Always Aubrey: February 2017

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunday Lately: Enjoying, Hoping, Forgiving, Delving, Relying

Sunday Lately is a weekly linkup hosted by the Blogger Tribe. We e-hangout every Sunday, sharing a small glimpse into the past week of life in our own worlds.

ENJOYING... my weekend away with Dan!  His birthday was Friday, so we took a little road trip to Chattanooga.  We got a great Airbnb on the Southside, walkable to lots of things, and today we took in the Tennessee Aquarium.  His birthday wishes were craft beer and aquarium, so it was a success!  I'll do a post recap soon with all of the details.  Chattanooga is an awesome, under-appreciated city, at least in the eyes of this Tennessee non-native.

Tennessee Aquarium

HOPING...  for warmer weather!  Please?  I am tired of the dance in between cold and warm.  Until there are more flowers outside, I'm enjoying flowers that I have inside, including some I got for Valentine's Day from my parents!

FORGIVING... my food trespasses.  I'll start tracking points again on Thursday.  It was a crazy week, and I just needed to let go.  Carbs, forgiven.  Sometimes we just need to take a step backwards and not make ourselves miserable with shame about it.

DELVING... into DAR awards and our taxes.  Yikes, so much paper!  Must. Start. Digging.  Blergh.  At least I've got it all sorted into folders?

RELYING... on the little things in life for a chuckle!  Like my silly cat trying to get me to pet him more.  The world is so bizarre and tense right now.  I need fur baby snuggles.

  • On the Blog:  I had some seriously delicious adventures in San Antonio early this week, and somehow I managed to blog about them pretty soon after I got home!
  • On Twitter:  These pictures of people making googly eyes at Justin Trudeau, and then these of Trudeau making googly eyes at President Obama are basically the cutest ever.
  • On Pinterest:  I enjoyed my most recent Stitch Fix so much that I requested to get another one sooner than scheduled.  I've been pinning lots of tops to my Pinterest board for my stylist!
  • On Instagram:  The most INSANE ceviche ever.  Must-see.
  • Shopping:  This magnetic air vent cell phone holder thingy from Wizgear is the bomb.  I used to have this holder that you clipped into, but it was a pain.  I saw my coworker had this one, and now we're ordering more so Dan can have one too.  It even works with his Otterbox case!  No clips, it just sticks up there, and you can change from horizontal to vertical in a snap.  Drive safe!

How was your week?

Sunday Lately with Blogger Tribe

Friday, February 17, 2017

San Antonio, Revisited

I jetted off to San Antonio for a quick overnight for work, and I loved it.  I was last there for work a year ago (read about it here), and once again it included some delicious adventures!  I've found that once your coworkers know that you have a thing for food, they put a lot of care into picking out places to go eat.  I'm fortunate that my boss, also on the trip, is a foodie too, so I had a very happy tummy.

Pretty tiles in San Antonio

The first place I ate is known more for their upscale dinners than lunches, but their lunch is probably the best deal in town!  Bohanan’s Prime Steaks & Seafood is classy to its core.  The restaurant, open for dinner, is upstairs, but the beautiful bar downstairs is open during lunch.  The prices for lunch are very reasonable, and we loved the smaller portion sizes.  I chose one of the house specialties, braised akaushi short ribs over pappardelle noodles.

The food was absolutely delicious.  I would go back and eat the same dish in a heartbeat!  The service was impeccable, both attentive and professional.  The bread they served was hot and wonderful too.  What a beautiful experience!

After our work was done, we headed to the Pearl brewery area as I had last trip, where I made a beeline to Bakery Lorraine for more macarons.  I had pistachio (x2), strawberry, Earl Grey, salted caramel, and raspberry.  LOVE LOVE LOVE!  My Instagram post caption got some chuckles from folks: "If loving macarons is basic, my pH level is like a 14."  If you get it, we can be friends.

For dinner, we had a reservation at Cured next door.  I LOVE MEAT.  (That's what she said.)  Y'all know that.  So to go to a restaurant centered around their meat was right up my alley.  And isn't the old building they chose just stunning?  I was excited to try it, given I'd briefly met the chef a year ago while eating at Bakery Lorraine.

The first thing you see upon entering the restaurant?  Meat curing.  Yep.  So it's no wonder that we started our meal with charcuterie!

We had Apple Jalapeno Pork Rillettes, Bresaola, Smoked Duck Ham, 90 Day Pork Belly, a lamb pick (I'm not a lamb person), and cheese.  I would venture to say you NEED to try charcuterie when you're here.  They can help you make your picks, and it's killer.  For dinner, I was hoping to try their pork chop, but they'd just run out.  I settled for grilled flat iron steak, which came with fries.  OMG.  It has been a long time since I enjoyed such a tender, well-seasoned steak.  Awesome place and concept!

Our last big meal was lunch at El Bucanero, a Mexican seafood restaurant.  I must admit, I was nervous about this one.  The menu has some pictures, but not much description outside of names in Spanish.  The decor is seafood-related and kind of cheesy.  It's casual, loud, and packed with people.  Not to mention, fish and seafood are not my favorite thing in the whole world.  I stayed quiet, wanting to play the part of "super cool foodie" as we ventured in.

We ordered an absolutely enormous Hawaiian-themed ceviche... it was a mix of fruit, seafood, all served up in half a pineapple.  I mean, it was a mountain.  And you know what? I liked it!  I have a personal policy that I'm always going to try something once, food-wise.  I may not love it, but at least I gave it a go.

For my lunch, I chose fried fish tacos.  They were delicious!  I almost detoured and ordered some traditional, non-seafood fare, but after the delight of the ceviche, I had a "when in Rome" moment and decided to get fish!  Definitely a happy surprise.

San Antonio, you're wonderful.  I loved staying on the Riverwalk again, and taking a morning walk along its edge.  I hope to come back again, visit the Missions, eat more food, and absorb the culture of this great city!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Tiny Strawberry Cakes

The Cake Mix Doctor's Fresh Strawberry Cake recipe has been a perennial favorite of my coworkers for years now.  I keep trying to tell them how simple it is to make, but I think they're now convinced that it's "Aubrey's strawberry cake" and not the genius that is Anne Byrn.  Sorry, Anne!  I'm a big fan, and I'm SUPER PUMPED she is speaking at a DAR event this coming April.  I NEED her to sign my books!

It was my friend JL's birthday, and like our other friend MM, strawberry cake is her preferred birthday baked good.  This is an annual tradition now, I'd say!  But now that I can make this cake in my sleep (memorized it, seriously), I wanted to do something a little different with the cake itself.

I used a biscuit cutter to make little mini layer cakes, with piped frosting in between.  I put them in cupcake liners, and people ate them with forks.  They did slide around a little, so next time I'd probably refrigerate them so there's no lopsided cakes sliding around.  I used a gold glitter-like sprinkle, and it felt very feminine and stylish for my friend JL.

These cakes are easy, but I got enough comments about them on my Facebook that I figured I'd share the photos in a post!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sunday Lately: Fighting, Relaxing, Daydreaming, Delivering, Amusing

Sunday Lately is a weekly linkup hosted by the Blogger Tribe. We e-hangout every Sunday, sharing a small glimpse into the past week of life in our own worlds.

FIGHTING... the urge to be lazy!  I definitely have a list of things I need to do and work on, but I haven't really been that into it this weekend.  My parents came to visit, and I had acupuncture and Korean class yesterday, so between appointments and socializing, it was kind of a busy weekend!  So today I'm lucky I got laundry done.  Need to do more DAR work and prep for a work trip.  I have a quick overnight in San Antonio tomorrow.

I did distract myself Friday by making an arrangement (plus some smaller vases) of bulk Kroger flowers.

RELAXING...  Yeah, I guess I did a lot of that today.  I hung out in PJs, showered, and put clean PJs on!  Also enjoyed reorganizing my tote bags in my closet, as I added a few SUPER cheap monogrammed bags from Krafty Chix to the collection.  As in $20 pleather bags with embroidery.  Boom, FTW, they're cute.  I have the perfect monogram, totally symmetrical, which brings me an inordinate amount of joy.

DAYDREAMING... about houses.  My Pinterest is more busy lately, because I keep daydreaming about when we might someday build or buy a house that has all the things that we want.  I'm thinking in a few years, once we know more about our future family and where we want to settle down!

DELIVERING...  nada.  I'm lucky to be hitting deadlines lately!

AMUSING...  I'm amused by television lately.  Some of the SNL stuff has been pretty funny lately.  I keep up with Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and Jane the Virgin.  Dan and I watch The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones together.  And then I have added This Is Us.  Otherwise, it's series that I Netflix binge.

