Wherein I review Home Chef, a meal delivery service

Perhaps you’ve already figured out that I like to cook. But meal planning is hard for me. It takes too much brain power I’d rather use for other things. For the last year, I’ve had a subscription to the Fresh 20, which is a meal planning service that uses twenty fresh ingredients or less every week (plus “pantry staples” like rice, pasta, oils, and spices) for five weeknight-friendly meals. They offer various meal plans, but we subscribe to the “classic”, which provides shopping lists, prep guides, recipes and nutritional information for three meat or poultry meals, one seafood meal, and one vegetarian meal each week.

Overall, I’ve been pretty happy with it. It works out to about $5 a month, with I think is worth it for someone to tell me what I’m making for dinner five nights a week. Some of the recipes are duds, but as I become more experienced with their menus, I can usually spot those and either skip them or adjust to our tastes. But mostly, the meals are at least as good as what I’d come up with, and offer enough variety to keep us from getting into a rut.

Though I plan to continue using the Fresh 20 at least through the end of our subscription, and may renew for another year for a different plan (paleo is a possibility), I’ve been interested in meal delivery services. I’d heard positive things about both Blue Apron and Home Chef. A friend had a code for $50 off the first order from Home Chef, so I decided to give it a go!

For us, home delivery meal service is a splurge, but with the credit applied, our first two meals (each for four people), came to just under $30. We hardly ever eat at restaurants, and even getting a coffee or muffin is something special, so I wanted to try this as an alternative to dining out.

The meals all sounded delicious, but for nearly $10 a head (prior to discount), I wanted to choose something that sounded particularly special. I chose omnivorous options, and specifically: sirloin steak with bleu cheese butter compound butter with green beans and fingerling potatoes; and cider beurre blanc pork tenderloin with parmesan-roasted carrots and Brussels sprouts.

The box arrived today, on schedule. I opened it up and was pleasantly surprised that the ice packs are eco-friendly and recyclable, and the insulation is made from recycled cotton, and is recyclable or compostable. The ingredients for each meal are grouped together, so I didn’t have to worry about separating them. There were a lot of bags, but I plan to reuse some of the zipper bags after washing, and recycled the rest.

The instruction cards are a full sheet, which is larger than I had anticipated. The visual instructions are nice, and I assume extremely useful for people who cook rarely. I particularly appreciated the notes explaining which ingredients should be used in two different places, as with the Fresh 20 I often accidentally use all of an ingredient in one dish, forgetting that I will need to save some for another dish.

I chose to make the steak tonight. I was super excited to give it a try, and was particularly looking forward to the bleu cheese butter compound. The recipe card said everything would take about 50 minutes, and that was spot on. The potatoes came out well, the green beans with grape tomatoes were tasty, and the steaks were a good quality. However, they must have still been a bit frozen in the middle, despite seeming to be ready to cook, because they came out quite rare in the middle, even after additional cooking. Though I must admit that I am not particularly skilled at cooking steak, so that may have had something to do with it. The portions were generous, and even with Walters-sized adult appetites and the small fry dining as well, there was a full portion left over for Chuck to take to work tomorrow.

I plan to try to pork dish tomorrow night. If it turns out as well as today, I will likely order from them again, though I am not sure how often. It was a treat to have a really special meal at home, and the price with the credit could not be beat at the grocery store. Paying full price ($80 for two four-person meals) is less clearly a good bargain, but given that I don’t have to worry about finding ingredients or having wasted product left over, I can see myself using this service at least every once in a while, especially for recipes or techniques that are new to me. And, looking at the upcoming menus, there are plenty of dishes I’d love to try!

Have you tried a meal service? I’d love to hear your experiences!

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Can’t stop, Won’t stop

I’ve been on a make-all-the-things jag lately, so I thought I’d post about all my current works-in-progress, and my near-future plans (always and forever subject to change).

First, this will be Charlie’s first year trick-or-treating. Like any good 3-year-old, he’s obsessed with all three Toy Story movies. I asked him if he’d like to be Buzz Lightyear (his favorite), and he said yes. So, of course, the rest of us will also be in costume.

