No Takeout New Year with Plated.com

Note: while this might sound like a sponsored post, I assure you that it is not. You know those ads on Facebook? The ones that have migrated from the right sidebar to your timeline, increasingly targeted to your likes, so much that it can be scary? The algorithm changes recently made to Facebook are decreasing the reach of organic posts made by businesses, driving business owners to paid advertising via Facebook in the hopes of increasing exposure to potential customers. The bottom line is this: for anybody hoping that our beloved "free" social media sites would remain so forever, think again. The company is public now, after all, and needs to make money somehow. In one instance, however, those "pesky ads" proved to be pretty helpful. Facebook must be gleefully documenting all of my culinary adventures and photos (the power of big data -- and unabashed sharing of personal information online!) because an advertisement recently popped-up for Plated. Plated is essentially a mail-order food service, but better. For a nominal fee per plate in addition to a monthly or annual membership fee, one can order ingredients to make fresh, chef-inspired meals at home -- sans the searching for recipes online, trip to the supermarket, and lengthy prep time. A box containing the ingredients is delivered right to your doorstep on a date that you specify, either a Tuesday or Friday, and the menu changes weekly. One can choose from a variety of land, sea, and veggie dishes, sign-up for automatic delivery, and even choose which ingredients should not be included (i.e., dairy) due to an allergy or taste preference. A minimum of four plates is required per order. Included in said Facebook advertisement was a coupon code that generously offered a free one month membership ($10 value) and four free meals ($48 value), just pay shipping for the first delivery. After a few days of contemplating what I would order, I took the leap with the coupon code and tried it out this week. Shipping cost me $20, which was a steal for four meals ($5/each). Thinking that meals during the week might be nice, I originally scheduled an order for Tuesday; however, being my first order, I didn't know how exactly the ingredients would arrive (i.e., would I have enough time and patience to successfully hack apart a butternut squash on a Tuesday night after work?). I updated my order for Friday delivery instead. Plated Order When I got home on Friday, I was super excited to open up the box containing recipe cards and ingredients to make two meals for two people (four "plates"): two servings of swiss chard rolls stuffed with a mixture of quinoa and butternut squash, and two servings of stir-fried tofu with cashews and vegetables. For both meals, I was pleasantly surprised to find that all ingredients came packaged and labeled very nicely. The butternut squash was even par-cooked (partially cooked) and cut into manageable pieces, so this would have totally been possible to make on a weeknight. Since the shipment was sent via overnight delivery, packaged in an insulated bag with with ice packs, and stored in my garage while I was at work, everything stayed super cold and fresh. Plated Recipe Cards Plated Recipe Ingredients Plated Recipe Ingredients On to the recipes. The swiss chard rolls sounded the most exciting out of the two, so Steve and I decided to make those first. The recipe card was super easy to follow and included pictures of each step and ingredients required (90% of which were included in the box and the rest were kitchen staples, like salt and pepper). I glanced at the card and put my own spin on the recipe by opting to add a minced poblano chile to the filling mixture, which was sauteed in a pan with a little oil, and cook the swiss chard rolls on the stovetop rather than bake, making this a three pot meal: one pot for the couscous, one saute pan for the filling which then became the vessel to let the rolls finish cooking, and one pot to blanch the swiss chard. The goat cheese topped off the rolls on the plate, but could have easily been omitted, making this a vegan meal. The results were great! I was happy to learn a new recipe and have dinner quickly prepared after coming home hungry after work. The recipe made enough for two servings of three rolls each, with leftovers that I had for lunch yesterday afternoon. When I decide to make this in the future, the recipe will be easy enough to shop for -- and, as a bonus, a few of the items are already in my pantry on a regular basis, like the couscous and tomatoes. I don't have a review of the tofu recipe yet, since we planned on making that tonight, but I am sure the results will be equally as great. I can't wait to place my next order or even try similar services to see how they compare, such as those outlined in this article from the New York Times. Plated was established by Harvard alums with the support of venture capitalists and is in the process of expanding to additional locations across the U.S., so I hope that you are able to try it now or it is available to you soon. I could see the company expanding its reach with new ideas, maybe for lunch or special occasions, and would love to see some "complicated" gourmet meals made available in the future, for the more adventurous/advanced cooks out there looking to try something new (classics like coq au vin or rack of lamb, maybe?).

