A yummy Tuesday

Tuesday already. If I had not taken voluntarily time off this week, I would be three-quarters of the way through my work week and asleep in preparation of my last day before the weekend.

Instead I slept until a leisurely 6 a.m., did some kitchen cleaning and some laundry while I waited for my coffee to brew.

I did some work on my own essay for the As the FURR Flies cat fundraising anthology — “The Unfortunate Cat Bite Hospital Vacation.”

Spoke with the teenager and headed to visit Gayle, the Parisian Phoenix Art Director, and my longstanding (and upstanding) friend. First I had to remove a tire toy the dog inserted into my purse. We had plans to scan the ink cartoon our friend Rachel had done for the anthology.

Then we went for a walk. I told Gayle not a long walk as my right hip just didn’t feel right and I felt like I had to march to avoid tripping myself. That I had not only fallen on Sunday night, but out of the damn bathtub while taking a shower yesterday.

I bought her a beverage at Déjà Brew, an eclectic local coffee shop/cafe, and nearly fell on my face because the damn floor has a massive bubble down the whole thing. I can’t even describe how huge and high this ridge was. I felt like someone had parked a tree under the tables.

Lunch was pita with hummus and harissa. Then the teenager went to visit a housebound senior to try and help her clean up a bit.

When we finished, I took the teenager to the auto parts store where the Amazon driver left her new Apple Pencil, bought us both discount Diet Cokes at McDonalds and then we headed to a place she’s wanted to visit for a long time— Exotic Dreams and Lingerie— and their neighbor. We bought some anatomically styled sour patch candies and let’s just say our dress form Esther might be donning some knotted red ropes in the future.

When we got home, I unboxed my new calendar: Video of unboxing Silk & Sonder August 2022.

The teenager went to work and I finished my story for the cat book and attended a library meeting. Then the teen made a magnificent hamburger dinner with homemade garlic parmesan gourmet fries.

And we attended a foster meeting via Facebook.

To end the night, the teenager broke an ancient ceramic bowl and I dropped a mason jar very painfully on my toe wrestling with the dog gate.

We’re both pretty exhausted tonight.

The Birthday Toaster and other silliness

The teenager got me a birthday present and it arrived today.

I didn’t expect it to arrive today so I asked her to pick up two items I haven’t tried from Dunkin: the pesto grilled cheese and stuffed bagel bites with chive and onion. Response here.

Here is the unboxing video.

I found it very cool that product registration for this Cuisineart compact toaster oven air fryer from Target could be completed via text & mobile internet.

My first recipe will be air fried apples & dates.

The dates cooked way faster than the apples so the dog ended up with some charred fruit jerky but the apples were tasty. I would lower the temp for a more even and chewier texture but that could have been due to my cut of the apple wedges.

The machine itself was very quiet while running. It threw a lot of heat— I would even claim it threw off more heat than my traditional oven. It’s size and the recipes that came with it seem the perfect volume for the teenager and I.

Also: Foster Mars wanted you to know it’s going to be a hot one today.

Soothing my wounds with healthy food

After my doctor appointment yesterday, Nan and I went to Grocery Outlet. Advocating for yourself, even in a safe, familiar environment drains a person emotionally.

My work in the kitchen not only provides the nutrients for my recovery from my mallet finger, but also helps me continue my fitness journey with Apex Fitness.

Maybe I’ll finally commit to losing weight.

Last night for dinner I had leftover pancakes, almond butter and apple slices with a can of blueberry elderflower sparkling water.

And this morning, Louise insisted I get up at 4:15 a.m. And it’s only Saturday not even a work day.

I cuddled her for a while, tried to go back to sleep, and finally just got up at 5:45ish.

Someone adopt this love so I can sleep instead of cuddle the cat all night

I came downstairs, had my coffee and started cooking my treasures. I sautéed kale (reduced for quick sale) in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt pepper and lemon juice. I made shredded potatoes in the frying pan with peppers. I prepared quinoa and midnight grains.

