Flavorful Escarole and Pastina Soup

This delicious Escarole and Pastina soup includes many Italian flavors that remind me of my childhood. What little Ragazzo or Ragazzi didn’t grow up feasting on ingredients such as escarole, tiny pastina, and cannellini beans?

Alisa Fanara, my co-worker (and fellow Italian), shared this recipe. This soup is perfect for a wintery day. Add chicken or sausage to make the soup heartier.

Print Recipe
Escarole and Pastina Soup
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a large pot. Add onion, carrot and garlic, salt and pepper. Cook on medium-low heat until the onion is tender, about 8 minutes.
  2. Turn the heat to medium-high. Add the escarole and cook, stirring for a few minutes until the escarole is wilted. Add the broth, beans, and tomatoes. Simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the escarole is tender, about 20 minutes.
  3. Add the spinach and stir for a minute or two minutes until the spinach is wilted.
  4. Cook the pastina separately. Scoop pastina into the bowls. Ladle the soup on top of the pastina. Sprinkle with cheese. Serve the soup hot!
Recipe Notes

The recipe was adapted from the Los Angeles Times.

18 Great Non-Fiction Books for 2018

If you’re looking for an inspirational, uplifting or funny book for the New Year, here are a few of my favorite non-fiction books.

When you need a real-life hero

  1. Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand

I was riveted by the resilience of Louis Zamperini who started out life as a delinquent. Zamperini took his talent of running away from crime to earn a spot on the American team as a long distance runner in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The athlete later served as an airman in World War II. This was a “beyond the driveway” audiobook; I didn’t want to stop listening to Hillenbrand’s account of how the young Californian survived incredible odds after his plane went down over the Pacific Ocean. Furthermore, he somehow endured extreme torture and cruelty as a Japanese prisoner of war.

  1. The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown

It’s the 1936 Olympics again. Nine young men attending the University of Washington beat established rowing champions to represent the U.S. in Berlin. Most of the “boys” were working two or three jobs to attend college and support themselves during the Great Depression. Upstate rowing fans can relate to accounts of Syracuse University’s team, often a competitor of the Seattle team when they traveled east. Their story is also captured in the PBS documentary, “The Boys of ’36″.

All Creatures Great and Small

Books about animals remind me of my small place on this planet. I am amazed at the intelligence of these non-humans. The authors delve into the anatomy and biology of these animals, as well their personal relationship to specific ones.

3. “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.

I’ve given away so many copies of this book that I now order the book for friends and have it sent directly to them. This small volume starts with Bailey’s battle with a mysterious illness she contracted on a trip to Europe. Once home in the U.S., she became bedridden. An active hiker and nature lover, she had to move from her farmhouse to a small apartment close to where she could get care.

When a friend presents her with a pot of wild violets, Bailey is surprised to find an interloper living among the leaves: a common woodland snail. Soon, her fascination with the small creature morphs into a study of the Neohelix albolabris. Her description of the snail’s anatomy, locomotion, decision-making abilities and mysterious courtship is engrossing. So much so, that I assembled a terrarium and plucked several snails from my garden to live among the plants. They’re now in hibernation–or dead.

4. “The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness” by Sy Montgomery.

This book explores the author’s friendship with Athena, a deep sea creature housed at Boston’s New England Aquarium. When the eight-limbed invertebrate dies, Montgomery’s grief is overwhelming for her newfound friend. Playful on one hand, cunning on the other, Athena was one of three octopuses Montgomery observed and fell in love with. Local bonus:  Montgomery graduated from Syracuse University.

5. Alex & Me by Irene M. Pepperberg

A psychologist shares her extraordinary relationship with Alex, an African Grey parrot. Alex demonstrated an astonishing ability to communicate and understand complex ideas. Get the audio version so you can hear Alex talk.

6. Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacy O’Brien

I picked up this audiobook after my son expressed an interest in owls. (He also likes puffins.) O’Brien, a biologist, adopts Wesley, a barn owl, when he is just three days old. She bonds with Wesley, who grows to consider her his mate; owls are monogamous. This account is touching and tender, from how the young woman cuddles her animal friend to how she feeds and cares for him so that he has as “natural” a life as possible in captivity.

A Happy Life

7. “A Short Guide to a Happy Life” by Anna Quindlen

Often given to high school and college graduates, this small volume contains the Pulitzer Prize winner’s advice on how to “get a life.” Just 19 when her mother died of ovarian cancer, Quindlen has been living under the shadow of her own mortality since then. She writes, “that knowledge of your own mortality is the greatest gift God ever gave us.”