Here's a cute picture from a girls' lunch with my friends this week.  No reason, it just makes me happy.  Crazy Kondo lady says to keep things in your life that bring you joy, right?  So I guess I get to eat more sandwiches?

  • On the Blog:  Reviewing CourseHorse, which aggregates all kinds of classes near where you live!  Don't forget, Nashville locals can enter to win $100 towards courses!  Check out the post even just to see the cookies I decorating in my class.
  • On Twitter:  Does anyone else watch Jane The Virgin?  I just caught last week's episode and I was CRYING.
  • On Pinterest:  I'm making this gnocchi casserole for dinner later.  I couldn't get my act together to cook this weekend while my parents visited (minus our tradition of Sunday pancakes for breakfast!) but tonight I am throwing something together before I have to go to San Antonio for work.
  • On Instagram:  Cat owners know, this is often the first thing you see when you wake in the morning.
  • Shopping:  My cousin has this Pottery Barn cubby organizer, and I want it.  I just have nowhere to hang it right now.

How was your week?

Sunday Lately with Blogger Tribe

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Review: CourseHorse (and Local Giveaway!)

Disclaimer: I got to attend a free class via CourseHorse in exchange for my honest review of the platform.  All opinions are my own!

I love to take classes.  Call me a nerd, but I was always excited to learn something new as a kid, and that hasn't changed!  I've taken classes for ballroom dancing, calligraphy, sewing, and cooking over the years, and I really enjoy it.  Jack of all trades, master of none, and loving it.  So when CourseHorse reached out to me to let me know they were coming to Nashville, I was definitely intrigued.

CourseHorse eliminates all of the Google searches I've done to find classes in the local area.  I really love how easy it is to find courses near me, with a ton of variety.  Since the local cooking school near me closed, I've been looking for good cooking classes in Nashville.

The Salud! Cooking School at the Whole Foods in Green Hills has a ton of options.  I chose a cookie decorating class, Designer Cookies, because it was something I've never done before.

I was also excited that the class was being taught by Chef Melinda Knight, who I know has worked as a pastry chef in some of the best restaurants in Franklin!  She used to teach at the cooking school near me, so it was good to see the high quality of teachers in the area.

I was a little nervous to start decorating, but it was a ton of fun.  The class size was perfect (12 people) and we had lots of sprinkles and frosting to get creative.  The cookies were pre-baked, but we received the recipes to take home.  I learned about making different types of frosting for flow vs. decorating.  My cookies were pretty cute, if I do say so myself!

If it wasn't for CourseHorse, I don't know if I would have checked out this cooking school, given it's a good 30-minute drive from where I live.  But now that I've done it, I'll definitely be back!

Booking through CourseHorse was super easy, and I loved being able to save Favorites and "shop" for classes.  You pay through CourseHorse, so you don't have to handle anything when you show up.  I also appreciated the reminders that they send via e-mail; I'd actually written down the wrong date in my planner for this class, but the e-mails helped me see the error and ensured I didn't miss class!

And for my Nashville area friends, you have an opportunity to try CourseHorse yourself with a giveaway!
I hope you give it a try!

Enter your e-mail at this special CourseHorse link for a chance to win $100 towards your pick of CourseHorse class in Nashville!  I'll be naming a winner in a couple of weeks, here on this post/via e-mail.  No purchase necessary, just sign up and you could win.  This is good for redemption on classes in the NASHVILLE market only.

Disclaimer: I got to attend a free class via CourseHorse in exchange for my honest review of the platform.  All opinions are my own!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sunday Lately: Procrastinating, Hiding, Imagining, Sharing, Praising

What a week!  I'm publishing this in the afternoon because I've been out and about.

PROCRASTINATING...  a few things I need to do for DAR.  December, January, and February are really busy due to reporting season.  I have piles of papers on my dining room table that I NEED to set a few hours aside to comb through.  It's a bit overwhelming, and between work and other responsibilities I just haven't gotten the right headspace to tackle it.  I focused this past week on our chapter's meeting, since I was leading it while our regent (leader) was on a business trip.  Since that's done, I just need to focus on this!

Instead I have a pictures of my cats.  My new iPhone is awesome.

HIDING...  some new Happy Planner stickers that I bought.  Teehee.  Like I needed more stickers.  And I'm hoarding books again.  These types of things bring me joy.

