I Am Leery…

Not Timothy Leary, He’s Dead. (With apologies to the Moody Blues)

Occasionally I get an opportunity to fill out surveys. I got an easy one the other day – it asked me how many miles I had driven in a 24 hour period, starting at 3:00AM the previous day. That was easy; I just put a zero in every box. In fact, due to the steady rains setting in and other factors, I haven’t left the house except to pick up our mail in four days. 

View from Little Mountain

It did get me to thinking, though, about how constrained our activities have become. Basically we get out to pick up groceries that someone else has picked out for us from the list we send them; we get out to do nearby hikes or walks, and occasionally we get out to just to drive around, and see if we can find a road we’ve not been down before. We are pretty leery of doing much else, especially now that the numbers of coronavirus are increasing exponentially all around us. 

Like many others, we were super excited to hear about the efficacy of the vaccines that are in the pipeline. We can finally start to dream about doing more, and expanding our horizons! Visiting grandkids, friends and family, shopping (especially at Costco), movies, dining out, wine tasting, returning to our favorite places, travel – oh my! We can’t wait for the vaccine … but we have to. We are optimistically thinking that we may be inoculated by April. But then Mr. Leery started knocking. 

First of all, 95% effective sounds pretty great, especially when the flu vaccine is generally about 60%. But if you had a 5% chance of winning a $1million lottery, you’d buy a ticket every day, and might win twice a year. The good news is that I’m guessing we will be in the first 30% of people that get the vaccine, so that’s good! On the other hand, it’s projected that 50% of the population won’t get a vaccine, so that means even though we may have a high level of protection this spring, 70% of America will still be getting infected, and trying to infect us. 

We’d love to go to a movie, but there we are, cooped up in a room filled with strangers, and always – ALWAYS – someone coughing their lungs out, floating their aerosolized pathogens while they eat their popcorn and drink their Coke. I’m pretty leery about that. 

And, Oh! How we miss dining out and Happy Hour! Oh, but wait – there we are again, in a room of strangers having unprotected gastronomy, blissfully sharing their exhalations of joy with us. Yeah, maybe not.  (Korean Study: Infected after 5 minutes from 20 feet away)

We are hoping to fly to Texas to see friends there. Yeah, “they” say flying is safe, but we’ve all seen videos of passengers who refuse to mask up, and they are serving food again on flights, so everyone’s mask will be off in that cramped aluminum coffin hurtling through space for hours and hours. That pretty much takes leery to the limit.

So, our joy at the great news of the vaccines has been tempered a bit by a healthy dose of reality. When will we be leery-less? Maybe when everyone who wants a vaccine has had both shots, even though the rest of the nation will still be playing hot potato with Covid-19. Maybe when they stop reporting hospitalizations and deaths from coronavirus, and mass shootings become the story of the day again. In the meantime, we’ll do what we can with what we have. Words with Friends, anyone? Or online Hearts while Zooming? Or…

Finding An Inordinate Amount of Joy

I read an explanation once of why time seems to go by so much faster the older we get. When we are young, a huge part of what we experience is brand new, and it takes a substantial amount of time for our brains to process experiences and new knowledge. In our twilight years, the data banks in our heads are pretty full, and everything is neatly filed away (although access may be somewhat limited.)  The gaps between new and very unique memorable moments increases, so as we look back on the previous day/week/month/year, those gaps are skipped over, compressing that time frame, and making it appear to go by very quickly.

Then the pandemic enters the picture, and for those of us who have chosen to self-isolate out of a sense of self-preservation, the opportunity for memorable moments has shrunken to a mere shadow of its former presence. Memories of the Year of Covid will look dramatically different to young school-age children than they will to senior citizens such as myself. Their painful memories of being separated from friends and peers will have a lasting impact on their lives; in a few years, when seniors are asked what they did in 2020, I’m betting most of us will get a blank look on our face as we try to remember how we filled the days that seemed to flash by like a quickly forgotten nonsensical dream. 