8. “The Book of Awakening: Have the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have” by Mark Nepo

My yoga teacher often ends practice by reading from this book. A cancer survivor, Nepo advocates “being present” to enjoy life as it unfolds. Therefore, he begins each day with a quote and ends it with a meditation. No one can go through your journey for you, he writes, “but you are not alone. Everyone is on the same journey. Everyone shares the same pains, the same confusions, the same fears…”

Spiritual, Not Religious

9. “Traveling Mercies” by Anne LaMott.

This book of essays features LaMott’s hard-won life lessons. A recovering drug addict and alcoholic, LaMott grew up searching for a connection with a higher power. She found it in a Marin City, California, church with a diverse congregation in a poor neighborhood.

Her faith is earthy and real.

For example, shortly after LaMott’s close friend died and a relative was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, LaMott observed: “I felt alternately rubbery and empty, like sometimes I was landing on the Swiss cheese, sometimes in the holes.”

In Sickness and in Health

10. “Kitchen Table Wisdom” by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.

I don’t remember why I picked up “Kitchen Table,” but it’s definitely a keeper. Remen’s parents were both doctors who believed in science, not religion. From her grandfather, an Orthodox rabbi and scholar of the Kabbalah, Remen learned about the connectedness we have with each other. Remen uses her own personal illness to enlarge her view of medicine. Consequently, she was one of the first physicians in the country to adopt the practice of holistic medicine.

11. “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Really Matters at the End” by Atul Gawande

Written by a practicing physician, this thoughtful book relies upon  Gawande’s own medical practice and his experience with his father’s death. He also relates how one doctor in upstate New York transformed a nursing home from a place of dying to a home for the living to spend their last days among pets, plants, and children.

12. “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanthi

Although a book about dying may not seem uplifting, author Paul Kalanthi manages to evoke wonder and awe as he recounts his transition from brilliant neurosurgeon resident to dying patient. Diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, Kalanthi learns more from his own struggles than any lesson he was taught in medical school:

“…the physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our own arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”

I teared up as I read the author’s final words to his infant daughter. In the margin, I’d written one word: Profound.

When the Going Gets Tough

13. “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Rabbi Harold Kushner

Kushner believes that tragedy is often due to the randomness of the universe. Bad things just happen. Kushner’s first-hand experience asking God, “Why?” stems from his young son’s diagnosis of a degenerative disease. Called progeria, the extremely rare disease speeds up the aging process. Kushner’s son, Aaron, died of old age when he was in his early teens.

14. “Share My Lonesome Valley, The Slow Grief of Long-term Care” by Doug Manning.

Manning’s words are comforting for those caring for a loved one with a chronic debilitating condition or illness, such as dementia.

Caregivers often lose themselves in the day-to-day activities of looking after their loved ones. “Long-term care folks seem to just ‘function in the fire,’” he said.

When you take care of someone who will never be restored to their former good health, it’s a grieving process, Manning believes. His words acknowledge the caregiver’s need to grieve their “old” life.

Funny, But Sad

15. “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” by Roz Chast.

This celebrated magazine cartoonist chronicles her parents’ declining years in cartoons, family photos, and prose. Both comic and caring, this memoir tells how Chast, an only child, copes with her mother’s and father’s failing health. She cleans out the apartment where they’ve hoarded non-necessities for decades and moves them to assisted living nearer to where she lives. As a baby boomer, I can’t help but think of my own advancing age and how can I approach it graciously.

Funny and Informative

16. “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Cadavers” by Mary Roach.

Not a scientist, but a writer about science, Roach has authored books on a plethora of subjects, including sex, ghosts, eating and life as a soldier and astronaut. She combines the ghoulish with the informative in this tale of what happens to our bodies after death. She writes with a light touch that has you more intrigued than grossed out. I heard her speak as part of an Onondaga County Library’s Famous Author series; she’s as good a presenter as she’s a writer.

Comic

17. “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris.

Sedaris is another author I heard speak as part of the famous author series. He had the audience laughing the whole time. Sedaris is candid about his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, his dysfunctional family dynamics, and being homosexual. This is my favorite of his books, although his account of playing an elf to a department store Santa Claus gives it a good run in “Holidays on Ice”. Local connection: Sedaris’s grandmother lived in Binghamton, N.Y.

