife will be coming to Kaua’i this fall! We are looking forward to finally meeting them and have been planning a couple of outings with them that we can do together. 4) A small thing, but early in the week I pinched back a jade plant that was getting leggy, stuck the piece I took off into the dirt, and crossed my fingers . . . and it has taken hold! 

This past week’s food shop: Everything in the two carts for just under $225 – not bad!

  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We managed to stay under budget by a few dollars this week when we did our food shopping, and other than that trip and the farmers’ market we had another no-spend week. We had taken a few things off our shopping list before we started out, but also decided not to buy a couple of things while we were at the stores because of the price (like parchment paper, which is now nearly $8 for a roll at Walmart. At that price I can figure out a workaround). We put $7.34 into the change/$1 bill bag this week, I earned 2,024 Swagbucks, we ate all the leftovers, and I did have to throw out a few mushy green onions that had gotten buried under everything else in the produce drawer but thankfully nothing else.
  • Grateful for: I’ve been feeling very grateful this week for every thing we have and the realization that we neither want nor need more. Enough is a very good feeling.
  • Bonus question: What’s your greatest fear? I am very afraid of heights. My legs will literally stop working if I climb too high, like on a ladder. I hate going up above the eighth floor in any building. I learned a few years ago people fear heights for two reasons: fear of falling or fear of jumping. I have a little of both, depending on the situation. I get very anxious watching people approach things like the edge of a cliff (I can barely get close), especially children, afraid they might fall while at the same time wondering what it might feel like to fall through the air. I’ve thought about doing a bungee jump just to get that urge out of my head once and for all, but not sure my legs would get me out to the place to do the jump. I also have great fears of something happening to my children, but I keep that those pushed well into the back of my brain.

This Tuesday marks the one year anniversary of our return to Kaua’i. The whole experience of Japan shutting down, our abrupt departure from Japan with empty airports and planes on the way back; getting YaYu over here when her college closed, and setting up a household again with everything shut down on the island almost seems like a (bad) dream now, but we got through it, got ourselves settled again, and have been happy that we came back to the island. It’s been a very safe place for us to be and given us the chance to reevaluate our lives and goals as well as get in shape again.

Big yellow hibiscus always make me happy.

We have accepted that normal we knew before is not coming back, but we have hopes that we will be able to carve out a new normal that allows us to travel and see our family now and again. We didn’t see a lot of flowers this week, but the hibiscus at the Kukui’ula Marketplace are in bloom again and a bush full of the yellow beauty above (the Hawaii state flower) was right in front of our car on Wednesday to go along with the blue skies.

That’s a wrap for this week! Lots got done, some things didn’t, and it was a mix of good and bad. But no sense dwelling in what was – here’s a great week coming up!

Home Cooking: Pumpkin Cake with Coconut Milk Whipped Cream

I had planned to make a Bacardi rum cake last week, but a couple of days before baking day I realized I had forgotten to pick up the cake mix and instant pudding necessary for the recipe. We love our little bit of dessert after dinner, but I didn’t want to run to the store for just those two items, so decided to check the pantry and see what I could rustle up instead. I discovered two items of interest: a can of pumpkin puree, and a can of coconut milk, and decided to find out if there was some way I could use those.

I thought about making pumpkin bread, but did a quick search for pumpkin cake and found a recipe on the Sally’s Baking Addiction site claiming to be the “best pumpkin cake ever.” I’ve had good luck with recipes from this site, and we had all the pantry staples on hand to make it. The cake went together quickly, and honestly is as good as the website calls it. It’s very moist, very flavorful, and very easy to make. Raisins or chopped nuts would have made a nice addition but we had no raisins and I’ll need the chopped nuts for the Bacardi cake.

We did not have the ingredients to make the cream cheese frosting the recipe recommends. However, I remembered that a whipped cream substitute could be made from coconut milk, and figured this was the time to give it a try. It turned out to be very, very easy to make (only three ingredients) and once again everything needed was on hand in the pantry. The result is very close to whipped cream, although there is a very slight coconut taste to it and it has a slightly different mouth feel than dairy whipped cream. It also has more calories than dairy whipped cream, but it’s a great substitute (it’s also vegan).

In the end we ended up with a wonderful, low-cost dessert that was easy to make and used up items we had on hand. I have picked up a cake mix and box of instant pudding since then, so when the yummy pumpkin cake is finished I’m ready to make the Bacardi rum cake for our next dessert!

