Is it Time to Eat Again?

4 Hello Fresh Collage

Hello friends!  With all the apologies in the world for being a bad, bad blogger, I’ll simply note that at this exact moment in pandemic time, I’m struggling.  Drowning in housework, pending renos, gardening and some re-re-discovered hobbies, I should be a veritable dynamo of productivity.  Instead, I find myself drifting about the house, half-assing the things I should be full-assing.  I’ll clean a bit.  I’ll take a nap.  Then I’ll go out in 30 degree weather for five hours and garden so hard, you’d think I’m stumping for it to become the next new Olympic sport.  There are no in-betweens now – it’s just go or no go.

Ah, but as always, I’m so incredibly fortunate that food is a comforting consistency in my life.  And thanks to the Hello Fresh meal kit deliveries that we have been receiving through much of the pandemic, it’s also been a tasty, fun and educational comfort – just the thing for these utterly weird times.  So let’s take a peek at what we enjoyed and how we fared during this most recent Hello Fresh experience, shall we?

Cheesy Squash-Stuffed Ravioli Bake with Caramelized Pear Salad

4 Squash Ravioli and Pear Salad 1

Hello Fresh LOVES them some butternut squash, particularly in roasted and ravioli form.  Fortunate, as I really love both of those things as well, particularly when they’re combined with an herby, cream cheese-based sauce and gooey melted cheese.  So delicious, but I maybe enjoyed the salad most of all.  Can’t go wrong with peppery arugula, candy sweet pears and crunchy pepitas.  It made a nice, light foil for the rich pasta.  I’m actually back so far on these Hello Fresh posts that this recipe has come around once again in the recipe rotation, and it was just as good the second time.

Veggie Chili with Tortilla Chips and Sour Cream

4 Veggie Chili 1

Here’s another recipe we’ve tried before.  Hello Fresh changes up their menu offerings fairly frequently, but highly rated recipes come back time and again, and this hearty chili is a favourite.  Actually, my favourite are the tortilla chips you serve alongside or on top of the chili (though what sillyhead got that one so mixed up?  Clearly the chili is just a delivery mechanism for the CHIPS!)  I also went rogue on this one, and thinking that the finished product – your basic bean and veggie chili – was looking a bit sparse, I added some sauteed Beyond Meat to the pot for the final five minutes of cooking time.  A solid offering, but without that bit of plant protein, not quite filling enough.

Grilled Halloumi Bun with Basil Aioli and Potato Wedges

4 Pesto and Halloumi Buns 1

What you see is what you get with this delicious recipe – pan-griddled, salty cheese on a toasted bun with pesto aioli and rosemary potato wedges.  I always think of this popular recipe as summer food (and very soon I will have a barbecue on which to grill that cheese; pretty excited about what that’s going to do to my Hello Fresh-ing.  Reason number 1,657,498 I’m glad we now live in a house as opposed to a condominium apartment – the ability to possess a barbecue.)

Homemade Vegetable-Packed Calzone with Spring Mix and Italian Vinaigrette

4 Veggie Calzone 1

This recipe’s a bit of an odd one for me, as I find it both tasty, and destructive (digestively, and to your kitchen!)  It’s all that flaky puff pastry (again, tasty, and remarkably easy to handle, but yikes, your life will be a mess of buttery flakes for DAYS after preparing this one.)  It also may be the leek and bell pepper filling, which goes into the oven raw – it would benefit remarkably from a quick sautee in a hot pan before you assemble the calzones, just to round off the static, slightly harsh flavour of the fresh veggies.  I see that this recipe is coming around again in a few weeks’ time, and they’ve changed the puff pastry over to a more traditional pizza dough.  Smart.  Hopefully they’ll follow suit soon with some changes to the filling.

Veggie Taco Bowl with Beyond Meat and Mexican-Style Red Rice

4 Veggie Taco Bowl 1

Fun discovery of the last few years (particularly when we’re down Disney way) – I friggin’ LOVE Mexican cuisine!  I mean, my love of margaritas is fairly well documented, but I also love red rice, jalapenos, fresh salsa, cilantro, limey crema and, hoo baby, salty, corny, crunchy tortilla chips.  So how fortuitous that this recipe – another one we’ve enjoyed maybe three times now – features all of those things, and a bit of delicious Beyond Meat to really boost that burrito bowl flavour as well.

Cheese-Stuffed Pasta in a Zucchini Tomato Sauce with Balsamic Onions and Parmesan

4 Pasta in Zucchini Tomato Sauce 1

It seems inevitable that when you’ve tried as many Hello Fresh dishes as we have (three per week, almost every week, since the beginning of the year) you’re going to run across a dud.  This recipe had potential – loved the sticky, balsamic-glazed onions they used here as a kind of garnish – but absolutely none of the flavours went together.  Honestly, the final result tasted like two different pasta dishes slammed together at the last moment, one a delightful mix of caramelized onions and nutty parmesan cheese, and the other a direct-from-the-can stuffed pasta courtesy of Monsieur Boyardee (not to slam the Chef; I actually really love Beefaroni, and I will mourn the loss of Rollercoasters with mini meatballs until my dying day.  I just don’t expect to find those flavours in my Hello Fresh entree.)  The balsamic onions would be great on a thin crust pizza, though.

Stuffed Roasted Portobello with Cheesy Chive Mash and Mixed Kale Salad

4 Roasted Portobello 1

Saving the best for last, this scrumptious dish is the vegetarian version of Sunday Supper – meaty, soy-glazed portobello mushrooms topped with cheesy, chive-flecked mashed potatoes and a rich, salty onion gravy.  Bit of crispy kale salad dressed in a zippy vinaigrette makes a fine, fresh accompaniment for all that flavour.  This is such a nicely balanced dish, hitting all those flavour and texture sweet spots.  Outstanding!  If I had the option to make this dish all of my recipes for the week, I would.  And then keel over, because there’s just too much mashed potato goodness here.

Well, now that I’m ravenous all anew, it’s time to go and see what’s on tap for this evening.  Something fun and yummy, probably – and once I know for sure, you’ll be the first to know. 🙂  Bon appetit, and hang in there, friends.