18. “Rossen to the Rescue” by Jeff Rossen

The NBC investigative reporter turned some of his televised Rossen Reports into a book. Subtitled “Secrets to Avoiding Scams, Everyday Dangers and Major Catastrophes,” the book covers topics that range from protecting your home and kids to fighting identify thieves. Easy to pick up and read a chapter at a time, “Rossen to the Rescue” may save you money, and more importantly, your life and the lives of your loved ones!

My Favorite Fiction

In an upcoming article, I’ll share my 18 favorite works of fiction.

Healthy Snacking Tips from a Football Party Veteran

Watching the big game can be grueling when you’re at a house party with a super-sized buffet.

But you can approach kickoff with a solid game plan to help you avoid getting sacked by too many fatty barbecue wings or ill-advised slices of calorie-laden pie:

  1. Before you go to your bash, have a small, healthy snack such as an apple or a handful of raisins and nuts. If you’re hungry when you get to the party, your willpower will go ‘wide right.’
  2. Offer a healthy dish for everyone to enjoy, such as vegetables and low-fat dip. You can crunch away on celery, broccoli, bell peppers and carrots! Be wary of dipping veggies in ranch or a similar creamy dressing which could load on the calories. Instead, prepare dips using Greek yogurt or light sour cream.
  3. Baked tortilla chips make just as good a base for nachos as their greasy fried counterparts. Stack them high with layers of cilantro, shredded lettuce, beans, fresh avocado, diced tomatoes, and jalapenos. If you’re adding ground beef, use the kind labeled “90 percent lean,” and be sure to drain away the fat.
  4. Looking for a healthy, but sweet snack? Try cookie dough hummus. I promise – it’s tasty! The sweetness of the peanut butter, maple syrup, and chocolate chips hides the fact that this is a bean dip! Click on the video below for the recipe.
  5. Another tip is to first take a 30-second food time out to assess all the choices on the game day spread before deciding on what you really want to nibble on.  Move away from the table, walk around and mingle. If you stay next to the food, you’re more likely to overeat.

By being aware of what you are eating and focusing on portion size, you’ll be able to make it to the presentation of the trophy feeling like a winner.

The excuse you might need to finally take days off

“Take two vacation days…and call me in the morning.”

Sounds kind of strange, but a “vacation” might be a real “prescription” for better health and work life.

Work is the number one cause of stress for American workers, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association. So, using up your vacation days would be one way to help relieve some of that stress, right? But it’s apparently not as easy as it sounds.

The author, on vacation, visiting the famous The French Laundry restaurant in Yountville, CA.

There can be other big bonuses to taking an actual vacation. But more on that later.

Don’t believe me?

Ok, skeptics. Just look at these stats:

  • Over 54 percent of American workers had unused vacation time in 2015, amounting to a staggering 662 million unused vacation days, according to a study by Project: Time Off, an initiative by the U.S. Travel Association.
  • Another survey conducted by Skift noted that nearly 42 percent of Americans do not take ANY vacation days.

Do you work too much?

Getting away from work can help recharge your batteries, clear your mind and catch your breath. Is the idea of a stress-free getaway not enough to detach you from work? If that’s the case, here are two more reasons to consider:

1. Want a raise? Take vacation?

People who took fewer than 10 of their vacation days per year had a 34.6 percent likelihood of receiving a raise or bonus in a three-year period, according to another study by Project: Time Off. But people who took at least 11 of their vacation days had a 65.4% chance of receiving a raise or bonus.

2. You might be overworking for free

I love this rundown from an article in the Harvard Business Review:

“If you’re not taking all your time off, you’re not working more — you’re overworking for free.” added the author of the article.  “Many people have become work martyrs, thinking if they give and give, they will be more successful. But it doesn’t play out that way.”

The author as he navigates a stream while on vacation at Mt. Marcy – the highest point in New York state.

Vacation ideas

You’re ready to unplug- Great! But please note that you don’t have to book an elaborate getaway to an exotic island. Here are some ideas:

  • Get organized! Last year, I literally took two days off to simply get things done. I bought new tires, had my car inspected, painted two rooms and trimmed overgrown shrubs. I even had time to binge watch episodes of Game of Thrones. It may not sound like “vacation,” but it felt great to get all of that done. It was a big stress relief!
  • Later in the year, I joined a friend’s trip hiking Mt. Marcy (the highest peak in New York state) as a “bucket list” birthday trip. I was actually “off the grid” for a couple of days. Think about it…no cell service. We felt uncomfortable at first. But it didn’t take long to rediscover the great outdoors while having actual conversations and laughs without anyone staring at a mobile device. I’m not saying everyone has to climb a mountain on their day off, just getting away and reconnecting with friends is a good place to start.

