Our Christmas

We had an excellent Christmas. Everyone was very happy with their gifts and the little guys are old enough now to pick out presents to give other people so they were pretty excited about that. As an added bonus, my parents finally arrived a few days before Christmas and are working on getting all their stuff unpacked making us a multi-generational household once again.

We put up our tree the day after Thanksgiving. Jamie and I also did pretty much all our Christmas shopping that day. Adrian was a little puzzled by all the wrapped packages under the tree. This is the first year we’ve done that (since all the kids have figured out Santa isn’t real and everyone is old enough not to open anything before Christmas).
Our Christmas

I got 24 little Christmas books and wrapped them all up with a piece of an Advent Nativity my mom made me years ago. Each evening from December 1st to 24th, the boys unwrapped a book for me to read to them and put the Nativity piece up to finish the picture. The boys also insisted that I make a countdown chain for them to rip off one piece each day. They love countdown chains.
Our Christmas

The kids left their shoes out and got candy and little presents for St. Nicholas Day.
Our Christmas

We got a huge surprise when it actually snowed. Considering we live in south Texas, this was definitely something unusual.
Our Christmas

We went to Main Street Bethlehem in Burnet and the Walkway of Lights in Marble Falls. Both were very amazing displays.
Our Christmas

We did our annual Random Acts of Christmas Kindness December 1st through 24th.
Our Christmas

My parents couldn’t find their stockings before Christmas (we found them a couple days later), so we got ones from Target for them on Christmas Eve (not much of a selection, but 70% off).
Our Christmas

Christmas morning our stockings were full and there were presents for the animals, too. Lola’s pile was a bit bigger than all the others.
Our Christmas

Everyone was quite happy with what they were given.
Our Christmas

But then there was the totally awesome present. Cameron decided to get a Nintendo Switch for him and his siblings to share. Ani got a couple games to play on it. The little guys were so surprised and so excited.

It really made a wonderful Christmas absolutely unforgettable. Even though Christmas is all put away now (did that on Saturday), wonderful memories were made. Merry Christmas a little late (or really, really early – your choice).
Our Christmas

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It’s a New Year!

In less than a week I will have had this blog for 12 years. That’s kind of nuts. I can’t believe it’s 2018.

In just 6 weeks, I will have successfully grown a whole human when Ani turns 18. She sent in her voter registration last week. She’ll be able to vote in the primary in March.

This year Cameron will turn 17 and start 11th grade, Fritz will turn 12 and start 7th grade (and get the Priesthood at church), and Adrian will turn 10 and start 5th grade. Jamie and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.

We’re about halfway done with year 2 of Layers of Learning. In the fall we’ll move on to year 3, the age of exploration to the American Revolution. We’re really liking Layers of Learning.

So, welcome 2018. It should be awesome!

We Tried Plated

A few weeks ago we tried Plated, our fifth meal kit service. Once again we got three two-serving meals and made them for lunch.

Pros:
1.) Most of the ingredients for each meal were packaged in plastic bags making it easy to pull everything out at once for cooking.
2.) Good size portions so everyone had plenty.
3.) Very convenient.
4.) The instructions were colorful and easy to follow.
5.) It was relatively easy to find the gluten free options on their website.
6.) The vegetables were very fresh.

Cons:
1.) The meals are expensive compared to getting the ingredients on your own.
2.) Various people in the family didn’t like some of the parts of the meals.
3.) One ingredient in one meal was white wine and this really disturbed Fritz.
4.) The roasted red peppers container opened in the bag and so the oil was all over everything when we opened it.

The box arrived the day they said it would. It got here pretty late, but still before the cut off time. In the top of the box was the three recipe cards. Then the big vegetables and bags of ingredients. On the bottom was the meat, very well sealed.

All together, the box contained quite a bit of food. I liked how the ingredient bags were rolled down so they took up as little space as possible in the refrigerator.

The first meal we made was Steak au Poivre with Crispy Fingerling Potatoes. Other than not knowing how to pronounce the name of it, it was quite good. Fritz helped me make it and chose music by the Transiberian Orchestra to cook to. They sent fingerling potatoes, a shallot, a garlic clove, 2 steaks, baby spinach, cracked black pepper, white wine (this disturbed Fritz and he refused to eat the sauce because of it), heavy cream, and dijon mustard. As with all meal kits, we provided the olive oil, salt, and (regular) pepper.

I prepared the vegetables. I minced the shallot and divided it into two piles and minced the garlic. I cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and tossed them with oil, salt, and pepper.

Meanwhile, Fritz got the steaks ready to cook by patting them dry and seasoning them on both sides.

We seared the steaks and wilted the spinach (it was just garlic, salt, pepper, and spinach).

The steak turned out excellent. The sauce was good, too, but because of the white wine in it (no matter how much we explained that the alcohol cooks off), Fritz wouldn’t eat it. The potatoes were delicious. I liked the spinach, too, but at least Cameron did not.

