Be Our Guest!

Be Our Guest Collage

Oh, we WILL, and in just a little under a week’s time, too!  Guesting at the Be Our Guest Restaurant at the Magic Kingdom, that is, one of our favourite spots to dine on Disney property.  We love it so much (actually, Mr. Finger Candy is, somehow, the real Beauty and the Beast nut in this household) I made this little video all about our experiences there for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!  So as Lumiere might say, I invite you to relax and pull up a chair as the diningroom and I proudly present…your dinner!  And also your breakfast, as many times as we possibly can.  Happy watching, and bon appetit!

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Cupcakes by the Ocean

Cupcakes by the Ocean 1

Well, that’s a terrible pun based off a not-so-great song (Cake by the Ocean by DNCE) that was nonetheless a total ear worm, which is how I wound up doing these nails yesterday when I was in a funky bad mood and could think of nothing better to cheer myself up than some nail art and a bit of bad punnage.  So mission accomplished?  Because I’m feeling much better today, and these nails are pretty funny, and maybe even just plain old pretty. 🙂

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Hello Delicious: A Week of Hello Fresh

Hello Fresh Collage

A few weeks ago my husband came home bearing a $40 off coupon for Hello Fresh.  Hello Fresh is one of those meal kit delivery services where you make your weekly selections from a range of menu options, and then the assembled ingredients are delivered to your door some days later, to await your magical culinary touch.  I’ve been really curious about Hello Fresh and other outfits of its ilk (Goodfood, Red Apron) but, frankly, frightened off by what I consider to be an unequitable ratio of value to cost.  As in I think it’s a pretty poor one.  But with a coupon that covered more than half the cost of a week of Hello Fresh meals, the time seemed right to satisfy my curiosity and give this fun delivery service a try.  Here’s how our week of Hello Fresh broke down.

First, because Mr. Finger Candy is a vegetarian, we went with the veggie meal plan.  Hello Fresh offers three different plans – family (predominately meat-based entrees), pronto (quickly prepared dishes) and veggie.  All of the plans are available for either two or four diners, and you can choose to receive three or five meals a week.  We went with the three-meal veggie plan for two people at a cost of $73.99.  With free shipping and our $40 off promo code, that brought the cost down to $33.99, or $5.67 a plate.

Hello Fresh is a subscription service, although you’re free to cancel your subscription penalty-free at any time (provided, of course, your latest box of grub is not already on its way) or even suspend your subscription for a period of time.  The latter is particularly helpful if you’re perhaps going to be away from home for a while, or even if you just don’t care for any of the coming week’s planned meals.

Your three (or five) meals come wrapped, by the individual recipe, in a brown paper bag, and the brown paper bags are themselves boxed up in a large, insulated cardboard box lined with disposable freezer packs.  The excess packaging issue (or the perception of excess packaging) is one that Hello Fresh seems to be acutely aware of, and they appear to be making every effort to pack their goods in recyclable and biodegradable packaging made from sustainable sources.  In addition, they offer free pick-up and shipping on the ice packs, should you not wish to cut them open and dissolve the contents down the sink (or, alternately, to slice them open and play around with the semi-frozen, 99 percent water-based solution contained therein.  It was just like trying to hold handfuls of frozen lubricant, an activity I already clearly indulge in a lot!)

My first nit to pick, however, is not with packaging waste, of which there was, all things considered, precious little.  It’s more that I had arranged my day in order to accommodate a delivery window of 8 am to 8 pm, only to discover, well after the lunch hour, that our order had in fact already been delivered, and was at that very moment leaning (and melting) against my front door, where it had been sitting, in a very hot and humid hallway, for anywhere between one and four hours.  The contents of the box, our meals, were just fine and none of the ingredients had spoiled, but the bottom of the main box was approaching sodden and had to be disposed of immediately, because it reeked of wet cardboard death.  A simple knock on the door just to let me know the delivery had arrived is all that was required here.

