Many of us have been cooking a lot more since we started sheltering-in-place, and I’m certainly no exception. Here is a quick roundup of a few of the meals I’ve made, some of which are new to me and some that aren’t.
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I’ve very slowly gathered the ingredients needed for pasta carbonara, and with a recent lucky break allowing us to find a time slot for grocery delivery (it’s not easy), and for us to find eggs in stock at the time, I decided now was the time, before I ran out of one of my other ingredients. I like to use the method featured in this Bon Appetit video, because the sauce is cooked through completely off the heat by the residual heat from the pasta, so I am always confident that I won’t scramble my eggs. Read More »
Note: I am posting photos of the recipes in the order that we cooked them. The comments before or after the photos do not apply to the dish pictured.
I really love cooking, although I don’t stay home to cook my meals as often as I’d like. I tend to cook the same recipes but I am finding more and more success with new ones that I find online.
I also really really love grocery shopping. Walking through a supermarket’s aisles or a farmer’s market really gets me going. It’s like shelves upon shelves of possible ways I could reach my maximum domestic bliss potential. (My favorite things to buy, of all time, are school/office supplies, food, and cleaning supplies. I will shop for those things over clothes every day.) It’s not difficult for me to spend a long time in a grocery store, filling up my basket or cart with loads of goodies that I could potentially cook.
This love of cooking and grocery shopping is not universal. Take my partner, for example. He never fell in love with the supermarket the way I did. (I think our trips to the store are amusing because I am a weirdo but, ultimately, a bit draining for him.) I have a coworker who similarly hates going to get groceries, and she is a Blue Apron customer.
I’ve always rolled my eyes at the idea of Blue Apron. I love grocery shopping, why would you charge money to take that joy away from me? But I started to empathize more with the fact that Ben really doesn’t get as excited at the store as I do, and he also prefers following recipes in front of him because he isn’t that comfortable in the kitchen with more complicated recipes yet.
So we decided to try it.
TL;DR I think the concept is fine (although not for me, personally), Blue Apron’s execution fell a bit short for me and we will not be ordering any more kits from them, even if we decide to try more meal delivery kits in the future.
Our biggest issues with the recipes were:
BAD RECIPE INSTRUCTIONS – Several times, I had to veer away from the recipes because I knew that following them exactly would wreck the food. For example, they’d list cooking times that needed to be halved at the least, or the order of adding things to a pot/pan was off… And speaking of the instructions…
S & P – Blue Apron has a big problem with telling you to salt and pepper your food in the recipes. In one of the recipes, I counted they asked you to do this almost 10 times. 3 of those were for a single step in the recipe. “Salt and pepper before putting it in the pan. Then add salt and pepper while it is cooking. After taking it out of the pan, salt and pepper it to taste.” That is a whole lotta salt & pepper, folks! Given that several of these recipes were already very heavy in sodium and/or were very salty without adding more salt (+ pepper), definitely do not S + P every time Blue Apron tells you to, your mouth will punish you.
VALUE – These just did not seem like a great deal for what we were paying for them. The prep work was needlessly cumbersome for a few of them (for example, why have us crush our own almonds and peanuts?), especially for folks who do not want to do a lot of prep work. And the quality of the ingredients was good, but, again, I wasn’t sure about the value of the kits.
INGREDIENTS – We had one specific instance where a dish featured a specific fish and leeks, and we only chose that box because we wanted to try cooking leek. Lo and behold, the box arrived with a note that said after working with farmers, they decided to give us yellow onion instead of leek. What?! Yellow onion is not a leek at all, and we should have been notified before the box arrived with the option of getting a different box if the primary ingredient we wanted to get from this recipe was unavailable at the price Blue Apron wanted it from the suppliers. Or they should have just shelled out more for the leeks because I know they were in season. Leek and onion are not comparable vegetables and this was supremely disappointing for us because we specifically wanted to cook leek.
TASTE – Honestly, most of these recipes tasted very mediocre. (Even when I held back on the salt & pepper, which would not have improved the taste.) This was a combination of the recipes forcing me to overcook things, but also had to do with them skimping on the seasonings and condiments in the boxes in favor of you salting the bejeezus out of the food.