Mushrooms hard at work on the forest floor

So what does all of this have to do with Finding An Inordinate Amount of Joy? As I’ve mentioned before, one of the things Terri and I both enjoy doing is getting out and hiking or walking. We have three places we return to again and again, primarily due to the fact we rarely encounter others who may be leaving a trail of shed virus behind them. Some time ago, on one of our walks, we found an unmarked social trail that took us through some coastal woods with views to the Salish Sea. It was slightly overgrown with thorny wild roses and other brush, so one time I took our garden shears to make the walk there a bit less likely to shred cloth or skin, and noticed someone else had also trimmed back a few obstacles along the way. Finding this hidden gem brought a huge smile to our faces as we revelled in this tiny slice of hidden beauty. 

Our hidden gem of a trail

Then, a few days ago, we were walking in a nearby area,  and came across several fresh blooms of wild mushrooms. I’ve always found fungal growth fascinating; I bet I have dozens if not hundreds of photos of the unique expressions of this life form in my archives. And yet, I still can’t resist taking even more photos, which I can’t resist posting here and on my Photos page of my blog.

There was even a solitary swan slowly swimming!

We continued walking;  looking through some woods (on public-ish property), I told Terri “I wonder what’s back there?” We went around an obstacle that had blocked our view, and Voila! another hidden gem of a social trail! Ever curious, we checked out this boot-beaten track as it wound through Fir and Madrona, through wild roses and brambles, first revealing a hidden lake, then salt-water shoreline. But wait, there was more! So we kept on, this way and that, under branches and over fallen trees until we came to the end, with a surprise finish. I’m not naming the area to try and keep the trail from being closed by having too many visitors, but I can’t resist showing a photo of where we ended up. If you come, here, please respect the area, and let’s keep it our little secret. 

Salish Sea from our hidden trail

It only took us 10 minutes to walk this little trail to the very end, but I had an ear-to-ear grin on my face every moment I was on it. While I could tell that my unknown friend with his/her clippers had been here as well, for the moment it was a brand-new discovery that just belonged to Terri and I. A new memory was being made, new territory explored, and a freshness was breathed into 2020. Our huge smiles lingered as we walked the 30 minutes back to the car, and we felt An Inordinate Amount of Joy in our tiny little discovery. Here’s hoping YOU are able to get out, explore, be curious, and find your own little moment of Inordinate Joy.

Playing by the Rules

And discoveries near Discovery Bay

I’m not sure exactly why or when, but at some point in my life, I guess I decided to play by the rules. I never even really noticed, or thought about it until one day when my sister-in-law Lauren made the observation, “Bill, you are a Boy Scout.” I may have been waiting for a Walk signal to cross the street on an otherwise deserted road. I pondered all the implications for a few moments, and said “Yeah, you are probably right.”

It can have beneficial impacts, though, as when new and important rules suddenly come out of the blue, such as Wear A Mask, Stay 6 Feet Apart, Wash Your Hands (More) Often and such as that. For a while it included Disinfect Every Item brought into the house from the grocery store, Quarantine The Mail and delivery boxes for at least two days and Don’t Talk to Strangers. Other rules that still stand: Don’t Eat Inside Restaurants, Don’t Go Inside Grocery Stores and Don’t Travel (very far). So far, so good – we remain coronavirus free!

Ahh, Discovery Bay!

Well, as I reported in Seniors Stuck Inside Escape! we determined we could travel to our time-share condos where each unit has an outside door so we don’t have to share elevators or hallways. We kept it all in-state, with stays in Chelan, Leavenworth, Ocean Shores and Discovery Bay (near Sequim). These stays have definitely helped us maintain the wee bit of sanity we have left in our golden years.

It only looked abandoned…

We recently just returned from three nights at Discovery Bay. While there we will often walk north on Old Gardner Road for our daily exercise. This time we decided to walk south; the northern route is almost abandoned, but the south route has a center line and no shoulders, so we were a bit apprehensive, but ran – or rather, walked – the risk. Towards the end of our walk, I noticed some unusual shapes in a sparsely wooded field, and moved closer to check it out. It turned out to be an old, but still in current use, cemetery! If you’ve followed me on Instagram, or read some previous posts, you will understand that we had to take at least a half an hour to explore this hidden gem. Besides finding several tombstones with a 1918 date of death that brought the past smack dab right up to the present situation, we found a marker with the earliest date of birth we have ever seen – “Grandma” Julie Ann Jacobs, born 1792, died 1826. 

Historic wooden Railroad Bridge Park is part of the Discovery Trail, 130 miles long from Port Townsend to the Pacific Ocean at LaPush.

