Thursday, April 17, 2014

Blue Apron Review and Giveaway

For most of my twenties, dinner was more often than not either cheese and crackers (and alcohol) or carrots and hummus (and alcohol).  I saw nothing wrong with this.  Once TG and I started spending most nights together (I mean before he says goodnight and then leaves to sleep in his own apartment, right Dad?), I felt I probably should break myself of this habit. Not because I thought it would be healthier for both of us to have actual nutrients, but because I didn’t want him to know about my bachelorette lifestyle.  Because the foundation of all healthy relationships is changing who you are and lying about who you were.

Slim pickings...

For a time, this was an easy habit to break because we went out to dinner every night.  Like, every single night.  Eventually, though, I realized that wasn’t sustainable in the long term. (By “realized” I mean “opened my retirement account statement”).  So we started going to the grocery store. 

This was not successful.  We roamed around the aisles, changing our minds 30 times about what it is we were going to prepare, until I was so starving and hangry that we had to order dinner anyway. 

This continued apace while simultaneously, my girlfriends began The Social Diet, and suddenly my cheese-and-cracker habit wasn’t just apparent to myself and my boyfriend, but my girlfriends as well.  Girlfriends who also have busy lives, many of whom have husbands, a child even!  Girlfriends who manage to prepare legitimate, healthful dinners from ingredients that cannot be found in Duane Reade (related: TG hates when I buy groceries from Duane Reade, but I think if I can get hummus and shampoo at the same time, why wouldn’t I?!).  And so, in deference to health awareness and also fear of being shamed and judged by my peers, I formally and publicly committed to cooking more.

In the spirit of the Social Diet, my friend Liza immediately offered a show of support for this goal.  She explained that she and her fiancé had tried Blue Apron and had a free trial they’d be happy to give me.  With nothing to lose, I snapped it right up.

I had heard of Blue Apron from a couple of friends and colleagues, and one of TG’s siblings had even tried it before.  The gist is this: once a week, Blue Apron sends you fresh ingredients and recipes for 3 meals, for 2, 4, or 6 people.  The service costs $9.99 per person per meal, or about $60 per order for the two of us.  You choose a delivery window (we do Thursdays between 6pm and 10pm, though the box typically arrives before 8pm), and your food (every ingredient required except, salt, pepper, and olive oil) and recipes are delivered in an insulated box.  Fair warning: the box weighs about 15 lbs, so maybe if you live on a fifth floor walk up, this isn’t for you.  Everything within the box is labeled, which is handy if you don’t necessarily visually know the difference between cilantro and parsley and think one tastes like ass and belongs in the garbage can…  You can specify if you’re vegetarian, or don’t want to receive a specific type of meat (say, seafood).  So far as I can tell, however, other dietary restrictions aren’t accommodated.  I am allergic to garlic (yes, it does suck), which as you probably know is a very common ingredient in recipes, but I just leave it out when I’m cooking.  And I was serious about throwing out the cilantro.  Otherwise, though, part of what I’ve liked about Blue Apron thus far is that you’re given recipes and ingredients you might not otherwise try.  I don’t like olives, for example, but included them in an awesome tilapia recipe last week and gobbled them up.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The "knick knacks" are all the little ingredients for each recipe, like spices
Dorito loves the Blue Apron boxes, which is also great.
The week of our free trial, TG and I first decided to make turkey burger sliders with arugula salad with toasted hazelnuts.  This seemed both tasty and most important, simple enough for our first foray.  I discovered quickly, however, that my apartment, in which my kitchen, living room, dining room, and foyer are in fact all the same space, is not really designed for tandem cooking.  I banished TG to the couch and started chopping and mincing and mixing and pan frying.  I’ll be honest – it was a bit overwhelming.  The sink filled up with dirty dishes rapidly, and with very limited counter space, I wasn’t sure where to put what I had prepped while still having room to prep the remaining ingredients.  Panko breadcrumbs ended up all over the floor, and shallot peels clogged the drain.  Considering my distaste for disorder, this was a lot for me to handle. 
Recipe cards
But once the dinner made it to the plates, it tasted good!  While we might have made burgers for ourselves, we probably wouldn’t have thought to use ground turkey, nor made them sliders, and we definitely wouldn’t have added minced shallots and Dijon to the patties.  Plus, I loved that the recipe included both a protein and a side, and included in the directions when to prepare what parts of each.  So often, my problem and hesitation in cooking is that I can make a main dish, and pick a side to go with it, but don’t know how to time them so they’re both done and hot and edible at the same time.  Granted, this side was a salad, which is raw and generally takes 11 seconds to prepare, but there was some hazelnut toasting required.  So while nothing revolutionary, our first Blue Apron meal was a success!

