we tried hello fresh and blue apron. the winner is?

Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh, which comes out on top? | erniebufflo.com

I mentioned a while back that we were considering trying some meal delivery services so Jon could cook dinner once a week or so. He’s a good cook, but busy ER docs don’t have a ton of time to research recipes, grocery shop, and prep. Services that send all the ingredients and recipe all ready to go sounded really ideal. I got a Hello Fresh coupon included in a box of stuff I ordered from Zulily, and a friend sent me a code for a free box of Blue Apron, so we decided to give them each a shot and see which one we preferred. I should note that this is not a sponsored post– Zulily frequently includes coupons and samples when they ship orders, and both services let users send friends discounts and free meals to try the services.

Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh, which comes out on top? | erniebufflo.com

Hello Fresh

Hello Fresh was up first. One thing I didn’t like right off the bat was there was no plan that fit our diet preferences perfectly. We’re mostly vegetarian, but not entirely– we eat meat about once a week, and also enjoy eating seafood. Hello Fresh offers a Classic Box, a Veggie Box, and a Family Box. My ideal box would have a pescatarian option to get vegetarian and seafood recipes, but that’s not an option. So we did one week with a Family Box and one week with a Veggie Box. With a Veggie Box, you HAVE to get 3 meals per week, but the Family Box lets you choose 2 or 3 meals a week.

Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh, which comes out on top? | erniebufflo.com

Things we liked about Hello Fresh:

  • The recipes were delicious, easy to execute, and full of variety. Out of six meals, there was only one dish I didn’t care for, a portobello and orechiette primavera that kind of had a muddy flavor to this not-exactly-a-mushroom lover (I don’t hate them, but I don’t love them either).
  • The organization of the boxes. Each meal’s ingredients, minus meat or seafood, comes in its own individual box within the shipping box. It’s super easy to just stash the meal boxes in the fridge, and pull one out at mealtime. This prevents having to hunt for the various ingredients and gather them together. You just pull out the box and get cooking.
  • Jamie Oliver contributes some of the recipes. One of his recipes, a Brazillian black bean and rice bowl, was one of my favorites out of the six meals we tried.
  • All of the meals were balanced, healthy, fresh, and about 550-800 calories per plate. Every meal was enough for our family of 4, plus leftovers.
  • They sent us locally-raised meat!

Things we didn’t like about Hello Fresh:

  • Lack of a great option for our family’s diet, which is somewhere in between Veggie Box and Family Box. The Family Box was too meat-heavy for us, and we’d like to get vegetarian and seafood recipes.
  • Lack of a 2-meals-per-week option on the Veggie Box. I am a proficient cook, read a lot of food blogs and cookbooks, and enjoy cooking. I would prefer to just get 2 meals per week, one for Jon to cook, and one for me to cook, and leave me to my own devices the rest of the week.
  • Most of the recipes seemed to dirty a lot more dishes than our average meals. Multiple pans and bowls were often required, which makes cleanup a bummer.
  • Most meals take longer to cook than the estimated time.

Overall, our experience with Hello Fresh was super positive, and we enjoyed the meals we got from them.

Blue Apron

Next we tried Blue Apron. Blue Apron offers 2 basic plans, the Two Person Plan and the Family Plan. With each plan, you can choose 2 or 4 meals per week. Pricing is the same as Hello Fresh. Hello Fresh’s Family Box meals are $8.75 per serving, Blue Apron’s are $8.74. Also: we had leftovers with both services, lowering the actual price per serving further. One major perk to both of Blue Apron’s plans is the ability to choose your actual meals from a set of options. Another perk is the ability to input dietary preferences. I was able to select no beef, pork, or lamb, so our default options are vegetarian, seafood, or poultry, and I am able to further choose from among a few of those options for the 2 we are delivered. This way, we’ve managed to get entirely vegetarian or seafood meals, with no poultry.

