Monday, September 26, 2016

10 ways to get MORE out of your leisure time

As empty nesters, my husband and I are learning to negotiate a kid free life.  For 28 years we have had kids at home.  It is a bit of an adjustment downsizing to a pair from a family group.  Everything costs less, it is less stressful, and with the two of us we can be ready to go in a few minutes.   This is our time to go out and really enjoy life.  Now what do we do?  Where do we go?  We are looking for ways to create more fun and friends in our daily life without spending a ton of money.  We are into accumulating experiences, not things.  By lightening our load, we are freeing up our time to travel more and enjoy many experiences between the "big money vacations".  We have found many low cost ways to increase the experiences we have while staying on a budget.  We'd like to share our favorites with you. here.

1. look on line for local events.  We live in the city of Napa.  There is always something going on here.  Free concerts in the summer at the riverfront,  Wine tastings and release parties at wineries, Earth Day celebration,  Check on line with Eventbrite for local events.  They list things all over the place.  Just type what kind of event you want and they will show you a list of things going on in your area.  Your local paper or chamber of commerce are some other great resources.  Check out Groupon for discounted dining and entertainment tickets to places you plan on visiting before you arrive. Craigslist and Nextdoor are also great resources for purchasing event tickets from private parties that are looking to sell extras. On a recent trip to Reno for a family birthday party we discovered we were there the same time as the Great Reno Hot Air Balloon Race,  Taking advantage of the opportunity, we woke up at 3:30 am to get to the field for the glow show and race at dawn.  It was totally free, and we had an amazing time with our family!

2. Go camping.  My childhood vacations were camping trips.  Granted, camping is not for everyone... Like when I was a kid and it snowed when we were in tents.  My dad took hot rocks from the fire and rolled them in towels and put them in the sleeping bags to keep us warm so we wouldn't have to go home.  We thought it was an awesome wilderness adventure and it's one of my greatest childhood memories.  If you are willing to give it a try, it can be an incredible experience.  We love to take off on a Friday and tent camp somewhere within a 2 hour drive of home.  We find it relaxing. My Spanish Boy scout loves it.  We totally unplug from everything.  No phones, no electricity.  We eat gourmet meals, drink lots of wine and stay up late talking and visiting and listening to music. Bluetooth music is the only technology we use.  We purposely unplug to decompress from our busy lives.  We took 12 teenagers camping at the river, five of them were exchange students from Spain and France, everyone agreed that camping was the highlight of the trip for all of them.

3. Have a picnic.  I love a good picnic!  I used to pack a lunch for my kids and take them to the park. I would sit on a blanket with the baby and the kids would play for hours and come eat little snacks as they wanted.  Adult picnics are awesome too.  Here in the valley we have tons of places to go that have picnic grounds.  If it's a winery, they require you to buy their wines.  There are parks and campgrounds and meadows everywhere.  Pack up some delicious food, drinks, your tunes, a Frisbee or a good book and take off for the day.  It's a great way to see new places and have a relaxing afternoon.

4. Have a fine dining experience at home with friends.  Save the $$$ of an expensive restaurant. My husband and I both love to cook.  We are constantly trying out new recipes.  We have one group of foodie friends that we meet with to visit and it always turns into a gastronomic extravaganza.  We just call them cooking parties.  We are usually able to feed a group of 12 adults for $300 which includes wines, champagne, appetizers, 4-5 course meal and dessert.  The hosting couple provides the entree, another brings appetizers, one brings desserts, and the others bring sides.  Everyone brings a couple of bottles of wine.  We choose a theme for the meal, ie: Italian, Mediterranean, Chinese...  and the menu is left up to each couple to decide based on what everyone else signs up for.    Another option is to do all of the cooking yourself and invite a few friends.  Get out the good china and crystal, decorate in a theme, find reasons to use all of those nice things you have stored away.  Don't have any good things for entertaining?  Check out your local Goodwill or other thrift store and see if they have things in your theme for cheap.  Either way, you are guaranteed a great night with lots of laughs and excellent food for much less than you would pay at a restaurant. This is our favorite way to spend time with friends.
Making homemade sausage with friends

Paella cooking party with friends

5. Take a cooking class.  Many places offer them.  Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma are two chains that offer them regularly for a minimal fee.  local restaurants also offer cooking classes from time to time.  Here in the valley, you can take a weekend course at the Culinary Academy.  Check your local area, like the leisure services or adult education department.  We took an awesome French Baking course for 6 weeks at a local boulangerie and learned to make baguettes, croissants, brioche and other yummy French baked items.

6. Host a holiday party.   We love parties!  4th of July, El Pilar (the patron saint of my hubby's home town) Christmas dinner with girlfriends.  Whatever the occasion, we love hosting and attending a good party.  We have some really great friends and we enjoy getting together regularly.  Everyone has busy lives, but it is so great to get together and just have a celebration.

