Category Archives: Uncategorized

Planning for an ex-pat adventure

Written on 11/10/16
I am seeing things through a different lens right now and I am both anxious and excited. I have been working on the whole Marie Kondo/minimalist/downsizing thing for a while now and feel like I have made some progress. Quite a bit of progress with clothes and books and decor and linens but still not enough with sentimental/inherited items, photos, kitchen things.

And then the election happened and we woke up yesterday and thought, “Why don’t we get out of this country for a few years?”

The whole point of minimizing is to make one more flexible, adaptable, able to do things, able to take advantage of opportunities when they come up. So let’s see if we can make this happen – to work through the anxiety of getting rid of things, renting the house, figuring out mail, visas, health insurance, car insurance, banking and to actually do it. I have very little anxiety about actually living in Mexico. I think we will find a place with little trouble and we will like it there.

I have a lot of anxiety about leaving.

The lens I have right now when I walk through the house goes something like this, “Will I/we get rid of (this thing) when we go or put it in storage? Will we want/need it when we come back? Is it something we could leave at the house if we rent it furnished or do we need space in a storage unit? How many boxes of photos/sentimental/inherited items do I want/need to keep and how will I dispose of those that have to go? What will out lifestyle be when we get back? Will I still want/need canning equipment, bicycles, soap making items, beer making stuff…?”

Everything looks different through this lens.

That’s a good thing. By January 2018, we will be in Mexico for a year. Let’s make it happen.

Garden update…and never look a gift box in the mouth

What’s going in the garden?

After a disappointing pea crop, we have had a good run of spring things.  Asparagus. Cabbage. Broccoli. Our tomato plants are the largest we have ever had; nothing ripe yet but I think there will be tons. Peppers look okay. We have had a few bells so far. Green beans are starting to produce. Love these beans, from seeds I purchased in Europe. Just put some leek starts in the ground for fall harvest. And our potatoes are almost ready to be dug.

Here are some of our first string beans on the grill with the almost-last broccoli, potatoes (from the store) and marinated tempeh skewers. Marinated tempeh because someone (was it you? If so, thanks) sent us a gift box from Try the World. The theme was Brazil and there were some Brazilian spices and BBQ sauce in there so I applied them to tempeh instead of their suggested beef and chicken. How lucky are we to get a mystery gift box?!

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Stuff vs travels: struggles of a minimalist wannabe

I have been flirting with minimalism (voluntary simplicity, living with less, whatever) for years. We (I) don’t need so much stuff. I learned that from clearing out 80 years of my parents’ stuff when they passed. We live in a small (by American standards) house; we don’t have new cars or new furniture; and I try to resist the lure of consumerism. This lack of buying and debt helped us to retire early. When I do have the urge or need to buy, I head for the thrift store or online used-clothes shopping. I prefer travel, experiences, decent wine, and donating to charity. Though I have a long way to go, I try to walk my talk. (And luckily, my husband has the same values.)

This past winter, in Mexico, I read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I had thought it sounded too cutesy for me but a friend recommended it. And now I recommend it. After our Mexico trip, I “Marie Kondo”d my closet and started on the rest of the house. I got rid of half (or more) of my clothes. I got rid of boxes of books and other stuff.

Marie Kondo says to pile up ALL of your clothes in order to sort and tidy. I did it -- it works.

Marie Kondo says to pile up ALL of your clothes in order to sort and tidy. I did it — it works.

Not pretty! But I did it!

Not pretty! But I did it!

