Tag Archives: food

Review: HelloFresh

I accidentally kept us from having to forage for food during the pandemic!  On a whim in early March, I signed up for HelloFresh using a great $90 off coupon (spread over 4 boxes).  Our first box was nearly free, and I figured at the time it might inject some variety into our supper routine.

Who knew that within a few days of our first box arriving, nearly everything in America would shut down?

What started as a simple experiment became a grocery lifeline for us. We even tried it out for an elderly relative (too much meal prep for her to handle, so we’re going to try TopChef next).

*Get $40 off your first HelloFresh box with this link

HelloFresh: The good stuff

  • Someone else answers the wearying question of “what’s for supper tonight!”  This ended up being a genuine benefit, as we’ve eaten so much at home for the past two months of quarantine that we would have been really bored with our usual supper routine, good as it was.
  • Each meal includes a good shot of protein, vegetables, and a relatively healthy carb.  The quality of the meat is quite good.  Also, some items like finely ground beef or chopped raw chicken really speed up meal prep, far more than standard ground beef or having to dice something yourself before you start cooking.
  • You can throw extra groceries into your box. You’re already getting it shipped to your door, so might as well add some extra ground beef or chicken, a salad kit, or some garlic bread to round out a meal or knock out a quick lunch.
  • Replaces curb-side pickup for major meals.  My area isn’t urban enough for Instacart and other door-delivery grocery services, so this gets us more than halfway through a week.  This goes along with being able to get food to your house without having to go out shopping, and we really appreciated how much this helped us keep quarantine when Covid19 was on the rise in our county. 
  • The portions are large enough that we are full after eating a HelloFresh meal. For me, anyway. You aren’t going to get anything extra from a 2-person meal for 2 people, but you won’t go hungry either unless you’re a really big eater.
  • Meal variety is good.  We started seeing repeat recipes in about 4 weeks, but they tend to have 20+ recipes up at any one time, and we’ve hardly found anything we genuinely didn’t like.  There are always at least 3 vegetarian options, plus several meals using chicken, beef, pork, and fish.  You pay extra for steak, salmon, and other higher-cost items (optional recipes).
  • Interface is easy.  The phone app is great; the web login works great too.  I had no problems figuring out how to add meals, subtract them, pause my box for the week, etc.
  • Options for pausing or canceling subscription.  Although you do need to remember to set up your meals several days in advance (otherwise, you’ll get the standard recipes, and we always want to swap some out), you can easily push “pause” on HelloFresh for many weeks at a time.  So if you wanted just one week a month of planned meals but be on your own the rest of the month, you could manage your deliveries to accomplish this.
  • The recipes are easy to follow, even if you aren’t an experienced cook. If you’re helping to launch a teen or young adult into their own living space, you might consider giving them a few weeks of HelloFresh along with a good cutting board, a sturdy knife set, and a couple key pots and pans. They’d be eating well and learning while doing it!
  • The random stuff you never have in your pantry is included in the meal package.  I don’t have a knob of ginger around or a squirt of concentrated chicken stock when I need just a tablespoon.  The only stuff you need to add to HelloFresh recipes are butter or oil (nearly all the time), salt & pepper (all the time), and occasionally sugar.
  • The delivery box really does keep the food cold for 24 hours or more.  Those freezer packs and box liners really work!  We also saved a couple and re-froze them to use as a day cooler recently, with zero conscience about throwing out the box instead of hauling it back home (as if it were our actual cooler).
  • Customer Service has been good.  I had an issue with a box early in our subscription.  I couldn’t get through the phone line (this was at the height of the Covid19 outbreak, so things were nuts). I used the chat feature online and rapidly got an agent, and help with my problem. They fixed the delivery issue, sent out a new box ASAP, and credited my account to boot.

Nice perk:  Aside from just the sheer variety of food and reduced mental load of planning meals — which has been much more valuable  during corona-living than I’d expected — HelloFresh makes it easy to experiment with international foods and flavors (Thai, Korean, Mexican) in your own kitchen without dropping $100 extra bucks in the international foods section to pick up the side items required for less-common recipes.