7. Visit a public garden.  Every area has a public garden, botannical garden or even a Farmer's Market.  Go check one out.  Not only will you learn about local flora and fauna, you will also enjoy a great day out in nature.

8. Play tourist in your own town.  How many of you live in a great touristic area, and yet you have never been to many of your town's tourist attractions.  We love to play tourist and go see all of the great places in our area that people come from all over the world to see. There has to be something interesting in your area that you have not seen yet.  Make it a point to go check it out.   

9. Take off on a one day roadtrip.  Wherever you are, look around on line for interesting places to visit on a day trip.  Just get in the car and go.  Eat at a restaurant on the trip, check out new places you've never seen before in your own back yard.  We drove to Mt. Tamalpais in Marin county and stopped to eat once at a restaurant at the top.  It had 360 degree views of the San Francisco Bay.  It was a lovely day so we dined on the terrace to enjoy the view.  We found a petrefied forest in the upper end of the Napa Valley.  Another day we took a drive past the petrefied forest and all the way to Santa Rosa and the Sonoma Valley and on to the Russian River Valley.  Awesome wineries like Coppola, where you can see the Coppola movie museum, complete with the bride of Frankenstein costumes and Godfather memorabilia and all of his Oscar statues.  Go to Johnson's Beach in Russian River for a beer and burger and a quick swim.  While in Florida recently my girlfriend and I took a roadtrip from Sarasota to Sanibel Island,   We had a great day in Sanibel at the beach and shopping at all the cool shell shops in town.   Get out and explore no matter where you are.  Gas prices are down and a roadtrip is a pretty cheap way to spend a Saturday or Sunday  Get out and explore.  Gas prices are down and a roadtrip is a pretty cheap way to spend a Saturday or Sunday.

10. Join a sport league.  We play Bocce Ball.  It is quite popular in our area.  It's a great way to meet other people and socialize.  We take turns bringing dinner, and we get out once a week for fun and a few games.  Find a sport league in your area that interests you and join up!
With a little creativity, you can get into going out and doing more.  Give it a try...  Before you know it, you will be so busy your kids will need to book appointments to visit with you.  We LOVE being empty nesters!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Caprese Chicken Pizza with Cauliflower dough

Sounds crazy right?  Well I am here to tell you different...  If I told you that there is a way to make pizza with a great taste and reduce the calories of the dough by half, would that interest you?

We are always looking for low carb options on the recipe sites.  We already make mashed cauliflower to substitute potatoes.  My Spaniard found a recipe for a cauliflower pizza dough and tweaked it with his special style.  The first time we made it, was with coconut flour.  It didn't hold together as well. because you need some gluten to bind it better.  But it tasted great, for those who do need a gluten free option.  The second time we used regular white all purpose flour from Costco.  Here is the dough recipe:

1 egg
3 cups of steamed cauliflower drained and mashed and all water squeezed out in cheesecloth
1 cup flour
2 oz shredded white cheddar grated (optional)
1 tablespoon pepper (you can us less if you prefer)
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 cloves roasted garlic


1/2 cup store bought pizza sauce
4 strips bacon cooked and crumbled
1/3 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 cup green or white sweet onions diced fine
1/2 cup cooked chicken breast diced into small pieces
1 cup shredded mozzarella

Mash cauliflower with garlic with a potato masher or fork, (or pulse in a food processor if you have one)   Add egg to mixture and mix well.  add 1/2 of the flour.  mix until fully incorporated.  Add rest of flour, pepper, cheese and yogurt.  Mix thoroughly.

heat oven to 450 degrees.

Spread mixture onto parchment paper lined cookie sheet or baking stone about 1/3 inch thick.  Dough will be wet and sticky, not like traditional pizza dough at all.  Bake for 15  minutes until top feels dry and bottom side is golden brown.

Remove from oven, flip dough over and bake another 15 minutes until bottom side is golden brown as well.  This will create a nice dry crust that you can top with anything.

Remove from oven, top with cheese, chicken, bacon and onion,  Return to oven for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.  remove from oven and add diced tomatoes and basil.

Dough is soft but holds together well.  Does not have the same texture as regular pizza dough, We recommend eating it with a fork and knife.  By pre baking it for 15 minutes per side you get a better, more sturdy crust.  When you bake for the 10 minutes with toppings the edges get crispy.

This pizza is healthy low carb option for those on a diabetic or low carb diet.  We found the taste to be rich and more complex that typical pizza dough.  It was very filling after only 2 pieces.  There was enough dough to make 2 large cookie sheet rectangular pizzas which we cut into 4 pieces each.