In a large mixing bowl, beat together oil, eggs, vanilla, and pumpkin puree until creamy.

Mix in the brown and white sugars and beat until well blended.

In another large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices.

Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and beat on medium speed until they are well mixed – the batter will be thick.

Pour the batter into a well-oiled 9″ x 13″ baking pan. The cake can also be baked in a Bundt pan.

Bake for 30-36 minutes at 350°, or until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely if you will add frosting.

To make the whipped coconut cream, remove the chilled coconut cream from a can of full-fat coconut milk that has been chilled for 18-24 hours and place into a chilled mixing bowl. (The small amount of leftover coconut water can be used in other dishes – Brett used it in his oatmeal, for example.)

Beat the coconut cream on medium high speed for 2-4 minutes, until soft peaks form. Gently add in the powdered sugar and vanilla extra.

Store uneaten whipped coconut cream in the refrigerator – it will hold its peaks, and actually tastes better the second day and onward.

PUMPKIN CAKE

  • 1 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  •  1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp each ground ginger, nutmeg, ground cloves, allspice OR 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 9″ x 13″ baking pan, or use non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices and set aside. In another bowl, blend together oil and eggs until creamy, then mix in sugars, pumpkin puree, and vanilla until smooth. 

Add liquid mixture in batches to the flour mixture and beat on medium speed until well blended. The batter will be thick. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30-36 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck into the middle comes out clean. Let the cake cook completely, and frost if desired.

CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

  • 8 ounces full-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar (addition 1/4 cup can be added, if needed)
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat softened cream cheese and butter together until creamy; add powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla. Mix on medium speed until blended, and then on high speed for two minutes, or until frosting is light and fluffy. Spread evenly on cooled cake.

WHIPPED COCONUT CREAM

  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk (do not use low fat!)
  • 1-3 TBSP powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Chill a can of coconut milk in the refrigerator for 18-24 hours ahead of when you want to make the whipped cream. It takes this long for the cream to congeal and separate from the coconut water.

About five minutes or so before making the whipped cream, chill the mixing bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer. A cold bowl and whisk will give you a better result.

Carefully open the can of cold coconut milk, and scoop out the congealed cream at the top of the can and put into the cold mixing bowl (the water at the bottom can be saved and used in smoothies or other dishes, if desired. There isn’t a whole lot of it left).

Beat the cold coconut milk for 2-4 minutes on a medium-high speed. The coconut milk will expand in volume and develop soft peaks, just like dairy cream does. Slowly add in powdered sugar to taste (I added 2 TBSP which was OK, but think I would go with 3 TBSP next time) followed by the vanilla extract. 

Serve the whipped cream immediately, and store leftovers in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Does It Spark Joy?

Before I began going through my cold weather travel clothes week before last, I told myself to go with Marie Kondo’s advice and ask myself with each piece of clothing or pair of shoes I tried on whether it sparked joy; that it, did it make me feel good and/or happy when I looked at it and thought of wearing it again. I admit to being surprised by a few items that I thought I liked but when I held and looked at them did not bring forth happy feelings or any desire to wear them again. I was equally surprised by a few items I thought would go into the discard pile that I actually loved because they now fit and look better in comparison to how they did in the past. The end result is a wardrobe that I can imagine wearing and enjoying in the future, and with enough variety that I can’t imagine needing more.

This whole “spark joy” exercise got me thinking that maybe Brett and I should apply the same tactic when we evaluate future plans and possible locations. While it’s easy to create list of things we would like to have in a possible location, if there is no feeling of joy or excitement when we think about living there, even a little, what’s the point? There’d be more than a good chance we would end up feeling miserable after not too long a time and wanting to move again. 

Hawaii, although it initially felt like an impossible dream, was a location that sparked joy in both of us back when we were discussing and evaluating retirement locations, as did locations along the Southern California coast that ultimately did not work out. The idea of doing a big travel adventure immediately brought joy to both of us, and when when we were drawing up the itinerary for our Big Adventure we dismissed locations that did not have some sort of an emotional element of excitement and wonder. We decided we weren’t interested in visiting places just to say we’d been there; we wanted to go places that spoke to our hearts and souls in some way. Japan has always been a location that brings us deep joy when visiting, a feeling that has only increased over the years. While we enjoyed every place we visited during our travels, there were definitely locations that brought more joy than others, some of them quite surprising in retrospect. There were others that didn’t as much as we had imagined they would.