So – is HelloFresh the perfect solution? Well, no. Everything brings tradeoffs, and I’d say there are a few key downsides. 

HelloFresh: The downsides

  • The cost:  Our average box of 3-5 meals for 2 people runs $75-100 per week.  Granted, sometimes that box has 4 or 5 meals in it.  And food prices have really shot up lately, so you’d have to hit 3 or 4 store sales plus have a really well stocked pantry to cook the same menu for much less.  So I don’t think HelloFresh prices are at all unreasonable given the convenience you’re paying for.  But this is not cheap eating.
    **You do end up with a more cost-effective box if you’re buying for 4 people. The meals aren’t double the cost when you double the size.  We did 4-person meals for a few weeks, and it was nice to have leftovers or have a friend over for dinner (pre-corona) and know we’d have enough. 
  • The packaging waste: HelloFresh works hard to use only recyclable packaging, and you can fully recycle their boxes, liners, and freezer packs (if you first pour out the gel).  But every week you’re getting 1-2 big boxes and all the interior packaging.  It’s a little overwhelming.  Also, every individual meal item (aside from vegetables) is packed in its own little wrapper. You will use your kitchen scissors 100 times (that’s what it feels like) to cook any given meal.
      HelloFresh says there’s less overall climate impact from having a box of groceries delivered than what you spend in gas and packaging buying stuff from grocery stores yourself.  That’s probably true, but it doesn’t change the shift in responsibility. You’re going to be throwing out a lot of packaging.
  • The freshness of the vegetables is hit or miss:  While I have been very happy with the protein and spices and accessories as well as the customer service for HelloFresh, I’m sometimes really disappointed by the quality of the vegetables. Carrots in particular seem to expire much faster than any carrots I buy myself.  Also, if you decide to stock up on 3-4 meals in a given week but aren’t planning to eat some of them for 4-6 days, you should strategically plan to eat meals with tender herbs (cilantro) and perishable vegetables before others which can hold out longer (like potatoes).
          Also have to note that HF tomatoes are just the saddest thing. If you’re out and about and can hit a farmer’s market for a fresh summer tomato, plan on swapping out the HF tomatoes for ones with actual flavor, at least in the summer!
  • You have to cook.  There are days when I’m tired from work and my spouse has been busy all day too, and we just aren’t in the mood for 10 minutes of chopping plus 20-30 minutes of cooking.  If we get too reliant on HF, we end up having to do takeout because we don’t have the supplies for a quick weeknight supper. Moral of the story: HF is not going to turn you into a supper-cooker if you aren’t already willing to cook. Also, keep some food in your pantry!
  • Recipe prep: If you’ve got two people to split up the work, it goes much faster.  But every recipe starts with several things to chop and prep, and once you’re into the cooking, sometimes you need three hands.  I do think HelloFresh has streamlined their recipes and I always know what to do. But … you need to be up for it.
  • Calorie counts are high if you aren’t picking low-cal recipes. You can control this if you pay attention to the recipes, but EVERYTHING uses oil and 1-2 T of butter. Those calories are really adding up.  I can’t blame HF entirely for my quarantine weight gain, but it’s definitely a factor.

None of these are deal-breakers to me.  The fact that we’ve done HelloFresh for over two months is testament to the quality of their meals.  But we recognize that we are lucky enough to have the privilege of extra income right now to do a meal box service, as we’re both still employed.

Bottom line

This was the best time to try a meal box service.  Little did we know.  I am going to try Gobble this week (we paused HF) and see how they compare.  We could probably run through all the meal service options using their coupons, but HelloFresh is one of the least expensive on the market, and we’ve liked the mix of flavor and quality.

If you want to give HelloFresh a shot after reading this, my link will give you $40 off your first box. It’s easy to cancel — set yourself a reminder to manage your HF account after you’ve gotten your first box and decide if you want to keep going.