Since then, we’ve received two more deliveries (these we paid for), and have made a number of other meals, including pan seared cod with roasted potatoes, the aforementioned tilapia with a Mediterranean sauce, chickpea fritters with ratatouille, and chicken, artichoke, and spinach casserole.  Unlike the turkey burger sliders, we never in a million years would have made anything close to any of these meals, and were very pleasantly surprised with each of them (or at least I was.  TG is too polite to tell me if he thinks this all tastes like shit.  Just last night, for example, he ate an artichoke that definitely could have stood to have a few more of the outer layers peeled off before human consumption.  Sorry about that…).  The recipes also allow for substitutions – the casserole we made last night could easily be made with basically any other vegetables.  The recipes are portioned for two, and with rare exception, there haven’t been leftovers, which could be a plus or a minus, depending on how willing you are to reheat tilapia in your office microwave for lunch.  Since we started, I’ve definitely gotten better at managing the mess that cooking makes, which is an efficiency I think only comes with practice.  I’ve also gotten better at not stressing out about the mess when it happens  (the sauce accompanying the tilapia ended up splattered all over the white walls of the kitchen/living room/dining room).  Remembering to take the batteries out of the smoke alarm before getting started also helped reduce my mid-cooking anxiety.  But in just a few shorts weeks of cooking once or twice a week and I already feel like “hey!  I can totally do this!”

Directions with pictures AND order of operations hints

There are, of course, a few draw backs.  I already mentioned that there isn’t much in the way of accommodating for food allergies.  Also, Blue Apron isn’t cheap. Granted, $9.99 per person per meal is drastically less expensive than going out to dinner every night, but if you’ve grocery store savvy, you can probably buy these same ingredients on the cheap (my local grocery store is Whole Foods, so it’s probably a wash for me).  I like that Blue Apron provides the tablespoon of Hungarian paprika required for a recipe, rather than a whole bottle I’d have to get at the grocery store, but that obviously comes at a price.  If you live in a place where you have separate rooms for the kitchen, living room, dining room, and foyer, maybe you would rather buy in bulk, store left overs, and save money.  Also, if you live in a place where you have separate rooms for the kitchen, living room, dining room, and foyer, aren’t you fancy? Asshole…

Blue Apron also thinks I’m going to cook much more often than I am.  Once a week was my goal, and thus far I’ve achieved it, but between my schedule and TG’s, we aren’t home three nights a week to cook and eat, ever, but 3 meals is the minimum you can order.  I did eventually discover that you can change your Blue Apron delivery schedule, and now we’re slated to receive a box about once a month, rather than once a week, which means I can spread those three meals out over more than 7 days.  If I know we’re not going to cook immediately, I toss the meat in the freezer.  I've also discovered it’s kind of difficult to cancel once you sign up for the free delivery, which is sort of a dick move on their part, since you have to provide your credit card information to register for the free trial.  But apparently all it takes is an email to end your subscription.  Still, that information is kind of hidden on their website, and requires more than just “click here to make it stop.”