From there we headed to Sequim. We’ve driven through it many times, but never actually stopped to check it out. After driving through the tiny but cute downtown area, I decided to see if we could find our way to view the Straits of Georgia that divided Washington State from Vancouver Island. Taking random roads I hoped might lead us in the general direction, I spotted a sign for Railroad Bridge Park, which led us to an abandoned railroad bridge built out of wood, first in 1915, then rebuilt in 1930. At 740’ long, it is the longest truss bridge built of wood. It appears the Dungeness River is a bit fickle, as but a trickle was passing under the wooden portion of the bridge when we were there.

Dungeness Spit with lighthouse in the distance; Vancouver Island in the distance

Leaving there, I consulted the map, and found the micro village of Dungeness which promised the views of Georgia Strait I had been looking for. After winding this way and that we found a sliver of a park, and walked to the shore. It turned out that we were actually almost totally separated from the Strait by Dungeness Spit, a five-mile long skinny sand dune with a lighthouse and wildlife preserve at the end. And we COULD have seen Vancouver Island if it hadn’t been totally covered with clouds. 

Fun fact about Sequim – it gets about 16” of rain per year, or less than half of what Western Washington does, so it is a bit of a mecca for retirees who love the Wet Side, but crave a bit less dampness. So, we decided to check out senior accommodations whilst we were in the area, and found brand-new 55+ condos and  a senior manufactured home park, which happened to have a double rainbow right over the unit that was for sale that we were looking at! A sign? 

Just a sliver of the huge and varied Fort Flagler Historic State Park

We had also heard about Port Ludlow, just south of Port Townsend, that was supposed to be a haven for seniors, so we headed out the next day to check it out. It turned out to be very, very tiny, quite cute on a small bay. It looks to get even more rain than Seattle. Next. So, we headed out to Indian Island and Fort Flagler on Morrowstone Island. Basically all but the road on the south shore of Indian Island belongs to the Navy for a munitions base, where submarines from the base at Bremerton stop to pick up fresh nuclear missiles on their way out of town. 

Exploring one of the smaller gun emplacements

Fort Flagler is a huge jewel of a park, built around 1890, and manned during WWI, WWII and the Korean War. Part of the Triangle of Fire with Fort Casey on Whidbey Island and Fort Worden by Port Townsend, each fort had multiple big gun emplacements strategically placed to defend the entrance to Puget Sound from enemy warships. Each one is a state park, and each offers a unique glimpse into the role they played in our nation’s defense.  Fort Flagler is the most remote, but oh so worth the effort to get there. It has 1,451 acres with over 3 ½ miles of shoreline and fabulous views. 

Let’s explore!

Almost all of the original buildings still remain; the homes the officers lived in have been restored, and are available to rent, as are larger facilities for big groups. The barracks look exactly like the ones I stayed in during basic training at Fort Lewis 50 years ago. There is also a great campground with amazing views to the north of Port Townsend and Whidbey island. You can wander through all the old gun emplacements, and try and imagine what life was like in the concrete bunkers filled with high explosives. A number of interpretive plaques give some insight as to the history and use of various sites. We saw a good chunk of the park while we were there, but are already looking forward to going back in the spring. For a quick video of one of the beach areas, click HERE.

With the sun already approaching the horizon at 3:30 in this northern latitude, we set our sights for Happy Hour at our home base back at Discovery Bay. We had had an amazing two full days full of discovery, beauty and history, and had done it safely during this pandemic that has upended the world. Infections are shooting up in Washington like a rocket being launched at Cape Canaveral, and it looks like a good time to retreat to the safety of our cozy little home for awhile. Thankszooming, anyone? Stay safe, and take good care of yourself and each other; this too shall pass.

PS Something new! For more photos of this trip, please click HERE or on the Photo link at the top of the blog. Thanks!

The Long, Wet Gray

Or Putting the flower beds to bed

“Baby, let your light shine down”

Something remarkable happened a couple of days ago … I saw and talked with six of my neighbors while I was putting up our Christmas lights! What makes this so remarkable is that it was early November, and most of us have retreated to our caves to hibernate for the next six months, so sightings of neighbors is a rare happenstance.

