Huzzah! It’s that time of year again when my planning and organizing itch goes into hyperdrive. While I’m not really a “New Years Resolutions” devotee, I AM a goal oriented person all year long – I set a variety of long and short term goals in all parts of my life. No, I’m not some sort of goal-setting superhero, without them I’m an aimless, wandering, grump, prone to the gravity field of my couch. It’s for the best for all of us.
The only real resolutions I DO set are my kitchen resolutions – my re-commitments to spending more time doing the things I love: cooking, reading about food, talking about food, and eating…. all the food.
In 2017, my word for the year was “Share”. I had lofty goals for sharing my thoughts, dreams, and meals. But all in all, 2017 ended up being not much of a food year for me – I think it was a particularly difficult year for a lot of us. Surprisingly few kitchen projects, limited dinners out (probably for the best), and fewer cookbooks read than in probably any year of the past decade.
So, in 2018 the word for the year is “Finish” which is a good reminder to finish some of last year’s kitchen resolutions that I didn’t quite end up following through with… see what I did there? I also have a renewed sense of optimism about the future. I’m working on some amazing projects, with excellent people, traveling more, and being more organized with my culinary pursuits.
First, here are some of my 2017 kitchen resolutions I’d like to continue with:
- my weekly meal planning process – I did generally well with this, but this year I have a spiffy updated spreadsheet and process to keep me planning and updating on a regular basis.
- bucket list restaurants – in the short term, I’d like to eat my way through Boston’s Eater 38. Still quite a few amazing restaurants in my backyard that I haven’t made the effort to try. I actually ended up going to a few bucket list restaurants in San Francisco that I tragically had missed out on while living there: finally made it to Zuni Cafe!
- 100(0) fruits, nuts, and seed to try – here’s my list; quite a few of these I’ve definitely eaten (but can’t actually remember eating…. hello aging) so I’ve left them on my master list to actually re-try for the record.
- I didn’t end up doing much in terms of “challenging cooking” this year, but I’d like to spend some more time doing projects in my kitchen.
- While I didn’t hit my goal, I do like the idea of following through with cooking from one of my already owned cookbooks a month. I’m joining a little in-person cookbook club to help do that!
What other kitchen resolutions are on the docket for 2018?
I’d like to cook a weekly Turkish dinner – I’ve been thinking about writing a Turkish cookbook for well over a decade, so this is some measured effort to that end. But the more important impetus is to eat more of the food I grew up with, the stuff that brings me comfort and joy. Also, Turkish home cooking is pretty much all the food I WANT to be eating most of the time: healthy, loads of vegetables, lots of lamb, and all the spices. Also, pudding.
I try meal kits so you don’t have to – although I cook 90+ percent of my meals at home, I’m still smitten with the idea of an occasional meal kit to outsource all of the planning and shopping. I’ve tried Blue Apron, Purple Carrot, Home Chef, Sakara, and Hello Fresh, and I’m looking for any and all good recommendations (and free weeks if you have ’em!)
Deal with the (expletive redacted) lids to all of my containers – let’s face it, I’ve never seen a perfect solution to the container lid situation. But chance are there are better solutions than my current on (shoved in the top of one of my Raskog kitchen wheelies.
Minimize the amount of stuff on the counter in my kitchen – I generally like access to “all the things” in my kitchen. That doesn’t mean that they have to all be on the counters everywhere.
Improve the light situation and the art in my kitchen – my last few kitchens have been a little bit sad in both lighting and cheer. (And frankly, warmth, but that’s another issue.) Until I have my dream kitchen, I can’t make sweeping changing, but I can do some incremental steps to making the kitchen a better place. New lightbulbs and art it is!
What are your kitchen resolutions this year?
(There are affiliate links in this post.)
I am a voracious reader. One of my favorite ways to transition to a new season is to making myself a list of great books to read. I see it as a personal syllabus – you are what you read (and subsequently act upon). The syllabus in itself is a great art – What do I want to learn? Who is the best person to teach it to me? Whose words will inspire me to act? I usually sit down with a list of topics that I’d like to delve into, and take great pleasure in searching for the perfect book to add. I’ll take a second look over my list to make sure that I have representation by women and POC’s.
