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Category Archives: Retirement

Fourteen Years

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Time flies when you’re having fun. This week it’s been 14 years of living here. I actually find that hard to believe. Nine of those years I have been retired.  Looking back I wonder where the time went and what did we do during those years.

I was a city girl. Now, I just can’t imagine living someplace not surrounded by nature. I don’t miss the smog, the congestion, the hurried pace, the light and the noise. I really like the peace and quiet, and the darkness. Sitting on the porch on balmy evenings watching the sun set. Getting up early and watching the animals at the feeders and the bird bath. Battling the squirrels as they try to destroy my feeders. Moving the occasional snake.

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The first time I saw the sun turn the trees to “fire” I was hooked.

We have been lucky out here. The chance to put up the radio towers for my husband’s hobby. The garden, for about eight years. Then I did have to move to the community space which keeps me involved with others in a social gardening setting. And giving me protection from the deer who tried constantly to defeat my fencing in the yard. I still put certain things in the small enclosed space in my yard, like potatoes, garlic and herbs.

I have become a homebody. Not wanting to leave for extended periods of time. Letting the passport lapse for the near term.

While decluttering, I found a box of old government papers that included many travel forms. I estimate I spent years of my career on the road. Easily five years, maybe more. I don’t miss it at all. We still take overnight or weekend trips but being cramped in an airplane isn’t my idea of a fun time. Give me a B&B in the country and good restaurants and I am happy.

The outdoors and the weather drive our activities these days. There’s garden season. And the prime time amateur radio season. Let’s not forget mowing season. We fill our days with activities and projects, and keep relatively fit taking care of things.

I also don’t think I would have gotten into cooking and baking if we lived in an urban environment. Certainly the way we eat has been influenced by the farms and family businesses in our area.

Fourteen years have flown by. We are happy we took the plunge and moved out here, and look forward to many more years in our peaceful place.

A Quiet Christmas

As I noted last month with our 40th Thanksgiving, this is also the 40th time we have celebrated Christmas together. Now, retired, and free of the shopping angst of the season, we are enjoying the peace this year. No big commitments. Just a few cookies baked. A completely different approach in decorating. We are spending today at home, after a Christmas Eve dinner with some of our longtime friends.

This year, I did the massive grouping of poinsettias again. I also decided to pull out my favorite decorations from my mom and my MIL. They grace the stairs in the foyer, along with a ribbon wrap, a wreath and tiny white lights. Flowers in the kitchen and dining room. A few candles. That’s it. No tree. No outdoor lights. I have embraced the concept of minimalizing. No stress.

I had a good time a few weeks back, when I answered a request from an old friend to help them decorate their new place. I was happy to see some of my old decorations getting a new lease on life and get used, instead of being stored away. Large wreaths. Folksy hanging items. Ribbons. Wrappings. All those things that we no longer use.

Soon, I will head off to pan fry a couple flat iron steaks. Roast some root veggies. Try out my latest fermentation goodies. I pickled beets last week, and spicy rutabaga relish. Using the last CSA veggies.

Doesn’t everyone have spicy, Korean style pickled vegetables with Christmas dinner?

I am in the process of making a list of things I want to do in 2019, including writing more than I did this year. I may actually get another one or two posts written this month.

In the meantime  —

Home for the Holidays

The holiday weekend is over. Now to get ready for Christmas.

I realized this was our 40th Thanksgiving together. Our first, we headed to PA so I could meet my future in-laws. After that, we regularly spent the day with one of our families.

Usually we went to PA. Then, for the past 12 years we headed to Annapolis to visit my mom and my brother’s family. All of that changed this year. With mom’s passing, and my brother in the midst of a move to eastern VA, we found ourselves without plans for the weekend.

It was weird but also quite peaceful. No last minute crises. No traffic woes. We spent the last five days doing what we wanted when we wanted.

It was heavy with local influences, in a series of meals. We spread it out. I did oyster stew one night with oysters from Boarman’s. We had our Maple Lawn turkey on Thanksgiving.

I made sides and seasonings that we like. My dressing used chorizo and fresh bread cubes made from my CSA ancient grain bread. My homemade cranberry sauce was tangy from the lemon and orange in it. I made creamed spinach instead of green beans.

My husband went up to Dandelion Bistro Wednesday night to pick out a dessert for Thursday. Smith Island cake. Not traditional at all. So, so good though.

Tonight we used more of that leftover turkey along with some of the stock I made from the turkey bones. Pappardelle’s orzo bought from Secolari at Mary’s Land Farm.

We have enough turkey left for sandwiches, and enough soup for another dinner.

As for other things we did, we had a wonderful meal to celebrate my husband’s birthday at Hudson Coastal. We went Saturday night during our latest deluge. The restaurant was busy but not overwhelmed, and the food was excellent.

Today I watched the traffic backups and was thankful our days of nail-biting drives are over. But, we miss our parents. We are thankful we had so many years to share holidays. We just need to adjust to new routines and make new memories.

