Big Apple Birthdays

If you ever have a lot of activities that you want to pack into an excursion, Tyler is the man to take along on your trip. When we originally talked about taking advantage of JetBlue’s inexpensive, direct flights to NYC to celebrate my and Jack’s birthdays, he suggested that we fly out Saturday at 6 am, stay the night, and return on the first flight Sunday morning. I thought about the idea for about a minute and decided that, in the interest of staying married (and out of jail for killing my husband), we needed to depart Friday night since getting up in the middle of the night two days in a row on a weekend is the last thing Jack or I would equate to birthday fun. 

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perfectly captures the sentiment on early rising…

With just a backpack per person, we departed Savannah around 7 pm and our direct flight whisked us to NYC in no time, all while the friendly crew provided “good” snacks (as determined by the junkfoodaterian snack king, Jack) and took the time to announce, and lead the passengers in a cheer for, a group of veterans on our flight. When we arrived at JFK, the first thing we saw outside of the jetway was Dylan’s Candy Bar, so of course we stopped to ooh and aah over the dazzling array of colorful confections and Jack managed the ultimate-level of restraint, purchasing a single lollipop. We asked a not-entirely friendly airline worker at the information counter for which subway we needed to take to get to mid-town and we were off.

Destination Subway

As we wandered the deserted underground platform from to the E train, a giant subway rat scurried past us into a trash can and then darted down onto the tracks (what could be MORE authentically subway!?). When we disembarked from the subway a few blocks from our hotel, despite it being almost 11 pm, we were all wide-eyed and energized by the adventure of travel. I hadn’t been to NYC since Jack was a baby (in the spring of 2006 when I went on an art-buying trip for Sprint), and Ty and I were both excited to share the wonders of New York City’s architecture, population density, culture, and more with Jack. There was a full moon shining above, and we pointed out the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Saint Bartholomew’s along the way.

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We were staying at a Marriott property on Lexington at 48th. When the front desk person was unable to find our reservation, she asked if we were staying at the Marriott Lexington, because we were mistakenly trying to check-in at a Marriott on Lexington which was literally across the street. Crises averted. We fell into bed, knowing that Ty would have us hitting the pavement before the sun rose on Saturday.

At about 5:30 am, Ty started trying to rouse us, despite our efforts to burrow under the covers and pillows and beg for 5 more minutes of sleep. In Marion-family record time, we were dressed and on the street by 6, in search of item 1 on my NYC to-do (more accurately, to-eat) list: authentic bagels. With a little help from Google maps, we headed off in the direction of a deli that seemed promising. As we stood on the sidewalk across the street from said deli, gaping confusedly as it was not yet open, an old man who seemed maybe to be a security detail in front of another (also not open at such an ungodly hour) restaurant asked if he could help us. We remarked that we were on a quest for bagels, to which he waxed poetic about “back in the 80s,” when you could get a good bagel, but now, alas, 90% of the delis all get their bagels from the same place in Brooklyn, so basically we should abandon all hope for our bagelicious quest. Sleepy and hungry, we settled on a bodega on the next corner which had an actual person cooking food on a grill. Jack and I happily ordered toasted everything bagels and Ty got some kind of breakfast sandwich. We grabbed drinks from the cooler and our total bill for breakfast was $11. The same, albeit vastly inferior, breakfast at Panera or even McDonald’s would be at least 2x as much–who said you can’t eat cheap in the big city?!

Appropriately fueled, we made our way to the day’s first stop: the Empire State Building, arriving before they actually opened but there were still about a dozen other early birds in line before us. At precisely 8 am, we were ushered in to the luxe Art Deco lobby and wound our way through a series of rooms which would no doubt be teeming with crowds later that day. We bought our tickets and hopped into the express elevator (operated remotely by the ESB staff to my delight), where we were treated to a cool video in the elevator’s ceiling panel showing the progression of the building’s construction.

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We wandered around the 86th floor, me sticking to the interior, nerdily reading all of the content that some curators and graphic designers spent endless hours on and therefore should be appreciated (and not at all avoiding my fear of heights). I eventually joined Ty and Jack and was delighted to discover the view finders were free (free being a relative term since tickets to the top were $100+ a pop). The view was indeed amazing and the quietness of being so far removed from the traffic and city noises below was equally zen.

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After taking in the view from all sides of the top, we headed back inside. Despite Jack wanting to drop another C-note in the gift shop on all things King Kong and Empire State Building-related, I limited him to a ‘fridge magnet and bottle of water (rookie move–I could’ve gotten a bottle of water on any street corner below for a third less than the gift shop price).

We wandered in the general direction of Times Square, stopping to admire the sheer size of Grand Central Station’s interior and trying to impress upon Jack the glitz and glamor of the lost era of train travel.

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Along the way, we passed another opportunity to teach Jack history. Very meta to take a picture of a phone with my phone, no? Ain’t no way I was gonna pick up the germy receiver just for the sake of a photo op, though.

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We took in all of sights and sounds of Times Square, and knew enough not to get scammed by the costumed weirdos wanting money to take your picture with them, although Ty did fall prey to the fake monks and made a donation in exchange for a beaded bracelet. Sidenote: Ty can be absolutely anywhere and someone will come out of nowhere to hit him up for something. Honestly, he could be wandering lost and alone in the Sahara Desert and someone would appear out of a cave to panhandle him for something.