So, we have added does it spark joy? to our list of criteria, and it may just be the most important of all. Kaua’i is definitely at the top of that list but unfortunately doesn’t meet many other of our criteria these days. We also noticed that a couple of other places we’d started to evaluate definitely didn’t spark any sort of joy and actually made us feel sort of miserable when we thought about living there. We just couldn’t imagine ourselves living those places or being happy there no matter the low cost of living or whatever other benefits they might provide.

I’m glad we have time to figure this all out, and to make the best decision for our future, one that will not only give us a location that meets most of our needs and wants, but bring us happiness and joy as well.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (3/7-3/13)

Our shopping list goes through many changes as I work through a menu plan for around two weeks. The first week’s menu is set when I shop; the second one not so much but will get pulled together later. At least two more items will be removed from the list before we shop.

I cannot remember a time when I didn’t menu plan. I have gone through periods when I planned menus for a whole month, but I’ve usually planned a week at a time. I even menu planned and shopped accordingly during our travels. I remember a co-worked being astonished that I planned our weekly meals; I was equally astonished that she didn’t. 

I admit however to not always being very good at it. In the past, I would plan, create a shopping list, and then still find myself stopping off at the store because I had forgotten to purchase a needed ingredient or supply. Of course those stops often meant I was also picking up other things that I really didn’t need. These days I am much, much better at planning. I check for proteins that we’ve got in the freezer, then go through my pantry and refrigerator to figure out what I can create from what we have on hand. The only thing that gets filled in between shopping trips are fruits and vegetables from our weekly visit to the farmers’ market. The goal is to create a menu that incorporates a variety of healthy, tasty, and satisfying meals including one without meat.

 
Sunday pot roast

Sunday: Mississippi Pot Roast; mashed potatoes; steamed green beans; olive oil orange cake

I added bok choy this time – it was delicious!

Monday: Chicken soup with vegetables and brown rice; olive oil orange cake

One of my top three sandwiches!

Tuesday: French dip sandwiches; mashed potatoes; coleslaw; olive oil orange cake

Subuta, served with rice, is gluten free. On its own it’s fairly low calorie too.

Wednesday: Subuta (sweet & sour pork) with steamed rice; olive oil orange cake

Cheeseburger in paradise.

Thursday: Cheeseburgers; olive oil orange cake

The roasted vegetables were red pepper, zucchini, and onion.

Friday: Roasted vegetable mini pizzas with pesto; pumpkin cake

Just four ingredients: grilled fresh fish, shredded cabbage, corn tortillas, and mango-peach salsa. Easy to put together, and very satisfying.

Saturday: Grilled fish tacos with peach-mango salsa; pumpkin cake

Next week’s menu, in no particular order:

  • Chili pork burritos
  • Mabo nasu
  • Spaghetti with meat sauce
  • Chicken risotto
  • Loco moco
  • Red pepper & tomato soup with ham sandwiches
  • Mini pizzas
Storm after storm after storm have rolled across the island this week.

Last week was a difficult one for walking. We did our regular walk last Sunday, then took our day off on Monday. On Tuesday we headed up to the park even though it was very overcast, and got in around a mile and a half before having to quit. Wednesday was stormy all day with high winds, thunder and lightening, and rain, rain, and more rain. It was still raining on Thursday morning, but the sun came out in the afternoon and it was actually somewhat hot and humid when it was time for our walk, a taste of the weather we’ll start to experience in only a few weeks. Friday’s weather was absolutely NUTS – I’ve never seen more rain fall in my life. Saturday was also miserable: wet, windy, and cold, but we caught a break late Sunday afternoon and were able to get in a 50 minute walk before the rain started up again. We knew to avoid the forest paths at the park because of the mud, but there was still plenty of mud out on some of the paths, and our route was a mess in many places. We’ve always known we’d probably get a week or more of rain this spring, but we’ve got our fingers crossed that this especially nasty round of weather doesn’t last much longer.

The sunshine that showed up this past Thursday was a real treat. We wish it had lasted longer.

I’ve still managed to lose another two pounds in the past weeks, so I think that’s four pounds gone out of the ten I want to lose this year. It was very motivating to go through my cold weather clothes last week and find that so many pieces of my former too-tight clothing now fit as they should. I still see a big girl when I look in the mirror, but the way my clothing fits now tells me that’s not true any more. Brett is also losing weight and finding his clothes growing loose. When he met with the surgeon last week he was weighed and we knew from the result that our home scale is very accurate – nice to know!