Good Food

3 Hello Fresh Collage

Still Hello Fresh-ing over here in Quarantine Land, we are.  And thank goodness, too, because preparing these meals – and then devouring them – is pretty well the most exciting thing in my life these days (save hacking down the overgrown foliage in my backyard, a newfound skill that has not yet revealed itself as either beneficial to the plants, or wildly destructive.)

We enjoyed these vegetarian entrees quite a few weeks back, just as COVID-19 kicked open the door to the world.  I remember sitting down to one of them, the Beyond BBQ ranch burger, and thinking to myself, “In disaster movies, everyone’s always hunkered around humanity’s last can of beans.  The world CAN’T be going to shit if I’m still here eating my bourgeoisie plant burgers, can it?”

Turns out it really can, plant protein be damned!  And no surprise here, but the remainder of that week’s entrees – dishes featuring parmesan-dusted croutons, mandolin’d zucchini slices and artfully-torn bocconcini – also failed to make a dent in the progression of the world’s going-down-the-toilet-ness.  It all felt very silly, and more than a little pretentious.

But dang if it wasn’t delicious – a far superior alternative to humanity’s last can of beans.  Also entertaining, and a necessary, welcome distraction from, at that time, the lunatic spiel of bad and badder news emanating from every part of the globe.

That’s food’s power, though, isn’t it?  Speaking as someone who has struggled to control her weight her entire life, a love of good (and bad) food CAN absolutely backfire on you.  But it’s such a comfort.  It’s warmth and love and fulfillment, and I feel so very fortunate – now, during the pandemic, but always – to be well fed, and to not have to worry too much about where my next meal is coming from, whether it’s a little pick-me-up from the kitchen, or a trendy plant protein burger from a meal kit delivery service.

And now let’s take a look at this latest roundup of Hello Fresh yumminess.

Coconut Dal with Spinach and Warm Naan Bread

3 Coconut Dal 1

Yup, okay, I’ll be the first to admit that lentils NEVER look particularly appetizing.  It’s just a fact of cooked lentils.  But cripes, are they weirdly delicious, particularly when simmered in garlicky, ginger-infused coconut milk, making this rich, filling Indian dish 100 percent tasty, and also 100 percent vegan.  I really loved the dusting of unsweetened coconut on top, too – such an unexpectedly fun little garnish.

BBQ Ranch Beyond Meat Burger with Crispy Shallots and Fries

3 BBQ Ranch Burger 2

Ah yes, the Beginning-of-the-End Burger.  Kidding, kidding!  But this was the Beyond Burger that had me contemplating my rather privileged position in the midst of this pandemic.  Socio-political considerations aside, it was delicious, the burger thickly layered with tangy BBQ sauce, crispy fried shallots and a tart, chive-y dressing (though I jettisoned my dill pickle slices; never been much for pickles on a burger, or indeed, pickles at all!)  There was a ton of the mayonnaise-based dressing left over, so I tossed a bit of it with the provided spring greens, and then used the rest as a dipping sauce for the oven fries, because what are fries without mayonnaise anyways?  Less yummy, that’s what.

3 BBQ Ranch Burger 4

Warm Mexican Bean Bowl with Tangy Guacamole

3 Warm Bean Bowl 1

A bowl-type dish served on a plate – what even IS this madness?!  Here we’ve got another trendy dish, the burrito bowl (again, the kind of thing about which my grandmother would have remarked, “Well, that’s a hell of a jollop.”)  Here we’ve got onions, red bell peppers and black beans sauteed in a Mexican seasoning blend, on a bed of cilantro rice, topped with sour cream and tart guacamole.  It was great!  Zero complaints with this new classic.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – just eat it (sorry, Nanny!) 🙂

Rigatoni in a Blush Tomato Sauce with Basil Oil and Torn Bocconcini

3 Rigatoni in Blush Sauce 1

This is my favourite Hello Fresh recipe.  Gosh, I love this incredible pasta dish!  This is one of Hello Fresh’s fussier recipes, involving boiling, sauteeing, blanching and broiling, but the results – plump pasta in a creamy tomato sauce, topped with bracingly bitter basil, broil-burst tomatoes and torn bocconcini cheese – are so worth it.  As always with Hello Fresh’s pasta recipes, I think there is an uneven ratio of pasta to sauce, so I always add an extra cup of pasta to the mix.  I also just want more surface area on which to drape that amazing sauce!  Here I used farfalle, because I always have those on hand.

Za’atar and Feta Tart with Spinach Salad and Sliced Almonds

3 Za'atar and Feta Tart 1

Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend made up of savoury herbs like marjoram, coriander, oregano and dried sumac, as well as lots of salt and, often, toasted sesame seeds.  It’s crunchy, salty and herby – the perfect thing to sprinkle atop a bed of zucchini, shallots and briny feta cheese in this puff pastry-based tart.  A fresh spinach salad, topped with toasted almonds, rounded out this nice, light meal.

Minestrone Tortellini Stew with Cheesy Croutons

3 Minestrone Tortellini 1

This stew-soup hybrid was yummy and, thanks to the tortellini, very, very filling, but nothing that rocked my world.  I did make one small amendment to the recipe, tossing the ciabatta bread cubes with a bit of garlic-infused oil, before sprinkling on the parmesan cheese and setting them in the oven.  I thought the entire recipe was better off for having added an additional layer of fresh flavour.  Besides, who’s going to say no to savoury little cubes of bread toasted in garlic and cheese?  Certainly not this person!

By and large, I find Hello Fresh’s entrees – at least the vegetarian ones that we have sampled – to be more hit than miss, and these two weeks were no exception.  I remain consistently impressed with their offerings, and I think they’ve done a great job so far in maintaining their well-functioning business model in unprecedented times.  To the next round of delicious, good food!

Fairly Local Eating

More like eating EVERYTHING.  The grazing is just out of control.  Making things worse this week is the PSA – potato service announcement – the spud producers of Canada issued, imploring Canadians to eat more delicious french fries, owing to the 200 million pounds of potatoes going bad as they sit in storage, waiting to be turned into delicious french fries.  I joked on Facebook that I just KNEW that one day my true life’s purpose would reveal itself, but this is probably not the call-to-arms I needed.  There are presently seven bags of tater tots in my freezer, so I think I’ve got this processed potato business well covered.

