I Tried Out A Meal-Kit Delivery Service for Three Days... And I Didn't Hate It.

Call me a skeptic, but when I first heard about meal-kit delivery services, I wasn't buying it. Plated, Blue Apron, and the like are becoming household names across the US, gaining popularity among busy suburban parents as well as millennials who are novices in the kitchen.

Why was I skeptical? Well, my main beef (hah) with the idea of these meal-kit delivery services was that it wasn't the same as really cooking. Maybe I'm just a traditionalist, but I think it's important to get to know your food by going to the grocery store, feeling it, and picking it out. Besides that, the growing popularity of these services made me think: are people really getting this lazy?

Fast forward to this past week, when I was at home for spring break and tried out one of these programs: I'm still not completely sold on it, but I can see how it can be useful. And in this food-photography filled post I'll tell you why.

The company we went with is called "Just Add Cooking." I say "we" because my parents were paying for it. I suppose that's my main criticism of these services- they're so expensive. Through cooking for myself this year I've learned how to eat on the cheap. The $69 introductory offer for three meals for four people makes my heart (and my wallet) cry a little bit, but the $109 you'd have to pay after that week makes me cringe even more. You'd have to be a pretty high roller to be able to afford this (count this out if you're a student and your parents aren't backing you). 0/10: would only use if I wasn't poor.

But let's focus on the positive. Just Add Cooking, as opposed to a national company such as Blue Apron, prides itself on providing not only fresh, but incredibly local ingredients. JAC is based out of Boston, so almost every ingredient they delivered to us was locally sourced, and they were very transparent about where it came from. Take the ground chicken we used in our potstickers - it was from Brockton Massachusetts. That is something I absolutely love to see. The best way to eat sustainably is to make sure it's not traveling far to get to you (anyone else remember my sophomore speech?). 10/10 for eating local!

On that same topic, one of my other main complaints with the service (and an issue that many of these services have) is that there is so. much. packaging. I mean, do you really need to put two whole scallions in a plastic bag? Probs not. That being said, I think JAC does better than most mainstream companies when it comes to packaging. Plus, it's all recyclable. These programs are, however, effective at reducing waste in that they pre-portion everything so you're not throwing out much, if anything at all. 6/10 for waste reduction. They could use less to begin with.

Now, onto the recipes themselves.

Each week, you can choose from a variety of recipes to suit your tastes. My mom was in charge of this bit because I guess what mom says goes and all that. So the first recipe on the menu was potstickers with kale and edamame salad. This is definitely not something my family would usually have, and I think that's one of the positive aspects of meal-kit programs. 9/10 for ~exotic~ cooking.

So there were like 38295 ingredients in this recipe. My mom and I knew this would be out of our comfort zone so we worked together on filling and cooking the lil' dumplings. They were oh-so-cute yet oh-so-finnicky. Let me put this into perspective for you: it took two very experienced cooks and 1 hr. and 30 min. to complete this "medium" level dish. 2/10 for getting our hopes up that this would be easy.

Once the potstickers were sticky, and the salad was salady, it was time to eat. And it was glorious. Maybe that's because we had put blood, sweat, and tears into the whole production or maybe it was just the avocado in the salad. But even my picky father was pleased with the meal. 10/10 for dad's approval.

Our second meal of the week looked promising. I mean, I had never cooked with steak before (did I mention that I'm a poor university student?) and I felt fancy free rubbing that steak with chipotle in adobo sauce to my hearts content. Cooking it, however, wasn't so easy. They said to cook the steak for 3-4 minutes on each side, but to my horror that was definitely not enough. Even for my medium-rare tastes. 3/10 for accuracy of instructions

The grits and sugar snap peas were easy enough, but then again how can you make that kind of thing difficult? Cheesy grits are essentially instant bliss. So once I had survived the emotional rollercoaster that was cooking my steak it was smooth sailing. 7/10 overall because red meat and cheese, but poor execution. 

Our final meal with JAC looked promising. Oh yes, Daal Curry: a vegetarian staple in any British student's repertoire. Cheap but flavorful, fairly easy but impressive enough to serve your friends. Perfection on a plate. Despite my own experience making and eating Daal curry, my family wasn't quite as familiar. As exceptional a cook as my mom is, she rarely makes Indian food- we leave that to our lovely neighbors. So having curry for dinner was something special. 10/10 for just being a great all around dish. 

This recipe came with lots of beautiful spices which made me think man, this is going to taste good. Plus, it even came with a can of coconut milk: never underestimate the life-changing power of coconut milk. My only criticism of this dish is that the directions said to cook the red lentils for only 20 minutes. This cooking time was highly underestimated and it ended up taking about 45 minutes for the lentils to cook. 5/10 for inaccurate cooking instructions- it was so close to being perfect.

If you can't already tell, the Daal curry was my favorite dish of all. The family as a whole liked the chicken potstickers the best. But I think the best part of using Just Add Cooking overall was the fact that it allowed me to try out different recipes that I wouldn't have made otherwise. In a more general sense, I can see how these programs can be helpful for people who don't have the time to go to the grocery store or who need a jumpstart on cooking.

Speaking of people who need a jumpstart on cooking, my oldest brother is also a user of meal-kit delivery services. At 27, he is fairly new to the world of cooking and uses Blue Apron as a way to get inspired. I thought I'd end this post with what he had to say about his experience: 

"As a culinary challenged individual, Blue Apron was a very concise cooking experience. The ingredients were super fresh, the directions were clear and the results were not only tasty but also visually pleasing. I think Guy Fieri would be jealous of my edible creation." 

Impressive stuff. 


What the Boston Marathon Means to Me

When I was eight years old, I ran my first race ever. It was just one mile long, up a hill one way and down the other. I had seen my brothers run this race countless times and was always jealous of the "participation" medals they received at the finish and the brightly colored race t-shirts they wore for weeks afterwards. And in 2005, it was finally my turn to show my family that I could speed up and down that hill just like my big older brothers.

At that age, I didn't realize how lucky I was to be running up Heartbreak Hill, a notoriously difficult part of the Boston Marathon racecourse. To me, this was something "normal"- something I took for granted as a young runner. It was an exciting opportunity for me to be able start my running career on a historic course that not many people have the pleasure of living just two miles away from.

Being surrounded by such a dynamic and energetic running community inspired me to run from a very young age. You can't help but feel motivated to run when you're watching tens of thousands of runners- from the elites to the charity groups- flying by on a sunny Monday afternoon. And to this day, I'm still running and cheering- hoping to make my way up Heartbreak Hill once again when I run the Marathon one day.

But the Boston Marathon is important for another reason. The race made headlines three years ago for the tragedy that shook this city. It's still difficult to look back on that day without feelings of anger, sadness, and grief.

On a personal level, the bombings and the aftermath were just that- personal. It was an attack on runners, and all of the hard work and happiness that went into their preparation for the race. It was an attack on Bostonians, and this celebration of the world coming together in our city. As both a runner and a Boston native, I find it unfathomable that someone would try to rob us of something which is so deeply important to the fabric of our community.

But at one point while watching today, that frustration, confusion, and heartache I was feeling dissipated- and was instead replaced with hope.

As I stood with my parents watching the noticeably tired runners trudge along that legendary uphill at mile 20, the crowd noise began to increase from a cheer to a roar. I looked around, trying to spot the runner they were applauding and thought to myself, Who are they cheering on? Someone famous? A football player? An army vet?

As the noise grew louder and louder, I saw her: a woman in pink shorts, climbing up the hill like the rest of the runners, just one leg at a time. But one of those legs was a prosthesis- a striking reminder of that devastating day in 2013. She conquered that hill with tremendous strength,  and with the support of every single person watching on in awe.

It was one of those moments where I felt like everyone was thinking the same thing, and knew that this was about more than just a race, but a triumph. A triumph of an individual who inspired us all. A triumph of a city that isn't afraid to keep running. A triumph of a community that has been running and cheering for over a century.

The tragedy we faced in 2013 didn't change us. In fact, it isn't what made us #BostonStrong. This city has always had that strength, and the Boston Marathon is just our way of showing it off to the world.

And so I know that one day I'll run the Marathon, too. I'll climb Heartbreak Hill past my parents and the swaths of onlookers, hoping to show the pride I have for my city's strength. I know it won't be easy, and it certainly won't be like that 1-miler I did back when I was eight, but I know that I'll make it happen. Because the Boston Marathon means far too much to me to ever miss out on it.


On the Importance of "Home"

It can be a little bit tricky to define "home" when you're at university. Sometimes we call where our family lives "home," because that's where we've spent most of our lives. Other times, we call the city where we go to university "home" only to have to correct ourselves in front of mom out of fear of breaking her heart, saying "But Newton is my home home."

But sometimes I feel that people my age are far too quick to complain about their hometown. I get it, everyone's hometown has some sense of monotony. It's always the "same old, same old" that we've been subject to for the majority of our lives- the trips to the grocery store, the runs in the park, and the tragic lack of nightlife. We might have some of our best, most longtime friends at home, but we've met some new and exciting people too.

Move-in day, Edinburgh 2015. 

Valid arguments, of course. And I certainly feel that way too sometimes. Especially now that I'm home on spring break for two weeks while my home friends are all back at university. It's just me, my family, and whatever Newton has to offer. But while students easily complain that their home isn't nearly as exciting as their college, and that they'd rather live anywhere but where they grew up, hear me out: valuing your home, and everyone in it, is important.

I think much of the reason why I've developed this mindset is because I live so far away from my home. Going home for a weekend (or even a week!) is never an option. I know that I'll be home for Christmas, spring break, and then the summer- but there's no traveling home on a whim for me. And I think for that reason, I've learned to appreciate it more. That, or the fact that I have to cook for myself three times a day, seven days per week with what usually is only a half empty fridge. Trust me- if you haven't already transitioned into this phase of your life, you will miss your mom's home cooking.

Edinburgh's beauty always welcomes me back. 

Anyway, I suppose what bothers me most about this "I don't like going home it's so lame" mindset is that college kids don't seem take into account what their parents have sacrificed for them to give them a home. I particularly say this with regard to my hometown which is (for the most part) very socio-economically well-off. I'd say that it's a privilege to have grown up in Newton, to be able to call it home. So I've tried to change my attitude such that I don't take it for granted.

Of course, we're all itching to start the next stage of life, to be independent, to have lives of our own. But we can't forget the people and places that helped us to get where we are today:

We need to thank our school systems, for giving us an education that primed our minds for the challenges of university and the real world.

We need to thank our teachers, for being the ones who gave us the knowledge and confidence to carry us into adulthood.

We need to thank our friends who, while they may have come and gone, made school worth it when things got tough.

We need to thank our families who were there through it all- the toddler temper tantrums, the awkward preteen years, and our angsty adolescence.

This is what makes a home.

Prom pics on the porch, 2014.

As I'm writing this blog post, I realize that not everyone has had great experiences at home. And because of this, I've found that maybe I'm just lucky. Lucky to have been able to call one place "home" since the day I was born. Lucky to have been able to grow up in a place that has provided me with ample opportunities to better myself. Lucky to have been raised by such incredible parents.

And that's why I'm always happy to go back. There might be a bit of moaning here and there when it comes to boredom, but I try to see it this way:

As I grow older, I know I will be spending less and less time in Newton, because "life" will just happen. So I need to cherish the moments that I can spend here.

Newton won't be my only home, but it will always be my first home. And to me, that's something truly special.  


Woman Crush Everyday: Mindy Kaling, author of "Why Not Me?"

I am not a particularly quick (or motivated) reader by any stretch of the imagination. In an ideal world, I would be the kind of person who "reads for fun" in all of my spare time. As it turns out, I'd much rather spend that free time watching BBC dramas and baking cookies. But I'm trying here, guys!

I would prefer to read a non-fiction book over a fiction book any day. I know that makes me seem like some type of nerd who values "facts" over creativity, but the truth is my favorite kind of book is autobiographical. Ideally, one written in a lighthearted and comedic fashion by someone famous.

As horribly unintellectual as that sounds I will defend myself by saying that I read a ton of scholarly literature for my degree so cut me some slack, alright?

Anyway, the unthinkable happened the other day: I finished an entire book over the course of a few hours. This has never happened before and I owe it all to the comedic genius that is Mindy Kaling's writing. Seriously- if I could write with half as much wit and pithiness as her I'd be pretty happy with my writing career.

Most widely known for her acting roles in The Office and The Mindy Project, Mindy Kaling is often overlooked for her talent as a writer, director, and producer. Her second novel, Why Not Me?, highlights the struggles and successes of her Hollywood career, delves deep into her personal and romantic life, all while maintaining her uniquely bubbly sense of humor. In short, it's exactly the type of book I needed for a seven hour long flight home.

So what makes Why Not Me? so addictive and engaging? To me, Kaling's incredibly genuine prose kept me coming back for more, even when I said I would read "just one more chapter." Kaling isn't afraid to admit her flaws: she's materialistic, loud, and sometimes just straight up inappropriate. One of my favorite passing anecdotes of hers introduces her owning up to her bad sportsmanship. She describes being kicked out a sports bar during a New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox baseball game:

"I yelled, 'Derek Jeter is baseball's Hitler!' This was in New York City. In a room full of Jewish sports fans. I don't even really like baseball that much. I have a problem" (p. 115).  

Admittedly, this anecdote doesn't make that much sense, or really appear to be that funny, unless you know anything about baseball's greatest rivalry or have as much passion for the Red Sox as any Bostonian does. I was literally cackling while I read this and I'm sure the lady sitting next to me thought I was delusional. Pedantic sports references aside, I find Kaling's honesty with her flaws to be completely refreshing. It's something most celebrities fail to master nowadays, since they're usually too caught up in appearing to be Hollywood's "cool girl"- a title which Mindy Kaling so admirably is not concerned with. 

Another stand-out chapter of Why Not Me? is titled "Soup Snakes" where Kaling attempts to explain her "weird as hell" relationship with her The Office co-star and dear friend BJ Novak. Every time Kaling wrote "If you've ever met BJ, you would know..." I threw my head back in laughter and thought "Oh, Mindy, I know exactly what you mean!" Since I have met BJ Novak all of two times- which amounted to about 45 seconds of conversation- I felt totally "in the know" about this mysteriously intelligent actor and writer.

Totally joking. But I couldn't resist the opportunity to repost a picture of me, my best friend, and the honorable BJ Novak, an alumni of my high school, into this post. So here ya go: 

I have met (and touched!) a second/third-tier character of The Office. You jelly? 

Anyway, the relationship between these two is certainly something that most people can identify with- that best friend who you can rely on for anything, who knows you more than anyone else, but that you've never dated. It's strange but it's real. And that's exactly what Mindy Kaling writes about best. 

However, Kaling succeeds most of all in writing about hard work, confidence, and success as a minority, as a woman, and as simply a person who wants to "make it" in life. She writes that we need to teach young people to work hard for what they want, and to not treat working hard- or even workaholics- in a negative light. Even more so, we need to stop seeing entitlement as a bad thing- entitlement should be earned, not given. 

What struck me the most was her insistence that we need to stop assuming that girls will inherently not have confidence from a young age. She argues that if we keep treating confidence as this "special" and unattainable thing for girls, then they very well may be able to achieve the level of confidence that we automatically assume boys will have (which sometimes they don't!). 

Image via: Recently Heard. 

Luckily, this fantastically poignant excerpt is available online, via Glamour Magazine  so you can get a sneak preview of the book before biting the bullet (in case you're not already convinced).    

So in an effort to keep this post fairly short, and not give away too much about the book itself, I would just like to highly recommend Why Not Me? to anyone who's remotely interested in Hollywood or Mindy Kaling herself, or if you're just looking for an extra dose of inspiration. I promise, you won't be disappointed!    

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