2013 Year in Review: Part 1

I realize that I have been completely absent in my blogging activities for most of 2013... hell, for the past couple of years. Let's not mince words here. What else is new? Well, as it turns out, a lot is new. Between starting a new job, visiting three states that I never previously visited, and continuing to work on my MBA, 2013 was quite an eventful, if not decent, year. Since it has been sufficiently long enough since I posted anything worth reading, I’ll share the who, what, where, and when -- and, of course, the food -- of the past year with you now. Sadly, you won't get the tour du monde with this post, as I didn't travel and eat my way across the world this past year (I'll promise not to cry about that alone in my room in a few minutes from now... tears are welling as we speak... no they are n-- ok, yes, they are.) Expect this post to be mostly local-regional, with a few other places thrown in for good measure based on where I had the pleasure of visiting (namely SoCal, Vegas, San Antonio, Boston, and Baltimore.) Even with the limited geography, I am going to have a hard time recounting my “adventures” in a short number of words, hence why I will break this story into parts, posted incrementally over the next week. With that said, enjoy, and hopefully this makes up for a long lapse in posting. I entered 2013 by transitioning jobs and visiting New York for my birthday. We stayed in Midtown, walked around the touristy-but-beautiful Rockefeller Center, and saw the Christmas tree, among other activities that a non-local would normally do while in the city for a long weekend. A highlight for me was when I drug Steve, kicking and screaming Steve and I ate at Pure Food and Wine, a raw vegan restaurant in Gramercy. I had a delicious Asian-inspired salad (the "spicy sesame" salad, for those currently drooling over the menu) that quickly turned out to be one of best things that I ate in a while, so much so that I went back for it when we took another trip in May for the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. (More on that soon – with pictures!) I still can’t figure out how they make the crunchies that go on top of the salad or the rich wasabi aioli, although I suspect that a dehydrator and avocados are involved. I’ll need to go back and eat there a few more times to figure it out... We also took a trip to nearby One Lucky Duck, just around the corner and sharing part of a kitchen with the restaurant, where I got some goodies to take home. Coconut macaroons, rosemary “quackers”, and chocolate chip cookies, all made with raw ingredients, filled my shopping bag. The store also has take-away juice and small meals, but we passed on these, since we just ate. A trip to NY wouldn't be complete now without a visit to Bouchon Bakery for some macrons to take home. Oh, Bouchon Bakery... in an interesting juxtaposition to the last two places mentioned, this place is definitely not vegan. It is a small-chain, with five locations across the U.S., owned by the amazing Thomas Keller of French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon Bistro, etc. fame. Ugh. You should only know how much I love Bouchon Bakery. I can’t even begin to talk about the place without wanting to stuff a half dozen macrons down my gullet. And the Rockefeller Center location is just so. perfect. around the holidays. Even a Grinch like me feels in the spirit, coming out of there with a coffee in one hand and a pastry in the other to admire the tree, shoppers, and ice skaters nearby. Needless to say, all three places would be frequent – nay, daily – stops for me, if I lived or worked in the city. *heavy sigh* If only... I could go on and on about how much I love the city, how many things I have yet to see and do there, and how many different eateries I would go to, had I the money and time, so let's move on. There's a lot to cover, and I'm only just touching on January. By February, and into my second month at work, Steve and I went to Philly for the Home Show at the Convention Center. The sole motivation was discount tickets via Groupon, and quite frankly the show sucked; I wouldn’t even bother going again when it comes around in future years. Eating at Parc and making an obligatory visit to the Reading Terminal Market made the trip worth it, though. Parc is an upscale French place in Rittenhouse Square with old school decor -- think dark wood paneling, a tiled floor (small, old, tightly clustered tiles), and filigree details on the ceiling. The food was delicious, but it would be remiss of me if I didn't point out that it wasn't cheap. Fair warning, everyone! Parc is definitely a once-a-year or special occasion type of place -- unless you have deep pockets, in which case I would suggest eating there every weekend. Scallops with white bean ragout was amazing. Tuna tartare was so fresh and clean. And, of all things, the bread -- especially the good raisin-walnut bread, with its super chewy, crispy crust -- could have been a meal its self. Fortunately, a place like Parc (although not a complete substitute for Parc) opened nearby this year: Maxim's 22 in downtown Easton. For anyone that is local, you might be thinking, A French bistro-type restaurant... in Easton, of all places!?, and no, you aren't crazy. In fact, I shared the same disbelief when this restaurant, and others like it, opened this past year. The local area is definitely expanding its culinary options! The food at Maxim's 22 is good and comes without the trek to Philly and the couple hundred dollar dinner bill. Great selection of beers, too, for anyone with a taste that goes beyond the familiar domestics and imports (read: anything Anheuser Busch). Old Rasputin was on tap for a while, which is not easy to find in most places that I have been to, and for dessert they serve up "adult" floats made with vanilla ice cream dunked in raspberry lambic, chocolate stout, and the like. Yum. Keeping with the Philly theme for a second – and before we wrap up for this post, since I could go on and on and I haven't even covered my bigger trips of the year! – City Tavern was a place I got to visit for the first time while at a work-related tradeshow in March. It is a restaurant near Penn's Landing with a rich history. The atmpsphere can best be described as a step back to the founding first years of America, with costumed waiters and traditional decor. It is definitely a tasteful, old timey atmosphere, though; very quaint, nothing hokey about it. City Tavern is good for groups, if booked in advance, and has a few lots down the street for parking. The menu is not too vegetarian-friendly, though; I spotted only a few non-meat offerings, but I wasn't impacted by this too much since I eat fish. Stay tuned for part 2, covering my trip to Baltimore and the Manhattan Cocktail Classic in May! Places mentioned in this article:
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The end of an era