Charlie has a Buzz sweatshirt, so he’ll wear that. I’ll try to get him some white sweatpants, but I’m not positive that will happen. I’ve made him a pair of wings using foam board and duct tape, which he’ll wear like a backpack:

buzz-wings

Eleanor will also be wearing a Buzz Lightyear sweatshirt, because we’ve dubbed her Betty Lightyear. Betty is Buzz’s baby sister, and is also a Space Ranger. If I have time, I’ll make them both purple hats to wear under the hoods of the sweatshirts. I may try to find Charlie some white gloves as well, and paint the tips of the fingers purple. But, that will be the absolute last thing I do.

I’ve been working on a Jessie costume for me. I made a red yarn wig, and painted a shirt to look like Jessie’s. I’m also making some chaps, and bought some cowboy boots. I still have to do the final details like add the swirls to the shirt and paint the hat red, but so far it looks pretty great.

jessie-costume

I’m also painting red checks on a yellow shirt for Chuck for his Woody ensemble, and will hopefully get a vest finished for him, as well as a hat painted the appropriate color. Family costumes for the win!

I’ve also been hard at work on Christmas gifts for various people. So far, I’ve got three sweaters done, and four more to go (at a minimum). It took me forever to get through this sweater, partly because I started it in the spring and I don’t tend to knit much over the summer, and partly because… mobile babies. But I’m happy with how it turned out, and I hope hope hope it fits its intended recipient.

This sweater took significantly less time, since it’s a larger gauge, and I started it in August, when I’m just really gearing up with my knitting. Again, happy and hope it fits.

I’ve been eyeing this pattern up for quite a while, and finally decided to make one. Or, more accurately, four. The first one is done, and I’m just waiting on the yarn for two more. The fourth is for Eleanor, so if I don’t get it done it’s no biggie, but these babies are so fast, I think I should be able to.

I’m hoping to sew a dino tail or two as well, and knit this awesome Mario themed hat.

As if that wasn’t enough, I have a hat knit in sock yarn that I need to finish for Chuck before it gets really cold. I started it last winter, but it’s a double-thick hat with a four-inch cuff, so it’s taking a while. It was fun to try to figure out how to replicate his favorite hat, but it lost its new project excitement quite a while ago. Yet I persevere.

And because I still didn’t think I had enough things to do, I decided to knit Charlie one of these. He still wears the sweater I designed and knit him last year, but he loves zippered hoodies, so I thought this one may get even more love. I’m about a fourth of the way done so far. This one is the perfect project to work on while reading, since it’s pretty mindless work.

Of course, I’m dreaming of actually knitting something for myself! I have a bunch of grey superwash aran that I’m thinking of knitting up into this sweater. But I’m also really wanting a neutral color vest to wear, and I have several options in my queue. Or maybe I’ll use up some mohair from my stash and knit one of these babies. Or maybe some odd leftover balls for my first Stephen West sweater? Choices. They’re hard.

Finally, I have Charlie’s blanket languishing in it’s knitting basket, as well as two shawls that haven’t seen any action in over a year. Oofda.

I’ll try to remember to post about progress, or at least summarize what I was actually able to accomplish. You can always tell when I feel really good (shout out to Whole30 here), because I want to DO AND MAKE ALL THE THINGS. In case you can’t tell, I feel really, really good right now.

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…So what DO you eat?

I’ve had some people ask what I ate during my Whole30. I understand this question, since I  also had trouble imagining what my daily eats would look like. Luckily, reading It Starts With Food and The Whole30 helped me picture it, and fantastic blogs-cum-cookbooks like Nom Nom Paleo and Well Fed gave me the variety I needed.

So, to answer the question precisely, here’s what my daily meals looked like:

Breakfast would be one of the following

Lunch would be leftovers, or some form of hot plate (my favorite was ground beef with onion, garlic, red cabbage and spaghetti squash seasoned with Well Fed’s Sunshine spice blend), or perhaps chicken, tuna or egg salad made with homemade mayo, with a side of veggies and fruit.

After workout snack was usually a hard boiled egg, small tuna salad, sardines (um, still not a favorite but I bought them so I’ll eat them), or some leftover protein.