Blue Apron vs. Hello Fresh, which comes out on top? | erniebufflo.com

If I were basing my opinion solely on the first meal we cooked from Blue Apron, it would have been a total failure. We were sent a Teriyaki-Glazed Salmon with Brown Rice, Bell Pepper, and Cucumber. How was it? I don’t know, because we ended up getting fast food after a failure. To start with, a small bottle of sesame oil had leaked all over our box, and I was missing the bell pepper somehow. Then, they expected me to somehow cook brown rice on the stovetop in 30 minutes. After that allotted time, the rice was still crunchy and I was wishing I had thrown it into my Instant Pot instead of dutifully following the recipe. Finally, I was cooking the salmon in a skillet at medium-high heat as directed, added the teriyaki sauce as directed, and immediately the sauce smoked up to the point that my smoke alarm went off. And that’s when we decided to give up on that meal. I emailed customer service about the leaky sesame oil and missing pepper, and they gave me $10 off my next box to make up for it.

All of the other 5 meals we tried, however, went off without a hitch, so I’m ready to call our first meal-fail a fluke.

Things we liked about Blue Apron:

  • Customization of the plans to suit our family’s diet, as well as to choose recipes from among several choices each week.
  • The option of 2 meals per week on every plan.
  • The meals were all delicious, and with one exception, easy to execute.
  • The meals were all balanced and healthy, mostly in the 500-600 calories per serving range, with one pizza night in the 800 calories per serving range.
  • Every meal was enough food for all four of us with some leftovers.
  • Jon and I enjoyed cooking some of the meals together, which was really fun.
  • All of the seafood they send is certified sustainable by Seafood Watch.
  • Responsive customer service when we had an issue.

Things we didn’t like about Blue Apron:

  • One meal was a total failure, though I’m willing to call it a fluke.
  • The packaging is slightly less convenient than Hello Fresh’s system– you have to hunt for all the ingredients that you’ve put away and gather them together to cook instead of just pulling one box out of the fridge.
  • Most of the time the meals take slightly longer to cook than estimated.

You may be able to guess that Blue Apron was the winner for our family, and we are continuing with their service. It just suits our individual needs the best. However, if you don’t have specific dietary needs, I don’t think you could go wrong with Hello Fresh, either.

Have you tried a meal delivery service, or are you interested in trying one? Is there another one you love that you think I might like better?

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living up to my name?

For fun, here's a picture of me in freshman year of college, with my friends, posing on my roommate's hot pink faux fur rug.
For fun, here’s a picture of me in freshman year of college, with my friends, posing on my roommate’s hot pink faux fur rug.

True story: my maiden name, now my middle, is Sweatt. People would always try to pronounce it “sweet,” but it’s sweat with an extra “t.” Back in my slightly-high-on-life, slightly-hyperactive teen years, I made quite an impression on my freshman dorm hallmates when I introduced myself to the group, “I’m Sarah Sweatt, and boy is it true today!” And it was, as we were all sweaty after lugging all our worldly possessions up the stairs and into our dorm rooms with our new best friends and frenemies. (My freshman roommate was more of a frenemy, since she was essentially nocturnal, owned faux fur EVERYTHING, and had a weird redneck boyfriend who never left and never wore a shirt. She liked to listen to Jock Jamz. She had an illegal hamster living in one of her dresser drawers. And, since she rarely went to class, didn’t last past the first semester.)

I may not just be Sarah Sweatt anymore, but ever since I went on some serious medicines for my heart defect, I’ve noticed an unpleasant side-effect: lots of sweating. Continue reading “living up to my name?”

ernie bufflo and the wizarding world of harry potter

In case you doubt my Harry Potter love, this was my Halloween costume a few years ago.

Did you miss me? The blog has been rather neglected for a while because I went on vacation with my family to Walt Disney World.  While we were there, Jon and I took a day to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Islands of Adventure, something we’ve looked forward to since the day we heard there would BE a Harry Potter theme park.  I figured y’all might like a review of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

To preface, I should say that I’m something of a Disney World loyalist.  This trip marked my 14th visit to Walt Disney World, and if you figure that each vacation was 5 days in the parks, I have spent 70 days in Walt Disney World.  I know Disney like the back of my hand. Map? I don’t need no stinkin’ map!  I’ve also visited Universal Islands of Adventure once before this trip.  And I have to say: I wish Disney had done the Harry Potter park.

