Monday, September 03, 2018

Well, Hello Fresh

Save $60 on Hello Fresh lives at the top of my inbox. Even now that I've subscribed, they're still paying Google to plop it on top of my real emails. That's advertising for you, preaching to the choir. 
The kids and I looked over the menu and made our selections. Once we'd made all the meals, we realized the flavor mash-ups weren't our thing. And that produce in Oregon is awesome! What they sent... was not. 

SESAME BEEF TACOS with quick pickled vegetables

Our favorite recipe of the box. I wasn't sure how the kids would react to radishes, but the quick pickling method was a winner. When I unpacked the bag my eldest was against the red cabbage, but it gets cooked up with the sesame beef. He actually like it - the tacos, he's still suspicious of red cabbage. This is one we'd make, or order, again. - loved

SWEET & SMOKY CHICKEN CUTLETS with green beans and pineapple rice

The produce on this one was a let down. The green beans were past their prime - tough and stringy. We all love green beans, but none of us finished these. The tub of fresh pineapple had gone rancid, so we made the rice with a pineapple fruit cup we had in the pantry. The chicken flavor was fine, but really dry. I wound up making grilled cheese sandwiches. This was a miss with us. -blerg


My son chose this one thinking it would be a spicy barbecue. The chicken would have been better as a taco. I loved the carrot-apple slaw, but the kids weren't fans and balked at putting it on their sandwich. My daughter... ate the bun. The apple they sent was mealy, so I used one from our fruit bowl. -meh

Hello Fresh... wasn't fresh. I had to replace much of the produce, and what I used wasn't great. The directions were a bit odd as well because our meals were for four servings and the recipe cards were for two. We figured it out, but I think it could have been an issue if my son had been cooking them alone. Having each meal packaged in a separate bag was a great help keeping things sorted in the fridge.

I hadn't ordered since that original underwhelming box. The website has a six-week lead time on menus, so I check every week. I couldn't find two meals I thought we'd like. For three months! Yes, the site makes it easy to skip weeks and change meals, but that's a long time. Yeah... fingers crossed Hot Honey Chicken & Pork Carnitas Tacos win us over. 

The $60 off code? GMAIL60  Let me know if you want a free week. I can send them out from my account. 

See what we thought of other meal kits.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Tied on a Blue Apron

Blue Apron is one of the more widely recognized meal kit delivery companies around. They recently inked a deal with Costco, which means their meal kit boxes are stocked in store. I picked one up on a whim. I'd been intrigued by the concept, but ut off by the idea of joing a subscription service for something I hadn't tried before.   

I had such a good time making the meal with my son, I wanted to keep doing it. I sold him on the idea of our search for the best meal kit service as cooking classes. I had an ulterior motive as well - he could take over dinner at least once a week if everything was provided for him in a kit. 

I liked the packaging on the Costco kits - everything contained in a recyclable container that could double as a trash bowl while cooking for easy clean-up. Home delivery came in bags, which is fine, but not as cute. Hey, cute matters.

What we tried:


The cheesy potato rounds were a hit with the kids. They would've eaten twice as many. The tacos were a bit clunky to eat. The kids weren't fans of slaw on tacos. - liked


My husband picked this up at Costco. I love a good stir-fry... but this wasn't. Could be the flavor combination - broccoli & pineapple. It might have been better if the broccoli weren't roasted first. The combination didn't work. We all tried it, but no one finished it. - meh

Ordering the meals instead of grabbing what Costco had on offer was fun. There were lots of options, so it was easy to select two meals I thought I could get past the kids. The foil-wrapped insulation kept things cool in the box, but I had hoped for the same efficient packaging as Costco. No dice. Things were individually packed, so I had to sort and toss the meals in their own bag in the fridge.


Not going to front, I ordered this for the elote. I've always wanted to try corn that way, but our summer corn here in Oregon is divine, so I worried about messing it up. For this we made elote with what they sent, and corn from the farmer's market plain so we could dress it with butter or the mayo spread & cheese. 3/5 liked it, but we all had butter on our second ear.

The tacos were good, could have done without cooking the cherry tomatoes. - liked


The kids swore they'd never had udon before, so I had to get this one. We wanted there to be twice as many noodles! This is the first dish I might try to recreate, or order again. Where does one buy udon noodles, I wonder? I've never seen them, maybe if I hit up Uwijamaya? My favorite thing about this kit? The beef came in those super thin slices, so no cutting & worrying of pieces were thin enough! Usually noodles are a way to stretch the amount of meat in a meal. Not here - loved

The tiny portions of spices and condiments are adorable. Some will argue the packaging is wasteful, but in our house we too often toss mostly full bottles and jars of items we only used once or twice. The produce was okay, the chicken inconsistent in thickness, and flavors were good overall. Trust your kitchen instincts with this one - I knew better than to add roasted broccoli to a stir-fry!

The Costco meal kits for four were $25, almost half of what it would be online ($44). Costco also sells $100 Blue Apron gift cards for $80. If you're curious about meal kits, grab one at Costco to try out. If you like it, go back for the gift cards.

The website is easy to navigate, and weekly menus go up a month in advance. They have 2-serving and 4-serving options. Unfortunately, I don't often find two meals we'd like. Weeks are easy to skip using the manage delivery option. Next month we're trying Orange Beef with wonton noodles & Seared Chicken with pesto orzo. I'll report back...

See what we thought of other meal kits...

We Tried: Meal Delivery Kits

Dinner Delivered! Well, kind of. All the ingredients are in a box and easy to follow recipes are included - but you're doing the cooking. Fine in theory, but I wasn't sure how it worked out in real life. Sure, there were a bajillion blog articles about them, but the ones I found were sponsored posts. You know, where the company gifts the blogger a box in exchange for an 'honest' review. Here's the thing, if you don't like something and tell the world why, you're honest but not likely to get more opportunities for 'honest' reviews. It's a business, y'all.

Since I couldn't get the straight goss online, I asked the Facebook hive-mind.I guess I don't hang with a dinner boxer crowd because I only got a few 'we tried it' and a couple 'the kids didn't like it'. The overwhelming response was 'no, but we've been thinking about trying it'. Hmmm. Now I was curious.

A new meal kit company ad shows up on my Facebook feed on the regular. I decided to take advantage of all the '$$ off your first box' offers and try a few. To be fair, I tried more than one box from each company. It made the experiment more expensive, but any business can have an off week. I know I do. 

I love to cook, but I hated making dinner. 

I didn't think meal delivery kits would stand a chance with my picky bunch, so I never bothered to try until a Blue Apron box showed up on the shelves at Costco. No commitment, no pressure for everyone to like it. The novelty of it had my fifteen-year-old interested enough to offer to do it with me. That right there reeled me in. It's hard to find things to do with teenagers. Plus, when they were younger they were much more l likely to try new foods if they'd helped in the kitchen. 

For me the step-by-step directions seemed tedious, but they were perfect for my son. By the time we plated our dinner that night I knew he'd be able to prepare any dinner kit. Meal delivery kits had never been so attractive...

The first dinner was rather meh, but I had such fun preparing it with my son  that when Hello Fresh popped up on Facebook, I signed up. Plated? Sure. Home Chef? Let's give it a try. Marley Spoon? Well, if Martha thinks so...

I thought it would be fun to try them out, and my family was along for the ride. I'll share our real-life experiences, and since I paid for this little experiment, all opinions will be ours alone. Not that we're big on sugar coating anything but doughnuts. Mmm, doughnuts. 





Friday, June 15, 2018

Suds in the Bucket

Are bucket lists supposed to be full or empty? 

Buckets used to be for chicken (good) or mopping (no thanks). Now it seems people have them for everything. There's the travel bucket, career bucket, a bucket for every season - summer buckets of sandcastles, picnics and BBQs anyone? - and according to entertainment lately, a sexy bucket. No, not a bucket with lace panties, like... never have I ever, but I want to. That kind of thing. 

I guess we want to see and do so many things one bucket isn't enough. And these buckets can never empty. Pinterest is all about the buckets. I mean boards. Are boards the new buckets? 

Or are buckets the new New Year's resolutions? I mean, they're like goals without deadlines, right? I'm in! Bucket lists are a daydreamers, well, dream!

1. Visit all the National Parks. 
2. Run a 5K. Not walk or walk/run. Just run. 
3. Sleep until I'm not tired. 
4. Eat a croissant in Paris
5. Draft a book in a week
6. Learn to take a cute selfie
7. See every country at Epcot
8. Write a New York Times bestseller
9. Have a book made into a movie
10. Swim with dolphins
11. Airboat through the Everglades
12. Helicopter over the Grand Canyon
13. See the Northern Lights
14. Live in another country
15. Have a conversation in another language
16. Get Plow back
17. Fly first class
18. Enjoy a cross country road trip
19. Write a novel in Anguilla
20. Visit every state park in Oregon
21. Watch a meteor shower
22. Win the lottery
23. Stomp grapes
24. Take a spontaneous trip
25. Watch lava flow
26. Visit all 50 states
27. Be debt free
28. Feel seen
29. Stay at a working ranch
30. Go to a rodeo
31. See an iceberg
32. Read every book on my Kindle
33. Read every book on my bookshelves
34. Make every recipe in a cookbook
35. Leave $100 tip
36. Identify the Big Dipper
37. Stay in a penthouse
38. Spend 48 hours in silence
39. Release a floating lantern
40. See the pyramids
41. Stonehenge
42. Drink from a pineapple
43. Paint balloon darts
44. Get my hygge on in Denmark
45. Stay in an overwater bungalow
46. Niagra Falls
47. Soak in the blue lagoon in Iceland
48. Bubble Run
49. Aerial yoga
50. Be an extra in a movie
51. See the tulips in Holland
52. Be part of a live studio audience
53. See Hamilton
54. Ride the Orient Express
55. Have a pint at a pub in Ireland
56. Afternoon tea at Empress Hotel
57. Take the Haiku stairs
58. Machu Picchu
59. Ride a cable car in San Francisco
60. Henna tattoo

While thinking through those I realized I've done some pretty cool things

Out of the bucket

1. Write a book
2. Publish a book
3. Be on the jumbotron in Times Square
4. See a Broadway play
5. USA Today Bestseller
6. Go to Europe
7. Zipline
8. Stand under a waterfall
9. Order room service
10. Snowshoeing
11. Smithsonian (most of them)
12. Spend the night in a treehouse
13. Take a ghost tour in New Orleans
14. Empire State Building
15. Space Needle
16. Drink from a coconut
17. Color Run
18. Get my fortune told
19. Find a 4-leaf clover

What's on your bucket list?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

☀️FREEBIE ALERT!☀️ Caribbean Caress is FREE!

On the gorgeous Caribbean isle of Anguilla, tourists flock for privacy and locals never have any. The only thing hotter than the tropical sun is the sex—in the surf, on the water, against the bookcase... Head to the beach with Caribbean Caress - FREE for a limited time! 

Need more time Under the Caribbean Sun? The other books in the series are 99¢ this week. 

Monday, April 09, 2018

NEW RELEASE: Just One Spark

Just One, 1
Entangled, Lovestruck

He's hot enough to set off alarms...

Hannah Daniels reads steamy romance novels to forget her last trip on the love roller coaster shredded her heart and tossed it like confetti. Her instincts about men stink, but at work they’re on point. Only her busy schedule means she reads whenever she can make time. Like at the laundromat while sitting on top of a washing machine. Don’t judge.
Firefighter Mason McNally has searched his whole life for a woman who stirs his soul. When he finds her, she’s nose-deep in a racy paperback atop a vibrating washer. Her beauty, boldness, and raw sensuality ignite his interest. But there’s a problem. He’s forgotten he’s wearing a wedding ring.
No amount of hasty explanations that it’s for his brother’s psychology experiment convinces her to give him a chance. But he’s rushed into fiery situations before, and this woman is totally worth the risk. He’ll just have to prove to her that first impressions can be wrong and their spark of attraction is oh so right.

Warning: Watch out for psychobabble, big-brother posturing and creepy exes. An imaginative, eavesdropping writing group and a stalker with a Hallmark obsession. Plus, a firefighter who serves waffles the morning after.


  • Just One Spark keeps you reading until the very end. I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning finishing it. This book is a poignant, sweet romance, showing tenderness and love can rebuild trust. Along with some intensely hot sex scenes, it also has humor. Finding out what Hannah’s nickname is for her vibrator and what it means had me laughing aloud.  - Coffee Time Romance
  • Just One Spark, a romantic sizzler which is packed with passionate love scenes, delicious humor and exhilarating romance! —Cataromance
  • This book must have been great fun to write. The sex scenes are genuinely erotic and entertaining, yet they never seemed gratuitous, which is some feat.Trashionista
  • Ms. Bayley-Burke has turned the usual relationship dynamic on its head, giving the reader two characters whose strengths and weaknesses mirror our own, and who work together to complete each other. It’s a great book that will keep you turning pages as quickly as you can. —Romance Divas
  • Interesting characters, an entertaining plot, and lots of steamy, sexy fun. —Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews

Sunday, April 08, 2018

JUST ONE SPARK: Where do you get your ideas?

JUST ONE SPARK releases tomorrow, so I've been going through promotional material from the first time it came out. This was featured on The Idea Boutique :: 

A firefighter fit for a calendar caught me in the grocery store checkout line, two tantrum-prone toddlers ready to bolt. The man was a dream, both because of how he looked and because he stopped his day to talk with my boys, giving them stickers and a distraction so I could pay for seven gallons of milk. These were big toddlers, people.

Safely securing my beasts into the only thing that can hold them down – a five point harness car seat – I turned the radio up and headed for home, thinking that maybe that fire fighter should play a role in the novel I was starting the next day as part of my first NaNoWriMo, if only he hadn’t had a ring on his finger. 

No matter, I work in fiction and I had almost twelve hours to come up with a reason for the ring. Quite proud of myself I turned the radio up, Mindy McCready’s Maybe, Maybe Not coming across the front speakers (don’t want to damage the delicate eardrums of the screachers in the back) of my compact sedan.

What if … Mr. Hunk-of-the-Month had to explain the ring to a woman sitting on a washing machine in a Laundromat? Instantly, I was dying to write the scene. I stayed up until midnight (unheard of when you have a child who routinely wakes at four-twenty to begin his day) just to get the scene out. I didn't care about what came next, didn't plot a character arc or layer in symbolism. The story unfolded as I imagined what I would want to read if I picked the book up at the store and shelled out the change from my last trip through the Coffee People drive-thru.

The way I wrote Just One Spark defies everything I’ve learned about novel writing since. If I’d known you never sell your first book, every scene needs goals, motivation and conflict, or that this is a hard business to break into, I never would have tried. Thank goodness for naivete.

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