France Vacation: Ramatuelle, Gassin, St. Tropez

This summer friends of ours invited us to go to France with them. France! The family of said friend has a home in Ramatuelle, a small town next door to St. Tropez, in the south of France. John and I of course said yes! We went in late August and had a lovely time.

This vacation was very different from our regular trips – we relaxed without a timeline, we went to the beach, played card games, visited the local market when we were hungry, and went out to a few nice dinners. We did a day trip to Nice & Monaco (that’ll be a separate post) but for the most part we just enjoyed friends, took in the gorgeous scenery, and unplugged. Thus, the posts I have about the trip are different from my usual action packed, play by play blogs – but I hope you enjoy none the less!

I snapped an awesome shot of Castle Island/Fort Independence while taking off from Logan Airport!

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We flew from Boston to Montreal – about an hour flight – and had a 2 hour layover there before flying from Montreal to Nice, France.

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We flew Canada Rouge on both flights and it was pretty good – lots of leg room and good food on board. I have a lot of trouble sleeping on planes so I don’t love overnight flights but they are a necessary evil.

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Based on the time difference and the length of the flight from Montreal (7.5 hours), we arrived in Nice at about 8AM. Man, was the view of the French Riviera (or Côte d’Azur) from the plane beautiful.

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We arrived at the airport, picked up our rental car (a little Opel sedan), and headed to Ramatuelle.

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The drive was lovely but kind of scary – the drivers in France are insane. Also, we think tolls are bad here in the US? There were tolls every few miles or so on the highway out of Nice and were 3-4 Euro each time.

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After a 2 hour drive, we arrived in Ramatuelle. Our friend’s home that we stayed at was rustic and charming.

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The house sits on top of a massive cliff overlooking St. Tropez/St. Maxime.

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The views from the house were breathtaking!

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I couldn’t believe how many yachts there were. But this soon became a common sight on this trip.

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Here is the backyard sitting area that overlooks the Gulf of St. Tropez.

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The sunrises from the house were amazing too. So many gorgeous views looking down from the house over the water or down to the vineyards.

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The Ramatuelle/Gassin area is full of vineyards (naturally, we were in wine country after all) and the sweeping views, especially at sunrise, were stunning.

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Just up the road from the house, at the highest point of the coastline cliff, is the Cap Camarat Lighthouse. This lighthouse was built around 1829 and is now on conservation land.

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There was a spectacular view of the house we were staying in from the lighthouse (the little orange roof on the left is the house!).

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And additional wonderful views of the Gulf of St. Tropez.

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John and I with a view of the house and the gulf in the background.

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For meals in France, we did a combination of going out to eat and cooking at home. There was a local market just down the street from the house where we bought great fresh produce, pasta, bread, rosé, and CHEESE.

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One afternoon we visited the center of Ramatuelle. It resides up on another hill (situated there to provide a natural defense to any enemies) and the views of the vineyard below, and the gulf, are just beautiful.

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Ramatuelle is small (~2,000 residents) but is full of narrow winding streets, quaint restaurants, and European charm. The locals are very relaxed but didn’t seem particularly friendly.

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We had a tasty lunch at Le Cigalon in town and walked around enjoying the sights.

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In Ramatuelle there is a memorial monument to those French Special Service members who died in WWII. There is so much WWII history here; it was very interesting to see how a small town like this memorializes its involvement.

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One of my favorite things we did in Ramatuelle was go to Bonne Terrasse beach. It’s a rocky beach (very little sand) with gorgeous blue waters and an awesome view of the Cap Camarat lighthouse (that’s the same cliff where the house was).

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We also visited another impressive St. Tropez beach – Plage de Pampelonne.

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Pampelonne Beach is full of sunbathers, families, yachts, awesome restaurants – you name it. The water was warm and lovely and the waves were plentiful.

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We had a great time at Pampelonne and an awesome lunch beach side at L’Esquinade.

