Kitchen Smackdown: real cooking vs. Blue Apron

retro cook

Something insidious has started creeping its way through San Francisco lately. It’s like a zombie that is one part Sanda Lee and two parts millennial entitlement, and WORSE, it just keeps coming back.

Whenever I mention cooking or a recipe (which I do often) people get this weird look in their eyes and say, “Hey, you like cooking – have you tried Blue Apron?”

And then I slap myself in the forehead and look for something to stab myself in the eye with. The more simultaneous I can do these things, the better.

Here’s what I say inside my head: WHY. Oh why!! Would I ever pay exorbitant prices AND punch Mother Earth in the face by having boxes and plastic and crap shipped to my house every week, just so I can have my hand held while I cook a medium-to-ick looking recipe OR a recipe so easy that absolutely anyone could make it? Yes, you’re correct, I DO love cooking. So why would I outsource it?

Here’s what I say out loud: Yeah, I think I’ve heard of Blue Apron. What is it again?

I keep looking for a reason, any reason at all, that someone might think Blue Apron is better than cooking at home. And what I’ve realized is that people fall somewhere in the range between uninformed to lazy, with pit stops to confused, overwhelmed and under-confident in between. So once and for all, I’d like to publicly declare that yes, of course I’ve heard of Blue Apron, and no I do not use it. Because there is no earthly reason for me to or you to buy into the myths that Blue Apron is perpetuating on us all.apron

Myth #1 – Blue Apron is inexpensive. While it may be cheaper than going out to dinner, it’s definitely not cheaper than cooking for yourself. We spend about $120 per week on groceries, which results in an average of 17 meals for two people every week. We shave a few off to account  for the periodic catered lunch, a dinner date night out, and the days I prioritize sleep over food and content myself with office snacks. Trail mix for breakfast, anyone?

That’s 32 meals total, bringing our average price per meal per person to $3.75. That price is pretty spendy when you think about one slice of avocado toast, my preferred breakfast, but it’s downright miraculous when you think about how much you’d pay for thai peanut noodles, roast chicken for two, or a slice of chocolate espresso pie at a restaurant. Blue Apron costs $10 per person per meal. That’s an extra $6.25 per person over cooking for yourself. If you added up that $6.25 and applied it to 32 meals per week, the average amount we cook, you are either saving or spending an extra $200 every week. That means that if you use it every week, Blue Apron costs you $10,400 every year. So you could use Blue Apron for two years, or in the same span of time buy a new car or have a down payment on a house.  When you look at it that way, the choice seems like…well, not much of a choice.

Home cooking 1, Blue Apron, 0.

Myth #2 – Blue Apron isn’t wasteful because you have the exact right amount of ingredients. I hear you. It’s annoying to see lemons wasting away at the bottom of a fridge, or those herbs rotting in the corner because you only needed a little snippet. Composting what should have been eaten makes me cringe. Except the one thing that makes me cringe more – trash. While I have to applaud Blue Apron for making their packaging recyclable and compostable, how many people are actually recycling properly? How many people just trash everything? How many people even know that a plastic ziploc bag has a half life of 4,000 years? Better to buy in bulk, fill up those reusable containers, and shop the local farmers markets.

The other thing that can prevent food waste is planning ahead! Like this week’s menu, full of overlaps and ingredient crossover. If you group foods together in your menu plan, you’ll have just enough and no extra. And if you do have extra, see if you can get creative and make a meal out of what you have on hand. That’s how we learn. My best friend’s mom calls this buffalo cooking. As the Native Americans used the whole buffalo, use all of what you have. It’s better for the earth and better for your wallet.

Home cooking 2, Blue Apron 0.

Myth #3 – Blue Apron is so fast and easy! I don’t know how to cook without them. Okay, I just plain call bullshit on this one. With Blue Apron, you still have to cook. It still takes about 30-35 minutes. And you still have to know the basics: boiling, chopping, searing, broiling. You know what else only takes 35 minutes and is pretty easy? Shakshuka, Apple Dijon Grilled Cheese, Lemon Ricotta Pasta, and Tuscan Stuffed Chicken. And with an abundance of amazing food bloggers out there helping to make cooking easy and fun, there is no reason why cooking with Blue Apron is easier than cooking with Deb from Smitten Kitchen or cooking with Lindsay from Pinch of Yum.

Home cooking 3, Blue Apron 0.

Myth #4 – I don’t have time to go to the grocery store! I’m so busy! Here in San Francisco, we live in an economy of self. An econoME, if you will. You can have your groceries delivered, your laundry picked up, your car driven for you and hell, someone will even PARK for you. We have become disconnected from those everyday things that make us human. Not that parking makes you human. In fact, looking for parking in this town makes you less human and more animal. Angry, angry beast.

