Sunday, March 30, 2014

A short trip to Hawaii

Last year, Anthony and I bought some rural property on the Big Island of Hawaii.  It's a gorgeous, 7.4 acre valley with views of the Pacific and of Mauna Kea.  It is raw, beautiful land.  The only structures on it are two old redwood "sheds" that the previous owners had moved and placed on pallets there.  No electricity, no water.

We took Anna and Colin there last August, and even camped a few days on the property.  This month, Anthony and I went back to do some work.

Here's sunrise the first morning on the property:

That's one of the sheds or cabins.  We actually stayed in the smaller one.  It is rustic, but we bought a Euro Lounger that we used as a bed this trip.  It was luxurious compared to the air mattress!  We also have a small one burner camp stove and a cooler -- very basic kitchen supplies.

Below is the produce that we were GIVEN by our friends and neighbors.  People in Hawaii are very generous and friendly, and its easy to grow lots of your own fruits and veggies.  Below are apple bananas, a big papaya, two avocados, two lemons, and a pepper.

 Here's what I ate for breakfast nearly every morning: purple sweet potato hash browns and an egg from our neighbor's chicken coop.
 Anthony was impressed me so much.  He can do anything mechanical, and is an encyclopedia of knowledge.  He can talk to anyone, and asked them questions about how stuff worked in Hawaii, like rainwater catchment, septic tanks, building foundations, fence repair.  People loved talking to him, because they learned stuff, too - about solar panels, credit unions, hybrid cars.

 One day Anthony hooked up an outdoor shower AND he hooked up a generator to the electrical wiring existing in the house.  This was an amazing feat.  If you've ever been camping or in a similar situation where you are without a shower for a few days, you know how valuable that shower is!  Anth borrowed a tank and filled it with water from our kind neighbor, attached tubing to a pump, hooked to the generator, that led to an instant water heater, hooked to a propane tank.  Here's our outdoor shower.  It doesn't look like much, but showering outside makes you feel so free and clean!  Hot water!
The electricity was so nice, too.  We had a floor lamp that provided us nice light after sunset.  We could charge our phones and even watch a movie on the computer.  It's amazing how the little things can mean so much.

Unfortunately, they were having a rainy spell while we were there.  Obviously, it rains a lot where our land is, usually a nice shower every afternoon.  This was more like a monsoon.  It rained hard, 9-10 inches PER DAY, for 5 days in a row.  It rained all day and all night.  Not good when you want to work outside.
Finally we had some beautiful weather, so we were able to clear part of the land.  It is being invaded by Guava trees.  Sounds nice, but this non-native plant grows like a weed, choking everything out and making walking difficult.  The fruit is mostly seeds, really only appropriate for juicing.  The fruit fuels another destructive, non-native invader, the wild hog.  The pigs spread them further by pooping out the seeds.  We were shocked how much the guava was taking over just in the short time we've owned the property.

Anthony cut guava trees and shoots down with a chainsaw, and I followed with a cane knife (like a machete) and herbicide.  We hate to use an herbicide, but cutting the guava alone will not kill it.  Some of the guava I cut in August had already regrown, springing up in huge branches from the stump, stronger with a full root system.  I used a powerful herbicide in a sprayer, so we could target only the guava trees.    We worked 6 hours one day, until we couldn't lift our arms!  Then we took a wonderful outdoor shower, drove into town, and ate this ginormous pizza.

While it was a working trip, we did have some fun.  On the 4th rainy day, we gave up and drove to the other side of the island, the dry side, and went to the beach.  Great boogie boarding!  We also were invited to a friend's St Patrick's day party.  There we met other homesteaders like us, people who have bought Hawaiian land and are trying to figure out how to build and live on it.  It was a great evening.

We were sad to say goodbye to Hawaii and all our friends there just 10 days after we'd arrived, but were happy to have accomplished some tasks.  Can't wait to go back with the kids in the summer!  I hope it rains less.

