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Planning Your Perfect Vacation, Part 3

This is the last installment of planning your perfect vacation. Here is a link to Part 1 and Part 2, in case you missed it. Honestly, working on this post couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.

Maui in the Fall

We’re going to Maui next month and we had a hiccup in our accommodations this week.

For the longest time, we’re wanted to stay at Honua Kai, but each time I looked, their rates were really high. This year when I looked, their rates seemed much more reasonable. So we booked a 10-night stay with my sister and her husband.

perfect vacation
Honua Kai

On Monday, we got an email from our vacation rental agency telling us that starting the week before our visit, three of their four pools would be closed for resurfacing and maintenance. One of the biggest draws is their lovely pools! Since we spend most of our day at the pool, we took the opportunity to get a full-refund and book with another resort.

Booking a month out doesn’t leave you with the kind of inventory that you have three or months prior. It took us a few days to find a suitable replacement property. But, we are happy with the place we found at Ka’anapali Ali’i. The last time we were in Maui, we spent several nights at the Hyatt nearby and walked by the Ali’i almost every night and really liked their property.

Ka’anapali Beach in front of Ka’anapali Ali’i

Free Airfare? You Bet!

So, on to vacation planning…

My biggest tip when planning airline travel is to find an airline or two you like and get their credit card to build points. We have taken a number of free flights using our points. Points add up really quickly, and you usually get between 35,000 to 75,000 points when you activate your new card.

Alaska Airlines offers a companion fare of $99 a year (plus taxes) to their credit card holders. We used that for several years to fly to Hawaii in the fall. Unfortunately, now that we have moved, their flights from our local airport to Hawaii haven’t worked for us. I am thinking about cancelling that card and getting one with United, who has better flights from our local airport.

We also have an American Airlines card and have already taken two free flights with our points. You can get a flight with American points for as low as 12,500 points one-way. Our last flight to Florida and back was all taken with points.

St. Marten, 2011

My second tip is to take advantage of websites like www.kayak.com. It’s an easy way to compare flights. Also, kayak has a “fare predictor” app that recommends whether you should buy now or wait to book your flight. I have found that particularly helpful on deciding when to book flights.

I’m no expert, but I believe that flying mid-week is usually cheaper. When booking flights, I usually click on the box that says my dates are flexible. Then I can compare the cost on adjoining dates to find the cheapest day to fly.

And You’re Ready!

Well, we’ve covered about everything you need to play your perfect vacation. Deciding where to go, choosing your accommodations, and now how to get three.

I think you’re ready to plan the perfect trip. I hope you do so soon!

In the comments below, share with us your favorite trips and tips. You can be sure I will be blogging about Maui next month!

This Week’s Meals for 8/21 to 8/27

Last week was a great week of meals at my house. I appreciated having a meal plan to follow, and created some delicious meals. And, I even remembered to take some pictures to share. Often, I  get so wrapped in what I’m doing that I forget to take pictures.

For those of you with dietary restrictions, my meals should be easy to modify. For example, I leave out salt in my meals, and I’m avoiding gluten and starches right now due to my Meinere’s disease.

To recap last week’s meals, we had grilled bison for the first time on Monday, and it was great! Very tender and tasted just like beef but it’s much healthier for you. Tuesday was chicken fajitas (I’m sharing a picture of the guacamole below). On Thursday, I took photos of the Italian meatballs and even devoted a post to the recipe HERE:

meals

 

This Week’s Meal Plan

Monday: Teriyaki & Ginger Chicken Thighs with Asian Cashew Chopped Salad.

Very simple recipe. Marinade 4 chicken thighs in 8 oz. teriyaki sauce, 2 Tbsp. of sesame oil, 2 tsp each of minced garlic, ginger, lemon juice, and brown sugar or sugar substitute. Grill or bake at 350 for 30 – 35 minutes. I use pre-made, bagged Taylor Farms Asian Cashew Chopped salad.

Tuesday: Carnitas Tacos with Guacamole.