Tip:  You can steam cauliflower in advance, puree or mash and let it drain overnight in a fine mesh strainer.  Roast garlic in advance and keep covered in a plastic container in the refrigerator.  If you want an even lower calorie dough omit the 2 oz shredded white cheddar cheese.

Nutritional information for dough only:
serving one slice (or 1/4 cookie sheet)
calories 110
protein  5 grams
carbs 12 grams
fiber 2 grams
fat 4 grams

Nutritional information of cauliflower dough without cheese in the dough
serving one slice
calories 82
protein 3.5 grams
carbs 12 grams
fiber 2 grams
fat 1 grams

Compare to traditional pizza dough:
serving size 1 slice
calories 245
protein 10 grams
fat 5 grams
carbs 45 grams
fiber .5 grams

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Happy Birthday to my hubby

This man is amazing.  He takes care of me,  He loves me unconditionally, even when I'm not very lovable.  He married a woman with four children between the ages of 6 and 16, and took on the role of stepdad amazingly well.  I knew he was a keeper when he told me, "I can love your kids if they'll let me, and we can adopt more if we decide we want more.  I just want to be part of a family."

I read a quote once that said "It takes a strong man to step up the the dinner table and finish the plate another man left behind."  That is my Paskie.  My rock, my best friend and partner in crazy adventures.  We have had a lot more down times than up.... and we are still here standing, loving each other even more than we did when we met... Life gets better with every passing day, and we are seeing things improve to the point where we are starting to enjoy life again and not just exist.  I hope we both live to be 100, healthy, with all our marbles,  So we can continue on this beautiful adventure of life. Here's to another 49 beautiful years!

I am so thankful for all of the detours I took to get to the place I was at the exact moment when the timing was right for me to meet this man.  I wouldn't be who I am without the crazy roads I took along the way.  Like our favorite song by Rascal Flatts says:

Every long lost dream, led me to where you are
others who broke my heart, they were like northern stars
pointing me on my way, into your loving arms
this much I know is true
that God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.

Happy birthday to my wonderful man!  I love you babe.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Napa Palisades Saloon

We stopped in here for a drink and appetizer.  It's a casual place that serves pub food.  I had the mac and cheese with bacon, the hubby had hot wings.  The wings were crispy outside but tender and juicy, not dried out and over cooked. They had just the right amount of spice and the blue cheese dip was really nice.  The Mac and cheese was a gooey, cheezy, baconey, delight.  I haven't really eaten it since I was a kid, and it was so good I've been craving it ever since.  It's located next to the ice cream shop on the corner of second and main streets in downtown Napa.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Secreto Iberico

 Photo credit here

I was checking out a new blog the other day  Chica Andaluza  She is an Englishwoman who resides in Southern England and Andalucia in Southern Spain.  Her blog is full of lovely posts with recipes and daily life in Spain and England.  It's very inspiring and funny.  Please check her out.  While browsing through her recipes, I came across a post called Secreto Iberico (Iberian Secret) and was intrigued.  I instantly asked my resident Spaniard "Hey honey, what is this secret, and how come we never had it when we were in Spain?"  This is when I got a lesson in meat butchery in different parts of the world.  Since he is so familiar with animal anatomy, and having done business with several different countries in the food and feed industry, my Spaniard knows a lot.  So here is the lowdown...

It is a cut of meat that does not exist here in the States because of the way the animal is broke down at the slaughterhouse.  Most butcher shops get their meat already broken down into large pieces that they butcher up into chops and steaks etc.  It is difficult to find a butcher shop that breaks down the whole animal.  Well, optomistic little Pollyanna that I am, I was CONVINCED we could find it here in Napa Valley if we found it anywhere.  There are so many fine restaurants and I figured someone would know about it around here...  ummm... NOPE.   Armed with a diagram and my husbands useful Spanish language skills, we beat the streets, trying every butcher shop in town to find someone who knew about Spanish butchery.  No luck... The best we were able to ascertain in our search was that it is a flap of meat in what would be the brisket area of a cow.  It's at the front end of the ribs, boneless and tastes like rib meat, marbled with fat and traditionally grilled with salt and pepper and a little lemon.
Photo credit here

I was disappointed that we couldn't find this mystery meat.  As we were looking at all of the wild game meats, my Spaniard spied a stack of meat labeled meat for sweet and sour BBQ.  No cut specified.  "This is it!"  he says, presenting it to me with a flourish.  It was boneless spare rib meat basically.  We should have taken it to the butcher counter and asked him what that cut of meat was for future reference.  But we were so happy to find it and so hungry at this point we ran home right away and threw it on the grill!    It was delish.  We paired it with some colored carrots, asparagus spears and squash grilled in oilve oil and garlic.  Together with some bread, Spanish cheese Idiazabel (my personal favorite) and some membrillo, we had a lovely Spanish lunch at Casa Machinga.

photo credit here

So try this cut of meat.  Check out Chica Andulaza's blog in the comments section of her Secreto Iberico post.  There are some links to diagrams of pigs and how they are butchered in Spain.  That helped, showing the photo.  I guess you can just ask for the boneless spare rib meat, but it may not be the same stuff.  Please post a comment here if you know where it can be found locally and if you know what the cut is actually called in the States.