The author at Mt. Marcy in Essex County.

One more thing…Unplug

You don’t have to scale a mountain to unplug. No matter what you’re doing, all it takes is one email or voicemail to disrupt your time off. I once checked email while on a much-anticipated trip and learned that a co-worker had unexpectedly left the company. Needless to say, I couldn’t stop thinking about it and was distracted the rest of the trip.

No one (well, almost no one) is so important that they can’t disconnect for a short amount of time, especially if you plan on it.

Everyone needs to define “unplugging” based on their own specific situation. Here are four general tips that may help:

    1. Leave a strong out of office message before leaving. Give co-workers who have “urgent” needs a place to go, if they can’t wait for you to get back. Don’t leave an email or phone number where you can be reached, otherwise they WILL reach you.
    2. Turn off your work email, if you’re able to do so.
    3. Stay busy. This could mean anything from reading by the pool to hiking, visiting a museum, working on a project around the house, binge-watching your favorite show, etc. The less time you have to think about work, the less likely you will be to plug back in again.
    4. Go somewhere you are actually OFF the grid. If you don’t have service, then you simply can’t be reached. Or, just tell people that you’ll be off the grid (stay off social media if you do this).

So, what are you waiting for? Start planning those days off.

Meal Delivery Services: Our Review of Home Chef & Kitchen Verde

Is meal delivery in a box for you? Maybe. These semi-prepared meals definitely get you out of a “cooking rut” and encourage you to change up your dinner offerings. Here’s my two cents on some of the more popular brands, plus feedback from my colleagues who’ve also used them and other services. (This review is not an endorsement of any brand.)

I’ve tried three — Martha & Marley Spoon™, Blue Apron and Sun Basket. My co-workers have also tried Home Chef and the Rochester-based service, Kitchen Verde.

Here are reviews of Home Chef and Kitchen Verde

Home Chef: Never Have to Run to the Grocery Store

Robin Hendrick of Rochester and her husband get two to three Home Chef meals a week.

“I absolutely love it,” said Robin. “I can pre-order up to six weeks in advance, cancel specific weeks when I won’t need to use it, and personalize our profile for offerings.” In addition, Robin said, “I never have to run to the grocery store to get that one forgotten ingredient.”

Robin with her Home Chef meal.

“Weeks when I only need to order two dinners, I’ll add a fruit or smoothie which brings my total above the minimum to get free delivery,” said Robin. “It makes economic sense to pay $10 more for fruit than $6.95 for shipping.”

Home Chef: Menu Choices

Recipes are marked as “heart healthy” or “carb conscious.” There is a Classic Plan and a Value Plan. With the Classic Plan, you can complete a personal taste profile; you’ll then be matched with weekly meal selections that meet your dietary restrictions and preferences. In addition, you can add smoothies and fruit baskets to your order. Some menus also contain breakfast and/or lunch items.

On the day we checked, these were some of the meals on the menu: Ribeye Steak Quesadillas, Garlic and Lemon-Crusted Salmon, Bone-in Pork Chop with Maple Butter, Hawaiian Turkey Burger, Roasted Skin-on Chicken, Pork Shumai Meatballs, Empada Rice Bowl, and Artichoke and Tomato Flatbread.

Check the website for pricing and special promotions. When comparing plans, be sure to check if there is a delivery cost, if the packaging is recyclable, if you can skip meals, and how far in advance you can cancel.

Kitchen Verde – The Rochester Option

 Melaney Bernhardt of Rochester uses Kitchen Verde.

“The meals are plant-based and oil-free and fantastic. They use seasonal ingredients and always taste great!” said Melaney.

Sarah Goodenough developed the Rochester, New York-based Kitchen Verde meal service after losing 156 pounds on a plant-based diet. Sarah is a registered nurse who is currently working on a certification in plant-based nutrition through the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at Cornell University.

Her new lifestyle has motivated her to help others improve their health and quality of life.

