Good morning, America! I can’t tell if COVID Mondays are worse (because the proverbial weekend will never come) or easier because they’re hardly different from any other day. I wish I had anything interesting to report, but I sat around knitting and bingeing Gossip Girl all weekend so I’m even boring myself. The weather where I live is going to inch into the 40s and 50s this week, which may sound horrible to people in most climates, but in New England? It’s a mitzvah after a cold and snowy winter.
Stay warm, stay safe, and as King Diamond would say, stay heavy!
I just found out that Jenna Lyons has a show and I may need to reconsider my disdain for all reality-based television series.
I bought this bag bundle during their 25% off Valentine’s Day sale because I’m obsessed with jinxing myself. I am truly like two purchases away from becoming a Victorian ghost, haunting the moors while my soul is trapped between earth and the afterworld.
I caved. In my defense, it took almost a year to get me to crack. And yes, I had a coupon code.
There is no one I stan harder than Deb from Smitten Kitchen, so when I was on a cooking tear on Saturday, I made this macaroni & cheese and these brownies. I slightly burned the brownies because I got distracted after turning the timer off (never do this if you have ADHD!), but overall my kitchen was the place to be this weekend. Don’t worry—I served roasted broccoli to balance out the utter lack of nutritional value.
I just started using this toothbrush. I’ve been using their flat body scrubber for ages, having received it in a subscription box. Loving this anti-microbial eco option! I’m a really vigorous brusher, so I’m skeptical of any toothbrush that boasts a replacement head (quip utterly failed me), but these are actually up to the task! And the best part is that they only need to be replaced twice a year and are recyclable.
I might get a few of these to brighten up a room I’m redecorating. Definitely a different style for me! This one isn’t as much my taste, but goes perfectly with the color scheme.
So, I caved and finally tried Blue Apron. I got a hell of a deal, too. Some of my favorite podcasts (like SMNTY!) are sponsored by Blue Apron, so I used one of their promo codes to get $30 off.
But then I chickened out. I’ve talked too much smack about meal services! I cook every damn day. It’s 24/7 gourmet in my house. I couldn’t sell out like that. (My inner monologue is really modest, huh?)
But then I got an e-mail offering a promotional code for $40 off. Which means I’d get the first week (3 meals for 2!) for $19.99. How was I supposed to resist that? Plus, I’d just gotten an influx of cash from my bridal shower and I figured that the brand new fancy flatware and new dishes deserved some thoughtful meals to go with them.
As I mentioned before, I’ve talked some smack about the concept of Blue Apron. Like, the notion that I wouldn’t already have basic healthy ingredients in my house is borderline insulting. But I can really see how, to someone who doesn’t share my rabid obsession for cooking, it is a really useful leg-up. The recipes are insanely easy to follow and meal-prep is pretty minimal. And they have a vegetarian meal-plan without being judge-y or charging extra (although let’s be real—vegetarian meals are way cheaper!)
Night One:Spicy Peperonata Pasta with Tinkerbell Peppers, Cherry Tomatoes, & Pine Nuts
I’ve got to hand it to them—this recipe was sensationally delicious. I didn’t even know Perciatelli pasta existed, and now that I’ve seen the light, I’m never buying spaghetti again. I’ve also wasted 25 years not putting capers in my red sauces—never again will I be so remiss.
Apart from these beautiful innovations, however, I felt a little stifled by the recipe. Me being me, I…improved upon this already solid recipe by adding sliced white onion into the base of the sauce, and replacing about 1/2 cup of the liquid with white wine. I also neglected to wipe out the pan after toasting the pine nuts, as any residue (I assumed) would add a lovely flavor profile to the foundation of the sauce. I was also able to cut the prep time in half with what I call “building”: instead of slicing the vegetables/ingredients ahead of time, I add ingredients to the pan one at a time prepping as I go, starting with onions and then moving to firmer vegetables and herbs. I am not what you call a “mise-en-place” chef.
All in all, it was a really positive experience, despite my incredulous Snap Story—they included a tiny baggie of pre-measured-out red pepper flakes &parmesan cheese! Who doesn’t have a jar of red pepper flakes and a block of parm in the house at all times?
Stats for Peperonata Pasta
Skill level: First time at the rodeo
Day Two: Summer Vegetable & Quinoa Bowls with Fairy Tale Eggplants, Shishito Peppers, & Corn
I ended up making this dish as a late lunch the following day. I figured since it was so veggie-heavy it would be a perfect midday meal. I had some leftover zucchini from the farmer’s market, so I added it into the recipe. I also went a little heavy on the rice vinegar and olive oil in the dressing to accommodate the extra veggie volume. Apart from those additions, I followed the recipe perfectly, which is almost impossible for me to do!
The bowls came out delicious, but I’m wishing that I had had my way with them. I’d definitely have added a clove of minced garlic to the dressing and some lightly-cooked sliced red onions to the top as a garnish. I think chopped basil might have also been a lovely addition. Ooh, or fresh cilantro!