Big Red Bus tours must be one of the bigger employers in the city–those hustlers were everywhere! Literally, one guy would try to give us a brochure, we’d demure, and then the next guy 1 foot away would try to give us one, like, well, we didn’t want his brochure, but we’ll take yours. Perhaps they spied Jack’s telltale Tibetan monk bracelet and thought we were suckers.

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We wandered around Rockefeller Center and took in the ice skaters, the amazing Lego store and its recreations of all things Rockefeller Center-related in brick, along with a host of fancy sports cars parked on a red carpet, because it’s NYC! We even stopped to get a hot dog from the street vendors. I prefer the Sabrett ones to Nathan’s, and, although Ty regretted his choice to add chili (always go with the nekkid dog, bro), Jack was pretty delighted with his soft pretzel that came with a squeeze of cheese from a bottle.

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We bought I ♥ NY t-shirts for Ty and Jack, not thinking to hold them up for a size check, so Ty’s XL became Jack’s shirt and Jack’s L will become Krypto’s.

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The one thing that Jack really wanted to do was check-out the flagship Nintendo store (something related to Pokemon). When Jack saw the line looping around the block, he was crushed knowing that Ty and I would not have the patience to wait, but since we were in “vacation mode” with no real agenda for the day, we humored him. Turns out, those suckers were all in line to play some new video game and since he just wanted to look at Pokemon stuff, we got to skip the line altogether. However, he was quickly disappointed again when we only agreed to buy $10 of the $100+ in stuff he wanted.

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We decided to head back to the hotel so Jack and Ty could change into shorts…as we turned onto Lexington, a huge street festival had popped up in the interim since our 6 am departure. Meats grilling al fresco is one way to Ty’s heart (bacon is another), so he wandered around like that cartoon dog from Quick Draw McGraw who floats when he gets a dog treat,vowing that lunch would be enjoyed on the street. Every culture and grilled meat you could think of was represented, from Jamaican jerk, Greek souvlaki and gyros, Mexican tacos and carnitas, savory or sweet French crepes, smoothies, goat, and more. What was truly amazing to me is the stark difference of when we bbq in the yard and every fly within a 50 mile radius seems to find us, but there was nary a fly anywhere in the blocks and blocks of grills, coal fires, and mounds of cooked meats on display.

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Apparently, overalls are a thing again?

In addition to being the best unpaid cruise director since Captain Stubing’s daughter Vicki, Ty is also our family’s official photographer. Which is why, as I pull this post together, I am laughing that there are 4x the amount of shots depicting the street food than anything else.

Jack and I opted for 99 cent slices of pizza, which were a total disappointment as far as tasting like “real” NY pizza (the poster in the window looked promising, but the product inside was a classic bait and switch); considering we were out like $5 total for lunch, I was willing to shrug it off. Ty finally decided on a grilled meat option for his lunch, and we were off in the direction of Central Park.

We entered the park adjacent to the Plaza Hotel. My mom had insisted we take a horse-drawn carriage, but as someone who rages every time I get stuck behind a trolley/pedi-cab/hearse tour/horse-drawn carriage ride when I am downtown Savannah, I simply couldn’t do it.

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I did, however, love the snatch of conversation we overheard between one of the drivers and a little girl marveling at his horse: My name is Vinnie, when I come back, you feed the horse a carrot, ok?!

Having been warned against interacting with street performers, we couldn’t pass up the allure of a gold robot man, complete with platform shoes, standing perfectly motionless. We gave Jack some money to put in his cup, and he immediately sprang to life with robotic precision and noises like the guy from Police Academy used to make.

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Then, because we’re great parents, we let Jack run wild and play on the rocks while we sat on a bench and lamented how we were too old to walk so much and how good it felt to sit down. I decided an Italian ice would be prefect, but every damn street cart we saw just had Good Humor ice cream (in retrospect, this would’ve been an easy task for Google to assist me with).

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We passed by the Metropolitan Club, where my dad had been a member and my brother JKB and I used to stay when we visited him in NYC. My brother and I were in high school, and we went to see Purple Rain in a 2-story grand theatre where we sat in the balcony and relished that we had managed to get into an R-rated movie sans ID. Since we obviously seemed so at home on the city streets, people frequently asked us for directions and my brother was the king of just making stuff up and sending them on their way. For my 21st birthday, we again stayed at the Metropolitan Club, as my dad had arranged for JKB and I and our 2 best friends to see SNL taped and eat dinner at the 21 Club. Even not caring a whit about professional basketball, you couldn’t be from Chicago (as we were) and not love Michael Jordan, who just happened to be the host that night. Still hands-down my best birthday ever.

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Nerdy high school kids impressed by flock of big city pigeons

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Goody bag from 21 Club in hand. Pretty sure that was a corduroy shirt from the Gap with a suede collar paired with a suede skirt-so fancy!

We decided to splurge on a cab (uptown? downtown?) so we could catch the Staten Island Ferry and see the Statue of Liberty. The SIF is free to ride and it passes right by the iconic landmark, and since we had no interest in walking around Liberty Island, we saved ourselves the $25 apiece tix, but the ticket hustlers for these “official” Statue of Liberty tours were every bit as pushy as those Big Red Bus tour people–do they get paid a commission based on people they convince to buy tickets? Bonus points awarded because the ferry had a snack bar, but bonus points quickly retracted because the drinks we got were room temperature.

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From there we headed to the World Trade Center and Freedom Tower. The memorial was beautifully executed and a visually stunning way to honor those killed in the tragedy of 9-11. We didn’t go into the museum but wandered somberly among the grounds and found ourselves drawn to what we learned was called the Oculus, a beautifully-rendered work of architecture that soared above us and reminded me of the flying buttress-esque forms of the Milwaukee Art Museum that was featured in one of the Transformers movies. (I was disappointed in myself for not knowing via some kind of internet-based osmosis that this amazing structure exists based on my previous life as an art historian).

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A clear example of how I can try to capture the same image as Ty but his will always be better (but at least he’s in one!).

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Tyler had wanted to get a reuben sandwich at Katz’s Deli, but I found something within walking distance on Google and we picked up crappy deli sandwiches for which they totally screwed up our order: Ty ordered a side of pasta salad which they forgot and I asked for a panini and got a cold sandwich. Jack loved the mac ‘n’ cheese, but I believe that we’ve established he’s the furthest thing from a food snob. As a bonus, they included somebody else’s order of pancakes (!?).

As we sat eating our poor excuse for dinner on some benches in front of a fancy condo building and enjoyed the incessant cacophony of honking taxi horns, a fancy Mercedes pulled up curbside and the woman in the passenger seat was yelling at us for directions to the Four Seasons. We laughed at the fact that they were driving a super expensive car en route to their super fancy hotel, but didn’t have Google maps or OnStar?

On Sunday, Ty had us up at 4 am to ensure that we’d get to the airport without incident for our 7 am departure. As I sleepily stepped into the elevator, I gasped from the amount of patchouli the previous elevator occupant had left lingering. I hate the smell of patchouli, so guess who I got to sit next to on the hotel airport shuttle in the last available seat? Mr. patchouli himself! I couldn’t get the smell out of my nose or clothes until I came home and showered and changed into clean clothes! Surprising (to me anyway) was the lack of bagel availability at our terminal in JFK. No Dunkin’ or Starbucks, nothing. I found a chocolate croissant for Jack and a blueberry muffin for me. So we had an action-packed trip but didn’t get to eat a good bagel, authentic pizza, or an Italian ice, but there’s always next time…

All good things must come to an end. Travel is a privilege and a pleasure, but it’s always great to come home.

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Hurrication 2017

Growing up in the Midwest, aka “Tornado Alley,” we had annual school drills for what to do in case of a tornado, how to use the emergency exit door on the school bus, etc., but raising our son in the southeast, he has a whole different set of weather-related issues for which to be prepared. In 4th grade, he got a day off of school because the sole road onto our island was flooded out by the king tides. In 5th grade, he got 10 days off of school because of Hurricane Matthew. Today, he returned to 6th grade after 6 days of no school thanks to Hurricane Irma. Fortunately for us in all of these instances, our home remained water-free, although with Irma it came up about as close as it possibly could without actually doing any damage. For those of you who have never had to evacuate your home due to a pending hurricane, there is a myriad of factors that come into play before, during, and after the storm.

The first step is usually denial, best expressed with humor:

 

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With hurricanes, you have the advantage of time and planning: because there can be literally weeks before a storm forms off the coast of Africa and approaches the US coast, there is time to prepare. When Matthew hit last year, it had been over a decade since the last storm found its way to our area and, despite the yearly doomsayers who predicted we were “due,” most residents became complacent and believed our little slice of coast to be more or less impervious, that Florida and the Carolinas would always bear the brunt of any storms for Georgia. That wake-up call, combined with the recent ravaging of the Gulf coast by Hurricane Harvey, had everyone here keeping one eye on the weather channel and mentally starting their hurricane prep to-do lists.

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But all that lead time can also lead to a heightened sense of anxiety. Will it hit us? When? Where should we go? What should I pack? And we are lucky enough to have a portable home we could leave with–much cheaper than getting an inland hotel, many of which were already sold-out by Wednesday from Macon to Atlanta since a majority of Florida was already evacuating north trying to get ahead of the monstrous storm. So many people here without the means to evacuate had to be taken to shelters in Augusta, although fortunately the shelters also accepted pets. It’s a tremendously personal decision whether to stay or go and having lived through 2 hurricanes (and evacuated for both), I see both sides. Once an evacuation is deemed mandatory, there comes a point of no return after which if you need assistance, you will not receive it. Obviously by staying behind you aren’t any better able to protect your home from a falling tree or rising tide, but there is something to feeling like you are in charge by acting like a captain going down with his ship. Plus, evacuation is only the first part, there is still the re-entry protocol…it can take days for the all clear to return after the storm passes. We would have wifi, a tv and dvd player, games, books, plenty to eat and drink, power, water, and bathrooms (as long as the state park did anyway), so no complaints on our part to evacuate.

