Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Meal Subscriptions Services: Dinnerly



Not going to lie, when my box first showed up, I looked at the minimal ingredients and thought, "wow, I'm suppose to make something delicious with these five things? This is going to turn out like a failed Pinterest recipe." But I was so wrong! The meals were pretty good, even as leftovers. I liked how quick and simple they were - I think this would be the ideal box for those with children who want to get kids involved in the kitchen! 

($4.99/serving + $8.99 shipping)

Discount: $35 off first box

  • The meal options for Dinnerly were a refreshing change - they seemed to have more choices, as well as different options than any of the other meal services
  • Very inexpensive
  • Minimal ingredients meaning minimal prep - if you're busy and really don't have a lot of prep time, this is a great option
  • There are always recipes that you can get double servings out of - and not just because you ration the food, but because they actually send enough ingredients to make four servings instead of just two
  • They don't send some of the small ingredients - for example, sugar, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar. I keep sugar and balsamic vinegar on hand, but not apple cider vinegar, so I just disregarded that ingredient in the recipe and it seemed to turn out fine.
  • All the ingredients are just thrown in a box - including the meat. Most meal services separate the meat from everything else, but not in this case. It literally looked like someone just had a box in the middle of the room and went around picking ingredients off shelves and tossing them in the box
  • They don't send recipe cards - you have to access the recipes online
  • You have to shred the cheese - it comes in a block

My Favorite Dinnerly Recipes


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Meal Subscription Services: Blue Apron

Blue Apron is the only service that has really disappointed me. They all have their pros and cons, but it was really hard to find things I liked about Blue Apron.

For starters, their meals are just odd. My food preferences have really expanded in the last few years, and I'm open to trying just about anything, but I struggled to find meals that I wanted to make with Blue Apron. I accepted a deal with them the first week of July, and had to keep skipping weeks until the end of August because it took that long to find three meals I would want.

The week of Labor Day they notified me that my box would be delivered a day late due to the holiday, which was fine (Wednesday delivery day instead of Tuesday). But then, on Wednesday night at about 6PM I got an email saying it would be delayed another day, which would have been fine had I been notified before dinner time when I had planned on cooking one of the meals. When the box finally arrived, they had the wrong recipe cards in it (thankfully the ingredients were mostly right). You can access the recipes online, but bringing my laptop into the kitchen isn't a habit I care to form. It came with a card saying that I should check my email for info about ingredient substitutions for the ingredients they didn't send, but I also didn't have an email about that. When I emailed customer services my frustrations, they just gave me directions on how to print recipes. 

Lastly, cancelling your subscription is very inconvenient. There is not a simple "cancel account" button - you have to email a specific email to get directions on how to cancel. The food was okay, but I don't think I will use the service again. Especially because it is expensive, and I don't think you get what you pay for.

 Blue Apron

($9.99/serving + FREE shipping for orders 6 or more servings, $7.99 shipping for orders less than 6 servings)

  • The meals are okay
  • They send all needed ingredients - even when you just need a tiny tad of sugar
  • Recipe cards included in box
  • One of the more expensive options
  • The meal options aren't great 
  • They ingredients are a mess. Some of them come packed in plastic bags labeled with the recipe, but most of the vegetables are in their own separate bags. They all come backed in a sort-of box, but its not all attached so you can't just put the box in the fridge because it falls apart
  • You have to shred the cheese - it comes in a block

My Favorite Blue Apron Recipes


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Universal Yums: Russia (October 2020)


I was pleased to see that most of Russia's snacks were sweet treats!

I love getting this box every month, and if its something that someone you know would be interested, they offer gift options perfect for the holiday season!

If you’d like to try Universal Yums yourself, click here for $5 off your first box!


BBQ Kebab Potato Crisps (3/5)

You can't go wrong with BBQ potato chips! These weren't thin and crispy like an American potato chip. They were thicker, more like a cracker, except lighter. And they didn't taste like BBQ chips like I expected, but actually kebab-y, like something that came off the grill. They were different, and took some getting used to, but good!

Sovietsky Cheese Potato Chips (2/5)

Potatoes are known as the devil's apple in Russia, which is funny considering how prominent they now are. Now these were thin and crispy like potato chips that I am used to. They were cheesy tasting, but not like any cheese potato chip I've had before. Like the BBQ kebab chips, the flavor of these would take some getting use to!


Bolete Mushroom Break Bites (3/5)

I wasn't sure whether I was suppose to eat these as a snack or put them on a salad, but since I don't eat salads, they were a snack. I love mushrooms, but mushroom flavored croutons seemed like a strange thing to try. They tasted just like mushrooms, and I while I wouldn't eat them as a snack again, I could definitely see eating them in a salad!