IMAGINING...  all the vacations.  Escape from the news.  Eating, drinking, reading, walking, taking photographs.  But little trips to good restaurants feel like small spurts of escapism.

Boutonnieres from Galentines brunch 

SHARING... my time with my friends!  This was truly a week of friends.  Last weekend, my friend Lindsey came in from Rhode Island.  This week, I had pizza and prosecco with my friend B.  Then this morning, I had an early Galentines brunch with four of my local friends.  We all met through blogging, which is kind of awesome, because it led to real-life friendship.  Making time for friendship is fuel for the soul.  You need to make it a priority, or you'll lose it.

PRAISING...  The movie Hidden Figures was so good, I need more!  I've got the audiobook downloaded, because non-fiction source material is my jam.  Seriously, it's Black History Month, do this one thing and learn about how these women shaped our nation's space race and history.

  • On the Blog:  A big roundup of meal kit reviews like Blue Apron and Plated.  Check it out if you've ever considered trying one of these!
  • On Twitter:  RTed Jenna Bush Hager, with quotes from one of her father's speeches.  I was surprised too, but she and I are in agreement on the state of things right now.
  • On Pinterest:  In love with the idea of these Asian-inspired soaking tubs.  Much more effective in immersing your whole self than a bath to me!
  • On Instagram:  I baked mini layer cakes for my friend's birthday.  I'll tell you how I threw them together soon!  Not rocket science, but the effect was super cute.
  • Shopping:  We've been daydreaming about vacations, so this book about Sweden is sitting on my wishlist.

How was your week?

Sunday Lately with Blogger Tribe

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Big Guide To Meal Kit Delivery Services

I've ordered a number of different meal kits to try, through discounts and referral links from friends.  I was going to keep doing individual posts like I've done before, but then I realized that having a guide with a bunch of them might help you more.  I've ordered all of these on my own, with some discounts or freebies from friends.  All opinions are my own!

First off, why meal kits?  They are pre-portioned, organized, and often cheaper than dining out.  The ingredients change with the seasons, so you're focused on fresh produce.  The recipes can push you to taste something new, practice a new cooking technique, and bring variety to the table.  For me, they are convenient time-savers; I don't have to shop for recipe ingredients, and I don't have to adjust recipes to two servings for our household.

How does it work?  Using a web browser or app, you select recipes in advance.  You choose your delivery day, and your account is charged when your box ships.  An insulated box of ingredients shows up at your door.  You have to refrigerate it all typically within 24 hours, but it does fine left out during the day if you're stuck at work.  There are recipe cards with visuals to guide your cooking.

What's the cost?  I've found that the ones that I ordered ranged in price (depending on how many meals or servings you order) from just under $10 to $12.50 per serving on the high end.  Many of the services offer a free trial, especially if you have a friend who has freebies to gift you from using the service themselves.  I have been able to gift a lot of free boxes!  Also of note, it may ultimately save you a little money in that you don't have to buy a whole bottle of hoisin sauce or a pricy spice for a recipe, because they include it in the box.

What are the negatives?  I'd say the box and packaging waste is probably the biggest negative.  Some might cite the cost, but I know how much dinner for two costs me in my local takeout market comparatively.  It's debatable whether it's cheaper than the cost of groceries, so there is a convenience cost of sorts.  Also, only one meal kit actually shipped an egg, so you often have to have things like eggs on hand for recipes, and some more common things like olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Sometimes the recipes aren't as tasty as you anticipated, but I've found for the most part I'm trying something I haven't made before.

Overall, for me the positives outweigh the negative, and I've found that having a couple of meals shipped to me every other week or so really helps with menu planning and time.  And funny enough, it has inspired me and given me the confidence to cook more, so I've actually sought out my own recipes to try!  It definitely helps get you back into the routine of cooking.

Here are the meal kits I've tried...

#1  Plated
Best for...  foodies and fans of dessert!

Plated is hands-down my favorite meal kit service.  We've been using it for a long time (over 70 recipes tried!), and we've seen the platform update along the way.  I love the variety of recipes, beautiful recipe cards, options for dessert, and ability to pick 2-4 servings per meal!  Now, they even bring back top-rated recipes for you to try or reorder based on seasonality.  It's also great that they organize each recipe in its own bag, so you don't have to search around the fridge for all the bits of the recipe.  Great customer service, too.