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One night for dinner we ventured to Gassin, Ramatuelle’s neighbor. Gassin is one of the oldest villages in the South of France, dating back to 1234. It looks very similar to Ramatuelle – quaint village, cobbled streets, old world charm, up on top of a cliff overlooking the water – which makes sense since Gassin and Ramatuelle were originally founded to give locals a place to escape pirates on the Mediterranean.

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We went to Le Pescadou which is a lovely restaurant featuring local cuisine and overlooks the Gulf of St. Tropez.

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Clearly this was the first time we all had internet/wifi for a while.

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The food at Le Pescadou was delicious and beautiful!

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Another dinner we ate out was beach side at Le Migon, right on Bonne Terasse beach. The service was awful but the food was good. As you can see, I stuck to salads and cheese on this vacation. I’m not a red meat eater and only like a few kinds of seafood so I kept it simple on this trip!

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Five days in France – and then we were on the way back home. It went by so fast. Since we had to leave so early in the morning I enjoyed one last sunrise over St. Tropez.

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We flew from Nice to Frankfurt, Germany for a 5 hour layover. The Frankfurt airport is huge!

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I spent our brief time in Germany either eating schnitzel, eating pretzels and mustard, or napping in the terminal. Crushed it!

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The journey home was a long one. We flew Lufthansa on the way home to Boston and I thought it was ok – the seats were super small but the in-flight entertainment was awesome and the food was plentiful and very good.

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We finally arrived home at 8PM after being up and traveling for about 24 hours. You just can’t beat the sunset behind the skyline of your hometown, am I right?

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Stay tuned for separate posts on our side adventures to Nice, Cannes, and Monaco!

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Recipe: Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie

Thanksgiving always reminds me how much I love pecan pie and this year was no different – except that my sister had bought a chocolate pecan pie so good it made me wonder why I hadn’t made one before. It’s been a good long while since I made any kind of pecan pie (about 5 years, to be exact!) so I was due for a reboot, and a chocolate one at that.

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie (adapted from David Lebovitz’s recipe, yields 1 pie)
3/4 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup (light corn syrup works too)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. melted butter
3 eggs
1.5 cups toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
3/4-1 cup really good chocolate chips (I used Guittard semisweet, but use whatever kind you enjoy)
1 pre-made pie shell or homemade pie crust (I used a store-bought crust for this recipe to make life easier, but if you need a homemade pie crust recipe click here)

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This recipe is really, really simple – in a big bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients except for the chocolate chips. Pour into the pie shell. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top in an even layer. You can move them around with a spoon if you need to. Be sure that the filling doesn’t overflow!

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Bake the pie at 350 degrees for 55 minutes. Cool for at least an hour on a wire rack, preferably overnight. This pie cuts the best after being chilled and tastes the best at room temperature. You definitely should not eat this right out of the pan or too warm.

Serve with ice cream or as is. It is chocolatey, nutty, sweet, and has the perfect texture. So, so good.

I really enjoyed the chocolate chips as the star in this pie. There are many recipes out there with the chocolate and butter melted together, but I like seeing the chips and prefer the texture too. Maybe I’ll try this recipe with that method in the future but this is so good, why mess with perfection?

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Recipe: Pecan, Coconut, and Chocolate Chip Blondies

Now is the time of year where I want to start baking again. I can’t stand to turn on my oven in the summer so baking (and, let’s be real, any involved cooking) goes right out the window for 3-4 months. But in October, baking feels right again and I’m always on the hunt for a new cookie or brownie recipe. Blondies, to me, combine the best of both of those worlds. I found Smitten Kitchen’s blondie recipe this weekend and happily turned my oven back on.

Smitten Kitchen’s Blondies (original recipe here; slight modifications made by me below)
8 tbsp. butter, softened/melted
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
Pinch salt
1 cup AP flour (I use King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat)
2/3 cup coconut
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1.25 cups chocolate chips

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This recipe is insanely easy. In a stand mixer, beat the melted butter with the brown sugar until smooth. Add in the egg, vanilla, and salt. Slow mix in the flour. Once the dough has come together, slowly add the coconut, nuts, and chocolate chips.

Spray down an 8×8 pan with cooking spray. Spoon the dough into the pan – this dough is thick so you may have to press down with your fingers to get an even layer in the pan. Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes. They may look gooey but you want these blondies slightly underdone; that’s when they are the best. Cool for 15 minutes before cutting (if you can stand it). These dense and chewy beauties will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for a week, though I highly doubt they will last that long!

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Recipe: Sweet Cinnamon Apple Cake

It’s Fall so I know that means you’re going apple picking soon. I also know that means you need some apple recipes. I, too, went apple picking last weekend and consulted the all-knowing Smitten Kitchen for the question of the month – what should I do with all of these apples? I landed on her Mom’s Apple Cake and it was perfection. You’ll find my adaptation below; I highly recommend it. Never fear though – if apple cake isn’t your thing, I have a whole archive of both sweet and savory apple recipes here.

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Smitten Kitchen’s Mom’s Apple Cake (original recipe here; I’ve made slight modifications to the SK recipe)

Apple mixture:
6 apples – I used 4 Macouns and 2 Macintosh
1 tbsp. cinnamon (I use King Arthur’s Vietnamese cinnamon)
3 tbsp. brown sugar

Cake batter:
2.75 cups flour (I use King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat)
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
2.5 tsp. vanilla
4 eggs

Peel and core the apples. Chop them into cubes. Toss with the cinnamon and sugar, and set aside.

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Making the batter is super simple. Using the muffin method, combine all of the dry ingredients in a bowl, combine all of the wet ingredients in another bowl, and then slowly mix the wet into the dry until the batter comes together. When the batter is done, mix in 2/3 of the apples. Pour the apple batter into a liberally greased bundt pan. Spread the remaining 1/3 of the apple mixture over the top of the batter. Bake on 350 for 75 minutes.

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I started to check on my apple cake at around 45 minutes. Insert a toothpick to gauge the done-ness of the interior. You don’t want it to come out completely clean because that means the cake will be dry. You want a few crumbs to be stuck to it. My cake was done after exactly 75 minutes. When the cake comes out of the oven, cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing.

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This apple cake is moist, full of deep spice flavor, and perfect for Fall. Enjoy!

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Another Year of Healthy Meals (v4.0)

I’m back with a fourth year of healthy meal planning ideas! Years one, two, and three were such a hit so I’m really excited to have a fourth year to show you. These posts have provided me a way to share what I eat day to day – to inspire you, give you recipe ideas, and to keep it real when it comes to meal planning. These posts have also given me a way to keep track myself – I can’t tell you how many times I refer back to these entries to get ideas or remind myself of a truly great meal.

Since I began working with my nutritionist two years ago, the way I eat has really changed. I think you can see it the most in this Year of Healthy Meals, and I’m really proud of that. I’m trying my best to be protein and produce heavy, reduce carbs, and increase whole grains – and those have honestly been my only goals. I don’t count calories, I don’t restrict sugar, I don’t skip dessert if I want it, I will never cut cheese, pizza, chinese food, or wine. Not because of any specific diet I’m on (I don’t believe in diets anymore). I don’t restrict myself because it’s not healthy for me. I eat mostly fruit, veggies, and protein because that’s what makes me feel the most healthy, energetic, and happy – and that’s what really matters.

Another big change I made in the past year was signing up for Blue Apron. More on that below!

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BREAKFAST

Let’s begin where we always begin – breakfast – and let me say again – to shock and horror – that I am not a fan of breakfast food. I’ve never liked it, find myself liking it less and less every year, and now I really don’t like it after working with my nutritionist. Not because she convinced me bacon and bagels are evil, but because, in working with her and really understanding what my body needs to start my day off right, I realized a protein-heavy breakfast is what works best for me. When I was eating cereal or toast I felt so spacey and foggy almost immediately after. I tried bars, fruit, granola, and english muffins. Nothing filled me and I felt unfocused. Once I started eating yogurt, hardboiled eggs, and smoothies I started feeling better. I am at my best first thing in the morning and my job requires a lot of brain power. My mental clarity came back after I changed my breakfast routine and I realized it was the protein.

