The Road Less Travelled

road-less-travelled3We’ve just returned from another road trip and, once again, so thoroughly enjoyed the option of taking the road less travelled.

Last February, we drove to Texas and chose the road less travelled because we wanted to avoid as many major metropolitan areas as possible – especially Dallas. So, in the process, we found ourselves on many back roads, most of which offer a variety of interesting areas missed when taking the faster, busier interstate routes. For example, we never would have discovered the mysterious “Forbidden Zone” I wrote about back then had we not taken that route.

We often choose to travel the Nebraska back roads on our way to Denver as well, in order to avoid some of the hectic semi activity on Interstate 80. And, this trip was no exception. We drove from home to Kearney, NE, travelling Nebraska highways rather than Interstate. We enjoy seeing the country churches and the family farmsteads and prefer the slower pace that these roads bring to life.

This year, on our return home from Denver, we decided to travel by way of the Black Hills. We wanted to visit Hot Springs, the southern Gateway to the Black Hills…mostly because we had never visited that area, but also because we had been told that it is in the Banana Belt of South Dakota. For whatever reason, that sounded intriguing. So we did. We spent just one night there but we did a lot of driving around exploring the scenery, soaking up the history and experiencing the small town lifestyle that the area had to offer. It was quiet and thoroughly enjoyable.

At dinner that night in Hot Springs, Ken asked me how I felt about doing a little exploring on our way back to Sioux City. Over the years, we have made numerous trips to the Black Hills, always via Interstate 29 and 90. This time, he wanted to do something different…to return home via Highway 20 across Nebraska…just to see what it was like. So we did!

Once again, The Road Less Travelled offered us a new adventure with lots of intriguing eye candy along the way. Beautiful farmsteads, old barns, small towns and loads of beautiful fall foliage. After so many years of always living our lives on fast forward, there is something so very enjoyable about slowing things down a bit. There is so much out there to see.

It was a fabulous week, ranging from visiting wonderful restaurants, the arts district, Botanic Gardens and various other adventures in downtown Denver to a step back in time in the hills of South Dakota and along the back roads of Nebraska. We’re home again now but the “high” of our just completed vacation remains. I had to smile, watching Ken out on the deck grilling last night…in the dark, now, as fall closes in on us, but still enjoying his Bluetooth music and his glass of wine. We will begin planning our next road trip soon, but, for now, our “staycation” is pretty enjoyable too. Life is good!

Later.

A SUMMER SONG – 1964

chad-and-jeremyI heard a song the other day that is a blast from the past…Chad and Jeremy’s, A SUMMER SONG. It is a typical song from the 60’s about a dreamy summer love. But for me, it speaks rather of my love of summer.

 

 

 

“They say that all good things must end one day

Autumn leaves must fall.

But, don’t you know that it hurts me so to say good-bye to you.

Wish you didn’t have to go

No, no, no, no!!”

That is how I feel every year when the nights get cooler and the days get shorter and I know that it is just a matter of time before shorts, t-shirts and flip flops are but a memory, frozen in time. So, I decided to try to come up with some positive things about the end of summer…something to help hold the negative thoughts at bay. And, here it is…my

Top Ten List of Reasons to Embrace the Changing Season

10.  Bing cherries may be done, but Holiday grapes are just coming in. LOVE those Holiday grapes.

9.  Once the cold temps have freeze dried everything that is growing outside, the water bill goes down.

8.  With nothing growing that they can destroy, the squirrels can just do their thing and not bother me in the least.

7.  More time to devote to working on my book and using the treadmill.

6.  We will get back to enjoying our afternoon Nespresso breaks.

5.  My cuddly Restoration Hardware blanket will once again become a cocoon for me to hibernate in.

4.  No good grilling weather means more time to enjoy cold weather comfort food like crockpot meals and Smokey Bacon Chili over baked sweet potatoes.

3.  The “clean out the basement” project that I deserted last spring is still there, waiting for me to resume once the weather turns.

2.  Save money on pedicures. No need with your feet crammed into weather-resistant boots all the time.

1.  No bug bites for the next six months.

What do you think? Will it help?

Later.

 

 

 

 

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.

IMG_4363

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.

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.

YOU’RE GOING TO COOK WHAT??

