Sugar, Sugar

A teaspoon of white sugar spilling over on to a black surface

Let’s talk about sugar. We all love it. Some (many?) of us are addicted to it. I eat too much of it. It’s in everything. It can quickly get out of hand.

I’ve been taking part in a research study about sugar consumption that involves tracking added sugar. So I dusted off my penny system and made some improvements.

The biggest change in my system was looking at sugar over a week instead of one day. I give myself $1.75 to spend on sugar, or 25g per day the recommended maximum of added sugar for women. I’ll add “someone who identifies as a woman.” It’s 36 grams for men or someone who identifies as a man. I think you need to take your size into account here–remember these are guidelines.

I have been tracking since July 1 and I have consistently underspent my sugar allowance by 10-20 grams per week. It was a shock all over again to remind myself of the added sugar in foods. I have become accustomed to eating half or a third of certain things, like a cookie or a protein bar. I have rediscovered dates as a sweet treat. I have been working on reducing sugar in coffee creamer.

My current method is to mix my favorite plant-based creamer with unsweetened plant-based milk, 50/50. Next, I plan to try blending my own with stevia and flavored extracts inspired by this post by TJ’s Taste. Stay tuned!

Sing it with me:


More singing…

And a little more singing…

Header photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

From the Game Room: Ironsworn

Playing the roleplaying game Ironsworn.

An occasional post from Robert

Roleplaying games (RPGs) are having a renaissance – led by the massive surge in popularity of Dungeons and Dragons over the last several years, which has created the space for independent game designers to flourish.

Ironsworn stands out from the crowd of recent roleplaying games in that it can be played in three modes: guided, co-op, or solo. The guided mode is the traditional way of playing an RPG, with one person acting as a facilitator, setting the world and challenges for the other players to overcome with their characters. In co-op mode, no one person fills that role, with every participant playing a character, and sharing the world-building and facilitation duties. In solo mode, a single person plays a character, overcoming challenges of their own creation within a world they have developed to their tastes. Regardless of the mode you play, Ironsworn provides tools to assist in world building and challenge creation, in addition to its wide variety of character options. Last, but not least, the game designer, Shawn Tomkin, offers the PDF of the full core rulebook and related files for free at https://www.ironswornrpg.com

What is the game about?
It’s about completing journeys and quests in a gritty, low-fantasy frontier world. Characters swear vows on iron to take a journey or to complete a task, driving the action and the story, hence the name, Ironsworn. The default setting is iron age fantasy that is Viking-inspired, with worldbuilding tools to adjust to your taste. For example, you (or you and your group) can decide whether or not to include magic, firstborn (elves, giants, etc.), or supernatural horrors, and how prevalent these elements are if you are including them. The system is quite flexible in terms of the setting. There is an active online community of Ironsworn players. Some of them have adapted the Ironsworn system to settings inspired by the cultures of Japan, Africa, and South America and to different genres, such as the wild west and cyberpunk. 

How do you play the game?
The core mechanics of the game include rows of checkboxes to track your character’s progress toward completing their journeys and vows, moves (actions your character can take with mechanical benefits and consequences for successes and failures), many tables to help flesh out details of the world and its inhabitants, and dice rolling (naturally) to determine degrees of success and to use on the tables. 

The main dice rolling mechanic is to roll one standard six-sided die as an “action die,” to which you add your character’s relevant stat and any situational modifiers to determine an “action score.” You also roll two ten-sided “challenge dice” and compare the action score to the value of each challenge die. An action score that is higher than both challenge dice earns a full success, called a “strong hit.” An action score that is higher than only one challenge die is a “weak hit,” denoting a partial success or success with a cost. An action score that does not exceed either challenge die results in a “miss,” or failure, although this can be interpreted as a success with a significant cost. 

Regardless of the outcome of a die roll, something always happens to move the story forward. The description of the particular move attempted provides direction for where to take your story. For example, when your character makes the move to “Gather Information,” a strong hit means that “you discover something helpful and specific’” whereas a weak hit means “the information complicates your quest or introduces a new danger,” and a miss means “your investigation unearths a dire threat or reveals an unwelcome truth that undermines your quest.”

Want to see or hear an example of how Ironsworn is played?
Want to see or hear an example of how Ironsworn is played? I highly recommend watching the second season of voice actor Trevor Duvall’s Me, Myself, and Die YouTube channel, in which he used Ironsworn as the game system. The game’s designer, Shawn Tomkin, and his son, Matt Click ran a short podcast series showcasing Ironsworn and Delve, an Ironsworn supplement (not free, although there is a free preview available). The podcast is called Ask the Oracle, which can be found on PodBean and on other major podcatchers such as Apple Podcasts. 

