Want to know what I gifted nearly all the adults in our lives over the holidays? Yep, Blue Apron. If you’re a long-time reader, you’ve heard me tout the food delivery service in the past. (Keep reading further though because I’m not simply regurgitating all the things I’ve mentioned before.) If you’re new here, let me fill you in briefly.
Blue Apron delivers fresh ingredients in a refrigerated box right to your doorstep. The ingredients arrive in the exact proportions along with a recipe card and detailed instructions which include photographs of steps to give even novices in the kitchen the confidence to churn out a delicious meal. Typically, the cost is less expensive than dining out or ordering takeout. Simply sign up online for weekly orders. You can skip or cancel deliveries at any time! An online “cookbook” is free to anyone so you can replicate meals at home with ingredients from your local grocery if desired. (We recently tried the cajun fried catfish with collard greens and mashed sweet potatoes. It was a hit!)
I’ve been subscribing to Blue Apron going on two years now ever since our friends in Nashville recommended it. I especially love to use the service during weeks that Steve is out of town (this week!) and also while on vacation. In fact, I had a delivery sent to our vacation rental in Asheville this past fall. I was a little worried because our location was nearly off the grid and tricky to find – especially after dark. After we arrived at the cabin, I called Blue Apron to relay better directions and they were super helpful about forwarding the information on to UPS. Even with the new directions, our food arrived after 9:00 p.m. the day of delivery so my account was automatically credited for the full amount. Nothing was wrong with the food (it was still fresh and we ate it) but the company was great about upholding its promises of timely delivery and quality ingredients. And I talked to a real live person on the phone who was super nice, easy to understand and not reading from a script!
In the last year alone, there have been several improvements made to increase customer satisfaction. You can now view weekly menus weeks in advance of ordering and select which meals you would like to try. There is also a new recycling program available and plenty of tips and ideas for reusing the packaging. (We have reused the ice packs for picnics and packing coolers for road trips.) The company is working to provide more sustainable food by working directly with farmers. I would like to see organic produce offered, but overall I am impressed by the company’s efforts to listen to and address customer feedback by implementing change.
At the end of 2015, I was surprised to discover that I had accrued free meals which I gifted to some friends and family members at no cost to me. I also purchased some meals to gift. Blue Apron is a great gift idea!
If you’re a Blue Apron virgin, you can score two free meals on your first order by clicking here. Offer is only good for the first 50 readers so act fast!
*This post sponsored in part by Blue Apron. In order to remain transparent, I would like to mention that I pay out of pocket for my own subscription. Blue Apron provided the meal seen in this post. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog!
images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking
How exciting is that post title? It just grabs your attention and pulls you in, right? Haha.
I like a good renovation as much as the next house-loving person. But I have to say it’s been nice living in a post-renovation home. We’re able to make it through entire weekends with no dust flying, no rooms off limits, no major disruptions. It feels like we’re finally living in our house. Maybe that doesn’t make sense but, if you’ve ever lived through a major remodel, maybe it does.
When/if we get the itch to DIY, we have several little projects still on the to-do list. This summer we crossed off a few of those things and even tackled some projects that weren’t on the list. We built screens to disguise the trash and recycling bins and the electric meter. (So far, we haven’t received any hate mail from the meter reader.) We also added a refrigerator side panel and organized the garage. I haven’t written about the garage yet, but we parked a vehicle in it for the first time ever! #postrenovationgoals
Today I’m sharing a few more outdoor projects we worked on this summer. They aren’t really post-worthy as stand alone projects so I’m lumping them together in one meaty post.
We added snow rails to the metal roof. (And by we, I mean Steve.) You may recall that we originally installed clear plastic snow guards on the roof above the exterior man doors and garage door. (You can spy them here and in most of the exterior shots of the house.) They were *supposed to* prevent snow and ice from avalanching off the metal roof in the winter to protect our gutters and any humans on the ground. But after our first heavy snowfall two years ago, the guards over the front door slid right off with the snow. (!) It wasn’t exactly the protection we were hoping for. We think their failure had everything to do with the pitch – or lack thereof – of our roof.