On Wednesday afternoon, I met my mom for lunch at the always-fabulous RAW Ingredients and was amazed to realize that she was still thinking that the Saturday night 70th birthday party she had planned for my stepdad was going to occur. I tried to dodge our evac plans by questioning that my stepbrother and his family were really coming from ATL to Tybee on the verge of a hurricane, but she was non-plussed. By the time we finished our sushi, we had hatched a plan to all get hotel rooms in town for Saturday night so we already off-island for a quicker escape on Sunday and that way we could continue the party at the Marriott post-dinner party. I picked up Jack and we headed into town to run hurricane-prep errands like getting prescriptions refilled, bank cash withdrawal, groceries, and gas. I had about 5 miles to empty by the time we got to the 4th gas station since all of the previous ones had lines around the block for each pump. At Kroger, we threw 3 cases of bottled water in our cart and I couldn’t help but recognize the blank stare on everyone else’s faces as we all walked around in a suspended haze of what-the-heck-should-I-buy-besides-water. I decided this was no time for my usual frugality and comparison shopping…we got a 12 pack of diet pepsi, dr. pepper, the “good” chips, crackers, chips, and granola bars vs. my usual cheapie brand selections, 3 bags of candy, a variety of cheese selections, and fruit that seemed pretty hearty (red and green grapes…guess what we actually forgot to take with us? The fruit!). By the time we left Kroger, my mom called to tell me that she got us hotel rooms but the venue for dinner party canceled. She was starting to realize this hurricane was a big deal.

On Thursday, September 7, the announcement came that Tybee would be under mandatory evacuation order starting at 8 am on Friday, September 8. I was confused as to whether that meant we had to leave the island by 8 am or just start prepping to leave at 8, but there was talk that the highway would flood with Friday’s high tide, so we finished doing all we could to help prepare our workplaces and home, and loaded up our hurricane provisions, hooked our 1963 Airstream up to my SUV, and got the heck out of Dodge. Ty drove my car and pulled the trailer with Jack while I drove Ty’s car with Krypto, aka, the most-neurotic dog on the planet, and we headed inland, away from the threat of a 10-15 storm surge that would likely wipe our island off the map if it came during high tide as predicted.

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We got settled into our home-away-from-home around 1 pm on Friday in the Gordonia-Alatamaha State Park (side note, the GA State Parks website and reservation system could use a 20th-century refresh).  It was a beautiful day, our campsite was right on a lake, and apparently there is no bug control inland to compare to the coast, because the “love bugs” were literally everywhere (side note, apparently they are attracted to the color white b/c my car was covered with them while Ty’s black car, not so much). We created a drink we called Tattnall County Punch: one part rum, 2 parts Crystal Light cherry pomegranate, one part Sprite, garnish with a side of lovebugs.

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Those bugs were literally everywhere, landing on our clothes, faces, food, even Krypto could not escape them. Our reservation was through Wednesday and most of the other campers seemed to be escaping Florida. One site even had a box truck filled with all of their stuff…not sure how they ran power to it though.

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And Jack got to practice his boxing skills with our trash:

 

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Saturday we drove around the area, taking in the beauty of the pecan tree groves, cotton fields, and small-town quaintness. Tattnall County is home to the Wiregrass Trail and there was a Miss Wiregrass Pageant scheduled for Saturday night along with a variety of other old-timey events later in the month. Vidalia, home to the best sweet onions you’ll ever taste, was much bigger than I expected, and we drove past the “world famous” fruitcake bakery in Claxton, GA, although we didn’t stop. We even had lunch at Dairy Queen!

By Sunday, the storm looked like it was going to come up the west coast of Florida and hit more inland Georgia than coastal, so we were again faced with another evacuation…better to ride out the storm with wind gusts and potential tornados in a tin can or head home? We opted for the latter and returned, settling back into our dark, boarded-up house by about noon. The storm hit in full on Monday and we lost power, so we went back out into the Airstream to at least have some natural light. Then the surge came and our street became a river. We unhooked the trailer in record time and drove through the knee-high water in our yard to higher ground. Side note, our yard is about 90% fire ants: did you know those suckers will bond together and make floating islands? Loads of fun to walk through knee-deep water AND get ant bites.

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Although the water came up fast and high, it spared our home and trailer and we had power restored by Tuesday night, the boards were taken down by Wednesday, and even wi-fi was quickly restored, much to Jack’s relief. After a solid week+ of family time in close quarters, some of it without power, I was very happy for things to return to normal and purge my “hurricane brain” of not knowing what day it was. Here on Tybee once Labor Day passes, the IGA usually changes their sign to say “back to normal” with the r intentionally backward to represent the quirkiness that is Tybee without the tourists and I couldn’t agree more. Many islanders experienced devasting flooding to their homes so we were truly lucky to have dodged Irma’s wrath.

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Meeting a Legend

Last year during a looming hurricane, we spent a weekend on Daufuskie and discovered what a magical place it is. This year, we’ve had the opportunity to visit other, mostly uninhabited barrier islands, including Cumberland and Ossabaw. Even though each of these islands can only be accessed by boat, the main difference is that there are restaurants on Daufuskie, which is a lot easier than packing in your lunch (and packing out your trash).

Several years back, Tyler met an acquaintance who told him of a book, Reefer Moon, by Roger Pinckney. The book illuminates the drug-running by shrimpers in this area during the 1970s. After reading it, I tracked down everything else he had written, much of which focuses on his island home of Daufuskie. Before even stepping foot on the island, I felt like I knew all about its quirky, lovable, stoic inhabitants from his words.

So when friends invited us to boat over for lunch on a beautiful, 70 degree Saturday in February, we gladly accepted. We sat outside at Marshside Mama’s for lunch, enjoying ahi tuna, mahi, gumbo, and something called “the heart attack” (can you guess who ordered that? Hint: it was Tyler).

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The sun shone bright and hot on us as we enjoyed a couple of cold beers in continued celebration of Tyler’s birthday and life in general. Even the yard dogs there are mellow.

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From there, we headed back to the boat and went to the Old Daufuskie Crab Company at the Freeport Marina on the other side of the island. They had live music and a good crowd of people and dogs. We ordered their house drink, the Scrap Iron, which they have mixed up in a big glass dispenser on the bar. It tastes a little like a long island ice tea, but with a ginger ale kick…the actual recipe is top secret but they are really good. We swatted at the insatiable gnats and enjoyed our drinks while the guitarist sang Bob Dylan and Pink Floyd tunes. And then, across the bar from us, who sat down but the legendary author himself. Tyler and I flocked over to him to introduce ourselves and fawn over his genius. Next to him was a cute young couple in matching yellow Tour Daufuskie t-shirts. The man went to the restroom and the woman asked the random guy next to her if he wanted to do a shot. He politely demurred (who declines a free shot?), so I immediately volunteered Tyler to do it since we were celebrating his birthday and all. It turns out, Emily and her fiance, also name Tyler, are getting married on Daufuskie in April. We spent the rest of our time getting to know them and promising to come back for their ceremony. They even had one of those new-fangled Polaroid cameras and immortalized our time together with their no-shake-it technology. All in all, it was a day filled with randomonium and the kind of magic and new friends that can only happen on Daufuskie.

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Lizards, and Ibis, and Rabbits, Oh My!

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, we hopped a ferry over to Cumberland Island and hiked to the (impressive) ruins of Dungeness. We were amazed by the abundance of armadillos scurrying everywhere around us (check out Ty’s video here), as well as wild turkeys, and, of course, the wild horses the island is known for. You may have heard of this “unknown” barrier island when John F. Kennedy Jr. got married there back in the late 90s.

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You have to pack in and out any food, so here we are picnicking with our giant grocery bag of boxed lunches, drinks, and extra snacks from the cute little place in St. Mary’s where the ferry departs.

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View of Dungeness’ ruins without us messing up the pic…

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Hearing the armadilloes dig and scurry and the horses whinny in the distance was so cool!

It was perfect weather for a day spent outdoors taking in the pristine beauty of this national park, and it got me thinking about some of the animals on Tybee that, while different than those we encountered on our trek around Cumberland, delight me when they cross my path. Of these three critters, one is native, one migratory, and one transplanted.

The Tybee natives are the little green anole lizards that pop up on sunny days. Whenever I see one, it makes me smile, especially when they do that thing with their throat. Surprisingly enough, Jack is an expert at catching them, whereas Krypto is a bit of an embarrassment in the hunting department and can usually be seen with his nose in the bottom of a spider lily while the lizard sneaks out the other side.

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The migratory visitors are the ibis juveniles that appear around this time of year. You can tell they’re not full grown yet because their plumage is still white. They rove around the island aerating yards with their long, curved beaks and when I turn a corner and catch sight of them, it makes my day. A pack of 5 followed Krypto and I home block for block on our walk recently (clearly, he is not a very intimidating dog).

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Finally, there are the transplanted bunnies. Island lore has it that a local hotel proprietress rescued them from becoming someone’s dinner in the north Georgia mountains and brought them back to live happily ever after of Tybee. There are least 4 or 5 of them (maybe more), some white, some black, some brown, some a mixture of all three, so I’m not sure what their lineage is but you can usually see at least two of them playing together when you’re lucky enough to spot them on the south end of the island.

Today is a beautiful afternoon (especially compared to the 30s we briefly experienced earlier this week!) and as I sit here typing this with the screen door open (but latched to keep Krypto in), the dog literally starting freaking out and throwing himself against the screen door whining. I got up to see if it was one of his neighbor dog friends stopping by for a visit but it was a little black and white bunny hopping on by–how’s that for synchronicity?

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*not a picture of the bunny who just ran by

Spring is just around the corner, y’all!

 

Summer Hacks

Despite the longer days of summer, who wants to spend more time cooking or doing anything that resembles work? Hence, the following genius suggestion to make your summertime livin’ easy: a subscription service that delivers your meals. Specifically, in this case, Blue Apron.

I have actually written about subscription services for my day job but hadn’t tried one out personally. Then my fabulous sister-in-law sent us a free week trial to Blue Apron and I couldn’t wait to try it out! A couple of things to note overall: First, if toast is about all you’ve mastered in terms of cooking, you might want to start with something a little more basic than this one. Although they provide all of the ingredients, a handy recipe card, as well as online tutorials and videos, if your kitchen is outfitted with nary a utensil, you may find it difficult to follow along at home. Second, all of their packaging is recyclable, which is a big plus in my book; plus they send it packed with those neat-o ice packs that you can re-use for your beach cooler! Third, you can customize your menu selections and delivery schedule, so if you’re headed out of town, or just want to take a week off and eat pizza and wings during March Madness (not judging), it’s easy peasy to arrange.

When your delivery ships, they send an email with your tracking # (so you can follow along from your desk and dream about dinner, especially if you just ate peanut butter crackers from the vending machine because you were too lazy to bring lunch, not that I know what that’s like).  And who doesn’t love getting a delivery from the FedEx man?! Our fearless dog Krypto, who barks at every living creature who walks, bikes, skateboards, or drives down our street, somehow snoozed through the actual person at the gate dropping off a box…one minute it wasn’t there and the next time I walked and looked out the window, BAM, there it was!

It’s a pretty good-sized box, although not overly heavy. Everything inside is in adorable bespoke packaging, some of which you will be tempted to try and figure out how to re-purpose. Check out this example for perfectly protecting a single tomato!

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The box is lined with an insert that keeps everything cool and leak-free; then layered with a bottom ice pack the length and width of the package, then the meats/proteins (in this case, beef, chicken, and shrimp).

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Then another layer of ice packs and the produce ingredients:

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And then the extra, so-called “knick knacks” that round out each recipe, along with the recipe cards and an additional card spotlighting one of the ingredients and its’ source.

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Here’s everything except the meats, which I promptly put in the ‘fridge.

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Of the three recipes included, I tried Empanadas de Picadillo first. I have never ordered an empanada out, nor have I ever attempted to make them at home (or even wanted to), but much to my surprise, these were delicious! They even came with a Mexican crema sauce that I would usually “order on the side” as code for “that’s not coming anywhere near my food,” but it provided a bright, citrusy complement to the hot spiciness of the beef empanada filling. In true good cooking fashion, they instruct you to cut and prep everything before starting to actually cook, which is something I usually forego and then end up scrambling and wondering how I missed an extra step or three. Not saying I’ll go totally all Martha moving forward with my cooking efforts, but it does make things much easier (and more photogenic, despite the terrible lighting in my tiny cooking space).

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As an example of the need for proper cooking tools, they called for zesting the lime or just paring the rind and mincing, which is a huge pain vs a couple zips of the zester. I loved this recipe and would totally make it again, although I guess I would have to make it more of a calzone since the wrappers they provided were kind of a cross between a tortilla and pita that I’m pretty sure I would swap out some kind of bisquik recipe or pre-made dough for as a time saver. Also, the recipe notes that you’ll have etxra meat filling leftover, so wht now just throw in 2 more pieces of empanada dough so I’ve got some leftovers for lunch the next day, folks?

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The next night, I made Spiced Shrimp and Pearl Couscous. It smelled lovely cooking and came together easily. Once upon a time in the era of our DINK lives, we used to frequent the Fairmont Hotel on the Plaza (now the Intercontinental) for jazz, cocktails…even lunch, which was where I tried pearl couscous for the first time (along with their amazing Croque Monsieur sandwich). This was the upscale hangout alternative to our lowbrow nights spent at the Peanut. But I digress…

 

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Cooking everything together for the yummy finale…

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Ta-da!

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Although this was pretty good (bonus points awarded to us for trying a spice mix outside of our comfort zone), I don’t know that I would make this again. Maybe if I substituted chicken for the shrimp. Living on the coast, I love simple boiled or grilled shrimp dunked in cocktail sauce and felt like the shrimp got lost in this dish.

The third and final meal I made had me prepared to not like it based solely on the coconut rice. I like coconut in a pina colada and can maybe tolerate it in those Hello Dolly 7 layer bars if they’re my only available dessert option, but savory entrees? I was skeptical at best.

However, I’m here to tell you that the Sweet Chili Chicken was ah-mazing. Add in the fact that it uses something called “tinkerbell” peppers (aptly named because they are so cute!), and I’m planning to add this into a regular menu rotation (ok, this implies we have a regular menu or menu plan of any kind which is simply not true, as evidenced by the fact that I am writing a post about how awesome it is to have someone else do the planning, shopping, and even delivery for me).

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I didn’t take a pic of the coconut rice cooking, which is probably a good thing because it bubbled over and looked kinda like that experiment when Jack and I put a bar of Ivory soap in the microwave. Even once it was done cooking, just looking at it made me think it was going to be a pasty, mushy mess, but it fluffed right up with a fork and was a delicious, light counterbalance to the spicy chili sauce. There weren’t a whole lot of leftovers, but I liked it so much, I boxed it up for the next day’s lunch, and still ate every bite at my desk even as I realized that at some point in the middle of the night, Ty had picked all of the remaining chicken out of it!

So there you have it. If you’ve been thinking about trying out a subscription service, I say go for it. If nothing else, it’s one less trip to the grocery store,  one less thing to think about (what’s for dinner?!) at the end of the day, and more time for enjoying the sound of cicadas in the trees and evening’s eventual break in the summer heat.

 

 

 

 

Past the Halfway Point of Whole30

I recently decided to commit to the Whole30 program, which is basically a “reset” of the way you eat whereby you forego any dairy, grains, sugar, alcohol, legumes (and probably more stuff I am forgetting that you can read about on their website), in favor of basically just fruit, vegetables, and proteins for 30 days. I did a lot of research (and, of course, created the requisite Pinterest board) and felt like this was a good fit for me for several reasons: 1) I like having a clear cut, black and white list of yes or no foods, none of this restricted for 6 days and then eat your face off on the 7th day; 2) as much as I love bread and cheese (and, ok, alcohol), Tyler was going to be recuperating from surgery, so I’d be home for at least a week with ample time for meal prep (also, no time like the present!); 3) they have an amazing (FREE!) website/online community/forum for questions, support, and recipes and, even more appealing to me; 4) they offer an additional paid subscription for a daily email during your 30 day duration. This is great because it details the changes your body is undergoing (I admit to having dreams of sneaking a bite of Jack’s ice cream bar, which they say is totally normal!) as well as providing a link asking you whether or not you made it through the day staying Whole30 compliant (one of the main tenets of the program is that if you mess up, you go back to day 1), which the over-achiever in me loves to be able to check off affirmatively.

One thing I can tell you is that it is a lot of planning and prepping–I feel like I am always thinking about my next meal (and not in a hungry kind of way but more like not wanting to be caught unprepared and forced to eat something non-compliant). I also run the dishwasher every night because I am chopping and cooking so much. But, on the plus side, I have tried/made some new things (I blanched tomatoes and made my own sauce! made vegetable stock from scratch! and chicken tenders! and meatballs!) that I normally would just lazily buy pre-made and not care about all of the crappy additives.

I made my shopping list and started off pretty basic. Luckily, Whole Foods carries a Whole30-compliant bacon, which made my now carb-free breakfasts bearable. Once you get in the habit of reading labels for ingredients, you realize how often sugar sneaks in–yes, even in bacon–but I promise you won’t even notice a difference in taste (as exemplified by Ty and Jack happily scarfing down this bacon; note to self, cook the cheap stuff for them as this sugar-free brand works out to about a buck a slice). For dinner, I went the easy route, and just stir fried a mess of stuff together and served over fresh greens.

 

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zucchini noodles, peppers, onion, and chicken

For day 2’s breakfast, I branched out with zucchini & sweet potato latkes and poached eggs. I used the shred blade on my food processor and julienned one sweet potato and one zucchini, using half for the latke recipe and putting the other half in the fridge to add to salads. I also picked up a pre-made container of broccoli slaw which is great to throw in stir fries and salads. For lunch I sauteed some sausage (again, read your labels–most have added sugar. The brand below from Whole Foods is made with fruit juice, which is considered ok by Whole30 standards) with diced onion and brussels sprouts with a little wilted kale thrown in for good measure. Tyler pronounced the sausage “too sweet” for his taste, but I liked it.

 

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My lame attempt at cashew chicken in lettuce tacos (a sprinkling of sesame seeds make it look more appealing, no?!)

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With the luxury of time on my hands, I decided to try my hand at cauliflower fried rice (bear with me here–you can’t browse food pins or lifestyle blogs without having seen someone singing the praises of cauliflower crust pizza or crumbles in lieu of rice).

 

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Guess what? It was Ah-Mazing! I sauteed some cut up pork in sesame oil with a little bit of Chinese 5 spice powder and a splash of coconut aminos (sounds scary, but a great substitute for soy sauce in any Whole30-compliant diet). I even ate the cold leftovers for lunch the next day and it was every bit as tasty as regular rice.

Once I went back to work for week 2, mason jar salads were my go-to lunch choice. I cut up whatever veggies I had on hand (usually peppers), then added shredded zucchini, sweet potatoes, and broccoli slaw, then spring mix and/or baby spinach, topped with shredded deli turkey (get them to slice for you at Whole Foods deli as pre-packaged types have additives that you want to avoid) and a sprinkling of sunflower seeds. Tessemae’s sugar-free Balsamic dressing kept me from losing interest in my daily salad.

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To keep breakfast simple, I made an egg casserole on Sunday and cut it into individually-wrapped slices for grab and go ease. I sauteed onions and whatever veggies that I had on hand (in this case, spinach, peppers, and my zucchini/sweet potato blend), crumbled in a little hoarded (already cooked) bacon, then folded it all into 8 whisked eggs and poured into a glass dish to cook at 350 for about 30 minutes. I tended to eat this cold in the car en route to work, but I am sure it’d be even better if you took the 30 seconds needed to nuke it. Paired with a banana and/or a handful of almonds, and I was good until lunch.

By days 10 and 11, I admit I was getting a little burned out on the whole protein/veggie/fruit prospects. It was Friday, the last day of school, the annual Beach Bum parade, and I really wanted nothing more than to chow down on the pepperoni pizza I made for Jack and his friends after school and enjoy some drinks with friends before, during, and after the parade as usual. But, I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and head back to “Go” without collecting my $200 like in Monopoly, so I threw a pork roast in the crock pot, ate an orange, grabbed a sparkling water (in a coozie so as to feel more festive and party-like), and headed out. I grazed on the requisitely sad veggie tray at the party and tried the pork when I got home out of sheer principle vs. actual hunger. It was delicious! I followed a recipe from someone’s blog that I cannot seem to find now, but improvised with what I had on hand, in this case: 2 cups of homemade chicken stock (donated from my mom); 1.5 cups of homemade veggie stock (sounds impressive until you realize that I literally just tossed a bunch of veggies in a stock pot with some water and let heat do the work); 1 chopped onion; 1 chopped poblano pepper; 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar; a splash of coconut aminos; and some garlic (and, of course, the pork butt!).

