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I think my soul lives outside city limits.

Concrete-claustrophobia is a new feeling for me. I’ve never ever considered myself a “city girl” but not a country mouse either. I’ve travelled, I’ve flown all over the planet, I thought I knew what to expect having been to many large cities. On the other hand, I always said that I could never live in New York City. “It’s nice to visit” I’d say, “but I could never live here, too many people and not enough grass”.  San Jose is the 10th largest city in the Nation.

Apparently, being #1 and #10 are one and the same to me.

The houses here are so very close together, so close that I can’t open any of the blinds because each window faces a neighbors window about 8 feet away. I can see them, they can see me hypothetically. It’s weird. At home I had over 40 windows each looking out over a private area of my yard. They were all open almost all the time and I loved the light. Now I live in a dim cave. When I leave the house I’m reminded every time about how much land has been, in my opinion, ruined by the people living here. Concrete stretches everywhere! It doesn’t help that we live near the car-dealership row and have to drive by it often. So in addition to the 6 lane road with concrete median, lined with the concrete sidewalks and then spreading into the acres of asphalt parking lots, there is also the reminder of other human impacts to this earth with the acres of new cars sitting on those lots. The fact that they have so many points to just how many people they think will come and buy those cars. The land used to be farmland and the street we live on is named after the family who owned the land. I can imagine it was pretty not that long ago.

That is the other part here, the people. They’re everywhere as evidenced by long lines at the gas station, the inability to park at Costco in the afternoons, the massive crush of traffic at rush hour. Just so many people. Like any large city I’ve heard, the people are also a bit…self absorbed? I say hi, smile or nod to them as I walk by. I usually get no response, sometimes I get a hard stare, once I got a reply. Several times now I have been walking on the sidewalk in my neighborhood, approached by a couple of people coming the other way and instead of them falling into single-file so we can pass, they keep right on walking pushing me off the sidewalk as if I wasn’t there. I wanted to yell “I’m walking here!” but they’d probably just have ignored that too. It must be that I’m a country mouse because these events can put me to tears. Not only do I feel so alone and out-of-place but clearly, I don’t even merit space on a public sidewalk or any indication from humans that I exist.

I don’t know how much of my problem here is simply homesickness and it will get better or if the visceral ache I have in this city is something that won’t go away. I went to a wedding in Virginia last week and sometime during one of the drives through the city (a suburb of D.C. so hardly a tiny town) I realized something was different. I took a mental inventory and found what was missing after a minute, the hard, compressed knot weighing in my abdomen. I felt relaxed, as if I had been holding anxiety from being in San Jose and simply by driving by open fields and forests I felt better. I can only attribute this feeling to simply not being in a large city since it is the same feeling I get when I leave San Jose to go hiking. I do this as much as possible because so far, it is the only time I’m not miserable. I think my soul lives outside city-limits. It isn’t that I’m not trying to get integrated here either! I’ve applied to four jobs, joined a yoga class, go to the dog park regularly, joined a hiking group, attended 3 book club meetings, joined a girls-my-age group and we are about to start taking dancing lessons. I am putting myself out there…frequently! It has been five months of me trying and I read somewhere it can take 1 – 2 YEARS to feel at “home” in a new place. I don’t even think I need to feel “at home” here, at this point I’d take “not being miserable in a new place”.

Since I have never hiked before the thought of going out can be intimidating. Do I have the right supplies? Do I look like an idiot with my pink, clearly-not-made-for hiking-extra-backpack-lying-around? Am I wearing the right clothes? In addition to the self-doubt, I have little experience with mountains and I am completely directionless. Just driving there is stressful since I don’t know my way around and a lot of State parks don’t have clear addresses. I can’t read a map very well and wouldn’t have any idea how to use the compass feature of my iPhone.  However, we head out every weekend for 6 – 9 mile hikes(9.5- 14.5 km) through woods and terrain I’ve never seen before. Now that I have my own car, I’m going more often alone and I CAN’T WAIT to get there. Last week, Friday-Sunday I did 20 miles (32K)!

One of the first, and furthest hikes we went on was to Grey Whale Cove, north of us near San Francisco. The path we took was only 5 miles (8 K) but being able to see the views of the water, smell the ocean on the breeze and get some sunshine in was priceless. The drive up there was great and we found a little BBQ dive that was rated well on Yelp. They were cooking out of an old train car, outside seating only, but they were packed as it were and their food delicious. So I took my pictures and for the next week thought about this place existing somewhere past the concrete, to hold me over until next weekend.

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look before you leap? (starting 2015 with a whole new life)

(Continuing my documentation of our cross-country move)

This adage is very sound advice and generally I’m a cautious person when making big decisions but there was no looking at anything this time. Maybe part of what made this move difficult was the not knowing anything constantly, the feeling of the rug pulled out from under my feet and never knowing what to expect. Accepting a job offer and moving to California from Florida after only 3 weeks was so sudden the quickness of it left me off balance and did not help my adjustment.

In some ways, it would have been so much better if I had stayed behind while Daniel secured a place to rent for us and later we could have moved our things. I would have been able to apply for the Nursing License in California while still keeping my job a little longer and continue to earn money (and not be bored) instead of waiting to begin the application until after we had settled in the new rental house and then waiting 8 weeks longer to get the license approved. I could have had more time to settle the things that needed done before we moved and most importantly, I could have taken my time saying goodbye to everyone and everything I loved and would miss. I know I would have still been very sad of course but I wonder if I would have been so sad for so long or if maybe the depth of my feelings would have been less severe. I felt like somebody had died, really, I was grieving the death of my life as I knew it and felt very alone. Daniel told me he was afraid that if I stayed behind that I might never move.