Dinner was a lot more fun. Here are the favorites from the month:

  • Shepherd’s pie, from The Whole30
  • Roasted whole chicken from The Whole30, with a side of roasted vegetables and acorn squash
  • Pumpkin soup made with Whole30 compliant apple-chicken sausage
  • Ginger beef and broccoli hot plate from It Starts With Food
  • Chipotle (yes – you can get a bowl with the carnitas, lettuce, green and red salsas, and all the guac you can handle)
  • Mulligatawny stew from Well Fed 2 (I actually made this twice, and once again as a vegetarian dish for friends and they loved it, too)
  • Various types of fish with cauliflower rice pilaf from Well Fed (I made this a lot!)
  • Chocolate chili from Well Fed (I added sweet potatoes once, and butternut squash a second time)
  • West African chicken stew from Well Fed, served with the above mentioned cauliflower rice pilaf

Evening snacks are not encouraged, but since I am still nursing, I often needed something between our early dinners and late bedtimes. My favorite snack was an apple cut into thick slices, then slathered with almond butter and topped with raisins and coconut flakes. Yum!

As you can see, there was a lot of variety. It’s not just steamed fish and broccoli. And I really enjoyed being required to eat a substantial amount of fat at each and every meal. It really makes things taste better.

Even if you’re not planning on doing a Whole30, or have any interest in “clean” eating or “paleo” what-nots, I very much encourage you to check out Well Fed, and Melissa Joulwan’s subsequent cookbooks; out of everything I tried from them and her blog, not a single recipe was a dud. They were all absolutely delicious, easy to prepare, and with clear directions. I got my copies from the library, but I’ll be getting copies for my own collection soon.

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Whole30 summary

If you had told me even two months ago that I would complete a Whole30 – go 30 days without grains, legumes, sugar or dairy – I would have laughed in your face. OK, so dairy is an easy one for me, since I was vegan for three years, but still, I love cheese. On top of my love for all these food groups, I have ranted about how stupid the “paleo” diet is for years.

I don’t remember what made me look into the Whole30 at this particular time. But I know why I decided to try it – I’ve been depressed for about four or five months. For me, depression mostly manifests itself as irrational, disproportional anger. I was blowing up constantly over the littlest things. I made my kids cry. I do not want my children’s earliest memories of me to be ones where I am storming about and screaming.

I’ve been on anti-depressants before, and I considered going that route again. Before I did that, though, I wanted to try to see if I could make a few lifestyle changes to improve things. I started exercising daily, and that helped. I started eating better, and that helped more. Then I read The Whole30 book, and thought “Why the hell not?”

Here’s what I hoped to see as a result:

  • Improved moods, less anger.
  • An easier time waking up. (Ask anyone in my family. I wake up HARD.)
  • More even energy levels throughout the day, and a decrease in hangry events. (Usually, if I don’t eat every 2-3 hours, you’d better watch out, because I might take your head off.)
  • Decrease in cravings, particularly for sugar.
  • Increase in the amount of vegetables I eat daily. (For the most part, my diet tends to consist of breads and cheese, in various forms. This was not acceptable.)

Today was day 30, and I can report that I have seen improvement in all these areas. I don’t need more than one cup of coffee in the morning, though I usually have a second just because I like coffee. I am functional even before that cup of coffee. I don’t have that 3pm run-down that I always experienced every day. I’m still struggling a bit with anger, but in general my mood has vastly improved. I can go much longer between eating, and though I’ve been very, very hungry a couple times, I don’t think I’ve been hangry once. And oh, the veggies I have eaten.

There have been a couple bonuses, too. My workouts have been stronger. I’ve discovered a couple new favorite foods and recipes. In general, food just tastes better. And yes, I’ve lost weight. I am now basically the size I was before having kids; I haven’t weighed or measured myself yet, but I did have to go buy some new jeans and dresses.

While I stand by my statements that it’s stupid to say you’re eating like a caveman if you’re consuming mass quantities of coconut flour or almond milk, I must now also admit that there may be something to eating this way.

I’ll be doing a slow reintroduction of the different foods, and we’ll see how long these new habits stick. Honestly, this has been such a positive experience that I hope most of them do.

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Pack Rat No More

I’ve always had a problem with clutter. Though I love to organize, I have trouble letting things go. Let’s just say it’s in my genes. I hold on to things in case I need them “someday.” I keep things around for the ostensible sentimental value they may hold. I buy things because I like them, not because I need them.

Historically, I’ve framed the issue as a storage problem – if I could just find more space and better ways to store my stuff, it would be OK. I blamed it on our house – it’s a small(ish) house, without a lot of places for shelves and with few closets. I blamed it on my husband – OK, that’s a valid point since he’s even worse than I am. (Sorry, Chuck.) I would do periodic purges of clothes and some household items that didn’t ever get used, but it only made a small dent.