I fried an egg and mixed some of everything together with some apple, some of my homemade roasted red pepper hummus and pumpkin seeds.

Truly delectable.

And then right before the gym I had two medjool dates.

And I also prepped some plain lentils just to have on hand. I’m taking Nan some of the different ingredients.

Now for lunch I toasted some Ozery multigrain thin and made no-nitrate smoked turkey sandwiches (the free protein of the week from Hungryroot) topped with Brie, roasted red pepper, spinach, butter lettuce (reduced as well) and chipotle mayonnaise also from Hungryroot.

And I fell again today. At the gym today. Andrew my trainer seems to be concerned that I won’t make as much progress with upper body during my injury (but I did bench press today, but I inadvertently favored the right pretty heavily). But I’m okay with that — a body has to stay active and exercise, alcohol and excessive caffeine are the only way I can get my left hand warm. Well, unless I curl into bed under a heat blanket.

That’s two falls this week that lead to not serious but definitely painful bruises and scrapes.

Fitness update and my favorite vegetarian protein sources

My trainer Dan at Apex Fitness said something last week that made me chuckle and made me beam with pride.

“I forget you can handle more [weight] than most [women].”

“I still got it?” I asked.

He laughed.

Dan is very good at using full body motions even on isolated body part days. So on leg day we’ll throw in some bicep curls after those deadlifts and on upper body day, we do things that focus on form and stretching the lower body in addition to burning out the arms and chest.

I’m noticing much more flexibility in my body and that my chiropractor has gotten more agressive as well.

And I get to play with Dan’s super adorable baby and we talk a lot about food. He just picked up a client who is a vegetarian and doesn’t like tofu and some other stuff. We were brainstorming protein sources.

I thought I’d make a list.

Here’s my favorite vegan athlete on YouTube: Simnett Nutrition. Look at the sheer volume of food he eats. That is why I can’t be vegan. It has nothing to do with the diet— I just couldn’t stomach that much food.

For more gourmet cooking, check out Gaz Oakley, the Avant Garde Vegan (here).

My favorite vegetarian proteins that are not tofu

  • Greek yogurt
  • Cabot cottage cheese
  • Silk unsweetened soy milk
  • Nut butters (morning hack— coffee, nut butter and yogurt smoothie. Add dates if you want to feel trendy)
  • Homemade salad dressings featuring tahini or peanut butter
  • Add black beans or chick peas to anything you can
  • Add hummus or tahini and/or sprouts to sandwiches. Pick bread with higher protein.
  • Nuts and seeds (including chia, flax and hemp) on salads, oatmeal, in baked goods or smoothies
  • Ancient grain or chick pea pasta
  • Peas and lentils
  • Frozen lentil pasta
  • Morningstar vegetarian breakfast patties
  • “Wheat meat”/seitan
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Adding beans or eggs to soups
  • Eggs & cheese
  • Snap pea snack crisps
  • Special K nut and fruit protein bars
  • Sweet Earth frozen foods

And for vegetarian meal services/meal kits:

  • Purple Carrot offers meal kits and prepared food. They have low calorie and high protein options are plant-based and get on the table in about 40 minutes. Purple Carrot is expensive, and requires a minimum of three dinners a week. Read my previous blogs on Purple Carrot here.
  • Hungryroot has more flexibility than Purple Carrot and offers “free protein”with each box. You can order meal kits, prepared foods or groceries. I get one or two meals and spent the rest of my credits on groceries. A lot of their recipes include extra ingredients— instead of a small jar of a tablespoon of Chile sauce for example, they send a tub. So you can use the extra for other meals. They can get on the table very quickly. They use a lot of “whole” main ingredients coupled with prepared sauces which keeps nutrient value high but prep time low. Read about my impressions of Hungryroot here.
  • Hello Fresh has a lot of great recipes and offers vegetarian food. All the sauces are incredible. But you spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Also expensive. Servings tend to be small. I am told Every Plate is cheaper. My experience with Hello Fresh is here.
  • Green Chef, have not tried it

Some cats, some ramen, learning the “mailer machine” and more about childhood trauma and imposter syndrome

First, the cat picture of the day.