Finally, if, like me, you are more interested in science fiction than in fantasy, you are in luck! Shawn Tomkin recently Kickstarted Ironsworn: Starforged, evolving the Ironsworn system and placing it in a gritty, sci-fi setting (think the outer rim of Star Wars, or Firefly, perhaps even Alien). Learn more here on the Ironsworn website where you can sign up to be notified by email when the pledge manager is available for late backers. Otherwise, it should be available for retail sale in spring 2022. While the game is in the late stages of development, a preview version of the game is available to Kickstarter backers. For an excellent example of how the preview version of Starforged plays, check out The Bad Spot on YouTube.

From the Game Room: Catan

The Catan Board

An occasional post from Robert

First published in 1995, Catan was the game that drew me (and millions of other people) back into boardgaming. It was so different from the classic family board games of my childhood, such as Pachesi, Sorry!, Clue, or Monopoly. Yet it was not as complex or as long of a game as the Avalon Hill board games I played as a teenager. Catan ushered in a new era of modern boardgaming. Due to its popularity, multiple editions, variants, scenarios, expansions, and spin-offs have been released, including an excellent phone/tablet app. See all the options at Catan.com. There’s even a Catan novel!

The game’s modular board of hexagonal tiles means that even the setup of the game varies from game to game, yet the system to set it up is simple and relatively quick. On each turn, the current player rolls two dice, which determines which resources are produced that turn. Since resources are gained by all players at those locations, and since trading resources is a big part of the game, even when it is not your turn, you are still engaged in the game. You are not just sitting there idly waiting for your turn to come around again. 

As dice rolling is a core mechanic in the game, there is a bit of randomness/luck involved, yet there are various strategies to follow and multiple paths to victory. It’s a game that is suitable for family game night, yet also holds rewards for strategic or even cutthroat gamers. 

Because trading is such a key aspect of the game, the base game of Catan does not work well for fewer than three players. For a 2-player Catan experience that also adds exploration and other challenges, try the Catan: Explorers & Pirates expansion (base game required), or Rivals for Catan, a 2-player card game based on the same concepts as the original Catan, but designed for two. Because of the way resources are generated for all players at the same time, no version of Catan is really suited for asynchronous play. 

Catan board games

A Tip from a Carb Country Regular

Slicing zucchini

The pandemic has limited travel but not our visits to Carb Country. Why do carbs have to be so yummy, satisfying, and comforting? So unfair. 

Well, just like my efforts to drink half caffs by custom mixing my coffee (currently Nevada Black from Blind Dog Coffee in Reno and Lavazza Espresso Decaf, my most reliable dark roast decaf), we tried a similar experiment with lasagna and carbs. We used regular lasagna noodles and Palmini lasagna noodles. Palmini is made from hearts of palm. For the most part, it disappears into lasagna. It’s not that you can’t tell it is hearts of palm; it’s just that it fits right into a veggie lasagna. And it helps lower that net carbs count. We have had similar luck using zucchini and summer squash. 

The recipe below is one of our go-to meal prep dishes. I have finally made the leap to vegan cheese. It’s gotten so much better. We usually use Daiya Mozzarella-Style Shreds for this recipe. This recipe is versatile, and you can easily adjust the ingredients to suit your tastes.

Squash Casserole: A Lasagne Stand-in

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 yellow summer squash sliced
  • 2 zucchini sliced
  • The equivalent of 1 egg (we use Bob’s Red Mill Vegan Egg Replacer)
  • 1/3-1/2 cup mayonnaise (we use Best Foods Vegan Spread)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup chopped onion (any kind, including green onions)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 2/3 cup shredded cheese 
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter (we use Earth Balance vegan butter)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (any kind works – we used gluten-free rice crumbs from Trader Joe’s)
  • Seasoning to taste: We use a combo of Dash, coffee rub, salt, and pepper; herbes de Provence would work well, too
  • Optional add-ins: fire-roasted tomatoes, carrot chips or shreds, shredded kale

PREPARATION

  1. Heat oven to 375°. 
  2. In a bowl, mix all ingredients. We sometimes toss the vegetables with a bit of olive oil and the seasonings before mixing in the mayo, cheese, and egg replacer. 
  3. Spoon the mixture into an 8×8 inch glass casserole (or larger if you add extra veggies). Add extra cheese on top if desired.
  4. Toss the bread crumbs with the  2 tablespoons of melted butter; spread over the casserole. 
  5. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until bubbly and lightly browned.

It makes 4-8 servings depending on if it’s a main dish or a side dish –  and how much you like it. 🙂


Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

Roasting vegetables for the win

Roasted artichoke hearts on a roasting pan lined with parchment paper

A few months ago, we started doing weekly meal prep. It helped those desperate “what should we eat?” moments on long workdays. As part of our meal prep exploration, we started roasting vegetables. Eggplant, carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers, cabbage, brussels sprouts, celery, squash, tomatoes, green onions. We toss everything in garlic powder, olive oil, Dash, and coffee rub, and roast at 375° for 10-15 minutes. We also discovered mesh roasting baskets like this one for roasting kale to crispy perfection. I like the NordicWare Half Sheet Pan


Photo by Kim Daniels on Unsplash

Plants everywhere, part two

Plant staging area.

I love a good plant sale.