Carnitas are so easy to make. I share my crock pot recipe HERE. The smell of this dish cooking will make your mouth water! My secret ingredient for guacamole is Montreal Steak Seasoning (or Mrs. Dash’s Fiesta Lime) and fresh lime juice. Add chopped onion, a little jalapeño, cilantro, and mash it up. Check out my guacamole masher below, it’s one of my most used kitchen utensils. 

meals
Making Guacamole
Wednesday: Halibut en Papillote.

Fancy French words for in parchment paper. Each parchment packet contains 1 fillet of halibut, 1 Tbsp. of unsalted butter, 1 tsp of lemon pepper, 1 tsp of minced shallots, and a pinch of salt. You can add thinly sliced lemons, mushrooms, or matchstick bell pepper, if you prefer. Fold up all sides, crimping edges, and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Thursday: Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Coleslaw.

I use leftover Carnitas from Tuesday. Add barbecue sauce when reheating the Carnitas. Add it to Brioche buns, my family love these. We usually get ours from Wal-Mart or their Neighborhood Market. I use pre-shredded, bagged cabbage and add Marie’s coleslaw dressing.

Friday: Dinner Out.
Saturday: Grilled Steaks and Caprese Salad.

I love caprese salad and it’s really easy to make at home. I buy the sliced, fresh logs of mozzarella cheese and use Roma or Heirloom tomatoes. Slice the tomatoes as thick as the mozzarella cheese, then alternate them across your plate. Sprinkle with sliced fresh basil leaves and balsamic vinegar. Add you favorite grilled steak as your entrée.

meals

Sunday: Smoked Pork Chops with Roasted Red Potatoes and Applesauce.

Since our pork steaks are so thick, smoking is a great way to cook them. Combine ¼ brown sugar or substitute, and 1 Tbsp. each of ground fennel, cumin, coriander, and paprika, with 1 tsp of salt and pepper in a bowl. After drying your pork chops with paper towels, rub with spice mixture at least one hour before cooking. Grill at 275 degrees for about 50-60 minutes, until meat registers 145 degrees. For roasted potatoes, cube red potatoes and shake in a large Ziploc bag with 1 Tbsp. olive oil, 2 tsp Italian seasoning, and 1 tsp salt and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until golden on top.

Here’s to another terrific week of meals! Give me some feedback below on the recipes and meal planning:

Italian Meatball Casserole Dinner

Since it came out terrific, I had to share the recipe for this week’s Italian Meatball Casserole. I started a new series here on the blog called Weekly Meal Plans (see HERE). This recipe was listed for Thursday night. It is one of the best low-sodium meals I have made so far!

I used a recipe from Modern Low Carb Recipes as the basis for the meatballs, but modified the sauce and toppings. What I loved about their meatball recipe is that the meatballs tasted so close to Italian sausage, minus all the salt and fat.

Assembling The Casserole

Make the meatballs first, so that the flavors of the seasonings and the ground pork can meld together in the fridge.

Missing from photo – the red wine!

 

I mixed the ground pork with the seasonings and red wine in the clear bowl, then put it in the fridge for a few hours.

Then, I assembled the meatballs, placed them on a cookie sheet, and returned to the fridge until I was ready.

 

 

Next, I turned to creating the sauce.

meatball
My favorite starter for marinara sauce

 

The sauce cooking

 

Browned the meatballs

Assembling the casserole

 

Ready for the oven!

15 minutes later, I added the ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, basil, and parsley, then returned it to the oven for another 15 minutes.

And it’s ready to eat!

The Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 2 Tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 container Pomi strained tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 cup Italian cheese blend
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, small balls or slices into 1/4″ slices
  • 8 oz. fresh ricotta cheese
  • 3 cloves minced garlic, divided
  • 1/2 chopped onion, divided

Instructions

Combine ground pork, red wine, and the next 4 spices in a medium bowl. Mix with your hands and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Use a melon baller to scoop meatball mixture into similarly sized meatballs and roll by hand into a round shape. You should have 18-20 meatballs. If not making right away, return to refrigerator on a cookie sheet until ready to use.

In a medium saucepan, add Pomi tomatoes, Italian seasoning, 1 clove of minced garlic, and 1/4 cup of chopped onion. Bring to a boil and simmer until thickened.

Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add remaining onion and garlic and cook until translucent. Add meatballs to skillet and brown on all sides, about 6-8 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

To assemble the casserole: add half of the sauce to the bottom of a 13 x 9″ low-sided casserole dish, then place meatballs on top of the sauce, evenly spacing them in the dish. Pour remaining sauce over the meatballs and top with Italian blend cheese. Bake, uncovered for 15 minutes.

Remove casserole from the oven, place mozzarella cheese and ricotta cheese in spaces between the meatballs. Top with chopped parsley and basil. Return to the oven for an additional 15 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

 

Without pasta

 

With pasta for the hubby

 

This turned out to be a delicious meal! I couldn’t wait to share it with my readers.

New Series! Weekly Meal Planning

 

Meal Planning

Since I began my sodium-restricted diet, I’ve been winging my meal planning. Learning how to eat with low-sodium hasn’t been easy. It’s coming up on three months now, so I feel like I am finally getting the hang of it. Cooking at home was only challenging for the first several weeks. Eating out is still rough, though I feel like I’m a little more confident now.

My goal for the blog is to start sharing my meal plans through a weekly series. I’m not sure how I will handle September because we will be gone for a few weeks. I may just share photos of our trips and some of our memorable meals? Anyway, even though this week has begun, I am going to start with this week.

meal planning
This Week’s Meal Plan

Monday: Bison Rib Eye Steaks with Sliced Tomatoes and Smashed Red Potatoes. I have been wanting to try Bison steaks! I’ll post in the comments how they turn out.

Tuesday: Chicken Fajitas with Guacamole and Pinto Beans. This is such an easy meal. The fajitas will be grilled, I am making the guacamole from scratch, and I lucked out in finding no-salt beans. My secret ingredient for guacamole – wait for it – is Montreal Steak Seasoning and fresh lime juice.

Wednesday: Dinner out.

Thursday: Italian Meatball Casserole and Mixed Salad. This is a low-carb dish I found a while back. I’m going to make in lower-sodium.

Friday: Fish Tacos with Black Beans and Roasted Corn. Since my meals are low in sodium, I have been relying on roasting to beef up the taste of my meals. We have some leftover corn that I will have roasted on the grill, then toss with lime juice, cilantro, and black beans as a side dish. The fish will be blackened on the grill. I use shredded cabbage and green salsa on top.

Saturday: Chicken Thighs with Lime-Cilantro Rice and Green Beans. My husband made awesome grilled chicken for a family barbecue here last weekend. I am going to have him grill up more of it.

Sunday: Pork Chops with Roasted Red Potatoes and Ranch Salad. Costco was having a sale on pork chops last weekend, so this will be on the menu in the next several weeks. These are really thick pork chops. I am thinking of having my husband sear the chops on the grill, then I’ll finish them off in the steam oven. I might make an apple or peach relish to go on top.

Let me know what you think of this new blog series I’m planning!

For the Love of Purses – My History

The Beginning

The one thing I am really attached to is my purse. I must have been about 10 when I got my first one. I have a photo I’ll share of me in the summer of 1976. That’s me holding a purse! It was a few months before I turned 11. I believe my mom made that purse for me out of some upholstery scraps. Maybe that was the beginning of my love of purses?

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Summer of 1976. Yes, that is a purse I’m holding on the left.

My Evolution of Purses

Over the years I’ve owned different designer handbags. I had Dooney & Bourke purses around 15 years ago, then Coach became the rage. I remember how excited I was when I got my first Coach purse. It was about $300, which I considered a lot to spend on a purse 11 years ago. The purse is made of monogram fabric with leather trim and suede flowers. I loved that purse! For a few years, it was my spring and summer bag.

First Coach purse

 

Then I got another, really nice Coach purse for my birthday in 2007. It’s one of the best made purses I’ve ever owned and it’s fairly heavy for a purse. The lining is silky, with a Tattersall design and the exterior is cloth monogram and leather. After I got this bag, I alternated it with the my first Coach purse. One for the spring and summer and the new one for fall and winter. I haven’t used either of those purses for many years, but I can’t bear to get rid of them.

handbags
Love this Coach bag, it’s so well made.