Misty and Oz, two of our cats

Next, let’s briefly do a Purple Carrot Update. Today I prepped the matcha overnight oats and made the ramen bowl. (Video of matcha prep here.)

The teenager vetoed the homemade miso broth and fresh ramen.

I had the leftover black pepper tofu for dinner and it was soooooooo good, even leftover.

And most Purple Carrot meals take 30 minutes to prepare, which in my kitchen has been translating to 40 minutes. Much better than the cooking marathon caused when a Hello Fresh box comes.

But now to the Bizzy Hizzy. I finally learned the “mailer machine.” It’s a folding machine. We used it to fold the postal service priority mailers that go in each fix.

We had trouble getting the machine to work— so we didn’t really get started until after first break. We folded 4401 mailers.

Basically we unpack the mailers, sort them so they are less likely to jam the machine, and feed/empty the machine. There is a zen to lining up the mailers on the rolling machine, fanning them and making sure they don’t curl.

I was sent to the mailer machine as part of Stitch Fix’s quest to know what tasks I perform best. I perform regularly at 96% in QC but unfortunately when I have bad day that plummets to 85-90%. They raised the pick goal so I only do 75% of that. Apparently I have shown both potential and inconsistency in inbound processing and returns. I apparently tanked in style carding (66%) which I would like to believe was a fluke but maybe not. And a shocking 29% in NAP binning. It was shoes. And it was very painful.

I’m told they want everyone to have two work centers they can perform 100%.

So now I’m at the mailer machine.

If I’m honest with you, and it is very hard for me to say this in public, what I hear is: “You’re not good enough for us, so since you suck at everything, let’s stick you on this machine back in the corner.”

I feel threatened. And like a failure.

And that is not what they said. At all.

But I have a disability that makes me insecure and makes me feel inferior, unworthy. And certain childhood traumas leave me feeling unwanted, and as if I am a burden to everyone.

So I am being honest. For one reason. In case someone else is fighting a similar battle and needs to know he/she/they are not alone.

Review: First Purple Carrot shipment and their black pepper tofu

Unboxing first purple carrot box

First I’ll let the photos and video speak for itself.

Next, a little back story. Some familiar to my readers, some probably new.

1. When other people go to Target, order weird lamps off the internet, buy clothes or troll yard sales, my version of retail therapy revolves around food. Wegmans is my happy place.

2. I spent my twenties as a vegetarian— even tried veganism for about six months. Back then, you had to go to the natural food store to buy non-dairy milk and you had two choices: rice or soy. Both came in aseptic boxes that were shelf stable. I don’t like the big business that agriculture has become, and I don’t like not knowing what is happening to my food via industrialized farming.

Why did I stop?

I got pregnant. The teenager has always been a huge carnivore. I had gestational diabetes while pregnant so I started eating turkey sandwiches to change up some of my proteins.

Then when the teenager was about 18 months old, I started craving bacon cheeseburgers (and I don’t even really like bacon). That was probably when my anemia started.

3. I am really enjoying this tour of meal delivery kits I’ve been doing this summer. Hello Fresh has flashy recipe cards, a lot of rice, a lot of prep and amazing sauces. Hungryroot has a nifty blend of “groceries” and “recipes” so if I just want that out-of-this-world snack cheddar, I don’t need to order the whole grilled cheese kit. The recipes are an easy blend of processed and fresh, so the fridge-to-table time is a fraction oh Hello Fresh.

Now we add Purple Carrot. It’s the plant-based Hello Fresh. Three things about them I liked as soon as I opened the box:

  1. They send a booklet of all the recipes for the meals and extras, regardless of what you ordered. I lost the Hungryroot recipes. And Hello Fresh gives you your meals. This is practically a little cookbook.
  2. Their bags and containers are all clearly labeled.
  3. The bags and containers are all clear. It’s easy to see everything.

