Tuesday, February 23, 2016

i tried it: blue apron

I'm going to start a whenever I feel like it blog series called I Tried It in which I try something new to me. It might only be a twice occurring series since I currently have two ideas, but let's pretend I'm going to make it a thing.

So, I don't cook. I moved straight from my parents' house to Andrew's house and he always liked to cook. He went to culinary school. Boxed meals and Pinterest recipes don't stand a chance near him. Due to his picky palate and my own laziness, I never wanted to try. However, at the ripe old age of 31, I thought it might be time to try to do my part and at least not completely fear the kitchen. Enter Blue Apron.

If you don't know, Blue Apron is a service that lets you choose three meals from a selection of six and then have the ingredients to make those meals, along with recipe cards, shipped to your house on a day mostly of your choosing. Everything is included except things most people have on hand like butter, cooking oil, and salt and pepper. You can select if you're a vegetarian or not and also eliminate meats you don't eat or like. Thanks to my friend Heidi, our first week of three meals was free; otherwise, it would have been about $60. (To clarify, my actual friend, not someone who works for Blue Apron and wanted me to write this post. This is my honest review just because.)

I was excited to try this. Like most people, we get stuck in a dinner rut and I was tired of eating the same things. I told Andrew that I would try my best to cook as much of the food as possible, so he was excited about that, but he wasn't really into the dish options that I presented. I wanted to play it safe, so I chose two vegetarian meals and one with fish. If you choose a more expensive dish from the six, like one with beef, it will limit you from choosing another expensive item. You have to really evaluate which option you want the most and then choose from there.

The Blue Apron box weighed about 15 lbs and arrived at my door on the day it was promised. All of the veggies were cool and the salmon was kept between cold packs, so it was pretty cold. They suggest eating meat the first few days so it doesn't go bad, so that's what I did. Everything is neatly labeled, which was really handy for all of the new-to-me ingredients.

My first meal was Mexican spiced salmon with black rice, avocado, and orange salad. I've never had black rice before, and I probably never will again. It was totally unnecessary and a strange texture, though I did like the combo of orange and avocado. I'd definitely like a variation of this in the future, maybe with white rice. There were also toasted pumpkin seeds in the salad, which was a nice flavor and crunch. Most of the produce was great, but the avocado unfortunately wasn't ripe yet (though still edible). The meal prep and cook time was listed as 30 - 40 minutes, and of course it took me a lot longer. I think it would have taken Andrew, who actually has knife skills, close to the same amount of time. I liked that the salmon was already portioned and deboned, so it could go straight into the pan; however, it tasted like it was previously frozen and had a not-so-great fishy taste and bad texture. Using a scale of 1 being boxed mac and cheese and 10 being the best meal made at home we could imagine, Andrew gave it a 4 and I gave it a 6 - I really did like the orange and avocado and the Mexican spice on the fish wasn't bad.

 Black rice is weird. I guess I appreciate trying something new but it was unnecessary and a strange texture.

 The second meal we tried was a fresh beet linguine with swiss chard, toasted walnuts, and goat cheese. I love beets and goat cheese. I thought this meal would be really easy, but separating the swiss chard from the stems and cutting them both separately and peeling and mincing the garlic took a long time. I also had to toast the walnuts, which seems like the secret ingredient to Blue Apron success - next time a recipe calls for a nut of any kind, I'll toast it first. The pasta didn't really taste of beets, but overall I really liked the dish. I never know what to do with pasta besides eat it with a sauce or olive oil, so the melted goat cheese, butter, lemon juice, and pasta water was a great change. The biggest downfall, though, was when we considered that it was a $20 meatless meal with not-so-special ingredients had we paid for it through Blue Apron. I was still a little hungry after this one and I wished there was more. Andrew gave this one a 6 and I gave it a 7, so I had renewed hope for our third meal.

The least photogenic yet the best tasting.