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Engine Two Challenge

(this blog has been dormant for over a year, revived to talk about my latest challenge)

For the past 28 days, I have been following the Engine Two Diet - no animal products, no added oils, just plant-strong, whole foods.  It has been a challenge.

I considered doing the diet last year, but chickened out.  Mostly, I was afraid I could not live without dairy products (specifically, milk in my morning tea).   Also the idea of not adding olive oil to anything was depressing.  Still, I incorporated many aspects of the diet.  I'm basically pescatarian anyway (a vegetarian who eats fish) and mostly eat whole foods.  I had many vegan days (except for that milk in my English Breakfast tea).  I only ate red meat 6 times in 2013, plus turkey at Thanksgiving.

This year as the challenge rolled around, after a typically indulgent holiday season, I wanted to try it.  For one thing, I found a black tea (Republic of Tea's Vanilla Almond) that I actually thought tasted good with my favorite non-dairy milk (So Delicious Original Coconut).  Happy that I found a way to not deal with a caffeine-withdrawal headache while I was already withdrawing from so much, I took the plunge.

Anthony, although he enjoys many of my plant-strong meals, did not see any possible way he could participate in this diet.  He did want to get closer to a healthy weight, so inspired by my change, he also embarked on a low carb/Atkins-style diet.

This might sound disastrous and completely incompatible.  However, I knew we could make it work.  While he had meat or fish with a salad, I could have my vegetable dish with a salad.  For example, one night he had steak and green beans, while I had a baked potato, mushrooms, and green beans.  It was amazing how many of the salads I made that were totally acceptable for both diets.

One area of difficulty, though:  Our fridge was SO PACKED with supplies for our new diets.  There were two non-dairy milks, plus regular milk and half-n-half, tofu next to sugar free jello, and lots of frozen fish next to the veggie burgers.  Tons of veggies and lots of deli meats and cheeses.


The first week I was HUNGRY.  Eating plant-strong food is eating food that is not very calorie dense.  Mornings were okay, but afternoons were bad.  I got hungry a few hours after lunch, so I ate a snack like raw almonds.  Hungry again in a few hours, time for hummus.  Hungry again at 5 pm, a few hours before family dinner time -- ARGH.  A few days also I was under 1200 calories per day, and I felt that low energy drag.

The biggest challenge cooking this week was salad dressings.  Since you can't add oil to your salad dressing, its hard to make a good dressing.  I can't eat lettuce just dressed in vinegar like some people can.  The first dressings I made were too sweet or too bland.  Eventually I learned to make dressings with pureed cashews, tahini, or avocados that were satisfying.  The last week I had a salad tossed with a garlicky hummus and balsamic vinegar.  It tasted like the most wonderful Caesar dressing to me!

Good things I made this week included a brown rice bowl with beautiful roasted vegetables and miso dressing (no oil added), a big pasta casserole that I divided into portions and froze for work lunches, and a "gravy" to go on my mashed potatoes, made from pureed white beans and miso paste.

Sweet Potato Surprise Pasta Casserole
Mashed potatoes and Gravy!
Brown Rice Bowl with Roasted Veggies

The worst thing about this week: I lost no weight.  NONE.  Very depressing.  I was happy for Anthony losing 6 lbs on his low carb diet, but still sad for me.  Almost quit at this point.


I went to Whole Foods to load up on supplies, and was stopped by Rip Esselstyn, the author of the Engine Two diet.  "Look!  She's buying the E2 Veggie Burgers!" he said as I was reaching in the freezer case for his product.  He was showing someone around the store, showing him products approved for the diet.  He pointed out my non-dairy milk and crackers in my basket.  (Hopefully he didn't see the yogurt.  It's not for me! It's for my son!)  I told him I was doing the E2 challenge, and he gave me a fist-pump.