Based on my initial impression— making one of the four meals I ordered— here are my thoughts.

Pro

  • The vegetables shine, instead of being a side dish.
  • I finally know how to make tofu crispy.
  • Even though they are plant based, they still have high protein options.
  • So delicious

Con

  • Takes almost as long as Hello Fresh

Week Three of Hello Fresh: delicious meals and quasi-final thoughts

Earlier this week we got our third Hello Fresh meal delivery. The teenager (I have reason to believe teenager #2 will be moving this week; as she has only been home a few hours in the last week, I hereby formally declare that teenager #1 is now, once again, the teenager) asked to try one of the discount offers provided in another of our subscription services.

They are certainly clever marketers. Box one comes at something like 50% off, then they scale back the discount until delivery four is eight percent off.

And box five, for four people, once you include the shipping, is about $40 per meal.

On my previous Hello Fresh posts (see Hello Fresh, Continuing Thoughts on Hello Fresh, and Hello Fresh Delivery Two)

Now, as I have mentioned, I am a good home chef and a very thrifty shopper. For the cost of one of these meals I bet I could replicate at least three of their recipes.

But that’s not the real point of one of these services, at least in my opinion.

These services:

  • Renew people’s interest in being in the kitchen.
  • Teach people to cook without the risk of randomly googling a meal on the internet, buying the wrong ingredients or admitting you don’t have any skill in the kitchen.
  • Offer the convenience of avoiding the shopping experience or running out of or forgetting a key ingredient.
  • Provide better choice and healthier options than restaurants.
  • Help people meal plan and stick to that plan which can reduce the chance of poor food-related decisions.
  • And my favorite, expose people to new recipes and new uses to standard ingredients, expanding a person’s cooking repertoire. That, in my opinion, is worth the investment and why, after next week, I will be converting to a two-meal, once-a-month plan.

Now for the “cons” of specifically Hello Fresh:

  • I am freaked out by the idea that my raw meat spends 24-36 hours in transit, and by the amount of ice packs in that box. The waste generated upsets me. I noticed that our cat foster godmother reuses the boxes as cat huts.
  • The ingredients sometimes disappoint. I bought their “chicken protein pack” and their chicken strips were tiny chunks— like popcorn chicken. I ordered an extra bag of Brussel sprouts and they were either $3.50 or $3.99, which is the going rate for fresh Brussels. Now they are my favorite and I thought Hello Fresh might have access to special sprouts. Maybe organic or a unique source. Nope. Green Giant.
  • Our schedules in this house are chaotic and finding the time and energy to commit to preparing several meals a week like this is more stressful than I anticipated.
  • The recipes assume you have a certain efficiency in the kitchen. I think we, on average, require one hour at least for a meal that should take 10 minutes prep time and 30 to cook.
  • There’s a lot of rice.
  • I’m not sure these meals fill me up for more than two hours.
  • There are cheaper meal delivery services available. One friend recommended trying Every Plate.

So what have we tried so far?

  1. Pork with Apple Dijon Pan Sauce over farro and wilted kale. (Photos above) I liked it. Teen found the pork scrumptious and well-seasoned but does not care for neither farro nor kale.
  2. Thai Ginger Curry with creamy coconut veggies, peanuts and lime rice. I loved their creative use of red peppers and green beans for the vegetables. They provided a fantastic, full-fat coconut milk. Teen did not care for it. She likes my curries, but this curry was not her thing.
  3. Tuscan Garlic Butter Chicken with creamy kale and paprika carrots. Amazing. All around. The Tuscan heat spice blend excites me. Teen still hates kale.
  4. Paprika Chicken in a Lemony Sauce with pistachio rice and roasted carrots. Not the rich Hungarian dish I was hoping for but very yummy. We both agreed. The pistachios in the rice seemed so decadent.
  5. Thai Shrimp with candied peanuts over sesame cabbage and arugula. I bombed this one. I loved the salad portion and the peanuts, but I’m not a fan of shrimp. The teen loves shrimp but is not fond of purple cabbage and discovered that she detests arugula. So I ate salad for three days until I got sick of it and she ate a lot of shrimp.
  6. Meatloaves with creamy mushroom sauce plus garlic mashed potatoes and roasted Brussel sprouts. The teen and I might agree this was our favorite. But I didn’t eat my mushrooms.
  7. Creamy Cilantro Steak Bowls with garlic lime rice and charred poblano. I enjoyed this one but they were so generous with the steak portions that I got three meals out of what was listed as two servings. This was spicy. And that was good, but the vegetable was onions and neither the teen nor I wanted to chomp on a serving of cooked onions.