The meal I saved for last, mostly because it was the one I was least excited about, was shiitake mushroom and cabbage dumplings. The preparation required for this was intimidating (all of the washing and cutting, then cooking, making dumplings, and then cooking them again!) so I waited until a weekend when Andrew and I could do it together. I appreciated that this recipe introduced me to a new-to-me ingredient: tatsoi. It's a green, leafy vegetable that Blue Apron provided to roast and serve alongside the dumplings. It was bitter and not something I enjoyed eating on its own, but if I ever saw it on a menu alongside something else, I would be okay with it. Preparing the dumplings was just as time consuming as I feared, but I appreciated the pre-cut dumpling wrappers and filling the dumplings, sealing them, and making little fork marks in them was actually kind of fun. If I saw them in a store, I would definitely consider using them again. The dish overall was fine, but again, it wasn't all that filling for the amount of work it took. My local Chinese place will deliver an order of eight dumplings with meat for around $6, so paying $20 for 12 vegetarian ones wasn't that good of a deal. While we didn't rate this dish, we both agreed it was better than the salmon but not as good as the pasta.

I wanted to use Blue Apron to try new things, which it was definitely good for. Most of the dishes looked pretty enough on the plate with minimal effort. I appreciated the ease of everything coming to my door and the website provides tips and videos to help you cook as well as the recipes for the meals you didn't order. I liked that I only got the amount of most things I would use, so there was no wasting a huge bunch of cilantro, for example, for just a few leaves. But, that convenience is definitely costly. It would be far easier and just as expensive to go out and eat three times a week. I've looked at the recipes for the next few weeks, and nothing has jumped out at me, so there are no deliveries scheduled for the foreseeable future. If I could find something I liked, I wouldn't be opposed to maybe placing an order a month to add new things to the rotation. If I promise to cook, I think I might be able to talk Andrew into it.

Friday, February 19, 2016

a food update

Last weekend, Andrew and I celebrated ten years of togetherness. Lots of food was had. Naturally. We also had a not-so-great stay at a hotel I was excited to give a try to (stray hairs, dirty mugs, sliding bathroom doors that didn't totally close, and Family Feud audition craziness [which I will forgive]) but I'd prefer to focus on the meals.

We started our Saturday with a late-ish brunch at Hunky Dory, a British influenced place that we visited for dinner before the holidays and neither loved nor hated. It was amazing outside - in the high 60s - so we completely enjoyed the patio. However, our server kind of forgot about us out there. We started with cocktails - a Pimm's Cup for me - and an order of scones. My fellow Americans, let's embrace clotted cream and jam because it's an amazing combo. The scone was sweet without feeling like dessert and dense without being dry. Those things they call scones at Starbucks couldn't be farther from what I enjoyed that morning. For my actual meal, I had the HD burger, which was a boring choice, but it was done so well that I didn't mind. The housemade pickles stood out and I wish I had a side of them to enjoy on their own.  The fries that accompanied the burger were the perfect blend of crispy outside and soft inside and could have benefitted from a dousing in malt vinegar, which I didn't notice on the waiter's stand until after I finished the last one. Oh well, next time. Andrew ordered lamb sausage with beans. It came with a fried egg on it (I'm weird about eggs) and it sounded like a strange combo, but I completely enjoyed the bites I had and especially loved using the ciabatta included with the dish to sop up the sauce. Overall, it was a great meal to start our anniversary weekend.

A few hours later, we opted to start our evening at Public Services, which is 100% our favorite bar in Houston. The owner is so ridiculously excited about the entire menu that you just want to sit and talk to him about what he's serving and tell him your mood to get a recommendation. We got there in plenty of time for happy hour - where all wines are half off - and loved everything we tried, including a bottle Andrew has already hunted down and purchased at a shop here in Houston and a glass not normally offered by the glass, but since it was that night, I had to try it. A few drinks in, we had to try the gulf fish spread. One of the servers recommended it, and since every other snack we have had there has been phenomenal, we went for it. The closest thing I can compare it to is smoked salmon cream cheese, but it was really nothing like that. It was the texture of whipped cream cheese, and it tasted like fish in the salty, savory sense, but not in the stinky, fishy sense. It was served with plain saltine crackers so you got every opportunity to enjoy the spread itself. Now, not only do I want to go back for Public Services' amazing housemade baloney, I want the fish spread, too.