The biggest challenge this week came on Valentine's Day.  It was NOT the chocolates and the sweets, as you might imagine.  One of my co-workers brought I big crock pot of queso to work to share.  There was molten cheese and fried corn chips in the break room at all times.  Everyone was taking breaks to have some.  I tried not to look at it or breathe in when I walked through there.  It was especially excruciating when I was working in surgery way past my usual lunchtime.  I mentioned to my coworker how difficult it was, not to indulge.

This person, who is an avid barbecuer, and eats a lot of meat and processed food in general but enjoys good cooking, was actually quite supportive in his reply.  "You don't want that," he said.  "It's nothing you haven't had before, its not that special, and if you ate it, you'd feel terrible and bloated."  And he was right.  It was just velveeta and rotel, and tostitos, nothing unique.  And you don't feel good after you eat a bunch of that.  So I wanted it a little less.

For Valentine's Dinner, we went to our favorite Thai/Sushi place.  Normally I have sushi for an appetizer, but instead I just had edamame.  I ate steamed tofu with spicy vegetables and brown rice.  It was great.


I lost 4 lbs!  Hooray!  I think Anthony was right when he told me he thought I didn't lose weight the first week because my diet was already so close to E2, it didn't shock my system into losing any fat.  The diet is not so much about weight loss as it is more of an exercise in healthy, plant-strong foods.  Still, it was nice to see some eventual results.

I don't miss milk, but I do miss cheese.  I had a vivid dream of stealing an entire wheel of cheese and taking it on an airplane.  Anthony brought home a beautiful new aged sharp cheese from Costco and I can't bear to look at it.

Our chickens are laying record numbers of eggs since its spring, and I can't eat any.  One day I make a tofu scramble and it satisfies that craving for now.  Other good recipes I made: potato samosa wraps and butternut mole enchiladas.
Tofu Scramble Sausage Muffin
Samosa Wrap -hummus, potato, curry

Butternut Mole Enchiladas

Mole Sauce on Anth's Chicken

Getting easier this week.  Maybe because the end is in sight?  My work ordered Torchy's Tacos, but the only thing on the menu that fit
my diet was guacamole.  I asked for them to bring me corn tortillas instead of chips, and brought some leftover black bean stuffed baked potato for filling.  My cobbled together tacos were delicious, and so satisfying!  I didn't even really crave the yummy queso that everyone else shared.

More yummy meals:  baked tofu and stir fried bok choy, breakfast tacos with tofu and vegetarian sausage, avocado-tomato-hummus sandwiches, and vegetarian chili.
Baked Tofu and Bok Choy

Breakfast tacos with tofu

Hummus, Avo, and Tomato Sandwich

Vegetarian Chili with Avo and Tomatoes

Now that the challenge is over, here is what I learned:

1.  I can eat way less dairy than I ever imagined before I really miss it.  But I am still going to really appreciate cheese.  My first non-E2 meal is going to be a REAL brick oven pizza, not the sorry flatbreads I've been substituting.  I won't thoughtlessly add cheddar to all my Tex-Mex anymore, though.

2.  You can stir fry vegetables and roast them decently without oil, just a spritz of Pam, with very good results.  Hummus is good without a lot of extra oil.  But I still really appreciate a little olive oil in my salad dressings and tomato sauce.

3.  You should eat frequently on the plant-strong diet.

4.  A plant strong diet makes a lot of gas.  I thought that would improve after 4 weeks.  It didn't.

5.  Baked chips and corn tortillas are almost as good as fried.

6.  I ate A LOT of hummus, tofu, avocados, raw almonds, sweet potatoes, black beans, lentils, and mushrooms.  Yum!

7.  Rules help you say no and resist the temptation of lots of foods.

8.  I really enjoyed the challenge of coming up with plant-strong no oil added recipes that were delicious and therefore satisfying to me. and were a huge inspiration.

9.  Wine is a plant strong food.  I tried to only consume it in moderation.

Black bean peanut sriracha noodles
Flatbread pizza with veggie sausage and tofu creme

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Colinism Spelling

Colin still says inventive, funny things.  I love his sentences for spelling homework.  Here are a few gems:

My hair is bald.