Up in the Northwest corner of the Pacific Northwest, we “joke” that we have two seasons – the Long, Wet Gray (LWG) starting as early as mid-October and lasting until mid-May, and Partly Sunny. Oh sure, we can get a couple of weeks that passes for Spring, and maybe a bit more that can seem like Fall, but when the LWG arrives, everyone knows it. On Solstice this year, the sun will rise unseen behind a thick veil of clouds at 8:01 AM, then quickly set at 4:16 PM, although the light begins to seriously dim about 3:30.

“Rose, rose, rose,rose – will I ever see thee bloom?”

We were able to participate in an annual ritual this year that occasionally gets rained out – Putting the Flower Beds to Bed. Once the first frost hits, we know the LWG will soon follow. The flowers, once so vibrant and lush are brown and drooping back to the soil from whence they sprang. I’m sure there is a fabulous metaphor here as we pull up the withered annuals, and cut back the perennials to within a few inches of their life. The rose bushes seem the most dramatic to me, once a colander of glossy green leaves spouting beautiful red blooms, wafting an intoxicating and heavenly scent, now reduced to a few short and forbidding thorny vestiges like a glimpse of the weeks and months to follow.

Silent and empty, hunkered down for the winter

I admit we put off putting the gardens to bed a bit this year. Like so many of you, we have severely  limited our life primarily to our tiny little corner of the world, finding an inordinate amount of joy and comfort from the shelter of our gazebo as we gazed out to the most prolific display of mesmerizing beauty our little flower beds may have ever produced. The brightness of the blooms and the baffling beauty of Hummingbirds eliminated the shadows on our souls cast by the dark spell of a microscopic seed planted in humankind all across this world. What a marvelous medicine it was!

I remember when I was young, going to bed, sitting up and reading, totally caught up in whatever book had caught my fancy. But then my mom would come up and say, “Okay, it’s time to turn off the lights and go to sleep!” Sometimes she would give me a few more minutes if I was persuasive enough; otherwise, I’d turn off the lights, wait a few moments, and then break out the flashlight and read under the covers as long as I dared or until I finished the book. While those days have long since passed, it’s as if Mother Nature has come to me – to us – and said  “Okay, it’s time to turn off the lights and go to sleep!” The blooms are gone, the bears have gone to den, and we are tucked into a blanket of clouds. “To sleep, perchance to dream” to borrow a line from the bard. 

May start a new tradition…

But, like that little boy, I will not go gently into that good night. I love a line from a Bruce Cockburn song – “Kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight,” and that will be my touchstone during the Long, Wet Gray. I lighted up our Christmas lights the day I put them up on November 10th instead of waiting until Thanksgiving per tradition. Yesterday Terri and I did something we’ve NEVER done before – we went through the drive-through at Dairy Queen and got two Blizzards! And … those of you who know us well will be SHOCKED .. we are making plans to pick up some kind of a fast-food meal at a drive-through to eat in the car as we find a place of beauty and tranquility to savor an uncommon moment. And who knows what other wild and crazy norms we may bend as we kick at the darkness? What about you? What will you do this winter that is uncommon? Whatever it is, stay safe, ‘cause we’d really like to see you when we emerge from the dual hibernation of winter and pandemic.

Cooking with Bill and Terri #5 – Champions of Breakfast

I had pancakes for breakfast this morning. For the first time in a few years. Growing up, we’d often have pancakes for breakfast, made with Krusteaz mix, a tradition I faithfully carried on up until a couple of years back when I discovered how much sodium pancake mix has. I decided to try and make changes to my diet reduce my blood pressure without medication; sadly, the pancakes had to go as two small pancakes had a whopping 530mg of sodium! Since then, I’ve been searching for a palatable low-sodium pancake mix, alas, without success.

SO happy I get to have pancakes again!

Last week whilst perusing our home-made cookbook for upcoming meals, I found an egg-free pancake recipe our daughter Jenn had given us that we could use for our granddaughter. We never actually got around to trying it. Looking at it, I noticed it didn’t call for any salt. It turns out that baking powder DOES contain sodium, but not much, so – for the first time in my life, I made home-made pancakes … and they were good! I’m excited about adding pancakes back into my breakfast repertoire!

The stoves at Mt. Tabor were built from volcanic rock taken from the site, but otherwise looked almost identical to this.

