veggie tricks

plated

Since I last posted about plated.com, I’ve ended up cooking almost twenty dishes through them! I’ve also gifted plates to several people in place of making them meals myself. At this stage in my life, they are my favorite takeout place and my favorite-recipe-for-a-friend rolled into one.

I thought I’d post a couple tricks they used, ones I liked so much that I use on my own now.

Broccoli: My favorite part was their suggestion to break the broccoli off leaving longer stem pieces. The stem are delicious roasted! Toss the broccoli with olive oil, sprinkled with grated pecorino or parmesan cheese, and roast at 450 for ten minutes.

Cucumber ribbons: I had never tried this before but it was such an elegant way to serve cucumber. Plated had me toss them with a tahini dressing, but next time I’m going to try what my friend suggested on Instagram–salt and light vinegar. As a child I loved marinated cucumber but I had completely forgotten about it.

Citrusy Carrot Hash: Saute diced onions in olive oil for five minutes. Add diced carrots and three tablespoons water and saute them for ten minutes. Add the juice of one orange and one lemon to the pan, and let cook for two more minutes. Stir one tablespoon butter at the end. Delicious!

 

plated, a review

My mom is both very generous and very tech savvy. She frequently laments that she does not live closer to help me out more. Thus it was not a shocking surprise but still a super pleasant one when I found a gift for four dinners from plated in my inbox. Mayhaps she had seen a recent Facebook post wherein I basically swore off cooking dinner until Joan was two.

plated_box

I immediately clicked onto their site and selected two dinners to be shipped for that Tuesday. Lamb burgers with a greek salad side, and broccoli chicken curry. I specifically picked two things that I wish I cooked with more frequently–lamb and curry.

Obviously I was immediately smitten with having everything neatly labeled and divided. I think the cooking channel has made us all long for that:

plated_ingredients

The only thing either dish needed from my pantry was olive oil, salt and pepper. Both dishes were designed to be prepped in about thirty minutes.

The whole family really liked both dinners and I particularly liked that the easy recipes taught me a few techniques. For example–the lamb burgers came with directions to quick pickle red onions, mix feta into the mayonnaise, and lightly toast the buns beforehand. All of these were easy things that completely upgraded the dish, things that I typically wouldn’t think to do. I had an aha! moment when I read “Wipe pan clean from burgers. Return to heat and briefly toast buns in the pan.” So simple, yet I never do it.

plated_side_salad

I love cookbooks, I read them all the time. I love trying new recipes. But I appreciated the user-friendly aspect of something like this. I think it’s perfect for people who say “I’m terrible at cooking.” Or for a young single guy who wants to cook at home, but has no idea where to start. You could do a couple weeks of this, and go forth feeling like you know what you’re doing and have some serious experience under your belt. For me, it helped me snap out of the “whaaat do I make tonight?” rut that I was knee deep in.

They ship to a surprising number of places (like, Pennsylvania, Iowa and California!) which makes them a potentially awesome Christmas present.

And for those of you googling this stuff–there is another service out of New York called Blue Apron. Here’s the skinny on a couple of the differences between these competitors. 1/ The menu for plated changes every week, and you can decide your order up to 24 hrs before it ships. 2/ Blue Apron is $3-5 cheaper per plate, but you do not get to pick the food, you just pick whether it is vegetarian or not. 3/ plated has an optional monthly membership that discounts each plate. Blue Apron is cheaper overall, but requires you to receive a certain amount of dishes each week.

I’ve still got two more dinners to order–I’m eyeing those potato goat cheese cakes for next week! This isn’t sponsored, just a personal review. BUT do note: if you use a referral code to sign up, you get two free plates!

Blue Bottle Tips

chemexfrench_press_grind moka_brushstovetopfrench_press_time

Extremely enlightening things I learned while browsing Blue Bottle Coffee’s brewing guides:

  • French Press coffee should only sit/brew for four minutes
  • Pour all of the coffee out of the French Press as soon as it’s done brewing
  • Pour-over coffee should take 2.5-3 minutes of pouring to brew
  • A Moka Pot (Italian stovetop) is best done with already hot water
  • Pulling a perfect espresso shot is an art form.

The writing is a little snobby, but in a charming hopeless-nerd way. The photography is amazing. And the knowledge (particularly that French Press bit) is transformative. Nice website, guys!

favorite podcasts

One of my favorite things about living in the year 2013 is podcasts. Among my favorites:

  • spilled milk which is like having two giggly foodie pals over for dinner on the back porch
  • the sounds in my head which is like listening to the hippest radio station with a goofy self-deprecating DJ and no ads!
  • the writer’s almanac which, though just five minutes long, is like drinking a large glass of pinot noir while looking at the mountains
  • the longest shortest time which is like talking on the phone to your funny best friend about how your baby won’t stop crying and having your friend successfully calm you down and make you laugh.

I want to highlight the longest shortest time as I have a bunch of readers who are new moms and because she’s just launched two cool campaigns.

The first: free cards that you can send for to jump start conversations in playgroups, library meet-ups, drop off at your OB’s office, pin on the bulletin board at your local playground, and the like. Printed on heavy card stock with funny quotes from the show, they are beautifully done:

longest_shortest_time

Read more about those and order them for free right here.

And: she just launched a kickstarter campaign so she can afford to begin a whole new season of episodes. I love Hillary’s style–she has a wonderfully relaxed way of interviewing and asking all the questions you hope she’ll ask. One of my favorite episodes had personal interviews with the two sides of the sleep-training debate. It was so refreshing for me to hear it all hashed out like that. I think once you have the chance to listen to a few episodes, you’ll be pledging for a second season, just like I did!

by the way, I use Apple’s free podcast app to easily download and listen to podcasts on my iphone when I’m cleaning up the kitchen, driving, or walking around in circles waiting for Joan to fall asleep.

 

Endless Diaper Boondoggle

honest_diaper_co

By my calculation we spend about $80 every two months on diapers for each girl. Quite a bit of money. So I think it makes sense that early on in diaper purchasing I became a bit neurotic about where I was buying them from. I’m not sure if it helped or hurt that each diaper supplier helps you break it down by giving you the per-diaper cost. For the first year, I used Amazon’s “gift” of prime membership to all new moms and bought from them. Then I started buying them from Whole Foods because Amazon started charging for shipping, and I liked the Whole Foods ones better anyway. They were $.30 each.

Briefly I attempted diapers.com but I got really sick of their whole email-discount-code song and dance. They force you to keep up with their emails and hunt through them for coupons. And then some months, the coupons just mysteriously disappear and you pay 20% more than you did last time. No thank you, crappy business practices. (incidentally diapers.com is owned by Amazon, which just feels like another mind game.)

I looked at Honest Diapers at the time but found them quite expensive. I don’t know if I wasn’t doing the math right or if they dropped their prices, but I’ve since revisited them and now they seem like the best deal in town.

honest_diapers

I like how nicely their website is designed and how easy it is to work with their interface. I like that when I call them to change or last-minute-delay an order I get a happy American on the other end of the line. I like that they send me two warning emails before they ship. I like the fun graphics on the diapers that gives Lux a distracting conversation topic when I’m changing her diaper. I like that they try to make their diapers as low-an-impact on the environment as possible (though at this point, several brands do that, so it’s not a distinguishing factor). I like that all of their employees appear to enjoy working there, unlike Amazon. And they are a certified B corporation which looks at how a company treats their employees, health care options, workspace design, environmental impact, etc. (incidentally if I care about things like ‘certified B corporation status,’ I should stop nickel and diming everything right there, probably.)

Lux’s size 4 works out to $.43 each. But they include four packages of wipes with each order, which you can value at a minimum of $10. So then it’s $.37 per diaper. Whole Foods for her current size is $.35 each, but then I have to get them home from the store myself. Seventh Generation via diapers.com is $.36. is this getting neurotic enough yet?

 What is my point here? That basically all diapers cost the same amount and if I’ve found a company that has at least two or three practices that distinguish themselves, it’s worth sticking with them.

What do you think? Have you obsessively broken down these pros and cons too? Who’s your favorite vendor? Am I missing anything obvious? This is not a sponsored post at all, but I have linked to Honest Diapers with my account’s code, so I would get an initial credit if you signed up from this post, just fyi.

And for you cloth-diapering mommas: I’m with you! We just operate from a laundromat right now, so it doesn’t work. But someday!

honest_diapers_co

oh life

Because each day of My First Week is uniquely woven with its own challenges, such as:

  • go outside
  • go outside and go to the pediatrician
  • go outside, get caught in rainstorm, find out Joan hates rainstorms
  • drive to the midwife and gently rear-end someone and resolve that midst newborn screams
  • go the grocery store with one in the cart and one in the sling
  • (and it’s only Wednesday!)

