Saturday, November 30, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Dinner With A Little Help from Sweet Roots

You don't see me much around Weekend Cooking (although I love reading all the posts) . . . because I do very little cooking. Living in the city where there is an abundance of restauarant and take out choices, I rarely seem to eat dinner at home. I also live alone and preparing dinner for one doesn't always seem efficient. I do, however, get tired of the take out routine and worry that it is not the healthiest choice.

Enter Sweet Roots NYC. Sweet Roots, based in Brooklyn, locally sources ingredients and delivers them ready to cook into a delicious meal. All the ingredients are expertly meaured, chopped, diced, etc - it really couldn't be easier. You get just what you need to prepare the designated meal so there are no leftovers or jars of obscure ingredients where you need only a teaspoon to make your dish. Each meal takes no more than 30 minutes to prepare which is perfect when you arrive home from work late and hungry.

The experience starts with a consultation with the owner, Marisa, who asks about your likes/dislikes, dietary restrictions and what equipment you have in your kitchen. I have a gluten sensitivity so we discussed that and each meal delivered has been gluten-free. With this information, Sweet Roots plans menus each week which are sent by email for pre-approval during that week.  At that time, you can request a substituion or swap out an ingredient - I have had to do that a few times when there has been something on there that I just don't eat or its a cuisine that I know I am already having at a dinner out that week. Some of favorite meals have been:

  • Ground Turkey, Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili served with a Baby Romaine Side Salad with Red Onion and Creamy Avocado Basil Dressing 
  • Seared Flank Steak with Housemade Steak Sauce served with Maple Roasted Butternut Squash and Garlicky Sautéed Broccolini
  • Seared Scallops with Apple Relish, Kabocha Squash Puree and Roasted Brussels Sprouts

On Sunday afternoon, your bag is delivered with each meal's ingredients separated into its own ziploc bag and a separate insulated pack with your proteins.  The week's recipes are neatly tucked into the outside pocket of the bag. Each ingredient for a meal is individually measured and packaged into a little jar or bag (depending on the ingedient). You rinse the jars and return them the following week by leaving your reuseable bag which is picked up when the new bag is dropped off. I liked that items are re-used rather than everything being disposable.

All in all, I have been so happy with this service. I find myself looking forward to cooking my meal and even find it a little relaxing - something I never thought I would say! And I know I am nourishing myself with healthy, locally sourced food.

What's your secret for getting healthy meals on the table or cooking for one?

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Theory of Opposites by Allison Winn Scotch

The Theory of Opposites by Allison Winn Scotch: Willa Chandler-Golden is contentedly living in NYC with her husband Shawn - they live a predictable, but she believes happy, life. The daughter of a renowned self-help author who has risen to fame with his theory that everything happens for a reason and the individual has no real control of their own life, Willa has allowed life to "happen" to her. Until now, she has been quite happy with the hand fate has dealt her; when her husband imposes a break on their marriage and she loses her job, however, Willa wonders if she can, and should, take control of her life.

Willa comes from a colorful, eccentric family.  In addition to her Dad who is in love with himself almost as much as his fame, there is her brother Ollie who teaches yoga to the rich and famous and her sister, Raina, who is a successful attorney with two kids (and a Xanax habit). Willa plays the role of "Switzerland" in the family - keeping the peace while letting them all have their way - unfortauntely, this has prepared her for a life in which she makes few choices and allows others to lead her. Happily married to Shawn and in a job she enjoys, she sees little wrong with the way her life has turned out through her lack of choices.  When Shawn decides her wants a break from their content marriage and cites frustration with Willa's complacency, Willa is forced to question whether her "leave it all to fate" approach is in her best interest and if it is really leading her to fulfillment.

Reeling from the loss of her husband and job,Willa sets out to live differently and to take some risks. Her friend Vanessa is only too happy to help her and pushes her daily to face her fears. Being a TV show producer,Vanessa naturally decides to turn this journey for Willa into a show opportunity and Willa is thrust into a reality episode of a show similar to Amazing Race or Survivor. This insanity aside, Willa comes to some significant revelations on her journey and begins to challenge her Dad's theories and recognize that she had unwittingly bought into them.

My Thoughts
Last year, I read The Song Sounds the Same by Allison Winn  Scotch (my review) and really enjoyed it so I was excited to read her latest.  Interestingly, this is her first self-published novel and she has written in this article about what prompted her to take that route and the experience.

Willa is a great character and one I found myself cheering for - I can relate to allowing things to happen "to" you rather than making things happen in your own life. Although I sometimes found her inertia infuriating, I also understood how hard it is for Willa to take charge and chart the course of her life. The writing is engaging and the book explores an interesting concept - how much of our life is of our own making and how much of it can be attributed to fate?

At times, some of the far fetched plot ploys seemed unnecessary - the "break" imposed by Shawn with the bizarre rules and the stint on the reality show. The book really has a lot to say and the story and the characters could easily stand on their own without the stunts. They did, however, add some levity to the story as did the antics of the crazy Chandler-Golden clan - I was very entertained by her family! This is a fun, enjoyable book which really gives you something to think about  -a winning combination!

I received an e-galley of this book from Edelweiss 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Review: The Perfect Match by Kristan Higgins

The Perfect Match by Kristan Higgins: Honor Holland is thirty five and can hear her eggs dying off one by one. She has been pining after Brogan for years but he really sees her as a good friend rather than a love interest and Honor suddenly comes to terms with that fact and realizes she has wasted too many good years pursing Brogan. Tom Barlow is an Englishman who wants to continue to live in the US to be near Charlie, the young son of his dead fiance. When he loses his work visa, he starts to look for someone to marry in an effort to get a green card. Tom and Honor are thrown together and this relationship of convenience starts to have meaning for both of them.