Then Along Came…Louis Vuitton

Several years ago, I moved on from Coach to Michael Kors then to Tory Burch. In 2014, my husband got me my first Louis Vuitton handbag for my birthday when we were in Maui. The Portobello in Damier Ebene in my favorite style of bag, the hobo bag.

My First – the Louis Vuitton Portobello

love of handbags
The Louis Vuitton bag my Portobello

 

love of handbags
I was so excited about getting this purse that I snapped a photo for my girls to show them.

 

I used the heck out of that purse for the next two years. I’m a tad disappointed with the quality of my Portobello. The leather shoulder handle shows a lot of wear on it, especially on the edges. After I joined the PurseForum, I read about cracking along the sides of the canvas near the zipper. When I looked at mine closely, sure enough I had cracks, too. Louis Vuitton has a great warranty on their bags and I could have returned it for a credit towards a new bag (since it’s been discontinued). I chose not to, though, because this bag is sentimental to me and I still use it. My sister had a problem with her two-year-old Artsy bag and they exchanged it for a brand-new one right in the store.

 

How it looks now

 The Neverfull

Earlier this year, I bought the Louis Vuitton Neverfull before we went on our Caribbean cruise. I planned to use it as a carry-on. Now that I live almost 3 hours from the closest LV store, I decided to try their website. I was really easy to navigate and purchase on. Here a picture of how it arrived:

 

The Turenne in MM

A few months ago, I purchased my current favorite LV favorite, the MM Turenne “preloved.” The Turenne is a really versatile bag, it can he handheld, a shoulder bag, or worn cross-body. I posted some pictures to show what I usually keep inside it. It is my first bag in Monogram. I tend to be a real matchy-match gal, so I was worried about how my Damier Ebene SLGs (small leather goods or accessories) would look with it. But, I needn’t have worried. They look great together as you can see:

 

Earlier this year, I ordered the Louis Vuitton Neverfull GM in Damier Ebene for our Spring Break trip. It was hard to choose between the GM and the MM, the Damier Ebene and the Monogram. In the end, I chose the GM in Damier Ebene because I wanted a big travel bag and the Damier Ebene leather trim is treated. The GM sized worked well as a carry on. I’ve also used it a few times for overnight trips, too. It held two days of clothes, a swimsuit, undergarments, two pairs of shoes, my makeup case, and straightener!

SpeedyB 35

My newest LV bag is the Speedy Bandouliere 35 in Damier Ebene. I’ve only used this a few times. It comes with a strap that works as a shoulder strap and an extension that makes it into a cross-body. I can see myself using this purse a lot this fall and winter. I’m always a little worried about getting the vachetta trim on the Turenne wet or stained, so I doubt that I will be using it as much after this summer. On my last trip out-of-town, I used the Speedy as my handbag and the Neverfull as my weekend bag. They looked great together.

Do you have certain styles of handbags you love? Personally, I prefer those that lay flatter against my side. How about designers? Share your favorites!

A Convection Steam Oven. What’s That?

Picking out appliances for our kitchen remodel was more challenging than I anticipated. This would be my dream kitchen in our forever home, so I put a lot of thought and research into it. I chose the cooktop first since it would be the hardest working appliance. In a post about my range top (see HERE), I discuss why I chose Thermador. The selling point was their star-shaped burners and the ability to easily clean under the burners.

The control panel

 

It was at the appliance showroom that I discovered convection steam ovens (which I will call steam oven for short). Our salesperson told us that they could do everything a microwave does, except reheat coffee and pop popcorn. While I was mulling over getting a steam oven instead of a microwave over our wall oven, I attended a Thermador lunch and learn. They prepared the food served in the steam oven (one of the benefits is that flavors don’t inner-mix). The pork tenderloin and dessert were amazing. After that, I was pretty sold on the steam oven.

A Rough Start

From the beginning, I had a hard time getting the steam oven to operate in the steam oven. After a few months of ignoring the issue, I finally did some troubleshooting. This led me to believe that it definitely wasn’t working properly. Ultimately, Thermador replaced the unit for a brand-new one, only for us to find out that it was an electrical problem! For some reason, the electricians installed the wrong type of electrical cord during the remodel.

steam oven
The 24″ steam oven with stainless steel surround to fit a 30″ opening.