HEALTH – For all of this, we had this idea that Blue Apron boxes would be a bit health conscious but in fact, some of these meals were super unhealthy. We had one that was veggies, rice, and chicken breast in a peanut sauce and we checked the nutrition facts to see astounding numbers for saturated fats and sodium which must have all come from this crazy tablespoon of full-fat peanut butter that came with the recipe. Most of the meals had super high sodium levels, many of them had very high amounts of sugar and fat, and one even had trans fats in it. With the bulk of the meals being lean meats and veggies, this usually boiled down to something like the one tablespoon of butter that became the base of the sauce for the recipe.
My favorite recipes from the few weeks we tried this out were:
Would I try another meal kit delivery service? Maybe, but we may only do so if it is a more health and nutrition-focused service. Eating this mediocre meals with crazy amounts of sugar and sodium and fats was probably the biggest issue we had here.
Will I try Blue Apron again? No. I may look to the (free and available to anyone online) recipes for inspiration on how to use ingredients, but it is not a good value for me and my family at this time.
Have you ever tried a meal kit delivery service? Which one and how did you like it? My friend recommended I try one called Home Chef, so maybe we’ll try that one out someday.
What are your favorite things to cook at home? While doing Blue Apron, I also loved doing ragù bolognese, but as the weather warms up, I’m foreseeing a lot more salads and stir-frying.
Also, let me know if you’d be interested in me posting more recipes and homecooking posts. I enjoyed taking the photos for these (worked REAL HARD to plate them for you all!) and I love cooking a lot, but I know my rambling recipe style is probably not that easy to follow…
With spring kicking off in March, I have a rather long post for you all this month. Lots of good things going on is a good sign, right?
7 Minute Workout [App]
I’ve been trying to find ways to make it easier for me to commit to fitness. Right now, I’m really enjoying the 7 Minutes app (I use this one on Google Play, but there are many that have slightly different UIs and several available on iTunes as well). I picked this one over some other popular ones (like Nike’s N+TC) because I don’t need any equipment for the exercises as 7 Minute uses only body weight exercises.
If you’re unfamiliar with tabata or circuit/interval training, the default 7 Minutes workout involves 13 different workouts that you do for 30 seconds each with 10 seconds of rest in-between. The science backing this workout says that intense bursts of activity followed by shorter intervals of rest are super effective in working your muscles, and you’re able to maximize the benefits of exercise in only 7 minutes.
As someone who often has a hard time committing to fitness regimens that aren’t a paid-for group class, finding 7 minutes to do something, no matter how painful those 7 minutes may be, seems much more doable than doing half an hour of exercise three times a week. I am trying to do as many days in a row as I can without taking breaks while completing one circuit, since the app tracks how many days in a row you’ve done the exercises, how far into the exercises you got, how many times (if any) you paused, and how many days of exercise you’ve done in the past 30 days. If you’re a fan of the “Don’t Break the Chain” method of forming habits popularized by Jerry Seinfeld, you’ll love that feature.
(Images from Google Play store)
Along the same vein, my boyfriend and I recently decided to give fitness trackers a try. Not wanting to commit a lot, we found one of the most affordable options out there: the Misfit Flash, which is a lower-end tracker made by the folks who also make the Misfit Shine. The tracker itself is whatever to me: it’s made of cheaper materials but gets the job done and has an option for you to clip it or wear it on your wrist.
The app is what I like. The UI is really nice, although I wish the Android one was as nice/robust as the iOS one. I can connect it to RunKeeper, for the handful of times I decide to run, and MyFitnessPal, because I understand that being aware of what I eat is really important to my overall fitness.
You earn “points” for your physical activity (so mostly for walking, as it counts your steps) and I like the social element if only so I can compete with my boyfriend. One thing I also like is that it shows how you rank with the average males/females using the app. “Missfit” is on my leaderboard and I think that’s a neat feature.
Also, we really wanted to look into sleep tracking. I used a sleep tracking app, but I don’t like keeping my phone on my bed, so this is a nice alternative. It has issues as far as not being able to track naps, not tracking if you wake up and go back to sleep, if you have irregular sleep hours, etc., but it’s a nice way to get more data about my sleep habits. And I’m all about dat data.