We had dinner reservations at an all time favorite and possibly the best restaurant in the city, Oxheart (whose chef is again nominated for a James Beard award as of this week!) so we eventually made our way there. I love Oxheart and will continue to suggest it to some others, but this just wasn't my favorite menu that I've ever had there. There was a savory crepe that I would have loved more of and porridge that was fantastic and an interesting dessert made of a fingerling sweet potato and vanilla, but not as many "I can't believe I'm eating this" moments as I've had in the past. It was still a fun dinner with great service and an always fun vinyl soundtrack during our two hour meal (Bruno Mars prevailed during this visit). My least favorite Oxheart experience will still be better than a decent experience at many other places, and it wasn't bad by any means; it just wasn't the best.

Since I probably eat as much as a small horse, of course I was ready to eat again the next morning. We had Valentine's Day brunch at Oporto Fooding House, which is one of the dumber restaurant names I've ever heard, but the menu was appealing. It was another beautiful morning spent on the patio, albeit really windy. Oporto's menu had a bit of a Spanish flair, and we were the most intrigued by the small plates. Two of the plates we tried were kind of duds: a spinach/cheese/mushroom dish that ended up being a huge, spinach and cheese stuffed portabello that did nothing for me. It was like eating any other stuffed mushroom I've ever had except gigantic. We also didn't care for a potato bread with chorizo. I love chorizo, but this had no flavor and I only finished my part since it was there. However, the petiscos plate with ham, cheese, pickled vegetables, nuts, and other snacks was surprisingly good. I loved the combo of all of the tastes and textures. Our favorite item of the day, though, was the Spanish potato dish that was smokey, a little spicy, and accompanied by an aioli that calmed everything down just enough to make me want to order a second plate of these... but I refrained.

Lanterns in the trees at Hunky Dory | Scones | Burger | Lamb sausage with beans | forced bathroom mirror selfie complete with fake smiling husband | Crepe at Oxheart | Porridge | Petiscos plate | Potatoes

So, all in all, a pretty good food weekend. Always a good weekend spent with my husband (awwww...). I really let myself go nuts, knowing that I wanted to start eating better this week, so it was fun to really go out on a high note. I didn't even tell you about the kolache stop we made on the way home Sunday afternoon...

Friday, February 12, 2016

good things

Here's where I just share things I like or make me happy because it's Friday and I want to. Here goes.

Wet n Wild 1 Step WonderGel nail color - I'm not a huge beauty product person so when I do paint my nails, the color needs to last for a few days so I don't feel like I totally wasted my time. I grabbed one of these on a Target trip (Stay Classy) and put on a coat or two with just my Orly quick dry top coat over it and it stayed looking good for about four days. For $5, it's way cheaper than a gel manicure. I want to try Coral Support next.

Friday Night Lights Reunion! - Last year, I went to the ATX TV Festival for the Gilmore Girls reunion and they were selling tickets for season six even though no programming was announced. Andrew and I took a chance and bought them, thinking we could sell them if we didn't like any of the shows. Well, it was announced last week that there will be a Friday Night Lights reunion on Panther Field with cast members. TIM RIGGINS AND COACH TAYLOR in the flesh. And Connie Britton's hair. And hopefully Crucifictorious will reunite because Landry is my favorite. The festival also announced a reading of The O.C.'s pilot script which they did last year with Dawson's Creek and it made me cry laugh. I can't wait for a room full of people to yell "Welcome to the OC, bitch!"

Grandma Saracen was there last year and she was as wonderful as you would want her to be.

Friends who just get you - My friends Sarah and Miranda and I used to have text parties to watch The Mindy Project together when it was still on Fox and there was an episode where Mindy said "There is no sunrise so beautiful it's worth waking me up to see it." And I just related so much because there's nothing I like more than sleep so I told super talented Sarah that it should be a print. And then I mostly forgot about it. Until this week, when she delivered by posting a free printable of the quote on her blog. She hand watercolored the background, you guys, so she's an awesome friend and she's talented. I can't wait to see the response this will get when I hang it in my office at work.