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I finally had the guts to post the message that I have been meaning to post for quite some time... burned-bridges.net, a fundamental chapter in my so-called "online life", is at the end of the line. The domain name registration is up on the 15th; however, for the purpose of having the time to transition links, I will renew the domain for one more year while I sort through the content. I wrote up a quick summary of my feelings here, too. 12 years is a very long time, but I think this was the right call to allow me to focus on developing this blog as well as my personal resume/portfolio website. I briefly considered scrapping both domains and focusing just on the new one, but that would be way too heartbreaking at this junction. So B-B.net got the short end of the stick, primarily due to the lack of interest over the past several years on my part. I can't stress this enough, though, that the demise of B-B.net is not the beginning of the end for everything, as far as my "online life" is concerned. It is the end of the domain name -- and, yes, with that, a lot of memories. This domain is active, though, and I purchased two other domains a few months ago that will be active until 2017 and therefore need a hosting account of some kind... so it is not the end. Overall, I recognize, as a marketing person, the importance of online presences to build credibility -- like a personal brand. I also recognize, as a human, the importance of personal history and creative outlets, which is why that this might always be an underlying interest/hobby of mine, no matter what the form or domain name. With that said, there are good things to come. I just need to find the time to make them happen, and I can assure that it will be a slow process. It's just time to evolve.