The good news is we found a local company that was able to manufacture snow rails for us. The bad news is it took TWO YEARS to finally get the snow rails in our hands. (For the company’s sake, I’m not naming them publicly. While their product is excellent, we can’t vouch for their customer service.) The snow rails were color-matched to our existing roof and set us back $500. Steve easily tapped off the plastic snow guards with a rubber mallet. Then he cut sections of the snow rail to length and screwed them into the metal roof ribs with stainless steel screws. (The ribs are the raised “lines” on the roof.) The screws are rustproof and boast rubber washers. The major stipulation was that each continuous length of rail had to end on a rib. You can see how each rail ends on a rib in the photos above and below.
The rail extends around the entire perimeter of the roof – front, sides and back. With help from his dad, Steve knocked out the job in two hours. We actually love the aesthetic of the snow rails and we’re glad to have the rails in place before winter hits. Of course, this means we’ll probably get no snow this year. So be it!
$500 plus two hours of DIY labor isn’t the end of the world but if you’re considering metal for a low-pitched roof in a colder climate, it’s just something to keep in mind. Learn from our mistakes, people. We’re your guinea pigs ;)
We made an outdoor shelf for the kitchen window. (And by we, I mean I told Steve what I wanted it to look like and he built it.) I’ve always thought the window needed a shelf to better connect it to the deck area.
The shelf is constructed of cedar boards and off-the-shelf exterior brackets – both from Menards. The brackets are screwed into the brick facade with Red Head wall anchors. FYI – Red Head refers to the type of screw, not the color ;) Steve added a lip of trim with nails and wood glue. I like that the lip provides a little security for loose items.
The shelf is a great spot for drinks, napkins and dessert plates when we eat outside. We purposely didn’t make it deep enough for dinner plates because it’s not really conducive to acting as a pass-through… which would have been a cool idea but not practical. The kitchen sink is just inside the window but it’s difficult to access the shelf through the window.
While I’m thinking of it, many of you want to know how the outdoor furniture is holding up. The plastic wicker-like bases are in mint condition. No breakage, no fading, no rust. Covering them in a high quality cover during the winter helps immensely. (See how we store the outdoor furniture here.)
The cushions are a bit more needy. They aren’t meant to be left out all the time. I only place them on the sectional when we’re using it. In the summer, I stash the cushions behind the sectional under the deep eave for added protection from the elements. In the winter, I store them in the attic. The covers are machine washable and I wash them each fall before stashing them away for the winter. They’re in pretty good condition. The zippers still work. There aren’t any tears or holes. There is a spot on one cover where a pile of dead leaves left a stain. The cushions are reversible so I just turn that side down. I line dry the covers after washing but there has been some shrinkage. They still fit the cushions but you can see how the piping doesn’t line up perfectly now. It’s not a deal breaker but, again, something to keep in mind.
Also, those Woolly Pockets are the bomb. I love them.
We added hardware for future shade sails. Adding shade sails above the deck and dining patio has been on our wish list for a while. A few readers suggested checking out Costco for affordable options. Thank you! We did give them a look but we really feel like our space would benefit most from custom sails. We’ve determined a larger rectangular sail over the deck and a smaller triangular sail over the dining patio is the ideal setup for us. Because of ongoing insurance quandaries resulting from Everett’s accident earlier this year, we don’t feel comfortable shelling out money for the actual sails this year.
Instead, we purchased and installed the hardware (basically a trio of heavy duty rings) along the eave and have loose plans to put in a trio of posts in the yard this fall. (I marked out the general locations of the rings in the photo above with red X’s.) We’re hoping to add the sails next summer. I’ll keep you posted. Sometimes, this is how bigger projects go. We piecemeal them into smaller projects as time and money allow.
We put in two garden beds. I wish the picture better portrayed how much joy this project has brought to our lives. I also wish our neighbor’s fence was charcoal or black.
One side of our backyard was overgrown with LARGE random shrubs. We cleared them out earlier this summer with the help of a chainsaw and a rented stump grinder and paid a tree trimming crew to come out, mulch everything and haul it off. That brush pile was three times bigger when it was all said and done. Then we made two basic 4′ x 8′ raised garden beds. We had rich soil + organic compost delivered to fill the beds. Layne had grown a few hot pepper and cucumber plants from seed at school last spring so we plopped those in one of the beds and let nature do its thing.
Clearing out the space for the beds opened up our backyard to a neighbor’s backyard. His name is Bassim. He’s Lebanese and the sweetest person. As soon as he saw we were attempting to grow a garden, he offered up two tomato plants from his garden that weren’t doing so well. He thought they would fare better in our raised beds. Plus, he’s just really nice. The tomato plants took well to the transplant. We had a decent first harvest: first cucumbers, then tomatoes and now hot peppers. I have no idea what we did right but we’re so into this gardening thing now.
The kids LOVE going out and checking the garden everyday. They pull weeds and pick whatever is ripe. They bring in their mini harvests and wash it all by hand. The cucumbers usually don’t make it to the fridge. The kids eat them fresh of the vine. I’ve been making all of my favorite tomato recipes including this one. Bassim lets me clip fresh basil from his garden. It’s so good as a garnish.
Everything you’ve heard about growing your own food is true. It’s opens you up to whole new community. Okay, maybe one neighbor isn’t an entire community but still. When Bassim sees us outside weeding, watering or harvesting, he comes over to say hi and talk garden talk. And seeing the kids’ sense of pride and excitement in growing, picking and eating their own food is priceless. It’s something I want to continue to nurture.
The second bed is growing impressive weeds. Cue the womp, womp sound effect. We didn’t plant anything in it because we wanted to see how the first summer went with one bed. I thought about making it a cutting garden so I could grow flowers to bring inside for decoration, but our family has enjoyed growing food so much that I think we’ll plant more veggies next year. Suggestions?
That pretty much brings you up to speed on outdoor projects around here. Have you crossed off any outdoor projects on your to-do list this summer?
images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking
With the two older kids back in school and summer slowly slipping away, I find myself trying to make the most of what little daylight time we have together in the evenings. Eating dinner together as a family has always been a priority for us. Often times, Steve doesn’t return home from work until after 7:00 p.m., or he’s traveling. So when we do get the chance to eat dinner all together (as opposed to just the kids and me) during the week, we jump on it. It’s a great way to reconnect and share stories from the day. It’s never formal but it always feels special. The weather has been so pleasant lately that we’ve been eating al fresco on the back deck. We have an outdoor dining table but gathering on the outdoor sectional for dinner feels cozier, more comfortable. Everyone is at ease.
With the busyness the school year brings, I’ve started ordering meals from Blue Apron again, too, depending on our schedule. The family plan is meant to serve four, but we’ve found that it’s the perfect plan for us since our youngest two usually eat half of a full serving. That equates to roughly $6.99 per person (for a family of five) which is less than what we normally pay to eat out yet a little more than what we pay for grocery shopping + meal planning on our own. The convenience of having fresh ingredients delivered right to our door in just the right amounts is kinda priceless though. Especially during chaotic weeks.
A new-ish feature of Blue Apron allows subscribers to see what’s on the menu up to a month in advance. You’re able to select which recipes you want to try and/or opt out of delivery for upcoming weeks. Shipping is always free!
Our most recent delivery included the steak gyros & corn on the cob with tzatziki sauce & spiced butter and now it’s our all-time Blue Apron favorite. It was super quick and easy to prepare. Mabrey even helped ;)
I served it family style on the coffee table outside.
The kids loved the “help yourself” setup and made their own plates. Everything was good but the corn was AMAZING. Coming from me, that says a lot. I’ve lived in the midwest all my life and corn is a summer staple around here. Growing up, we had a large garden and rows of corn. Some of my fondest childhood memories include corn roasts at our house with all my aunts, uncles and cousins. My dad would get a large brush pile burning and we would roast ears of corn at the top of the pile, sticking them between the smoldering branches. When they were done, we ate them standing around the bonfire. The corn was so good that butter was entirely optional, rarely necessary.
Admittedly, when I first scanned the Blue Apron recipe and saw the corn + spiced butter combo I was leery. Adding anything to corn other than butter and salt felt almost sacrilegious. But it was DELICIOUS. The sauce is basically a mixture of butter, garlic and greek spices. Steve and I both agreed it was the best corn we have ever had. If you take only one thing from this post, let it be the corn + spiced butter recipe. Trust.
I like how Blue Apron nudges us out of our usual dinner comfort zones. In the same delivery, I also ordered the crispy catfish & roasted potatoes. The side of summer bean salad with garlic-lemon aioli was so good that we are bringing it to a family cookout next weekend. I want to try the oven-braised tandoori cauliflower and the piri-piri chicken next.
How are you eking out the last few weeks of summer? Did you know today is National Eat Outside Day?! How will you celebrate?
BONUS: The first 50 readers can grab two free meals on their first Blue Apron order by clicking here!
*This post sponsored in part by Blue Apron. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog.
images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking