Meal planning service face-off: No More To-Go vs 5 dinners, 1 hour

For several years I had a subscription to eMeals, and tried several of their plans. They were always more oriented toward other parts of the country with their grocery store choices, and toward families with small children (read: boring ‘white people food’ without much spice or variation). So when my subscription was up last year I let it expire. During the same period I got several deliveries from Blue Apron (which I wrote about a little here) that were a little too fancy and involved for what I wanted to cook on a weeknight. What I was looking for was something in-between: recipes that were interesting but not too involved.

Around Christmas there was a discount offer for the meal planning service No More To-Go* on Amazon Local, and I decided to try it out. It’s similar to eMeals in that there is a new slate of recipes each week, and it includes a grocery list. They’ve recently revamped the site so you can tweak your plan before you print it out, with the ability to remove meals or add meals from the recipe archives, and see the changes reflected in your grocery list. It’s easy to use and all the recipes I’ve made have been tasty.

My only issue is that there’s no choice in type of diet included; however, everything is reasonably healthy, no crazy Paula Deen stuff here, but there are a lot of starches. I’m still trying to eat mostly low-carb without grains, so that’s less convenient for me personally. However, the recipes have really hit the sweet spot of being interesting enough without being too complicated, so I will likely continue to subscribe once my initial deal is over. In my opinion, No More To-Go* is worth checking out if you have a more adventurous palate but like the idea of a weekly meal plan.

[*Both of these links are affiliate links; if you visit NMTG and decide to subscribe, I get a small cut. I paid for my own subscription and am writing this review of my own volition because I like the service.]

5 Dinners 1 Hour is a new website that offers a weekly plan like eMeals or No More To-Go, with the difference that everything is prepped beforehand so that it can be cooked quickly on the night of. As you might guess, the claim is that you can do all of your grocery shopping and prep on the weekend, the latter taking less than an hour, and then have five meals ready to be cooked when you get home from work. Basically it’s intended to be like Rachael Ray’s Week in a Day, except actually save you time instead of keeping you in the kitchen all day long.

Unfortunately, I was less than impressed with the recipes. The built-in grocery list was handy, but the way the recipes printed out was a bit confusing, and overall most of the recipes were super-dull and obvious. I realize that novelty isn’t necessarily the prime factor that you might be looking for in this situation, but the recipes have to be at least as decent as my old standbys, or I might as well just make the same four things over and over, you know?

If you’re really tight on time, 5 Dinners 1 Hour might be right for you. They do have a 14 day free trial that you can try out, without having to give your credit card info, and during the trial you can see the archive of the current month’s recipes as well as the previous month’s, so you can get a pretty good idea if it’s going to be the service for you.

Food Friday: cookbook recommendation and pork & kale

Apparently Nigel Slater is some sort of culinary celebrity in the UK. I’d never heard of him until Marisa at Food in Jars mentioned his newest cookbook during her favorite cookbooks of 2014 roundup. After a while on my library’s hold queue, Eat became available this week and I really enjoyed it. I’ve not made anything from it yet – I added several recipes to my ‘try this’ queue on Plan to Eat – but I fully expect to enjoy the results. It’s written in a narrative style, in paragraphs without the ingredients being mentioned ahead of time, and that makes it a much less clinical experience to read (and, I presume, to cook with). If you’re looking for interesting but not crazy-complicated food to make at home, I highly recommend you check out Eat.

Next week I plan to post a review of two weekly meal planning services that I’ve been trying out. The below recipe is a modification of a recipe from one of them, 5 Dinners 1 Hour. In honor of Nigel Slater, I’ve written it in his style from Eat, even though he has absolutely nothing to do with this recipe.

Slow cooker pork & kale
Adapted from a recipe from 5 Dinners 1 Hour

Plug in your slow cooker and spray with cooking spray. Add 3-4 pork chops* to the bottom (preferably bone-in, about 1 1/2 – 2 pounds). Clean a bunch of kale and tear into medium-sized pieces, adding on top of the pork. Dice a medium onion and toss it in (or be super-lazy and use half a bag of frozen chopped onions). Open a 14 oz can of diced tomatoes (preferably with garlic) and pour on top. Add a couple glugs (~2 tablespoons) of balsamic vinegar. Cook until tender, 3-4 hours on high or 6-7 on low, I would guess, stirring the greens and tomatoes occasionally if possible. If you get home early and you have a bunch of spinach or arugula to use up, dump that on top to cook down for the last 30 minutes to an hour. Good alone or served with rice or couscous.

* I defrosted mine the day before in the fridge, but if you haven’t you could probably get away with starting from frozen, as long as you have a couple extra hours to let the whole thing cook. You might end up with too much water; I dunno.

2015 reading challenge: February report

Second month for the Popsugar reading challenge. I’m getting to the point where I’ve knocked off most of the easy categories, and need to start choosing ahead of time which categories I want to complete, rather than reading a book and fitting it into the categories ex post facto.

By the way, I’ve included grades (A-F) for each book, and will go back and add them to the January post as soon as I publish this. They aren’t intended as some sort of overall guide to literary merit, just a loose approximation of “Did I enjoy reading this? Did it accomplish what it set out to do?”