Why? Well, while Universal undoubtedly has bigger, better rollercoasters and thrill rides, and more of them, Disney does better at creating a cohesive world.  From the minute you pay your parking fee and the attendant says “Have a Magical day!” Disney is themeing every tiny detail of your experience.  Everywhere you look is a piece of a greater theme.  And you never see chipping paint or dusty animatronics because Disney has an entire fleet of maintenance people painting and touching up each and every single day.  Contrast that to the sad, faded, chipping paint in the Dr. Seuss portion of Islands of Adventure: there was scum in the water of the fish on the Cat in the Hat ride, which also featured a very dusty cast of robots!  Disney is also exceedingly efficient.  There are people making sure the right number of people get on the correct seats of the rides so the lines move smoothly.  Meanwhile, on the Dragon Challenge ride at TWWOHP, it was a free-for-all of seat choosing, which led to clogged lines and confusion.

Also: at Disney, you can take your bag or stuffed animal or magic wand on every single ride with you.  Even the ones that go upside down like the Rock’n’rollercoaster.  At Universal, before you ride anything, you have to stash your stuff in a nearby locker, which, though they are free, ads a whole new layer of pushing, shoving, and waiting in line to the experience.  In addition, Disney’s FastPass system is more democratic.  At Disney, you simply show up at an attraction, swipe your ticket, and get a FastPass which tells you to return at a certain time to enter a special line that is invariably much shorter than the main line.  At Universal, you just pay twice as much for your ticket and you can stand in the faster lines all the time, all day, unlimited.  I have to say, though, those who go through the Single Rider or FastPass (whatever Universal calls it) lines at TWWOHP are missing out, as some of the best parts of the park are actually along the main line.  Perhaps my biggest tip: stand in the main line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which is the ride inside of Hogwarts, even if it’s an hour long, because otherwise you’ll be missing out on some majorly cool stuff.

Hogwarts was captured perfectly.

This guy looked just like a Weasley, and he was actually British. Instead of sticking him in Three Broomsticks, TWWOHP should have him working in Zonko's, doing magic tricks and actually "being" a Weasley.

Finally, Disney doesn’t call their employees “cast members” for nothing.  Every single person who works there knows he or she is literally playing the role of a citizen of a magical world, and they act the part.  From the deeply creepy folks who are found to work the Haunted Mansion to the 1920s “movie stars” roaming the streets of Hollywood Studios (aka MGM Studios), every single person you encounter is in character.  At TWWOHP, there are a few folks playing actual characters, be they Ollivander, or the conductor of the Hogwarts Express, but I wished the employee had had an answer when I asked him if the Sorting Hat had determined which house colors each TWWOHP employee was wearing, instead of looking at me like he had no idea what “sorting” was.  I also wished there had been some actual witches and wizards roaming around the Three Broomsticks or bumping into us on the streets of Diagon Alley/Hogsmeade.  (On that note: TWWOHP takes things from Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade and smooshes them together into one place they call Hogsmeade, which is not entirely accurate to the books.)

That said: TWWOHP is extremely well done, despite my view that Disney could have done it better.  As we approached the gate of Hogsmeade, Jon and I were jumpy with excitement like two kids on Christmas morning.  And everything just looks right.  I knew it would, I really did.  I mean, they got the movies right, without disappointing the passionate fans of the book series, so they had already proven they could do it.  They did not let us down.

Hogsmeade/Diagon Alley looks like it should and features all the shops you’d expect, including Honeydukes, Zonko’s, Three Broomsticks, The Leaky Cauldron, and Ollivander’s.  There will be a line outside of Ollivander’s.  It’s worth standing in.  What’s it for? It’s to get inside the shop and see a little show where one lucky kid is chosen to have his/her wand selected by Ollivander himself.  Sorry folks, you probably won’t be that lucky kid.  BUT, it’s extremely well done, and the kid who was chosen when we were in the shop was so excited that it was adorable to watch.  Everyone else has to select his or her own wand in a very tiny and crowded store.  Still: I GOT A  WAND! Hermione’s wand, to be exact, because she and I are practically the same person.

Also inside Ollivander’s/The Owl Post, you can purchase postcards and Owl Post stamps, and have them postmarked and “delivered by Owl Post” (which apparently operates in cooperation with the US Postal Service) to your friends, which is pretty fun.