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Sad gardens

  
I have been noticing a trend lately that makes me feel sad. I walk a fair amount. I walk mainly in my neighborhood and to downtown. These are middle class to lower-middle class neighborhoods with a mixture of apartments and single-family homes, rentals and owner-occupieds. I look at peoples’ yards a lot because I like to garden. I especially take note of nice perenniel beds or front-yard raised-bed food gardens. I like to see people growing food in their front yards, even though my own experiement with such a thing became a cat box for neighborhood cats. I now keep my food items in the back yard where cats rarely venture.
But I digress. What I notice from time to time, as I look at these small raised-bed gardens, is how sad they look when they are abandoned. Houses get new renters or change owners and what was once a tended patch of kale or beans is now a cedar box full of weeds. What is even sadder is when they are abondoned mid-season. Then, they contain perhaps a few spindly tomato plants, parched for water or brown peas on dried stalks. Did the folks move? Or just forget about the little plants that they must have put in with such enthusiasm and care? Did it become too onerous to water their box after a long day at work? Whatever the reason, I see these little neglected food gardens and find they make me feel melancholy. Somehow, they are much more bleak and forlorn than a struggling bed or roses or unwatered wilted daylilies. They represent someone’s hopes for feeding themselves, for growing sustenence, for connecting with the earth and its gifts. They represent lost hope, disruption, and slow painful death by neglect.

DIY food snob makes no-bake cheesecake

When it is over 90 degrees out and we are working to keep our house cool with a winow unit AC and wise timing of opening and closing the windows, one does not use the oven. As much as I really really want to make cupcakes and bread and pizza, I must restrain myself. One does not use the oven.

Look!  Brand name convenience food products.

Look! Brand name convenience food products.

So the weather and my baking addiction are my excuses for making a no-bake cheesecake out of convenience products. I didn’t stoop as far as CoolWhip (God only knows what is in that stuff), but close. Me, the scratch baker who never uses a cake mix. Me, the DIY person who makes my own pasta and vanilla extract. Me, the person who cans jam, dilly beans and salsa every summer. Me, who cans fresh tuna and dries grapes into raisins.  Yes, me. I whipped up a cheesecake from cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice and vanilla and poured it into a pre-made graham cracker crust. Yep.

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At least I squeezed fresh lemon juice and didn't use the crap from a bottle.

At least I squeezed fresh lemon juice and didn’t use the crap from a bottle.

And it tastes really freaking good, I must say.

Though I did top it with my home-canned Marionberry pie filling.

The recipe? Right here!

And two minutes later, it is ready to go into the fridge.

And two minutes later, it is ready to go into the fridge.

Vietnamese Nasturtium Spring Rolls

Now is the season for these fabulous spring rolls. Easy to make,although my rolling technique sucks! Try them! The dipping sauce is amazing and good on other things too.

The Gardener's Pantry

Nasturtium blossoms and Vietnamese mint add a refreshing light touch to these rolls. The rice paper is nearly transparent and the nasturtiums backed by green lettuce are beautifully displayed. Vietnamese spring rolls are never fried and contain only the freshest ingredients. Try a few practice rolls and you’re ready to go. Perfect or not they are delicious. The recipe below has standard ingredients but the beauty of spring rolls is you can improvise. For a vegetarian roll substitute tofu and a few crunchy bean sprouts for the shrimp and replace fish sauce with soy sauce.
Marcie Wolf, our neighbor and friend, came up with the idea of using nasturtiums and took me through her process. Our photo demonstrates the prepped ingredients all in place for ease and efficiency. Use any leftovers for salad.

Ingredients for 12 rolls:

12 rice paper disks, 8.5” (banh trang)
12 perfect nasturtium flowers inspected for…

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Searching for my ancestors

My grandmother was born in a little town called Podgoria. At the time of her birth in 1895, Podgoria was in Hungary. After World War I, it became part of Austria. When she emigrated to the US in 1922 on the SS Mount Clay, she was Austrian. She made the long trip, sick a lot, with a 3-year-old nephew. I never knew the nephew part until I found her papers, after my mom passed. She was 27, got on that boat, and never returned to her homeland.

And this autumn, we are going. We are headed to Austria and Hungary. We will see the town where she grew up. I am doing some ancestor research but so far don’t have much in the way of family members still alive in Austria … as far as I know.

My grandmother was born Agnes Sechser. Her parents were Michael and Teresa (Polster) Sechser. If anyone out in the internet world has information, let me know!

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