017

But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t step over you and everyone you’ve ever met to get my mitts on some McDonald’s fries right about now.  Oh, McD’s fries – salt-crusted, golden yellow sticks of heart attack-inducing pleasure…one day, when the world is not a total hell hole, you, me and a pile of McChicken Sauce will be reuinted.

Until then, I continue cooking from home.  I haven’t caught the baking bug too, too badly, although I’ve made a few batches of scones, a lot of cookies and a couple of raspberry cream-cheese pies.

Dessert Collage

A friend of mine has been cultivating a sourdough starter – remind me to check in with her to see how that science experiment is proceeding.  Her husband has been helping the process by barking, “TA-WISTED SOUR START-AH!” in the style of The Prodigy’s Keith Flint at the thing.

We’ve ordered takeout from local (Ottawa) businesses often – The Works Kanata for choose-your-own adventure burgers (Gotta Be KD, featuring, yup, Kraft Dinner, is my not-so-weird favourite); Karara for incredibly tasty Indian takeaway (I could DRINK the mustard seed-studded sauce that accompanies the Madras chicken); Pure Kitchen Kanata for buffalo cauliflower bites and plant protein burgers smothered in vegan cheese; and Meatings, a beloved barbecue joint we placed an order with last week for ah-mazing dry smoked staples like pulled pork, brisket, chicken and jackfruit, as well as vacuum sealed pouches of favourite sides, like creamy, Cheetos-topped mac and cheese and buttery little loaves of cornbread.

100

And while we haven’t ordered from them directly, a couple of pasta entrees from Biagio’s, a favourite west end Italian restaurant, proved to be a lovely treat for my parents one recent weekend.  And we’re itching to try Dreamland Cafe on Preston, a quirky little pasta restaurant.  Lots of pasta love in this family.

Hello Fresh continues to impress with their meal kit deliveries; that one’s at the local/provincial level.  We’ve backed off on this one somewhat in recent weeks, simply because we haven’t loved many of the recipes on offer.  Thankfully, Hello Fresh makes it easy to skip any weeks you don’t love.  Seems prudent during these times – someone else is going to love that sweet potato wrap you just weren’t feeling.

Hello Fresh Collage

And our local grocery stores have remained fairly reasonable places to shop, with dedicated seniors’ hours, and staff going above and beyond to maintain a safe shopping and working environment.  Through much of high school and all of university I worked part-time as a cashier at a grocery store, and man, do I feel for the new breed of essential worker.  It’s why Mr. Finger Candy and I plan our shopping trips like we’re going to Disney, with a mind to getting in and out as efficiently and safely as possible.  Don’t dawdle and have a purpose.  These people are putting so much on the line for you.

Interestingly, the food-related businesses we’ve had difficulties with during the pandemic have all been big multi-national concerns, including Starbucks (our local will allow you to place and pay for a mobile order, but you can only pick it up if you’re in a car, despite the fact that the mask-less, glove-less barista is still handing it directly to you; guess that steel framework around the wide open window makes all the difference) and Instacart, a data mining operation disguised as a grocery delivery service.  Disentangling ourselves from a botched $60 order on that one led to Mr. Finger Candy sitting on hold for over nine hours across four different phone calls.  Good thing we’re all at home and have nothing better to do with our time, right?

Anyhow, long story short, there’s no bullshit to the phrase SHOP LOCAL.  Turns out it’s a pretty great practice, and I’m pleased to be supporting small and smaller businesses in my community that are undoubtedly struggling during these deeply uncertain times.  Give it a try in your neighbourhood, because hey, even during all this weirdness, you still gotta eat (and eat and eat and eat…)  Might as well do something great for your community while you’re stuffing your face! 🙂

Hoppy Easter (and a Hoppy Birthday to Me)

Easter 4

So here it is, proof positive that whether it’s on my nails in polish or on a piece of paper with gel pens, all of my attempts at drawing an animal result in some gigantic butt’d aberration that looks like it’s suffering from a wicked case of conjunctivitis.  At least this chunky fellow is wearing a mask and maintaining social distance from those carrots.

I made that little card yesterday for my parents, who are used to my laughably childish creations, and we ran it by their place, along with a COVID care package containing ah-mazing Indian takeout (hit up karara.ca if you’re in Ottawa, peeps), chocolate chip cookies, raspberry cream cheese pie, toilet paper and a whole mess of silly comedies and rom-coms.  Don’t ever say I’m not a great daughter when I’m bringing my parents both Indian takeaway AND the TP necessary to deal with the aftermath.

Care Package

Though, even at a distance, I think my parents could have done without their son-in-law showing up dressed like a pirate bike messenger.

Easter 5

We did the lightning fast trading-of-the-care packages via the garage, while my mom danced a trio of stuffed bunnies in the window and my father – so randomly, like a Kids in the Hall sketch – ran out of the house with his BELT looped around his neck, shouting that he was so bored he was taking HIMSELF for a walk.  I think they might be going a little stir crazy.  They just looked so excited to lay eyes on us for the first time in over a month.

Which is a feeling I’m coming to be quite familiar with.  I miss my parents more than is probably healthy for a 43-year-old; the urge to run at them with a tackle-hug, the kind I haven’t given since I was probably a little kid, was practically overwhelming.  I had to dither by the car for a couple of minutes to keep from bursting into tears, and then I bawled the entire way home.

Doesn’t help matters that tomorrow is my birthday (I’m turning 43 bullshit years old, if you’d like to send me a cake made of toilet paper and hand sanitizer.  I’m the one behind the Haunted Mansion doorbell.)  I’m an only child (duh) and kind of a spoiled one at that (double duh) and the big joke among my family come April is “How much are we going to get hosed for Sandra’s birthday dinner this year?”  Like hosing isn’t a foregone conclusion when I insist on going to a restaurant that only lists its market prices (and now I’m crying again thinking about the Kir Royale and seafood risotto I will not be enjoying at Giovanni’s on Preston tomorrow.)  It’s only-child-indulgence on a massive birthday scale, and I think my parents enjoy lavishing it on me just as much as I enjoy receiving it.  But this year is going to be kind of different.