All of which brought up childhood memories of breakfast. One of my favorites was going to Mount Tabor Park in Portland, Oregon for Easter Breakfast. Back then they had the outdoor stone stoves, which have disappeared without photographic evidence. I was able to find a photo very similar to the ones at Mt. Tabor of one at Lassen. We’d build a fire, wait for the thick steel plate to heat up, then cook pancakes, bacon and eggs in the cast iron fry pan and griddle we would bring. We would also have big family breakfast gatherings at parks on the scenic highway through the Columbia Gorge.

So, the title of this post notwithstanding, I was a Cheerios guy, not a Wheaties person. My dad, hailing from Canada, loved a porridge mix called Sonny Boy, and would bring some home after every trip back. I remember his dad actually grinding and making his own porridge. As a young lad, I never developed a taste for those rough cereals. My brother’s wife Becky has a great memory of her grandfather getting up by 5:30am every morning, making homemade oatmeal, and homemade biscuits with honey butter. 

The original Elmer’s Pancake and Steak House near 82nd Street in Portland

What I DID like, and one thing we all looked forward to was breakfast at Elmer’s. Strawberry Waffles with tons of whipped cream, oh my gosh! Many years later, after my mom passed, our dad met a wonderful woman who became the glue for our family; they announced their engagement over breakfast at Elmer’s!

Since then, we have found some incredibly good recipes for breakfast, which I will share on the Menu Planning and Recipes page here on my blog. So, I’d LOVE to hear what your favorite breakfast memories or recipes are. Please share! In the meantime, Let’s Get Cooking!

Cooking with Bill and Terri #4.2- Pots and Pans Follow-up!

Thanks for all the comments on what I thought would be my most boring post ever about pots and pans! Here’s a couple of interesting things that were brought to our attention we want to share with you.

Meatloaf pan, ready to start cooking.

Bruce and Kathy from British Columbia shared this great find with us: a meatloaf pan! I never even knew such a thing existed, but this is pure genius! Who amongst us hasn’t struggled to get meatloaf out of the pan after cooking, only to mess up several portions. No more!

Check out all this deliciousness! Photos courtesy of Bruce and Kathy.

So, I recently learned a lot about Dutch ovens. Pre-17th century, the Dutch were the best makers of pots and pans in the world, using copper and brass. Then an Englishman thought cast iron would work, and be much more affordable … but to make it work, he had to use the “Dutch process” to cast them, so they’ve been known as Dutch ovens ever since.

It also turns out that if you want to get really picky, Dutch ovens are made of uncoated cast iron. The French devised a way to coat them with enamel, making them much easier to clean, and became known as French ovens (I never knew this). Here is a great article from Allrecipies on “What is a Dutch Oven” with lots more information, tips, and recipes.

We love both these pans, for very different reasons.

So, last time, as to not totally bore you to death, I didn’t say much about fry pans. Haha, sorry, but yes, there’s more! Besides the Swiss Zyliss non-stick, we also have an uncoated cast iron fry pan (another Christmas gift from Terri to me), and a little, inexpensive copper coated fry/saute pan. After a very bad experience with the failure of a non-stick PFOA (teflon-type) fry pan, we went looking for alternatives. I was VERY skepical because of how little the copper-coated pan cost, but it has been a winner. It is amazingly fast and easy to clean, and the coating still appears to be very durable. Here is a link to a video on USA Today about the differences between cast-iron and stainless steel fry pans, and when to use each one for best results.

So now I’m even more curious – do you have a unique pan you absolutely love? Come on and share with the rest of us!

Cooking with Bill and Terri #4 – “NEVER buy this for me for Christmas!”

One of our first purchases together was a set of hard anodized Calphalon Cookware. We wanted something durable, well-made, and high quality that would outlast us. The investment in having the right assortment of sizes continues to pay great dividends as we find ourselves in the kitchen even more, due to the pandemic. 

This is a critical tool for any kitchen!

We have cooked for others in their homes a few times, and one of our biggest challenges has been the lack of pots and pans needed to perfectly prepare the meal. We have continued to add to our collection over the years, with some pieces absolutely worth every penny spent.

Several years back, we had our eyes on a classic Le Creuset dutch oven. When I naively asked Terri if that’s what she wanted for Christmas, she said “NEVER buy things for the kitchen for me for Christmas!” Message received, loud and clear. So I said, hey buy it for me for Christmas then, and she did. We have used it over and over again for countless soups, stews and specialty meals, and it is always a joy to get it out of the cupboard and onto the stove. We know a good meal is in the making!

Zyliss fry pan with Frittata. Best non-stick ever!

I used to think that I was one of very few men in America who would willingly go into a kitchen store with his wife, but it’s been amazing to see how many men do most of the cooking when we watch reality TV shows on people buying homes across the USA. When we are in the fabulous little town of LaConner, we always stop in at The Ginger Grater and Olive Shoppe to see what’s new. One time we stumbled across this fry pan made by Zyliss, and bought it based on the owner’s glowing recommendation. It has been a terrific workhorse for us. It has a non-PFOA nonstick coating that is better than every other non-stick pan we’ve had, including one from Colophon. It heats evenly, and cleans super-easy every time.

Stove-top to oven, this does it all.

We are fortunate to have a Le Creuset store in an outlet center near us … we popped in one day, and found a pan we just could not resist. The closest thing I can find on their website is a “Cassadou,” but ours is wider, and not as deep. After the Zyliss fry pan above, this may be our most-used pan. No crowding here when cooking up a big batch of chicken, or the Tuscan Chicken with Garbanzo Beans

Beautiful AND practical, this brings joy and comfort food right to the table.

We were wandering around Whidbey Island doing an artist studio tour one year, and came across this beautiful ceramic cookpot. It is basically on display on the open bottom shelf of our sideboard. We haven’t used it as much as I thought we would, but it sure adds beauty to our eating area – and Terri just found a recipe for Vegetarian Butternut Squash Chili with Black Beans that just cries out to be cooked in this pot.

Well, Congratulations! You actually read this all the way to the end! Pots and pans aren’t a very exciting topic, but having the right tools for the job at your disposal can make all the difference in your cooking experience. Now, let’s get cooking!

Cooking with Bill and Terri #3 – Herbs and the Spice(s) of Life

A few of my outdoor herbs, along with Jalepeno and Cherry Tomatoes

If you watch this quick video of Chef Emirl Lagasse, you’ll get the gist of how I cook in 20 seconds. Click HERE to jump right to the Menu Planning and Recipes for this week. Or, just keep reading for “the rest of the story.”  One day years ago, I realized how much I am tuned-in to the stimulation of my senses. I love using my sight to enrapture me with the beauty of nature, with art, and capturing the wonderment of life.  I love listening to music, and marvel as some of it reaches way down deep inside of me. I love to use my sense of touch to translate the physical external into the areas of the soul. Now, can we get to taste??  I have no recollection of when the desire to experience the multifaceted  dimensions of flavor started.  It may have been the first time I had a hot pepper, or hot sauce. 

We’ve been harvesting from this for weeks, and LOOK!

I started to learn about herbs, how they grew, which herb went best with main dish ingredients. While my garden size is a bit diminished, I still grow much of our herbs. Sage, Rosemary, Thyme and Oregano are perennials that we can pick fresh practically year around. In the outdoor growing season, we always grow Basil and Jalapeno Peppers, with varied success. Tarragon and Parsley have carried over the winter occasionally, always a treat to see them going strong after a long winter.

Then, the Coup’ de Gras – our indoor, year-around AeroGarden herb garden. Totally hydroponic, easy to care for, this little guy produces copious amounts of fresh herbs; right now we have two types of Basil, and Mint, which far outlasted the Oregano, Parsley and Thyme. During the bland months of winter, a small handful of Basil in a green salad just makes the whole thing dance in your mouth. 

Zucchini and Spinach Chilaquiles. Looks like a mess, but WOW!

And we haven’t even started talking about Spices! The brightness and depth they can bring to meals is simply the difference between a frozen TV dinner and your mother’s cooking. As I tried one spice, I had to try the next, and the next, and the next. Now, as you can see, we have two drawers full of spices and dried herbs. In my Recipes and Menu planning page, you’ll see Zucchini and Spinach Chilaquiles. You may notice that we have always raved about it … BUT, we “made it our own” by adding ground meat and the six spices at the top of the page that made it turn from Good to GREAT! Note there are no measurements for these spices, just add according to your taste. Click here for the recipe.

Oh, yeah, baby! But wait, there’s more!

Here are a few of my must-have spices:

Granulated Onion & Granulated Garlic So easy to add another layer of flavor! I always use them on roasted chicken, in soups and stews, and as my inspiration dictates.