The three vegetarian meals we received included a pasta dish (Rigatoni in a Blush Tomato sauce with Basil Oil and Torn Bocconcini), a Thai-influenced entree (Thai Massaman Veggie Skewers with Basmati rice, Eggplant and Cremini mushrooms) and a salad (Mixed Bean and Veggie Panzanella Salad with a Lemon Vinaigrette.)  There’s some indication on Hello Fresh’s website that you can in fact choose the entrees you’d like from any given week’s menu (say, for instance, you’re not super jazzed about Thai cuisine, and would prefer another one of the dishes on offer) but the policy isn’t clear and I wasn’t able to make any changes to our order.  Which is just as well, because I absolutely would have jettisoned the veggie skewers, as I’m not that fond of Thai food, which would have been a shame, as they were utterly delicious.

Each recipe took about half an hour to 40 minutes to prepare, and produced one plate (or bowl) of food per person and nothing more; we absolutely did not realize next-day leftovers from these recipes.  Having said all that, the recipes were nicely laid out and easy to follow, and I even picked up a couple of new cooking tips from the rigatoni dish (and I thought I knew all the pasta tricks!)  I especially liked the “exactly what you need inside” approach to the ingredients; as I puttered about my kitchen tossing exactly 18 cherry tomatoes with precisely one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar from the miniature, two tablespoon-bottle provided, I felt like I was the star of my own little cooking show.  Of course, it helped that I was addressing an audience of one curious cat and one curiouser husband as opposed to just talking to myself in the middle of the kitchen.  Let’s see how each entree stacked up, shall we?

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

Rigatoni 2

This was so delicious, I could have eaten both bowls myself, and then probably a third just for total overkill measure.  I had not the most optimistic of hopes for this dish; as a lifelong pasta devotee, I just assumed I had already enjoyed (or made) all the great pastas in the world.  Also, it doesn’t get much more straightforward than cherry tomatoes, basil and cheese.  So how delightful was it to find out I was completely mistaken on both scores?  Because this bright, fresh, super flavourful pasta dish was not only unexpectedly scrumptious, but making this recipe also taught me a few new tricks – first, that fresh basil can sometimes be a tough old thing, and a minute or two in a hot, blanching bath will do it wonders, secondly, that I’m drowning my roasted tomatoes in liquid when just a tablespoon or two will suffice, and thirdly, I don’t use either vinegar or my broiler enough.

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But making this incredibly delicious pasta – indeed, all three of the dishes – laid bare what I consider to be the one and only flaw to the Hello Fresh service – namely, that the very small portion sizes do not represent good value as set against the per plate cost.  When I pulled the ingredients for this recipe out of the bag, I had a great laugh at the comically small amount of dried rigatoni.  Look at how teeny weeny it is!

Rigatoni 1

However, looking at it in a more positive light, making these recipes also exposed one major obstacle to my plateaued weight loss efforts, that being that I’m wildly overestimating my portion sizes.  A single serving of this rigatoni dish clocked in at 727 calories, and as I’ve already indicated, I not only thought the portion sizes were tragically tiny, but that I could have eaten about three times as much.  So a cool 2,200 calories in pasta alone.  Which may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but could I have eaten both bowls?  Yes, absolutely.  Which may account for at least some of my inability to move the weight loss needle in any significant way for some months now.  Creeping portion sizes are a real dink.

Thai Massaman Veggie Skewers with Basmati Rice, Eggplant and Cremini Mushrooms

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Well, this was an unexpected hit!  As in I had expected to hate it, because I really, really dislike Thai food, just to an unbelievable degree.  But I’m always game to try something new (I’ve eaten – and sort of enjoyed? – duck testicles, for pity’s sake) and I’m so glad I did, because this dish was incredibly delicious.  I think I cooked the spicy peanut butter sauce down just a tad too much (it was decidedly thicker than the one pictured on the recipe card) but holy crow, who cares, it was great.  I particularly loved the bright flavours of the cilantro-lime basmati rice, and prior to this, I would have gone to the mat over my hatred for basmati rice.  But this was a particularly inoffensive basmati, neither too flowery, nor too starchy.  Like the rigatoni, I’d make this yummy dish again in a heartbeat.