We have one meal left this week— apricot ginger chicken— and one more box coming this week. Hello Fresh offered a refresh of our taste buds, but hits hard on the wallet.

Review: End of Hello Fresh week two and random junk we tried

My daughter often stops at Grocery Outlet in part because of their “rainbow Coke program” where you can rummage through lose cans of soda and mix and match flavors for 25 cents each. They have weird food, good deals, and allow us to try things on which we wouldn’t usually splurge.

Tonight we made the Cheetos Jalapeño Macaroni and Cheese. Now, hands down, without question, my absolute favorite ultra-processed boxed macaroni and cheese product is Wegmans house brand Spirals and Cheese dinner, which I often used to get on sale for 33 cents a box.

This hard larger than average noodles that once prepared very quickly absorbed all the sauce. It tasted exactly like jalapeño cheetos. Except you didn’t have to chew so much. I ate a bowl, and the spice developed on the roof of my mouth versus my tongue. I added a can of tuna and had another bowl. A two-serving box was 79 cents.

Other Random Products

  • Fried Oreos: finally tried them at Sheetz. Gooey in the middle. Enjoyed them but was disappointed by the end product because I never realized how much of the allure of Oreos was in the crunch factor.
  • Strawberry Ice Cream Cone Hershey Kisses: very smooth strawberry flavor and I didn’t expect the crunchy bits. Honestly, between 20 flavors of Oreos and constantly rotating flavors of Hershey Kisses, my taste buds are getting burnt out. How many different flavors of potato chips and Mountain Dew do Americans really need?
  • Tropical Swedish Fish: like the iconic red flavor of Swedish Fish that vaguely resembles cherry, these tropical Swedish fish vaguely resemble something familiar but the flavors listed on the box aren’t even all flavors (passion fruit, pina colada, beachy punch and tropical island). They are weird and the colors are muted and off-putting.
  • Dunkin’s Peach Lemonade Refresher: possible one of the most over sweetened items I have ever tasted. Even teenager #1 who likes sweet things couldn’t drink it. So I suggested she blend it with some diet ginger ale we had in the house. That she loved.

And as promised— a brief update on Hello Fresh.

Meals, for four servings, cost about $35 each, when including shipping. The meals are amazingly curated and the recipes amazing. This week I tried to pick things my daughter would like but that I wouldn’t normally buy or don’t often take the time to make.

The Turkey meat loaves with mashed potatoes, Brussel sprouts and mushroom sauce were a hit. But the shrimp Thai salad bombed. I don’t care for shrimp, poor teenager #1 struggled to eat it all. And didn’t. And it turned out I didn’t notice when I ordered it that the based of the salad was arugula. And the teen hates arugula. So I ate massive vegetarian salads for dinner for three days. They were scrumptious but I don’t want to eat arugula again for a while.

We downsized our box from three meals to two as it is Sunday, another box ships tomorrow and we still have steak from last week to make.

So while we are eating better, we are spending a whole lot of money, struggling to find time to be in the kitchen and then stressing over getting the meals prepared before they go bad or another box shows up.

My initial review of Hello Fresh

I enjoy cooking.

I adore eating.

I run a very thrifty household.

So, I decided to use my birthday money and one of those special introductory offers you see everywhere and try Hello Fresh.

It arrived Monday.