As it was though, we were given a 1 bedroom, furnished apartment in Downtown San Jose with a limit of 8 weeks to find housing and move out. Meanwhile, all of our belongings were in storage and we had to live with just what we had brought with us in suitcases. Moving from a 3200 square foot home on a secluded acre to a very urban and, comparatively small apartment was a death in itself. Life seemed bleak, there was no doubting that things had changed for us forever.  I was alone long days while Daniel was at work and other than my school-work I had nothing to do. I couldn’t go very far because the dogs being crated over 4 hours made me feel guilty, I’m sure they missed their large yard and being crated for long periods was unusual before. Also, some days I didn’t have a car because I was tired of driving Daniel to work in traffic just for me to turn around again and go through the traffic home, then do it again in the evening to get him. So I let him take the car. The things I used to like to do that made me happy were boxed up or impossible to enjoy at the apartment. For instance, obviously, I love to cook but the meager and flimsy cooking equipment at the apartment made anything but the most basic cooking difficult. The knives were so dull they barely cut anything, we had just one pot and two pans, and a cookie sheet not much larger than a piece of notebook paper! We ended up eating out a lot or just having a salad and baked chicken. I love to read and got a kindle since I couldn’t get a library card without having an address. I tried to parlay my love of books into meeting people at a book club but the first meeting I went to had only 3 attendees (of the 9 that were supposed to be there) and I was the only one who had read the book! The second attempt went almost as poorly so I quit trying there. Other things I was interested in conflicted with my needing to drop off or pick up Daniel from work and aside from going to the dog park with Arthur, I had no opportunities to meet anyone.

Our anxious dog, Kendi, continued to be anxious at the new setup, confined more, new noises of people walking by in the hallway and riding in elevators had him on edge. Walking him became difficult because he would jump at dogs that would pass trying to defend himself against their presence. We had been doing behavioral training with Kendi at home to help him be better adjusted and less anxious over the small things that set him off and we were seeing some improvement. After he broke his tooth and the move though, we lost all the ground we had made with him and his behavior. Even though he had been on “doggie xanax” since the drive and for several weeks after we got to the apartment, he still was jumpy and anxious and when he was given the Xanax he was too sleepy to play. Xanax with dogs is just like with people. It will help in the short-term but in the end, it is a band-aid covering a larger problem and it shouldn’t be taken forever. After having surgery to remove his broken tooth and talking with the vet here (coincidentally a UF grad, go Gator Nation!) about his issues we decided to try him on Prozac. There were problems at first with him acting dazed but it cleared up and I am happy to say he is almost a different dog, for the better. He used to jump and skitter if I walked near him with the laundry basket and he would run terrified when anyone emptied the trash. He was insecure with other dogs to the point he would be aggressive and not tolerate their presence at all. After the Prozac he is so much more calm. He no longer runs from the trash bags and he is overly excited when other dogs pass but he doesn’t lunge and growl like he did anymore. I think trying the behavioral training was the right thing to do first but dogs, like people, have their own problems and imbalances and sometimes medication is the best thing. The puppy Arthur, adjusted so well. Arthur has so far, not lived anywhere longer than 2 months. His first 8 weeks was with his mother and litter mates, his second 8 weeks were in our home in Florida, the third 8 weeks were in the apartment in California and so far, we have only been in this rental home 8 weeks. I’m sure he expects us to pack up everything any minute now and take off again!  He is a sweet, curious and confident dog and thankfully he is mild tempered, he is 8 months old now and weighs 74 pounds, four pounds more than Kendi already and he has at least another six months of growing to do.

After getting used to being here for a few weeks we started looking for a place to rent that would allow dogs. This was very difficult. There were so many homes and apartments that were fine and fit our budget or were in an area we liked but wouldn’t consider pets. When we did find a home we liked that allowed pets we would get there for a walk through with the realtor and get a tour with one or two other families! Never have I heard of that, this is not an open house but our appointment was double and triple booked sometimes. People were offering more for the rents than the asking price and we didn’t get many of the places we wanted because the competition was so fierce. Finally, at yet another home where we had an appointment for a showing (with two other families) we thought we liked this one and quickly contacted the owner right after we saw it. We offered more than the asking rent and were able to rent this house. It’s bigger than we need but the houses that fit us better got snapped up by others. It is in an area that is nice, the streets are pretty and lined with trees. It is hard though to look at this house, with it’s “cookie-cutter” design and out-of-date tacky fixtures and compare that to our 90-year-old home that had aged and remained classic, the details were charming not out-of-date tacky and the repairs needed were easily forgiven, the house is very old after all. But here we are and here we will stay until we can afford to have another home of our own.

Meanwhile, Daniel goes to work happy, comes home happy, spends the weekend happy and goes off again to work Monday’s, still happy. I can’t tell you how much of a relief that is. Prior to moving I would worry about how he would be when he got home from work, angry or deflated after another soul-crushing day at work when asking “how was your day” was inviting a discussion about all the problems at his job. All weekend he would worry about having to go back on Monday and then he would leave for work unhappy. At the very very least, the whole purpose of the move was successful, Daniel has a job he loves and is as happy as I’ve ever known him.

Now that we are in a house and have a dog-walker, we have taken advantage of the hiking that is available here. Besides Daniel being happy, I still haven’t found any other good reason to be here other than the hiking. Part of it is that I feel suffocated in all this…city and desperately have a need to be away from it often. I didn’t feel this at home, the town was small and the green spaces were everywhere. Our yard was sufficient actually. So now, with our plastic coated, Astroturf back yard the size of a storage container backing up and surrounded by our neighbors identically laid-out smudges of “yard” the only words I have to describe it are negative. VERY. So my next posts will include some of our hiking and other attempts to enjoy being here. I’m really trying. I am.

Have a wonderful 2015, may it bring you (and me) happiness and love.

 

a leap of faith

So the blog here is mostly about food and nutrition, I use it as my own curated, online recipe box. This comes in very handy when I’m at the store and forgot what I was supposed to get for a meal. I can just look my recipe up online! However, as the title suggests it’s a little about my belief that experiences make up a life and not the things we buy or the house we live in or even our job. Well, for some people it may include their job but not me so much.