I think Plated has a lot of great foodie flavor profiles.  I'm pushed to try new techniques, ingredients, and other things I wouldn't necessarily pick out for myself.  We've found that two meals per week is kind of a happy medium for us, with the rest of the meals being something we cook or restaurant meals.  It's one of the pricier ones ($12/serving) but I found that it's worth it!  (See my full review of Plated here.)  None of the other services I tried tempted us to deviate from Plated.  We would pause our Plated box to try others, and it just wasn't the same to us.

#2  Blue Apron
Best for...  families and budgets!

Blue Apron is very similar to Plated, but less expensive ($9-10/serving).  The main difference I noticed was that the ingredients weren't bagged by recipe within the box, just marked with stickers.  I liked the variety of recipes, but overall we both liked the recipes and flavors from Plated more.  If Plated didn't exist, this is the one we'd use!  No complaints about Blue Apron, and they even include some extra information cards when there's an interesting ingredient or type of cuisine in the box.  We had a whole sheet talking about plantains, which was fun to read!  Lastly, I know a friend who is gluten-free who loves Blue Apron, so it might be a good option for gluten-free seekers.  (See my full review of Blue Apron here.)

#3  Peach Dish
Best for...  those who don't want a subscription and love Southern-inspired dishes!

I found Peach Dish while researching different meal kits, and it kept coming up as a great-tasting option in reviews.  I liked the recipes!  That said, it's a very expensive service shipping-wise.  You can get boxes without subscribing, but you have to pay a pretty steep shipping fee, unless I'm reading things wrong.  I think it's one of the better-tasting kits on the market, and the ingredients were great.  Many of the recipes were developed by chefs, too.  So if you just want to order a kit from time to time, and premium pricing doesn't throw you off, try Peach Dish!

Other services I've tried...

Hello Fresh

best for vegetarian options and fridge organization

Hello Fresh had some nice touches, like including a recipe book with more than just the recipes you selected for your box.  Nice bonus!  The packaging is also great if you're super-organized, as each recipe's ingredients comes in a little box.  Good for stacking and organizing in the fridge.  They also have a good number of vegetarian options; we didn't try any of the vegetarian-focused services, since we are meat-eaters, but Hello Fresh did make me look twice at the number of choices they had.  We had one hiccup with our box, as some of our meat had a packaging hole and bled out into the box; we tossed it for food safety and bought some meat at the grocery store to replace it.

Martha + Marley Spoon
best for fresh produce that stays fresh

Martha Stewart is the partner with Marley Spoon, so I expected the flavors of these recipes to be better.  They were just really underwhelming.  The freshness of the produce was awesome, though; even for the recipes cooked later in the week, there wasn't any wilting or ick factor as ingredients sat in the fridge.  I really felt like they nailed the fresh ingredients piece, just not the recipes.  We also had a few hiccups with this box; one of the recipe cards was wrong (you can look up your recipe cards online thankfully) and the pasta for a labeled gluten-free meal was not actually gluten-free.  Whoops.  Underwhelmed to be sure.  (Read my full review here.)

Sun Basket

Another one where the flavor just kind of underwhelmed us.  I also felt like it was hard to pick recipes that we wanted to try.  Definitely lots of good whole foods in the recipes, but not the match for us.  No issues with shipping.  Not a lot to say, to be honest.

Honorable Mention: The Dinner A'Fare.
Best for... people who don't want to do any meal prep at all.
I ordered from The Dinner A'Fare a few years ago, back when I was living alone.  They have family-sized meals, but also single-serving portions that are perfect for solo cooks.  These are FROZEN meals, prepared and shipped to you, and they take 30 minutes to prep.  Any cooking level can have a decent meal.  I remember these meals tasted alright, not super fresh (trade-offs, you sacrifice this a little for the convenience) but really easy and cheaper than takeout all the time.  Another frozen option is Schwan's; I remember seeing those trucks when I was growing up, but never tried it!

A few that I haven't tried yet...
  • Chef’D (looks pricy, with some meals $32 for two people, but I may try it sometime)
  • Green Chef
  • Home Chef (a friend told me it wasn't very good, so I decided not to try it)
  • Purple Carrot (it's vegan, and we're not)
  • Terra’s Kitchen (meals are sent over in a mini refrigerator thingy you have to return that seems like a hassle for apartment-dwellers like us)

What's your favorite meal kit service?

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