(Images from Google Play store)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
I usually don’t watch super trendy shows (see: Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, etc.), usually because I don’t know about them when they premiere and then because I feel like I am being peer-pressured to start watching it. (Looking at you, Doctor Who and the Tumblr propaganda that eventually got me to watch.) This definitely applies to Netflix shows, because I don’t really like the idea of sitting down and binge-watching a season of a show the day it is released to the public. (See: why I don’t watch House of Cards despite the fact that, as a show about DC, I have friends who can be seen as extras.)
When Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was announced a short while back, I fully intended to not watch it. I like Tina Fey (the producer) and all, but I didn’t watch 30 Rock, I’m not a die-hard Tina Fey fan, I don’t feel anything about Ellie Kemper or Jane Krakowski, the premise was quirky but not enough where I felt really compelled to watch it… I just didn’t really have any motive to watch. But then I heard that Ki-Hong Lee was on the show… as a love interest, no less! I love Ki-Hong (his smile takes over his whole face… and yours) and I am all for Asian male love interests.
So, I sat down to watch the show and really liked it! It’s 30-minute episodes, which made the 12-episode season much more digestible than shows where the run-time lasts closer to an hour. It’s a light-hearted comedy, which meant that I was able to breeze through episodes not only without being stressed and tense for the next one but while laughing as well. It’s definitely a bit too edgy/quirky for television and perfect for the Internet. It’s super self-aware and smartly written. I recommend it if you’ve been wondering about this show.
Even though it snowed half a foot the first week of March (… you think I’m joking), the weekend immediately following that storm gave us our first taste of spring weather. I had my windows open! The snow thawed almost immediately and left immense puddles everywhere! I went outside in jeans without a pair of leggings underneath them!
Cleaning my room has been on my to-do list for a while. When I started getting overwhelmed with my many tasks, I would feel worse about the fact that my room was messy and I hadn’t cleaned it yet. This would drive me into a guilt spiral that was further aggravated by the fact that I can’t actually stand messes. Evidently, my method of coping with a mess is usually to be driven so mad by it that I am reduced to doing… nothing, about the mess or anything else in my life.
But, on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, a breath of fresh air gave me the kick I needed to actually clean. I told myself I would only clean my room and save cleaning the rest of the apartment as a roommate activity, since I don’t get to see my roommate too often. But as soon as I broke out my vacuum, I wound up vacuuming the entire apartment and wiping down almost every surface. Oops! I even (finally) took down my Christmas lights that were in a Christmas tree arrangement and rearranged them in a non-holiday way, as I’ve always liked the look of rooms with soft fairy lights.
Now I walk into my apartment and my room and feel so at peace rather than irritated and angry at myself. It is one fewer obstacle to me actually doing things I need to do. This doesn’t mean I do those things, but I have one fewer excuse now.
With the shift in the weather and a desperate need to do something productive, I have been enjoying cooking even more than I usually do. Not only have I been cooking, I’m cooking less familiar foods. This includes:
Pancakes from scratch and not from a mix! (I almost never have flour and this is my first time having baking powder in the pantry)
Ridiculously fluffy pancakes
Mickey Mouse pancakes!
Mac & cheese with cheese sauce from scratch (I had to purchase cheese???)
Scallion pancakes from scratch
No photos to share this time around, but let me know what you’d like to see me make in the future!
“Chinese Female Bodyguards”
A friend of mine shared this VICE video on Facebook and I soaked up every single one of its 12 minutes. Because of the absurdly fast-growing Chinese upper class, which includes many powerful businesswomen, there is a growing demand for female bodyguards. Not only is it more practical and safe for women to have a female bodyguard, but having a bodyguard is, in and of itself, a status symbol, and the Chinese upper class is obsessed with displaying status symbols.
It resonated with me, personally, because the women are taught “feminine” things such as walking in heels and putting on makeup. This is not because they need to be “more feminine”, but rather, in China, wearing heels and makeup is a way to demonstrate your respect of other people. In this case, the trainees want to show respect to their clients and their clients’ colleagues.