Orange & Vanilla Biscuits (5/5)

Oranges are apparently a big thing during Christmas time in Russia, which stems back to the Soviet era when they were rare treats. These were super tasty! The orange wasn't overpowering, in fact they reminded me of the lemon girl scout cookies. I ate this whole box in one day (no regrets) and would absolutely get them as a regular snack if I found them at the grocery!


Strawberry, Caramel, & Vanilla Gummies (2.5/5)

These gummies were made to be eaten together for more unique flavors. They weren't super sweet or flavorful, honestly kind of a waste of a treat. They didn't taste bad, I just like more flavor when I'm indulging in a snack like this.

Orange Marmalade & Cinnamon Pryanik (4.5/5)

I read online to heat this up before eating it, and I'm glad I did. It is a gingerbread treat with candied orange jam and tasted just like Christmas! I bet it would go great with coffee, if you're a coffee drinker. The outside was a little hard, even after warming it, so I mostly just ate the inside which was gooey with jam! 


White Chocolate & Hazelnut Cream Wafer (5/5)

I'm always so excited for the sweet treats! This was sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. The wafer was super light, and the filling sweet and creamy. It was like a Kinder bueno bar, except way better!

Almond White Chocolate Bar (4/5)

I'm beginning to learn that I much prefer white chocolate from foreign countries as opposed to the U.S. I love sweet, but white chocolate here is too sweet. I can eat a little bit, but there is such thing as too much (which is not the case with milk chocolate!) I don't particularly like almonds, and usually bite around them in chocolate,  but this was pretty good. And I can count it as healthy because of the almonds, right?


Nuts & Milk Chocolate Wafer Bar (5/5)

Hazelnut, cocoa, peanuts, chocolate - this treat has it all! Though it involved a lot, it wasn't overwhelming. Just the perfect level of sweetness, this was the perfect after lunch treat.

Ripe Pear Milk Chocolate (4.5/5)

Chocolate with a pear filling was a new kind of chocolate for me. I've had lots of filled chocolates (perks of being a teacher on Valentine's Day), but never pear! The chocolate was milky and yummy, and the smooth pear filling was just as tasty. I would absolutely eat this again!


Boiled Milk & Chocolate Cake (1/5)

An interesting name, but I do love chocolate cake! This treat has been around since 1966, and they're still using the exact same recipe. I was not a fan of this. The chocolate coating was too strong, almost bitter tasting.

Exotic Fruit Jellies (4/5)

The flavors for these were ripe mango, blackcurrant mint, and strawberry pepper. (Strange!) The texture was similar to gumdrops, except a little softer and without the sugar coating. The flavor combos seemed super odd, but they went really well together! These were treats that worked best eating one or two at a time. Eating them all at once would have given me a stomach ache.

Coconut & White Chocolate Hazelnut Balls (4.5/5)

From this box I learned that there is a part of Russia on the Black Sea that is subtropical, hence this coconut treat! This was pretty tasty, and didn't have too much of a coconutty texture. I felt like the treat had a lot going on, but it was the perfect combination to make it delicious!

Stay tuned for November's box from ITALY!!!

Sunday, November 1, 2020

#gretchensbooks2020 - October


As expected, this was a slow book month. With starting grad school again, most of my free time has been dedicated to that (finished nearly two classes this month!) I thought maybe will all of the traveling this month held I would at least finish a handful of audiobooks, but I listened to the Hamilton soundtrack for most of my driving, so that didn't happen either! #noregrets Regardless, with it being spooky season, I wanted to get in some thrillers! 


105. Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes (3/5★)

This was the second book in the “YOU” series, and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t think it was as good as the first. Joe was just as creepy, but I wasn’t on edge as much reading it. It’s also pretty different from season 2 of the Netflix show (as I expected). That being said, I think I saw that book 3 comes out in April, and I do plan on reading it! Again, I recommend the audio version of these books, because the performer is spot on!!

Joe is no stranger to hiding bodies. In the past ten years, this thirty-something has buried four of them, collateral damage in his quest for love. Now he’s heading west to Los Angeles, the city of second chances, determined to put his past behind him. 