Okay, I love ANY plant sale. But I especially appreciate locally grown plants. I know that it is far more likely that a plant raised where I live can make it in my yard with the climate and rainfall and high and low temps. The dirty secret of the PNW is the desperately dry summers. There isn’t enough time or water or patience for keeping too many “outsiders” alive and thriving in my garden. It can be challenging for new gardeners to appreciate native plants, but it can be especially hard for them to find these plants to buy. Big box stores can lead gardeners astray. Google is your friend here, as is locating your local cooperative extension and Master Gardener group

The year after we moved here, I discovered that our local Thurston County Water Conservation District holds a plant sale in January. I bought an unbelievable number of bare root trees that year. And I am happy to report that even as a novice, I was successful. Granted, some of these plants are still pretty small, but I can see a big difference this spring. 

This year I discovered the Native Plant Salvage Foundation. They have two plant sales a year, spring and fall. I now have a treasure trove of hard-to-find native plants. (Guess what we have been doing every weekend?)

Our local cat rescue has a plant sale every May as a fundraiser, with most of the plants propagated by local gardeners. If you can find a similar plant sale in your area, I highly recommend it. I bought several things a couple of years ago, including a fantastic pink Columbine that has propagated itself all over my garden.

If you live in the Phoenix or Tuscon area, check out the amazing proliferation of Little Free Plant Sharing Stands. Modeled after Little Free Libraries, these generous gardeners share plants and gardening supplies. See the map of these little gems. There’s a Little Free Garden Stands of AZ Facebook group, too.  

And of course, check your local Freecycle group for plants and gardening supplies. I have received strawberries, roses, a mini-greenhouse, pots, mulch, and more from Freecyclers. 

May = Gardening

Plant growing wild on my street and in my garden

May is when things really get going in my Pacific Northwest Garden. Lots of nice surprises. This plant grows wild along my street, has finally made an appearance in my yard. I have a new appreciation for the red alder seedlings that pop up everywhere in my yard and have started transplanting them to fill in some bare areas. I moved irises around last year and have been rewarded this year with some beautiful blooms. 

My tiny pandemic blueberry plants purchased last spring grew by leaps and bounds. Will I have blueberries this year? (Will the birds allow it?) That remains to be seen.

I have so many strawberry plants, mainly growing in containers. I bought a few, found a few from a generous gardener on Freecycle, and propagated a few more last year. 

Speaking of containers, I have an ongoing battle with the local squirrels. They are determined to dig up every pot; it seems to look for non-existent caches of squirrel goodies. I am trying several methods to redirect them. I’ll report back if anything proves to be successful. 

The raspberry plants seem to double every year. Last year I read an article about the optimum spacing for raspberries, and the author said it didn’t matter because raspberry plants do what they want. I can confirm that. 

My big dream is to have a greenhouse. If you have experience with building a greenhouse, I’d love to hear about it! My short-term solution is a portable 3x3x9 foot greenhouse on the deck. I have the outdoor thermometer sensor inside to keep an eye on the temperature. It’s been in the 50s the last couple of days, but there are three rollup windows to help control the temperature when it heats up. 

What I’ve been reading

Woman reading on a couch

I have mostly read to this month: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and The Diplomat’s Wife by Pam Jenoff. If you have someone to read to or someone to read to, hug them tight. It’s such a gift. 

I have been reading Play Anything by Ian Bogost. So far, I have to say that it’s not what I expected. It does make me think about the seriousness with which we attempt to control our lives and environments and what might change for the better when we stop trying to do that.


Photo by Seven Shooter on Unsplash

I don’t know who needs this

Trio of e.l.f. products: Holy Hydation face cream and Flawless Satin Coverage Foundation in Light Ivory and Sand

I am always in between shades when it comes to foundation. Light makeup is a little too light, and the next color is a little too dark. After buying a new product that was too dark and then one that was too light, I decided to take a painterly approach and mix the colors. Ah … perfection. And now I mix in sunscreen or lotion, too. 

I use e.l.f. products–they are vegan and cruelty-free. I like elf Hello Hydration! Skin Cream with Hyaluronic Acid, elf Flawless Finish Foundation, and elf BB Cream Foundation with SPF 20 

Read in Color

Little Free Library

I am a Little Free Library Steward* and took the pledge to Read in Color. Read in Color is an initiative to bring diverse books to Little Free Libraries. Everyone deserves to see themselves in the pages of a book, or better yet, as the hero of the story! Thanks to the excellent recommendations of @asianlitforkids and @ihaveabook4that, I have new books to add to my library. 

If you are interested in supporting Read in Color, you can donate here. You can also support the LFL Impact Library Program. This program provides no-cost Little Free Library book exchanges to communities where books are scarce. And you can become an LFL steward by purchasing a ready-made library or by building/creating your own.

*Little Free Libraries are free book exchanges hosted by individuals, schools, and companies. Here’s a map to Little Free Library locations around the world. Once you start seeing them, you will see them everywhere. There are three in my rural neighborhood!