…I’ve been trying to jot down daily life notes more frequently. Of course this is the same goal I’ve had for awhile, and to that end I’ve used this easy set-up offered by Oh Life since last year:

ohlife

Nice notes, but tragically widely interspersed, right? Once you sign up, Oh Life emails you at the end of every day and asks “How’d your day go?” Just respond to the email and they compile it all for you in a pseudo-journal (skeuomorphism!) style. Despite all our complaining, the internet is still full of great free things, I think.

It’s decompressing for me too. I find that the wonderful moments bob to the surface of my memory once I’ve written down a few of the more embarrassing and chaotic ones. For example, in the case of the unexpected rainstorm: after we arrived at our friends house totally drenched with Joan screaming, I settled on to their couch and watched Lux learn to cut out hearts and airplanes in sugar cookie dough. Soon it smelled like baking cookies and my sling, Lux’s shorts, and bunny (of course) were spinning in their dryer, and I decided I didn’t need to go to the grocery store that day after all.

And that’s really all this week adds up to, I think. Feeling embarrassed, exposed, disorganized, messy, and learning to love it or ignore it, as the case might call for.

houseguests strangers

I posted our apartment to homexchange.com a few months ago, hoping some Romans would want to houseswap with us. No Romans want to, but everyone else does. We’ve received requests from Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, Bermuda, Iceland, Spain, Florida….seriously if we had a million frequent flyer miles, I would say yes to all of these offers!

Nothing has happened yet; except that one time a French family stayed at our apartment over Christmas! Here’s what happened: I eagerly set it up via email, Joe comes home from work, he reminds me we don’t have any plans to go to France, just Italy. Ah yes good point.

So I say, “Hey why don’t you come after all? We won’t be here anyway. Maybe bring us a bottle of champagne and we’ll call it even.” We had one Skype conversation in which I ascertained that they were perfectly normal people who were not going to auction our belongings on craigslist while we were gone, and the deal was made. And so Bindu and her husband and her little daughter came to stay in Beacon Hill for New Years.

We cleaned the sheets and tidied the bathroom, set out fresh towels, locked the door, and hid the keys for them. When we returned, the apartment was cleaner than I’d ever seen it in my life, and they left all sorts of surprise gifts for us—duplos for Lux, champagne, red wine, French chocolates. I think they might have ironed our bedspread because it looked brand new.

Bindu wrote out little notes to explain all the gifts. The most surprising one was the foie gras–I known I’ve eaten this before, but only in the tiniest doses, and never with the fig jam and sweet wine that she recommended. Joe and I have split the jar for two dinners now, alongside a baguette.

So, I learned 1/ how to be a much better houseguest in the future. Now I want to always leave gifts, especially local treats from where you’re from. 2/ It was pretty neat to know someone was enjoying our stuff while we were away. Bindu wrote that her daughter loved all of Lux’s toys, and they found our apartment warm and comfortable. I thought, “yes, I do too!”

Would you be brave and let strangers stay in your home?

 

comments for the better!

I switched ED comments to the disqus platform (pronounced “discuss”) because I want them to take over the internet.

I like this whole commenting-on-websites-idea more if all the comments I make, ever, are accessible in one place to check back on, follow up, and deliver that last minute zinger before fleeing the scene. I also want my profile to be clearly connected to the social media of my choice, like my blog and my Twitter, in one place (though this is not so good for fleeing the scene).

And it seems like disqus is doing this best right now. I see it on company websites, I see it on tumblr, and I see it on wordpress. I don’t see it on blogger much, but it could be there, if you wanted it. United!

But I dooo apologize for the hassle of creating a new profile, if you haven’t worked with them yet.

Sapphire Preferred

I promise I’m not getting paid to tell you this. but i should be. It’s about this credit card we’ve had for the past couple months. Chase Sapphire Preferred. We signed up because they have this promotion going: if you spend $3,000 on the card in the first three months, they will give you 40,000 points. We’re not very good with frequent flyer miles, points, perks, gold star 4life programs and like, but we thought we’d give it a try.

So we got a card just in my name, put everything on it and lo: 40,000 bonus points appeared! Most of which I just used to buy flights home for Christmas that would have cost $400!

Now we’re going to get a card in Joe’s name and do the same thing. Besides the free airplane rides, I thought Chase’s online banking was easy to understand and their online flight booking operation was really nice, like, nicer than some of the airlines’.

So, if you’re in the market and not dangerously misled by balancing credit card balance and bank account balance (having never had credit cards in our marriage, I was not so good with that and became a little overwhelmed by the idea of owing money!) I recommend checking it out.

The photo above is a somewhat related, it’s Kate Bingaman Burt’s illustrated and letterpressed bill from her Chase credit card that she eventually payed off.