But to wash your own clothes helps you understand how much water you use. To bike around town makes you appreciate where you live because you’ll really see it. Also, it saves you from becoming a savage parking beast. To buy your own food means you’re connecting with local farmers at a farmers’ market, appreciating vegetables and what it takes to grow them. Washing the dirt off a carrot instead of ripping it out of a plastic package connects you to something deeply real.

Also, you probably need to read this.

Home cooking 4, Blue Apron 0.

I know this is getting very on the verge of food pretentiousness, which we don’t like (I really don’t!) but I also know that every single one of us deserves great food, without paying an extra $10k every year for it.

We also deserve to make the best, most informed choices we can. If every once of us said no to packaging and plastic, and yes to reduce, reuse, recycle, the world would be better off.

We also deserve the chance to cook and eat real food, and to experience the full cycle of cooking and eating and how it connects us to our humanity.

And there is no delivery service for that.

Disappointed Julia

Julia is disappointed in you! Don’t make her stick you with that thermometer!

Advertisements

British Lessons

QE2

“God, it’s positively cracking out there today, innit?”

“Uhhhh, what?”

This is a recent conversation I had with a client who’s from Northern England. “Cracking” she explained, is what certain Brits say when it’s so hot outside it could crack the flagstones and pavement. An extremely warm day – and they do have them across the pond! – would be termed “cracking the flags!” by the hot and cranky Brits up North.

One of my favorite (or should I say favourite?) games to play with my international clients is about idioms and phrases. While in London a few weeks ago, in addition to a trip to this fabulous restaurant and this hilarious show, I had the pleasure of working with clients from London and Northern England. As Americans, we tend to think of all of England as one riotous Kate Middleton and Harry Potter-fest where everyone talks like Eliza Doolittle and wears Union Jack dresses and says “Blimey!” into his glass of beer. Not only is that all pretty much completely wrong (minus the K-Mid, because yes, she’s on every rag in every Waitrose about town) but it also ignores the differences between London and the rest of the country.

For example, baps. In London, a bap is a type of bread roll used for sandwiches; it’s like a flatter English muffin or crumpet. Up North, a bap is a breast. My client told of purchasing a giant bag of 24 fresh, soft baps to take home to her husband, just because she thought it was so hilarious. She said,”for all that men chase after women to get at their goods, in London I found out you could just buy them at the store!”

A few other hilarious phrases and how they differ from the North and South.

Biffers

North: a certain brand of trash can

South: a certain brand of woman – a large, ugly one – with whom you’d never want to sleep. Ever.

Now, then!

North: Hi!

South: a transitional phrase that moves you from one sentence to another.

Badgers

North: Lady bits

South: Just a plain ol’ woodland creature

Having a bit of a strop

North: An epic adult temper tantrum

South: Huh?

Know of any other fun idioms and phrases from abroad? I’d seriously love to hear them in the comments!

Jubilee Queen print from this great Etsy shop!

Feminists with Spatulas

Julia Child

A few months ago, we were mid-casual dinner party, and I was going off on one of my feminist rants educational monologues. A feminist monologue sounds nicer than rant, no? And just because a woman has an opinion about something and feels free to express it does not mean that she’s ranting and raving. If men do that, it’s just called talking. Annnnnyway.

This scholarly monologue was to inform a male friend of mine that though he disagreed, he is, in fact, a feminist.

Because here’s the thing, peeps – if you believe that women and men are of equal worth, deserve equal pay for the work that they do, and deserve to be treated as equals in the workplace, then you are a feminist. And why women and men and the Taylor Swifts of the world continue to deny this is confusing to me. I’m going to send that sweet little country gal a dictionary for her birthday.

It was at this juncture that said male friend laughed and said, “It’s ironic that you’re telling me this right now, seeing as you’re wrapped up in a floral apron and wielding a spatula.” And indeed, I was.

I can see how this juxtaposition might be a little funny. Getting a talking-to about feminism by a woman who looks more at home in 1954 than 2014 is, at the very least, ironic. But can you blame a girl? Crostini were just about to come out of the oven. I was multi-tasking.

But then I had to ask myself – is it? Is it so strange to be merging the past and the present? The feminine and the just plain fair? I don’t think so. And I think there are a lot more of us spatula-weilding, decor loving, cupcake baking feminists than anyone realizes. And, furthermore, than even we ourselves know or allow ourselves to be.

