1 Of Those Light-Bulb Moments

It is certainly not my intent to turn this into a food blog. But right now, seems like my entire world is revolving around the garden and food prep. The more we share, the more they bear so getting creative with our produce is an entertaining new challenge.

I had a totally random thought over the week-end. One of our favorite cool weather meals is Smoky Bacon Chili over baked sweet potatoes. That particular recipe uses a can of Fire Roasted Tomatoes so I try to always keep some on hand. But, on Sunday, a light-bulb moment occurred. Why not try my hand at making some Fire Roasted Tomatoes? I’ve never done it before, but how hard could it be? Right? Turns out, not difficult at all.

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Ready for the grill.

I fired up the grill, selected a dozen or so uniformly sized tomatoes and washed them up. It occurred to me, then, that this might also work well with salsa peppers too, so, as long as the grill was going anyway, why not?

It is a very simple process, really. Just keep turning to char each side of the vegetables and then cover with a towel to steam and loosen the skins.

Once done, pop in bags and freeze.

Not a big deal, but I was kind of excited. I’m not a canner. Never have been, never will be. But I love to experiment with new things and now we can look forward to some home-grown fire roasted tomatoes this fall. So, what’s up next?

Well…this morning I picked some nice banana peppers (Ken’s favorite) and plan to experiment again tonight. I’ve made stuffed bell peppers before but never stuffed banana peppers, so on tonight’s menu…Cheesy Stuffed Banana Peppers. Also plan to make another batch of that delicious Oven Roasted Grape Tomato Pasta Sauce today and then, the pièce de résistance…a big batch of homemade fresh Bloody Mary mix for Labor Day at the Lake.

That should keep me busy for a while. Guess I better get at it.

Later.

Re-Inventing Pasta Sauce

Well, I have been working on re-inventing retirement for the better part of a year now, and a few weeks ago I talked about how we have been re-inventing one of our favs…pizza

This morning I woke up thinking about the bowls full of perfectly ripe grape tomatoes we have been picking almost daily and decided I wanted to try something different with them. There were way too many to just throw into salad, so I decided to make pasta sauce. But, I didn’t want to make just a juicy pan-cooked sauce. I wanted something different. Here is what I did.

I took out a large sheet pan and put as many grape tomatoes as I could fit in a single layer on that pan. I also had a handful of sweet, baby onions that Ken had dug a few weeks ago, so I washed and peeled those to add to the pan. Then, I smashed a half dozen cloves of garlic and threw those on…drizzled olive oil over all and seasoned with salt and pepper.

I popped the sheet pan in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes to get the mixture nicely carmelized. In the meantime, I went out and cut a bunch of nice fresh basil to throw into the sauce when I blended it.

I was so pleased with the results. It was nice and thick and absolutely delicious. Now, how to use the sauce. I had just picked a spaghetti squash as well so decided to make spaghetti squash casserole…another one of our favorites. That would allow me to also use some of our bounty of peppers. So, basically, a spaghetti squash casserole is cooked spaghetti squash with your choice of additional ingredients. This time I used Italian sausage, three kinds of chopped peppers, chopped onion, my freshly made sauce, a handful of grated Italian cheese, and some mozzarella to top it off, just because.

It was delicious…and pretty healthy too since you are eliminating all the carbs in the pasta. Another version of this that we love is Buffalo Chicken Spaghetti Squash Casserole. There are plenty of sites where you can find these types of recipes, but one of our favorites is Paleomg.com

So…still loving the freedom of retirement, the time to do what makes us happy including working in the garden, and the fun of experimenting with different ways to enjoy the bounty that we have produced. If you happen to try this sauce, let me know what you think. In our house, it’s a keeper!

Later.

Pizza Night

Sunday is typically pizza night at our house. But this is not the stereotypical “senior citizen” habit of doing the same thing, on the same day, at the same time every week kind of thing. We REFUSE to go there. This is just a “We love pizza” thing and the Sunday night part of it is a throwback to when we were working and it was an easy way to end the weekend. No…we no longer order pizza very often…we make our own, experiment, change it up and just have fun with it. Sure…it is more labor intensive than ordering pizza and takes longer…but we have time. And we enjoy it.

We have done the cauliflower crust. We have made regular homemade pizza crust and grilled it. We have done a spaghetti squash pizza casserole (not really pizza but uses pizza ingredients and it is DELICIOUS). Our pizza toppings range from the traditional to more artisan options like prosciutto, fresh mozzarella pearls and arugula.

So last week, when I ran across a blog post about zucchini pizza crust I just had to try it. Perfect time of year for it, right? And, it was delicious! That said…I plan to experiment with some tweaks next time, mainly because we are basically thin and crispy crust lovers and that seems to be very difficult to accomplish with most of the crusts we have tried. This crust was not crispy, though it did hold up to hand-held eating. I have some ideas that might crisp it up a bit, so will try that next time, but the flavor was amazing. It made WAY more than I expected it to so we have enough pizza for two meals and then some.  We will see how it reheats. But, take a look. Delicious?

If you like to live on the wild side when it comes to cooking, check out the recipe here. We didn’t do the brown sugar tomato part of it, but if you’re into that, knock yourself out. And if you have suggestions on other great pizza experiments, let me know. We’re not just reinventing retirement, we’re reinventing pizza!!

Later.

Getting In Touch With My Inner Queen

This is interesting. Over the past several years, Ken and I have come to enjoy opening a bottle of Rosé on a warm summer night and sipping it out on the deck while we grill dinner. Problem is…Rosé is almost impossible to find in Sioux City, IA for some reason.

Last week we decided to go on a Rosé hunt, visiting several wine stores other than our regulars, Sam’s, Hy-Vee and Wine Styles. Still we came up with only a handful of options…three to be exact, and we had never heard of any of them. Last night, we opened one, and it was pretty good. Not the best we had ever had. We’ve enjoyed wonderful Rosés in Denver and Houston. But, for the mIMG_2389 (2)oney, not bad. It was Mateus Rosé.

I was just doing some research on the Internet and came across a blog post about none other than Mateus Rosé. It seems that Mateus Rosé was the most popular wine in the world back in the early 70s. The Queen of England demanded it. Jimi Hendrix was photographed drinking it out of the bottle. AND…it is said to have been Saddam Hussein’s favorite wine.

The post is a pretty interesting read if you’re into wine, and, really, even if you’re not. It’s a fascinating cultural commentary. blog.wblakegray.com  And speaking of cultural commentary, if anyone knows why Rosé is a big deal in larger cities, but you can barely find a bottle here in Sioux City, please let me know.

Later.

Turning 60

We have a book on our coffee table that I wrote several years ago. When I was turning 60, I was determined that I would not make it a “dark day” as so many others I know have dIMG_2269one, but a celebration of life. We planned a big get together in northern California and rented a vacation home overlooking the ocean. It was a great time and Ken, Sue and Ron all followed suit in various locations when their time came to “turn 60.” The book is actually a compilation of photos from those trips as well as meaningful quotes, etc. It makes me smile every time I look through it.

Today, I turn 69. Where have those years gone? So much has happened in our lives during those nine years. And, today I celebrate our victory over those things. It is not with a fancy beach vacation but, sometime life’s greatest celebrations are the small ones.

This is probably going to sound silly to many, but, for whatever reason, I have always wished that I were a runner. I’m NOT a runner-never have been, but I admire those who are. The last time I decided to try my hand at running was about 30 years ago. I bought some shoes and went our for a run in our neighborhood. It was cold out and I ended up sucking in so much cold air that I got pneumonia. Yep. I’m not a runner – or any other kind of athlete for that matter. But, I still, to this day, WISH that I were a runner. So, this morning, on my 69th birthday, I laced up my shoes and went out for a run. Now, mind you, I am using that term loosely. It ended up being more of a run/walk, but, the point is, I DID it. I celebrated my 69th birthday by doing something, in my own way, that I really wanted to do. Ken and I both, during these past nine years, have learned that life is a gift. It is something to be cherished, used responsibly and celebrated. Birthdays are something to look forward to – not to be dreaded.

So, that said, I now have a full year to figure out how to celebrate that next big milestone on the horizon. Game on.

 

CONSIDER THE FLOWERS…

It seems like I know so many people who are on their own cancer journey right now, and I couldn’t help but think of them when I came across this blog post I wrote back in April of 2010. It had been a particularly long and harsh winter that year. Snow, cold and then more of the same…over and over. But when it ended…this. IMG_2042

I felt I wanted to share it again in hopes that it might bring comfort to some who are going through trials of their own right now.