Here’s what is on my list in the coming months. A few are re-reads related to projects I’m working on, another note is that I don’t typically list out my cookbooks, and I read dozens of them a season. I typically use this as a starting point for requesting books from the library, and usually manage to squeeze in a handful of last minute un-planned reads as well. After each read, I spend just a little bit of time debriefing: writing out my takeaways, and acknowledging the things that resonated and piqued my curiosity.
We Should All Be Feminists
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi
Couple Skills: Making Your Relationship Work
by Matthew McKay
The School of Greatness: A Real-World Guide to Living Bigger, Loving Deeper, and Leaving a Legacy
by Lewis Howes
Personal Kanban: Mapping Work Navigating Life
by Jim Benson and Tonianne Berry
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
by Oliver Sacks
H is for Hawk
by Helen Macdonald
Finding Yourself in the Kitchen: Kitchen Meditations and Inspired Recipes from a Mindful Cook
by Dana Velden
by Marcus Samuelsson
Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa
by Haruki Murakami
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
by Simon Sinek
The Compound Effect: Jumpstart Your Income, Your Life, Your Success
by Darren Hardy
The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity
by Ryan Holiday
Designing Your Life: Build a Life that Works for You
by William Burnett
Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley
by Antonio Garcia Martinez
The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams
One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez
Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success
by Angela Duckworth
A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life
by Brian Grazer
Ask For It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want
by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever
Shaping Success (dog training)
by Susan Garrett
What are you reading this winter?
Is there anything brilliant that I should add to my list?
Yes, it’s Wednesday afternoon. Yes, I try to make a meal plan over the weekend. Yes, I try to batch cook over the weekend. Sometimes… even with best intentions, my planning fails me. Sometimes, life happens, and you just can’t stomach sticking to what you’ve planned. Here’s what I remind myself every time my systems fail me and I feel a tinge of frustration – fail to plan, plan to fail. My personal goal is always to focus on creating sustainable systems and habits.
Sometimes those plans fail me, but the reality is that they fail far less often than when I don’t stick to any system at all.
This week I wrote my meals out on a scrap of paper, forgot to transfer them to my Evernote, and I’ve already opted for Trader Joe’s convenience food and a burrito. Last week at least I deviated from plan by doing a lot of spiralizing (like that zucchini with peas and pesto you see up top). So now it’s back to the grind to feed myself well.
We ended up having quite a long week with the pup under the weather, but he’s nearly 100% back to his own self after a nasty bout with Giardia. Yup, that’s the parasite that you filter and treat your water for when hiking. He’s feeling a lot better now and begging for treats again like a normal batpig. I on the other hand, am suffering from a bit of a summer cold. Wish me better!
One thing that I’m doing different for the second half of the week (to course correct) is spending an hour batch cooking on Wednesday evening to make our meals for the next few nights. Our CSA share starts on Friday, and so space in the fridge is at a premium, and I have a backlog of Blue Apron meals to cook.
:: The Weekly Meal Plan: Week of June 6th, 2016 ::
This week’s prep: cook chicken sausage, hardboil eggs, and defrost and cook another piece of meat from my meat CSA. We didn’t do any grilling this week because we were on nursing duty with the pup, but now that he’s feeling a lot better we’ll spend more time outside. I still need to head out and refill the propane tank for the grill.
Wednesday: steakhouse salmon with potatoes, green beans, and mushrooms. Every other Wednesday I have one of my business mastermind groups meet, so I try to make the meal healthy and efficient, and eat some sort of brain food to celebrate women getting things done. Salmon always fits the bill.
Thursday: seared pork chops and fig compote with sautéed kale and farro salad. I’m always a fan of a pork chop. Which reminds me that I’d like to re-season my cast iron this week.
Friday: miso-glazed chicken wings with purple rice and zucchini salad. I’m not the biggest fan of wings, but these came in the Blue Apron box and I do love miso on chicken. (Also, they are mini drumsticks which makes life better.)
Saturday: lobster rolls. I have a race on Saturday, and I’m going to want to reward myself. Given that I’m a New Englander, that means lobster rolls.
Sunday: beef arepas with pickled onion, avocado, and radishes.
Disclaimer: this review is *not sponsored in any way* – I paid for a series of Blue Apron meals with my own hard earned moolah, and the giveaway is sponsored by me!
After several months of ordering Blue Apron boxes, I thought it would finally be appropriate to hop onto the Second Lunch and share with you a detailed review, organized in an FAQ format (warning, it’s long). TL; dr: I’d recommend Blue Apron if you are interested in a meal kit, with reservations that I’ll get into below.
I started using Blue Apron for a few reasons:
- A friend gave me a free week of meals, and I rarely turn down free food. It’s *very* easy to sign up for the service, and they have a great acquisition model that allows you to give your friends free meals after you’ve ordered a few boxes.
- I got a new puppy who dislikes alone time, and didn’t have the bandwidth to do my preferred daily shopping – I actually love going to the store, but needed another practical option for last minute meals that wasn’t delivery.
- I was interested in seeing if my partner would enjoy cooking if I were to step out of the kitchen and let him do his thing with the Blue Apron directions // or if this could be something that we’d enjoy doing together.
- My obsessive love of food can be exhausting. Sometimes food needs to well, just be food…A meal kit where someone else chooses the recipes and buys the food for me is startlingly refreshing.
There are many meal kits on the market, but Blue Apron is one of the more established ones – they were on the ground early, consistently iterated on their product, and have added features such as wine pairings, a well-curated store (overpriced, but great for ideas!), and cookbooks. They also have a particularly well designed app AND web app. With a 2 billion dollar valuation, $135 million in their series D funding, Blue Apron is likely to be on the scene for the long term.
I’ve tried a handful of different services, and I’d definitely consider trying more – maybe you’ll get a little series here in the future? Noted competitors include: Plated, Hello Fresh, and the vegetarian Purple Carrot – now with Mark Bittman on board. This space isn’t a surefire bet for a new startup – the logistics of operations are challenging. There are equally as many companies who have started a box and shut their doors.
What kind of meals does Blue Apron provide?
Blue Apron is an omnivorous box – with options for vegetarian meals – although their strengths (in my opinion) are their non-vegetarian dishes. They source wild caught seafood, organic meats when possible. Our favorites have overwhelmingly been meat- and fish-based.
Some of the dishes I’ve tried and loved (links to recipes):
Yup, that’s a lot of cod!
What if I am… vegetarian? Gluten Free? Dairy Free? What if I hate fish?
Well, you are sort of out of luck. I think this is the biggest reason not to order the service – while the omnivorous meals are usually delicious, most of the vegetarian dinners have been overwhelming duds for us.
They don’t currently offer gluten-free options or dairy free options, although for a dairy free (or Paleo) eater, I have found that the recipes are often relatively customizable to eliminate dairy and obvious gluten. They don’t have a specific paleo option, but if you are willing to make some concessions, you could still order the kits.
Are Blue Apron meals healthy?
Generally speaking, they fit well into a whole foods focused lifestyle. The meals are relatively well balanced, and most come in at about 700 calories a serving. I usually find these to be ample portions to satisfy my (voracious) appetite, but I do feel that many are lacking in green vegetables. I’ll often supplement with my own extra vegetables.
There are listed calorie counts for the recipes, although they say “about 700” and don’t list macros or any other details. If you are tracking these things however, it’s relatively easy to calculate out based on ingredients, and several meals have been calculated by users in apps like MyFitnessPal. (I’d assume that some users have also calculated out WW points, but I haven’t seen this myself.)
How flexible is the service? How far in advance do you have to order? Can you cancel Blue Apron easily? Put deliveries on hold?
