Easy Blueberry Galette

Next time I will spread the filling out a little more so the outer crust is not quite as wide.

I have no idea why I waited this long in life to make a galette because they are so easy to make, so delicious, and so simple. However, a month or so ago I needed to come up with a quick, easy dessert that didn’t require buying any additional ingredients, and I realized this was my chance to finally try making a galette. I had a package of Aldi piecrusts in the refrigerator, blueberries in the freezer, a lemon, an egg, and cornstarch – everything needed to create a delicious dessert.

A galette, the French open-faced pie, is the lazy girl’s way to make a pie. A galette doesn’t require loads of ingredients, It’s supposed to look rustic. It doesn’t require a lot of effort to shape it just so in a pie pan. It can be served with ice cream or whipped cream but plain is just as good.

I am looking forward to making more galettes, especially a peach one this summer, or peach and plum (cherry too). Aldi’s refrigerated pie crusts make the perfect size galette for Brett and me; for a larger one I would combine the two crusts that come in the package and roll them out into a larger circle. Don’t skip the sugar on the crust either!



  • 4 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice or grated lemon zest
  • 2 TBSP cornstarch
  • pinch of salt
  • homemade or refrigerated pie crust for a 9″ pie
  • 1 egg
  • sugar for sprinkling
  • vanilla ice cream or whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place a piece of room temperature pie crust on a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Make a light indentation with a 9″ pan in the center of the dough – this lets you know how far out to place your filling.

In a medium bowl, mix the berries with the sugar, lemon juice or zest, cornstarch and the salt. Stir to make sure the berries are evenly coated with the cornstarch and sugar. Place the berry mixture in the center of the crust in an even layer.

Lift and fold the pie crust every 3 or 4 inches over the berry filling, leaving an open space in the middle. Mix the egg with 1 TBSP of water and brush the crust. Sprinkle generously with sugar. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the blueberry filling is bubbling.

Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream, if desired.


Goal Achievement: Urgency, Importance, & Value

(Updated from a previous post)

Prioritizing means making choices that will most effectively get you to your destination with less effort and less stress. (Photo credit: Kristin Snippe/Unsplash)

In the past, I had no problems making our daily life flow smoothly, but with big undertakings I would get caught up in the myriad of little things that popped up and allow myself to almost completely lose sight of what I was trying to or needed to achieve. I obsessed about everything and was often a complete wreck, asking myself why I ever thought I could accomplish anything.

The adoption process for each of our girls, paying off our debt, moving to Hawaii, and setting up our first big travel adventure, and leaving Hawaii were all master classe in how to prioritize when taking on a big task or having a big goal. I learned over and over again about the necessity of establishing priorities in order to keep the process moving along smoothly in order to complete everything that needed to be done. The biggest thing I eventually figured out was everything didn’t necessarily need to happen in a precise order but tasks needed to be assessed for urgency, given a value, and then prioritized and set up in a logical order. Doing this ensured lower priority tasks didn’t get in the way of the bigger stuff.

I have always been goal focused, and the SMART. method of goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound) has helped me sharpen that process. Having a solid, specific goal is just the start though. It gives a big picture overview but then there’s the next step: focusing on what tasks need to be done in what order to get the job accomplished. I’ve learned to recognize that certain things I would like to do first are not always the most important things to be looking at or focusing on and can and should be put aside until later in the process. For example, when setting up travel plans, our highest priority task has always.been building our savings and figuring out different ways to do that. Without those savings, we won’t reach our goal. Decisions about lodging, transportation, and other aspects of our travel plans come later as we get closer to a departure date.

I’ve learned along the way there are steps for setting priorities when working on a big task. They can be moved around a bit as needed, but these generally have proven to make any job go more easily:

  • Set a specific goal (using the SMART method). This is the most critical part of setting priorities. Without a specific goal I have no real idea of what I’m working toward and I can’t realistically decide what needs to be taken care of and in what order.
  • Assess urgency, importance, and value of the tasks that need to be done. Once I know the tasks that need to be completed, the first thing I do is make a timeline. Sometimes this is easy, but other times it’s not because of unknowns. However, without a timeline there’s no way of seeing the big picture, what can and needs to be done first, and what can wait. A timeline also helps to evaluate what aspects of planning are more critical or important than others. Finally, a timeline can tell the value of making one task a priority over another. Taking care of one or some tasks before taking on another can provide the information to help make informed decisions, and make the next task or several other tasks easier. For example, looking at Airbnb listings 18 months ahead of time might seem frivolous since we’re not going to be booking anything that far out, but it gives us an idea of prices, and how much we will need to save for lodging expenses, so there is value in doing that task earlier than might be expected.
  • Do something every day. While the big things are easy to figure out because they’re usually the most urgent or have the biggest impact, even the smallest effort on days when nothing seems to be happening will get you closer to achieving your goal. Keep a chart of your savings. If you’re traveling to a foreign country, study the language a little bit every day. Post pictures of your destination where you can see it every day to stay focused.
  • Know what and when to let go. My advisor once said to me when I was struggling to finish my thesis, “Laura, finished is better than perfect.” Struggling to get every detail tied down and perfect can and will drive you crazy. The same applies when prioritizing and working toward a goal. Do your best but don’t expect perfection all the time.
  • Measure progress. Keeping lists, charts, etc. are a great way to reinforce that you’ve got your priorities in the right order, and that you are on track with getting necessary tasks completed. Keeping track of progress is also extremely motivating and can let you know when you might need to make changes, or whether it’s time to start on another task. Setting smaller monthly and weekly goals as you get closer to achieving your goal helps make sure everything gets done.
  • Expect things to change. Change is always going to happen, probably more than expected. Refusing to make or accept changes can and will bog everything down faster than expected as well.

Setting a goal is just the first step in making sure something you want or need gets accomplished. Prioritizing what needs to be done is an equally important part of the equation. Setting priorities is a learned skill, one that can take time but that will provide value later, and help minimize the work that needs be done. Learning to address and recognize the urgency, importance, and value of necessary tasks has helped make the process of accomplishing our goals easier, has helped make time move along more quickly as well, and greatly reduced anxiety. There is something that can be done each day, even if it doesn’t seem like much, and before you know it, you’re at the finish line.

Goodbye January, Hello February

We have our first month done for the year, and it went pretty well, all things considered:

  • Keep grocery spending under $450. We spent a total of $433.86 on food this month, and ate very well if I do say so myself. I was hoping to make just one Costco visit this month, but ended up having to go twice. However, on both trips I purchased less than six items, a new record for us.
  • Aim for zero food waste. After throwing out a few items at the beginning of the month (salsa and some spoiled vegetables) we had no other food waste. Everything got used up and eaten!
  • Have one full no-spend week. We had a completely zero-spend week January 22 through January 29.
  • Have four no-drive days. We had 11 no-drive days this month and needed just one fill-up for gas for the entire month.
  • Try one new recipe. I made slow cooker Coq au Vin as planned (without the Parmesan potatoes), and although it was a quite a bit of effort up front it turned out well and we enjoyed it for two dinners as well as lunch one day. I also made two other new recipes: an easy blueberry galette and one-pan spaghetti and meatballs. Both turned out well – recipes will be coming!
  • Track my meals and calories every day on MyFitnessPal. I did a pretty good job of getting this done almost every day although I did miss a few days. I was so eating way too much at the end of last year.
  • Walk 40 miles. I finished the month with 24 miles under my belt. The weather just did not cooperate much of the time, giving us rain, thunderstorms, snow, below- or near-freezing temperatures, and more, but I walked whenever I could.
  • Visit one natural or historical site in the area. We were all set to visit the Carnton Plantation on 1/30, and then found out our grandson will be with us all day this Friday (K still has school that day) so we postponed are trip and will take him with us on that day.
  • Read three books. I read nine books! Two of those were re-reads: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillibrand. I enjoyed both immensely, just as much as I did when I read them for the first time.

We were concerned that with everyone here for the holidays and all the energy we were using that our utility bills would soar, but they ended up just under $40 more than we usually pay which was quite a relief. We spent only $433.86 on food in January and put $16.14 into the change/$1 jar. Another important goal we completed was our taxes (federal only; nothing owed to Hawaii, and Tennessee does not have a state income tax). We wanted to get them done early because we have to pay estimated tax beginning this year and needed to figure out how much that will be. Finally, I didn’t get any crocheting done – it has to wait until after my eye surgery is done and I have new glasses.

And, I was called in for an interview with Trader Joe’s on the 28th, and called back for a second interview on the 30th and am now waiting to hear back from that. They know I will be unavailable in February, but are okay with my working just two days a week, so we shall see!

My goals for February are pretty much the same as they were last month, with a couple of changes:

  • Keep grocery spending under $450. 
  • Aim for zero food waste.
  • Have one full no-spend week. 
  • Have four no-drive days. 
  • Try one new recipe. I want to make a beef pot pie this month (never have before), but that’s all I know of for now.
  • Track my meals and calories every day on MyFitnessPal. 
  • Walk 20 miles. Because of my upcoming eye surgery, I’m only going to goal myself with 20 miles this month (ten two-mile walks).
  • Visit one natural or historical site in the area. We will have the grandkids over for one weekend while our DIL is on a business trip, and are planning to take them hiking at Smith park and do a “nature scavenger hunt” with them. We’ll do another trail with the kids than the one Brett and I did there before (it would be too long and too rugged at times for them). The weather will be, of course, the wildcard in our plans
  • Read two books. I am only goading myself one book this month because of the eye surgery. Right now I’m rereading Ron Chernow’s wonderful biography of Ulysses S. Grant.
  • Study ***** every day for 10 minutes. I decided last month that I wanted to continue to study a foreign language this year and started online lessons. I’m enjoying it so far and it’s good mental exercise. I’m keeping the language a mystery for a while!

My eye surgeries will be on the 10th and the 14th, and I am so ready for them as January was a struggle, vision wise. I will post when I can, and be back at the first of March to report how February went!

Simple Winter Pleasures

I’m trying to stay positive this season in spite of winter’s wrath, and paying attention to the little things that bring me joy while I wait for spring and warmer weather:

  • The first hot cup of coffee in the morning
  • Sunlight streaming through the windows
  • A big mug of hot soup on a cold evening
  • Bundling up for a walk on a (not too) cold day
  • Starting a new book in a series I love.
  • Video chatting with Meiling in the morning
  • Going through pictures from our travels and reminiscing
  • Kai sleeping next to me on the sofa
  • A warm pair of colorful socks

What are some of the simple things that bring you pleasure in winter?

Cheesy Pasta with Ham, Spinach, & Peppers

I was confronted during the first week of the year with having to use up the last of our Christmas ham (as well as a whole lot of other leftovers from the holidays). There wasn’t much ham left on the bone and I didn’t have enough of anything else on hand to make soup, but what I eventually realized is that I did have almost everything on hand to make one of our favorite leftover ham dishes, pasta tossed with spinach, red pepper, and diced ham and coated in creamy cheese. It’s one of the simplest and easiest recipes in my repertoire, and always a crowd pleaser.

The only thing I was lacking this time was the spinach, but Brett and I included a bag of baby spinach one my first of the month Trader Joe’s list. That evening, I diced the remaining ham (and put the bone in the freezer for a later pot of soup), julienned a red pepper that had been hanging out in the produce drawer, cooked a remaining half bag of pasta I had in the pantry, and finally tossed the finished product with some leftover spreadable sharp cheddar cheese. With the addition of some freshly cracked pepper, the result was a fabulous meal that got only a couple of dishes dirty and provided leftovers for the next two days’ lunches.

The beauty of this dish is that it can be made from whatever someone desires or already has on hand. I rarely, if ever, see it any more, but my favorite spreadable cheese for this dish has always been sun-dried tomato, but any soft cheese spread – garlic with herbs, for example – works fine. Any type of pasta is fine as well, although the original recipe called for farfalle (bow ties). The pepper doesn’t have to be red, and spinach can be replaced with kale, arugula, or other greens. Ham provides a smoky flavor, but there’s no reason bacon, chicken, beef, or even salmon couldn’t be used.

Below is the basic recipe – variations are up to the cook and what’s on hand!


  • 5-ounce bag baby spinach
  • 1 large red pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups diced ham
  • 12 ounces dried pasta. Ones created to catch the sauce are preferred over long noodles, but they can work too
  • 8-12 ounces soft cheese spread

In a large stockpot, bring water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Don’t skimp on the water – the pasta water is what will “cook” the spinach and pepper.

Wash the spinach and leave in a colander. Julienne the red pepper into very thin strips and lay on top of the spinach.

When the pasta is ready, slowly pour the pasta water over the spinach and peppers, ending with the pasta sitting on the top. Let it sit for a minute or so, then transfer the pasta, spinach, and pepper back into the stockpot. Using tongs, pull apart the clumps of spinach and mix throughout the pasta along with the pepper strips, which should be tender crisp and not soggy.

When the spinach is mixed through the pasta, add the diced ham to the stockpot and mix it through the pasta.

Finally, add the spreadable cheese to the pasta. The heat from the pasta will soften it to coat the pasta as it is mixed. Gently stir until all the pasta and vegetables are coated.

Serve immediately with cracked pepper.

Home Cooking: Amazing Apple Pie

The first apple pie I made was when I was 18 years old. I went out in the middle of the night and picked apples off the tree just outside my college dorm (which we had been warned not to do) and stayed up to bake my pie in the kitchen on our floor. My roommate, friends, and I quickly devoured the pie the following day, and I’ve stuck to the recipe ever since, a crust filled to almost overflowing with sliced apples, topped with a simple mixture of flour, sugar, and cinnamon and a few butter slices over everything.

This year, however, I wanted to try something different for our Thanksgiving dessert, so I read what seemed like a hundred recipes trying to find a new recipe for apple pie. Most of the one I read were similar to my old standard, but I also kept coming across one called Apple Pie by Grandma Ople, enough times that I finally decided this was the one I had to try.

The big difference in this recipe is that apple slices are topped with a boiled mixture of butter, flour, and white and brown sugars versus the traditional mix of sugar, flour, and cinnamon topped with a few slices of butter under the top crust. I used tart Jonathan apples on my first try at Thanksgiving, but any tart apple variety will do, and I went with Granny Smith for my second go-round at Christmas and thought they made for a much tastier pie. The Jonathan apples were also a bit small – I used eight but another four would have made it better. My crust was a premade one from Aldi; however, the top crust is too small for my pie plate so K cut out shapes and we layered them over the top. Also, I like cinnamon in my apple pie so I added about a 1/2 teaspoon to the butter-sugar mixture and that was just enough for me and not enough to bother people who don’t care for cinnamon.

Overall, this pie was easy to make, and the result? Ooh la la! I can’t imagine ever making an apple pie any other way.


  • 8 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into slices – I cut my apples into 12 slices, not too thin, not too thick.
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 TBSP unbleached flour
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 white sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • optional: 1/2 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 1 9″ double pie crust

Preheat over to 425 degrees.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Sprinkle the flour over the melted butter and blend in, stirring to form a paste, Cook for around 1-2 minutes until it smells buttery, then add both sugars and the water, and stir until everything is blended together. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3-5 minutes, then remove from the heat.

Fill the pie crust to heaping with the sliced apples. Use the top crust to form a tight lattice, or use cut out shapes from the top crust to cover the apples.

Slowly and gently pour the butter and sugar mixture over the top crust, making sure it seeps into the pie. A bit of the syrup can also be brushed on top, making sure it doesn’t go down the side.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake until the apples are soft, around 35-45 minutes. If the crust edges are getting too brown, cover them with strips of foil until the pie is done.

Let the pie cool, and enjoy warm or cool with ice cream if desired. Makes 8 slices.

The Big Family Event

Plan One for the Big Family Event has already come and gone. The original idea for our 2023 Big Family Event came together and then crumbled quickly as other events rose up to overtake it.

The original idea was a five-day family reunion at Walt Disney World in Orlando. WDW was not Brett’s nor my favorite choice for a location, but the kids all have fond memories of our visits there and have always wanted to go back, and we knew the grandkids would love it. The plan was to go in early January of 2024, when crowds were smaller, and Brett and I would have less trouble getting rooms for everyone at the military resort (Shades of Green). However, no matter which way we sliced things pulling it off was going to be expensive for everyone. It was doable but we were all going to have to stay very focused throughout the year.

But then Meiling and KN got engaged, and with that everything changed. Our one big plan has ended up broken into several smaller (and thankfully more affordable) plans and ideas:

  • M & KN are going to have a small, family-only wedding in the New England area this summer, so we will be heading up there for that, and we’ll add on a few days in Maine.
  • WenYu and I have talked about possibly making a 10-day visit to England (London, Oxford, and the Cotswolds) in September of this year. WenYu was supposed to spend a few weeks with us in Oxford this past summer, and she and I would still like to go if we can. If it happens, Brett would stay home with Kai and he’s fine with that. However, both she and I are also willing to wait and go to Mexico in 2024 along with YaYu.
  • We may possibly visit Washington D.C. with our son and family this summer.
  • The entire family agreed that we’d like to get together again for Christmas this year, so there will be planning going on for that as well throughout the year. We may gather here again but WenYu’s home in the Boston area may be another possible location.

So, there will be no one big encompassing family event happening but rather a set of smaller gatherings and travels throughout 2023 and into 2024 to keep us connected. All the ideas are exciting, we’ll still be saving like crazy, and there’s still much to look forward to this year!

Now I Remember Why We Moved to Hawaii

I miss this terribly.

In two words: THE WEATHER. While I absolutely loved fall here, I’m not liking winter at all and we’ve still got a ways to go before things change.

As it was in much of the U.S. over the holidays, it was bitterly COLD here as well. Even with the heat on and the apartment shut up tight, it still stayed cold. It was also DRY, and even though things have warmed up a bit it’s still dry. My sinuses have rebelled – I often go to bed with a sinus headache, often wake up with one, and suffer throughout most days during the week. The headaches are more annoying than painful, and allergy medication helps a lot, but I feel like it never goes away entirely. Also, the heat exchangers for our side of the building are right outside our bedroom window and when it’s cold they can run (loudly) 24 hours a day. If not for earplugs I’m not sure if I would get any sleep on some nights.