THURSDAY, APRIL 8, 2010

Shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer, someone said to me that, as hard as it was to imagine at that moment, I would come through this experience a stronger and better person. I thanked them but assumed it was another one of the things that people say to try to make you feel better when there really is nothing much they can say. However…

Ken and I were outside looking at all of the spring-flowering bulbs coming up the other day and I couldn’t help but think about how ironic it is that, in spite of an unusually rough hard winter, the bulbs weathered it well, and, in fact, appeared stronger than ever. There are more of them…more of them are blooming…and the tulips seem to have more buds than ever before. In spite of being buried under 3 feet of snow for months on end, they are now making their presence known in a way they never have before. Could this be what that person was referring to?

I too have gone through some long, trying months but have managed to weather the storm so to speak. I am dealing with things I never imagined I could deal with and, as difficult as it is some days, I am holding up. In retrospect, I think maybe I am a stronger person than I was before my diagnosis.

Last week, while waiting in the blood draw area at the Cancer Center, I met a lady who must be the epitome of “strong”. She has breast cancer as well and she told me that she had been in remission for 11 years but her cancer had recently returned and she was back on chemo. I almost cried for her. I said that I couldn’t imagine how disheartening that must be. She said, you just do what you gotta do. Funny, because whenever people ask me how I can manage to be so strong in the midst of all this, that is pretty much what I say. It is what it is. I’ve often wondered how I would react to finally making it through all of this…to finally reach the end of that tunnel and then have it come back. I’m not sure I would be able to handle it. But, this lady is. And, so do many others. I think they, and I, just draw on a strength that we have within us when the time comes that we need it. That is what my flowers did over the winter. And, that is what I have to do now to get through the final 8 treatments in chemo round 2 and then the subsequent 9 months of chemo round 3 and radiation.

I don’t want to spend the better part of my day at the Cancer Center tomorrow…but I will. And, I will do OK. And, whatever side effects come my way this week, well, I’ll handle those too. Because I have no choice, obviously, but also because I am becoming a stronger person all the time. Just like someone told me I would. I see that now.

Later.

Fast forward to six years later. I am healthy, a much stronger person and living life reimagined.🙂 To all of you just hanging on and putting one foot in front of the other to make it through each day, hang in there.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD

When I set out to do my best to reinvent retirement, it never occurred to me that one of the things this would involve would be our eating habits. I mean, ever since I was diagnosed with cancer I have focused on healthy eating. But, over the last several months, we have entered a new adventure of experimenting with the Paleo lifestyle. We are not fanatics by any means, but lean toward this lifestyle whenever possible. And what is fun is that both Kelli and Matt are doing the same thing so we are constantly texting and sharing recipes. The last couple of nights have been phenomenal.

First Kelli shared a recipe she made that sounded so good it turned out that we and Matt and Sara both tried it on the same night…Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Zucchini Noodles. IMG_2034It was unbelievably good and we will definitely make it again. It is Zoodles with a sweet red pepper and goat cheese sauce to which we added broiled garlic shrimp.  What’s not to like…right?

Tonight we experimented with a recipe that Matt sent…Buffalo Chicken Casserole. Crazy good and unlike anything we have tried before. It is spaghetti squash with chicken, veggies and eggs plus HOT SAUCE.IMG_2037

It is so uplifting to have the time to research and experiment with new cooking venues. I love to cook. I love knowing exactly what is going into my body. I love that Ken is getting into not only experimenting with new healthy lifestyles but also is getting into assisting with the process. It is healthy and it is social. It is FUN!! I may, from time to time, share additional recipes that we experiment with. It is a NEW twist on life. It is another example of Reinventing Retirement.

Later.

VIENNA WAITS

My initial post on this blog almost a year ago now, announced my impending retirement. blog quote smallA friend commented by welcoming me to Vienna with the lyrics to the entire Billy Joel song. It’s a great song about slowing down and taking time to live….hence retirement…and my favorite part of the song is

And you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want or you can just get old”

I bring this up now because that friend, Howard Jones, released his second book today…”Searching for Dunderhead” and that is an inspiration to me to push forward on my own project. It has long been my dream to write a book. In Howard’s case, retirement has allowed him to climb mountains, sail the seas, go on safaris, become an accomplished photographer and write two books. (I think it’s two) He personifies the lyrics, “You can get what you want or you can just get old.”