The second meal we made was Piri Piri Chicken with Crispy Potato Chips and Sauteed Kale. Adrian helped me with this one. He chose songs by Sabrina Carpenter to accompany our cooking. They sent dinosaur kale, Yukon Gold potatoes, roasted red peppers, 2 lemons, a shallot, 3 cloves of garlic, spice mix (cayenne, oregano, and smoked paprika), red wine vinegar, chicken thighs, and parchment paper.

I cut up the vegetables. I trimmed the kale, cut the potatoes into rounds (I used our mandolin for that rather than a knife), cut up the lemons, chopped the shallot, minced the garlic, and chopped up the roasted red pepper.

I made the marinade. Some of it went on the chicken and the rest was saved to be used as a sauce. The recipe suggested pureeing the sauce if we wanted to. I am glad I did. The flavors blended very nicely.

We baked the chicken and potatoes. The potatoes ended up as perfect baked potato chips. Even if we don’t recreate anything else from our Plated meals, we’ll make these again. If I had paid attention when ordering, I would not have gotten this meal because I do not like dark chicken meat or chicken with bones in it or chicken with skin on it. I’m very picky when it comes to chicken. It wasn’t bad, but if I did this one again, I’d make it with boneless skinless chicken breast.

I was really looking forward to this meal because when we lived in DC we used to go to a place called Nando’s. This is the type of food they served. The flavor wasn’t as good as Nando’s, but it was close.

The third meal we made was Pan-Roasted Pork Chop with Maple Pan Sauce, Roasted Vegetables, and Truffled Walnuts. Cameron helped me make it. He chose songs from Hamilton to play while we cooked. They sent herb mix (sage and thyme), carrots, parsnips, fingerling potatoes, dijon mustard, pork chops, baby spinach, walnuts, crushed red pepper, maple syrup, truffle zest, and apple cider vinegar.

I cut up the vegetables while Cameron prepared the pork. I sliced the parsnips and carrots and halved the potatoes lengthwise.

Cameron made the sauce while I made the glazed walnuts.

The pork was very good. The sauce was okay. I wasn’t a big fan of the parsnips. The walnuts were pretty gross. The maple syrup and truffle flavor just wasn’t good. This was definitely our least favorite of these three meals.

After five meal kit services, Home Chef is still our number one choice. Plated ended up ranked right in the middle of the pack.

1. Home Chef
2. Blue Apron
3. Plated
4. Hello Fresh
5. Sun Basket

Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 17-24

We have completed the final 8 days of Random Acts of Christmas Kindness (see days 1-8 here and days 9-16 here).

On Sunday the 17th, he boys took treats to their primary teachers.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 17-24

On Monday the 18th, we taped change to a vending machine.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 17-24

On Tuesday the 19th, we paid for someone else’s food at Kneader’s.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 17-24

On Wednesday the 20th, we attempted to put carts in the corrals at Target and HEB, but there were none to put away. So, instead, we rearranged the carts in the corrals at HEB so they’d be easier for the employees to take back up to the store.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 17-24

On Thursday the 21st, we took food to the food bank.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 17-24

On Friday the 22nd, we left microwave popcorn on Redbox machines.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 17-24

On Saturday the 23rd, we candy cane bombed a parking lot.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 17-24

On Sunday the 24th, we used hug coupons to get hugs from each other.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 17-24

Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 9-16

We’ve done another 8 days of #24RACKs (for the first 8 days, go here).

On Saturday the 9th, we took cat and dog treats and toys to the Animal Defense League. Lola helped us deliver them because that’s where we adopted her four years ago.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 9-16

On Sunday the 10th, we held the door for other people.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 9-16

On Monday the 11th, we brought up our neighbors’ trash cans and left candy canes for them.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 9-16

On Tuesday the 12th, we gave a lottery ticket to a stranger.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 9-16

On Wednesday the 13th, we picked up litter.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 9-16

On Thursday the 14th, we took cookies to our pharmacist.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 9-16

On Friday the 15th, we fed the birds.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 9-16

On Saturday the 16th, we took socks to the homeless shelter.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 9-16

Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 1-8

We’re doing #24RACKs (Random Acts of Christmas Kindness) again this year. We love doing this, making the last few weeks before Christmas extra special. It’s mostly me and Fritz doing it, but sometimes other people get involved.