So Easy Peasy!

The steam oven has been working for few months now and I LOVE IT!! It is so easy to use, and everything I’ve made in it comes out perfect. Steam ovens are widely used in commercial kitchens. Steam creates amazing crusts on bread, and restaurants use them to reheat food. A steam oven reheats food so that it tastes freshly made. Most items can be reheated within 10-15 minutes. I use the reheat feature several times a week. It takes a little longer than microwaving but the food comes out tasting as good as it originally did, and it stays hot longer.

The oven can steam soft-boiled eggs, corn on the cob and other vegetables, rice, custards, and much more. There is a combination steam-convection setting to use for chicken, pork, and baked goods. One thing I really like is that it also doubles as an a convection oven. Since it’s smaller, in the summer I use it to avoid heating my bigger wall unit. While it is smaller than a traditional oven, you can fit a 14-pound turkey in and it’s ready in less than 90 minutes! A few weeks ago, I made a pork tenderloin and it was delicious.

What It Makes

steam oven

 

One of the reasons I’m sharing my steam oven with you is that there aren’t a lot of reviews on them online. Believe me, I searched high and low before I decided to invest in this little oven. If you missed it before, here are the links for our kitchen/dining room/family room remodel: HERE and HERE. In the posts, I share before and after pictures of our remodel and give you the highs and lows that occurred during the process.

steam oven
My kitchen. The Thermador convection steam oven is at the top left.

 

Just in care you were wondering,this post is not sponsored by Thermador or anyone else. It’s just my opinion, based on my own experiences. 

Empty Nest…My Top Ten Coping Strategies

It’s August, and for thousands of Mom’s out there, this will signal the beginning of the empty nest. I was there myself, 11 years ago this month. I’m not going to lie, it was a very difficult time in my life. Like you, I loved my children beyond reason. I couldn’t imagine not seeing them daily to know they were okay. I’d spent my whole adult life being a Mom. How was I going to adjust to and navigate through this new phase of my life?

What Now?

Contributing to my sense of loss was the fact that my daughters and I enjoyed a lot of activities together. My husband was somewhat of a work-a-holic and worked nights while they were growing up. After our older daughter went of to college, I’d bonded even more with my younger daughter. We had similar tastes, like shopping, and since she didn’t have a driver’s license when her sister left for college, I chauffeured her around a lot over the following year.

empty nest
Our girls

I didn’t have a big support system outside of my family. My husband tried so hard to support me once we had our empty nest. He’d probably been dreading how I was going to handle this new stage of my life. The first few months after my younger daughter started college were emotionally draining, but we saw our daughters frequently. First it was my husbands birthday, then mine, then Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

In January, though, reality set in. After several months of living on a roller coaster, I was just getting my footing and then it was summer break. It worked out well, though, our daughter had a local summer internship and she was busy with work and friends. When she left to return to college at the end of summer, it was much easier letting go.

My Empty Nest Advice

Adapting to a new phase of life isn’t easy, but there are things we can do to mitigate it. Here are the Top Ten strategies I recommend to help:

  1. Find a new hobby, or take up an old one you enjoyed before the kids took over.
  2. Join a gym. It’s a great way to relieve stress.
  3. If you’re married, schedule a romantic vacation for the two of you. Within the first few months, if at all possible. Something relaxing that will allow you plenty of time for fun together.
  4. Splurge on a spa day, if you can, within the first few weeks. At the least, get a massage.
  5. Make a bucket list of things you’d like to accomplish or places to visit.
  6. Work on your support system of female friends, unless you have a well-established one. Join a Bible study or book club, plan a girl’s night out, lunch dates with friends, or even a girl’s trip.
  7. Keep a journal to write about your feelings. It provides an outlet for your feelings and if you’re struggling it will help reinforce your progress.
  8. When your kid calls, show enthusiasm and curiosity about their college (or military) experience. Be the kind of person they want to call to share their new experiences and challenges with. My daughters called me while they were walking to and from class, usually a few times a day.
  9. Seek out others, online or in person, who are experiencing an empty nest, too. Misery loves company, right?
  10. Get a new pet. I’d always wanted a cocker spaniel and in the year preceding our empty nest, I started researching breeders. The month before our younger daughter started college, I went to pick up my new puppy, Oliver. There’s nothing like a new puppy to fill up your free time!

empty nest

Research shows that the empty nest is a time when many long-term marriages fail. The kids are gone and all the sudden you find you don’t have anything in common anymore. We were guilty of being parents first and partners second, and it was obvious when the kids left home. Be pro-active, take that romantic vacation and find a hobby together.

