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