HelloFresh meal kit review May 2020
May 2020 review of HelloFresh meal kit delivery service

Make Better Coffee

So this post is going to border on “pretentious,” but not because I *want* to be pretentious about coffee. I just think the Bean Of Life™ deserves utmost respect and honor.

Also, we made coffee wrong for YEARS. I’m here to help you avoid my mistake – and up your coffee game to 💯.
via GIPHY

Hey! Good coffee is affordable

Great coffee has to start at the bean. You know that, I know that — but probably neither of us can afford to buy free range artisanal locally roasted coffee.  Granted, when I’m down for a splurge, we go for our local roaster‘s Tanzanian Peaberry.  But that’s special.

Our daily coffee is Trader Joe’s Dark Roast – we buy it whole-bean in the can when we’re at the store 45 minutes away (we go biweekly to stock up on bacon, chocolate, coffee, wine, and cheese – lol).

  • Grinding it ourselves means it’s fresher than pre-ground. If you ignore everything else in this post, buy yourself a grinder and whole-bean coffee of any kind. It’ll be an improvement.
  • TJ’s offers a 14oz can for about $8. It lasts us a week or so, depending on our coffee consumption.  We usually pick up one of the others and alternate for variety’s sake. (We drink coffee every morning and about every other afternoon, two sizable mugs.)
  • Joe’s Dark is consistently an even, solid flavor. It’s not complex. This isn’t the $40 wine kind of coffee, it’s the $5 Chianti that consistently tastes good with whatever you put on the table, and it’s cheap enough that you don’t mind drinking it every day.  It never tastes “sour” or bitter when we make it,  and is pretty forgiving if you add too much or too little.

Most of the coffee snobs on the internet (eg: Thrillist) disagree with us on this one, but oh well.  We know what we know, morning after morning.

You can buy TJ’s Dark Roast or any of their coffees at Trader Joe’s of course, but Amazon somehow carries this too?  – but it’s more expensive than in the store

Other good coffees we often use:

  • Komodo Dragon by Starbucks is consistently tasty. It doesn’t seem to have the “burnt” taste so common for Starbucks beans, and it’s delicious made through our quick pour-over method below.  If I get a Starbucks coupon, I use it on this or maybe blonde roast or Verona – we have good luck with those. Ditto the Christmas blend.
  • DazBog is a Western coffee roaster that nails it with great, bold flavor!  We have friends in Denver who spoil us by sending us DB coffee at Christmas, and let me tell you, we make every single bean count!
  • Counter Culture coffee is a hit in our local area, and we enjoy their brews at local shops. They ship nationwide and you can find their coffees in many places.
Make better coffee
Making Dazbog thanks to friends who shipped us some beans from Denver! You can see our Bodum in the back left, behind our faithful coffee grinder.

A better process for your morning brew

Here’s where you’re going to fight me. “I don’t have time for this! I need the coffee maker to click on by itself in the morning and run on its own!”

I get it; it’s hard to get rolling at 6am. Lord knows I haven’t willingly worked jobs that demand such a schedule unless I had my arm twisted. But YOU CAN DO THIS.

We use a Bodum, the filter that came with it (reusable), and a coffee grinder.  You’ll also need a water kettle.  Our picks are below.

Our Process: Perfect coffee every time

Step 1: Boil water – a couple minutes. I can eyeball it on the carafe, but you can pour water into your coffee mug and then from the mug into the water-pot or teapot until you get the knack.  And you’ve got a few minutes during this step to finish packing your lunch or whatever …. or start Step 2 (which is what I do).

Step 2: Grind coffee – 15 seconds.  We have learned that it takes “enough coffee beans to cover the center post and the silver edges of our grinder” to get the right amount. You’ll learn to eyeball it too.  Then dump your fresh, wonderful-smelling grounds into the Bodum’s filter, and swipe the inside clean with your brush (below).

Step 3: Bloom — 30 seconds. Slowly pour a couple tablespoons of water over the coffee grounds in the filter, just enough to wet them. Let the aromatics from the coffee punch you in the face. It’s a wake-up call from your sinuses outward.