160

Yeah, okay, so like my inability to draw creatures, probably all the proof you needed that my parents and I are close is this envelope addressed to “our princess.”  You can also see where I got my artistic ability (joke; that wonderful little doodle my mom did there is a reference to every stick figure drawing I ever made of “us is the family” – dog, Boo Boo; dad, glasses and two hairs; mom, miniskirt and curly hair; me, bangs and a tutu; cat, Puddin’.)

Anyhow, we made out about as well my parents did with this reciprocal gift of roasted garlic tomato sauce, apple cobbler with caramel sauce and these adorable little chocolate bunnies, which I immediately decided to take outside for an Easter photo shoot, because I’m clearly bored as crap.

Bunnies 3

A 2020 EASTER BUNNY STORY, IN THREE PARTS

After spending some time in quarantine on my parents’ kitchen counter, a plastic bag acting as their PPE, the bunnies were feeling severely cooped up, and so they decided to venture out into the world.  It felt very big and very quiet.

Bunnies 2

They made it as far as the front flower bed before they got freaked out by the silent emptiness and decided, like everyone else, to go back inside and get drunk.

Bunnies 1

It did not end well.  The bunnies now have to go take a nap.  The end.

Bunnies 4

Good to know I haven’t lost my (stupid) sense of humour!  Speaking of, you’ve got to have one to go out in public looking like this!  Easter weekend fashion in the age of Corona, folks.

Easter 2

So there’s all the mostly welcome weirdness we’ve been up to this weekend.  I hope you’re having weird and wonderful ones yourself, friends – may they be just the hoppiest. 😉

Food For Fun

2 Hello Fresh Collage

It was recently brought to my attention – hi, Mom! – that my Hello Fresh posts are, shall we say, a bit shill-y.  As in I’m stumping hard for the meal kit delivery service, with a mind to gettin’ paid.  Anyhow, in case this was troubling you, allow me to reassure you that this is very much not the case.  I’m simply a pleased consumer passing on a solid recommendation.

But yo, Hello Fresh, if you’re reading this, I can be bought SO HARD!  Hit me up and I’ll shill even harder than I apparently already am. 😉

But until I’m rolling in fat stacks of Hello Fresh entrees, let’s talk about the changing face of food in this new age of Corona.  Last week during both a video chat with a friend and a regular old telephone call with my mom, we were in agreement that perhaps THE most exciting part of our new routines is the planning, preparation and eating of our meals.

This is actually not too surprising.  If you’re fortunate enough to have consistent access to quality food, you know it’s about so much more than satisfying your nutritional needs.  Food is warmth, food is comfort, food is stability, food is home.

And so now that we’re home all of the time (or at least we should be – get off the friggin’ beach, Florida!) food is playing an even larger role in our lives – it’s becoming the focal point around which many of us orbit our days.  So whether you’re putting on a five-course spread for your family, or you’re finally cultivating that sourdough starter, or you’re simply upending a box of Kraft Dinner into a pot of boiling water, food has taken on a brand new importance in our lives.  It’s now about so much more than stuffing our faces.  Now it’s about discovery and anticipation, routine and structure, and the kind of satisfaction that only comes from a really good meal (with really good people, now sitting in virtually from their own kitchen tables.)

It’s also its own unique form of entertainment.  It’s new techniques to try and new flavours to explore, with (hopefully) delicious results.  It’s NOT sitting on your butt for seven solid hours watching that wretched Tiger King thing. 😉

Pre-Corona, I noted that I really loved making these Hello Fresh meals.  That much has not changed in our intra-Corona lives.  It’s just a fun activity, and there ain’t nothin’ better than the kind of fun you can also eat.

For specifics on our experience with Hello Fresh, including lots and lots of photos of the tantalizingly yummy recipes we’ve tried, please click here, here and here.

And now on with the show!  As in the showing of the food, six vegetarian recipes we tried some weeks back.  Spoiler alert: One was amazing, four were great, and one was a serious contender for the worst meal I’ve ever eaten.  Okay, let’s do this thing!

Brie, Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Sandwich with French Green Bean and Cashew Salad

2 Brie Sandwich 1

I’m not a big brie-lover (although every time I hear the word “brie” I think about Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters nervously querying a party guest as to whether the room is too warm for the brie) so I passed half of my sandwich on to Mr. Finger Candy, but I LOVED the mixture of sauteed cremini mushrooms and onions in a balsamic glaze that made up the other half of the sandwich.  The spinach salad that accompanied this dish was also pretty fantastic, utilizing those balsamic mushrooms again, along with mustard-glazed green beans and toasted cashews.  I liked the salad so much, I made it again a week later for my parents as an accompaniment to balsamic-buttered steaks.  Definitely one to add to the permanent rotation.

Creamy Stracciatella Cheese and Tomato Sandwich with Roasted Potato Wedges

2 Cheese and Tomato Sandwich 1

Bruschetta!  Drizzled with more of that scrumptious balsamic glaze (I actually went out and bought a full size bottle, because I might just start adding it to everything.  Coffee?  Sure.  Ice cream topper?  Why not?!)  With a side of roasted potatoes.  Mr. Finger Candy went WILD for this dish, with its piles of tomato, basil and green olives atop crunchy ciabatta buns.  Stracciatella cheese added just the right amount of mellow creaminess to offset the bright, briny flavours of the bruschetta topping.  Solidly yummy.

Golden Halloumi and Ratatouille with Roasted Garlic Dressing and Ciabatta

2 Halloumi and Ratatouille 1

Halloumi is a super salty, semi-firm cheese reminiscent of cheese curds.  Owing to its high melting point, it lends itself quite well to direct heat cooking on a grill, or in a dry pan on the stove (which is how this particular halloumi got those lovely, lacey brown bits.)  Halloumi shows up in a lot of Hello Fresh’s vegetarian recipes, presumably because it’s delicious, filling and, best of all, versatile.  In this dish, the pan-fried cheese slices were paired with a delicious roasted vegetable ratatouille and chunks of garlic-toasted ciabatta bun to sop up every last bit of that roasted garlic dressing.