Happy Music - Speaking of friends, my friend Bre is doing new music month and she posted about DNCE so I had to go listen to them on Spotify. It's Joe Jonas' band, and also the band who played at the dance contest in Grease Live, and I love them. So far they only have an EP but Cake by the Ocean has been on repeat. I also made a Spotify playlist where I put any song on it that makes me happy, regardless of genre, and listen to it all the time. What are your happy songs?

Books books books - A few months ago, I posted about how you can link Goodreads with Overdrive and see which books your library has. I joined a second library and learned you can link two Overdrive accounts to your Goodreads account. After Show Us Your Books this week with Steph and Jana, I went through and went nuts adding books to both libraries. It really is the coolest thing ever and it's fun to know that there's always a book out there waiting for me. 

This weekend, Andrew and I are celebrating ten years of being together (check out how we met here) with a staycation at a nice hotel (yay points), dinner at our favorite place, and brunch. Then we'll probably come home and clean up cat vomit. Ah, the joys of marriage.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

january books

I'm not ashamed to admit that I stuck with a lot of easy reads this month, and they were mostly enjoyable. However, I neglected to write this post as I went along, so let's see what I can cobble together based on some notes I took on my phone.

As always, audiobooks are marked (A). I still think I cut them more slack than I do when I spend time actually reading.

(A) She's Come Undone - I remember finding this book at Barnes and Noble years ago and wanting to read it, but not buying it. Something about a teenager spending her life in front of a TV resonated with me. Flash forward to now, and I read the book. It isn't focused on the teenager, but rather on one woman through the span of her life. One particular incident in this book was hard to stomach, and I found myself simultaneously rooting for Dolores and wanting to slap her silly for being so strange, but it still kept me interested. It's a book about one person's life and really nothing else. (3/5)

Bird Box - My feeling after reading this was a big, fat WTF. I kept reading because I wanted more explanation. I wanted the entire premise of the book to be insane and for the main character to find out she was mistaken about the state of the world all along, but no. Basically, something has taken over the world and if you see it, it makes you go crazy, kill people around you, and then kill yourself. People save themselves by living in homes with covered windows and never opening their eyes outside. I kept hoping it would get better and the storytelling was interesting enough, but the ending was too abrupt. I was left with a lot of questions. (2/5)

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry - I heard about this book and based on the info, I thought it had a fantasy element (a mysterious gift delivered to a bookstore that changed everything), so I didn't want to read it. While the premise is farfetched, it definitely isn't fantasy. I'm glad I gave it a chance because I wanted to live in that book's world for as long as I could. I loved the first half, but I thought a little too much was packed into the second. But, this is one of those books that will leave you smiling to yourself as you turn the pages. Because of that, I didn't agree with some of the author's choices for the ending, but overall, I loved the story. I never buy books but I wouldn't mind owning this one so I can share it with others. (5/5)

(A) Those Girls - I read a Chevy Stevens book a few months ago and I liked it, so I was excited to give this one a try. At first, it was okay. Stevens' MO seems to be to put a young female in an awful situation and make her realize her inner strength (along with some luck and ridiculous circumstances) to overcome it. I'm fine with that formula; however, in this book, anything that could go wrong went wrong. It was almost annoying and I totally lost my suspension of disbelief because there's no way I believe that any human would be dumb enough to put themselves in such ridiculous situations multiple times. That said, it totally kept my attention because I did want to see what happened, but I don't know that I would recommend it. (3/5)

Dumplin' - Okay fine, this book is very YA and a little silly, but it's also sweet. I was totally able to relate to Dumplin's insecurity in high school. It was nice that the bigger girl got the guy. But, the characters were a little flat and stereotypical. Other than the fact that it was Dumplin's story and we were supposed to like her, what made those guys fall for her? It was never quite explained. The story was good enough with a strong "You're great the way you are" message, but there's better YA out there, surely. (4/5)