All photos were found via google search.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Oxbow Market

Downtown Napa has a really cool place called the Oxbow market.  It is an indoor market that has produce, meats, a bakery. Oyster bar. Cupcake shop, groceries and other specialty restaurants.  We went Friday night for dinner but all of the market stalls were closed.  We ate at this restaurant.  We shared a mixed green salad with balsamic vinigarette and an artichoke pizza.  I had a glass of Chardonnay and the hubs had water.  Total bill was $42 with tip.  Kinda pricey since everything is al la carte.  The food was very good, but not anything we couldn't make at home.  We make an excellent Italian style thin crust pizza for pennies that is better than anything we've been able to find in a restaurant.  You can get the recipe here.  In spite of the fact that we had to sit in the walkway, it was a pretty private dining experience, and a nice date night.  During the day when things are bustling, it would probably feel crowded.  They do have outdoor patio seating with heaters.  It was closed for a private event Friday night, but is usually open on weekends.  

 We spent Sunday afternoon leisurely strolling through the stalls.  I bought some spices from the herb seller.  We tried locally produced olive oils, vinegar, bath products and salami.  You can get pizza, craft beers or a glass of wine.  The cheese shop has an extensive selection of imported cheeses and we were perusing the Spanish options.  Much more than just Manchego, for sure!  They have tables inside and out.  It's pretty crowded on the weekends, but totally worth it.  

We walked down to the river walk.  They have completely redone this area since the last big flood.  It's a lovely place to walk on a sunny day.  We really enjoyed our Lazy Sunday exploration.  We walked from Oxbow down First street to Main Street to the visitors center by Morimoto Restaurant (yeah the Iron Chef guy) and back.  It took us a couple of hours because we stopped and took photos and poked around in shops.  It's really only about a mile round trip, if that.  

A haunting memorial sculpture in veterans park with names of local soldiers killed in action.  

So next time you are in the Valley, check out downtown Napa!  It has a lot to offer.  

Monday, February 29, 2016

Iratxe Arrives today!

This girl, or our That Girl ( she reminds me of That Girl)  from the Basque country arrives today. Her name is pronounced EE-ra-tsay.   She is our daughter across the water.  We  spent 2 summers with her and we love her like she is one of our own kids.  Visiting on a 4 week trip in San Francisco for school, she doesn't want to spend her weekend doing touristic things in the city.  Since she has already done that on her previous trips... She prefers to spend them with us!  So we will figure out some fun things to do on the weekends while she is here.  

When we were in Spain for Christmas of 2014, she and her family took us all over their area, wined and dined us in true Basque style...  For those not familiar with Spanish culture, the Basque are KNOWN for their cooking.  There are cooking societies called Sociodad gastronomica (hope my spelling is correct) , It is usually men, but some allow women.   They go to cook and eat and socialize, think Loyal order of the Water Buffalo with guys cooking Flintstone sized cuts of meat.  Her dad pays a fee of I think he said $30 euros a year which includes unlimited use of the space for any party or event he wants to have.  They (the society) come and clean it up afterward...  It has dining for over 100 people, a huge commercial kitchen with a pit to cook goat, pig or cow outside and a fully stocked bar for cocktails.  You bring your own wine.   OMG the food her father cooked for us was amazing! 

Sadly, her mother passed away when she was eight.  We went to the village where her mother grew up, and where her parents were married.   A cute little Gothic village on the sea called Leucatia.  They have the family home here still but they only open it in the summer.  

all of us with her father, brothers and dads girlfriend

the lovely Gothic cathedral where her parents were married

the square by the harbor

a fishmonger selling fresh caught fish out of a little cart next to the water.  

a little island across the harbor that can be reached by foot on a sandbar at low tide

Iratxe, Yousef and Xabi

Iratxe and her dad

Mini Kings cakes... MAN I love these things!!!

Alberto cooking us a HUGE steak that is like a Porterhouse cut here in the States.

We really enjoyed our 2 days in the Basque country, and hope to spend more time there when we go again.  We really want to enjoy the few days we get with her doing something fun.  We are trying to think of something she would like that she hs not seen here in Nor Cal yet...  We know a trip to the outlets is a must, this girl is a shopper!  Gotta get our thinking caps on!