California Dreaming

This time next week, I will be in L.A., and then Vegas! Hard to believe that my first-ever trip out to the West Coast starts at the end of this week. Friday, to be exact. I'm planning on leaving early from work so we have plenty of time to make our 5:35pm flight to LAX, seeing how we'll be battling traffic to the airport. We'll arrive around 8:30p, pacific time, so we don't have a lot planned for Friday night. I've been wracking my brain over this trip for about a month, including selecting hotels and planning things to do, so I think I have a good plan for what Saturday through Tuesday will have in store. We'll be away a total of nine days and eight nights, if I counted correctly, making this my first real/big vacation that hasn't been work-related in quite some time. First four nights in L.A., plus part of Tuesday, then off to Vegas for four nights, and leaving Saturday morning. We are staying in the L.A. Live area, which I understand is full of shopping, restaurants, and attractions near a few of the major music venues in Downtown. There aren't a lot of large concerts or events planned, thankfully, so we might luck out on parking, crowds, annoying tourists, etc. in this area... I hope. Trips to the Grammy Museum and the Ritz Carlton Spa, both near the hotel, are in the cards for part of one day, and landmarks like the Walk of Fame (of course!) One full day will definitely be dedicated to seeing the beaches along the Pacific. Read some reviews that suggest that Venice Beach is a "dump", but makes for interesting people watching. Everyone is their own critic, though. Seeing how I'm from New Jersey, home of the biggest douchebag show ever, Jersey Shore, which put Seaside (aka "Sleezeside") on the map for all of the wrong reasons, pretty much nothing shocks me, so we'll see about it being a "dump". ;) As always, I am excited for the FOOD... raw food, vegan/vegetarian, and juice places galore, I bet, in addition to notable restaurants from celeb chefs. Contemplated a visit to Spago, Wolfgang Puck's famous Beverly Hills spot, but I don't know -- might have to come back as soon as I get that six-figure promotion in, oh, umpteen years from now (lol). (Made reservations for the one in Vegas, but I doubt the prices are any better.) Plenty of acceptable substitutes will be easy to find, I bet. Some sight-seeing of the ritzy celebrity houses is also in order-- cliche, yes, but completely necessary for a first-time trip to Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and other notable places. I can't promise you that anything good will happen if I see Justin Bieber's douchemobile -- you know, that ostentatious chrome sports car he owns. I wouldn't be able to make a homemade molotov cocktail fast enough to throw at that fucker... so I guess a swift middle finger will suffice for the stuck-up brat, and to avoid any jailtime (although I bet any jury and sensible American would understand and acquit me of any crimes.) On Tuesday, we head off to Vegas by land. It is a 4+ hour trip, I figure, assuming no traffic. We are staying not far off-Strip at a non-smoking hotel (thank goodness...) near the Convention Center, where the AWFS conference, an event for woodworkers that I encouraged Steve to attend (and the whole reason for this trip), will be. We will also celebrate Steve's 27th birthday on the 25th! Otherwise, I am a little overwhelmed by the number of places we'll need to visit, but I figure landmarks, again, are necessary for a first-time trip -- i.e. Hoover Dam and Lake Mead one day, and the historic neon museum/sign graveyard another. I'm not looking forward to the 6:00am flight back to New Jersey on Saturday the 27th, but for now, it is far enough away to not think about. The upcoming weather, on the other hand, is something to contemplate. The Weather Channel suggests that L.A. should be in the mid-to-upper 70s, while Vegas will be a scorching high-90's to low-100's -- YIKES! Guess who will be spending a lot time in the pool... ;)

I knew something was up… new NIN music coming soon.

"I’ve been less than honest about what I’ve really been up to lately. For the last year I’ve been secretly working non-stop with Atticus Ross and Alan Moulder on a new, full-length Nine Inch Nails record, which I am happy to say is finished and frankly fucking great." --Trent Reznor This is news worthy of putting in a larger font. Duh. My proverbial "Spidey senses" were tingling. I knew something was up. And as a NIN fan of 12+ years, this is awesome news. Admittedly, I am not an "OG" -- the band was conceived a year before I was born -- but I like to think that I was rockin' out as a single-celled organism, cerca 1988. This news makes me reflect on the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards... *cue magical, time warp music* I was ten years old, and it was one of the first times that I really paid attention to the band, outside of listening to "Closer" and "The Perfect Drug" radio edits occasionally played on Top 40 stations. Admittedly, I was waiting for the Backstreet Boys to come on and perform (laugh, if you must) when Nine Inch Nails came on to play "The Fragile" live in front of a dumbstruck audience that probably didn't understand what was going on. Even at the time, I couldn't help but to think, What is this mystical, haunting, beautiful music?!!?! as I fell in love with the song for the first time -- a song that would later become a message of hope and perseverance through some tough times in my life. Laugh, again, if you must, but that song is powerful. Listen to it, and you'll hear the tale of a struggling soul and someone reaching out to help her through what she is dealing with. It could be a friend in need, a lover, a sister... it can be anybody, in any role -- pick one, take a moment to reflect, and you'll get it.
"The Fragile" live at the 1999 MTV Music Awards
I also remember the equally haunting commercials for the album of the same name... and man, that album was a masterpiece. Hey, Trent: a remastered edition of the "The Fragile", with B-sides, would be an excellent birthday present. If we can have that before next January, as a follow-up to whatever awesome new music is in the works, that would be super. ;) Now to pull $170 out of thin air to go see them and Queens of the Stoneage in Philly in a couple of months...

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