This has been a big bonus for us – you can fairly easily pause and unpause the service without being charged. You get charged when it ships. There have been multiple occasions where I’ve decided to hold off on a kit, and even unpause when I’ve changed my mind close to the cut-off.
There are clear cut-offs on the website (and app) for the changeable by date.
Tell me more about their web and app!
One of the strengths of Blue Apron is a well designed app and web app. Believe me, it’s really easy to do one well, and one poorly – but the company has an overarching UX that is consistent through app and web. I actually didn’t download the app until about a month or so after consistently getting kits – and I ended up using both.
Once you make your meals, you have the option to rate the recipes on a five star scale, which you can do from phone or web. On web, you can also see the comments of other subscribers who have cooked the dishes. I’ve found that this has been useful to pre-emptively tweak a recipe if the crowd suggests something might be off.
As a subscriber, in addition to the boxes, the Blue Apron app has a great archive of previous recipes you have access to. You can access these from web, but the app has a searchable gallery that is easier to access. I’ve actually found myself on the phone app at the grocery store recreating some of our favorite meals with the convenience of a recipe in hand. This alone has been useful for last minute grocery shopping.
Are the recipes good?
I’ve spent a good amount of time testing recipes professionally, and used to manage a cookbook store – the written and visual instructions on the recipe handouts are well designed and useful. They have clear notes about ingredients and steps.
Flavor, and recipe success has been another story. They excel at certain meals, and not at others. The dishes inspired by global cuisines tend to have shortcuts and fall a little flat, and I haven’t been wowed by any of the vegetarian recipes that I’ve tried. There have also been meals where the time recommendations have been woefully off – cooking root vegetables comes to mind.
At the end of the day, the boxes seem to be somewhere between a 60-80 percent success hit rate for me, and I have only flat out disliked a few dishes. This is actually good enough for me to order the kit again. I know if something seems like it might really be a dud, I can always riff off of the box ingredients. If you have very high expectations, or are completely tied to a recipe at all costs, you might steer clear.
How much chopping is there, really?
So. Much. Chopping. My typical home cooked meals take 15-20 minutes at most, usually the length of time it takes to cook my protein. With Blue Apron, I find myself routinely spending 35-50 minutes cooking, and I’m not sure that the results match. That said, I’ve found that cooking these meals have actually encouraged me to branch out with my other meals. I’ve become much more likely to take a little bit extra time to prep.
Is Blue Apron worth the money?
Maybe. The kits end up coming to $60 for three meals for two people. There are larger family-size kits as well. $20 dollars a meal would be high if I were trying to seriously budget for our food, but actually can be lower than if I were to head to the store before dinner to purchase meal ingredients – and end up with the ten other items mysteriously in my cart. It’s a decent price for the meals with organic meat or wild seafood, but strikes me as high for the vegetarian dishes. (Although Kenji’s recent post makes me consider my own biases about the cost of vegetarian dishes).
What about the quality of ingredients?
Generally speaking, there have been good quality ingredients – decent welfare meats, wild seafood, and good produce. The produce is not all organic – which is something I typically strive for in my own purchasing, but the quality has been consistent, and I like when they source from smaller scale farms.
Does Blue Apron really create a huge amount of trash?
Before ordering my first kit, I heard complaints about the waste. Unlike my assumptions, they don’t actually have little bags for everything – most of the produce is whole, although they do occasionally have pre-portioned produce, and fresh herbs are in bags. Each meal has a “knick-knack kit” with little containers of things like soy sauce or cream cheese, or bags of rice. This is undeniably waste, but rarely more so than if I were to purchase the same ingredients on my own unless I were consistently buying bulk. They also have ice packs (so that the ingredients stay fresh in the mail and don’t have to be unpacked immediately upon delivery.)
Blue Apron does have a recycling program – if you regularly order boxes, you can save them up and then send the recycling back. I have yet to use it, because it still seems like a PITA.
The biggest problem for me is keeping up with the larger recycling – the cardboard boxes are annoying to break down, and there are big ice packs which you could purportedly empty into the sink, but I feel highly uneasy dumping the gel down the drain.