Kitchen Verde Menu Items

Check the website for the week’s offerings and costs for breakfast, lunch/dinner, snack boxes, organic cold press juices and “guilt-free” desserts.

On the day I checked, here’s what was on the menu:

Breakfast meals: Spicy Tofu and Black Bean Breakfast Burrito, Chocolate Raspberry Parfait, Chocolate Almond Butter Pancake, and Spinach Artichoke Quiche.

Lunch/dinner meals: Chipotle Tofu Burrito Bowl, Lasagna, Chili Sans Carne with Cornbread, Goulash, White Bean Loaf Plate, Broccoli and Rice Casserole and Onion and Pepper Quesadilla.

Snack boxes: Mini Pumpkin Power Muffin, Apple Cranberry Walnut Salad, Apple Pie Chia Pudding

In Monroe County, you can have meals delivered for a $5 charge. Alternatively, on Sunday, you can pick up meals at 777 Culver St., Rochester, between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

If you live in Ontario County, you can pick up meals at the Sands Cancer Center on Mondays from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Other Meal Delivery Services

To learn more about the other meal delivery services, read our reviews on:

 

How to Build a Backyard Ice Rink

Given that current weather forecasts for our part of the Northeast are including numbers below the magical 32 degrees Fahrenheit, my mental homeowner ‘to do’ list includes clearing the leaves, starting the snowblower, and so on…standard stuff you may say.

But even now, I catch myself dreaming of the next item…re-assembling the backyard ice arena, aka “Kane Rink.”

You may then quip “Are you nuts? Sounds like a lot of work!” And I’ll agree, but smile, fueled by a fond, selective memory.

Setting up the ice rink: Lots of trial and error

For nearly 10 winters, my sons and I (and occasionally my wonderful wife/hockey mom) would spend the better part of each Thanksgiving morning:

  • Re-assembling the pressure-treated frame boards (aka our first deck frame) for the border of the rink,
  • Screwing in the assorted galvanized straps and connections to secure the frame,
  • Unrolling and leveling the huge marine grade tarp over the ground and frame walls,
  • Starting the two-day water filling process, with 4” – 6” depth the goal for ease of freezing and maintenance.

Though the instructions SOUND simple, there was a lot of trial and error, and talking to other “crazy” “North Coast” (Webster borders Lake Ontario) parents like us. Some other, much more sane parents, might even ask “isn’t the nearby Webster Ice Arena a half mile from your house?” “Yep, but you can’t turn those lights on at 10 p.m. and play till you’re tired, or any other time you want…and water is cheap!”

Second-hand hockey equipment is key

Only one of my boys actively played hockey. Yet both were good skaters and outdoor adventurers who had fun with friends at our house all the time.

We had spare skates and sticks of all sizes. Plus two goals and a shooting net behind one to enable retrieval of pucks without too many losses to the neighbor’s deck for springtime discovery.

Since hockey families pass along items to newbies as their kids age out, we were lucky too. One parent gave us about 50 extra pucks. Another lent me his “NiceIce Resurfacer.” It’s a water pipe and cloth that evenly spreads the water. This tool saved hours of frustration and would have been worth buying for one season alone!

Building and maintaining the 25’x55’ rink was a shared task and one with new lessons each year. Here are some of those lessons, just in case you decide to start your own “backyard rink” traditions this year.

Want to build an ice rink? Start online

  • Google “how to build a backyard hockey rink” and watch some of the videos. There are many, many theories, but you’ll get the idea and answers to questions you hadn’t even thought of.
  • Consider an online vendor such as NiceRink.com for supplies, brackets and such. There are so many other options, you can start simple when the kids are young and improve year to year.

Ice rink tarp tips

  • Try a marine grade or waterproof tarp instead of stapling sheet plastic. You can reuse the tarp for many years.
  • Try placing corrugated plastic drain pipe over the board edges to hold the tarp and protect it from skaters, pucks and shovels too.

Clean that rink

  • Leaves from nearby trees have to be cleared promptly, or they will freeze into the surface and melt at a different speed than nearby ice due to color and sunlight. They create pits/holes in the surface of the ice.
  • Once the ice formed for the winter, clearing ANY snowfall was crucial within hours. If not, snow would melt then refreeze and/or worse create slush on the ice surface and the upper snow would create a blanket effect. I was in the habit of clearing the driveway and the rink all before sunrise. Again, a “North Coast thing” perhaps?

