Sun Basket Arrives

TRAVEL HERE: AND SO DOES HELLO FRESH

Trying out all the available meal kit plans does not come without some challenges.  While they are basically all doing the same thing, trying to juggle several of them at once can trip you up.  That’s how I ended up with two boxes of food in one week.  We’d skipped a week to go out of town and somehow, though I meant to just get Sun Basket, I also got Hello Fresh. See what I go through for you guys!

A Color Change

I guess it would be no surprise that Sun Basket’s (SB) color theme is yellow.  Right away I thought their pictorial box was more engaging than the text heavy Hello Fresh (HF) box, but something about that crisp Blue Apron (BA) box still gets the points in my book.

Opening Up the Box

SB used the same grocery bag packing method as Hello Fresh, however, their bags were smaller and I was able to put them in the refrigerator.  That put them ahead of Hello Fresh, but behind Blue Apron.

In the box were several pieces of literature.  A nice welcome brochure topped the pile.  Next I realized SB sent a magazine-like booklet instead of the cards I had gotten from the other two.  Since I had already started a binder to hold my recipe cards for future reference, SB was bucking the system.  I’m calling it a tie between HF and BA, with SB making a foul.

The magazine is attractive, but it has all the recipes SB offers for the week, so in my opinion they are wasting paper.  I only needed the recipes I had ordered.  What’s more, they assumed I already know how to cook, so they completely did away with the how-to pictures I found so helpful with the other two services.  I do know how to cook, but it was nice to have a picture to refer to when I was following the directions.  Since I liked BA’s recipe card better than HF’s, BA steps into the lead.

No one else would probably even notice this, but there’s a difference in all the boxes’ insulating materials, too.  SB uses some generic foam insulation they have cut-to-size inside the box.  They tell you to roll it up and send you tape to keep it rolled up.  It was such nice sheets of foam that we put them in the attic in case we needed something like that.  HF uses a different style of foam covered in a shiny material that is designed to fit the box, rather than generic stuff cut-to-size.  My friends at BA have wonderfully customized pieces that have all kinds of wonderful BA messages on them.  Points to BA.

Preparing the Meal

SB follows HF’s method of preparation, instead of BA’s, which means you prep the ingredients for each portion of the meal as you work through them, rather than getting all that out of the way ahead of time.  However, they also print that part of the instructions in a different color ink, so that people like me, who want to do all the peeling, chopping and stuff at first, can follow their inclination.  So points to BA.  SB is only slightly less desirable and HF loses this point.

To me, the SB instructions were easy to follow, because they were specific about times and not so dependent on do-this-until-that-happens, as HF had been.  However, I had that whole magazine thing to move around the kitchen with me and there are no pictures with the instructions.  By the end of the preparation, the book was a mess, just like the cards, but I still had two more meals to prepare out of the messy book.  Taking all that into consideration, Blue Apron is still winning in the preparation portion of the meal.

SB edged close to BA when it came to the items they expect you to provide. Olive Oil, salt and pepper are the only things they require you to keep on hand.  HF expects you to also keep butter on hand for them.  So SB and BA should be in a tie, except that I’m a real fan of butter and in my opinion, BA has better butter than SB and the packaging is superior.  BA butter comes in a little round foil covered package.  Both the consistency and the flavor are excellent.  SB butter is in a small plastic tub and looks like it was cut off the same stick of butter as is in my refrigerator.  Points to BA and HF loses a point.

The biggest SB fail was in fulfillment quality.  On day one, there was a frozen (read that useless) cucumber, a lemon with a big spot on it and an iffy shallot.  The salmon was disappointing, too.  It said it was Wild Yukon River Wild-caught Salmon., but you could have fooled me.  Looked run-of-the-mill.  Pretty much the same fish I reject in Kroger’s seafood department.  The following SF day there was no paprika packet in bag for the paprika butter.

I’m not giving any points here and it’s one of the most important categories.  BA has the highest quality, but they regularly leave stuff out.  There’s usually at least one failed ingredient a week and their steaks are gristly.  HF gets everything in the box, but it falls short on being the quality I expect.  If I wanted their ingredient quality, I could get it at Kroger.  I’d still have to do the planning and shopping, of course, but part of what I want in the service is superior ingredients.

So how was the food.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you.

 

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New Development to Transform Lake Ray Hubbard Area — spotonimages

SPOTLIGHT ON BAYSIDEIn the Heart of the Metroplex?After hearing a talk by Developer Kent Donahue at a recent Rockwall MLS meeting we were inspired to take a look at the Bayside website. The site said, “Bayside is a 262 acre regional landmark situated in the heart of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.” Nice verbiage, but whoever…

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Wedding Day in Cairo Egypt

Wedding Invitation

TRAVEL THERE: A VERY DIFFERENT KIND OF CEREMONY

So far, Bassem and Miriam’s wedding day has been pretty mundane, if you don’t count the machine guns on our bus.  Once the church doors opened, everything changed.  We were at a Coptic Wedding.

Saint Mark Coptic Church

When the huge doors opened, the scent of incense wafted out into the waiting crowd and I was awestruck.  The church was gorgeous, obviously very, very old, but beautiful.  You got the impression God had been hanging out here for a very long time.

It was not a particularly large church, but it was grandly decorated with beautiful paintings and an amazing amount of gold.  There was no formal seating going on.  Everyone just wandered in and took a seat.  There was no his side and her side, just folks wandering into a pew as they entered.  The family was sort of huddled over to one side.  We had some front row seats, but they certainly were not particularly advantageous.

Forget What You Know About Weddings

Throw out preconceptions, because this had nothing in common with your basic American wedding.  The bride and groom were seated in thrones at the front of the church.  The photographers and videographers considered themselves very much part of the ceremony and spread themselves out across the front of the church.  Joining them on the stage were a group of priests in decidedly Coptic garb.

Coptic Officiants at the Wedding

Now I’ve been to weddings where there were more than one officiant.  Sometimes it’s because each family wants to be represented or there are several members of the clergy in the family.  This wedding had an entire crowd of priests.  They’re the guys wearing the black turbans, but these four in the picture are only a sample.

I was made to understand the number of priests reflected the status of the people getting married and no one could remember a wedding where they’d seen more priests.  Most gratifying was the priest who had come all the way from Sharm El Sheik because of my niece, who holds such a special place in their congregation.  Each of the priests participated in one way or another.  Some doing ceremonial duty and others delivering pithy little sermonettes to the bride and groom. (None of which I could understand, of course, because they were in either Coptic or Arabic.)

All the while, the church was a beehive of activity.  Along with all the priests were acolytes and altar boys wandering around doing a variety of tasks, from swinging incense burners to lighting candles.  At one point my nephew Shady went up to read the Bible.  Also any time a priest wasn’t involved in the ceremony, they were kept busy blessing whoever came up to the stage, bowed before them and kissed their hands.

Folks seeking blessings weren’t the only ones who came up to the stage.  As if the photography and videography crew of about six people weren’t enough, no one hesitated to pop right up out of their seat and head up to the front to get a picture – and if the best angle was between the priest and the wedding couple, then so be it.   

Behind their back, their very expensive decorations are already coming down

I was gob-smacked.  I couldn’t believe it.  The bride and groom were almost an after-thought in all the frenetic activity.  Suddenly it was all over. The bride and groom stood.  A few pictures were taken and we all filed out of the church.

Let the Turnover Begin

I was still trying to  process what I had seen, when I realized that as soon as the bride and groom had their back towards the stage, folks started tearing down the decorations so they could get set for the next wedding.

An American church might have 2 or three weddings on a given day, but Coptic churches schedule about an hour per wedding and stack them all day long, from early in the morning until late in the evening – especially on holidays like the day after Easter.  If they get behind, which apparently they always do, then they just hurry you up a little more.

Once we were outside, you could see they had already redecorated the entry to the church and on a corner near the church were the floral remains of several different ceremonies.  Egyptians do have a receiving line, but it’s held on the porch of the church, rather than at the reception. As the wedding party assembled into the obligatory formation, a limo pulled up in front of the church.  I will never forget seeing the bride get out of the limo, go through the security routine we had and then climb up the stairs to the sanctuary.  It was one of those odd scenes that you can’t erase.

Then it was back in the bus and back to the Fairmont.

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Cooking with Hello Fresh

TRAVEL TALK: THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING

So, by the time I had unpacked my box from Hello Fresh, they were already way behind the Blue Apron Experience.  However, we’d changed services for the benefit of my hubby.  Did things get any better?

Time to Cook

In spite of all my little disappointments, the proof is in the pudding – not the packaging.  If I could have a happy husband, I could live without the Blue Apron knick knacks bag.  Only cooking wasn’t quite as much fun either.

At first glance, the recipe cards for Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are very similar.  One is formatted in Portrait and the other in Landscape, but that is irrelevant to the outcome of the meal.  For the most part, both cards contain the same information, but Hello Fresh completely missed the opportunity to tell me how delicious the recipe was going to be and what delightful ingredients I had received.  Aesthetically Blue Apron is more attractive to me.  Every item in every picture is upscale and pristine, just as you would expect in a gourmet kitchen.  Hello Fresh has more mundane accouterments in their photographs, including a stained cooking sheet.  Bad form Hello Fresh.  Points to Blue Apron.

Then I started cooking and the points went to Blue Apron – AGAIN.  The instructions are so much easier to follow on Blue Apron.  For one thing, Blue Apron has you prep all the items before you start cooking, so everything is ready before you actually start the tricky stuff.  Hello Fresh intersperses the prep work in with the cooking, so you have to stop all the way along to prep something else.  On my third meal, I went through the recipe and underlined all the prep work and did it before I started the rest of it, but that was a hassle.

Also, Blue Apron is virtually foolproof.  It gave simple instructions and then told you how long to do whatever it was you were supposed to do to the food – roast for 10 minutes, turning over halfway; cook over medium high heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly – that sort of thing.  With Hello Fresh there was a whole lot more do-this-until-that-happens, which leaves a whole lot up to chance. Yep, points to Blue Apron.

With Blue Apron, all you add from your own kitchen is olive oil, salt and pepper.  Hello Fresh also asks for butter and sugar in addition.  Points to Blue Apron.

Hello Fresh also sent more stuff than you needed – which defeated part of the reason I wanted a meal kit in the first place.  Like sending a can of tomato paste, when I only needed a tablespoon.  They pretend it’s a bonus, but the last thing I want at the end of a meal is a partial can of something.  Points to Blue Apron again.

Hello Fresh and Blue Apron also handle calorie counts differently and as you might guess, I liked Blue Apron’s methodology better.  Blue Apron packs a small pamphlet in their knick knack sack with the calories and all the nutritional information.  I never saw any meal with more than 800 calories and it was usually much lower, averaging in the mid-600’s to the mid-700’s.  Hello Fresh puts all the nutritional information for the whole week on one card – which includes all those meals I didn’t order.  It’s my job to keep up with the card all week and I saw a meal with 950 calories.  Points to Blue Apron.

There was one thing Hello Fresh did that I really liked.  Every week Blue Apron sends you a head of garlic.  Almost every recipe has the peeling and chopping of garlic in it.  We never used an entire head, so I was giving out garlic to whoever would take it.  In addition, peeling garlic is not one of my favorite things to do.  So surprise, points to Hello Fresh.

Dinner on the Table

Visually, I thought Blue Apron meals looked more inviting than Hello Fresh and my husband would probably agree, but as soon as he started eating, he’d turn up his nose at something.  Hello Fresh’s Parmesan Crusted Fish came with potatoes so everything was pretty much the same color, except for a sprinkling of carrots.  Same with the Pork Chop and Sweet Potatoes – monochromatic, except for a few green beans.  Hello Fresh’s finished product just didn’t have the sizzle of a Blue Apron plate, so you know who got the points.

But was Hello Fresh delicious?  With the small exception of tasteless sweet potatoes, hubby gave the week an unqualified thumbs up.  He was ready to go for the second week.  Anything except Blue Apron for him, I guess.

I wasn’t as happy and it had to do with the quality of the food.  The Parmesan Crusted Fish?  Tilapia!  Something I never saw with Blue Apron.  The potatoes sent with the fish were common white potatoes, not the fingerlings and Yukon Golds Blue Apron had gotten me to fall in love with.  To me, the Hello Fresh meals were OK, but pretty much what I could accomplish on my own, so kind of a yawn.  The good news, I guess is that even though my cooking is sort of boring, my husband likes it.

Will we continue with Hello Fresh?  Well, I was bored.  So I used a coupon Bill had found for Sun Basket.  Come back next week and see how that went.

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Real Estate Marketing – Images and Text — spotonimages

SPOTLIGHT ON SERVICESPhotography, Videos, Aerial ImagesSpot On Images is a real estate photography company with the ability to offer you a lot more than images for marketing your listings, but all the same, we do take great pictures. We’ve got a talented photographer with a passion for architecture, a love of décor and a lot…

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Pre-Wedding at the Fairmont

The American Contingency

Travel There: Photos, Metal Detectors and Machine Guns

So it was here, the reason we had come to Egypt.  My nephew Bassem is very dear to both of us and his wedding is just about the only thing that could have convinced Bill to go Egypt.  On the afternoon of the wedding, we left our room at the appointed hour and headed to the lobby for pictures.

Pictures at Four

Family members were told to be in the lobby at four for pictures, but it quickly became obvious that was 4 PM Egyptian time.  The American contingency was dutifully in the lobby by 4:15, but it was a very lonely lobby.  I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the time I spent visiting with the guys, Bill, Steven and John, but in spite of myself, I was wishing I’d had a little more time to solve the electrical emergency.  I had really wanted those tendrils.

All dressed up with somewhere to go.

About 4:45 the Egyptian contingency wandered into the lobby and we were a good-looking bunch.  When everyone was assembled we were marched out onto the lawn to be photographed.  There was a certain amount of frisson, but I blamed it on wedding jitters and a ticking clock.  What I didn’t know was that the bus to take us to the wedding hadn’t arrived yet and there were serious negotiations going on with the hotel about how many guards with machine guns would escort us to the wedding.