Honor is the "good girl" of the Holland family. She expertly runs the business side of the family vineyard, Blue Heron and even volunteers at the local assisted living facility. As she watches the rest of the family, however, find happiness in their lives she is more and more aware of how alone she is without someone to share her life. This perfectly primes her to take a chance with Tom even though she is not immediately charmed by him. Tom is also unsure about Honor and a marraige of covenience but he cares so much for Charlie, he is willing to do anything to stay near him. The more time Tom and Honor spend together as they get ready for their wedding, the more attracted they become to each other.  They begin to allow themselves to see their future less as a business transaction and more as a partnership with real passion.   Of course, the path from transaction to passion is not a straight line and Tom and Honor's fledgling relationship alternates between moments of real happiness and moments of frustration and doubt.

My Thoughts
Since reading My One and Only (my review), I have been a fan of Kristan Higgins - this is the third book of hers that I have read (review of Somebody to Love). Each of her books features a strong female protagonist with a crisis of the heart.  Her writing is witty, especially in the scenes with her self-deprecating heroine, which ups my enjoyment of the books.

At times, in this book, I got a little frustrated with the on-again, off-again nature of Tom and Honor's relationship.  I guess it is realistic considering the premise of their marriage of convenience but still found myself wanting to take the two of them and shake them!

The Perfect Match is the second book in the Blue Heron series - although you don't have to have read the first to follow this one (I have not read the first book yet) because each book seems to feature a member of the Holland family so they can really stand alone while those that enjoy the supporting characters in a book can read more about one of them in another book in the series.  Which brings me to perhaps my favorite element of this book - the Holland family.  They are a large, diverse but close-knit family and I found the scenes which included them were among my favorites.  I will definitely be going back to read the first in the series and anxiously await book 3 to visit more with the Holland family!

I received an e-galley of this book from Netgalley

Friday, November 8, 2013

Audiobook Review: Rococo by Adriana Trigiani

Rococo by Adriana Trigiani (Abridged, narrated by Mario Cantone; 4 hours 42 minutes): Bartolomeo di Crespi is part of a large Italian family living in New Jersey. He is especially close to his sister Toot who has taken care of "B" since their mother brought home this late in life baby to his big sister. When Bartolomeo vies for and wins the contract to redecorate Our Lady of Fatima Church, the family is proud and "B" sees it as his opportunity to wow his hometown and show them what he's got. Hilarity ensues as a cast of larger than life characters is brought in to help with "B"'s vision for the project and the di Crespi family drama hums along in the background.

Bartolomeo loves his community but also harshly critizies their style (or lack thereof) as any good decorator would. After training at FIT and worshipping at the House of Scalamandre,  it is hard for "B" to return home to New Jersey but that is where his roots are and despite his issues with the decor of the neighborhood homes, he knows it is where he belongs. The opportunity to bring the utmost style and a sense of grandeur to his home parish (Our Lady of Fatima) is an opportunity he can't resist and vehemently pursues..  Fortunately, he is betrothed (since birth by their parents) to Capri Mandelbaum whose mother is the church benefactor and happy to throw her support behind "B" in exchange for his promise to marry her daughter. Bartolomeo adores Capri but really more like a sister - he keeps ignoring that realization while in pursuit of his dream job at OLOF.

Meanwhile, Toot is in crisis - her sons have all left home and now divorced for thirteen years, Toot is lonely.  She acts out by complaining about her one son living in sin with his girlfriend but at the root of her dissatisfaction is a profound loneliness and even Bartolomeo can't ease her out of this low. When she seeks comfort in her ex-husband, things get really interesting.

My Thoughts
In Rococo, Trigiani does what she does best - delivers funny dialogue, larger than life characters and a peek into a tight-knit family. Despite all the humor, the real message is the power of family to gather, provide comfort and ground each of its members.  This quote captures that:

We have a way of being as a family that is purely Italian, beginning with the food we eat and ending with the regalia of our funerals. The care we take with our recipes, the slow preparation of the food, the retelling of old stories with the same familiar punch lines, bring us joy. Of course, there's also the dark side-the arguments, the freeze-outs, the Evil Eye. But eventually forgiveness washes away bad memories like clean rain. To an outsider, this may seem hypocritical. So what? We are what we are. What makes us different is what helps us stick together. We're Italian first and foremost; we can be wily and consistent, and to the outside world we may appear temperamental, moody and clannish, separating ourselves from the greater culture with a cup of arrogance and a dose of superiority. But the truth is, we are bonded by all of it, the best and worst of ourselves, by what we are, how we walk in the world, and the way we hold one another close. We are the sum of all of it, the devotion, the blind faith, the disappointments, the slights, the hurts, the surprises, the insanity, and, yes, that passion that drives us to make love with careless abandon and hold a grudge with the same intensity. What would I be without them?"
I think you could replace Italian with most nationalities and arrive at a similar conclusion regarding the role family plays in our lives.

I generally do not listen to abridged audio - I feel like I am cheating on the book - but Diane from Book Chick Di  had been recommending this production with Mario Catone as the narrator for some time and I am so glad I took her advice. He is genius as this narrator and brought Bartolomeo to life! I could easily have listened to him for an extended period of time but, alas, he only does the abridged version but it was well worth the listen!