I decided around age 25 that I did not want children. For many many reasons, one of them being the ability to be flexible and travel and do things one can’t easily do when they have kids. Around the same time, in college, I chose nursing for my career. Also for many reasons, but one is that nursing allows me a lot of flexibility with my schedule and an ability to move around and have little trouble finding a new job. So this is part of why I became a nurse then, 8 years ago, to be able to take opportunities and travel and such. Except I didn’t move out of my hometown, I had friends and a job I liked where I was, it was easier to stay and it was good that I did stay because I met my now-husband in that town. But none of that took advantage of the choices I made.  The story goes: we bought a house, a lovely lovely old house that is now and will always be special to me. This house became my experience. It needed a lot of love and work and I jumped on learning handy things and working to restore a bit of history. My husband however, over the course of 5 years, was not happy in his job and was not having luck finding a comparable new one. Then he got a job offer at Netflix. This is a crucial moment. Stay in the house we both love and planned to retire in (but have a dead-end job hubby doesn’t like) or consider moving and starting all over again.

Here is the leap. I considered my beliefs that the things you have don’t make you happy, not even a house. I considered how unhappy my husband had been though he really had tried many things to try to be happy at his job but wasn’t. I considered the reasons I had chosen not to have children and to become an RN. We considered a lot of things together and end the end, took a big breath and a giant leap and accepted the job. We were moving. After 26 years for me, and his whole life, in Florida we packed up our things and drove out west to California 3 weeks after he got the job.

The transition was not without its problems. We both quit our jobs (gulp) the day after he accepted the job out West. Though Netflix paid for the move and sent very handy movers who packed for us, it was our understanding that if it was in the house, it was getting packed. This required a thorough going through to throw away, give away or sell anything we didn’t want or thought wouldn’t fit our (unknown) living situation after the move. There was also the problem of tying up any loose ends on projects around the house and getting it on the market. We were flying originally so we did the whole special vet visits to get permits to allow the dogs to fly and bought flight crates for them. (there is a story on that later). We planned with our families and friends goodbye dinners and in the worst situation, called up some very good friends of ours who had gone on a 3 week vacation right before we made the decision. This meant that before they left, we had them over for dinner, told them what we were planning but assured them it would be months before anything happened. Then had to call them and tell them we were so sorry we wouldn’t get to see them before we moved. Things were happening very fast. Canceling appointments that had not that long ago been arranged, finding appropriate lawn and other trustworthy maintenance workers for if the house needed anything while we were away, selling our two cars and buying one new one, arranging flights, car rentals and many, many other small things that needed attention. It was frenetic.

Everything kept changing last-minute. First, we were going to have just a month of temp housing provided by Netflix so we could find a place to rent. We thought we wanted to stay in San Francisco for that time to see how that was and possibly settle down there. Then we found out how long the commute would actually be and scrapped that. Start over with finding a place in San Jose. Suddenly, for no known reason, we were allowed two months temp housing. OK. We had assembled the flight crates so that the dogs could get used to them before they flew, unfortunately due to the time-frame, the crates only arrived about 4 days before we left. I had a good-bye dinner with friends and Daniel was out so I put the dogs in their new crates and left. Daniel got home a couple of hours later and let them out and I got home later and we all went to bed. The next afternoon I noticed that the crate our anxious dog was in looked damaged. We had gotten them used so I thought the crate had come that way and I hadn’t noticed. There were puncture holes in the plastic and the metal grate for the air-window was bent. This was very thick metal and I said to myself that surely MY dog didn’t do this, if he had he would have broken a tooth, some other poor dog had a hysterical fit in there. Then I looked just inside the crate bottom and found an entire canine tooth where he had broken it off at the gum line. This was Friday afternoon. We leave on Monday. The Movers were arriving in the morning and no vet was going to do an emergency surgery with such short notice, at least not on our budget!  (breathe deeply into this paper bag)  We consulted the vet on the phone and decided on a plan to watch the dog, who was eating and drinking fine, and take care of the tooth on the other side. Also, the vet suggested an anti-anxiety med for him which helped a lot. Flights and rental cars got cancelled, our dog would not have made a flight we didn’t think so we began plotting a cross-country driving route that would get us there in time for Daniel’s first day.

The movers arrived Saturday morning and stayed all day just packing, Sunday was loading. At this point I felt very bad for the dogs who had been crated through all the time the movers were there because all the doors were open and they would have been underfoot or lost in the street. So I took them out for a quick jog….where as we were running flat out I became tangled in one of their leashes and fell face first on the street. I like to think I fell gracefully…. I also think I had a small concussion after that with a very bad headache and some dizziness and nausea but I didn’t have time for that. Plus it was Sunday. Again, nobody really available, affordably, to take a look at me. I ached all over, neck, back, right shoulder and knee…I felt like I’d been in a car accident. Through all this various friends and family were coming by to say hi and bye and to help us out which was very nice and good to see them all. Crash to bed that night, in the morning we sell our last car and drive west.

The drive itself was OK. I never ever ever want to do it again though. Oh did I mention through all this I had just began an online BSN program? A decision made and paid for well in advance of our big move. So yes, the week of the drive was my first week of classes. The first thing each morning when we got in the car was to call a hotel in the city we planned to stop and make reservations. We figured out how to link my laptop to the internet through my cell phone and I spent time in the car every day after making reservations doing my school work. The dogs were lounging in the back among the luggage, the anxious one dosed with a little melatonin to keep him calm. Did I mention one of the dogs is a 3 month old puppy? Yes. We had gotten a puppy about a month before the decision to move. A potty training puppy in a cross-country car trip. F.U.N. No melatonin for him since he was so young but thankfully puppies do tend to sleep a lot.

Comfy on the luggageNo personal spaceBelly up!

 

We detoured through Alabama to see my Aunt and then up to Mississippi to visit my Grandma before we officially headed west. Each night we would roll into our stopping destination after 8 or so hours of driving, unpack the whole car, including the luggage rack(wouldn’t want anyone to steal our extra dog-food or luggage!) bring it all into the hotel room and crash. The next morning, re-pack the car and luggage rack, secure everything down again, dose the dog and get in the car again. We had audio books and took plenty of breaks to stretch our legs (and walk the puppy) and I worked on a cross-stitch and we drove and drove. Well, Daniel drove and drove. I didn’t drive at all.  We did stop in Arizona to meet with one of my best friends who I hadn’t seen for a long time. We found a restaurant that allowed dogs on the patio and later went to her home and visited some more. It was nice. Finally, after six long days of driving we arrived at our temporary apartment in San Jose. Let the house hunting begin.

I will stop here since this is such a long post. I know I haven’t posted in a while. A lot of sad and tragic things happened between August 2013 and now and I haven’t posted much but maybe I will get caught up and include more of the experiences I have since I’m on a whole new adventure here.

Goodbye until  next time, which isn’t goodbye at all…more like see you later!

Southwest Chicken Soup (and homemade chicken stock)

I love soups, I really do. I should put more of them on onehotmess because I have a few I love but have almost lost because I forgot the site or the site host changed/removed their post. I give all credit to paleOMG.com for this one, I have made some changes to fit our preferences and to make the meal more cost-effective.  As far as soups go, I don’t often have soup as the main dish because they just aren’t that hearty. Most hearty soups really belong in the “stew” section I think but this is definitely a soup. A soup you can call a meal! PaleOMG is an excellent site for paleo recipes, I have found many there I have liked and make often, and they are great every time.

Okay, to get more specific about this soup! This soup is on the spicy side, you can adjust the cayenne as needed if you can tolerate some heat but don’t want the whole thing. IMO, it isn’t that spicy but I like a lot of spice. The original recipe (linked above) calls for coating the chicken strips or tenderloin and baking them first. I cut out that step. Firstly, less handling raw meat to cut the breasts up and secondly it is more cost-effective to buy a whole chicken than just breasts or tenderloins. Also I really like using home-made stocks for my soups. There is a quality to home-made stocks that store-bought brands miss. They aren’t bad necessarily but not particularly flavorful and some of them can hide a lot of salt or other preservatives. Also I am suspicious of how much chicken/beef/vegetables are actually in the stock and where they came from. Are we talking about a use for leftovers at the food processing plant? In any case, I’ve made this several times, both ways and we prefer the boiled chicken better. The meat is more tender and more reminiscent of chicken soup. An added benefit of starting with a whole, home-boiled, chicken is that you get the start of a stock for no extra charge (and if you keep aside the picked carcass you can make a second stock to save!).

Ingredients

  • 2 TBS olive or coconut oil
  • 1 whole chicken, 3 – 4 pounds, more if you want extra chicken
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper (for color, any one will do), diced
  • 1 poblano or Anaheim pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 14 oz can fire roasted tomatoes (I like Hunt’s variety)
  • 1 TBS cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 TBS garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (leave out for a less spicy soup)
  • salt and pepper to taste (I wait to season individual bowls…this is a pretty flavorful sauce by the end)
  • 4 cups (32oz) chicken stock
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)
  • plantain chips for garnish (optional but strongly encouraged)
  • sliced avocado for garnish (optional)

Either method is good but for the boiled way be prepared to start the chicken about 3 hours in advance of the meal. You’ll need that much time to boil the chicken for an hour and, depending on how much liquid you have, time to reduce it down to a stock. Luckily, most of this part doesn’t require much intervention once it gets to a boil. Just turn it down to simmer and walk away for an hour. Remove the chicken to cool, take off the lid and turn up the heat to get it boiling. At this point if you can pick a (hot) bone out you can throw one back in and add any vegetable or spices you’d like or just have a clean chicken stock with nothing added. Allow it to boil another 30 -45 minutes (this time greatly depends on how much fluid is left over) and check it. It may need a little more time but this is a good time to start picking the cooled chicken and chopping veggies while you keep an eye on it. The stock should get a thicker quality as it condenses, the color should go from more clear to more opaque, towards the yellow side and you can taste it for seasoning if you want. Once the stock is reduced, pour it into a bowl, possibly the bowl with the now picked chicken bits, to keep while the vegetables get going.

With your chicken picked and set aside and your stock removed from the pot, add the oil back to the pot (oh yeah, one pot yay!). Heat over medium-high heat and add all the fresh vegetables except the garnish, and sauté until the onions begin to become clear and the peppers soften. Stir often to prevent burning or sticking. Next, add the tomatoes and spices and stir to mix. Finally, add back the picked chicken and stock and stir to mix the veggies and spices, allow to simmer another 30 minutes. When that is done, stir in the lime juice, ladle out the bowls and garnish with the optional touches. As I said before, this soup is a very flavorful, slightly spicy soup and only a little salt is needed IMO. But then again I like to go easy on the salt.

If you’re going to continue the cost-effectiveness, save the bones in the fridge overnight to make a stock tomorrow. You can make a chicken stock easily out of any chicken bones, regardless if grilled or roasted..I’ve never used fried chicken bones though if you pick off the breading then maybe it’s OK?

The quick method is to just put in any bones and giblets you have (including ribs, neck, back, and feet if you have them) into a large stock-pot with roughly 4 quarts cold water and 2-3 TBS white vinegar and boil. (the longer way involves roasting the bones/innards first until browned) Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow to simmer 4-6 hours until it is reduced to your liking. More time if you can or depending on how much stock you want. The longer the simmer, the thicker and more flavorful the stock. For added flavor and nutrients, for the last 10-15 minutes add any combo of: whole crushed garlic cloves, chopped onion, celery, carrot, bay leaf, rosemary, thyme, or oregano (I wouldn’t suggest ALL of those herbs together…maybe just pick two) and continue to simmer. At the start, you can skim off the floaty fuzz that sometimes comes up. To store, pour the stock into several sets of ice-cube trays, freeze and keep for later. Freezing them into ice cubes makes it easier to take out the amount you need after frozen without having to thaw the whole batch. Just pick out what will fill your needed measurement and add a couple extra to account for the spaces. Better to have too much than too little.   Alternatively, if you want to have an almost fat-free broth then refrigerate it overnight in the pot or a large pitcher and scoop out the fat that will rise to the top and harden in the morning. The stock should be gelatinous under this layer of fat, don’t worry! It is a little harder to get the congealed stock into ice-cube trays but I promise, it is worth it to be able to easily use later.

I’m not sure how long the stock will keep frozen, honestly I use stock enough that I haven’t run into any problems. Use your best judgement. There! With very little effort you can make an excellent stock with no preservatives and you can customize your flavor at the same time getting all the good stuff out of the chicken you bought. And you thought it was done after you ate it! There are many nutrition and health benefits to using home-made stock and it is my opinion that if you use a good stock for your recipes it will add to your dish in the end. You may think that you don’t taste the stock much but I think that is because you aren’t using a tasty stock.