Yes, I Said Machine Guns

There was a certain amount of friction throughout the trip about the status of the people in our party.  We were visiting just days after the Palm Sunday bombings, so security was high.  Most of the members of the family were Egyptian, in origin if not in passport, but they considered themselves Egyptian.  Some of the exceptions were pint-sized kids born in the US to Egyptian parents, but they looked just like any kid born to an Egyptian – olive skin, dark curly hair and big brown eyes.  The other exceptions were Steven, John and myself.  We looked like tourists, plain and simple, and American tourists at that.

Even though most of the people in our party considered themselves Egyptian, that’s not how the other Egyptians saw us at all.  To them we were a bunch of foreigners.  The idea of 20 or 30 of theses foreigners traveling by bus from the Fairmont to a Coptic Church created fear and trembling to the hotel’s staff.  They intended to keep their name off the evening news by providing us with protection, and that protection was two guys with machine guns.

On the bus with the groom

To my Egyptians, the armed guards seemed like a red neon arrow pointing to us saying, “Blow this bus up!”  While the photographer tried to get pictures of the whole crew smiling at once, some very tense conversations were going on behind the scenes.  The bus arrived and a compromise was reached.  We’d have one armed guard and his machine gun would stay out of sight unless needed.

The machine gun guy did pretty good.  He looked just like most of the rest of the guys on the bus – dressed in a suit, headed to a wedding.  As we approached the church, he unbuttoned his coat and wrapped his fingers around the gun.  I can assure you that did not make me feel more secure.

Entering the church was just like entering a hotel, museum or other area.  You either put your purse on the table or cleaned out your pockets.  Then you entered the metal detector.  On the other side, someone would rifle through your belongings to be sure that tiny beaded bag didn’t have a weapon in it.  Perhaps they would frisk you for whatever reason they picked out, be it concern or just a random practice.  We stood around on the steps of the church for awhile and then it was showtime.

Come back next week and hear all about it.

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Hello, Hello Fresh

TRAVEL HERE: AND NOW FOR CONTESTANT NUMBER TWO

When your husband is not happy at the dinner table, it’s time to try out something different.  We both loved Blue Apron in the beginning, but as time went on, the level of satisfaction sank – especially for Mr. Bill.  Bill was tired of Blue Apron’s flavor of gourmet.  He wanted less adventure and more plain food.  I could feel his pain, but I didn’t want to go back to the days before delivered meal-kit came along.  So, a survey of the available services suggested Hello Fresh would solve my problems and give Bill a steady diet of good, but un-gourmet choices.

Choices and Ordering

When it came to the nuts and bolts of ordering meals, Hello Fresh seemed a lot like Blue Apron.  One new opportunity was the chance to upgrade one of your meals to a premium choice.  I just missed the lobster!  It had been available on the previous week.  I decided on my first order to stick with the regularly priced choices.

The selections were more like my mother used to make without the gourmet frills.  While that lowered the fun factor for me, a happy hubby was the goal, so I went with it.  We got an Italian Ciabatta Burger, Parmesan Crusted Fish and some Glazed Pork Chops.

Here Comes the Box

The box arrived as scheduled and from the outside it looked pretty much like the Blue Apron box, but with green as the primary color instead of blue.  When I opened the box, the story changed.

Inside the box were three huge grocery bags of food, each with a sticker announcing the meal they contained.  I’m not sure exactly what they thought I was supposed to do with that, because the sacks were too big for my frig.  It’s probably very convenient for them from a picking and packing standpoint, but I had to unpack the bags to get the items into the frig.  Blue Apron’s box came loaded with individually packaged items, not mystery grab bags.

As I unloaded the bags I sorted the ingredients into Ziplocks.  I discovered some of the items didn’t need refrigeration and some like the maple syrup would be better without it.  So each grocery bag of food was offloaded into one large Ziplock of refrigerated items and one small Ziplock of pantry items.  Points to Blue Apron!

Hello Fresh packaging wasn’t much fun either.  While unloading my Blue Apron box, there were elaborate packaging solutions, like individual cartons for eggs and plums, and I’m a sucker for great packaging.  There were other interesting items in Blue Apron, like unusual vegetables or breads or intriguing descriptions on labels, while there was nothing at all exciting in the Hello Fresh box.  The biggest thrill was some artwork on the bag of shredded mozzarella, but I do graphics and could have whipped it out myself in moments with a better vocabulary.  Points to Blue Apron.

The best part of unpacking Blue Apron was small brown bags of what they called “knick knacks.” It was like a present for every meal – spices, bottles of vinegar, sauces, crazy mushrooms, beautifully packaged rounds of butter and on and on and on.  I would load the small bags in the refrigerator and not open them until I cooked the meal.  Home-run for Blue Apron.  Nothing for Hello Fresh.

So, we hadn’t even started cooking yet and Blue Apron was way ahead.  Did Hello Fresh come from behind at mealtime?  Come back next week and find out!

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