So, long story short, I’ve had a green protein smoothie for breakfast almost every single day of 2016. I even bought a new blender to encourage my smoothie habit (I can’t say enough good things about the Ninja Professional Blender). My favorite combination is cherries, spinach, chocolate protein powder, cocoa powder, chia, flax, greek yogurt, and almond milk. So good!

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I also have tea every day and sometimes fruit too.

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On weekends, or days when I need a smoothie break, I still try to keep the protein high with eggs, peanut butter, and yogurt. I try to have fruits and/or veggies too. And tea, as always (I don’t drink coffee; I’ve never liked it!).

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On-the-go breakfast is made easier with homemade green smoothies but they aren’t always a possibility, especially when traveling. I always have a Clif bar stashed in my bag and try to supplement with fresh produce (easy portable options are apples, carrot sticks, and clementines. If I have access to a grocery store on the road I try to stick my my high protein favorites. When in doubt, I get greens topped with fruit and a 1/4 lb. of sliced turkey at the deli. Whatever works!

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LUNCH

I went through a very heavy tuna-on-salad phase this past year. The salad contents changed frequently (mixed greens, romaine, spinach, avocado, red peppers, carrots, cucumber, feta, pickles, eggs) but top it with tuna and I’m a fan! The other thing I like is that when I have tuna on top of a salad, I don’t need salad dressing. Which reminds me – I didn’t intend to but I totally stopped eating salad dressing over the last year. It’s been all olive oil and balsamic vinegar for me (or tuna!).

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Another frequent lunch option for me will always be homemade soup, stew, and chili. My favorites below are italian wedding soup, chicken & barley soup, and turkey chili with kale and butternut squash.

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I’m a big fan of pasta salad at any time of year. It’s a great option for a veggie packed and filling lunch. I have a bunch of recipes that I love (macaroni pasta salad, classic pasta salad), but you can literally make it with anything.

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Sandwiches are also a go-to for me. This year I started making a roasted veggie and hummus wrap (left) with roasted peppers, sweet potato, and butternut squash over spinach and hummus – so good. I also love just a simple turkey sandwich with veggies on the side or a grilled cheese with tomato soup.

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Below are some other lunches I made (for work and at home) that I really love: veggie and chicken with pita bread, sausages with veggies and grains, rotisserie chicken and salad, lasagna and salad, chicken stir fry over brown rice, chicken with broccoli and fruit.

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And finally, in the lunch category, this summer I became obsessed with avocado caprese salads. I got the recipe idea from Back to Her Roots and it’s amazing. It’s literally just tomato, avocado, basil, and mozzarella balls dressing with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sometimes I’ll throw in spinach or peppers too. Simple and delicious.

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DINNER

Dinner, for me, is basically a bunch of categories that we constantly riff on: chicken, italian, mexican, stir frys, bowls, smorgasboards, burgers

The dinner struggle is real when it comes to chicken. I’m always trying to keep it interesting but it’s hard! Here are a few ideas – chicken with Stovetop stuffing (because let’s be real, that stuff is delicious), BBQ chicken with asparagus and chips & guac, chicken wings and drummies with veggie pasta salad, and honey mustard chicken with a pile of veggies.

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We love pasta and italian in our house. Some favorites this year have been zoodles with ground turkey and marinara and chicken parmesan. Also raviolis and salad!

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We do a lot of variations on tacos, burritos, and quesadillas too. There’s a million ways to make them but my favorite ingredients are ground turkey, chicken, black beans, refried beans, butternut squash, spinach, shredded carrots, avocado, caramelized onions, greek yogurt, guacamole, and always cholula.

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Stir fry is a great dinner option because you can toss in anything you like and call it a stir fry. I always base stir fry around soba noodles or rice noodles but other than that, anything goes! Ingredients we use often are marinated pork, broccoli, spinach, zucchini, summer squash, green onions, peanuts, soy sauce, Bragg’s aminos, and sweet chili sauce.