2013…going, going, GONE!

Last year I really found it cathartic to go through and put down in words (and pictures) everything we had done through the year on the house because I get very much into the thinking about current projects and projects to come and then start feeling like absolutely nothing has been accomplished. In turn, that leads me into a spiral of anxiety, guilt and frustration. I thought I’d re-cap again this past year for my own benefit so I can look at this and see where we came from and how well things are going along and if, by chance, anybody else finds this kind of stuff interesting then there it is!

So inside, the painting continues. The Laundry Room. (aka the scariest room in the whole house) The doors and drawers stick or don’t close all the way, the hardware is very dated, the tile is cracked and a fun shade of light green, the washer/drier were pretty beat up and there were three, count them THREE different doorbell units on the walls. None of which worked. The inside of the cabinet under the sink is so dark and has that “old” smell (which can be creepy). And to top it off the plaster is cracked and the paint is dull and dirty. Considering the cabinets and sink/tile in there are original I’d be tempted to keep them, but on the other hand, the tile and grout are in such bad shape (not to mention not my first choice in color) and the cabinets don’t work great it would be easier to take it all out and start over.  The only problem with that is…it costs money! Compromise: Replace the washer/drier with new, energy efficient units (also the old drier died so we had to replace it), paint cabinetry to look cleaner and less scary and replace hardware for a fresh look.  Then, repaint the trim and walls with a complimenting color to the terrible tile so at least it looks cuter even if it is clearly very old. The new look is actually pretty good! The room is not so scary and other than needing to replace the laminate floor in there, the mini-makeover will probably do for a long time. It’s hard to tell what the new colors are in the photo but the cabinets are a cream color and the walls directly over the sink are a pastel yellow which goes as nice as possible with the green tile.

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1920's good condition, great price!

1920’s good condition, great price!

The guest room and bathroom was repainted. We also were able to patch the dry wall in the bathroom that had been damaged by a plumbing leak so it looked better! Additionally, we got an amazing deal on an old 1920’s armoire I found at a local consignment shop. It was beautiful and perfect because the guest room has no closet (or any other furniture besides a bed and nightstand). These days armoires are more for TV’s so they’re a little short for hanging long clothes and I had a pretty hard time finding what I wanted that was affordable. The piece fits with the era of the house perfectly and filled the need for our guests to have a place to put their clothes, I couldn’t be happier with it.

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I repainted the tiny bathroom in the cabin (second scariest room in the house). This bathroom is very old…the cabin was built around 1880 and sometime after the house was built it was picked up and attached on to the back of the kitchen. The cabin had belonged to the family who built the house but they sold the land it was sitting on but not the cabin. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to move a one bedroom/one bath house a mile or so way back then! Anyway, this bathroom is dark, very small and the tile in the shower is more dated and tacky tacky tacky.  Primarily it functions as the closest bathroom to where I spend the most time (the kitchen) and the shower belongs to the dogs. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the tile and grout are in pretty good shape since it looks like sometime in the 70’s it had been replaced. Horrible color scheme but what am I going to do? I’m not down for doing tile work just yet. Again, making the best of a bad situation, I patched the areas of grout needing it, repainted with a cute Florida Gator’s/puppy paw-print theme, put up clean curtains and replaced the shower curtain with a great big one that hides a lot of the shower tile. Now, the space doesn’t come across as ancient and ugly and I can live with not looking at the tile except when the dogs need a bath. One day I will get back to it but for now, it will do.

DSC_4059 cabin bath

stained glass

since the spaces had been made for stained glass, the backlighting that was already installed really help show off this piece.

We fixed the holes in the wall between the kitchen and laundry room. When we moved in there were two “windows” looking from the kitchen into the laundry room. Not a pretty view even after it was painted. The holes in the wall were from a stained glass piece that the previous owner stated “was sentimental” and took with them. Anyway, long story short we finally sat down with a local stained glass gallery, drew up a simple, natural design and covered up the gaping holes.

I put weather-stripping on all 5? windows and caulked the top sashes of the double hung windows. Then I installed pulley covers over the pulley holes in order to improve our energy efficiency. It worked! We saw a decrease in the next months bill by about $30.00! That will add up for sure. Bonus: with the gaps better closed the amount of dust/dirt inside was markedly decreased and the number of flying bugs wandering in also went to almost zero.  (we knew what bug season it was by the bugs we found in the house…mosquito season, lady bug season, fly season, wasp season, and then that HUGE SPIDER that walked right up the window, through the crack and into the living room nearly killing me with its ugliness!) We also finished re-screening all of the first floor windows which was quite a job.

We went around and covered all the ventilation holes with hardware cloth and repaired the concrete mortar in the lime rock foundation. We had so many small holes and gaps that virtually anything raccoon size or smaller could get under the house and live quite comfortably there. We definitely had rats as per the smell of them in the stairwell (OMG like a dirty kitty litter box) and snakes too were often seen coming and going. We noticed a sharp decrease in the smell after the rat-snake moved in but he left after a month or so and the rats came back so we decided to do something about it.  Since I’m the smaller of the two of us, I got voted to go under the house. With the rats and the snakes and god knows what else. Oh boy. I did not like that not one bit but it had to be done. I suited up and crawled around with a bucket of concrete mix and bricks and bricked up the largest of the openings from the inside and spread rat poison around on my way out. I startled a 2 foot rat (tip to tail) and I nearly had a heart attack. No spiders or snakes though! Daniel built new access hatches that fit the holes much better and added more ventilation (and looked nicer to boot) and we called that job good and done. A few days later it became clear that the rat had died….then it got cold and the smell went away.

