Meal planning give you the blues?

Can I hear an “Amen!” for Blue Apron?

Haven’t heard of Blue Apron? It’s a prayer answered for a cook who hates grocery shopping.

Like me.

My sister gave me a subscription to Blue Apron — touted as “a better way to cook and eat” — for my birthday, and I started enjoying the benefits back in February. I’m still hooked.

It’s part of my solution to weekly menu planning which, if you’re disciplined, you’re probably doing this fine Saturday morning. Before you head out to the supermarket, you’re figuring out what you’re going to serve for dinner in the coming week.

If you’re not disciplined, you don’t have a plan, you shop only at 5 p.m. every day and you end up eating out or dining on cold cereal.

I always intend to plan before I head to the grocery store. You know what they say about the road to hell.

With Blue Apron, an insulated box arrives on my doorstep once a week, and I’ve got the ingredients and directions for three complete meals for my Beloved and me (Blue Apron offers a family plan, too). This costs $59.95 (about 10 bucks per serving), but it’s worth it to save me the trouble of getting creative (never the same meal in a year!), shopping (remember, the closest supermarket worth visiting is 20 minutes away from my house) and the heartbreak of leftovers that never get eaten.

Here’s how Blue Apron looks when it arrives at your door:

blue apron packing

Underneath all the fresh produce is an icy compartment for the meat.

Here’s what the first two weeks of meals looked like:

To be fair, only one of these meals took less than 30 minutes to prepare. But I appreciate learning new tricks. I’ve made that seared chicken more than once, and the mapled carrots made a great side dish for guests. And who knew pita bread was an alternative for hamburger buns? Not me until Blue Apron introduced the idea.

Occasionally, we get weird stuff. My Beloved, for instance, refused to each the beet salad. In those instances, more for me!

And sometimes the weird stuff is an introduction to something yummy that I never would have tried. Earlier this week, we dined on pink lemon.

pink lemon

To prepare, I was directed to remove the peel, pith and seeds, then dice and marinate with olive oil, salt and pepper. Whodathunk? The result decorated the salmon on my Seared Salmon Salad. Delish!

Seared Salmon Salad with Arugala, Peas & Pink Lemon

If you’re interested in trying Blue Apron, I can hook you up. I have five invitations to share. You sign up, and you’ll get two meals for free (see? they have great marketing, too). Make a comment her (or on Facebook) to share your email address and you’re golden.

Weighty matters

Oh, my gawd, I saw the most compelling news story on the Today show this morning while I was running on the treadmill (thank gawd I was multi-tasking).

Today national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen revealed that fast food served at major chains like McDonald’s and Subway doesn’t actually look as good as the commercials portray (Fast-food face-offs: Does it look as good in real life as on TV?).

Can you believe that?

No, not that Americans are getting short shrift on their fast food orders. That Jeff Rossen hasn’t ever heard of food styling. Or photography filters.

Is it false advertising that you can’t actually see the ground beef patties in your Big Mac (like on TV)? Or is it false advertising that Rossen passes himself off as an “investigative correspondent”? He spent an afternoon and $20 to develop this 5-minute piece of this enlightening video.


This is what’s wrong with television journalism, I thought as I covered the treadmill miles. So I changed the channel, only to find Good Morning America tackling the troubling trend of skateboarders taking to freeways for their hijinks, complete with the hashtag #FreewayChallenge. This was accompanied by repeating loops of the daredevils falling in the street. I felt like I was watching America’s Funniest Home Videos. So if we have Jackass-inspired video and a hashtag, then it’s news?

No, this is the definition of the word irritainment, which I learned earlier this week from a “news” story in the Star Tribune. Irritainment is defined as “entertainment that is irritating but also so enticing that you can’t stop watching.”

So I quit watching. I turned off the TV news and hit the weights.

Where to go when you have too many shoes (yes, it can happen)

There are two reasons I’ll never appear on the Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid.

One, the bugs. How people before the modern era lived without bug spray, I don’t know. [They didn’t. They died of malaria. Forget malaria, the itching would drive me mad!]

Two, walking barefoot everywhere. Who cares about being naked? It’s the shoeless thing that would do me in. I like going barefoot through the carpeting in my living room, not over rocky terrain or alligator infested waters.

[There are other reasons I’d never make it on Naked and Afraid, not the least of which are the inability to make fire, hunt or go without food more than six hours, but we’re going to talk about shoes, so we’re focusing on naked feet for the purposes of this blog post.]

I admire barefoot runners, but I will never be one. My Achilles heel are my feet (that sentence is a disaster for so many reasons, but you get my point, right? My feet are made of clay? My soft underbelly is my arches? How to best say this?).

I have insertional Achilles tendonitis, intermittent plantar fasciitis and Morton’s neuroma (or, at least, I have self diagnosed myself with these maladies) and in order to cope, I spend a lot of money on expensive running shoes on the theory they make running less painful.

[One could argue that running is causing these symptoms so rather than buying more shoes, I should simply spend less time running, but that makes too much sense. We runners pursue irrational ends.]

running shoesIn any case, I collect a lot of used pairs of running shoes, and this was no more apparent than last week when I was forced to empty the back entryway in order to remodel it. I found no fewer than eight pair of running shoes, all of which belonged to me.

See the thing with running shoes is that they wear out Most runners put no more than 500 miles in a pair of shoes. Until recently (when I’ve cut back on running — cut back, not eliminated — because of the aforementioned aches and pains), that meant at least two pair of running shoes a year for me.

Given how much they cost in the first place, I couldn’t bear to just dump my surplus shoes in the trash.

So I looked for a way to recycle them, and I found the MORE Foundation Group — Modular Organic Regenerative Environments.

MORE collects gently used athletic shoes, sells them and then uses the proceeds to plant thousands of trees around the world (it’s a little more involved than that, but you can check out their website if you’re interested in grand vision; we stick to personal transactional details here). Trees, as any kid knows, offset the carbon in the atmosphere, and it’s hard to hope for more than that with shoes that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

All of this explanation and whining is to say, if you, too, have used athletic shoes cluttering up your entryway, click here to find the nearest donation site.

Quartzsite, a home for hermits and heroes

One person’s armpit is another person’s oasis.

If I were doing public relations for the travel bureau in Quartzsite, Arizona, that’s the tagline I’d be pushing.

Quartzsite, our point of interest this Travel Tuesday on Minnesota Transplant, is about 90 minutes north of Yuma, Arizona, where my Beloved and I wintered for a couple of months earlier this year.

All I knew before visiting there was that Quartzsite was just east of Blythe, California, which was the home to many happy memories growing up.


My only memory of Blythe was camping there one night in July 1982 when it got down to — down to! — 105 degrees at night. My family of origin was doing a summer vacation loop from Minnesota to the Pacific Ocean and back, and Blythe was a convenient stop on the way from Disneyland to Phoenix. I remember lying on top my sleeping bag in the pop-up camper sweating it out and dreaming of ice cream cones and Icees and swimming in the iceberg-infested North Atlantic.

Native Minnesotans can’t take that kind of heat.

Quartzsite, at the same latitude as Blythe, is known as the RV boondocking capital of the world. Literally thousands of campers descend on the area for the town’s famous gem show and swap meet every January and February (because, believe me, no one is shopping in July and August in Quartzsite for anything but icy beverages).

Not sure what boondocking is? Think squatting in a Wal-Mart parking lot where you can spend the night for free, but you have to bring your own water and TP. That’s Quartzsite. Combine campers too tight to pay for nightly hookups with a traveling flea market and you get a lot of cheap junk. So if you like cheap junk, you’ll be in paradise. Prefer to buy your baubles at retail? Well, you have to appreciate the natural beauty of Quartzsite.


OK, I don’t mean the cacti. I mean the endless sunshine and wide open spaces. If you want to escape traffic and zoning restrictions and government oversight, Quartzsite is a hermit’s Shangri-la. It kind of reminds me of Mad Max (the one with Mel Gibson), only with a McDonald’s and cheap gas.

Besides the flea markets, the one place you have to visit in Quartzsite is Hi Jolly’s gravesite.

Before you think folks in the desert may have no imagination, you have to hear the story of Hi Jolly.

Back in the mid-nineteenth century, the U.S. military cooked up a plan to use camels for communication and transporting freight in the arid Southwest. A Syrian named Haiji Ali came with the first 33 camels (later, 41 more camels joined the fray). As is typical with us Americans who can’t (or refuse) to get our tongues around foreign names, the soldiers changed Ali’s name to Hi Jolly, and this is how the camel herder came to be universally known.

According to the historical marker posted near his grave, “On the Beale Expedition in 1857 to open a wagon road across Arizona from Fort Defiance to California, the camels under Hi Jolly’s charge proved their worth. Nevertheless, the war department abandoned the experiment and the camels were left on the Arizona desert to shift for themselves.”

Hi Jolly died in 1902 at Quartzsite, and his headstone, if you can call it that — maybe pyramid stones would be more accurate, is a memorable testament to the Syrian immigrant, noting thusly: “Cameldriver ~ Packer ~ Scout ~ Over thirty years a faithful aid to the U.S. Government.”

Hi Jollys burial place

Next Travel Tuesday: Algodones Dunes

When cake means more than flour, sugar, eggs and butter

If I knew you were comin’,
I’d have baked a cake,
baked a cake, baked a cake.

~ Lyrics by Al Hoffman, Albert J. Trace & Bob Merrill

Not long ago, we met a couple for dinner. We were in Dallas, and my Beloved wanted to show his appreciation for a colleague by buying dinner. Which he did, and it was delicious, and our guests were great company.

But before the evening was over, the wife of the couple insisted on inviting us back to their house for dessert. She’d made a cake.

It struck me as a distinctly Southern gesture — to bake a cake for company. An elaborate, over-the-top expression of hospitality.

We northerners, we put the coffee pot on for guests. We make cake for birthdays and holidays, but plain ol’, run-of-the-mill visitors? Fresh coffee, for sure. Cookies, maybe. But not cake. Too much trouble. Only impeccable Southerners who iron the sheets for the guest bed and decorate their coffee tables would make a cake on a Tuesday.

But the sentiment stuck with me. The woman in Dallas made me feel special by baking a cake. Just for us. So I privately pledged to put my baking skills to the test more often as a way of expressing my appreciation for someone I love. And I’ve had the opportunity twice in as many weeks.

When my dear mother turned 75 in April, I made her a chocolate peanut butter bundt cake. I was nervous as I prepared the batter because one gets only one chance to make a 75th birthday cake for one’s mother. But not to worry — it looked as beautiful as it turned out to be delicious. And she felt special.

Bundt cake

And yesterday, to celebrate Mother’s Day, I served my mother-in-law a slice of perfect pound cake, topped with macerated strawberries and real whipped cream, also known as strawberry shortcake.

strawberry shortcake

I was particularly proud of my pound cake because remembered the disaster of Crusty Cream Cheese Pound Cake I had attempted to make seven years ago for my Beloved. Yesterday’s pound cake was a success, thank goodness (and Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook with the traditional red gingham cover).

To be fair, one opportunity to make cake was for a birthday and one was for a holiday so I still haven’t mastered the hospitality act of the plain-ol’-Tuesday cake, but I did accomplish my goal of making special people — in this case, two of the most special people in my life — feel special.

Happy Mother’s Day, dear Mother and mother-in-law. You deserve far more than cake, but the cakes I made were mixed not only with flour and sugar, but good intentions and great appreciation.

The secret to perfectly buttery popcorn

Have I shared my Beloved’s secret popcorn recipe?

It’s in the bag.


A paper bag.

He starts by heating a combination of butter and peanut oil in the bottom of a pot, a trick he learned long ago from his father. He adds a handful of popcorn kernels and a cover, and then shakes the pan until they finish popping.

Here’s where the bag comes in: He dumps the popped kernels into the paper grocery bag, adds a few pinches of salt and pours a few tablespoons of melted over the corn in the bag.

Fold over the top of the bag and shake vigorously. That’s how you get butter on salt on every kernel. None of the greasy-on-the-top-dry-on-the-bottom movie bucket popcorn. This popcorn is perfect from first crunch to last.

Now you know. It’s so good it’s addictive. Enjoy.

‘Tis the season

Nothing like a pedicure to smooth the rough edges of a rough day.

The little snowmen that had been decorating my Beloved’s big toes since Christmas Eve (and slowly melting away) were smeared off like so much nail polish remover. For me, I adopted a smart coral to match the straps of a new pair of sandals.

The nail salon on a late Friday afternoon was a madhouse. It is the Friday before Mother’s Day after all.

But I digress. It’s the way a pedicure turns a pair of dry ragged feet into something pretty and show-off worthy that I appreciate the most about a trip to the nail salon. 


Like spring into summer.