On Friday the 1st, we dropped heads up pennies on the sidewalk. Fritz made a smiley face out of some of them in front of our neighborhood mailboxes. A few days later he discovered that someone had reformed the pennies into a stick figure so that was fun.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 1-8

On Saturday the 2nd, we made cards for people in Sutherland Springs Texas (the mass shooting a few weeks ago at the church).
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 1-8

On Sunday the 3rd, we did secret acts of kindness for other people. One of the things Fritz did was make hot chocolate for Ani.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 1-8

On Monday the 4th, we did chores for people in our family. Fritz cleaned Ani’s birds’ cage for her.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 1-8

On Tuesday the 5th, we left happy notes in random library books.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 1-8

On Wednesday the 6th, we left bubbles at our neighbor’s front door.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 1-8

On Thursday the 7th, we wrote notes to other people in our family. We had to switch this one with another planned day because of the weather. We got snow in south Texas!
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 1-8

On Friday the 8th, we gave an Amazon gift card to our mail carrier. This one also had to be switched with another day because of weather.
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Days 1-8

We Tried Sun Basket

The third meal kit service we tried was Sun Basket. We got three two-serving meals and like when we tried Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, we made them for lunch so there was plenty for those of us at home during the day.

Pros:
1.) Each meal was packaged in a bag (plus meat separately) making it easy to pull everything out at once for cooking.
2.) Huge portions so everyone had plenty.
3.) Very convenient.
4.) The instruction book was nicely made.
5.) Meals were marked to say whether they were gluten free (gluten free plan costs slightly more than the “regular” plan).

Cons:
1.) The meals are expensive compared to getting the ingredients on your own.
2.) The instructions did not give measurements so they are impossible to replicate.
3.) We didn’t like the food very much.
4.) Some of the produce was less than fresh.


The box included a nice book of all the recipes. At first, I was excited about that, but when I looked closer I discovered the recipes do not include the amounts so they cannot be made without the kit. The vegetables and things were packaged in individual bags and the meat was in the bottom of the box between ice packs.

The first meal we made was seared steak and porcini sauce with sweet potatoes and chard. Fritz helped me with it. He picked music by Twenty One Pilots to accompany us while we cooked. They sent dried porcini mushrooms, sweet potatoes, chard, flat-leaf parsley, lemon, rosemary, top sirloin steak, shallots, and unsalted butter. I forgot to pull the chard out before I took this picture.

I prepared the vegetables. First I soaked the mushrooms in hot water and then pulled them out and sliced them, saving the mushrooms. The sweet potatoes were cut into half-moons. I stripped the chard leaves from the stems and then coarsely chopped the leaves and stems, keeping them separate. Then I made the gremolata by removing the parsley leaves from the stems and adding lemon zest.

Fritz cooked the sweet potatoes and chard while I cooked the steak. Then we made the porcini sauce together.

The steak was delicious and the porcini sauce was quite good, too. The sweet potatoes and chard, however, were not very good. Cameron hated it and Cameron will eat pretty much anything. We threw quite a bit away because no one wanted it.

The second meal we made was golden coconut curry with tofu, spinach, and black rice. Fritz helped me again. We listened to songs by Sabrina Carpenter (our old standby) on Alexa while we cooked. The bag included black rice, peeled garlic, ginger, tofu, red bell pepper, cremini mushrooms, lime, curry spice blend, coconut milk, and baby spinach.

I prepared the tofu and vegetables. I minced the garlic, chopped the ginger, cut up the tofu into cubes, sliced the bell pepper and mushrooms, and cut up the lime.

We cooked the tofu curry by mixing everything (except the rice which was prepared separately) together. It was very easy to make, especially with everything chopped and ready to go.

We assembled our bowls with the black rice topped with the curry. The tofu was decent tofu. Cameron wasn’t a fan of the consistency. The taste though… it just wasn’t that good. Quite a bit was leftover when we were done partly because Sun Basket gives huge portions, but partly because no one wanted seconds (or, really, to even finish their first serving).

Our third and final meal was spicy chicken tinga tostadas with avocado and queso fresco. Cameron helped me with this one. He picked random songs to play on Alexa as we worked. The bag included an onion, bay leaves, peeled garlic, chicken breasts, tinga sauce base, corn tortillas, an avocado, lime, cilantro, and questo fresco.

I prepped the garnishes. I cut up the avocado, sliced the lime, and chopped the cilantro. Eventually that chunk of queso fresco got crumbled.

I chopped and cooked onion and garlic and then added the sauce base to the pan. After it came to a boil, I added the chicken and cooked them in the sauce. Once they were done, I shredded the meat and then added it back to the pan and thoroughly mixed it with the sauce. Meanwhile, Cameron crisped the tortillas in hot, oiled pan.

We made tostadas by putting the meat and sauce on the crisped tortillas and topped them with the avocado, queso fresco, and cilantro and squeezed lime wedges over them. All of the food in this meal got eaten.

This one was the best of the three Sun Basket meals, but it still wasn’t great. It was marked as being spicy and they certainly weren’t kidding. We live in south Texas so we’re used to spicy food, but this was extra spicy. It left our mouths burning for a long time. There was not way to adjust the spice since it was all already put together in the tinga sauce base.

Whether we’d ever use Sun Basket again or not was an easy answer: No. We just didn’t like their meals enough. It’s probably a great choice for people who want to expand their horizons and try foods they’d never otherwise try. For us, it just didn’t work out. So, after three meal kit services, Blue Apron is still our first choice.