Click the button on your water pot to keep the water hot (or put the teakettle back on the burner).  Take a 30-second break to stretch high and low. 

Step 4: Pour over — 1 minute.  Slowly pour the nearly-boiling water over the grounds in a slow circle motion. Breathe deeply. Meditate on the good things in your life and what you’re going to get accomplished today after injecting this caffeine into your bloodstream.  You don’t have to pour toooooo slowly, but also, give the water some time to contact with the grounds.

Step 5: Drain – 1 minute.  Get your coffee mug ready, put on your shoes. Once all the coffee has drained through, you have black gold ready for your vessel of choice.

Was that hard?  NO.  

We stumbled on the flavor and excellence of pour-over coffee apart from the hipsters; our coffee pot died and we were desperate one morning. A quick Google search revealed that only Americans use a percolating machine for morning juice. Everyone else (who isn’t making espresso) does some version of a pour over or French press.   And it’s 574738475747 times better! 

Coffee Equipment – our setup

We bought a Bodum, a water boiler, and a coffee grinder. Apart from actual coffee, this is all you need! The Bodum is easy to clean; the water pot is handy for other kitchen uses, and theoretically you could grind spices in the grinder if you keep it clean.

I eventually added a natural bristle brush to use when tapping the ground coffee out of our grinder.  Some coffees are more oily than others, and a brush lets you a) get all the good coffee grains into your filter for brewing and b) clean the grinder with a few quick swipes while you wait for the coffee to drain.

Bodum 34 oz Pour Over Coffee Maker with Permanent Filter

You can often find this Bodum on sale at Starbucks or Target or Amazon for $20 or less, so keep an eye out.  It’s a beautiful shape on its own; the mouth is wide enough to get a brush down in there and clean the thing out; the filter has never let us down and rinses quickly.

You can make 2 huge mugs of coffee in this or 4 small “after dinner” dainty cups of coffee. It holds 1 liter below the collar.

Better Coffee - Bodum

Coffee Grinder

We use the Krups F203 pictured here, but there are many affordable electric grinders available at multiple stores. Heck, wait till Bed Bath & Beyond sends you one of their incessant 20% off coupons through the mail and go pick one out.  Check site reviews first. Our little Krups has performed consistently well for us.

Krups F203 coffee grinder

Electric Kettle

Again, there are a million of these. Read the reviews, use a coupon, wait for an Amazon sale — whatever. We have a B&D model that we like, but anything that boils water quickly will do.  Stovetop teakettles are perfectly fine, though it takes longer to boil the water than with an electric kettle, and the electric models have an auto-shutoff that prevents you from worrying you’ll burn the house down.

Black & Decker electric kettle - make better coffee

Bristle Brush

Look, this costs $4. Buy a brush; it’ll make your life easier and keep your grinder clean.  This one is easy to wash with a little dish soap and water once a week; good as new.

Make better coffee - brush to clean your grinder

 

 


“But what if….”

This looks like work. Why should I buy into this method?

Look. Are you still eating ramen noodles out of a foam container or Kraft Shells & Cheez?  If you answered No, then grow up and make better coffee. It’s not hard and it doesn’t take more than 5 minutes. You waste 5 minutes trying to find your keys.

This looks like a hipster conspiracy.

I know, and I don’t disagree. But if you were a true hipster, you’d be using a Chemex and one of those swan-necked teapots and s l o w l y pouring water over a paper cone filter using only organic locally roasted beans ground by a $200 burr grinder by a Brandon in a beard. Go to your hipster hangout to get that. What I’m suggesting is pouring water over fresh grounds yourself instead of letting some sad machine do it for you and murder all the flavor in the process.

No, really, this is too much.

For goodness sake, buy a French press then!  Throw grounds in the bottom, pour boiling water in, wander off (maybe tell Alexa to set a 4 minute timer).  Come back, plunge, drink. IS THAT STILL TOO HARD?

But I need to make coffee for a small army!

Buy two French presses or Bodums then? Your tea kettle can likely boil 2 quarts, so mass production simply requires twice as much coffee (two batches of grounds) and two vessels. On a busy morning or hectic dinner party, I’d probably go with 1 or 2 of the big French presses instead. Grind, pour, walk away.

I really like my Keurig.

You’re dead to me.    Reason #1   Reason #2

Recipe: Monday Night Fast Whole Grain & Protein Bowls

I don’t remember where I originally got this idea, but I think it was the lucky cross-pollination of one too many Bon Appetit magazines and the discovery of quick-cooking faro at the grocery store, combined with a goal to eat better whole grains and lean proteins in 2019. 

We make these grain bowls on busy weeknights because they come together fast – in less than 30 minutes. If you’re using a leftover protein (literally anything could work here), then you could be done in less than 15.

The secret: this dressing! It packs a lot of flavor and punch. Print off the recipe and take it to the store with you this weekend. You’ll have to invest in some ingredients initially, but they’ll last you for several weeks, bringing the total cost of this recipe into what i consider “great quality food for way less than I’d pay at a restaurant” – and that’s good eats!

Also, you can swap freely — use an oil you have on hand, use a different vinegar, try a new flavor. If it tastes good after you shake it, you’re good to go!

Monday Night Grain Bowl | RameyLady cooks
This grain bowl was made with leftover pork, but we usually go with salmon or another “healthy” fish when we can catch some on sale. This bowl includes quick-cooking faro, fresh spinach and tomatoes, roasted red peppers (from a jar), edamame and cashews, orange slices, and avocado with leftover roast pork loin from the previous day.

Lori’s Monday Night Grain Bowl

Here’s the basic outline:

  1. Start cooking the protein or pull out leftovers
  2. Start cooking the grain (farro, brown rice, etc)
  3. Make the dressing – maybe double it for use again next week
  4. Prep the fresh vegetables, fruit, garnishes
  5. Assemble! Pour a little dressing over every layer, especially the grains so they soak up that flavor!

The Dressing

Make extra and leave it in the frig for next week’s bowl. 

These are proportions, not measurements. Taste and see if it’s good; adjust as needed. If you aren’t sure where to start, try going with 1-2 Tablespoons as your “1” in the 2:1:1 ratio and multiply accordingly.  You’re going to need enough to dress the vegetables, the grain, and the meat, so make enough!

  • SECRET WEAPON OF GOODNESS:  2 parts toasted sesame oil
  • 1 part  flavored olive oil – we use chile oil
  • 1 part sherry vinegar or rice wine vinegar or …use what you’ve got; taste and adjust until it’s tangy and flavorful without being obnoxious
  • 1 part orange or lemon juice – fresh squeezed is nice
  • ½ part srirachaoptional  (lighten up on this if you don’t like hot) – can use any hot sauce that carries flavor as well as heat
  • a few dashes soy sauce or fish sauce or other salty but flavorful dark liquid
  • dash of minced or ground or grated garlic and/or ginger or use a paste that combines both!
  • pinch of salt (if you didn’t use soy sauce)
  • pinch of pepper (fresh ground of course, if you can)
  • pinch of dry aromatic herb- optional — I like oregano or thyme

Tool: Salad dressing shaker — OXO makes an inexpensive one; I use a Tupperware shaker that’s been in my kitchen forever.  Perk: Double the recipe and store the rest for next week. If sealed, it’ll keep for a couple weeks easily.

Cook a Grain

Here’s how we do it: Put ½ cup dried quick-cooking farro* per person (maybe ⅓ cup if you need to stretch it) into a saucepan with 2 cups of water and 1 Tablespoon of Mexican adobo seasoning* or chicken bullion granules.  Cook for 10-12 minutes (per package directions) once it comes to boil. Drain and divide among bowls – we usually pile it in the center, near the spinach.

*We use quick-cooking 10 Minute Farro from Trader Joe’s. It cooks in 10-12 minutes and it’s done! Costs about $2 a bag at TJ.  Link goes to Amazon; you can buy quick-cooking faro in most grocery stores for WAY cheaper than what you’ll pay on Amazon, but at least you’ll see the packaging.

*My store carries Adobo seasoning in the Mexican shelf, but the standard Goya brand is reaaaally salty (which is partly why I use it when cooking the farro).  You can buy organic adobo blends that are less salty, but don’t forget to salt the farro or rice while it cooks.

Assemble your Bowl!

Again, use what you’ve got!  Swap in other fresh salad ingredients or proteins.  We build up from greens to grains to protein, adding a little dressing on every layer, parking produce, citrus, and avocado around the sides of the bowl, then garnishing.

  • 3-5 oz per person of cooked protein – *see below for ideas
  • handful of kale, spinach, arugula or other sturdy fresh green – no iceberg lettuce!
  • ½ cup per person cooked “quick” farro or brown rice (or any cooked, hearty grain)  *see above for notes
  • fresh produce:  we use cherry tomatoes (sliced in half), thin-sliced red or green onion, sliced bell peppers or jarred roasted peppers — pretend you’re making the best salad of snacking vegetables and go at it
  • orange segments or other citrus, optional
  • edamame and/or roasted nuts (almonds or cashews) really add a crunchy punch
  • sliced avocado – also helps cool off the heat from the chile oil and sriracha

*Proteins – We sometimes roast a piece of salmon and split it into 3-4 oz portions for the top of the bowl.  Or pan-sear shrimp.  Or used cooked chicken, pork, or steak that’s been reheated.  You can pan-fry or bake tilapia.  Consider cooking a little extra next time you’re making supper, and plan to use the left-overs in the grain bowl the next day.  If you’re vegetarian, maybe fry an egg on top – that would be delicious!

The key is to think ahead just enough that you have a leftover ready to go or a fast-cooking protein, or maybe a rotisserie chicken from the store on your way home.  And you could make things even faster by cooking rice or wheat berries or farro ahead of time and having them in the frig, ready to reheat, dress, and eat!

Monday Night Grain Bowl | RameyLady cooks

 

Slow-Fried French Fries Recipe | Bon Appetit

I know this is going to sound crazy, but I ran across this slow-fry recipe for making French fries at home a couple years ago, and it’s honestly THE BEST for that one time a year you think, “Hey, I’m going to throw caution and wisdom to the side and actually fry these frozen potato sticks.”

In essence, you dump cold, frozen french fries into a deep pot (I use a thin T-Fal 4-quart pot that I also use for making pasta, because it’s sturdy enough to work well but thin enough to transfer the heat quickly).  Cover the fries with oil,  preferably with an extra inch of oil above the fries.  (I’ve done it with less in a pinch.)  Turn the heat to medium and walk away for about 15 minutes.

From there, you’ll stir the fries occasionally for the next 20-30 minutes as they cook through. Once they’re cooked, crank the heat up to medium high and leave them alone for 10-15 minutes to brown thoroughly and get crispy.

Pull them out (I use tongs) onto paper-toweled racks or baking sheets and salt them.  They end up crunchy and delicious, without spattering grease all over the kitchen (the normal outcome of throwing cold food into a hot fryer). De-lish!

via Slow-Fried French Fries Recipe | Bon Appetit

PS. You can usually get more than one fry-session out of the oil, unless you’ve got weird potatoes coated in seasoning or whatever.  Let the oil cool off on the back of the stove, and later that night (or the next morning), use a funnel to pour the clean oil back into your oil bottle. Leave the bottom layer, because the fry bits will have settled.

As long as you didn’t scorch the fries, you can get another round of frying out of that oil. It’ll be a darker color, but it’s perfectly fine for a second batch.

PPS. This is a great recipe to pair with my favorite Belgian beef stew, using this recipe …   which ranked as one of my favorite discoveries of 2014.  Our local Belgian pub, The Trappe Door (oh how I love them!), serves their flemandes stew with crunchy fries and fry sauces, and it’s lovely.