(A) $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America - Sociology was one of my favorite college classes, so this book appealed to me. It was pretty dense in that it explained the welfare system and how it has changed over time, but it was interesting in that it provided stories about real people and how they are struggling to make it work in America. Basically, our system is flawed in that it doesn't help people who don't have a job but are looking to find one. Some people will of course cheat the system, but others want to work but don't have childcare, transportation, or access to jobs and have no course to better themselves. It was a really interesting look at an aspect of America that we often ignore (even if I did tune out some of the bureaucratic stuff). (4/5)

Everything, Everything - A sick teenager falls in love with a witty boy who loves her instantly. They go on a trip together and then someone gets sick. Does this sound familiar? This book felt so much like The Fault in Their Stars for the first two thirds. I got an inkling about what was going to happen at the end, and then it happened. THAT twist would have made for an awesome story. I didn't love this book, but the premise at the end was intriguing enough that I wouldn't hate a sequel. It was more of a 3.5, but I gave it a full 4/5 on Goodreads.

Did Not Finish - My Sunshine Away - I wanted to like this but it was so boring. How does a male narrator make the rape of the girl who lives down the street all about him? I read some reviews because I was bored and many made me believe this wasn't worth my time. Did I miss something? Some of the writing is very pretty, but nothing really happens and the whole book seems like the narrator got distracted on his way to telling me about the crime.

Currently listening to Crazy Rich Asians (some interesting parts, some boring ones) and reading After You (does it get better? So far, I don't care about any of this) so I'm looking forward to finding some things to get excited about. Thanks as always, Steph and Jana!

Life According to Steph

Thursday, February 4, 2016


Writing is hard lately. It doesn't come as naturally as it used to. How did I come here five times a week and think that I had things that were worth sharing when doing the same five times a month seems so hard now? I have ideas, but putting fingers to keyboard (sounds so weird. I miss "pen to paper") is a different story. My words feel clunky, uninspired, and overthought.

Thank goodness for this link-up that just lets me tell you what's been going on lately.

I spent January working to declutter with Stephanie. I got rid of 235 items, which isn't too bad. A lot of that was or will be donated, a big bag is being saved for my niece, and a few things were or will be sold. Not too shabby. I learned that getting rid of a gift doesn't mean I don't like the giver, I need to not accept things just because they're free, and that if something has outlived its use, it's okay to let go. It really was a challenge for me and hopefully now, I'll be more mindful of the stuff I bring in my house.

Speaking of bringing stuff into my house... I can't get enough of thrifting these days. A friend introduced me to a thrift outlet which has clothes for $2 or less. I have found some awesome deals (Ann Taylor! Boden!) and just started selling things on Poshmark. Since the thrift outlet doesn't have dressing rooms, it will be a great way to get rid of all of my cheap finds that don't fit correctly once I get them home and it will justify my newest addiction. Also, Poshmark is weirdly addictive and kind of fun... if you want a code for a $10 credit, let me know. 

Oh yeah, and we need to talk about Gilmore Girls. It's finally, officially coming back (!!!) and if it debuts on a weekday, then I will probably just have to take that day off and have a marathon. I'm more excited than anything, but also a little nervous that it will never live up to what the fans think it could and should be. I just read that Finn will be back so that has to mean that Logan will be too, right? He's still my favorite.

As far as food is concerned, I've enjoyed many good meals but instagrammed none. I feel way too much instagram pressure and I know I shouldn't care, but I do. Nonetheless, the biscuits and gravy at Kitchen 713 have my egg hating self changing my tune just a little and make me dream of going there again ASAP. 

And TV.. I have given up on New Girl, officially. I think it peaked in season two and has been straight downhill ever since. Except for Winston's cat. Give him a show. I'm loving Younger and need to get Showtime again to catch up on Shameless. I also started Billions during a free weekend and it was good... I mean, who doesn't love Brody from Homeland?

This weekend will be a super quick (less than 48 hour!) trip to Atlanta for my sister in law's engagement party and rushing home in time for the Super Bowl. Tell me - what's new with you?

Linking up with Kristen and Gretchen

What's New With You