Lastly, while the website indicates the recipes take 35 minutes on average, my experience has been more like 45 minutes to an hour, but that could be because I’m still getting my feet wet in the food preparation department.  I find listening to This American Life is a nice way to make the time pass, and I happen to have plenty of time on my hands, since my longest run in this, the last week of my taper, is a whopping 4 miles...

As a whole, though, I recommend Blue Apron.  The recipes are easy to follow but without being overly simple - they still make me feel like more of a chef than I would otherwise.  I’m given exposure to ingredients I wouldn’t ordinarily use/eat.  At 500-700 calories a pop with a good dose of vegetables in each, these are on the healthy side.  And they allow for practice at preparing ingredients and cooking, and I can’t overstate how much this has improved my confidence and in turn, my desire to cook, in just a few weeks.

Blue Apron hasn’t reached out to me (nor I to them), sponsored this, or compensated me in any way.  I’m just sharing because I’d like to think I’m not the only 30 year old in a tiny apartment who hasn’t mastered feeding herself, and Blue Apron helps rectify that.  And if you would like help rectifying that, you can get a free trial too!  Leave a comment with a funny story about a cooking mishap and I’ll choose someone to receive a free trial of Blue Apron*

*To receive Blue Apron, you have to live somewhere in here. Also, based on the website/my experience, you do have to enter a credit card in order to register for the free trial, but I promise they don’t charge you for the trial.  If you don’t want to keep paying for it after the trial, email  before the weekly cutoff, which will be 6 days before the next automatically scheduled delivery (aka the day after you receive your trial box).  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On Boston, Again

364 days ago, I read something that has stayed with me for one year less one day.  It was an opinion piece in the Times about the Boston Marathon bombings, and terrorism more broadly. You can, and should, read it in full here, but the lines that most resonated with me were the following:

Cave dwelling is for terrorists. Americans? We run in the open on our streets — men and women, young and old, new immigrants and foreigners, in shorts not armor, with abandon and never fear, eyes always on the prize, never on all those “suspicious” bundles on the curb. In today’s world, sometimes we pay for that quintessentially American naïveté, but the benefits — living in an open society — always outweigh the costs.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Wrap Up: Thoughts From Race Week

The insomnia has kicked in, I've convinced myself my left hip needs to be replaced, I thought about my next meal while I was still in the process of devouring an ice cream cone last night, and I've checked the long range forecast more often than I've checked my work email. Race week is upon us.

Number of Miles Run Last Week: 34. I hadn't remembered from last fall that this training plan has 800s two weeks before the race. It does, and that's rude.

Number of Beers Consumed Last Week: 0. 30 days dry. The desire still burns deep.

Types of Beers Consumed Last Week: n/a. I've had more club soda in the last month that I've had in the preceding 30 years.

This weekend's workouts were pretty good confidence boosters for me. I ran 13.1 on a hilly route on Saturday in 1:42 and never felt like I was pushing the pace. 1:42 x 2 makes a 3:24 marathon, which is my current PR. With a little race day adrenaline thrown into the equation, something in that vicinity should be pretty reasonable, even with a little pace drop off (let's be real - negative splits have never been my thing). And while Sunday's 800s seemed unnecessarily cruel, I was comfortably faster than 3:20 for each (3:10, 3:12, 3:08, 3:08).

This week is about sleeping enough, eating well, and not making myself crazy. I'll pop in again with further thoughts and updates, but in the meantime, please drink beers outside for me - this weather is killing me.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Monday Wrap Up: Taper Worm and Other Affllictions

The taper is in full force, which I know because all sorts of problems and complications are presenting themselves. First and foremost is the insatiable hunger, or Taper Worm, of which I'm acutely aware considering my participation in the Social Diet. Friday I had two dinners, each made complete with its own dessert. In the spirit of the Social Diet, I'm trying at least to feed the Taper Worm with good-for-me foods, but yesterday when I was in Whole Foods buying fruit and yogurt, I walked out with some sea salted chocolate caramels as well. The heart wants what it wants.