In Hollywood, Joe blends in effortlessly with the other young upstarts. He eats guac, works in a bookstore, and flirts with a journalist neighbor. But while others seem fixated on their own reflections, Joe can’t stop looking over his shoulder. The problem with hidden bodies is that they don’t always stay that way. They reemerge, like dark thoughts, multiplying and threatening to destroy what Joe wants most: true love. And when he finds it in a darkened room in Soho House, he’s more desperate than ever to keep his secrets buried. He doesn’t want to hurt his new girlfriend—he wants to be with her forever. But if she ever finds out what he’s done, he may not have a choice…


106. The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda (4/5★)

Littleport, Maine, has always felt like two separate towns: an ideal vacation enclave for the wealthy, whose summer homes line the coastline; and a simple harbor community for the year-round residents whose livelihoods rely on service to the visitors. 

Typically, fierce friendships never develop between a local and a summer girl—but that’s just what happens with visitor Sadie Loman and Littleport resident Avery Greer. Each summer for almost a decade, the girls are inseparable—until Sadie is found dead. While the police rule the death a suicide, Avery can’t help but feel there are those in the community, including a local detective and Sadie’s brother, Parker, who blame her. Someone knows more than they’re saying, and Avery is intent on clearing her name, before the facts get twisted against her. 

I randomly picked this one up at our local book store back home during my (very unsuccessful) book buying freeze. I’m glad I did! It wasn’t overly suspenseful, but I was thoroughly engaged throughout the whole story. I had not guessed the ending, which is always a plus when it comes to reading mysteries/thrillers/suspense novels. 


A general's daughter...

Coming of age on the perilous frontier of revolutionary New York, Elizabeth Schuyler champions the fight for independence. And when she meets Alexander Hamilton, Washington's penniless but passionate aide-de-camp, she's captivated by the young officer's charisma and brilliance. They fall in love, despite Hamilton's bastard birth and the uncertainties of war. 

A Founding Father's wife...

But the union they create--in their marriage and the new nation--is far from perfect. From glittering inaugural balls to bloody street riots, the Hamiltons are at the center of it all--including the political treachery of America's first sex scandal, which forces Eliza to struggle through heartbreak and betrayal to find forgiveness. 

The last surviving light of the Revolution...

When a duel destroys Eliza's hard-won peace, the grieving widow fights her husband's enemies to preserve Alexander's legacy. But long-buried secrets threaten everything Eliza believes about her marriage and her own legacy. Questioning her tireless devotion to the man and country that have broken her heart, she's left with one last battle--to understand the flawed man she married and imperfect union he could never have created without her...

I thoroughly enjoyed this one! Though it is historical fiction, it pulled from primary sources, so much of it is factual, though exaggerated.

It was a long one to listen to- 21 hours- but the performer was engaging enough that it wasn’t difficult to become enthralled. The novel covered much of Eliza’s life and accomplishments, from childhood to death. I liked that they had a pretty extensive authors note at the end detailing both the truths of the story as well as the liberties they took for entertainment purposes.


108. The End of Her by Shari Lapena (3.5/5★)

A long-ago accident--and a visitor from out of the blue. . . 

Stephanie and Patrick are adjusting to life with their colicky twin girls. The babies are a handful, but even as Stephanie struggles with the disorientation of sleep deprivation, there's one thing she's sure of: she has all she ever wanted. 

Then Erica, a woman from Patrick's past, appears and makes a disturbing accusation. Patrick had always said his first wife's death was an accident, but now Erica claims it was murder. 

Patrick insists he's innocent, that this is nothing but a blackmail attempt. Still, Erica knows things about Patrick--things that make Stephanie begin to question her husband. Stephanie isn't sure what, or who, to believe. As Stephanie's trust in Patrick begins to falter, Patrick stands to lose everything. Is Patrick telling the truth--is Erica the persuasive liar Patrick says she is? Or has Stephanie made a terrible mistake? 

How will it end?

Though I enjoyed the story, this wasn’t my favorite from Lapena. I enjoyed the mild suspense, but I was able to guess the upcoming events which isn’t ideal with a thriller. I’m a big fan of Lapena’s, and will continue to read everything she releases, but the ending of this one fell kind of flat for me. It wasn’t bad, just kinda meh in comparison to her other novels.


109. Lock Every Door by Riley Sager (3.5/5★)

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan's most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind. 

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story...until the next day, when Ingrid disappears. 

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew's sordid past and into the secrets kept within its walls. What she discovers pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

This is the second Sager novel I’ve listened to this spooky season. It wasn’t as good as “Home Before Dark,” but it was still so engaging! I had not predicted what as going to happen at all, probably because it was so bizarre! I’ve got another one on hold, and the wait it long, which I totally understand why. Sager is a fabulous thriller writer!

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(Summaries are from Amazon, but all reviews are my own!)

Reading Challenge: 109/100 books read in 2020

You can find previous book reviews here!