Chili Powder … which should include Medium and hot Chili Powder, Ground Chipotle and let’s just throw in Cayenne for fun. Adding a half-teaspoon of one of these to a boring dish will indeed “kick it up a notch. POW!”

Cumin It’s not “Mexican” if it doesn’t have Cumin in it! Also good on chicken.

Jerk Seasoning – but please, do me a favor. If you don’t make your own, PLEASE look for a salt-free version! They are typically scary-high in sodium, and we don’t want anything bad to happen to anyone.

Herbs, Curries, and oh, so much more!

Curry Haha, “curry.” There must be 100,000 recipes for curry, regional variations on down to grandma’s recipe. Right now we have 10 spice jars with different curries in them. Curries can be anywhere from mild to burn-your-face-off. Do a bit of homework, then find something with more than the word Curry on it.

Herbs and Spices! Growing up, my dad was a “meat-and-potatoes” guy, salt and pepper only. Mom had a few tins of herbs in red-and-white tins – Shilling? – that were primarily used for stuffing in the Thanksgiving turkey. That and a dash of cinnamon for her home-made applesauce. Spicy spices were never even a thing, and still aren’t for some family members. But now, here I am, clearly an herb and spice addict, always wanting more. More layers of flavors, using alchemy to synthesize a whole new dimension in taste. Onward, fearless cooks! Be generous with the herbs and spices you employ to bring enjoyment to those around you. Now, let’s get cooking!

P.S. Our FAVORITE place to buy herbs and spices is online, from Penzy’s. I can’t recommend them enough! What herbs or spices other than the above are in your “must have” list? Asking for a friend…

Cooking with Bill and Terri – Eating Organic

At the end of May, 1972, my mom told me she had breast cancer. As she underwent treatment, she also did research, and found a link between the hormone DES that was fed to beef at the time and was linked to cancer. I was already exploring healthier eating options, as well as eastern religions, so I decided to stop eating beef (and lamb and pork and other mammals) for one year. I never started again, and so was spared all the angst of Mad Cow Disease, and later all the links with heart disease. 

We love Farmer’s Markets, whether nearby or when traveling.

More recently, we had our own encounter with the “big C”, and took a closer look at our diet, and determined that using as much organic food as possible could be very beneficial to our health. While it is tough to absolutely prove it, this study seems to show a 25% reduced risk from cancer by eating organic foods. Read how eating organic can reduce cancer risk link here: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323407

The problem with conventionally grown fruits and vegetables is the residual pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals. Many of them are linked to cancer in humans; they are absorbed into the cell structure of plants, and cannot be washed off. The Environmental Working Group has a list of foods that are the worst to buy that are conventionally raised:

Dirty Dozen™

EWG’s 2020 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce

Dirty Dozen™

EWG’s 2020 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™

1. Strawberries

2. Spinach

3. Kale

4. Nectarines

5. Apples

6. Grapes

7. Peaches

8. Cherries

9. Pears

10. Tomatoes

11. Celery

12. Potatoes

+ Hot Peppers

Eating organic can be more expensive, so EWG also put together a list of the Clean Fifteen, foods you can safely buy and eat that don’t need to be organic:

Clean Fifteen™

EWG’s 2020 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™

1. Avocados

2. Sweet Corn*

3. Pineapple

4. Onions

5. Papaya*

6. Sweet Peas Frozen

7. Eggplant

8. Asparagus

9. Cauliflower

10. Cantaloupe

11. Broccoli

12. Mushrooms

13. Cabbage

14. Honeydew Melon

15. Kiwi

The * denotes plants that may use genetically altered seeds.

Organic fruits and vegetables are now widely available at Fred Meyer (Kroger), Walmart, Target, and even Costco! Our very favorite place to shop and get the very best in organics is at our local farmers markets. Generally they are picked the same day, so they are incredibly fresh, and often young and tender, plus they often offer many more varieties. 

Things we didn’t used to think about: raisins are just dried grapes, which is #6 on the dirty list. Oats aren’t on the list, but we use them a lot for our home-made granola, so we get organic. Canned tomatoes, pasta sauce and salsa uses tomatoes, #10 of the dirty list, so we go organic there, as well as canned beans. 

Organic rice and beans and organic kale served with papaya habanero sauce on top of “natural” chicken.

Finally, a huge percentage of organic foods are grown on smaller farms, grown by independent farmers. In this day and age of huge conglomerates taking over the world, it feels good to support the little guy/gal trying to make the world a better place. Food grown with love and cooked with love … we think that’s a win/win! 

Looking for our menu planner and recipes? Click this link, or on the blog menu, click on the Recipe and Menu Planner .

Cooking with Bill and Terri

In an earlier post, I talked about how I first learned to like new foods, and to cook. I also developed a new interest in having a healthier diet; I found the magazine Cooking Light, and found tons of inspiration in every issue. I tried dozens, no, hundreds of new recipes – some were good, some great, and some … well, no need to go back there.

The provisional cover for our cookbook

Fast forward to about 15 years ago when Terri and I traded two kitchens for one, and we started cooking up a storm together. One day we had the inspiration to start saving the recipes we enjoyed in our own notebook. Generally we would make a note of the day we cooked it, along with our rating: “Good!” Or “Great!!” Or “Company worthy!!!” We organized them by some basic categories, such as Chicken, Fish, Breakfast, Soups and Stews, etc. 

Well, after 15 years, it kinda got out of hand. We had recipes stuffed here and there, some filed in the wrong places, some we tried, some were waiting for the right moment, some with no ratings. One of my retirement projects was to go through that overflowing 3” notebook and bring a bit more order to the chaos … but Terri beat me to it. It took awhile, but now its organized much better, marginal recipes discarded (too much sodium, too much work for not enough flavor, not rated highly enough). This thing, if not a work of art, is a thing of beauty!

Here is your Menu Planner! Hope you can print it off…

Back before COVID-19, we used to enjoy hosting people for dinner at our home. Terri and I both love to cook, and by some miracle, we work together very well in the kitchen, and get a ton of enjoyment cooking for our friends and family.  Now, perhaps our guests were just being polite, but we were often told that our meals were good. We hope so, and hope that everyone felt the love we poured into them.

A few weeks ago when we were enjoying a social-distance moment with Terri’s sister Lauren, and BIL John, he commented on how much he enjoyed our meals, and wondered if we could help them with meal-planning ideas and strategies. Terri and I kicked the idea around, and it kept growing and expanding beyond all reasonable expectations until we were internet superstars. The cold light of dawn put a sharp pin in that fantasy balloon, but the original idea never went away. So John, this is for you!

First thing we do is to pull out our Menu Planner (I may have mentioned I am a chronic list-maker). We pull out our calendar to see if we will be home, traveling, or otherwise eating out – a very quick task these days, as we continue to maintain a very high level of isolation.

Here is our grocery list we used pre-covid

Then we pull out our Cooking with Bill and Terri Cookbook, plus any recipes that may have caught our eye as we checked our inbox. Our healthy-eating goal is to have two fish meals a week. I also am a huge believer in “planned-overs” – we love being able to go to the fridge or freezer and pull out a great meal that just needs a salad, so quick and easy!

Once I plan out the meals, I pull out our grocery list (yep, another list) that is arranged by the layout of the store. These day things are a bit more challenging, as we don’t feel safe or comfortable going into stores, so  I open the Fred Meyer app, and place my order there for pickup the next day. 

We LOVE this recipe!

That’s all there is to it! I’ve included a copy of my Menu Planner, along with this week’s meals, and the matching recipes. What do you think? Helpful? Too much work? Hope it inspires you to get Cooking with Bill and Terri!

Recipe Notes:

The Roasted Chile Verde Chicken Enchiladas is very time consuming – maybe two hours total. BUT it makes eight servings, so that’s four meals at one whack for us! I always add a bit of granulated onion, powdered garlic, and some medium chili powder to kick it up a notch.

The recipe may not look pretty, but it tastes fantastic!

For the Chicken Cutlets with Sun-dried Tomatoes my only modification was to use chicken breasts and cut them in half lengthwise. We served over a whole grain, but it would also be breat over a pasta that would catch the great sauce.

Seared Tuna with Avacado Salsa

Obviously a well-loved recipe

We were blessed recently with a gift of tuna loins from our daughter Jenn! Then, while at the ocean recently, we saw a shop that does both fishing charters and fish processing … AND they sell frozen Tuna loins there, maybe a couple of pounds to a package, so we got three. We got four medium steaks plus smaller ends from that, so it made a great meal, plus leftovers. You should be able to find tuna steaks at your grocery store.