The first attraction when you walk in TWWOHP is the Dragon Challenge.  This ride was actually at Universal before TWWOHP and was called Dueling Dragons, as it’s a two-track coaster which has both tracks running at the same time, so it sometimes looks like you might actually touch the other car on the other track.  They worked it into TWWOHP themeing by making it the Dragon Challenge from the Triwizard Tournament.  Aside from having to stow my stuff in a locker and some confusion that could have been remedied by having employees ask how many were in each party and sorting them into rows, it’s an awesome, intense coaster and a lot of fun.  It does go upside down and through corkscrews. I loved it.

Goblet of Fire

The main attraction, located inside of Hogwarts, is Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  It’s part virtual reality, part animatronics simulation, and if you are prone to getting dizzy, take your Dramamine– you’ll need it.  It’s a really well-done ride, and, as I mentioned before, make sure to go through the whole line or you’ll miss out on some real favorites from the world of Hogwarts.  (We first rode the ride by going through as single riders, and later rode together, going through the main line.  We were astonished at all we’d have missed out on if we hadn’t gone through the main line.)

There’s also a sort of kiddie coaster called The Flight of the Hippogriff, and you get to see Hagrid’s House in line for that attraction.

Another major aspect of Hogsmeade is obviously the Butterbeer.  I was worried it would be disgusting, actually buttery or sickeningly sweet in the hot hot heat of Orlando.  It was better than I imagined. It was delicious– I had the frozen version on a cast member’s recommendation.  They have carts selling it in the streets, but you’d be better off to go have lunch at Three Broomsticks and sip your Butterbeer with your meal inside the air conditioning.  Three Broomsticks also had great food, including a Great Feast which feeds 4 for $50 and is a great deal in theme park food, along with other British classics like shepherd’s pie, cornish pasties, and roast chicken served with rosemary roasted potatoes.  They also have actual Hogs Head beer, in case the teeming masses in the park make you yearn for something with more of a kick than a sugar high from a Butterbeer.

Inside the Three Broomsticks

Ultimately, I had an awesome day at TWWOHP. I got to enter a world I know and love through books and films, and it lived up to my high expectations as a fan and a reader.  Still, as a Disney fan, I have even higher expectations of my theme park experience, and I know it could have been better.  Despite that, I know any of my Harry Potter fan friends will absolutely love the park, and I can’t wait for some of them to go so we can geek out about it together.

Reviewing “Fireproof”

Last night we watched “Fireproof” because Jon Netflixed it after countless friends and family members told us we just had to see it.  Now, I spent a summer working in Family Christian Bookstore, and to say it made me cynical about “Christian” “art” would be an understatement, so I went into the movie fully expecting to mock and hate it. Jon knew this and was fully expecting my running commentary.

The basic plot of the film is that a married couple is on the brink of divorce, mostly because the husband is a borderline emotionally abusive, anger-freak, porn-loving, workaholic, layabout who disrespects his wife at every turn.  Meanwhile the wife is dealing with her aging parents and a mother who just had a stroke, so she is emotionally stressed and in need of support and encouragement, which she keeps finding in the form of a nice doctor at work instead of in her husband. One of the biggest points of contention is that the husband has saved up around $20k and wants to spend it on a boat, refusing to use that money to help his stroke-victim mother-in-law get a new wheelchair and bed. (Warning, some spoilers ahead, but if you don’t know how this one is going to turn out before you see it, then you don’t know jack about “Christian” fiction.) Continue reading “Reviewing “Fireproof””

kicking it, kicking homelessness

The other night, Jon and I Netflixed a really great documentary called “Kicking It,” which is about the Homeless World Cup.  It was a great film, focused on six individual players from different countries as they make their way onto teams and to South Africa to play soccer.

At first, it may seem like a strange form of outreach, forming soccer teams of homeless people.  I mean, aren’t there other, more concrete things they need beyond a recreational activity?  But soccer is more powerful than it may seem.  Just being on a team, having goals, getting to celebrate small successes is a new experience for many of the players, who are often lonely outcasts, estranged from family, battling addictions.  One player from Ireland was attempting to end a heroin addiction, and being on the soccer team in essence gave him a reason to keep living, a reason for his mother to finally be proud of him, a reason to get clean.  Another player from America had been abused and rejected by his family, and was dealing with lots of anger and abandonment issues, but being on a team was sort of his first experience in a functioning “family,” one that expected him to deal with his anger in more appropriate ways. Continue reading “kicking it, kicking homelessness”