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However, about an hour after eating, both Mr. Finger Candy and I were utterly famished; like, gnawing the chair rail molding hungry (no, just us?  We do have a lot of decorative molding in our apartment.)  These veggie skewers were so delicious, but once again, there was simply not enough food.

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Mixed Bean and Veggie Panzanella Salad with a Lemon Vinaigrette

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Finally, we come to the dish I was the least enthused about (bean and bread salad, really?) and while it was tasty, it was my least favourite of the three recipes, in large part because this kit was missing the Italian seasoning blend, a somewhat crucial component to a salad where the only other flavour is LEMON!!!  Oh my gosh, so, SO lemony; too lemony.  I cobbled together a vaguely Italian-ish seasoning blend from spices in my pantry, but that’s somewhat defeating the whole “exactly what you need inside” principle Hello Fresh literally prints on the outside of their bags.  What would you do if you didn’t have any of those spices in your kitchen?  Eat intensely lemony bean and bread salad, that’s what.  And while I actually quite enjoyed the hearty beans with the fresh, crunchy vegetables and the toasted garlic bread cubes (the smell as they were toasting was utterly intoxicating) I thought the vinaigrette could have benefited from both the missing Italian seasoning blend, and a tablespoon or so of dijon mustard.

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Geez, I also forgot that one half of one of the mini cucumbers had gone mushy, requiring me to substitute a handful of cherry tomatoes from the fridge.  Delicious, but again, quite besides the point.  Presumably because of the beans, this dish was super duper filling.  And I’d absolutely make this dish again as well, just with a few necessary flavour adjustments.  This recipe really represented the poorest value for the money, though, and I would not have been happy paying the full plate price ($12.33) for such a dish.  Heck, I’m not sure if I was happy paying $5.67 per plate.

Salad 1

The too-long, didn’t-read version breaks down like this: I see a lot of utility for a meal kit delivery service like Hello Fresh for many, many people – those who hate to shop and would prefer if someone else did it for them (me!), those with little cooking experience or a very pared down kitchen (definitely not me), people who travel a lot and never keep a fully stocked kitchen (occasionally me), home chefs looking to juice their repertoire of recipes (very much me; I’m always on the lookout for a great vegetarian meal), travelers staying in suites with kitchens who may wish to make their own meals (never, ever me; I’m not cooking after a long day at the Disney parks!), those on restrictive diets seeking to strictly monitor their portion sizes (should be me, apparently) or those looking for a unique wedding or other special occasion gift (not me anytime soon that I know of, although I’d gladly accept such a gift!)

Ultimately, though, I think the main reason a person might continue on in their Hello Fresh subscription is because they have a lot of disposable income and they don’t mind spending it in this fashion.  Because for all of the positives – and there are many, many positives, nearly overwhelmingly so – the price-to-value ratio is so skewed, I think you just have to enjoy the experience of a meal kit delivery service, and nothing more complicated than that.  And if you do see value in something like Hello Fresh, that’s awesome; if we could afford it, we would have continued on with our subscription.  But as it was, the increasingly budget-conscious person I’m becoming derived little pleasure from knowing that I could have made four times the amount of pasta using $30 worth of full size ingredients that I got off my own butt and bought at the store.

So would I use Hello Fresh again?  In the words of one of my personal heroines, Mabel Pines of the animated TV show Gravity Falls, yes, definitely, absolutely!  With the caveat being that it would have to come along with a pretty major discount to offset what I consider to be the one stumbling block to the service – the prohibitive cost.  Otherwise, I loved the entire experience – it was fun, produced really tasty meals and was a nice little break from the usual.  One and three-quarters of a thumb up for Hello Fresh from this blogger.

Literary Inspiration: I’ll Have What She’s Having

I'll Have Collage

Cute manicure inspiration aside, I don’t have a lot to say about this book, I’ll Have What She’s Having: Adventures in Celebrity Dieting by Rebecca Harrington.  I chose this book to satisfy the to-be-read requirement in my friends’ reading challenge, predominantly because it’s been sitting on my bookshelf for the past two years, longing for precisely that, but also because I was in desperate need of a light, literary palate cleanser after The Handmaid’s Tale.