Can anyone cook a Blue Apron meal?
I do think that the instructions are usually clear enough that anyone can make a go. That said, there have been several meals where the instructions have been woefully off or simply did *not* work for me – I’m an accomplished cook, but the first time I made a bechamel (according to their instructions, not my experience), the flour completely clumped and then the sauce weirdly broke. I laughed it off, went back to my fridge, and made my own version successfully, but I could see this being completely demoralizing and anxiety inducing for a novice cook.
Other times I’ve noted that the cook time has been significantly less than needed – be it for cooking onions, roasting potatoes, or cooking squash on the stovetop.
I do find that I’ve had to seriously amend seasoning to my own taste at times – I’ve ended up playing a sort of “Chopped Blue Apron” game for several of the meals.
What are some of the problems with Blue Apron?
Not enough green vegetables. I find myself consistently supplementing our Blue Apron dinners with more vegetables. There are never enough greens for me. Please, please give us more vegetables.
So..many.. onions. I like onions, but I find the recipes to be supremely onion heavy. I reduce to my taste, usually by about half. On the plus side this means I never have to buy onions or garlic, because I always have surplus?
Vegetable spoilage. Like with any delivery service, I’ve had ingredients that were at the end of their prime, but generally speaking this hasn’t been too much of an issue.
Occasionally the sauces/liquids are put in containers that might be sub-optimal, and I did have a tamarind paste explosion in one kit that ended up making a serious mess.
How is Blue Apron’s customer service?
On that note (the tamarind explosion), I found that customer service was generally helpful – I emailed asking what brand/type they used so I could get the proper replacement at the store, or figure out a substitute. While they didn’t email me back immediately, when they did, they not only provided a helpful suggestion, but did give me credit for the meal.
Who else is cooking Blue Apron?
One thing I was really surprised to find out is how many of my friends were cooking with the service. I started to notice familiar dishes on social media. This might not be odd, but my general group of friends includes quite a few food professionals who were using Blue Apron – quelling some of the general shame I had around using the service. I’m someone who makes recipes, meal plans, and has been in the industry. But so are they!
I’ve also enjoyed scrolling through the #blueapron hashtag on Instagram. It’s an oddly pleasant sense of solidarity seeing people cook the same meals as you, plus, it occasionally gives me ideas of ways to amend or improve upon dishes. (If you aren’t following me on Instagram – I’m @alphaprep – I’d love the follow!)
And now some final personal thoughts….
I’m likely not the target market for Blue Apron or any meal planning kit – or maybe I am? I like cooking, I’m interested in trying new meals. I have a busy schedule and like the convenience of the service.
The real benefit to me? Someone has taken the choice out of three of my meals for the week (when you dream of food all day long, sometimes the hardest part is simply choosing something), and there is definite convenience to having the ingredients show up on my doorstep.
You’ve made it to the end! If you are interested in winning a FREE Blue Apron delivery, I’m giving two lucky readers a chance to win! To enter, simply comment below (let me know either a) why you want to win, or b) if you have any questions about the service) by 4/1/16, and I’ll use a random number generator to pick two lucky folks!
Every spring, I take a trip with the same group of incredible friends – it’s a tradition that I truly look forward to, and I highly recommend! Some years we stay local, last year was London! This spring we took a week long trip to Disney World to run the Princess 5k. We ran the 5k – and it was fabulous! – but our real endurance event was a four day park hopper – we were averaging 12-16 miles a day! Florida was warm and sunny, which was just what I needed. I also picked up a new pair of Sanuk yoga mat flip flops – a great find!
Now that I’m back, there is much on my mind, and much work to be done! I’m feeling energized and rejuvenated. Here are some of my current adventures.
:: I’m expanding my strategy work with businesses – helping companies think up creative ways to drive business in the digital space. I’m also bringing my experience as a project manager to my consulting projects to help teams optimize internal systems.