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Daniel’s home-made crawl space access door. (one of two) He even used recycled wood using scraps from some of our other projects!

underhouse

if this doesn’t scare anything under there away I don’t know what will!

crawling

Later we decided that hardware cloth should be put up in the attic too over the vents. Amazingly, in 90 years it hadn’t been done but there was surprisingly little evidence of squirrel or other pest presence/damage. Nothing appeared to be current damage anyway so that’s all fixed up now.

floorbeforefloorafterThe pine floors upstairs were in bad shape. The finish was old, yellowed and cracking off in pieces and since it was compromised I couldn’t mop the floors or else I’d damage the wood. We had the floors refinished by a great company in town who did a fantastic job. The floors are just amazing now! This was the first job we outsourced also..it felt so odd having work done that didn’t include us learning a new skill.  We are now committed to trimming the dogs nails quite regularly.

garden

first hydrangea location

Meanwhile, all the regular outside maintenance continued. The yard was kept up, I planted an amarilla bed and a small hydrangea garden. Then I moved the hydrangea garden because I planted it in too much sun the first time. That was a pain believe me. Digging holes is not fun. Digging a new set of holes, digging up plants, transplanting them then filling in the holes you dug the first time was absolutely miserable. Note to self….  We also bought and planted four peach trees, three of which are still alive! Hopefully in a year or two we can eat fresh peaches from our yard and I am really looking forward to seeing them bud in the spring. We removed several medium to massive palm trees from the back yard and gave them to a friend, all but one is now living happily in their new yard. There are just too many taking up space, blocking windows and calling roaches from across the globe to come live in them. They have to go. Or at least be reduced. Daniel won’t let me pull them all out and burn them but I would if I could!

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my favorite chicken – no names until they lay eggs!

We got chickens or well, I should say, *I got chickens. Daniel is humoring my new hobby but if this works out we are going to have a full-scale chicken farm. Well, at least up to the 10 chickens the city allows anyway. Fresh eggs are coming soon (fingers crossed) and if I can keep up with three chickens I think I can keep up with 10. Growing healthy, free range, no hormone or antibiotic given chickens for eggs and eating is my goal. I’m just too thrifty to pay what it costs to get that quality of chicken meat at the farmers market but at the same time I believe strongly that it would be better for us to eat birds that were raised in a healthy environment without all the antibiotics and hormones. I also really like connecting this house and property back to farming in a tiny tiny small-scale way. I feel like I’m honoring the history here.  So yeah, me and my first three chickens are learning how to take care of one another or I will find out that it IS worth it after all for somebody else to do all the keeping, cleaning and butchering. I’m giving myself a year trial. We call it the “Peeper Project” and I’m sure in the next year I will be blogging about it!

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I bought a coop kit online but thought it was too small once I got it together. So I made more room using wood scraps and hardware cloth.

 This year we hope we will be as successful in our forward momentum as we restore this great house as we were last year!

Happy New Year!

Can’t Get Enough Carnitas

I love food. Pretty much all of it. Then there is this strange conflict between my love of leftovers and my easily bored taste buds, it usually works out that by the time the leftovers are gone I’m tired of eating that dish anyway and won’t make it again for several weeks. This dish is the first time I have repeatedly wanted to eat anything this consistently since high school when I insisted on having a Publix sugar-free, fat-free key-lime yogurt for lunch every. single. day. For two years. (I still can’t eat those) This recipe however has been made and made again almost weekly for the past two months or more and it’s about time I debuted it here! I found this on a website “everydaypaleo.com” which has been an excellent resource with our new attempts at going paleo.  I can’t pin-point exactly what it is I love about this. Maybe it is the salty-sweet-cold-crunchy – smooth-creamy-spicy combo? Also, I usually end up changing some things (or a lot of things) from recipes I find but this one? Nope. It’s perfect just the way it is. There are two variations for the base, either use a baked sweet potato or make the tostones. The potato option is less work and easier to make extra because the tostones are really only good fresh but they are EXCELLENT!  The main reason I’m putting it here is because I don’t like having to have multiple web pages open while I’m making a meal. There are several parts, don’t get daunted, but it comes together SO WELL and oh my, the leftovers go all week. Let’s get to it!


Slow Cooked Carnitas 

  • 4 lbs pork shoulder cut into 2″ cubes
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons melted lard (or coconut oil)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons crushed garlic
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 bay leaves

1. In a large bowl, mix the pieces of pork with 2 tablespoons of the melted lard or coconut oil, salt, garlic, and oregano until all of the pieces are coated.

2. Place the pork in a slow cooker, add the water and bay leaves, cover and cook on low for 6- 8 hours or until the pork is fork tender. Pull the meat apart and set aside.

Pico de gallo (I highly suggest doubling this! Also, the smaller the dice the better)

  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • 1 small red or white onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup finely diced fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 jalapeño or serrano chile, seeds removed and minced
  • 1 tsp sea salt or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper or to taste
  • 1 garlic cloves, minced
  • Juice from 1 lime

1. Mix all of the above ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl and place in the refrigerator to keep fresh.


Spicy Aioli*

(everything above the line is how to make a basic paleo mayo, everything after makes it the spicy aioli)

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups light tasting olive oil or walnut oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ______________________
  • 1 garlic clove
  • squeeze lemon juice
  • 1 T tabasco sauce (or other favorite hot chili sauce)

In a blender, add the eggs, vinegar, and mustard and blend together well – leave the blender running and slowly slowly slowly drop by drop or very slow drizzle add the oil.  BE PATIENT!!  Do not dump all the oil in quickly and give up!!  When the mixture begins to emulsify or thicken, only then can you be a bit faster about pouring in the olive oil but still take your time.  Turn the blender off once all the olive oil is in and the mayonnaise is thickened to your desired consistency.  Add the salt and cayenne pepper and mix well or blend again for another few seconds.

*in my opinion, this is the hardest part. I made many mayo’s that fell apart while standing, liquified when heated, or just plain tasted bad. After much trial and error I found that using an immersion blender and going really slow with adding the oil worked best. It takes about 10 minutes of slowly adding the oil and continually running the blender until it all becomes thick enough and looking like mayo. Be patient! You can substitute already made mayo but the end result here is a creamier one without preservatives.

Tostones (or bake a handful of sweet potatoes)

  • 2-3 GREEN plantains, peeled and cut into 2 inch long round pieces
  • 1 cup coconut oil for frying or other cooking oil of your choice such as lard or tallow

1. In a deep frying pan, melt the cooking oil over medium high heat.

2. Once the oil is hot, add the plantain slices into the hot oil standing on one end.

3. Fry until the one side is golden brown, flip and fry the other side until golden brown.

4. Carefully remove from the oil and one at a time, place on a cutting board and using the bottom of a dinner plate or bowl, flatten the fried plantain.

5. Add the flattened plantains back into the hot oil for about 30 seconds to 1 minute per side, watch carefully and do not burn!

6. Remove the tostones from the oil and they are ready to serve!

Okay so you have all the parts ready, now time to assemble. These are basically loaded baked potatoes at the end of the day, just excellent amazing ones! Put your hot potato or tostones on the plate and top with warm pork. Cover with the chilled pico and then top with mayo and/or some slices of fresh avocado. I know, it is a lot to do all at once but the leftovers last us all week (except I usually have to make more pico). The method that works the best for our house is the night I make this I also make the tostones and we have hot, fresh tostones with the rest of it. Meanwhile, I’m baking some potatoes to go to with the leftovers. For the two of us, usually 8 medium potatoes are enough.

Best Guacamole Ever!

That isn’t just my opinion on that either, over three thousand allrecipes.com users will back me up on this according to their website!  I am a novice when it comes to guacamole. For years I have avoided avocados because, well, for no reason really except I wasn’t willing to try them. I’d cross the poor avocado off my sushi choices, I’d throw out the guac packet in my Publix salad and I most definitely would stick to the pico de gallo salsa only at the Mexican restaurants. Well, I’m here to say that I was wrong and I apologize to both the Haas Avocado and the Florida Avocado. Oh, while I’m on that, out of the two varieties (and there are many) I prefer the Haas, it has more flavor. More fat too but we can cover that later.

Daniel and I started a month-long journey to eliminate all processed foods from our diet and to follow a paleo plan. Of course, nobody is perfect but I can say I was about 95% perfect.  Paleo is basically the Dukan Diet except no dairy, grains or legumes. The hardest change was eliminating the dairy from our diet.  We depended heavily on yogurt for our breakfasts and I LOVE cheese. Luckily or not, depending how you look at it, I was just told that my random and persistent health issues (continual ear aches/infections, gut problems, elevated blood pressure, headaches and pressure in my eyes) were due to intolerance to lactose. I swear, THREE DAYS no dairy = suddenly resolving a 7 month earache and reduction of all other symptoms. So no dairy anyway! Grains were easy to eliminate because Dukan pretty much had already, we just had to stop the oat bran (so sad). That leaves legumes. Legumes. Are you ready to cry with me? The peanut is a legume. A LEGUME! Look it up. I did because I didn’t believe the paleo people. Other than peanut butter (::wipes a tear::) and chickpeas we didn’t often have legumes in our diet. Losing the hummus really put a dent in our raw vegetable eating. Hummus and veggies was a quick and tasty snack! What the heck else do you dip veggies into that is all vegetable itself and creamy and good with no artificial sweeteners, preservatives or colors?! WHAT ELSE??! This guacamole, that’s what.

You can find the recipe here, on allrecipes.com or just keep reading. I hardly changed anything but I’m lazy and would rather have all my favorite recipes here in one place.

Messy Ingredients:

  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/2 cup red onion, fine dice
  • 2 Roma or Plum tomatoes, fine dice
  • 3 T fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 – 2 large cloves garlic, fine dice
  • 3 Haas avocados
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 t cayenne

Basically, put it all in a bowl and mash it with a potato masher and chill. Done!

If you like it more spicy, add more cayenne. Want more tangy? Add 1/2 a lime more juiced. If you like it smooth, put ingredients 1-5 and one of the avocados into a food processor and blend then mash it up with the rest of the ingredients. If you like it in between smooth and chunky, take ingredients 1-5 and puree half of them. Or 3/4. Whatever you like. It is very versatile to many many tastes but at the end, it all tastes good. It will keep about a week in the fridge, if it lasts that long at all.

Back to the fat conversation. Some people pooh-pooh on avocado because they are high in fat. Well, they are, about 30 grams in one average whole avocado.  However the huge majority of the fats are the omega 3 or 6 kind…the good-for-you kind. Also, you aren’t going to eat all the guac in one sitting, you may want to but you shouldn’t. Moderation people. If you DID eat a whole avocado you’d have gotten over half your daily Vitamin K, 30% – 40% your daily Vitamin C, potassium and folate and a quarter of your B12. Don’t forget the fiber. I’m not advocating eating whole avocados but you get the picture. Next time you’re putting dip out, put some of this down. People will love it and you’ll feel good spreading the healthy.

This is 100% paleo and Dukan Diet Worthy (in moderation) Stage 4.

Tangy Tzatziki

I love condiments!  Anybody with me? Sauces, toppings, dips, you name it and I will go at it with a spoon if I think nobody is looking. Lately I’ve been keeping a bag of sliced raw veggies and hummus in the fridge ready to snack on when hunger strikes but I wanted another option for dips.  In keeping with the Mediterranean theme I found and edited this recipe from allrecipes.com.  Tangy, cool and refreshing, it will add some pizzaz to your carrot stick or sliced zucchini. The key to tzatziki is to reduce the liquid so it is thick and creamy, if it is thin it actually has another name, “casik” and in some Middle Eastern countries is eaten as a soup or as a sauce for meats.  I am not a fan of cucumber, I like pickles….not cucumber. (I remember the day I learned they were the same thing! What a shock!) However the cucumber here only lends a refreshing base but doesn’t add too much cucumber taste.  All you need is a small food processor or blender and a couple of ingredients and you’ll have this fresh, easy (and dare I say healthy) dip that will last a week or so in the fridge.

Messy Ingredients:

  • 16oz fat-free Greek Yogurt (Greek yogurts are already strained so…less liquid)
  • 2 medium cucumbers peeled and seeded
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • 1 TBS reduced fat/fat-free sour cream (optional to thicken it up more)
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 TBS fresh dill or mint
  • 4 large cloves garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the cucumbers and put them through your food processor first, all by themselves. Strain liquid from the pulp and return to the food processor. Add in all the other ingredients except the salt and pepper and blend.  Add the salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate! Boom, done.