I follow numerous blogs on the subject of reinventing retirement and, regardless of the names…Encore Voyage, One Mom’s Journey, Out of the Frying Pan, they all seem to have one common thread…the quest to live this new life we’ve been given to its fullest. For many people, that means travel. For others, a second career path, adventure, or following a dream. Regardless, it seems we’re all searching for Vienna via our own path. And that’s pretty exciting.

“And you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want or you can just get old
… Vienna waits for you”

Later.

MINE EYES HAVE SEEN THE GLORY…

No one spends any time thinking about the fact that they can see. Right? It’s just a blessing that we enjoy without thinking about it. But consider all of the glorious things you experience in life because of your ability to see them.  The faces of those you love…the magnificence of the oceans…the majesty of the mountains…the happy, the sad, the beautiful, the ugly and on and on and on. It is so hard to comprehend life without sight.

I have been forced to live with the knowledge of that possibility becoming a reality for some time now, though I had never really given it a lot of thought. It has been years since I was diagnosed with Dry AMD …earlier than most…but in the last several years, because of the rate at which it is progressing, I have been warned repeatedly that I am at high risk for Wet AMD, the more advanced and serious form of the disease which often leads to loss of central vision.

Following cataract surgery last June, I was given a new lease on life with the correction of my vision to 20/30…not as good as many experience but a significant improvement for me. But, my euphoria was short-lived when my 6 month follow-up showed that the improvement I had experienced last summer had completely disappeared. My eye doctor believed that the AMD might have advanced to the Wet version and scheduled me into the Retina Clinic. That was a cold day in February when I checked into the clinic expecting bad news. So, I was extremely excited when the doctor, following his exam, told me that he was virtually certain that it had not yet progressed. But, because of the rapid deterioration of my vision, he wanted to recheck in a month. So, I did that – today.

One of the ways that they have you monitor the progression and watch for changes is through the use of an Amsler grid. You cover one eye and look at the grid. All of the lines should appear straight and all areas sharp.

If you experience any waviness in the lines, or areas that are gray, it can signal major problems. I will admit that I have never bothered much with the grid. Despite what they told me, I never really felt like it was going to become an issue for me. But since January, I have been doing a better job of checking so was quite upset to discover that some of the lines had now become a little wavy. That is why, when I showed up for my appointment this morning, I was once again steeling myself for possible bad news. But it wasn’t. Well, it was, but not THAT bad.

He still believes that my AMD has not progressed to Wet, though, again, cautioning me that it is a very strong possibility. What he believes is causing my vision issues right now is a macular pucker or wrinkle, known in scientific terms as an Epiretinal Membrane. He believes that it accounts for the waviness I am seeing in the grid as well as the fuzziness in the vision in my right eye. It can cause swelling in the macula and hence, distortion in your vision. The good news is, he said that it appears as though there has been a small decrease in the amount of swelling since my last appointment. Hopefully, there will be more. No guarantees. I did google it when I got home to look for possible causes and treatments. I noticed that this sometimes happens following eye surgery. Hmmm. Could it have resulted from my cataract surgery? He didn’t say that and I am not a doctor but sounds like a possibility to me. I also found that in some cases with severe loss of vision, they can perform surgery to remove the wrinkle, thereby restoring some of the vision you have lost but it appears as though that is a last resort. Whew – so here’s the deal. It is NOT, at this point, Wet AMD. There is a possibility, if some more of the swelling recedes, I will regain some of the vision that has been compromised. And, if not, I will ask if I might be a surgical candidate. So, that said and done…there is still hope, on a number of different levels. And, as long as I have hope I am OK. Hope springs eternal someone once said and that works for me!!

Later.

 

Retirement Favorites – 8 Big Things and a Few Extras

I recently discovered An Encore Voyage – A Journey of reinvention and discovery. It is SO me I am amazed. Thought I would share this particular post and hope you enjoy it as much as I.

An Encore Voyage

These are a few of my favorite things

A couple of days ago, I had lunch with two of my gal pals.  One is just beginning her second year of retirement. The other, a school district employee, has met the “Rule of 90” qualifications for retirement, but as yet is still working for the district.  In our conversation, as the two of us told the third about the things we missed about working (mainly, teaching children and spending time with our adult colleagues), I found myself trying to convince the third friend that she really should consider retiring.  We discussed the need for insurance benefits and the fear of boredom, and of spending too much time with our spouses.  We chatted and laughed and caught up on all the insider scoop of the school district, and then gal number three asked,

“What is your favorite thing about retirement?”

It would have been easy to give her a smart-assed…

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