Tomorrow? Baking for the Conservancy holiday sale, where we make a potluck lunch for volunteers and vendors. The sale is Saturday and is a highlight of the start of many activities leading up to Christmas.

Eight

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Eight years retired. This weekend. Time does fly when you are having fun.

What have I learned? Have I made mistakes? Do I regret it?

I have learned much about myself. Made just a few errors, nothing big, though. Don’t regret it a minute.

Retiring can be immensely rewarding, or a real let down. I know many people who went back to work, because they were bored and retirement wasn’t what they thought it would be. So, here’s my top five things that make it work for me, and for us – when I include my husband’s retirement a few months after mine.

One — have a passion for something other than work. Without that passion, things get boring very quickly. My passion. Gardening and cooking. My husband’s? Amateur radio.

We have so many things going on with these hobbies. Groups. Social activities. Trips. Immersion into the processes. Maintenance. You get the picture. It’s a time sump. Keeps us busy enough, and provides structure to our days.

Two — social networking. Find new friends. The work ones will disappear. Trust me on this one. You lose the connection quite quickly. We have many new networks. Blogging friends. Garden people. Radio people. Wine lovers. Locavores. Volunteers.

Three — projects. We try and keep up with the house, the grounds, the decluttering. We do it in small batches. We tackle something every year. It may be maintenance. It may be renovation. It keeps us focused, and maintains those project management skills from our work years.

Four — travel. We don’t travel far these days. We did that for so many years. Touched five continents. Cruised 160 days. Now, we like our simple weekends and day trips. Exploring our local world. Getting very deep into it. Weekends in Virginia. Overnights in PA and DE. Festivals. Concerts.

Five — challenges. Mine is cooking. The cookbook club. Learning to bake. Learning to cook ethnic foods, like India, or next month, Thai. Exiting my comfort zone.

We don’t feel old. We still love the challenges. The new experiences. The new friends. Retirement has been awesome, to say the least.

My advice, though. Before you decide to retire, find your passion. Without it, you may not be satisfied, or you may not find enough to do to fill your hours.

Us, we go crazy. Not enough hours some weeks. But, it is great. Doing what we want, day in and day out.

Can’t wait for the azaleas to bloom. Picnic at the reservoir.

The Yeast Beast

Conquering yeast breads. One of those “bucket list” type items on an old list of things I wanted to do in retirement. With the challenge in my cookbook club this month being “Genius Recipes”, this one had to be included.

The famous No Knead Bread from Jim Lahey. Catapulted into the limelight more than 10 years ago by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. According to his website, it is one of the top ten recipes that are visited there.

There are many variations. The ratios, though, are fairly constant. The one from the book is a bit different in that it calls for active dry or instant yeast. As I learned later, every other recipe calls for instant yeast. It works with active dry as that is what was in my pantry at the moment, but I think it would be better with instant.

Here is what I did. Twice, now. Once plain. Once with dried rosemary added. First, I invested in a digital scale and made this recipe using weight, instead of measuring with cups and spoons.

Not a fancy scale, but certainly useful. Zeroed out with the bowl in it. Started with 400g of bread flour. Added 5g kosher salt, 1g yeast (I just used a 1/4 tsp for the yeast as it was so little change in weight). I thought it was interesting in the recipe that the 1 1/2 cups of cool water (55-65 degrees F) to be added used 360g for the measuring.

You mix it all together and then let it sit covered with a towel in a warm corner of your kitchen, out of direct sunlight. I let my first one rise for 12 hours, the second one for 20 hours. The longer rise gave me a bread that was definitely different. This scientific approach, although simple, is really quite educational and erased my trepidation with using yeast.

After the first rise, you flour a board. Dump the wet, sticky dough and pull into a round shape. Recommendations to use parchment paper for this will decrease the messiness of using a floured towel. This second rise or 1-2 hours wrapped loosely in the towel will just about double the dough ball. I used cornmeal for my first bread, and flour for the second.

Here is the first bread.

The crunchy cornmeal coating added to the flavor. It was crusty on the outside and dense, chewy, but with lots of air bubbles inside.

The directions call for you to use a heavy covered pot, like a Dutch oven. I used a Pyrex baking dish. It has to have a lid because what you are doing is creating an oven in your oven. The dish has to be preheated for a half hour at 475 degrees before dumping the dough from the towel into it. It will spread across the bottom. If you want a higher small boule, you need a pot that size.

This was my rosemary bread, dusted with flour. It was baked, covered, for 30 minutes, and uncovered for an additional 15 minutes. I have convection ovens so that last timing with the cover off will vary for those without air circulation. The recipe calls for 15-20 minutes uncovered.

The rosemary bread rose a bit more than the first bread.

Fresh from the oven, lifted out of the pot with a large spatula. Be careful as that pot is screaming hot at 475 degrees.

I will be making this easy recipe every chance I get. I do want to try some of the variations, like using a drizzle of olive oil, and adding sliced olives. Or, making a sweet bread with mini chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.

Google NoKnead Bread, if you want to mess around in your kitchen. Me, I need to get some instant yeast and see if it makes the bread rise more than mine. The slow “fermentation” of that 18 hour rise time makes this bread. It is almost foolproof.

Thanks to the Genius Recipe book by Kristen Miglore for rekindling my interest in baking bread, without fuss.

Cookbook Club

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In my last post, where I talk about all the ways we experimented with brining turkey, I mentioned the inspiration of the cookbook club. Friday I started cooking from the 10th book, a different one every month, and sharing it on social media with other “club” members. This version of an online community is managed by Food52, a popular web site for people obviously interested in food.

The club, a closed group on Facebook, has thousands of members. A small percentage of us cook and write about it. What is so interesting to me is seeing results, and comments, successes and failures, by cooks from around the world.  Seasonal cooking as well as regional cooking are thrown for a loop when the Aussies and Kiwis from the bottom of the world, and the Asians, the Europeans, the Canadians, South Americans and those of us Stateside all try and cook from the same book with ingredients we can source.

We vote for the books, three months at a time, a few months in advance. This allows us to reserve library books, or to have a book readily available worldwide.

This month? Food52 Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore. I am lucky to have a great county library where I can reserve books, and then use online renewals to keep them for up to nine weeks if no one else requests them. I got the book in midNovember and started reading. I like this book quite a bit. Her column on line explores these great recipes in depth, and uses input to make them easy for anyone to tackle. Tweaks to them. Hints. Substitutions.

I needed to make cookies for a cookie party. I spent Friday doing one from this book and one from the latest Ottolenghi book, SWEET. Sweet is the book of the month for the baking version of our little online community. If you have never cooked from Ottolenghi’s books, you should get your hands on any of them and just have fun. I have all of them in eBook versions. The cookbook club in June let us loose on all of his previous books.

What did I bake?

From Genius Recipes I visited an old favorite. Molasses cookies from the Silver Palate. Mine spread too much. I think I didn’t let the dough chill enough. Still, they taste great and they look like lace cookies, which make them perfect tea cookies.

From Sweet, I made these absolutely amazing cranberry, oat, and almond cookies, covered in a white chocolate glaze. These disappeared immediately at our event Saturday. Not sugary at all. There is only a half cup of sugar in the entire batch, which made 48 cookies. The white chocolate is the right touch to make these really good. Perfect with a cup of tea. The online recipe for these cookies is on the Random House UK web page, The Happy Foodie.

I am working on my baking skills this month. In my CSA share, I am getting the flour and grain shares, which will be put to use often, as I work my way through the Genius Recipe book. Jim Lahey’s famous No Knead bread is on my short list, as is an interesting one grain ingredient cracker. More on whether I do these, and if they are successful, later this month.

As for why I am active in this community. I promised myself that I would continue to challenge myself in retirement. Trying new things. Different cuisines. Tackling that fear of baking. Within our little online group, we commiserate. We encourage. We share. Some of us aren’t as good at it as others. Doesn’t matter. We enjoy cooking and by seeing the results, we become determined to try a harder recipe, and expand our knowledge of techniques.

In February, the cooking club celebrates its first anniversary by opening the month to a free-for-all with all the books we used in the first year. I joined the second month, so I didn’t cook from Art of the Pie by Kate McDermott. I will be reserving that book and facing that challenge. To me, pie crust is hard to do.  But what the heck! They may end up messy, but taste is what really counts.

My other favorites from this past 10 months? Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard. Made in India by Meera Sodha. All the Ottolenghi books. I had three of Ottolenghi’s already on eBooks, and have downloaded the others. CSA farm shares tempt me to dig into those books for good vegetable recipes. And, if it wasn’t for Deep Run Roots, I never would have grown okra in my garden.

Or made these.

Or this.

The okra fries are so easy, and so good. Just olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Screaming hot oven or on the grill. Crunchy, salty, spicy. As for that awesome cauliflower cake from Ottolenghi, it will be repeated when we get cauliflower again from the CSA. It is absolutely the best show stopping addition to a pot luck party, and really not that hard to make.

What’s stopping you? Get cooking!

 

Daytrippin’ Again and Again

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It is the season. To get in the car and head out looking for new places, and enjoying the weather.

The red buds are in bloom. So are the Kwanzan cherry trees. I have to head out to Brighton Dam to check on the progress at the azalea gardens. Maybe tomorrow we will do that.

We did get out to a few favorite places, and a new one.

We hit the Hawaiian Shaved Ice place on Liberty Road. Just northeast of where Wards Chapel meets Liberty Road. Had one absolutely awesome egg custard shave ice.

We went looking for Carhartt shorts. To National Harbor, no less. There is a Carhartt store there (go figure, a very traditional work oriented clothing company in a tourist destination). This was our first visit to the evolving tourist spot. We had an excellent lunch at Rosa Mexicano, and then slogged our way home through downtown DC. It made us remember just why we retired, and don’t regret that commute every night. By the way, the fish tacos at the restaurant. Amazing.

Spring is our favorite time to hit the back roads, enjoy the scenery and venture into previously unexplored sections of the tristate area.

Any suggestions for places to go?