It was great to use shishito peppers, an ingredient I’d never even heard of before. The eggplants were also fabulous! Eggplant is such an iffy veggie for me. I love it in a Parm, or in a seasoned “meat” -ball, but on its own the texture is usually slimy and icky. The large dice and the light sauté was transformative!
Even though this wasn’t a knock-out dish, it really gave me some big ideas. Cold marinated cucumbers on top of a hot bowl of vegan goodness? Sheer madness—but it worked. I paired it with a local rosé from the farmer’s market because apparently they sell wine at the farmer’s market every other week! So resentful of working every Saturday, I can’t even tell you.
Stats for Quinoa Bowls
Skill level: Beginner
Night Three:Couscous-Stuffed Zucchini with Goat Cheese & Summer Squash Salad
This dish was 50 shades of divine. Seriously ingenious. I’ll be making this frequently. I had a bunch of organic fresh green beans leftover from the farmer’s market so I added them in for more green-ness. The more veggies in any given meal, the better.
This menu was a little more involved than the others (it took a baking dish, a pan, and a pot!), but still was a breeze to whip up. I can’t believe how incredibly simple the vinaigrette was! Just lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. One of the best salad dressings I’ve ever had. The warm veggies on the cold arugula was a delight—something I’d never have thought of. Also, shallots! I love me a shallot! Shallots: garlic’s onion-y cousin. It’s truly a perfect food.
I was so pleased with this dish. I can’t extoll its virtues enough. The light, citrus-y flavor of the vinaigrette juxtaposed with the richness of the goat cheese made this the perfect summer dinner.
Stats for Couscous-Stuffed Zucchini
Skill level: Begin-termediate
I think, overall, Blue Apron is an awesome service that promotes healthy eating and cooking. Not everyone has access to the incredible resources that people in more urban areas have (half the country is a food desert!) and organic produce isn’t growing in everyone’s backyard. My hope is that the people who use this service will gain skills that then translate to mindful grocery shopping, meal-planning, and more time in the kitchen.
They could definitely be more mindful about packaging, though. I know you can’t stick a block of butter in a paper sack, but there was so, so much plastic. There’s got to be a better way! Compostable containers, maybe? I’m going to reuse those insane giant ice packs that come in the bottom of the box for sure. They do include recycling instructions on their site, so at least they’re aware of the issue.
Also, vegan/gluten-free/allergy-conscious recipes! Some of the recipes accidentally fit the bill, but there isn’t a menu or option that ensures it. I’m sure there are a ton of people that would love to order this service, but can’t because of severe allergies. Inclusivity is everything.
I’m still iffy about whether or not I’ll order another delivery, unless I know in advance that I have a crazy busy week, but I’m glad I tried it. Instead of mocking those that don’t have an innate desire to concoct soup recipes and hone their knife skills, I’m going to do my best to be encouraging. It’s all about spending time in the kitchen! You can cook a Blue Apron meal in less time than it takes to order a pizza, and each meal is packed with nutrition. Anything that gets the average American to get his or her butt in front of the stove to make a mindful meal is good by me!
Have you tried a meal-delivery service? What was your experience like?
I know it’s (probably) a relatively small subset of the population, but as a millenial gal doin’ it for herself, I just do not identify with my homegirls that don’t know how to cook. Occasionally I come across whispers of this in the blogosphere—”Every time I try to cook I almost burn my house down!”—and I don’t understand the impulse to brag about one’s incompetency. I don’t shout into the void about how much I sucked at Pre-Calculus.
This is not a gender issue, by the way. It’s not about girls or women, and I am not policing how someone should be a woman. Men are often even worse offenders, which is why I’ve never understood how chef-dom is such a boys’ club. Some people are just too damn busy to cook, and that’s fiiiiine. But you have to know how. Just the basics! How does one make it through adult life without such a basic skill set?
I, personally, can be excessive. Cooking, for me, is a hobby and a complete joy. I woke up at 5 of 7 the other morning and made doughnuts. I understand that this impulse is not normal, nor should it be. But I don’t exactly come from a point of culinary privilege. I baked with my grandmother as a tiny kid, but my mother didn’t sit me down and painstakingly instruct me in the art of soup-making or whatever. I learned (and continue to learn) everything I need to know from books and the internet, starting when I was about 18 and became interested in providing for myself.
My fiancé on the other hand—oh boy. I often wonder how he keeps from starving to death when I’m at work. His mother, the wonderful minha sogra, is a badass cook who continues to frequently send food over, so he never had to learn. He once literally fucked up while making tea. He poured the water through the whistle hole in the spout and wondered why it made a dribbling mess.
How and what people feed themselves has long been a fascination of mine. I’ll read or watch any book or documentary about the food industry, cooking, or food culture that I can get my hands on. As I’ve often said, Michael Pollan is my Elvis.
Making the time to cook is the only way to gain complete control over your nutrition. I want to know the source of everything I put into my body. I can’t advocate for cooking enough. But don’t listen to me! Listen to some of these smart people who know things!
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, Michael Pollan
This book changed my life. I think I was 22 when I read it, and newly living with Michael. As the chef of the house and primary food-provider in general, I was cured of so many bad habits by Pollan’s prose. Pollan is not a vegetarian, but advocates for a predominantly plant-based diet based on years of research. He’s written a ton on the subject, but this book goes into the FDA, “food science,” and marketing.
He also has a Netflix docu-series called Cooked that is so inspiring!
The motto? *Drake voice* “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer
Not for the faint of heart. If you like your pets, you might come out of this read a vegetarian. The backstory is that JSF was about to become a father and, saddled with the new responsibility of feeding a living, breathing, separate human, went out and investigated the food industry’s impact on us, animals, and the environment. The nice thing about this book is that it’s not preachy, at all. At no point does explicitly advocate ditching animal products from your diet. It’s a just-the-facts-ma’am presentation. I use the chapter on the fishing/trawling industry constantly as a justification for why I don’t eat seafood (other than its vile taste and smell).
Skinny Bitch, Rory Friedman & Kim Barnouin
Skinny Bitch has definitely been put through the ringer, and at this point in my life, I’m not completely down with their message (they recommend imitation meat products, which is so beginner-level and not my style) but this book woke me the eff up when I was a teenager. I am aware that advocating for thinness is behind the times, but the title is misleading. It’s a book about veganism, health, and the heinous conditions of factory farming—the inflammatory title just created a buzz (smart marketing). A note: this book was published before everyone started carrying almond milk, so take their suggestions with a grain of salt.
Today marks a somewhat historic day for me: I attended all of my classes, submitted a homework assignment on time, and am in really good shape to catch up with this semester’s work! I’m actually excited to write a law paper on Plato’s Apology of Socrates. I might actually. freaking. graduate. It’s getting so real.
So, logically, rather than, y’know, study for Art History, I decided to clean the crap out of my apartment. It is amazing what accumulates in your fridge and freezer when you’re not paying attention…Let’s just say that, despite our super-green recycle-mania, we’ll have a full bag of trash this week.
Some useful stuff, like organizing my office, happened. But some fun stuff happened too.
When I moved into Fig’s place, his cabinets were *sorta* decorated with random glassware, and I managed to go almost 3 years without realizing that they are perfectly rainbow-colored! Elsie Larson of A Beautiful Mess has an incredible rainbow-colored glass collection that has been a total inspiration. It was so nice to be able to start my own with “found objects” (which is what I call all of Fig’s pre-Chelsea possessions, basically).
Also, cleaning out your fridge and cabinets can be really inspiring…for cooking, that is. I invented a sauce that I kind of want to call “béchamelized”, but I don’t know that anyone would get it. Caramelized onions and cauliflower, white wine, butter, and parmesan cheese instead of flour. 2 legit 2 quit.
I served it over pierogies and wilted spinach because LIFE IS AMAZING.
When you have 3 full-time jobs (retail worker, 15-credit college student, & homemaker/housekeeper/adult-I-guess?), there’s very little pure “me-time”, so getting to do some redecorating and creative cooking was so refreshing.
What fills your “me-time”?
P.S. I’m calling 3.18.16 the day I finally committed to Snapchat. I’m @highwaytochel over there. Story is fiiiiire right now.
P.P.S. Just in case the title reference isn’t clear…
Despite my literal green thumb (courtesy of Essie Mojito Madness), I am notorious for killing every plant I come into contact with. That’s why the fact that these little buddies are still kicking is an immense personal triumph. Thankfully, my boyfriend is more thoughtful and attentive than I am–he’s their main source of water.
The weather was super gloomy in the Boston area today, so comfort food and comfort music are absolute essentials. For dinner, I’m preparing a braised lentil dish, adapted from an incredible recipe that can be found here: Braised Lentils & Vegetables.
It’s simmering away on the stovetop right now, and the whole house smells like soup, which is basically happiness manifest. I also picked up a bottle of vinho verde at Trader Joe’s, and, as an aspiring Portuguese person, I’m in bubbly heaven right now.
Much like the smell of soup can evoke feelings of warmth and contentment, there are certain pieces of music that can feel like wrapping a soft blanket around yourself. Lately, I have not been able to get Sufjan Stevens’ “Eugene,” from his most recent album, Carrie and Lowell, out of my head. It is 2 minutes and 24 seconds of pure sweetness. Despite the heavy Christian imagery and influence in much of Sufjan’s music, his genius art has resonated with me deeply for the past ten years. The new album is so spare and haunting, yet imbued with so much hope and positivity. It is so vulnerable and human that it almost takes on its own life. “Eugene” finds Sufjan reminiscing about his childhood upon the death of his stepfather. Despite the gravity of the subject and the yearning refrain, “I just wanna be near you,” the song is strangely uplifting. Or maybe Sufjan is just tricking us with major chords. Who knows?
In any case, it’s worth listening to “Eugene.” And then buying Carrie and Lowell. And everything else he’s ever released. Hey, Asthmatic Kitty, can you hire me for PR?