Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Purple Carrot: lazy grocery shopping for lazy people

When those meal ingredient boxes first started popping up, I didn't think they made sense. I mean, if you're too busy/lazy to go to the grocery store, wouldn't it follow that you are too busy/lazy to cook? Then in a moment of weakness (seriously, I took a day off work and spent the entire thing shopping online), I checked out The Purple Carrot, a vegan version. You choose two of the four meals they're featuring, and they send you the ingredients to make four servings of each, plus a "snack". They were running a 50% off promotion, so all that was $30. I figured $30 for basically a week of groceries delivered to my door was too good to pass up. I ordered black bean enchiladas and the goddess bowl, plus peanut butter banana oat balls. I made all the stuff and while it was certainly convenient, I felt bad about all the packaging and didn't think the food tasted exceptionally good.

A few weeks went by and I decided to give it another try (with another 50% off promo). I ordered Sweet Potato Mushroom Tacos with Mango Salsa and Korean Bibimbap, plus the Cranberry Granola Bar snack. This time I took pictures:

It's very convenient how everything comes packaged together, but again, I feel bad about all the trash it generates. I reused most of the bags and kept the ice packs, but I have no use for the box or the insulation it comes with. Anyway, I spent a few hours last Saturday putting everything together:

The cooking was pretty simple, if time consuming. As you can see, I'm reusing some bags for the granola "bars", which are more like super-sticky clumps of granola. It might be user error, though the recipes don't seem to be tested very thoroughly. Case in point: the tacos below. The proportions of the different filings were way off. And it's hard to believe that something with that many ingredients could be bland, but it really didn't have much flavor.

Here's the bibimbap, which had LOTS of spicy flavor. I only put in half of the chili paste to avoid that. Again, I think a better written/tested recipe would have cautioned about using it to taste. Also, my shipment was missing the bean sprouts that were supposed to go in this. That's not a big deal; I'm generally an ingredient or two short when I go to the store because something's either out of stock or I forget.

Verdict? The food doesn't taste GREAT, but it's a good way to ensure you'll eat something reasonably healthy, even in the midst of a Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries binge, when meal planning and going to the grocery store seem too daunting. And at half price, it's about the same price as going to the grocery store (I didn't have any problems finding promo codes through Google). They're having a Memorial Day sale, so I ordered one more box to hold me over until my CSA starts in late June.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Cheap & Easy Hallway Art

I absolutely love the layout of my apartment, except for the never-ending tunnel hallway from the door to the living area. I wasn't sure how to handle decorating it, so I turned to Google. Very quickly, I found this post at Young House Love, where they hung pages from the "Travel the World" calendar from Rifle Paper Co in IKEA Ribba frames. I loved the look and set out to steal it entirely.

First step: buy the calendar. I was a little bummed that Rifle redesigned the 2015 version. Instead of abstract maps (I love maps!), the illustration was of a girl in a scene from the cities. [I'm okay with it now, though, because I just pretend it's an illustration of me driving a convertible around Monaco or snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef.] I got the calendar with tax and shipping for $30.

Step two: go to BFE (where IKEA is located) to buy frames. I specifically wanted IKEA Ribba ones because they were $9 each and came with mats that were already the right size. I've always cut my own mats, but I was aiming for a cheap & easy project and cutting nine mats wouldn't be easy, and getting nine cut wouldn't be cheap. I actually tried ordering the frames online, figuring the $15 in shipping was worth the time and gas I'd spend getting out there. But the package got lost en route, so I ended up driving out there anyway.

Step three: assembly. With those two hurdles out of the way, it was just a matter of ripping apart the calendar and assembling the frames. The whole assembly process took less than an hour.

Step four: hanging. A bit of tedious measuring and leveling, but it worked out.

Before (sad hallway):

After (hallway of travel fantasy):

 Up close:

I'm pretty happy with how these turned out, but I wish I had used different frames. The old calendar (from YHL) seemed to fit in the mats better. Maybe someday I'll take these apart and cut the mats a little larger (yeah right, that's way too much work). Also, these frames stick out an inch from the wall. In retrospect, lower profile frames would be much better in hallways. Every drunk person who has even been in my hallway (myself included) has bumped into them. One was even knocked off (again, alcohol). The frame came apart but somehow the glass stayed in tact. A little Gorilla Glue fixed that problem (I was dreading another trip to IKEA to replace it if that didn't work). 

After I made this, another version took over Pinterest using mats with larger openings. The author said she spent $100 and got the frames and mats from Hobby Lobby. I'm proud to say I have never spent a dime there and never will, but I'd assume similar deals can be found at Michael's or other big box craft stores.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Vegan steak.

I'm a sucker for vegan "novelty" food. When I saw Viana Cowgirl Veggie Steaks at Whole Foods a few months ago, I couldn't pass them up. I've never missed cow steak, but I really had to see what a vegan steak would be like (spoiler alert: it's like a well seasoned chunk of seitan).

I also had potatoes and carrots in the fridge. In true meat-and-potatoes fashion, I made sure there was nothing green on my plate:

I mashed the potatoes and added some raw garlic. For the carrots, I made the Sweet & Salty Maple Baby Carrots recipe from Appetite for Reduction (I just sliced the regular carrots and didn't bake them quite as long). Then I pan-fried the steak according to the package, which only took a few minutes.

My review? It won't fool anyone, but it had a good flavor and toothsome (such a dumb word) texture. It really needed some sort of sauce or gravy, though. It reminded me of whatever the meat was in the swiss steak my mom used to make, and I think it would be good in that type of preparation. I probably won't buy it again, but it was novel to eat "steak" for the first time in a decade.