I love to look at cat claws.

True or false, do frogs like peanut butter?

Over 1,900 people drowned in the Titanic.

I saw the cat rising on it's legs.

After I went swimming I stripped all of my cloths.

Every person in jail wears a striped shirt.

The mean people were bragging about their trophy.

The stalagmite dripped water droplets off of its end.

No one spotted a seagull at the beach today.

In the cival war many people escaped captivity.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

My poor, withering blog, languishing like a houseplant I've forgotten to water for months.  I have used it recently to look up menus and recipes from the past, and I loved looking back on all the memories.  I don't scrapbook, but I used to blog.

So I am recording this year's epic feast.  We had the largest crowd ever - 21!  We used every plate, fork, and glass, plus some borrowed from Emily.  In attendance were Emily & Ian; Joe, Jimmy, Becky, and Grandma Dulce; Tom & Taylor; Marion & Tony; cousins Terri, Charlie, & Judy; Smith & Noah; Jason; Alex; and the four of us.

The Menu:
Greenburg Turkey!
Cure 81 Ham
Mushroom Dressing
Herb Cream Gravy
Red&Black Rice
Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes
Chachie's Cranberry Relish
Butternut Squash Roasted in Maple Syrup
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Glaze
Creamed Spinach and Artichoke Casserole
Perfectly Steamed Tiny Asparagus
Porter House Rolls

Pecan Pie
Pumpkin Pie X2
Chocolate Cream Pie
Coconut Meringue Pie
Apple Crumble Pie

When Anna decided to become vegetarian, she said she wanted to make an exception and eat turkey on Thanksgiving.  But now 9 months later, she didn't want any.  She's actually mostly vegan these days, but she indulged in lots of things cooked with butter, eggs, and milk.  I indulged in it all!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Oh my poor, poor blog.  I did start a post in May about my vivacious Grandmother, and never finished it.  What happened?  Do you care?

May, as previously stated, is horrible for us.  Too many birthdays (4 in my immediate family), anniversaries, graduations, piano recitals, ballet recitals, Mothers' day, etc.

June we decided to move up our long awaited trip to Ecuador.  Which meant I had to get all my shit together to apply for the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry before we left.  That ate up every spare moment of my free time.  I was relieved to get it done!  Mixed messages so far from the Academy while my application is being evaluated.

The last week of June/ first week of July we went to Ecuador.  We were interested in Ecuador as a potential place to retire, maybe even early.  I didn't even know anyone who'd been there when we planned our trip.  Finally in May I met a former Ecuadorian (gone for 20 years) and a few days before leaving, I met a client who went there 2 years ago for a birding trip and was very enthusiastic.

Here's some photos - Anna and I on the top of Mount Cojitambo.

Anna with a large meal.  This one was expensive -- around $5.  Most of the traditional large lunches were around $2.

 Anna and Colin on Cotopaxi, overlooking Quito, the capital of Ecuador.
 Amazing tropical fruits in Ecuador!  Here, Colin poses with a bunch of bananas.
 Me on top of a cathedral in Quito.
 Colin with a hearty lunch - rice, fries/chips, steak, fried egg.  Also came with salad and avocado.
 Mi amor, with his Panama hat.  Panama hats are actually made in Ecuador of local materials.  It's a misnomer.
Ecuador was wonderful.  The weather in the mountains was in the 50s to 70s, as it is year round.  In Texas they suffered a heat wave after we left (108!).  Ecuador is cheap, and friendly.  But it is not Nirvana.  We loved it, and we want to explore more.  More of Ecuador and more of other parts of the globe.   To be continued....

Monday, April 30, 2012

Geez, this is terrible.  My only post last month was on the first.  My only post this month is on the last.  I've been busy, blah blah blah, with work, kids, writing dental reports, choir, teaching Bollywood, etc.