Finding the best spot for your rink

  • If your yard isn’t 100% level, that’s OK, the boards can be deeper in some spots. You can also bring in loads of dirt to improve your yard. Sixteen loads helped us!
  • Having a nearby source of BOTH hot and cold water is crucial to success. Sometimes hot water melted and easily leveled the top surface after skating or snow fell. A walk-out basement with available laundry tub served our needs. It also gave easy access to get back in the house when too cold to skate.
  • Lighting – if you can point some spotlights from your house to the ice surface, you’ll have extended hours of fun!

End of season fun

  • Buy a ~$30 battery-powered floating water pump for the end of season draining challenge – you’ll thank me.
  • If you only take one end of the boards down in the spring, you can still mow your lawn AND save hours of work! Plus you can keep the goal up for summertime practice on a mat that might also save your garage door from round, black dents.

When you get to the point where the kids go to college (unless you’ve developed your own backyard game and parents’ league), give away your gathered items. You’ll be amazed how much spare time you’ll get back in the winter! But it will be sadly quiet on those sunny, 15 degree days in January when you SHOULD be providing cookies and cocoa to a hungry crew. Savor those memories, they are worth the effort.

We know there’s a lot of fellow upstate NYers who are skilled at building the backyard ice rink! Please share your tips and advice. We’d love to hear them.

8 Last-Minute Healthy Gifts For The Holidays

If you’re scrambling to find the perfect gift for that special someone, it’s not too late to give the gift of health.

Here are some healthy options:

  1. A journal for recording your thoughts, activities or goals
  2. A subscription to a health-related magazine. Cooking Light is my favorite
  3. A recipe organizer to keep track of your favorite recipes
  4. A membership to a gym or gift certificate for a yoga class
  5. A gift basket of healthy foods (olive oil, almonds, flax seed, dried fruit, flavored vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, whole wheat pasta, etc.)
  6. Hand weights or an exercise ball
  7. A cool apron with a cookbook
  8. Cooking items such as a culinary knife, nonstick skillet, or a set of cutting boards

Step Up Your Shopping

You can even turn your last-minute purchasing expedition into an exercise in health and fitness for yourself.

One tip? Walk extra steps whenever possible:

  1. When heading out to the mall, look for the farthest parking spot in the parking lot.
  2. Start your shopping with a brisk walk through the mall or up and down the aisles of the store.
  3. When you arrive home, make a few trips to unload the car instead of trying to bring in all your packages in one trip.

After your big shopping expedition, relax with a cup of herbal tea or low-fat chocolate milk for a low-calorie beverage.  You can enjoy a couple of holiday treats, too.  Just remember that portion control is the key to eating healthy.

If you’ve struggled to be healthy given all your holiday demands, read 50 Small Changes for a Healthier Life for inspiration in the New Year.

 

Meal Delivery Services: Our Review of Martha & Marley Spoon™

Is meal delivery in a box for you? Maybe. These semi-prepared meals definitely get you out of a “cooking rut” and encourage you to change up your dinner offerings. Here’s my two cents on some of the more popular brands, plus feedback from my colleagues who’ve also used them and other services. (This review is not an endorsement of any brand.)

I’ve tried three — Martha & Marley Spoon, Blue Apron and Sun Basket. My co-workers have also tried Home Chef and the Rochester-based service, Kitchen Verde.

Here’s my review of Marley Spoon.

Martha & Marley Spoon

I was tired of the “same old same old” meals, tried and true recipes that didn’t require a lot of thinking or prep time. Salads, roasted vegetables and grilled meats in the summer; crockpot meals, soups, and stews in the winter. When I received Martha & Marley Spoon as a gift, I was excited to mix it up in the kitchen. I could whip up something New! Exciting! Different!

Plus, there would be no waste such as the huge bottle of black sesame seeds I bought for a  recipe and haven’t made since.

The entrees were tasty. A change from my usual ho-hum suppers. My favorite was “Poached Cod in Tomato Broth.”

You can re-create some of the meals on your own, but some recipes require custom spice blends that may be difficult to replicate.

30 Minutes, Really?

I found the “30 minutes” of suggested prep to table time idealistic, even unrealistic. Maybe I’m just slow. There was a lot of slicing and dicing—almost every recipe called for minced garlic, chopped onion or other produce preparation.