Here is the halfhearted unboxing as I was running out the door to go to work: First Hello Fresh Box (unboxing)

We made the honey-ricotta crisps for breakfast yesterday. Here are the videos for that:Part one and Part two.

My only criticism is that what they call a “baguette” is what I call a roll. Maybe Italian but not French. Folks, if your baguette is soft on the outside it is not a true French style bread. It should be crispy outside and soft inside.

Today I started cooking. For real.

Before continuing, please note: my spirit animal is a cat. As a consequence, I don’t like being told what to do and I tend to be flexible with directions. If you’re a strict, play-by-the-book sort, you might have a stroke reading this.

Because we just make pork with rice and stir fry vegetables on Monday, I didn’t want rice. Two of my meals include rice. (Teenager #1 cooked the pork, teenager #2 said it was delicious. I am eating mine at work tonight.)

I decided to make the vegetarian curry, but swap the rice for the creamy kale from the Tuscan chicken dinner.

I ordered extra chicken, just to try some of their other products. Let me say, even as I make some criticisms, everything was delicious. And having a food service, retail background and commercial kitchen experience, I know some of the challenges Hello Fresh faces when combining food with a subscription service.

But this chicken is not “strips.” The package says strips, but it is chunks. And wow is whatever that packaging juice is slimy. Some of these chunks were too small to even cook. I fed them to the dog.

Hello Fresh chicken “strips”

I made the chicken with everything else because I usually have breakfast at 1 and dinner at 7:30 so I wanted to make it a little heartier.

The curry included fresh lime, fresh cilantro, and an amazing full fat coconut milk. It included green beans and red pepper as the base of the meal which wouldn’t be my normal pick. Turns out it’s a great mix. And the recipe forced me to work with shallots. Have never done that.

I hate onions, but I know they cook down in a recipe like this.

The secret to the creamy kale was Tuscan heat spice and sour cream. Kale and sour cream go so well together… I wonder how it would be with herbs de Provence instead of Tuscan heat…

Finally, let me at that the meal is supposed to take 45 minutes, prep & cooking. Mine took more than an hour, in part because I didn’t stick to one meal but mixed and matched.

We still have two more meals and I did schedule a box for next week.

With mandatory overtime ongoing at work, it’s an easy way to make sure I eat real food.

First Thanksgiving of the season

I have always harbored a certain resentment that holidays are defined as certain days, and since I worked retail for a decade, I adopted the attitude that holidays and celebrations happen when people gather not on a certain date or on the fourth Thursday in November.

My foster cat godmother gave us an 18-pound turkey and as I was a vegetarian for about eight years until my carnivorous daughter was born, I have never cooked a turkey. And it felt like this was the year to try.

I did some internet research and got the bird out of the fridge only to discover that my cheap refrigerator had frozen part of this damn turkey and even after soaking it in hot water we had a terrible time getting the neck from the chest cavity.

But luckily the teenager is stubborn like her mother and got the neck out, which looked and felt disturbingly phallic.

Teenager with a bird neck

I assembled the coleslaw by placing cabbage, radishes and carrots in my Ninja food processor. I made a honey mustard dressing.

I slathered the turkey with butter, purple pepper, smoked paprika, poultry seasoning and sage and placed it in the oven. I “basted” it every thirty minutes by recycling the juices from the drip pan and wiping them across inside the bird with a pastry brush.

Then I whipped up the corn bread and placed it in my neighbor’s oven while I assembled the green beans Caesar and the sweet potato crunch.

I didn’t have enough pecans so I put some mixed nuts in the Ninja and that made my nuts more like nut butter. That was the only real “fail” of the night. But I liked it.

I heated up some corn and made some butter-sage turkey gravy from scratch. Nan brought some cranberry sauce. And Darnell and Amber were kind enough to stop by and rescue me when it came time to carve my bird.

Teenager #1 made a deliriously good batch of homemade mashed potatoes.

I heated up some corn and the spaghetti squash I grew in my compost heap.

Jan stopped by with her ladyship Sobaka and we had three teenagers in the house. That felt good.