Love the New You

I found me after the empty nest, and you will, too! I went from working part-time, to working full-time in an exciting new professional field. After our girls finished college, I returned to college to finish my degree. My husband and I started traveling, our new hobby, and we’ve taken some amazing trips together. And, when we were done paying for college, and our girls were on their own, we enjoyed our newfound disposable income.

Empty Nester Benefits

The funniest part of our empty nest transformation was how we started redecorating and updating our house. Our house miraculously stayed cleaner and picked up! The kids would come home and marvel at the changes in the house.

I think the turning point came after a weekend visit from our girls. It was Monday night and the hubby and I talking about how much we were enjoying the peace and quiet. I realized then that our quiet and orderly existence was now the norm! After that, we would celebrate on Monday nights after our girl’s post-weekend visits, with a glass of wine and a nice, quiet dinner. You’ll get there, I promise.

Worth the Splurge? I Review, You Decide.

Deciding on the topic for this “Worth the Splurge” was challenging! As I was laying in bed one morning, though, I thought – I should do it on sheets! Did you know that we spend 25-30% of our lives in bed? Wow, that’s a lot of time when you think about it! The most comfortable place in our house, then, should definitely be our beds.

sheets

Cotton Fibers and Sheets

I decided to do a little research on sheets and their materials before writing this post. Do you know that there are six types of cotton fibers used in bedding? They are Egyptian cotton, Pima cotton, Supima, Sea Island cotton, intermediate staple cotton, and short staple cotton.

Egyptian cotton has the longest staple in the world and produces fine, luxurious fabric. Pima cotton is one of the best quality cottons grown in America. It has a long-staple, and provides a luxurious, strong fiber. Supima cotton is a trademarked product that means that the item is 100% American Pima cotton. Sea Island cotton is the finest of all cottons. It’s very rare, silky, and white, with an extra-long staple. Sea Island cotton is grown in the West Indies and the islands off the Carolinas and Georgian coast. Intermediate cotton is used for bedding with up to a 230 thread count. Short staple cotton is commonly used in bedding originating from Asian countries.

Linen, Silk, Modal, and Bamboo?

Cotton is the most common fiber used in sheets. It’s all-season, easy to care for, and affordable. They also come in a variety of other materials such as silk, linen, modal, and even bamboo. Linen bedding, especially Belgian linen, is becoming really popular. The quilt and pillow shams on my bed are of Belgian linen. A set of linen sheets is high on my “wish list.” I’ve heard that they are great in the summer.

sheets
Belgian Flax Sheets from Pottery Barn

 

How Important Is Thread Count?

Most people think the most important factor when evaluating sheets is the thread count. Thread count is useful information, but the type of cotton fiber they’re made of is more important. Longer cotton staples are stronger and feel softer than shorter ones.

When buying sheets, it’s recommended you look for sheets made of Egyptian, Pima, or Supima, and a minimum of 200 thread count. If you’re looking at thread counts over 400, be sure to get them from a high-quality manufacturer. Less reputable manufacturers increase their thread count by piling the yarn which creates an inferior product.

My Quest For Perfect Sheets

I bought my first set of high-thread count sheets from Costco. They were a good bargain for such a high-thread count, but not really what I was looking for. They were thin and came untucked easily. My next set was from Bed, Bath, & Beyond. This set was similar to the Costco ones, though. So, my quest for the perfect sheets continued.