Still, I was pleased. The meals were tasty. I continued the membership a few more weeks, then gave up. Between working full-time and caregiving duties, I didn’t have the energy to prepare all the meals. I still had to grocery shop for staples and ingredients for other dinners, plus breakfast and lunch items.

Meal Plans For Martha & Marley Spoon

Martha & Marley Spoon offers meal plans for couples or families (three to four people). You can choose two to four meals a week. In addition, you can opt for your meals to be vegetarian or gluten-free. Recent menus included Smoky-Spice Rubbed Steak, Inside-Out Chicken & Stuffing, Broccoli and Black Olive Pizza, Tomato, Rice and Sausage Soup, Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta, Lentils and Smoky Eggplant, Broiled Shrimp and Zucchini, and Tortelloni Minestrone.

Check the website for plan costs. When comparing plans, be sure to check if there is a delivery cost, if the packaging is recyclable, if you can skip meals, and how far in advance you can cancel.

For special promotions, check Martha & Marley Spoon social media:

Facebook
Instagram
Twitter

Final Word

I’ve since tried other meal delivery services, including Blue Apron and Sun Basket. They each had their benefits and drawbacks.

But I’m back to my own devices for dinner, although experimenting with the meal delivery service has definitely got me thinking outside the box. The food prep takes about the same amount of time whether I buy it or it arrives at my door.  In addition, most of the services publish some of their recipes online.

If you’re looking to spice up your meals, give a service (or two or three) a try. Since most don’t require a contract, you can opt out any time. And, most have an introductory discount that’s appealing!

To learn more about the other meal delivery services, read our reviews on:

 

Meal Delivery Services: Our Review of Sun Basket

Is meal delivery in a box for you? Maybe. These semi-prepared meals definitely get you out of a “cooking rut” and encourage you to change up your dinner offerings. Here’s my two cents on some of the more popular brands, plus feedback from my colleagues who’ve also used them and other services. (This review is not an endorsement of any brand.)

I’ve tried three — Martha & Marley Spoon™, Blue Apron and Sun Basket. My co-workers have also tried Home Chef and the Rochester-based service, Kitchen Verde.

Here’s my review of Sun Basket:

Sun Basket: Organic, Low Calorie

An offer for Sun Basket popped up in an email. I liked its promise of organic produce and lower calorie (lean and clean) meals, and of course, the introductory discount.

Sun Basket deliveries arrived on my doorstep three times a week. In no time, I felt overwhelmed. When I called to cancel, the customer service rep suggested I switch to two instead of three meals a week. That was more manageable.

I liked the entrees, but after a short while, they started to sound alike, but with a different protein, e.g., beef versus fish tacos. When the company raised the price of the meals and the shipping, I suggested they forgo printing the four-color booklet that contained recipes for every meal that week—not just the ones I ordered. The individual meal cards I got from another meal delivery service, Marley Spoons, seemed less wasteful. (Read my review of Martha & Marley Spoon.)

My CNY colleague, Lindsay Speicher, agreed. She and her fiancé preferred Sun Basket over meal delivery services Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, but sometimes found it stressful to pull together three fairly complex meals a week.

“It was nice to have interesting meals at home using ingredients we don’t usually buy. We also had a good reason to make dinner together, dividing and conquering the steps,” she said, adding that she also appreciated Sun Basket’s lower calorie options.

“But, if our week was busy, we’d still have to make the meals or let them go to waste.”

Sun Basket Menus

 “Inspired farm-to-table” recipes serve two to four people a meal. Choices include Chef’s Choice, Paleo, Lean & Clean, Gluten-free and Vegetarian. Recent menu items included Green Goddess Steak Salad, Walnut-Crusted Chicken Diavola, Roasted Salmon, Black Bean Tostados, Almond Crusted Sole, and Red Lentil and Leek Pot Pie.

“Family friendly meals kids will like” serve two, three or four people. Choices are Chef’s Choice, Paleo-friendly, Gluten-free and Vegetarian. Recent menu items included Korean Beef Skewers, Black Bean Quinoa Burgers, Pulled Pork With Orecchiette, Mu Shu Pork, and Paprika-Spiced Chicken.

Check the website for pricing and special promotions and other menu choices. When comparing plans, be sure to check if there is a delivery cost, if packaging is recyclable, if you can skip meals, and how far in advance you can cancel.

Other Meal Delivery Services

I’ve since tried other meal delivery services, including Blue Apron and Marley Spoons, and my co-workers have tried a few others as well.