Culture makes strong lines – if you wear aprons and bake, you’re a retro fabulous housewife type who takes her husband’s last name and becomes a stay at home mom. Bonus points if you have a cute blog. If you’re a world traveler who prioritizes her career, you must be disengaged or less invested in your relationship because of it. And if you’re a self-identified feminist, you obviously hate all men, and if you’re a conservative woman you can’t be a feminist because feminist is the most dangerous F-word of all, and it’s not cute or conservative or church-approved to use the F-word, ever.

But what it means to be human is to be a beautiful bundle of contradictions. And what it also means to be human to be more understanding of the reality of others, instead of just a branded, sanitized version of a person. Everyone is trying to create their own brand. It seems to be part of our packaged, tidy, Instagram-ready lives these days. And when people – others, ourselves – don’t fit into the reality of that box or brand, oh we got troubles right down in River City. We like to tidy things up, and tidying often means denying parts of ourselves that are legitimate because it’s not neat. If I like to wear my apron and host my parties, then it’s probably easier if I just shut my mouth and take his name and stop expressing my progressive opinions. Because being a liberal feminist man-adoring housewife who loves her career and has a cute blog just doesn’t make sense to anyone. We like things that make sense, so we pick an archetype and get in line.

And when other people don’t pick their little stereotypes, we pick one for them. The number of Christmas cards addressed to The Future Mrs. Nathan’s Last Name can surely attest to that. Anyone who knows me at all knows I have strong feelings about the name change debate. And even still, the Mrs. cards kept on a’comin’. As though everything up to now was just a front, but now that I’m actually getting married I would go ahead and start playing by the rules.

If anyone saw the play Maple & Vine in SF or on Broadway, this notion of playing by the rules is at the crux of the story. It’s all about a stressed-out modern couple who forsake their high paying jobs and life in New York for a rural “planned obsolescence community” where everyone pretends that it’s 1954, all day every day. Which sounds kinda fun, if I’m going to be honest. The fit and flare silhouette is a good one and who needs Google anyway?

But the real central question is actually this: can we be happy and love our lives, even if they’re complicated and messy and don’t fit into a box? And if not, must we revert back to all the old ways of living in order to keep things tidy and easy to understand? In other words, were we happier when things were simpler? When women and men lived by certain rules and we didn’t question anything. Scholars and reviewers had a lot to say about this, but my take was that the playwright essentially presented us with two scenarios: You can either have your modern life – and it’s accompanying modern stressors – or you can paste on a smile, shut up, and let the men take care of everything while you make mire poire in your apron.

You can go back to playing by the rules and see if you can be happy. Or don’t. But either way, shit gets real, so it’s all about how you deal with it.

So what if we did just that? What if we dealt with each other and our inherent contradictions in a real and meaningful way, instead of the surface way we do? What if we all played by our own rules and stopped tying to put each other in the stereotype? What if, instead of making assumptions about the women around us and trying to put them in a box of our own making, we stepped back and let them show us the full, unboxed versions of themselves? Whatever that looks like to them. What if we stopped deciding which stereotype we had to be, and we just lived out whichever parts of ourselves we loved the most?

To women who think you have to play by the rules – what’s up! You don’t. Just because it’s “easier” to keep quiet and keep your opinions to yourself, doesn’t mean you have to. If you want to keep your last name, you should. Because “it means a lot to him” that you change your last name, but what does it mean to you? Maybe nothing, or maybe everything. Either way – you’re allowed to question that.

And for those of you who, inexplicably, refuse to call yourselves feminists. That’s fine. It’s confusing (dictionaries for everyone!) but fine. Because if you love women and believe in their worth, you are one anyway, whether you claim the label or not.

Because while I love and appreciate my friend deeply,  it’s my party and I can be a feminist with a spatula if I am one. ‘Cause I am. And as soon as I handed him the spatula, so was he. Whether he wanted to be or not.

You know, times are changing. Ladies can do stuff now, and you’re going to learn how to deal with it.

PS – don’t you think Julia Child was the original feminist with a spatch? Or a whisk? She was out the door every morning by 6am while Paul was still in bed! Photo via the fantastic non-profit Women Who Changed America

Stereotypes

CrossProcessed Photo

Had to laugh when I overheard these snippets in my class in Switzerland:

“The key to life is good footwear” – a French woman

“You can go pretty much everywhere on your bike, no?” – a Swiss woman

“Where did all the lunch go? I would like more of those sandwiches.” – a German woman

Frankie says RELAX

Books

Often, it feels like the only things worth doing are big things. Going out on the town! Getting on a plane! Exploring! Adventuring! We do this pretty well. Which is great, but it does sometimes leave me feeling that, not only do I not understand what it means to be zen, I don’t even know how to spell zen.

Articles like this have only confirmed that I may be correct in my concern.

Instead, N and I are working on a new skill. A lil’ thing called “relaxing.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it? We’re not great at it. Having nothing on the calendar seems weird. Just spending the afternoon reading a book is almost an exercise in anxiety these days. The 8-year old me would have (and did) relish days like that. I spent entire summers doing nothing but that, then marching back into school, with a list of the 300 books I had read, wondering what the heck other people did all summer where there were so many books to read and so many trees to sit underneath.

Oh, how times have changed.

We are working on being more spontaneous. Planning not weeks out, but days, even hours. Minutes. Want to come over for coffee? I’m free.

And personally, I am working on cultivating the spirit of zen.

No plans? No problem. ZEN.

This thing did not go according to plan? ZEN.

You have an issue? I do not. Because ZEN.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

champagne

Prague and The Grandma Rule

prague diptic

Now that I’m back and rested up from Prague (let’s be real – I’ve been home for two weeks. It’s the resting part that takes awhile since I require sleep equivalent to that of a sloth) I thought it would be fun to share a few pictures.

Travel, for me, is not only the chance to see a new country but also the chance to try on a new life. At home in San Francisco I eat primarily vegetarian, with the occasional fish or shrimp. In Prague, I ate barbecue pork ribs, a whole rack of ’em.

I don’t really do pork ribs, barbecue or otherwise. But my new Czech friend told me I should, that they were her favorite dish, that they were quintessentially Czech, and that they were, in her objective opinion, delicious. So I said, “Great – how do I order?”

Enter Anthony Bourdain’s Grandma Rule:

“I often talk about the “Grandma rule” for travellers. You may not like Grandma’s Thanksgiving turkey. It may be overcooked and dry – and her stuffing salty and studded with rubbery pellets of giblets you find unpalatable in the extreme. You may not even like turkey at all. But it is ‘Grandma’s Turkey’ and you are in Grandma’s house. So shut the eff up and eat it. And afterwards say, “Thank you, Grandma, why, yes, yes of course I’d love seconds.” 

When in Rome, people. 

And here’s the thing – the pork ribs were actually delicious. Did I feel awful afterward, both morally and…gastroenterologically? Definitely. But not as awful as I would have felt had I used my Czech friend and her incredible generosity to cause a fuss and make some sort of vegan scene in the little Czech pub owned by her friend, where we were drinking at our leisure in the back garden, and where we were having one of those great, up all night, we are now friends for life kind of conversations that can only happen when you travel.

I know that many hard core vegetarians and vegans would disagree with this stance. Alicia Silverstone would have been in knots even setting foot in the place. But I am all the better for having gone to dinner with my new friend. And when she comes to visit us in San Francisco, as she promised to do, she will be taken to all sorts of amazing vegetarian restaurants. And I have no doubt she’ll say, “Great – how do I order?”

Peonies and Compromise

Diptic pink

Thinking pink today. Is any phrase as cliche and overused as “think pink” in the history of…well, anything? I think not. But whenever I think pink, I think of Funny Face and of Kay Thompson as magazine editor Maggie Prescott, swanning around the Quality magazine offices, demanding that everyone should think pink. These days, she’d probably have to politely suggest (lest she be considered in the least bit aggressive or mean) that we all consider a non-offensive yellow. Yawn.

Now that I am cohabiting with a man, I have to tone down my deep love for all things girly and anything and everything pink. Also trying to resist the desire to decorate my entire apartment in shades of white and more white, with a subtle hint of white, and then adding in more pink. Men, as it turns out, like for things to be functional, stain resistant, and, when possible, covered in or at least adjacent to dark leather. If only there were a manual.

This being the case, lately I’ve simply adorned myself all in pink: once for a black tie event, and then the following day, as I was recovering from said event. A hot pink t-shirt goes right nicely with a hangover. I’ve also covered the domicile in hot pink peonies, much to the dismay of the jury.

Man verdict: These smell weird.

Lady verdict: But they look so pretty!

Outcome: Tied, as per usual. And that’s what we call compromise!

Last week was a terrible one. I don’t mind saying it, because, hey – I CAN. It involved a confrontation (something at which I do not excel), a con artist, and making a police report in formalwear and what was essentially a make-up job just shy of drag queen status. I’m not knocking drag queens. We could all learn a lot from drag queens. Especially when it comes to eyeliner. But it probably didn’t help my case in the moment.

The whole thing will become, I’m very sure, a funny story someday. But I’m still too mad to find the funny. And so, instead, I have found fresh flowers, strong coffee in a big white mug, and lots of quiet time to write and contemplate. I’m taking these tiny talismans as a slight offering from the universe. If not quite an apology, then at the very least, an almost-decent compromise.