PouringCrawfish2Continuing some of the tales of our latest Texas adventure today, I can’t fail to mention our Superbowl Eve experience…our very own Crawfish Boil, compliments of Kelli and Brett.

They had introduced us to crawfish a couple of years ago when we spent a week-end in Galveston during one of our visits. We went to an outdoor bar where we were served two big buckets of crawfish. Talk about a “Big Gulp”! I had never eaten crawfish before and was not at all certain that I wanted to, but I’m a player so I decided to dive in. Well…partially dive in, I guess. I’m told that diehard crawfish eaters suck the head. I just could not wrap MY head around that so settled for just pulling the meat out of the tail. It was GOOD and I count that as one of my more memorable experiences. But this year, Kelli and Brett wanted to take it one step further. My sister and brother-in-law were driving up from North Padre for the Super Bowl and we were planning our own Saturday night Crawfish Boil. What an adventure!

With crawfish season just getting underway in Texas, Brett was able to go out and buy a HUGE bag of crawfish – 15 pounds to be exact. They put those in a big cooler and washed them thoroughly. They would be added to a very large pot of boiling water later. We would use the grill for that in order to keep the entire operation outdoors. Crawfish Boils can be messy affairs.

We added small red potatoes and small ears of corn to the water and brought it to a boil. The crawfish are added last. I have to admit that I had almost nothing to do with the preparation of this meal. This was all Kelli and Brett and they did an awesome job.  Since eating crawfish can be a messy experience it is best done outside with newspapers spread on the tables. So, that is what we did – except that we ate in the sun room rather than on the patio. February evenings can still be a little cool.

They brought in large platters of the delicious critters and we all just dug in. Does this not look like a great adventure? Like many other things, it is as much about the experience as it is about the food. It was a first for most of us and what a great time we had.

As I said yesterday, retirement is not a time to just sit back and rock. It is a time to get out there and explore – to experience new things. It’s a time to have fun and enjoy life. And that is exactly what we are doing.

Later.

 

FORBIDDEN ZONE – Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted

 

686108749_51165706df_z[1]Having the freedom to spend some time traveling now that we are retired/semi-retired, is allowing us to experience some new things which from time to time will pique our curiosity and offer just a bit of the spirit of adventure, no matter how small. Like these signs we saw posted every few feet on a several mile stretch of Texas highway 287. Suddenly it was like we were being transported into the Twilight Zone. (I’m sorry – I guess you have to be old to understand that reference) But we couldn’t help but wonder what in the heck the Forbidden Zone was. So, of course, I googled it – several times. Never did get a clear answer. I did find one response that indicated there are some massive pigs in there. Another reference mentioned Big Foot but I’m sure that was tongue in cheek. One forum suggested that someone claimed that he knew the secret but was afraid to post it. The best I could determine is that it is some sort of Water District and there is research of some kind being conducted there. But if so, why not put up signs that say water research area. Why Forbidden Zone? So very odd, yet interesting.

Speaking of odd. While walking the beach one day, my sister and I noticed two ladies engaged in, what seemed to us, to be very strange behavior. One had what appeared to be a piece of pvc pipe which she was using to fling sand at the other. And, they weren’t kids. They were every bit as “senior” as we – maybe more. As we got IMG_1966closer I could see that the one with the pipe was sticking it down into the sand and then as she pulled it out she flung sand and water toward the other lady who then bent down and picked something up.  I just couldn’t walk by and not ask, so I questioned them about what they were doing. Turns out, they use this pipe to suck Ghost Shrimp up out of the sand and use them for bait. They offered to let us try it but we declined, knowing how foolish we would look. However, after talking about it and googling it, we decided it might be kind of fun to try – not to mention a source of free IMG_1963bait. So we did. What a crazy scene that was as we attempted to figure out how to suck those things up out of the sand. It’s more difficult than it looks, let me tell you. We all tried our hand at it, with, eventually, some success. But, my son-in-law, Brett, is the one who really got into it. He even drew a crowd of people who, like Susan and I had done, approached him to ask what in the heck he was doing and to watch him do it.

Little things – both of these – but so interesting and so fun.

IMG_1984Yep – retirement is not a time to just sit back and rock. It is a time to get out there and explore – to experience new things. It’s a time to have fun and enjoy life. And that is exactly what we are doing.

BTW – did you know that you can drive and camp on the beaches in Texas?

Later.