Following the sort of “I’ll do crazy crap for a year and then write about it” literary craze that started with Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia, I’ll Have What She’s Having tosses writer Rebecca Harrington into the deep end of the celebrity dieting world as she attempts to emulate the weirdly restrictive eating habits of, among others, Madonna (macrobiotics), Karl Lagerfeld (Diet Coke), Marilyn Monroe (raw eggs in milk!) and Greta Garbo (pure, ear-splitting dietary insanity, with a heavy emphasis on a make-ahead (and apparently never-eat) celery loaf.)

I'll Have 1

That all seems like fertile ground on which to mine a lot of excellent observational comedy, if I may mix my metaphors.  Yet I’ll Have What She’s Having was stubbornly flat, more a recitation of the unpleasant facets of these diets (the social isolation, the prohibitive costs, the biological disruptions) than any sort of insight, humourous or otherwise, into those same issues.  I was looking for something light, but this was just slight.  Clocking in at 161 pages of very large text and an inexplicable number of double-spaced paragraph breaks, it felt like a feature length magazine article that was needlessly stretched into a full length book.

The inside cover art did provide some pretty great nail art inspiration, however.  Can’t ever go wrong with bold graphics of food against a star-printed background.  That’s, like, right where I live!

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Muffin – and Teenage Boy – Madness

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A breathtakingly stupid story from my youth forms the basis for these scrumptious-looking nails that pay homage to the mighty manicured muffin!

So it was round about the end of high school when a friend fell in temporary infatuation with a cute boy from another school we used to pal around with (I defy you to call it anything other than temporary when the boy in question wears an upside down bookkeeper’s visor unironically.)  There was a big party coming up, and it was pretty well expected that it would be during this soiree that they would declare their feelings for one another in all manner of debauched Hughesian awkwardness.

But because teenagers are generally giant tools, the very first thing they did upon arriving at the party was to furiously ignore one another, my friend seeking solace in some girl talk, with Upside Down Visor doing likewise.  With another girl.  And a whole lot of public groping.  Real party killer, that.  Also the end of any flirtation between my friend and Teenage Dirtbag.

Anyhow, some time later my friend and Upside Down Visor once again found themselves at the same party, and she asked him what had happened that night – it hadn’t been her imagination, right, there was maybe something there between them?  Why the stupid freeze-out?

Oh no, he confirmed, there was definitely something there; he actually liked her a lot.  But here was the deal – and then he launched into THE dumbest explanation of the romantic-existential dilemma I have EVER heard.  Seriously, this happened nearly 20 years ago and I still admire the balls-out stupidity of this guy.  Allow me to throw it to straight dialogue:

Upside Down Visor (UDV): Okay, so it’s like this.  What’s your favourite food?

My Friend (Friend): Muffins.

UDV: What kind do you like best?

Friend: Chocolate chip.

UDV: And after chocolate chip?

Friend: Blueberry.

UDV: Okay, so let’s say you go to the bakery and there’s two kinds of muffins there, chocolate chip and blueberry.  You want the chocolate chip muffin the most, but it’s been, like, sitting out for days and it’s gone all crusty and stale and it has this weird mold starting to grow on top.  But then beside it there’s the blueberry muffin, and it’s all warm from the oven and tender and buttery and ready to be eaten………like, seriously, which would you pick?!

Friend: You’re an idiot.

And scene.

And so here we have chocolate chip and blueberry muffin nail art.  I like both interpretations equally, but in the immortal words of UDV, like, seriously, which would you pick?!  Such decisions. 😉

Muffin Madness 1

Team Turkey Leg!

Turkey Leg

I have a real love/hate relationship with Disney’s iconic smoked turkey legs.  On the one hand, turkey legs, much like hams, are just a hilariously-shaped food; they lend themselves quite well to interpretations via graphic design.  But then on the other hand, I think they’re utterly, utterly disgusting – a friend who’s had one described it as being “quite tendon-y.”  Ack!  And they’re so expensive!  $12.95 at the Animal Kingdom (please don’t even get me started on the moral incongruity of an animal-centered theme park offering animal on-the-bone as a smoked snack – I might have a lot to say on the subject.)

But mostly I just can’t hack the very common sight of a family of four sharing one massive turkey leg, dad holding on to what used to be, I dunno, the poor turkey’s femur while the kids dart forward to nab meat off the bone like little velociraptors.  It’s off-putting enough as a description – just imagine what it looks like in real life!

But turkey legs in theory?  Hilarious!  That’s just good comedy right there, something Disney is leaning into with its collection of turkey leg gear, like this fly tee I nabbed at Epcot.  I’ve hyped this awesome turkey leg t-shirt before – it’s my favourite thing to wear when I’m working out (shown here alongside some frozen treat socks, featuring that other bafflingly popular Disney snack, Dole Whip.)

Snack Merch Collage

I actually wore it during my workout this morning, along with this turkey leg mani – plump turkey legs as set against the colours of the four parks (or at least what I think are the colours associated with the parks, silver for Epcot, green for Animal Kingdom, coral for Hollywood Studios and baby blue for the Magic Kingdom.)  Because of course you can find turkey legs at all four parks (and probably a lot of other places I’m unaware of; I think turkey legs at Disney may be a bit like spiders – supposedly we’re all only feet away from one at all times!)

Positive Steps: A Dieting Story

Irregular Choice Collage 1

I’ve been having all manner of difficulty lately staying on track of my fitness and diet goals.  Oh, I’m still going down to the gym and the pool for almost-daily workouts, sometimes even with Mr. Finger Candy or my mom in tow, but I’ve been eating such garbage, and lots ‘n’ lots of it.  I’d wager in the first year of my “Turn things around or you’re gonna die” regime I dined at McDonald’s (a favourite, because that’s where the golden delicious fries live) perhaps just three or four times.  I went there three times over this past long weekend alone. 😦

So that’s all kind of suckiness that I’m attempting to set right here at the beginning of this shortened work week.  No more eyeballing it, no more creeping portion sizes, no more crap dietary decisions.  No more McDonald’s, at least for the time being.  Instead, I’d like to see a return to the sensible – and very casual – diet and exercise “plan” I’ve been following to great success these past 15 months (you know, up until the high caloric affair that was The Great Quarter Poundering of Victoria Day Weekend 2018.)  I’m just a happier, better functioning human being when I keep a reasonable eye on body and soul, so that’s what I’m going to do.

As always, though, motivation is key.  After all, if I had such a limitless font of the stuff in the first place, I wouldn’t be here right now!  So this past weekend I went looking for something to juice the old motivational gears, evidence that what I’ve been doing has been working – a formerly snug tee, a formerly snug necklace, a formerly snug (insert the item *HERE* because everything was snug.)

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Including my shoes!  Because you actually can gain quite a bit of weight in your feet.  Which is why these kawaii cuties from Irregular Choice have been banished to the top shelf of the front hall closet for the past six years – because they simply do did not fit.  I’m one of Cinderella’s step-sisters, but instead of greed and avarice, I was kept out of these slippers due to my extreme love of butter.

Irregular Choice Collage 2

But they fit now!  And I was beyond excited yesterday when I found them, jammed them onto my feet (no surprise here, but they are muy uncomfortable) and discovered that not only could I fasten the Mary Jane straps across my arches, but I could also stand up in them AND shimmy around for a bit (before the daggers in the balls of my feet demanded I stop.)  Victory is mine!  And so is a whole pile of positive motivation to keep on keeping on.  I truly never thought I’d wear these shoes not just again, but EVER, because they have never fit.  I’m as happy as a gilded, googly-eyed cupcake on a pair of four inch heels.

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Or my fingers!  Because, you know, nail art.  I think this manicure turned out wonderfully, if not totally impractically.  But sometimes in beauty – and footwear – you want to take the more is more approach, and these nails, and their inspiration, definitely qualify as MORE.  Love it all, and glad to be back on track in so many different ways.

Irregular Choice 2