Advice from my 40-something self to my 20-something self

*taps* Hello? Hellooooo? Is this thing on? (You never know with time travel equipment.)

Ok. I’ve got a chance to send some advice back to my younger self, and I think it’s worth the risks. If I poof out of existence because I tangled the timelines…well, I guess this post will disappear too.

But not before I pass along some good stuff, the hard-earned coin of these past couple decades.

Don’t buy things. Buy experiences.

Young Self, I’ve been sending a lot of your stuff to Goodwill and eBay this year, stuff I bought when I was your age and then didn’t really use much. It’s easy when you’re just starting out in life to buy things that other people use because they seem to be getting so much good use out of them.

Here’s the thing: we Americans are hoarders. We’re consumers. We consume things then leave their discarded husks around to clutter up shelves and closets and the garage. It’s dumb, and it spawns a lot of needless dusting and angst. Let. It. Go.

All you need in your kitchen is …

  • An excellent set of knives. When the Cutco Guy shows up at your door sometime in 2002, make sure you let him in. Yes, the price is outrageous, but good tools cost money. No, you can’t afford it – buy a set anyway. We’ve been using these knives for 15+ years now and I thank Hephaestus for them every single day. We got them re-honed and factory sharpened a couple years ago. I plan to use them till I die, and then my friends can argue over who gets to inherit them.
  • A 12″ cast iron skillet and a 6″ cast iron skillet. You hardly need any other skillets. I don’t know why I waited so long to discover the magic of cast iron, but I’m going to blame it on the stupidity of youth. We make a breakfast scramble in the little one at least once a week and use the big one for nearly everything.
  • An enameled cast iron Dutch oven. This is the other half of my short list of “indispensable cookware.” You can make soup, stew, cacciatore, gravy, roasted meat, braised beef, slow cooked pulled pork….. it’s a magical device. It’s heavy, yeah, but it’s worth it. Make this beer braised pork roast and these carnitas and this Belgian beef stew all year long.  I have the one by Food Network because who has money for LeCruset?
  • Round out the cookware with a heavy sauce pan (I have a great anodized aluminum one from Calphalon), a cheap big pot for pasta (big and thin so it boils fast; mine is left over from a T-Fal set), and a small LeCruset metal enameled pot for making rice or cheesy grits. Any small, heavy pot will get a lot of use.
  • A small supply of high quality tools, preferably ones that do multiple jobs (Alton Brown’s rule). My list includes silicon scrapers and stiff spatulas that resist high heat or work for scraping a batter bowl; wooden spoons for cooking because they can handle high heat and a lot of abuse; a sturdy nylon whisk and a pan whisk (so handy – go buy one), good quality ice cream scoop (this one has held up for at least 15 years) and pie server (Pampered Chef wins here); a citrus reamer (I use this metal coated one); a thin and very sharp knife (I got a few of them free at Pampered Chef parties but you can buy them inexpensively on Amazon); and these little spatulas from Pampered Chef which are absolutely perfect for cookies. We also use stainless steel measuring cups (for dry ingredients) and spoons all the time, and a classic set of Pyrex 1 cup, 2 cup, and 4 cup for liquids. Just like Mom’s! 😉

I’ve got a few other random kitchen tools tucked away, but I’ve gotten rid of a whole bunch of them and I feel so much better.

You don’t need to hoard recipes, except a few proven winners. I have a few handwritten cards of my dad’s recipes (still) and the ones given to me by ladies at my bridal shower (though I’ve cooked only a few…..hmmmm….probably should dig into those).  You’ll soon learn that cooking is an art and a set of heuristics rather than an exact science, and I pull out recipes only rarely.  I pared down my cookbook collection as well, though I did keep a few standards or really pretty ones.

This is our #1 favorite coffee-making machine. We got ours from Amazon; click the image to check it out.  Morning coffee is an amazing, sensory ritual – and takes less than 5 min.