In addition to the traditional hunger associated with the taper, I'm also suffering from random ailments. During yesterday's run, I had a bloody nose for 5 full miles. Not just a little blood either; my gloves and the front of my shirt were covered in blood spatter, straight out of CSI. At this rate, I'll probably acquire a case of gangrene by Thursday. Unless eating is a cure for that, in which case, I'm safe.

Something that hasn't been bothering me of late is my psoas, though I can't say that's a result of the standing desk. My commitment has been halfhearted at best. That said, I haven't experienced the sharp pain I first described in quite some time, though the psoas and general hip area are still spots I "notice" from time to time. So naturally instead of being proactive and taking steps to prevent it from creeping up again, I'll go back to doing exactly what it was I was doing before, but lazier: instead of deconstructing my standing desk, now mostly I complain about how the phone is difficult to reach from its perch when I'm sitting.

Number of Miles Run Last Week: 41. Yesterday's "long" run was just 16 miles, and while I was pretty tired throughout (possibly from the blood loss), I really focused on attacking the hills in preparation for my upcoming assault on Newton. It's finally spring-like here, so I'm looking forward to the next two weeks of easy miles just to be outside.

Number of Beers Consumed Last Week: 0. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. I've been sober for 22. I hope and expect this won't be a difficult habit to break when the time comes.

Types of Beers Consumed Last Week: n/a.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

In Defense of SoulCycle

SoulCycle gets a bad rap from many, many people.  Just this weekend, the Times’ Style Section poked fun at the spinning empire - without naming names, but if you’re at all familiar with the SoulCycle brand (including the admittedly eye-roll inducing skull-and crossbones logo), you know who was being referenced.  Truth be told, much of it was spot on: it’s dark, it’s loud, it’s INSANE to throw punches with weights when you’re surrounded by 70 other people in a room smaller than a New York City apartment with hands so slick with sweat you dropped your SmartWater 3 hill sprints ago.  And the article didn’t even touch upon what many people think is the most egregious part - it’s expensive.  $34 per class, not including the price of shoes and water, and many studios don’t have locker rooms and shower facilities.  All that, coupled with the heavy-handed “find your soul” “athlete, warrior, rockstar” mantas, can come across as wildly out of touch, I’ll admit.  It’s a fitness class, not a religious ceremony.
Sidewalk graffiti.  So edgy!

Indulge me for a minute.

I’ve mentioned that last year, I wasn’t in a great place.  I was unhappy and unfilled, and found it very easy to feel very sorry for myself.  I adopted a cat.  That should really tell you all you need to know.  
I regret nothing. I LOVE HIM!
During this time, it was hard for me to feel good about most things, and that extended to running.  Ultimately, the act of running did cheer me up, but the process of going for a run – and I’m just talking about getting dressed and going down three flights of stairs – seemed insurmountable.  And so, I decreased my running dramatically, not even cracking 100 miles in a month for the first couple of months of 2013.

In spite of all of this (which I realize sounds dire, and I guess reflecting back, it kind of was), I kept going to SoulCycle.  Truthfully, the biggest motivation was a financial one; running was free, so there were few concrete and immediate negative repercussions to bailing, aside from, you know, continuing to not run and feel bad about it.  But to register for a SoulCycle class and not attend was to throw away $34.  So while there were nights where I literally cried myself to sleep (not just because Dorito bites and scratches), there were also mornings where I took my puffy eyes and skull-and-crossbone clad body to a spin class. 

Often, SoulCycle instructors will encourage you to set a goal for the class, and will remind you throughout to think about your goal.  This morning, for example, my goal was to really focus on my crunches, so there is plenty of vapid and vain goal setting going on, believe me.  But last year, my goal every single ride was to spend the 45 minutes not thinking about what was making me anxious and unhappy.  No “I have totally screwed up that work project.”  No “I’m going to be alone forever.”  No “I’m so selfish because these are such ‘first-world’ problems.”  For 45 minutes, I just wanted to not be sad.  And I swear to you, trite as it sounds, being in that dark room, surrounded by 70 other sweaty people, listening to weird Rihanna remixes at maximum volume might as well have been a religious ceremony, it impacted me so significantly.  If nothing else, for 45 minutes a day, I felt better.