Here are the categories I completed in February:

A book published this year:
Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiply Your Time by Rory Vaden. Grade: C

A book with a love triangle:
The Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Grade: B

A book you can finish in a day:
Funny Girl by Nick Hornby. Grade: B

A book that made you cry:
Boy on Ice by John Branch. Grade: B

Months completed: 2 of 12 (16.66%)
Challenges completed: 9 of 50 (18%)

2015 reading challenge: January report

Sometime around Christmas I came across a reading challenge dreamed up by the website Popsugar. It has 50 different challenges like “a book you started but never finished” and “a book more than 100 years old,” that kind of jazz. I hardly need more encouragement to read, but I thought it might be a fun thing to do and track for the year, and share on my blog (even though it’s not sewing) in case others are doing the challenge too, or want to join in.

Here are the categories I completed in January:

A nonfiction book:
My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who’s Been Everywhere by Susan Orlean. Grade: B

A book based on a true story:
The Last Great Walk: The True Story of a 1909 Walk from New York to San Francisco, and Why it Matters Today, by Wayne Curtis. Grade: A

A book based entirely on its cover:
The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson. Grade: B

A memoir:
Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia, by Chris Stewart. Grade: C

A book set during Christmas:
Second Act, by Kaje Harper. Grade: B

Months completed: 1 of 12 (8.33%)
Challenges completed: 5 of 50 (10%)

Plus ca change

I’ve been under the weather, and I have spent an alarming amount of time sprawled on the couch reading the GOMI forums on my iPad. Now, if you don’t know about GOMI I wouldn’t necessarily recommend reading it, especially if you’re an “accentuate the positive” kind of person. But their crafting forums, in particular, have some spot-on and needed critiques of sewing and crafting blogs.

The whole thing got me thinking about how much the sewing blogosphere has changed since I started sewing (and blogging, sort of). There’s a lot more ‘monetization’, as the kids call it, and a lot more blogs by people who are blogging as part of their business or in order to get affiliate money. The flowering of “I just sew and wanted to share” blogs that happened 5 or so years ago is well over, with a few grizzled veterans hanging on.

I side-eye a lot of Pattern Review’s policies, and their forum software is truly from the last century (the recent ‘site redesign’ is the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig, as my grandmother used to say). But there are people who post there who have been sewing a long time and know their techniques cold, and that’s why I still am active there, because there’s actual useful content. Not a $15 PDF pattern sold online by someone who just started sewing six months ago, or a poorly-written tutorial by someone who really doesn’t know what they’re doing.

I’m a mediocre sewer at best, but I’m well aware of that fact, which is why I still have this free blog and don’t pretend I’m some kind of expert. In retrospect it makes me sad to think about how much time I’ve spent reading/discussing sewing on the internet rather than actually sewing.

Food Friday: Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry

Hello, world! I hope those of you that celebrated Christmas yesterday had a great time. After Food in Jars posted their best cookbooks/preserving books of the year list the other day, I went to my local library and picked up the three they carried.

This is not exactly a book review, given that when I started leafing through Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, what would have excited me a year ago just left me feeling overwhelmed. When once I would have thought to myself, “yeah, hey, maybe I should try making my own cheese” or “gee, I didn’t know that’s how you smoked fish,” instead I thought “holy cow, I don’t really want to dedicate the time to do any of these things.”

I am a person of serial enthusiasms, some of which reappear in a spiral-like pattern after years. In college, it was houseplants; then for a while it was cooking, then gardening, then canning, then cooking again. Meanwhile there was sewing and quilting in alternating waves. In all of these hobbies my eyes tend to be bigger than my stomach and if I go whole hog at the beginning, I end up spending a lot of money on supplies and ending up with a lot of unfinished projects. I don’t know if I’ve gotten practical, or just depressing, in my advancing years when I realize that most of the things I want to try will never happen, not in the grand scale that I imagine them.

So if you want to learn how to make cheese, or smoke fish, or make bone broth, or can beans, I would recommend Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s – it really is a comprehensive and readable guide to all kinds of food preservation. I, on the other hand, am going to return the book to the library with a clear conscience (and maybe finish one of those unfinished projects hanging around instead).

[This post includes affiliate links.]

Sewing sales

I hope everyone who celebrates it had a good Thanksgiving. I happened to notice that there are several sales going on of interest to crafty folks, Thanksgiving-related or not, and I wanted to post quickly about it before they all expired. Black Friday deals are all well and good, but what we sewers want is pattern and fabric sales, am I right?

Without further ado:

  • Sewaholic is celebrating four years in business with a 20% off sale through the weekend, with code FOURYEARS
  • Everything at Grainline Studio is 20% off with code GIVETHANKS
  • All patterns at are 1.49 until Monday
  • All fabric 10% off at Emma One Sock, no code needed
  • StyleArc is now selling PDF patterns via Etsy, and until the end of the month everything is 20% off with code SOMANYTILES
  • All classes at Craftsy are $19.95
  • And on a cooking note, the recipe manager/meal planning website Plan to Eat is having their annual Black Friday sale, with 50% all annual subscriptions. You can get a 30 day free trial without giving your credit card info, if you want to try it out first.