Throw out that damn automatic drip coffee maker. Blech. Ours broke one morning 4 or 5 years ago so we turned to Google in desperation to figure out how the “uncivilized” world makes coffee. Discovered that we were the heathens, imprisoning our coffee for years in that sad machine. We’ve settled now on a simple Bodum vessel and a Black & Decker electric kettle (which also helps out for heating water for pasta). Coffee takes 109x better and our morning coffee ritual (which takes barely 5 minutes) is genuinely satisfying.

I don’t know why I waited 10+ years to buy myself an electric can opener (this is ours and we love it). Sometimes you hate doing a particular chore and it’s worth stepping up to a better tool. I should have bought one in Year One of our marriage. Durp.    I put my KitchenAid stand mixer in this same category. It’s 20 years old and trucking right along.  I’ve used it to make bread dough, cheesecakes, and mashed potatoes, but Coart uses it all the time to mix up chocolate chip cookie batter — and that’s a holy rite which shall never be interrupted.

Ok, enough kitchen…. on to other topics…..

Don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t, even to keep other people happy. Hold your head high when you walk into the liquor store or when you wear that pink shirt and short shorts or when you duck into Hot Topic to see what the kids are into these days or when you crank up the volume on your playlist. I still remember a lady at church talking about hiding beer in her grocery cart and feeling like she had to justify herself to people in the store: “I’m buying it for taco soup!” Look: No one cares why you’re buying beer. And if they do, is it any of their damn business? NOPE. Don’t hang out with judgey people and don’t let them dictate your actions. (But don’t be a jerk either – it’s obviously kind and caring to avoid engaging in actions you know will offend a friend.  I’m talking about the non-friends who exist in your personal orbit.) 

Thing is, there’s a lot of pressure on you to stay within particular boundaries, especially when you’re a teacher.  Don’t go out looking for trouble, but don’t ever pretend to be something you aren’t. Eventually people will figure it out. (And teenagers will detect bullshit immediately.)

If something is wrong or harmful or unkind, don’t do it.  If it’s not any of those categories, then don’t pretend like you don’t do it if you do.  Simple as that.

This is on my list for the front door area as soon as planting season hits. (Links to Amazon)

Plant stuff in the yard the first year you buy the house! Don’t wait around (like we did, thinking “we’ll get to it….”) because then you’ll end up owning the same house for 15 years but still have zero landscaping except now you’re angry about how much nicer your yard would’ve looked by now if you’d scraped together some money for landscaping from the very start.  Skip 4 Starbucks runs and buy a plant or a load of topsoil instead. 

Stop working for low pay. This one might be controversial, younger self, and I’m not trying to tell you what to do. Other than this: take time to sketch out a career plan. Don’t just let your career happen to you. And don’t allow your skills to be undervalued in your earnings, unless you’re getting something else equally valuable (like experience or learned skills or fulfillment).

Get better sooner at making a monthly budget and sticking to it. You aren’t good at this. And growing up poor warped your understanding of money and finances. I know you know that you’ll get more out of retirement savings if you start sooner. Start with something like Acorns with loose change, at first.   I know it’s hard to forego current delights for the sake of future investment. Not working for low pay will help you fix that problem, but adjusting your lifestyle down to enjoy experiences rather than material goods helps too. Go find a friend and hang out. You don’t need to spend $60 to visit Biltmore to do that effectively.

Don’t pay for cable. Don’t steal it either….just….hang in there. They’re going to invent this service called Netflix and also YouTube and then this other thing called Hulu and then you’ll have all the TV you’ll ever need. If you’re really lucky, you’ll have friends who pay for cable but share their online account password with you so you can watch this hot show on HBO called Game of Thrones.

 

I think my connection is fading, so last thing:   Take care of the kids who need you –they’re going to grow up into amazing adults one day, and they’ll appreciate what you invested in them. Don’t stop fighting for the kids no one else thinks will make it. The underdogs can make it – they just need a hand up.

Peace out.