I am also going through buckets of skin cream as my skin is dry, dry, dry here. In Hawaii, my skin stayed naturally soft and supple, but here it’s parched and itchy – ugh.

I am not a hot weather person, and I certainly didn’t care for the humidity on Kaua’i most of the time, but I’m discovering I’m not a cold winter weather person either, at least not for the long haul. There’s much I like about where we live now, but I honestly miss being able to go to the beach year round, and seeing the ocean every day. I miss being able to walk and/or hike nearly every day of the year. I try to find the beauty in the bare branches here this time of year but deeply miss the beautiful, tropical plants and sunsets we enjoyed in Hawaii.

These pictures were taken on the same day of the year, January 3. I’ll take the palm tree and glowing sunset over the bare branches any time.

Outside of the weather, there are things I don’t miss about Kaua’i at all, like the current high cost of living, and having to drive everywhere for anything, usually in traffic. I don’t miss all the pickup trucks either (per capita there’s about a quarter of the pickups here that there were on Kaua’i). I don’t miss the limited selection of goods we had on Kaua’i either and having to use Amazon and mail order to purchase so many things (and then wait forever to get them delivered).

Brett and I still talk about returning to Hawaii some day, and winter here is already starting to make us think this might not be a bad idea. Weather-wise, Hawaii was pretty much an ideal fit for us. Maybe we might enjoy Honolulu and city life in the future, or somewhere on the Big Island for a change. We’ll just have to wait and see though – we’ve got another couple of winters to get through here and another location we’ve got to get to first.

Home Cooking: Incredibly Easy Dulce de Leche

One of Brett and my fondest food memories from our travels was sharing a delicious, generous bowl of dulce de leche in Buenos Aires following a meal of empanadas. Dulce de leche is carmelized milk, created by heating sugar and milk over low heat for a long period of time. It can be used like caramel, or eaten on its own, like we did in Argentina.

Making this treat never seemed like something I’d have the time (or inclination) for, but in late November a reel showed up in my Instagram feed showing an incredibly easy way to prepare dulce de leche. And, when I say easy, I mean EASY! I gave it a try and the results were fantastic.

Only two items are needed to prepare dulce de leche this way: a slow cooker and a can of sweetened condensed milk. That’s it! The process takes all day, but the results will last for up to a month in the refrigerator, and are creamy, sweet, and full of delicious caramel flavor.

Here’s how to make it:

  • Remove the label from a can of sweetened condensed milk. DO NOT use evaporated milk – it doesn’t work.
  • Set the can on its side in a slow cooker and cover with at least two inches of hot water. You can cook more than one can if they can fit in the slow cooker without touching.
  • Cook the can(s) on low heat for eight hours.
  • When cooking is done, remove from the crockpot and LET THE CAN(S) COOL COMPLETELY BEFORE OPENING. Trying to open while the can is still hot can cause it to explode.
  • Store the dulce de leche in the refrigerator for up to a month. It should be removed from the can for storage.

That’s it! We enjoyed it with apple slices a few evenings for dessert, and a small spoonful on top of apple pie one night. It’s yummy stuff.

Cataract Surgery: It’s Time

I had my annual eye exam last week and the news was both good and bad. The bad news was that it’s finally time to have the cataracts that have been slowly growing in both eyes removed. My close-up vision remains good, but distance vision has deteriorated to the point that glasses can improve things only slightly, with objects and views in the distance remaining fuzzy and blurry without the surgery.

I knew this was coming eventually, but it was still something of a blow to my sense of good health to get the news. I recently finished re-reading Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, M.D. and one strong lesson reabsorbed is that the aging process is one of things and parts breaking down. Just like a complicated power plant, eventually parts of us stop working as they should and either need to be repaired, replaced, or removed. When that’s not possible, we adjust.

The surgery will make a positive difference. I will continue to need glasses for reading and such, but may not need progressives any more once the new lenses are in place in my eyes. I will also be able to see better at night, and overall clarity should return versus what I’m experiencing now (which is everything in the distance being uncomfortably blurry).

Between Medicare and our military insurance the entire cost of the surgery will be covered, so that was the good news. I won’t even have a co-pay. New glasses following the surgery will be more expensive though, even with insurance, because the frames I’ve chosen cost more than what they have in the past few years. But, they’re The Ones, still come in right at the top end of what we can afford, and I am not going to budge – I want them!

I’ll meet with the surgeon the last week of this month, and surgery will be scheduled for some time in February. It’s time.