 

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It was even better the next day–I never in a million years would’ve thought to put pork on a salad, but this was super good with just the pork, some torn iceberg lettuce, and broccoli slaw (with a sprinkle of sunflower seeds for added fanciness). It was so good, that I couldn’t wait to eat it again the next day.

Then I made meatballs from scratch, which again sounds impressive until you realize it was literally 2 ingredients (diced onion, ground pork) and some spices. Of course, I have the attention span of a goldfish, so the recipe called for sauteeing the onion and then blending it in with spices and meat, but I measured and dumped all of the spices atop by diced onions and just sauteed the whole mess together then added it to the meat without waiting for everything to cool. I served mine over spaghetti squash and the meatballs were so good that I didn’t even miss the pasta!

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So I have just under two weeks left to finish up and I can tell you a couple of things for certain: I am sleeping great (something they say should occur); I am not hungry throughout the day; I don’t crave anything (except in my weird dreams) as evidenced by the fact that I can make toast for Jack and not bat an eye (or find half of it in my mouth like Sylvester and Tweety Bird) or scoop ice cream at Jack’s end-of-year class party and not “need” to have some myself; and Larabars have several “approved” flavors for an emergency. Made up of mostly fruit purees, nuts, and/or fruit juice, they are good to have on hand (for example, early on at Skate Night I crammed one in my pie hole to avoid cramming some of Jack’s nacho cheese and chips in said pie hole) and I find the mouthfeel offers something akin to bread/treats that protein/fruits/veggies just don’t have.

Once I finish up, I’ll post again with more thoughts, recipes, results, but until then, have a glass of wine and a cookie for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anticipation

I recently stumbled upon a random stash of childhood slides and had them digitized. It reminded me of just how much things have changed between when I was a kid and the instant gratification of today where you can snap a pic and share it with the world in an instant.

For a long time, my parents had a camera that produced slides and, every now and then, they would haul out the projector and show us the memories of our youth. Anyone else remember those flash bulbs?

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I guess the next step in the process was dropping the film off somewhere for development, like a Fotomat. However long it actually took to develop film was excruciatingly drawn out by my parents’ lackadaisical response time for picking them up. I suppose the modern-day equivalent would be when I drop off something at the tailor to get hemmed or fixed and have to be reminded a month later to come pick it up. Throw in the further hindsight of being a parent, and realizing that it was always a crap shoot that ANY of the images would be worth keeping, and it’s a wonder that my parents ever took any pictures, much less paid for the privilege to see them later.

Then Polaroids came on the scene and changed everything! The film itself was crazy expensive, so at first, only the most important events could be documented, but I have several “action” shots that prove the novelty and importance soon wore off. Kind of like a reverse SnapChat, where the picture appears out of nowhere as opposed to showing up and then disappearing once opened like a Mission Impossible message.

In college, someone had the ingenious idea of having a photographer at our various sorority and fraternity parties. Ingenious because the drunker people got, the more photos they tended to be in (likely precursors to today’s photobombers) and subsequently buy. A few days after a party, a big print sheet with tiny thumbnail shots would appear and we would all pore over them in our pjs before class. Not as much of an unknown as slides, but you still couldn’t always tell from such a small image how good the picture would be when printed to 4 x 6  dimensions. By my senior year, I was convinced that being the party pic guy was about the worst job you could have, maybe only tied with the late shift delivery guy at Pizza Shuttle who was forever getting stiffed on tips and harassed by drunks in need of pizza (as I typed this, I sang their phone number jingle to myself while looking them up on google, delighted that the # is also their IP address!).

In my 20s and 30s, disposable cameras were all the rage, especially at weddings, where the bride and groom hoped to add candid shots to those they paid a professional photographer to take. It usually ended up with any nieces and nephews under the age of 5 in attendance making off with most of the cameras and the newlyweds paying to develop a ton of pix taken at knee height. Disposable cameras that worked underwater were also a super cool invention of that time, but I soon learned that if I can’t take particularly good pix on land, taking them underwater is not really in the cards, either. Cue lots of blurry pix of fish, goggles, and flippers.

So, while there is something to be said for both the old school way of taking pictures, (waiting for the film to be developed, and then selecting the very best one for the perfect frame and the perfect place in your home or office) and the modern day equivalent (of, say, a digital frame with scrolling images akin to a “best of you” montage as no one posts bad pictures of themselves), I’ll leave you with this picture from my cache of slides. In today’s world, it would immediately be deleted, but all these years later it made me laugh to come across it and wonder: How on earth could blowing out candles on my birthday cake drive me to make a face like that? And why was I still wearing shirts with ironed-on cuties like a koala when clearly all of my cooler friends were already into the button-down oxford shirt fashion?

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