Also, since assault weapons are illegal in China, bodyguards must be highly skilled in martial arts. We’re not talking Jet Li The Bodyguard from Beijing level skills, but those would be really helpful because bodyguards cannot legally carry weapons. (Side note: That is my mom’s favorite Jet Li movie and it’s a good one.)
The movie is from 1994… and it shows. But I love it.
Late Night Happy Hours
I am all about happy hour for one main reason: excellent food deals. In fact, I am really baffled by people who only drink during happy hour? We’re in his bar from 6-8 and you don’t want to eat food? But you had lunch hours ago?
Anyway, what I’m really into right now is late night happy hours, since happy hour can be harder to coordinate in the DC area with folks living in Maryland, the District proper, and Virginia. A Friday night late night menu special is perfect for those situations. I went to the one at City Perch two Fridays in a row and really like the food. The service is another story but the food and drink specials are SUPER GREAT. I have definitely found myself suggesting this as an option more than once to my friends. This is a time in my life when I can really take advantage of the fact that I am more of a night owl, as I’ll only start wanting to sleep at 8 PM more and more as I get older.
I’ve been working on this post all through March and it’s hard to believe how long ago watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or stress-cleaning my entire apartment feels now.
April is shaping up to be jam-packed with lots of fun, and it’s BEDA so you are going to have random things to read whether they’re quality or not!
What were your highlights from March?
What are you looking forward to in April?
I am so lucky to be alive right now. But let’s dial back the drama and start at the beginning.
Ben and I went to a Valentine’s Day party at our friend Tim’s on Saturday. Because of this, I decided I would make Ben a fancy home-cooked meal Friday night instead. Here’s the menu:
Even though I still have kinks to work out with timing, I think dinner went really well. I got way too ambitious with the amount of food I made and we had most of what I cooked for dinner the next day for leftovers.
I got so caught up with trying to make Ben a fancy meal that I realized I had lost sight of why I was doing it: to make him a meal that he loves. He was getting stressed by my constant grilling of “What is your ideal meal?” “What do you wish I would cook for you I’LL MAKE IT” “Name a fancy meal you wish you had more often!”. What he loves is PB&J, plain and simple.
So I jazzed it up by making it a stuffed French toast, drizzling a berry reduction over top, and serving with vanilla ice cream. Plain and simple.
On Valentine’s Day, we kicked off with brunch at La Malinche for all-you-can-eat tapas and bottomless drinks. (You have to get the drinks on the weekends; we usually like coming on weekdays for AYCE lunch because we don’t really drink.) Ben and I were committed to eating as much as we could for as long as we could. We held out for 2½ hours before throwing in the towel. When we walked out, it had barely started flurrying. We knew there was snow in the forecast and figured we could take a food coma nap before heading out to Tim’s party.
WHAT A MISTAKE.
By the time we finished the leftovers from the night before and were ready to leave, Tim was already urging people to park on top of the hill and not at the bottom of it. Many folks had already cancelled because of the weather.
Red flag #1: The garages in Ben’s community are all below-ground, and we saw a car struggling to get up the incline away from the garage. I reminded Ben to drive slowly and we mozied towards the beltway when Google Maps told us that it would take nearly 3 hours to drive the 20 miles to Tim’s house on the beltway and only 45 minutes to go through DC. It almost always takes longer to get anywhere by going through the District, so we figured there must have been a pretty bad accident on the beltway. (How bad the accident was… probably red flag #2.)
Red flag #3: As we were driving, Ben was weirded out by several blank road signs. I realized that they were not blank, but that the snow had been blown horizontally and immediately frozen over, resulting in whited-out road signs. Speed limits? Who knows. Exit numbers? Iono. Street names? No clue. The roads were nearly empty and the signs were blank. It felt like we were in some post-apocalyptic horror video game. I joked that every gust of wind that brought about powdery snow was actually a ghost. In hindsight, I think this just made me more tense.
Red flag #4: Cars were skidding EVERYWHERE. We were about a mile away from Tim’s house when Ben started skidding himself. It was pretty scary.
Then it happened.