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This year I got big into Bowls – basically just a big bowl of stuff that goes really well together. Bowl #1 is basically a salad but full of awesome stuff – spinach, strawberries, red onion, quinoa, avocado, nuts, and an avocado dressing (I was inspired by this recipe). Bowl #2 is spinach, shredded carrot, caramelized onion, grilled pineapple, and brown rice (this recipe was inspired by a meal I had in Dublin). Bowl #3 is massaged kale, broccoli, chicken sausage, beets, pumpkin seeds, and feta (earthy, wholesome, super filling).

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Another household favorite – burgers! We usually go for turkey burgers but chiken burgers and salmon burgers are awesome too. Good with a bun, without a bun. With salad, with chips, with chips and salsa, veggies and guac. You name it.

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A few other random odds and ends that are always good dinner staples – fish with veggies, salad and a sandwich, and turkey tips with veggies.

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Finally, you gotta love the smorgasboard dinner. We do smorsgaboards when we can’t decide what we want for dinner, when we have a bunch of leftovers in the fridge, when we don’t want to cook, when we need to eat quick, and sometimes when we just want a cheeseplate for dinner.

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One last note on dinner – we tried Blue Apron for the first time this year and we love it! I already wrote a huge post about our Blue Apron experience. Definitely worth a read if you want to learn about the structure & cost, selection & usability, what you get, recipes, food quality, diversity, & value, eco-friendliness, and my major takeaways. Or, if you just want to look at the pictures, here you go:

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SNACKS

When I took a look through the last year’s worth of snack pictures all I could think was – whoa, I clearly have a baby carrot addiction!

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But it’s good – I love snacks and I don’t deny myself them. I just try to keep them balanced and healthy.

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My go-to snacks are baby carrots (obvi), cheese, fruit, pretzels, nuts, and sometimes candy.

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Last but not least – while you may think I have just painted a picture of a year of green smoothies, vegetables for every meal, and a baby carrot problem, trust me when I say I do my fair share of eating Oreos and sour cream & onion chips, and going out to dinner. Like I said at the beginning, those behaviors aren’t “bad,” I don’t have any off-limits food, I’m not on a diet. I do what I want, but I try to make healthy choices most of the time – that’s all.

That said, here are my favorite meals out that I ate a bunch of this year:

Turkey sandwich from the S&S Deli, Chicken burrito from Taco Loco

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Harvest bowl from Sweetgreen, Fish tacos from Legal Seafood, The Adventurer bowl from Life Alive

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I hope this post has been helpful and inspiring. Stay tuned for next year!

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Our Blue Apron Experience

Meal kit delivery services are all the rage lately and are so ubiquitous, you’ve probably heard a lot about them. There are many delivery service options – PeachDish, HelloFresh, Plated, Blue Apron, Terra’s Kitchen, Chef’D, Purple Carrot, Home Chef, Green Chef, Sunbasket, Marley Spoon, Freshly, Veestro, Sakara, Pete’s Paleo. There are even local meal delivery options hitting the market in some areas too (in Boston we have Cuisine En Locale & Foodery).

For a while I didn’t pay much attention to these services. I love to cook, I know how to put recipes together, I have culinary skills, I didn’t think someone like me would benefit from a service like this. But then summer came and, for some reason, we usually hit a food rut in the summer. Whether it’s because turning on the stove seems onerous or we’d rather be out doing stuff than in the kitchen cooking or because we tend to eat lighter, uncooked meals in the summer – the thought began to occur to me that maybe a meal delivery service could be fun and get us out of the food rut.

Like us, you’ve probably heard a lot about Blue Apron since they were the first delivery service to hit the market. I polled friends and family and Blue Apron was well regarded and highly recommended. We got a code for a free week (if you want one, let me know – I have a bunch!) and signed up. I decided to write this post now because we’ve been doing Blue Apron for a few months now and have 6 weeks of meals under our belt.

Before I go any further in this post I just wanted to say that this review of Blue Apron is not sponsored; I am in no way paid, given freebies, or told to say anything in this post. I’m writing about Blue Apron because I purchased the subscription myself and want to share my findings in a candid and informative way.

I’ve broken down my review of our Blue Apron experience into seven areas: structure & cost, selection & usability, what you get, recipes, food quality, diversity, & value, eco-friendliness, and major takeaways.

1) Structure & Cost

Blue Apron is meal delivery service that comes to your home. It’s a box full of fresh ingredients that you cook yourself; it is not pre-assembled and not pre-cooked. Each meal comes with a recipe card full of instructions and all the ingredients needed to make the dish. Blue Apron only assumes you have olive oil, salt, pepper, and all the hardware needed (oven, stovetop, pans, pots, cooking utensils, etc).

Blue Apron has two meal plan options: the Two Person Plan and the Family Plan. The Two Person Plan (what we have) is one box per week that includes three recipes, each recipe makes 2 servings. It’s $60/week, or $10/meal per person. The Family Plan is one box per week that includes either two or four recipes (you choose), each recipe makes 4 servings. The two-recipe plan is $70/week and the four-recipe plan is $140/week, both totaling $8.75/meal per person. Shipping is free, you can skip weeks whenever you want, and you can cancel your subscription at any time.

2) Selection & Usability

Blue Apron has an app and website that are both extremely user friendly. Both offer a two month summary of your delivery schedule, giving you the option to skip weeks and pick your meal offerings. The app and website also keep track of your delivery history so you can refer back to what you’ve tried, rate recipes, and have an electronic copy of the recipe.

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There is a full description of each week on both the app and website, including the recipes, ingredients, and wine pairings.

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Blue Apron offers six meal options per week and, with the Two Person Plan, you can choose three. Menus are customized to dietary preferences too (eg. I like fish but not shrimp so we don’t see shrimp-based menus). There are some restrictions on the combinations – for example, the vegetarian options usually can’t be combined with meat options – but we’ve always found a balance that works for us.

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One final note about the app – it’s full of video tutorials so you can learn new cooking techniques or just watch how a method or preparation is supposed to go before you do it yourself.

2) What You Get

Each week you’ll receive one box with the amount of food specified in your meal subscription plan. Inside the box is a thermal bag and cold packs, along with all of the ingredients in pre-portioned containers and bags.

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Here are three examples of what one box of the Two Person Plan looks like (one box = 3 meals, 6 portions):

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3) Recipes

First things first, each box comes with a recipe card for each dish. The recipe cards are fully illustrated and written with very thorough instructions. In other words, if you can follow directions, you can totally make all of the recipes exactly how they should be made.

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The recipes we’ve tried have been awesome so far. There have only been one or two that we didn’t love – that is to say, the majority have been delicious and only a few have been just ok. None of the recipes have been outright bad or disappointing.

Each recipe takes, on average, 40 minutes. The recipe cards give you precise times for each recipe (broken down into prep and cooking times) but they seem ambitious to me, and I know my way around the kitchen. The recipe cards also include serving size and calorie count information.

Here are some examples of recipes we’ve gotten and enjoyed:

BBQ Pork Burgers with Onion Rings and Corn on the Cob

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Brown Butter Cod with Shishito Peppers, Corn, and Purple Potatoes

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Fried Chicken, Kale Slaw, and Sweet Potato Wedges with Chili Honey

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Ginger Pork Burgers with Furikake Green Beans and Black Bean Mayo

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Crispy Cod, Summer Squash, and Quinoa & Arugula Salad

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Grilled Goat Cheese and Plum Jam Sandwiches with Cucumber & Endive Salad

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Fresh Papperdelle Pasta with Tomato Ragu

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Sweet Corn & Tinkerbell Pepper Pizza with Baby Kale Salad

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Porchetta Sandwiches with Baby Kale Pesto and Marinated Cucumber Salad

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Roasted Pork with Summer Salsa and Zucchini-Scallion Rice

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Seared Cod and Potato, Celery, and Radish Salad

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Spicy Peperonata Pasta with Tinkerbell Peppers, Cherry Tomatoes, and Pine Nuts

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Summer Vegetable and Queso Tostadas with a Spicy Crema

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Za’atr Chicken Burgers with Feta-Labneh Spread and Oven Fries

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4) Food Quality, Diversity, and Value

The food quality has been excellent so far. Not only has everything arrived fresh and for the most part unscathed, the quality of ingredients is very high. Produce has been full flavor, meat has been savory and moist, and the fish has been extremely fresh. The fish is the best aspect of Blue Apron recipes I think – I never know what to do with fish on my own and these recipes have given me more confidence when it comes to fish.