:: I’m expanding my photography work to do more of what I love – portraits, product photography, and pitching some new brands for partnerships. I’m working on building out my portfolio – a fun challenge. How do you choose which work represents you?
:: I’m taking a six week fitness boot camp with Amanda Tress, incorporating carb cycling into my diet. (A week in – spoiler – I’m eating more food, more whole food carbs, and I have more energy for my workouts. I’m hoping for a better transition into triathlon training – I wasn’t feeling the motivation this winter.
:: I’m turning Secrets of Self Care into a self-guided e-course. I’ll still be offering group sessions and individual consults, but I’m building out the program so that folks can take it whenever they want on their own time, so I can reach more people!
:: At the same time, I’m working hard to build my (still un-named) corporate wellness startup. The company is focused on “not-so-corporate” wellness, for startups and mid size businesses. I don’t have a name yet, but I’m building out a beta program right now – if you know of a company (maybe yours?) that could use my services, I’d love setting up a call to talk with you. In the short term, I’ll be using my expertise in health and wellness (coupled with my experience in building internal programs / mobile health and fitness apps / environmental studies and architecture) to do corporate wellness audits as I build out our services and programming. These are smaller scale assessments of your current business, benefits, and recommendations for quick wins and building systems for ongoing company wellness programming. Beyond the one-off step challenges!
And that’s the tip of the iceberg!
But of course, most importantly at The Second Lunch, I had some great meals planned for this week! Here’s what I’ve been eating. Yep, I planned to post this Sunday, and it never got up!
:: The Weekly Meal Plan: Week of March 6th, 2016 ::
This week’s prep: cook chicken sausage, ground beef and cabbage, roast butternut squash. Boil a batch of Rancho Gordo beans, roast potatoes.
Sunday: baked chicken and cabbage, with mashed potatoes. This was another Blue Apron meal that I adapted to fit my nutrition goals.
Monday: shakshuka with spicy chicken sausage. I also got some Kite Hill almond ricotta that I planned on spooning on top, but it ended up being a little too tart for my taste.
Tuesday: Devon had a show at the Middle East so had some stuffed grape leaves before the show. I had my eye on their mjudra (lentils) or their lamb shank, but I forgot to take some home with me! I ended up eating hummus and fried eggs for dinner.
Wednesday: scallops with rice and peas. This was just comfort food! Light, healthy, goodness in a bowl.
Thursday: roasted sweet potatoes with beef and tahini sauce, and broccoli. Inspired by Jules Clancy’s recipe on Stone Soup. I’ve been meaning to make this again for a while. So delicious!
Friday: out! or as we do these days – takeout and an On Demand movie at home.
Happy Sunday, everyone!
Here’s what’s going on in my little corner of the interwebs.
This week I’ve been reading Oliver Sacks’ memoir ‘On The Move‘, and could not recommend it more. It’s been such a comforting read during the bracing Real Feel -30 nights in New England. I’ve been making a concerted effort to read more memoirs lately – I find solace and comfort in the fact that so many incredible people spend much of their lives feeling a little lost and trying to find their place in the world. The best of them do it with a spirit of adventure that I’d like to emulate!
As for my adventures: Monday (tomorrow!) starts my third session of Secrets of Self Care, a course I designed to help people feel their best to be able to do good work in the world. There are still a few spots left if you are interested. Sign up here.
I also created a free Facebook group for those interested in health, wellness, and productivity: it’s called the Productivity and Wellness Percolator. If you’d like to join, simply sign up for the wellness wisdom mailing list, and then request an add to the group here!
Dinner wise, my week looks a little bit abbreviated because I’m traveling on Thursday – to Disney for the Princess 5k! I ordered a Blue Apron box (I’m on the fence about most meal planning services, but they *are* convenient when the weather is freezing and you are short on time.
Dinners this week:
– cheesy chicken with brussels sprouts
– Mexican spiced salmon with black rice, avocado, and orange salad.
– Lebanese lamb and beef arayes with broccoli
– chicken and mashed potatoes with maple carrots
Stay warm this week!