Also, flirting with the E2 Diet.  Have you seen the documentary "Forks Over Knives"?  It presents a lot of evidence for a whole foods, low fat, plant based diet.   The E2 Diet is short for Engine Two Diet - an Austin firefighter got his whole firehouse to go basically animal protein free and watched their cholesterol and weight plummet.  It's tough - no meat, no diary, no added fat.  I can do it about 75% of the time.  My sister Emily is also interested, and Anthony eats the food, too, since he lives with me.  Stuff like this wrap with hummus, sautéed onions and red peppers with fresh spinach tossed in balsamic.

Or this black bean taco with sautéed zucchini and tomatoes.

What has really impressed me is that my parents have also joined in, and are more faithful to the diet than me.  Previously committed meat eaters, they both say they feel better on the diet, and my dad is hoping to eliminate his cholesterol meds.  I am so proud of them for trying something so radically new.

So, here is an easy weeknight Tofu Recipe we enjoy around here a lot, with one of my Dad's favorite ingredients, Teriyaki Sauce!

First, I like to drain my tofu to make it firmer.  This is a large package of firm tofu, diced, and placed on tea towels.

 Put another tea towel on top,
 Then another cookie sheet on top, with a couple of heavy cans or pots on top if it for weight.  Let it drain for about 30 minutes, then toss the tofu with teriyaki sauce.  (Sometimes, if I don't have time to drain the tofu, I skip that step and it turns out fine.  But I like the texture of the drained tofu better.)

 Then spread the teriyaki-glazed tofu on a cookie sheet, lined with foil and lightly sprayed with cooking spray.  Place under the broiler for 5-8 minutes.  Then turn them and broil the other side.
 Meanwhile, assemble your veggies.  This night, we had quartered white onions, halved baby brussels sprouts, mushrooms, squash, asparagus, and mushrooms.  Other veggies I like include baby bok choy, cauliflower, and sugar snap peas.  Use whatever you like or got in your farm basket, but I never leave out the white onion!
 Here they are, likewise glazed with the teriyaki, ready for the broiler.
 I like to strategically place the denser veggies in the center, and the more tender veggies on the periphery.  All these veggies were pretty even in size and water density, so they are all jumbled together.  The asparagus I put on another sheet with the stems in the center, and the tips pointed out.  I do the same for the bok choy.  Whatever veg you have, turn it after about 5-10 minutes, until its nicely caramelized on both sides.

Then serve the whole glazed mess on top of brown rice, with a little extra soy sauce or teriyaki on top.  A sprinkle of cilantro is nice, too!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

My Heart Will Go On

We finally got Titanic last weekend from our local library.  It can be hard to locate slightly older movies now that there are no video stores anymore, and I wanted to share this flick with my kids ever since they got interested in Titanic lore a few months ago.

"We get to watch Titanic this weekend!" I told the kids.  They screwed up their faces and said, "We don't want to watch it.  It's too violent!!"  What?  It's not violent, just tragic. (OK I forgot that one guy does get shot.)  Still they were opposed.

I tried a different tactic.  "Anthony, remember when Titanic came out and it was so huge, everyone was talking about it.  And some parents wouldn't let their kids see it because there are boobies in it."  Anna played it cool and said, "Well, I'll let you decide if I should watch it."  Colin remained doubtful.

Saturday night we cued up the movie, and they both sat down to watch.  It's a long show - 3 hours.  Anna got hooked on the love story; Colin was fascinated by the mechanics of the ship.  The kids sank lower and lower on the couch, one curled up on each side of me.

Finally, the ship went down.
"I love you, Jack!" said Rose.
"I want you to promise me you're going to live," said Jack. "And I want you to hold on to that promise."
"You have to pause the movie," said Colin.  "I have to pee."

"Now?!?" said Anthony.
"Yes," said Anna. "I have to go, too!"

So we paused in the middle of the dramatic emotional climax for a potty break.  They both liked the movie, and fortunately no one had nightmares.