As our family has grown, I’ve become less and less tolerant of superfluous stuff taking up room in my life. Before Charlie was born I read and read and read about the things that you absolutely need for kids, and those things you can do without. I read about minimalist parenting. I researched the crap out of every purchase. I tried to make space by cleaning out some of the impedimenta that was lingering in every nook and cranny of our home (and ended up shoving a lot into closets and the basement). I still ended up without enough space to store everything.

Then, it dawned on me. My house isn’t too small. I still have too much stuff.

What finally made it click was contemplating about moving to our dream cabin one day. We want it to be small, the size of the first floor of our house or less. Of course, I’ve always envisioned keeping only those things I absolutely need when we finally move. Of having a place for everything and everything in its place. One day, I realized I didn’t have to wait to achieve that goal. I could do it now! If I don’t have a place for something, it literally has no place in my house, and thus in my life.

In the four months since Eleanor was born, I’ve simplified. I’ve given away most things that don’t see daily, or at least monthly, use. I’m actively trying to use up all the random products I’ve purchased for no reason at all other than I wanted to buy something (*cough* hair products *cough*). Those things that are really old and just hanging out because I felt bad for purchasing them and not using them have been pitched, recycled, composted, or donated.

I have cleared a ton of space in my house, and am beginning to realize more things that are unnecessary. Why have tupperware when I have literally dozens of mason jars? Do I really need to hold on to these Christmas cards for a craft project I will probably never complete?Why do I have a dozen coffee mugs when at most I have two friends visit at a time, plus the four of us? Do I really need all these cookbooks, when I’ve never made a single recipe out of them? (Because library. And Internet.) Out you go, Dave!*

It hasn’t exactly been easy; I nearly cried when I donated Eleanor’s newborn sleepers to charity. And I probably have made some decluttering mistakes. But it’s absolutely amazing how good it feels to have clear space around. Without the clutter staring me in the face I feel calmer, happier. Let’s hope this trend continues.

*Penguins of Madagascar – If you haven’t seen it, it’s really cute and has about a million quotable lines.

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Categorization

Anyone who knows me could probably tell you that I’m a perfectionist. I’m also rather competitive. And like a lot of people who are competitive perfectionists, I’m ridiculously hard on myself. If I do something, I expect it to be – if not the absolute best – then really, really good. And if that doesn’t happen, I beat myself up mentally. For days. For weeks. Months, even, depending on what it was that didn’t turn out just right. I once went into a downward spiral for days because of a failed attempt to make caramel. I shit you not.

I know this is crazy. I know it’s stupid to hold myself to a different standard than I do for everyone else. But please don’t think I do because I think I’m better than everyone else. It’s actually the opposite; I’m trying to prove to myself that I’m as good as everyone else.

In the two years since my son was born, I’ve had to let a few things go. I’ve had to come to terms with my limitations, and the limitations of my time. And with another baby just about here, I know I’m going to have to become used to a different standard again. In an attempt to prepare myself mentally, I’ve been thinking for the last week or so about the things that I’m good at, the things that I’m not so good at, and whether or not I care. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Things I am good at, and am quite proud of:

  • Knitting. I am badass at this.
  • Starting things. I am also badass at this. I love to start things.
  • Cooking. Not the absolute best, but I’m pretty durn good at it, after much effort.
  • Being a parent. Who knew?
  • Getting mad. OK. Not proud of this one. But I’m certainly good at it.

Things I am actively working on being better at:

  • Finishing things. Yeah. Not so good at this yet, but I have seen an improvement.
  • Baking. I have mastered the chocolate chip cookie. Everything else is hit or miss. Delicious, delicious miss.
  • Keeping house. For someone who was a complete and utter slob up through college, I’m doing much better. Minimization of junk really helps.
  • Gardening. Here, I have so much ambition, but so little follow through. Someday.
  • Letting anger go, especially if it’s irrational. It’s usually irrational. I think I’m improving here, though my husband may beg to differ sometimes.
  • Not procrastinating. One thing that having less time has taught me is to use time wisely. Just do the thing already.

Things I am not good at, and just don’t care:

  • Fashion/hair/makeup. I tried to care for a while. I just really don’t.
  • Being a music buff. I used to care about music. Now I prefer silence. Or an audiobook.
  • Keeping my car clean. I only need to wash it once a year, right? But seriously, if you are offended by my dirty car, you need to go away.
  • Doing all the things. I’ve gotten pretty good at just doing those things that I feel really matter, or that I really enjoy. And I am getting better at not feeling guilty about it.
  • Lawn care. The opposite of care. I can be downright contemptuous of a well-manicured lawn.
  • Making friends. I have enough really good ones, and it’s quality over quantity, right? If only those really good ones would stop moving so far away…

So, that’s it. I could probably keep going indefinitely, but these are the ones that keep coming to mind. In the future, instead of beating myself up when something doesn’t go as I imagined it should, I will try to ask myself if I really care. If the answer is yes, and I’m actively working on improving at that thing, then that will have to be good enough. If the answer is no, well, then I just need to let it go, don’t I?

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On the awesomeness of Mike Rowe and my husband

Cross posted in my work blog.

This post started as a comment on Agnostic Maybe’s post about Mike Rowe’s testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. My comment got so long, I thought I should just make it into a blog post.

Mike (I can call him Mike, right?) spoke about the tendency in our society to prize higher education over vocational arts (watch the video here),  and to “marginalize an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a ‘good job’ into something that no longer looks like work.” In a very short speech, Mike summed up what I have learned since I met my husband.

In high school, I was an honor roll student–ditto in college, and in grad school. I’ve gotten one B in an academic class my entire life. My husband barely graduated from high school because he skipped class so often. In fact, he was employed at a job (and not a co-op job) during school hours his senior year. In my family, it was expected, if not expressed, that I would go to college. What other option was there, after all? In my husband’s family, a college education was the exception. Many of the men in his family are factory workers, and most of them are veterans (though my husband is not). When my husband and I started dating, he worked in a limestone mine. I was a senior in college, majoring in history. When I told some friends about him, they raised their eyebrows. What could I possibly have in common with a miner?

My husband is a now journeyman machinist and apprentice toolmaker. I’m a librarian. He works in a factory, and comes home at night to tinker on our house. I work in a library and (though I help him on the house) most often read books all evening. He comes home from work dirty, and his wardrobe consists of jeans, t-shirts and workboots. The dirtiest thing I encounter at work is dust, and I regularly wear heels and pearls. His days are filled with heavy machinery, metal, and AutoCad. Mine are filled with computers, paper, and reference interviews.*

Now, when I tell people that my husband is a journeyman machinist and apprentice toolmaker, I am most often greeted with a blank stare. I must confess that before he expressed interest in the profession, I also had no clue what a machinist did, or why it was important, let alone the definition of a toolmaker or a die sinker. Did I miss this stuff in high school? After explaining roughly what it is that my husband does for 40 hours or more a week, the blank stare is often replaced by a subtle look of disdain, inspired by what I expect to be a certain condescension- an assumption that he must do that type of menial labor because he wasn’t smart enough or ambitious enough to get into college.

This upsets me. While he may have never expected to go to college, and was definitely a lackluster student in high school, he is a very intelligent person and the definition of a lifelong learner. He learns things, often on his own, because he wants to, because it interests him, not because someone is going to place a grade on it. Add to that the fact that he has had to learn calculus, metallurgy, hydraulics, computer aided drafting and other things that are way above my comprehension, and it becomes plain that his applicable knowledge is much greater than average. Most people just don’t know it, or bother to ask.

The knowledge that skilled laborers have is invaluable. The jobs that skilled laborers do benefit everyone. We should respect that knowledge and realize the necessity of skilled labor, and make sure it has a place in our education system. While I am obviously an advocate of a liberal arts education, I also believe that vocational arts courses can reinforce learning and a liberal arts education.**

Mike is right. We need a PR campaign for skilled labor.

*We have discovered one thing that machinists and librarians have in common: Tyvek. When he is brave enough to hang out with me and my geeky library friends, or I brave enough to go out with his machinist buddies, the conversation often steers into uncharted waters for the significant other. At this point, the floundering partner simply needs to say “Tyvek,” and the other knows that the conversation needs to be reeled back to a level easily comprehended by the uninitiated. It’s our version of crying “uncle.”

**Really, what better way is there to cement (or finally achieve) understanding of calculus than to use it to actually make something? Is there anything more difficult than writing for comprehension, particularly in a field that most people aren’t even aware of?

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