To learn more about the other meal delivery services, read our reviews on:

 

 

Meal Delivery Services: Our Review of Blue Apron

Is meal delivery in a box for you? Maybe. These semi-prepared meals definitely get you out of a “cooking rut” and encourage you to change up your dinner offerings. Here’s my two cents on some of the more popular brands, plus feedback from my colleagues who’ve also used them and other services. (This review is not an endorsement of any brand.)

I’ve tried three — Martha & Marley Spoon™, Blue Apron and Sun Basket. My co-workers have also tried Home Chef and the Rochester-based service, Kitchen Verde.

Here’s my review of Blue Apron:

Blue Apron: Mixed Reviews

Blue Apron’s introductory offer enticed me to try this popular brand. Again, the prep time was more than the stated half hour. I scrambled to make the meals before the produce wilted. Unless I planned to make the meal that day or the next, I froze the meat.

With the meals arriving in quick succession, I felt like I Love Lucy at the candy factory. She and Ethel failed to keep up with the candy wrapping as the chocolates arrived fast and furious on the conveyor belt. The next Blue Apron meals would arrive before I had gone through the previously delivered batch. It was too much too soon.

Lisa Weakley of Central New York has had better luck with Blue Apron. She’s been a subscriber for three years. Shrimp Thai Soup is a favorite.

“I like not having to think about what to have for dinner three times a week,” she said, adding that some of the ingredients are sourced from local small farmers, including Emmi’s farm in Baldwinsville.

Still, she’d like more grill options in the summer.

Although he’s only tried three meals, Jeff Borkowski, a vegetarian from the Rochester area, plans to use Blue Apron again. He cited the plan’s affordability and high quality ingredients.

“The portions are perfect. I always eat everything on my plate, even when I shouldn’t. I felt satisfied, but not stuffed,” he said, adding that “the food is absolutely delicious!”

Bryan Adams, also from Rochester, liked how easy it was to make meals with Blue Apron. “Very family friendly, too.”

He and his wife quit the service after a month citing the cost. A family plan for four meals a week was $143.84.

“It was more than my entire grocery budget for a 7-day week! And it didn’t include kids’ lunches, our lunches, breakfast, snacks and beverages,” he said.

Pan Sauce Pizzazz

Rochester area resident Lauren Daley started using Blue Apron on maternity leave.

“It was nice to cook something and have it all portioned out,” she said, adding, “The little bottles of condiments and vinegars and tiny packets of butter are adorable! Even the ice packs are cool!”

Some of Blue Apron’s little bottles of condiments and tiny packets of ingredients.

She continued the service after she went back to work.

“I learned some new techniques and to make something tasty with just a few ingredients,” she said.

“For example, I didn’t know how to make a pan sauce or a depressing little chicken breast have a little more pizzazz. It’s made me ’scrappier’ with ingredients I have on hand.”

Although she’s the “resident chef” in her home, Lauren said she and her wife make it a point to cook together.

“It was fun to pick our meals together online,” she said. “And, it transformed making dinner into an actual experience rather than a logistical daily need.”

With her wife’s sensitivity to gluten, their only option was to pick meals without starches. Although Lauren could sometimes substitute by using her own gluten-free ingredients, it felt wasteful. She tried to reduce each meal’s cost by stretching it to cover another dinner or lunch, but that wasn’t always possible.

“So, I can’t make it an all-the-time thing, but I go back from time to time just to spice up our menus and have a little extra time not dedicated to shopping and meal prep,” said Lauren, adding that a gift card to Blue Apron is their go-to gift for newlyweds and new families.

Blue Apron Menus

 Menu choices are non-vegetarian and vegetarian. There are two-person and family plans (feeds four).

On the day we checked, menus included Chili Butter Steaks, Spicy Honey-Lime Chicken Tostados, Baked Cajun Catfish, Lumaca Rigata Pasta, Shitake & Black Garlic Rament, Curried Cauliflower & Lentils, Miso-Butter Pork Chops and Roasted Turkey Breast & Farro-Endive Salad.

Check the website for other menus, pricing plans and special promotions. When comparing plans, be sure to check if there is a delivery cost, if packaging is recyclable, if you can skip meals, and how far in advance you can cancel.

Other Meal Services

I’ve since tried other meal delivery services, including Sun Basket and Martha & Marley Spoon, and my co-workers have tried a few others as well.

To learn more about the other meal delivery services, read our reviews on: