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