Dukan Diet Worthy on stage 2 and up.

Lasagna

Who knew making a lasagna could be so simple? This is the last recipe (I think) in the series we could title “the only good thing to come from that relationship”.  Although I pointedly try NOT to remember anything else at all from that time I happily make this lasagna for any time a big group is coming over and I don’t have time to stress over getting a protein and two sides on the table.  One friend in particular raved over this and said it was the”best lasagna I’ve ever eaten!” I didn’t argue.  Also this meal works well for if you’re wanting to cook up something to freeze for later or to share.  Just let it cool overnight in the fridge and it will separate out pretty neatly into quarters.  No, this recipe isn’t on the Dukan Diet however with reduced fat cheeses, whole wheat noodles and low sodium pasta sauce, it isn’t the worst thing either and nobody will tell the difference.

Messy Ingredients:

  • 1lb lean hamburger
  • 3-5 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 small yellow or 1/2 large Vidalia onion, chopped
  • 2 jars (32oz each) spaghetti sauce (use your favorite or a low sodium variety) I like “Mids” plain or cheese.
  • 1 small (6oz) can tomato paste
  • Whole wheat lasagna noodles, dry
  • 24 oz fat-free small curd cottage cheese
  • 2lb reduced fat or part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or Splenda)
  • garlic salt, oregano, pepper to taste

Part one: the sauce.

In a large pot or wide pan with high sides, brown the hamburger with the garlic and onion. Drain off the fat.  Mix in the tomato paste, spaghetti sauce  and sugar. Simmer and season to taste with garlic salt, pepper and oregano.  Leave the sauce to simmer while you prepare the filling.

Part two: the filling

In a large bowl, lightly mix the cottage cheese, 1.5lb of the mozzarella and parmesan. Lightly beat the eggs and mix them in. Season to taste with garlic salt.

Party three: assembly

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

It’s all about the layering! Remember: Sauce, Noodles, Cheese. In that order.

Begin your assembly in an 11×15 casserole dish. Do NOT attempt to use anything smaller. It won’t work, it will be a mess, you won’t like it.  So, spread a little less than 1/3 of the sauce in a layer over the bottom of the dish evenly.  Then lay out the dry lasagna noodles side by side long-ways across the dish, on top of the sauce. With a spatula, spread about half the cheese mixture on top of the noodles and be careful not to press too hard and make the sauce ooze up between the noodles! Follow that with about 1/2 (or a little less, you want enough to cover at the end) the remaining sauce. This time, break the noodles and place them side by side so that they fit the pan short-way across. It’s OK if they don’t meet perfect or overlap a little. Spread the rest of the cheese mixture on top of the noodles evenly. Top with the remaining sauce, covering the cheese layer completely. Bake for 1.5 hours. In the last 10 minutes of baking, take the lasagna out and spread the last 1/2 pound of mozzarella on top, put it back in the oven to brown.

TIP: place a foil-lined cookie sheet on the rack below your lasagna to catch what bubbles over. Yes, even with such a large dish there will still be bubbling over and it will make a mess of your oven.  Honestly, if nothing bubbles over then fine you just sterilized your pan. Nothing wrong with that!   Allow to cool at least 15 minutes so it firms up some. It will be a little runny still fresh from the oven but good and firm after spending the night in the fridge.

Warning: once assembled, this pan is heavy. I mean, REALLY heavy so bend your knees, lift with your legs! This will serve 8-12 people easy.  What I usually do is have some for dinner, refrigerate it overnight, cut it in half and wrap the back half up to freeze.  The two of us still get 2 or 3 meals out of the front half.

Crack Broccoli

We get together with a couple of friends every so often and make a big crab boil. I mean the full shebang with dipping butter, malt vinegar and all the veggies that go in a boil like potatoes, corn, asparagus, onion and garlic.  This tradition goes back to when we would get together weekly at a fish shack in town that ran a special on Thursday nights. $16.99 for the 2lb crab dinner.  We’d sit on their balcony, almost every week, order a pitcher of beer and spend time together having fun and picking through our crab legs.  At the time, we couldn’t believe it, I mean, $16.99 is basically what 2lb of crab costs at the store so we were getting that plus sides and not having to cook or clean up!  It seemed too good to be true and we didn’t understand how they stayed in business with that good a deal going.  Well, turns out that wasn’t good business after all and they closed after a year.  Okay so all that set-up was to describe how much we really enjoy our crab boil.  So there we are sitting down to a spread of hot crab and spicy, boiled goodness and my friend finishes up her side-item that she’s baking in my oven.  She called it “crack broccoli” and when she said it was good, that was an understatement!  The broccoli was so good that we all stopped eating crab and let it go cold while we heaped our plates with this dish.  I have made it in large batches many many times since and it is SO good.  Pro-tip, don’t leave out the lemon juice, it really seals the addiction.

Messy Ingredients:

  • 2lb raw broccoli florets, washed and trimmed
  • 6 TBS olive oil
  • 2 tsp Kosher salt (or a citrus scented salt)
  • 1 – 1.5 tsp sugar (do not skimp on this! The recipe won’t work without it.)
  • 1 lemon, juiced  (bottled is OK but fresh is better)

Take out a large baking sheet and line it with tin-foil. Put it in the oven and then preheat your oven to 500°F.  In a large bowl, toss the broccoli well with all the ingredients except the lemon juice.  Once the oven is preheated and your pan is too, quickly take out the pan and spread the broccoli out as evenly as you can in a single layer.  Replace it back in the oven and bake for 14-15 minutes or until the tops are almost blackening and the bottoms are browning nicely.  After it’s done, sprinkle the broccoli with lemon juice and serve!  It’s best right out of the oven but I’ll eat it as leftovers any day of the week.

I adapted this from a blog, benandbirty.blogspot.com, I found with the recipe. They recommend peeling the broccoli stalks so they’re more tender and brown easier. I just leave them in a little longer and save time.  Either way, you should try this out at home, it’s fantastic!  This method also works with other fibrous green veggies like brussel sprouts. Clean and cut them in halves and follow the rest of the directions. Pretty yummy!

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