The recipes have introduced a whole bunch of new ingredients into my life that I never would have tried before and didn’t even know I liked! (eg. furikake, labneh, za’atr, endive, cotija cheese, black bean paste, korean rice cakes, sambal, ricotta salata, lemongrass)

As you can see from the pictures above, the diversity of the recipes is terrific. Above shows 14 different meals of the 18 we’ve received and none of them are exact duplicates. We’ve had pasta, pizza, burgers, sandwiches, stir fry, pork, chicken, fish, vegetarian, asian, Italian, traditional American, Mexican, Greek, comfort food, one pan wonders, etc.

For the quality and value I would compare these meals to restaurant-quality dishes and find them to be above that standard. $10/per person per meal may seem high but I consider some of that cost being the investment in new recipes and new techniques. I also see it as covering some of the labor costs of going to the supermarket, buying ingredients, and portioning them out. And finally, a restaurant dish of this quality in Boston costs anywhere from $10-$40 so I consider these meals, at a per night cost level, to be well under what you’d spend eating out (though, likely over if you got the ingredients at the market yourself but again, I consider that drudgery part of the investment).

5) Eco-Friendliness

When Blue Apron first started one major criticism was of the excessive packing and the amount of trash associated with the boxes. They have taken steps to reduce this waste by making much of their packing recyclable and/or compostable. There are two recycling options: recycle at home with regular curbside recycling or, if that’s not available where you live, you can send the packing back to Blue Apron for free and they will recycle it for you. You can also always upcycle your Blue Apron packaging too!

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Another part of Blue Apron’s eco-friendly mission is to develop a more sustainable food system including direct relationships with farmers, sustainable fishing, not using any products with added hormones or antibiotics, reducing food waste with thoughtful planning and portioning of meals, and the use of seasonal produce.

And finally, because all of the produce is whole and unprocessed, I feel good about composting our scraps as we normally would. Some meal services process all the food scraps for you, which is definitely convenient but I prefer to do it myself and compost the scraps.

6) Major Takeaways

I have three main overall takeaways from using Blue Apron:

  1. Blue Apron reignited my love for the basics. Many of the recipes build flavor with simple, every day ingredients like spices, fresh herbs, vinegar, shallots, and garlic. I realized I was skipping that foundation building in my cooking in the interest of time but it adds such rich depth to any recipe and is truly is a game changer, so should not be skipped.
  2. I learned some cool new cooking tricks! From making my own spicy crema for tacos to making my own quick-jams and quick-pickles to building a delicious pasta sauce from fresh tomatoes, it’s been fun to learn new techniques and new skills.
  3. Most importantly though, trying Blue Apron encouraged me to rethink the time I invest into meal planning. For so long we’ve meal prepped and planned on Sundays so that we don’t have to spend tons of time after work making dinner. I told myself that I didn’t have the time after work and couldn’t fit it in, and have ended up with marathon 4-5 hour long cooking sessions on Sundays. But the Blue Apron recipes never took more than an hour and finding that time between 5-6pm after work actually wasn’t hard. In fact, it actually helped me unwind from my day while spending time with John doing something fun together. I am really grateful to have learned that.

Overall, I am so happy with our Blue Apron experience and plan to continue using it. I may try other services to get a sense of how they compare but that would be purely out of curiosity. I hope this post has been helpful and do let me know if you want a free meal code from me, I’m happy to share!

Posted in Cooking, Health & Fitness, Recipes, Things I Love | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Getaway to Bar Harbor, Maine

In addition to the must-do activities of visiting Acadia National Park and going on an Acadia Sightseeing Nature Cruise, there is so much to do in Bar Harbor, Maine. This post is my recap of all of the highlights of, and my favorite things about, Bar Harbor.