Enter Pottery Barn. I’d long been a fan of theirs and owned a fair amount of Pottery Barn table linens, towels, and bedding. One day, I ordered a set of their 400 thread count sheets. At the time, they were a splurge. When they arrived, I noticed they seemed about twice as heavy as the Costco brand, even though the thread count was the same. Over time, they became softer and velvety. Although I had other sets of sheets, these quickly because my favorites, and eventually I quit rotating them. I would wash them in the morning and put them back on the bed that evening.

sheets

Loving These New Sheets

We upgrade in size to a Cal-King bed when we moved into our new house. This meant I needed to purchase all new bedding. So, I looked online to see which sheets I’d bought previously from Pottery Barn. I was really surprised to see that they were already 6 years old! Luckily, I was able to get them in the size I needed. It only took a few months of used and washing for them to feel as soft and velvety as our old ones.

For tips on how to make your bed look stunning, visit here: https://www.potterybarn.com/tips-and-ideas/how-to-make-a-bed/. By the way, I am not affiliated with Pottery Barn and receive no absolutely no compensation from them.

So, what do you think? Do you feel that quality sheets are “Worth the Splurge?”

 

Planning Your Perfect Vacation, Part 2

I am back with part two of planning your perfect vacation. In case you missed it, click HERE to read the first installment. So, now you know what your idea of the perfect vacation is and what kind of experience you want. You have an idea of where you want to go and you’ve checked on the weather/season of travel.

 

vacation
Curacao, 2012

The Next Step

What have you decided on? A multi-city travel itinerary, tropical island, or country? Now is the time to do your research. I always turn to Trip Advisor first. This is the link for the travel forum. Find your location, and navigate from there. I get so much information about where I am going on Trip Advisor. When we went to Cancun several years ago, I read about Jungle Spa near Puerto Morelos. An American ex-pat who’d moved to Mexico learned about a local custom where generations passed down the art of Mayan therapeutic massage. She started Jungle Spa as a cottage industry for these women to help support their families. The reviews of the spa were excellent. So, I scheduled us for massages through their Facebook before our trip. My husband still talks about what an incredible massage he had there.

 

vacation
Royal Caribbean

A Cruise?

Did you decide on a cruise? Cruise critic is a great place to start. You can research different cruise lines and read reviews of cruise ships. One of the areas most helpful to me is the forum boards that they have on general cruising information, specific cruise lines, and ports of call. When we decided to take our first cruise in 2007, I had no idea which cruise line to choose. The cruise critic site really helped me find which cruise line best suited us. For instance, we wanted a smaller ship with more adults and fewer children, excellent service, and good food. Cruising is a great way to wake up in a different country or city every morning. You can see so many ports of call in just a week-long cruise.

vacation

Puerto Morelos, November, 2016

Accommodations

So, where do you want to stay? A hotel, resort, condo, or vacation home? One of our favorite types of resorts are all-inclusive. An all-inclusive resort, for those of you who have never heard of one, is a resort where the cost includes everything. All meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, activities, and entertainment. All-inclusive resorts are very popular in Mexico and the Caribbean.

Condo Resorts or Vacation Homes

When we go to Hawaii, we generally stay in condo resorts. We like the spaciousness of condos, the choice of grilling on our lanai in the evenings or eating out, and taking our own beverages to the pool. We’ve stayed in some lovely resort hotels in Hawaii, but usually only for a few days of our 10 day stay.

vacation
Grand Hyatt, Kauai, 2015

 

My favorite website for booking condos or vacation homes is VRBO (also known as Home Away). If a property I’m interested in has a professional management company, I always go to the company’s website to compare prices before booking. A few tips: read the reviews, chose properties that have reviews, and compare the total costs before you choose one. The charges can vary greatly from one rental to another. An example is that one may waive the cleaning fee for stays of a week or more and the other excessive booking fees.

Hotel Resorts

If you’ve decided on a hotel resort, then I recommend reviewing hotels through websites like Expedia or Costco Travel. I’ve personally booked trips through both websites. Costco is great if you’re a member and booking your airfare and hotel together. What I like about Costco is that they fully vet the properties listed and hold them to high standards. They do have a more limited number of hotels and resorts, though. Expedia has a wider range of hotel and resort options. They also offer more airline options, too, if you are booking both airfare and accommodations. I usually narrow it down to three or so hotels/resorts, then read reviews on multiple websites, always including Trip Advisor.

Why I Do the Research

Hopefully I warned you in part one of Planning the Perfect Vacation that I take vacation planning pretty seriously! Unless I’ve stayed somewhere previously, I never book a vacation impulsively. I have high expectations, so I want to ensure that I’m choosing wisely.

You’re almost there to planning your perfect vacation. Stay tuned for the last installment! That’s when I’ll share the plans for our next vacation that I am finalizing now.

Lasagne – Ultimate Comfort Food! Made Low-Sodium and Gluten Free.

Lasagne is one of the most-loved Italian dishes out there. It is sinfully delicious with its layers of cheese, meat, and pasta. I consider it one of the ultimate comfort foods! I don’t know about you, but I am always on the lookout for a new lasagne recipe.

The Lasagne Challenge

My challenge was how to make it lower in sodium. I decided to take it a step further and use gluten-free pasta. Go me, huh? But, I think I accomplished my goal. Low-sodium, gluten-free lasagne that looks and tastes delicious.

The Players

This recipe calls for no-salt added canned goods: diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. I have been successful in locating no-salt added canned foods at my local Vons (Safeway), Wal-Mart, and Trader Joe’s stores.

Lasagne

I wanted a really rich sauce, so I decided I would let the sauce simmer for 3-4 hours on the stove. What I like to do is to take out a few cups of the sauce (without meat) for the bottom of the pan and to put on the top. So, I cook the ground beef and half of the onions separately and add them to the sauce before I assemble the lasagne.

Chop the onions and add them to the dutch oven to cook on medium-low heat for about 6-8 minutes.

 

Once the onions were translucent, I added the tomatoes,

then tomato sauce, and tomato paste

It’s all ready to simmer. I added the lid and left it on my stove on around 3 hours.

After  3 hours of simmering, I browned the meat along with the rest of the onions. I pulled out two cups of sauce, added the browned meat to the sauce, along with 1 cup of red wine, brought it to a boil and cooked on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes to burn off the alcohol.

 

Second String

Ricotta, egg, and parmesan cheese mixed together.

 

I got so wrapped up in putting together the lasagne, I forgot to get pictures of the assembly!

Ready for the oven…

 

And here it is! Hot and puffy, and oh so delish!

Lasagne

Put it together with a green salad or maybe some hot garlic bread and you have a wonderfully, comfort dish for dinner.

The Recipe

  • 1 cup of onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cans of 14 oz. no-salt diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 can of 8 oz no-salt tomato paste
  • 1 can of 8 oz no-salt tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 cup of red wine (or 1/2 cup of red wine vinegar)
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 package of gluten-free no-boil lasagne noodles (I got mine from Target)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (grated or shaved)
  • 1 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella
Directions

Brown onions in olive oil until almost translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Add garlic, and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add in tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and spices, bring to a boil. Turn down to simmer, add lid, and let cook at least 45 minutes. Check periodically and add a little water, if necessary.

Remove 2 cups of sauce and set aside for later. Brown ground beef in a skillet on medium heat. While ground beef is browning, mix the ricotta cheese, egg, and parmesan cheese together in a medium-sized bowl and set aside. When the ground beef is browned and drained, add it to the pot of sauce, along with 1 cup of red wine or 1/2 red wine vinegar. Bring to a boil, then turn down to med-low and cook for 15 minutes (to burn off the alcohol).

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Add 1 cup of the reserved sauce to the bottom of the 9″ x 9″ lasagne pan. Layer your lasagne noodles above it. Alternatively layer your lasagne noodles with the ricotta cheese mixture, meat mixture, and mozzarella cheese, then ricotta cheese and meat again. When you have added the last layer of lasagne noodles, add the last cup of sauce and the rest of the mozarella cheese on top.

Add foil to the top of the lasagne pan (spray the foil with cooking oil spray first so it doesn’t stick) and seal on all sides. Cook for 20 minutes then remove foil for the last 15 minutes of cooking. The lasagne is done when it is golden and bubbled on the top, including the center. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Lasagne

Enjoy!!