Anna got the music for the theme song from her piano teacher.  Titanic lives on...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Benefit Concert

Remember Jump Rope for Heart?  At my kids' school they still do it.  Mostly it seems like a big bribe, all these neat prizes you can win if you raise a lot of money.  And then there's the day when you jump rope in the gym while wearing a red Tshirt.

Kids aren't allowed to go door to door anymore (too unsafe, according to the school) (too embarrassing, according to me).  They are encouraged to ask all their friends and family for donations.  Anna wanted to email everyone in my address book, something I was not cool with either.  My sister Emily and I both donated $5.  I took the donation envelope to work, but everyone I work with makes poverty wages, so that got another $1.

So one day Anna announced she was walking her dog, and started to leave with a stuffed satchel over her shoulder.  "What's in the bag?" I asked.  "N-n-nothing!!!" she stammered guiltily.  "Just show me," I said.

She produced a hand-made poster that said:

"Oh, sweetheart," I said.  "This is great, but you can't go posting your name and address, inviting people to our house, all over the neighborhood."  She was crestfallen.  "We'll think of some other way for you raise money."  Reluctantly, she agreed.

Fast forward to the next Sunday.  I had boxes everywhere, putting Christmas decorations away.  (I don't keep my decorations up that long; its just been that long since I posted).  A polite young man knocks on the door and says, "Hi, my name is Alan G.  Is Anna Martin having a benefit concert today?"

"Um, Anna!  Your friend is here for a concert."  Anna looked sheepish and scared.  She had told some classmates about the benefit concert, but forgot about it after I nixed the posters.  This boy's mother had driven him to our house!  "How long is this going to last?"  he asked.  "Five minutes," I promised, and told Anna she had to follow through.  The boy relayed it to the mom, who was waiting in the car.  I rounded up Colin and some nice neighbor boys who were playing outside.

Anna wasn't exactly prepared, so first she played a song on the piano.  Then while she got herself "ready" Colin played a song on the piano.  Then Anna returned with her song notebook, a spiral full of lyrics she's written herself.  She backed up to the wall looking nervous, took a deep breath, then sang two of her creations.  She did great.  You can tell Taylor Swift is a major influence on her songwriting.  Then Colin came out with a jar that had a post-it note on it that said, "Tips."  Alan put $5 in the jar and left.

I was so proud of Anna!  I don't think she realized it would be that hard to actually throw a Benefit Concert, but she didn't crumple.  Unfortunately, she still didn't raise enough for the prize she wanted.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My favorite pasta

 This is my favorite pasta dish, referred to in our house as "Peasant Pasta."  It's made with fresh spinach, asiago cheese, and white beans, dressed with olive oil, balsamico, and fresh garlic.  And this is my favorite shape of pasta for it, because sometimes one bean will lovingly fit inside.
But last week when I made it, the pasta kind of reminded me of Admiral Akbar.

 "It's a trap!"

Saturday, December 31, 2011

December Post

Seems like after that binging of posting in November, I couldn't manage much posting in December!  It was so full this year - Anna sang a solo in school choir, then she and Colin had a great piano recital, followed by the weekend of ballet performances.  There were church choir rehearsals, which culminated in a nice Christmas Eve performance.  We had a super holiday weekend with feasting and family.  And I created a new drink for the holidays:

The Figgy Pudding

1.5 oz mulled vodka **
1.5 oz golden rum (I like Bacardi)
1.5 oz pear nectar
0.5 oz triple sec
0.5 oz port

Shake all ingredients over ice and pour into a chilled martini glass.

** Mulled Vodka

Combine 1 cup vodka with 1 tsp of premixed mulling spices -or- 1 star anise, 4 cloves, 1/4 stick of cinnamon, a few allspice berries, a shaving of nutmeg, etc.  Let sit at room temperature for ~1 hour then drain.

Cheers, and Happy New Year!