First things first, it could not be easier to get around in Bar Harbor. If you have a car, awesome, but it’s really not needed! Bar Harbor is extremely walkable – this map is a great resource. There’s also the Island Explorer to help you get around too! The Island Explorer features 8 bus routes all over Bar Harbor and the surrounding areas that link to downtown, Acadia National Park, campgrounds, hotels, the waterfront, etc. It’s free (thanks to a $3M grant from LL Bean) and environmentally friendly (the buses run on clean propane).

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During our time in Bar Harbor we stayed at an adorable B&B – the Primrose Inn.

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Our room was very cozy, the breakfasts every morning were delicious, the grounds were beautiful, and the staff was warm and welcoming. Sitting on the porch and enjoying the summer air was a major highlight.

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Oh, and the DVD library was exceptional.

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To me, Maine is all about rustic charm, maritime culture, wildflowers and lots of green, brick sidewalks, and awesome seafood restaurants (like Seafood Ketch in Bass Harbor).

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Also, picture perfect sunsets. There’s something really magical about a sunset in the summer in Maine.

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Speaking of sunsets! One thing I highly recommend doing is watching the sunset from the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse is about a 30 minute drive from downtown Bar Harbor, at the southernmost tip of Mount Desert Island.

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There are two viewing areas: one at the base of the lighthouse and another that can be found down a short trail off the main parking lot, at the bottom of a bunch of stairs, and out onto a rock jetty (instructions here too).

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I randomly read about Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse online and we went on a whim. I’m so glad we did; the views at sunset did not disappoint!

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Bar Harbor was named for the sandbar visible at low tide. This area is now called Bar Island Path and is really cool to walk out on. Check low tide times before going though, you do not want to get stuck out on Bar Island!

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Here is a good map of Bar Island Path and a description of how to get there.

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There’s lots to see when the tide goes out: tide pools full of barnacles, pretty rocks, and sometimes starfish.

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Twenty minutes from downtown Bar Harbor you can drive west across the island to Atlantic Brewing Company.

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Atlantic Brewing Company features an operational brewery (which you can take a tour of), a tasting/tap room, restaurant/outside dining, and a huge gift shop.

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The tour was short and sweet, and was followed by a tasting of all of Atlantic’s beers on tap.

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In addition to the beers, we also got to try Atlantic’s Blueberry Soda and Root Beer! So tasty!

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Just down the block from our B&B was St. Saviour’s Episcopal Church, built in 1877. This English Gothic parish church features 12 beautiful Tiffany stained glass windows, dating from 1886 to 1992. Next door, Bar Harbor’s cemetery includes a memorial to the town’s Civil War soldiers.

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At the center of downtown Bar Harbor is the Village Green.

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Village Green is the heart of Bar Harbor and is a beautiful public park with live music, gorgeous gardens, and a historic clock.

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From Village Green you can walk around downtown Bar Harbor to eat at any of the wonderful restaurants, visit the cute shops, people watch, and stroll along the waterfront.

I definitely recommend Cafe This Way for dinner followed by ice cream at Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream. Don’t worry if you can’t pick just one ice cream to try – they offer flights of four flavors! (my favorite was the Spicy Chai)

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There are many shops downtown, all worth a visit. My favorite was the Bar Harbor Tea Company though. Their Maine Blueberry loose black tea is incredible.

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Not in Bar Harbor but worth mentioning – on the way home we stopped at Mac’s Downeast Seafood in Auburn, Maine (about 3 hours south of Bar Harbor en route to Boston). The seafood was some of the best we’ve ever had. I highly recommend the fried clams; John spoke very highly of his massive lobster roll.

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Last but not least, another quick plug for both Acadia National Park (and the official tour) and the Acadia Nature Sightseeing Cruise (full details in my last post).

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I don’t know why it took us so long to get up to Bar Harbor, but I can’t wait to come back. We’re thinking October for my birthday. Fall is supposed to be just as beautiful as summer up in Bar Harbor. I think we’re definitely going to have to come back then to make sure!

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