Beyond Meat Gyro Wrap with Chunky Fries and Chopped Salad

2 Beyond Meat Gyro 1

My city attracts a lot of people of Middle Eastern descent, and shawarma restaurants abound.  Substitute the Beyond Meat in this recipe for actual meat and you’ve got your pretty classic Ottawa-at-2am-after-the-bar food (I was actually more a fan of veggie Whoppers on the second floor of the Burger King on Dalhousie, but there’s no accounting for taste, now is there?) 😉  This was yummy, but like all of Hello Fresh’s pita-based recipes, there was a disproportionate amount of filling to filling-holder.  Two autre pitas, s’il vous plait.

Butternut Squash Stuffed Pasta with Toasted Pine Nuts and Baby Heirloom Tomatoes

2 Lemony Ravioli 1

Of the more than – *counts giant amassed stack of recipe cards* – 50 Hello Fresh meals we’ve eaten, there have only ever been two dishes I flat out hated, the final dish I’m going to discuss today, and then a too-greasy, lemon-and-pesto pasta dish we had some years back.  So when I saw that this recipe featured many of the same ingredients as that pasta dish, I thought, “Wuh-oh, here comes a dud.”  But hey, turns out I was totally wrong, because this pasta dish was GREAT, with each plump ravioli draped in a light, lemony sauce that had me licking my plate clean.  Good grief, this one was dee-licious!  And I see that it’s coming around again in a few weeks’ time, so obviously I’m not the only one who thought it was divine.

North African Spiced Freekeh with Roasted Squash

2 Disgusting 1

Saving the inedible for last, we come to the worst Hello Fresh meal we’ve eaten, a weird mishmash of freekeh (a rice-type grain), squash roasted in dusty-tasting Moroccan spices, and onions sauteed in bracing, acidic harissa paste.  And if that’s not gross enough, the whole works were then topped with spinach, briny feta, chewy currants and toasted almonds.  I put my plate down after two or three game bites and still paid the digestive price the following day.  Mr. Finger Candy really fared no better.  I’ve no idea what Hello Fresh was thinking with this incoherently bad recipe, but it really needs to be relegated to the “Never Again” pile.

As always, and particularly during this time when a good deal of us are under orders to not even dare think about leaving our homes, Hello Fresh is a great service that delivers, pun intended.  I’ve been really impressed so far, and that’s before I had a genuine necessity for such a meal kit delivery service.  Please give ’em a try and let me know what you think, and hey, try and have a bit of fun out there while you’re chowing down.  We can, and should, still enjoy the little – and delicious – things.

Stay Home and Cook

Second Hello Fresh Collage

Looking for a business model that will really prove its worth in these uncertain, touch-free times?  Maintain your social distance and give a meal kit delivery service like Hello Fresh a try.  My husband and I have been ordering from Hello Fresh for some months now – three two-person veggie meals per week for $52 to $74 Canadian – and I’ve long thought that it’s a nice (but perhaps not terribly cost effective) service for the at-home cook looking to shake up their usual kitchen customs.

Now I think it’s just this side of a necessity.  These meals, while not keeping us in total body and soul, are the loveliest little treats, and a backup for the dishes we’re making here at home out of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and Lysol wipes, because everybody MUST be cooking with those items if they’re so persistently out of stock.  You just would NOT believe how well my three-tiered (and three-ply!) Isopropyl Cashmere Cake is coming along.

I think you’d go flat broke trying to feed your family if you relied solely on meal kits, but as a supplementary food service, or a replacement for the meals you’re not currently enjoying out at a restaurant, it’s a blessing.  There’s only so many boxes of KD you can stomach before your stomach says, “Yo!  Can we get a different flavour profile down here?”  To that end, Hello Fresh chooses its recipes – particularly the vegetarian ones – from a wide range of popular world cuisines, from Indian to Italian, Mexican to Middle Eastern, African to French.  Best of all, your meals – individually bagged and then boxed – are delivered right to your doorstep, with no signature requirement.  Smart.  Responsible.  Yummy.

Have I mentioned the yummy?  Because these vegetarian meals are SO yummy!  As well as creative, fun to prepare (get the kids involved!) and of really excellent quality.  I have no complaints.  I just hope Hello Fresh (and other meal kit services of its ilk) will be able to maintain their deliveries in the face of what is sure to be a massive new uptick in business.  Like all things these days, fingers crossed.

Curious as to the kinds of dishes you might enjoy on Hello Fresh’s veggie plan?  Take a peek at these tasty morsels we enjoyed some weeks back and set your taste buds revving:

Garlicky Mixed Mushroom Farrow Bowl with Goat’s Cheese and Candied Walnuts

Farrow Salad 1

Farrow is a kind of whole grain that looks and tastes like a cross between rice and barley.  In this scrumptious dish, it was mixed with a sweet balsamic dressing and then topped with sauteed mushrooms and garlic, leafy greens, creamy goat cheese, candied walnuts and chives.  This was a super filling – and wicked delicious – dish that reminded me in all the very best ways of this beet, goat cheese and candied pecan salad I used to love from the Manx Pub in Ottawa, Ontario (heh, Mr. Finger Candy and I enjoyed part of our multi-part first date there.) 🙂

Italian Mozzarella Panini with Herby Tomato Soup

Soup and Panini 1

Soup and a sandwich!  This was a tasty little lunch Mr. Finger Candy and I enjoyed one recent afternoon.  Actually, as I called him to the table, I thought, “You have turned into your grandmother,” a woman who was constantly calling my grandfather – who was probably off somewhere pruning a tree – in “for supper.”  My grandfather would have been horrified to have found such a meal waiting for him at the table – pesto-flavoured tomato soup that looks like a science experiment and a mozzarella sandwich with aruga-who-now? – but we thought it was pretty nummy.  A nice, light option for a midday repast.

Matar Paneer Curry with Green Peas and Yellow Potato

Paneer Curry 1

Paneer is a firm, mild cheese popular in Indian cuisine.  Owing to its high melting point, it can withstand quite a bit of cooking, and so it often shows up, cubed, in stew-type preparations like this one featuring tomatoes, peas and yellow potatoes.  The recipe actually directs you to add the roasted potatoes to the other vegetables, paneer and sauce, but I like how crispy they remain when you simply sprinkle them on top, like roasted potato croutons.

Beyond Meat Roasted Veggie Linguine with Garlic Tomato Sauce

Beyond Meat Linguine 1

As a lifelong pasta aficionado, I am always shockingly amazed at how delicious Hello Fresh’s pasta recipes are.  I truly thought I had eaten all the good pasta in the world.  This deceptively simple dish – just your basic tomato, onion, garlic and roasted veggie arrangement, enhanced with a bit of oh-so-trendy plant protein – was so friggin’ yummy!  Then again, I actually really like the taste of Beyond Meat.  Yes, it totally looks like cat food, but it’s versatile, it cooks well, and it adds a welcome shot of richness to your more basic vegetarian dishes.

Beyond Meat and Black Bean Tacos with Tomato Pepper Salsa and Crema

Beyond Meat Tacos 1

Beyond Meat strikes again in this dee-licious, but kind of unwieldy, taco dish featuring a fresh, zippy salsa and ear-splittingly tart lime crema.  Loved the flavours at work in this recipe, but the proportions here were way off – there was MOUNDS of filling to just three soft tortillas per person.  Things got very sloppy, very quickly!

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Creamy Garlic Sauce and Herby Goat Cheese

Butternut Ravioli 1

Another phenomenal pasta dish, this time sweet butternut squash ravioli enrobed – ENROBED, I say! – in a light, buttery sauce, with more roasted squash, chivey goat cheese and lightly toasted pepitas, which are a type of pumpkin seed.  Good golly, this recipe was GREAT.  I could have eaten triple the amount of this one, but that’s just me and pasta.  This dish, too, reminded me of a seasonal pasta I used to like to order from Panera.

If you’ve been on the fence about whether to give a meal kit delivery service like Hello Fresh a try, I’d say now is the moment.  There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now.  How you get some of your food and fun should not be two of those uncertainties.  So while you’re social distancing, maybe give Hello Fresh a try and see if they have any options that might work for your family.

Stay safe and healthy out there while you’re staying in, friends.

The Week That Everything Changed

TP 1

Waking up this cold, but finally, blessedly, starting-to-warm March Monday morning to a world that’s very different from the one I woke up to last week.  Early last week, the Coronavirus was still joke fodder.  Bustling about my new kitchen, putting the finishing touches on a special dinner for my folks last Tuesday, I joked with them about our drink options, noting – with a spectacular eye roll – that Corona beer was assuredly not on the menu.

Then in the span of a few hours Wednesday evening, somewhere in between You-Know-Orange’s disastrous address, Tom Hank’s sobering announcement and seemingly all professional sports getting cancelled en masse, the entire world changed, and there were no more jokes to be made.

Thursday morning my husband and I went out for groceries just in the normal course of our lives.  After 15 years of living within the very limited storage confines of a two-bedroom condo, we’ve had a difficult time adjusting to the space of a four-bedroom home, and so we rarely – still! – have anything on hand that we won’t be immediately consuming.  Old habits are hard to break.  So we needed groceries, and toilet paper!  Down to our last roll, we were.

Despite the early hour, the store was busy, and steeped in a palpably electric kind of mania, like gathering storm clouds.  At one point another shopper and I – both gloved, both trying to keep our distance – reached for the same pack of cheese, and she leaped back, hands clasped to her chest, in legitimate terror.

I had heard distressing stories about toilet paper shortages, sanitary paper hoarders and unscrupulous disinfectant fencers, but I was convinced all of that was happening “somewhere else.”  Certainly not in polite, well-reasoned Canada.  And I had already made all of the dismissive, “Do they know it’s a respiratory virus and not a pooping virus?” jokes.  So I was completely unprepared to turn down the personal care aisle at my local grocery store – never, ever the place you’ll net a reasonable price on such items – to find it completely ravaged.

As I stood in the denuded aisle with a few other disappointed shoppers, Mr. Finger Candy emerged from the front of the store with one precious 12-pack of 9 mil-ply Cashmere.  He tossed it to me with a saucy smile that I assume was worn by the very first caveman to lug home a particularly badass kill, at which point I frantically buried it in our cart like Lorraine Bracco disappearing half a kilo of coke down the toilet in Goodfellas.  Mission thus accomplished, we paid for our purchases – a bit more than we’d normally buy, but nothing outrageous – and headed home.

Thursday afternoon the border restrictions, travel bans, cancellations and closures began in earnest.  The stock market self-immolated.  The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.  Chaos and confusion asserted themselves as the overriding themes of the day.

The American Disney parks closed, an act that legitimately frightened me to my core.  I long assumed that the ghost of Walt himself would have to come down with the Coronavirus before they shuttered those parks.

I clearly wasn’t the only one spooked.  The news – local, national, international – was suddenly filled with stories of empty shelves at grocery stores and long line-ups.  And the dim lizard part of my brain, the one Stephen King often refers to as “the panic rat,” began to worry.  We had enough food and supplies to see us through the week, but nothing beyond that.  And despite assurances from retailers that there was going to be lots of stock going forward, new social distancing measures were changing how we shopped, and there was no guarantee we’d be able to do our groceries in the same manner, and with the same choice, the following week.

And so it was with that thought in mind that we ventured out to Walmart Friday morning for a (reasonable) cart full of soup and cereal, pasta and rice, canned veggies, ramen and an absolute crap ton of coffee.  We were already doing well on cleaning supplies and hand soap (thank you, Bath and Body Works) but there was no additional toilet paper to be had.  Hot buy of the apocalypse.

Pantry 1

104

And with that, we came home, where we’ve been in semi-self-isolation ever since.  Which doesn’t actually feel that different from regular life.  We’re just washing our hands a lot more and trying to steer clear of vulnerable populations.  You do what you can, and you try to stay calm.

I’ve no idea when the world will be “okay” again, if it ever was in the first place.  I’ve no idea what will be waiting for us on the other side of this experience.  But I do know it’s okay to be a little scared and a whole lot confused.  To mourn what we’ve lost, and learn to live without.  To adapt, and change, and hopefully come out of the other side of this new nightmare better people – or at least better prepared people – one day at a time, one shopping trip at a time.

Stay healthy and helpful, friends.

I Love My House

Our House

Late last year Mr. Finger Candy and I sold our two-bedroom condo apartment and made the rather spectacular leap to single family home ownership.  To say it’s been an adjustment would be an oversimplification, but not a wild one – we’re not in completely over our heads here (unless we’re talking about the snow from our driveway, now piled high on our front lawn, which, after four or five storms, now stretches way, way above our heads.)

Without a doubt, things have changed, but in very few ways have they changed for the negative.  Mostly, I think we’re just plum delighted with our new-to-us house, and thankful beyond all measure that we’re out of our condo.  We…did not enjoy living there for what I was about to say was just the last couple of months, but really, encompassed the entirety of 2019.  We really, really did ourselves in with the unfortunate quadruple whammy of deceased pet, chaotic reno, employment strife and arsehole neighbours.  It was hard to view the place, beautiful though it was, as anything but a burden after that.

So we moved on to greener pastures (or at least they’ll be green once the snow melts.)  To be sure, we have taken on a mountain of responsibility that we did not have before, but weirdly, I think we both kind of love it.  You just can’t tell me that this man, outfitted in his best Captain Canada attire, out sweeping the back patio in the middle of a snowstorm, is not getting off on this!

130

Things I frequently and delightedly note that I love about our new home?  The quiet.  Our street is – knock on wood – SO QUIET.  Or maybe it’s not and I’ve just been brainwashed into thinking that anything less than 2,000 other people thumping up and down the street every day is peaceful.

Our neighbours seem to be kind, considerate and helpful souls.  Snow has been plowed, holiday cookies have been exchanged and plans have been made for better weather get-togethers.  I hardly know what to do with this bounty of good neighbourliness.

The red heat lamp in our ensuite bathroom rocks my world.  I never bathe that I don’t have “ROXXXXXXXXXXXX-anne!” running through my head, or think that I’m somehow showering in the midst of an Alien movie.  Sometimes it’s both, which makes for a very unique bathing experience. 🙂

026

We have a finished basement!  And true, it might be colder than Cocytus, the frozen lake of Hell, but that’s just because we don’t spend a lot of time down there right now, and so the heat’s rarely cranked.  But I suspect that once the warmer weather hits AND we’ve renovated the place into the ultimate Haunted Mansion-themed home theater, it’ll become THE cool place to be, in temperature and vibe.

Speaking of the Haunted Mansion, Mr. Finger Candy gave me this dope Honeywell doorbell for Christmas, and he programmed it to play the first 12 counts of the soundtrack to the Haunted Mansion.  “Heheheheheh, you’re going to freak out so many Jehovah’s Witnesses!” a friend gleefully chortled.  Delivery people certainly think it’s amusing.  Weird thing to say you love a doorbell, but here we are. 🙂

We have storage, so much storage!  Four bedrooms’ worth of closets, two ground floor cupboards, two gigantic basement cupboards and an entire furnace room filled with floor-to-ceiling shelving.  The real kicker for us has been learning to spread out, as we’re both still in that “Maximize every bit of space you’ve got” zone we were living in back at the condo.

Every time I do the laundry, by myself, in my basement at whenever-the-heck-o’clock I please, I do a little jig of happiness.  It is so, SO wonderful not being beholden to prescribed hours of use, or having to navigate the complicated and needlessly aggressive social strata of the Friday Night Laundry Crew.

311

The wildlife that dances about our private backyard is plentiful, varied and very, very charming.  I say that now in the winter when the bunnies, squirrels, chipmunks, blue jays and other assorted woodland creatures are snatching (provided) peanuts off our back patio, but I’ll probably be singing a different tune when they’re chewing up my garden.  But I do kind of love “our” rodents.  Maybe not as much as Mr. Finger Candy, who lays out back deck buffets of tiny peanut butter sandwiches, but I’m really rather fond of the little buggers.

009

A three-minute drive out of our neighbourhood in any direction brings us to a wealth of shops, restaurants and other retail establishments.  Bit of a double-edged sword, that one.  On the one hand, we’ve made excellent use of the local offerings – Indian buffet, Chocolats Favoris, Little Caesar’s, and one particularly inspired evening, Talladega Takeout (KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Powerade.)

004

On the other hand, we’ve made excellent use of the local offerings.  Maybe too excellent use.  Our wallets and waistlines are demanding that we back off a smidge on this bounty of take-out and dine-in options and get back to our Hello Fresh-ing.

We’ve named our trees and wildlife!  The chestnut tree at the front of the house is Chester, the oak in the back is Annie (Oakley) and the tiny squirrel with the kinky tail and the light brown tummy is Brown Betty.

I don’t even mind (too much) the cosmetic renos we’re carrying out – painting, molding and more mill work than you can shake a miter saw at – because at least we have real options for temporarily escaping the mess.  Truly, this experience is night-and-day compared to the renos we had done to our condominium last year.

047

It may be a lot to lay at the doorstep of a new house, but this place has saved us.  Back at the condo we were floundering, if not outright drowning, always desperately trying to make 800 square feet of concrete into a home, and invariably coming up short.  There were simply too many rules, too many people and too many competing interests – a truly needless aggravation on top of (at the time) a pretty stressful life.  As I testily wrote to our property manager last year, it wasn’t a home, it was merely a situation we were trying to survive.  Badly.

Then somehow, against all odds, we found this place, our real home, and it saved us.  We now have purpose, drive and positive responsibility.  We have choice.  And yes, we also now have larger bills, more square footage than we know what to do with, and a great big bloody pile of driveway snow that might just attain sentience and go off galumphing down the street, but these are acceptable trade-offs (maybe not the sentient snowman thing.)  It’s worth it to know that these are things under our purview, and that if there is an issue with our home, either positive or negative, how we approach it will be our decision, and our decision alone.

I don’t sleep well, or at least I don’t sleep consistently.  Back at the condo, the early morning hours were mostly a time to stress and worry and fret.  And forget all that “rising gently from the depths of somnolence” business – hardly a morning went by that I wasn’t catapulted into consciousness.

These days I’m still rising early, but for a different reason.  True, part of that reason is getting old/back is shit, but mostly it’s because I want to enjoy my new home in those impossibly still morning hours when it’s just me and the backyard bunnies and our plans for the future.  Feels pretty nice, and like there’s maybe no place like it.

Hello Yummy, Again: A Return to Hello Fresh

Hello Fresh Collage

Weirdly, for what is ostensibly a nail blog, one of my most popular and viewed posts is this one about the first week my husband and I tried Hello Fresh, a meal kit delivery service popular here in eastern Ontario.  At the end of that post I concluded that I loved everything about Hello Fresh – the creative recipes, the quality ingredients, the free shipping – but for what I considered to be a poor cost-to-value ratio.  The portion sizes, particularly for the vegetarian meals, just seemed woefully small in relation to the per plate cost.  My final word was that if Hello Fresh was coming to me at some sort of a discount, then I was on board, but I couldn’t justify the service at full price.

And that’s how I continued to approach it in 2019, making use of a number of special offers and a few damaged item rebates to fund another couple of months of delicious fresh food.  I was totally hooked, and delighted to be adding such uncommon ingredients to my food lexicon as freekeh (a rice-type grain), halloumi (salty cheese) and zaatar (a Middle Eastern spice blend) even if the small portion sizes left us habitually haunting the kitchen an hour or so after eating.

Then during the renovations we had carried out to our former condo last year, the refrigerator got unplugged, a fact that went unnoticed for some time.  Everything but our inexplicably large collection of hot sauces went bad, including six Hello Fresh entrees.  Disgusted at my own wasteful stupidity (USE THE THINGS YOU BUY, numbnuts, especially the perishable foodstuffs!) I tossed out the entire spoiled lot and cancelled my account, the end.

Well, sort of the end.  Just as we moved into our new home late last year, I received a tantalizing “Please come back” offer from Hello Fresh that, in combination with a bit of post-holiday food boredom and a fridge that’s definitely plugged in, I simply couldn’t say no to.

And we’ve been saying yes to Hello Fresh ever since, in part because they haven’t changed the things that worked (the locally-sourced ingredients, the creative recipes, the commitment to minimal packaging) but HAVE changed the things that didn’t (those weird, Franken-substance ice packs.)

The biggest positive change that I’ve noticed so far is that the portion sizes are much larger than they were before.  The recipes also seem to be more satisfying, utilizing good-for-you, fill-you-up ingredients like whole grains, leafy greens, fresh cheese, Beyond Meat and nuts.  Also a crap ton of butternut squash.  No complaints from me, I love the stuff, but there’s been a butternut squash recipe on the menu every week since we returned!  Must be in season.  But it feels like there’s some substance to these meals that wasn’t there before, and even after giving Mr. Finger Candy the lion’s share of whatever we’re having, I’m satisfied (not so much Mr. FC, but he might have a hollow leg.)

Okay, onto the fun part – what we’ve eaten the last two weeks!  Start revving your taste buds, and maybe grab a mint – there be garlic aplenty in these recipes.

Fattoush Salad with Roasted Chickpeas

078

Mmm, roasted chickpeas, toasted pita and fresh veggies tossed in a white wine vinaigrette with feta cheese.  This was amazing, like tabouleh writ large.  And such bright, sparkling flavours, too, a welcome respite from the Heavy Holidays.

Cheesy Baked Ravioli

001

Of the six recipes we’ve tried so far, this scrumptious pasta dish might be my favourite.  And don’t let that little pool of (butter) grease fool you – this delectable pasta dish was light, but still quite filling, with each plump pasta pillow draped in the perfect combination of roasted squash, wilted kale and smoked cheddar.  Holy YUM!

Winter Risotto

026

Not sure what made this creamy, comforting rice dish a winter risotto, but I do know it was quite delicious.  Could have used more salt, though (this is not surprising; I could be licking a salt block and think it needs more salt.)  I really loved the addition of the crunchy walnuts, too – made quite a nice change from the more traditional pine nuts.

Beyond Meat Veggie Taco Bowl

108

Another great new change to the vegetarian plan has been the inclusion of Beyond Meat in the recipes.  Here we have a not-very-attractive pile of red rice, sauteed Beyond Meat, kale slaw, cheese and lime crema that I swear tasted much, much greater than the sum of its tortilla-covered parts.  The portion sizes on this one were also quite large, with both of us agreeing after eating that we *might* actually be full! 🙂

Harissa Halloumi Rainbow Bowl

048

Here’s some unfamiliar words to describe what’s essentially spicy grilled cheese on a bed of rice and crisp veggies, topped with a garlicky hummus dressing.  This was SO delicious, and I even got to pickle my own red onions.  I’m not usually a fan of bowl-type arrangements (“Well, that’s a hell of a jollop,” my grandmother would absolutely say) but I loved the bright, fresh flavours of this dish, even if afterwards we were feeling like the two newest residents of Garlic City.  Truly, do not eat this one if you have a first date or a job interview the following day!

Rigatoni in Roasted Butternut Squash Sauce

070

Here’s that butternut squash once again making an appearance, this time as part of a super filling pasta dish made with (more) kale and creamy stracciatella cheese.  I generally find that Hello Fresh meals strike the perfect balance of fresh-and-filling, but this guy was way rich, and I felt hella pooched after eating, even if it was utterly delicious.

We have two more weeks of Hello Fresh meals coming to us, so please come back to this space soon to see what other combinations of kale, butternut squash and garlic we’ll be enjoying next!

You So Cheesy!

So Cheesy 1

Or me so cheesy.  Actually, if the video that accompanies this post – a Disneyfied salute to cheese I put together for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish! – is any indication, WE so cheesy.  Honestly, who has three solid minutes of cheese-related content to compile into a video?!  Us, apparently!  (Questionably fun bit of trivia about your friendly neighbourhood blogger: When I was a kid, I had an appendicitis scare that thankfully – but kind of embarrassingly – turned out to be nothing more than Sandy Drew and the Case of Too Much Cheese.  It would seem I haven’t learned much about moderation when it comes to one of my favourite foodstuffs.)

I like these nails, even if the little cheese holes (heh) look more like planets than delicious bacterial culture (to mangle a Beasties Boy song, it’s “Intergalactic Plan-e-tare-CHEESE!”)  Or they’re Cheese Nibs (more like Cheese Nubs, on account of the fact that I broke off two of my good hand nails, right down to the skin, and then had to sacrifice the remaining three to the broken fingernail gods.)

Anyhow, hope you enjoy this cheese-covered edition of a new feature I think I’m going to call Nail Art and a Movie. 😉