We were already driving really slow (“10 miles an hour? What is this, Fast and Furious slow down, Tokyo Drift!” – my shrill voice) when we were trying to make one of the last turns to reach Tim’s. The car lost traction and we started skidding, unable to stop.
We hit a bus. Luckily, since we were going at about 3 mph at this point (less than 5 kph for my international friends). Ben was so freaked out that he just went into “what kind of damage was there we have to file an insurance report???” mode. I was like “WHAT IF THERE WERE PEOPLE ON THE BUS?!” Since we were going so slowly, we just got a tiny scratch and there was no damage to the bus or the people on it. (No damage to the people in our car either.) We walked away with no reports filed because it really wasn’t worth the trouble. But oh man, were we shaken.
We arrived at the party to find that all 100+ people who were slated to arrive weren’t there. Because of the insane road conditions. I mean, people usually flake anyway but Tim was stressing about fire codes and the police showing up. The Facebook event was full of “Tried to come over but there was standstill traffic, had to turn around” and “Couldn’t make it out of my driveway sorry!” so the party didn’t end up being as packed as anticipated.
Tim goes ALL OUT. There was a free raffle, 10 gallons of homemade sangria, so much alcohol I didn’t even bother to tally it up, karaoke with 5 microphones, bumpin’ dance floor in the garage, a live serenade, and so much more. It was easily one of THE best parties I have ever attended in my life.
Even though it was about 11°F (~-11/12°C), my friend wanted s’mores so we headed out to the firepit on the patio. It was SOOOOOOOOOO COLD even after I put on fuzzy penguin slippers and threw blankets over myself. It was really nice in front of the fire but the wind was cuh-razy. We were on wind advisory and apparently winds reached about 50 mph Saturday night. I was very wary of this because a) the wind was blowing the flames dangerously close to everyone sitting around it and b) the wind was blowing the trees kind of all over the place. It was very cool in an eerie way, watching the trees sway violently against a clear night sky. As I was trying to point out how cool the trees looked, we heard it.
SNAP! CRASH! A tree behind Tim’s house was just blown down. We watched a tree fall. TIME TO PACK UP we did not want to be under the next tree that fell. How many brushes with death were we going to experience on Valentine’s Day?
Instead of driving back to Ben’s when we left, we drove to my place because the highways weren’t treated yet and we didn’t want to be on the roads any longer than we had to. Plus, with the steep incline leading to the garage, we couldn’t risk it. Still, I live in a hilly area, so it was risky either way. We were relieved to reach my apartment alive, even though we had no phone chargers and dead phones.
But we were alive and we were together.
How was your weekend? (Hopefully way fewer near-death experiences. Hopefully zero of them.)
Thanksgiving is the time of year that we gather our family ’round and feast a-plenty.
For your family away from family, there is Friendsgiving.
This year’s Friendsgiving was the best one yet! We really stepped up our food game this year:
I accidentally ended up doing a lot of the food prep for our meal (oops) because I’m a bit of a control freak in the kitchen (ooooops). But I like to think it was practice for when I prepare a full-on Thanksgiving meal for my family + guests this week.
We ran into a small SNAFU when the oven at Jen’s place refused to work, throwing off my plan to roast the brussel sprouts and bake the mac. So, in the end, I just sauteed the sprouts and left the mac unbaked. 😦 They still tasted great!
I’m excited and also scared for my Thanksgiving at home, but I feel a renewed sense of confidence in my ability to cook. (Also, I’m trying not to think about the turkeys I’ve made in the past, which, as most turkeys end up being, were not properly browned and a bit dry.)
After helping ourselves to seconds and getting some pumpkin pie, we cuddled Jen’s cats and watched Love Actually, to kick off the holiday spirit with a classic Christmastime movie.
Best scene in the film because it’s one of the sweetest moments of the best relationship in the film
My friends and I may be scattered as we go off to school and new jobs and new things next year, but I hope we’re able to do Friendsgiving every year in spite of it!
Do you celebrate Friendsgiving? What are you having for your Thanksgiving meal? What are you most looking forward to?
Also, stay tuned because, with any luck, I will have an actual holiday music playlist (or 5) ready for my Friday post! FRIDAY, the official day I may start blasting holiday music without fear of haters.