I’m not claiming SoulCycle was the cure for my sadness and anxiety (also not a cure – actual therapy, which did nothing but made me feel dramatically worse, and which I ended after about 4 sessions.  Incidentally, breaking up with that wackadoo therapist was actually a turning point in my mood and mental health, as it felt to me like the first time I was making a conscious decision to do something that would make me happy).  But it was something that gave me, if not outright joy, than at least not depression, at a time when I needed it.  

So even though I'm back to being (mostly) happy and (generally) healthy, there is still something about being in the dark of the studio that makes me feel like I’m taking care of myself, beyond just exercising.  If that means I’m drinking the $34 Kool-Aid, so be it.  At least I draw the line at the $288 cashmere throw, adorned with – what else, skull-and-crossbones. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday Wrap Up: The Social Diet

You guys, it's taper time! That time of year when you are insatiably hungry despite running fewer miles per week than you have in 4 months, have phantom pains you're sure are signs of kidney failure, and are thrilled your long run is "only" 16 miles for the week!

Number of Miles Run Last Week: 59. As you might imagine, I was furious to discover this, and it took a lot of restraint not to just run one more damn mile. That's my highest weekly mileage ever, for what it's worth.

Number of Beers Consumed Last Week: Nil. I thought about having a Buckler NA at dinner on Saturday night, but remembered how, on New Year's Eve, desperately clamoring to have something with which to toast at midnight, TG and I grabbed the last two beers available, which turned out to be Becks NA, which turned out to be awful. Thankfully, it hasn't seemed to have deleterious consequences on our 2014.

Types of Beers Consumed Last Week: N/A

In the spirit of spring and wedding season and coming to terms with turning 30, some of my girlfriends decided to begin a "Social Diet."  The thinking is that the "social" aspect not only makes each of us more accountable than we would be if the only being who knew we washed down a box of Girl Scout cookies with a bottle of sauvignon blanc were our cats, but that if you engage in a social diet with people with whom you actually do socialize, your social activities may also be healthier. We're a group who loves to catch up over a meal and a couple bottles of wine, so being able to say "hey let's go for a walk instead!" should help with our collective health. Everyone set personal goals for themselves from the start, ranging from weight loss to exercise frequency to experience in the kitchen, and we're tracking our progress against them through Memorial Day (which seems impossibly far away right now). We're all using My Fitness Pal to keep tabs on what we're up to, and sharing it with each other, hence the "social" part. 

From the get-go, I was given a "pass" on participating, because monkeying around with diet and exercise isn't something I can commit to in the throes of marathon season. But, in the spirit of health, and in deference to FOMO, I joined the band wagon. My goals included:

1) Be mindful of what it is I'm eating. I'm absolutely guilty of thinking that if the furnace is hot enough, it'll burn anything. I try to eat a salad a few days a week, but try less to avoid Doritos, Diet Coke, and "dinner" made up entirely of cheese and crackers.

2) Cook more. Honestly, cooking consistently even once per week would constitute "more." But this will help achieve goal numero uno as well. I have yet to find a recipe on Epicurious that involves Diet Dr. Pepper as an ingredient, so chances are, if I'm making it myself, it's going to have ingredients that are better for me.

I was concerned about having SMART goals, because I too have attended professional development workshops and am familiar with workplace jargon, so for those purposes, I'm aiming to track my meals in My Fitness Pal to get a better idea of what I am eating, both in terms of whole foods and on a nutrient level; and cook once per week. Here's what happened in week one:

My Fitness Pal gives you a daily calorie allotment, based on your lifestyle, height, weight, and weight loss goals, if any. For me, that calorie allotment is 1,780. Any exercise you do bumps that number up (this means I double log runs, since I use DailyMile as shown above to track my training). Under absolutely no circumstances would I be able to stick to my calorie allotment without exercise. On Saturday, for example, I consumed 3,200 calories.  My dinner alone was close to that 1,780 number.  That's without alcohol.  Saturday I also ran 21 miles, so I ended up under my calorie goal, but I have no idea how people who don't exercise don't also starve to death.

Pasta, scallops, olive oil, all reasonable choices.  And also, 6 cookies... 

I did manage to cook exactly once last week.  That's not even counting Sunday morning's toast with jam.  So, twice!

Other things I've learned:
- the tomato soup I've had for lunch approximately everyday since Thanksgiving has close to a full day's allotment of sodium in it
- a cupcake from Magnolia Bakery has 400 calories. Each and every one of those calories is delicious
- when I start drinking again, I'm totally screwed

On a more serious note, I think the notion of a social diet can really only work if you're a) doing it with people who are genuinely supportive of one another's goals, and b) a person who doesn't get caught in the comparison trap.  I'm lucky that A is absolutely true in this case, but B is something with which I've struggled before.  It's easy to avoid in this case, because it happens that none of the other participants are currently training for a marathon, but I'll be interested to see how I feel once my race is done, when I'll have no legitimate reason to eat 3200 calories, and no desire to run for 3 hours at a time.  

Ever participate in a "social diet?"  Do you track your food intake?  Do you know the Petit Ecolier cookies, of which I ate 6 on Saturday?  If you do, do you understand why I eat them 6 at a time?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday Wrap Up: Sober Thoughts

It's happened again. For the next month, the most scandalous intoxicant the pass my lips will be caffeine. And Cadbury Cream Eggs, I guess. Until Boston, I'm off the sauce.

Last week happened to be particularly stressful at work, and I was surprised to find how strongly I craved a beer when I got home after a long day. I'm not in the habit of drinking to forget my problems, but I realized I have come to associate having a beer with unwinding. Drinking is also a pretty big component of most social contracts. People are skeptical if you don't join them in raising your glass, like "can I trust this person?" Even something as seemingly straightforward as figuring out what to have for dinner is, if not impeded, then certainly impacted, by sobriety: ordinarily, I might suggest to TG that we meet for a drink after work to figure out what we want to eat, or that we wait at the bar for a table at a restaurant. But he feels guilty if I watch him have a beer, and neither one of us wants to belly up to the bar and say "Two Diet Cokes, please." And don't even get me started on the relationship between watching sports and alcohol.

Look at all the deep thoughts I have when my judgment isn't clouded by hops!

Number of Miles Run Last Week: 55. I did another set of Yasso 800s on Friday morning, this time running 6x800 at 3:07, 3:08, 3:14, 3:12, 3:10, and 3:10, and while I was super psyched with my performance - particularly my ability to reign in the pace after I started out too fast - I also knew 800s are not kind to quads. Saturday's workout was 10 miles with 4 at GMP, after which I had a sneaking suspicion Sunday's 22 miler was going to be a doozy. But for once, I tried to take the "slow" part of "long, slow distance" to heart, and, what do you know? I didn't feel demoralized and exhausted as I had the week before. It was a real "trust the training" moment for me, to realize that long runs are slow specifically to prevent the type of fatigue of which I'd just been complaining the week before. And it only took me 17 marathons to make that connection.

Number of Beers Consumed Last Week: A big, fat goose egg. It's been awhile since I've gone dry before a race, but with a lofty goal on a tough course ahead of me, I figured cutting the booze would help me sleep better, eat better, and maybe even drop a couple of pounds. And then last night I had steak-for-two with mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. But I sure slept like a baby!

Types of Beers Consumed Last Week: n/a

One week until the taper. Cheers to th- Goddamnit, sobriety ruins everything.