Psuedo-Famous

Buds and I go work with the Atlanta office for two days, and we get to be in this awesome promotional video for the building we have an office in there.

You’ll notice I’m wearing my green fleecy, just like I am right now, just like I did the whole time in Italy.

Bury me in my green fleecy.

Yessa, Dad and I are Youtube stars!

Mew, Mew, Mew, Mew…

Monkey knew she wanted a pet. She knew that meant taking allergy shots for the long haul.

Yessa knew she wanted a pet. She knew that meant waiting until after the trip to Italy.

They both knew having a pet meant more responsibility, more litter duty, more work.

The Buster didn’t want a pet. He was okay with that.

We got the supplies. Yessa cleaned out her room to ensure it would be kitty-proof.

The kitty area

The kitty area

Her upper bed with stuffed animals ready to welcome one of their kind.

Her upper bed with stuffed animals ready to welcome one of their kind.

Monkey made sure the kitty bed and toys were ready.

Supplies and heater ready for the new members of the family.

Supplies and heater ready for the new members of the family.

We tried to explain to Nutmeg what was going to happen and gave her lots of extra love. She’s pretty much deaf now, so we don’t think she heard us.

We knew we wanted to adopt from the organization we had fostered Hamlet from. The girls read through all the available cats for adoption. Monkey chose Waffles and Yessa selected Warm Kitty. We told the organization we’d like to have the copportunity to meet them today.

I tried to tell the girls that if they didn’t feel like it was a good fit when they met the kittens we didn’t have to bring them home.

They looked at me like I had two heads and a big bogie in my nose as they headed into Petco with their cat carriers ready.

Let's go bag us some kitties.

Let’s go bag us some kitties.

Waffles and Warm Kitty (Renamed MoonStar) are the newest residents in the Shoebox.

Waffles grabbed onto Monkey’s neck as soon as he met her and settled in with his loud purr.

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MoonStar is the curious explorer her astronaut name implies. And after she explored every inch of the house, she settled in on a warm lap and snuggled down to sleep.

Meeting for the first time.

Meeting for the first time.

"I will sleep here."

“I will sleep here.”

Nutmeg remains unimpressed and unflappable.

Nutmeg

Nutmeg

Waffles spent much of the day snuggled on the futon in the basement between Buster and Monkey. He definitely needed more time to relax. By this evening he wandered his way upstairs (possibly with a little encouragement by being carried multiple times), and was climbing all over the cat scratching post.

He seems to be settling in.

He seems to be settling in.

He’s definitely the more talkative of the two. He’ll hiss at most anything, including himself in the mirror. Buds and I were just saying he reminds us so much of Chance, both in coloring, in volume of purrs, and the way he loves to snuggle.

MoonStar is bouncy, and skittery, and funny, and reminds me of a young Nutmeg with her laid back attitude when Waffles comes charging toward, hissing, in a hilarious attempt to seem tough.

Mr. Tough Guy is asleep on my lap as I type this. He wandered into our bedroom; hissed at me sitting on the bed; hissed at Nutmeg sleeping on her pillow on the chair; then climbed into my lap and started purring.

Much love and laughter ahead for all.

What’s for dinner? HelloFresh vs BlueApron vs Fresh20

“What do you want to eat?”
“I dunno.”

That’s a typical conversation at our house. We’re not formal dinner folks and generally just graze and assemble our evening meals like a pair of raccoons (“trash pandas”).

We’ve tried HelloFresh and Blue Apron, two services that ship you food recently and want to share our impressions. There’s more about our initial experience with HelloFresh here.

What do you you get and what does it cost?

Both companies offer similar deals. Set your order for a family of four or a couple of two. Pick three out of six meals offered on their site. On a chosen day, a medium size, impressively insulated box shows up at your house. Pray it stays cold. Unpack it directly into your fridge. Pay somewhere between $8-10 per serving. Cook it yourself using recipe cards included in the box. Both offer a week or two free as an intro.

Both are a good alternative to eating out, offer healthy meals, and are a fun activity for trash pandas and young trash pandas.

Blue Apron

A Blue Apron recipe card.

A Blue Apron recipe card.

Pros

  • Nice protein, particularly fish (our sister-in-law, who’s forgotten more about seafood than we’ll ever know, swears you can’t find anything as good locally)
  • Recycling. When you’ve accumulated a few weeks of detritus, they’ll send you a shipping label to ship it back to them.
  • Everything is included, even flour. Even, tiny adorable little pats of butter in plastic ketchup containers. Wait, is this really a pro?

Cons

  • Smaller portions, especially when they feature a protein, it’s going to feel like you and your loved one are on a diet. Even more with if you have two or three kids who like to eat the proteins.
  • Mis-sized filler. Often the salads were for a family of 8 while the protein was for a family of 1.
  • Recipes often include “exotics” that you aren’t going to be able to find if you want to remake a recipe. I’d love if they suggested alternatives in their recipes.
  • Recipes that aren’t clear, are often rambley, confusingly written and designed. A particular irritation was the soup recipes where you’d add 4 cups of water and then “cook for 3 minutes or until the liquid is slightly reduced in volume”. Soups don’t “reduce” in 3 minutes, folks.
  • When picking recipes you can only pick certain combinations. Each selection knocks others out. (Why? Cost? Shipping?)

The Recipes

Here are the recipes (with exotic ingredients in parentheses) followed by a grade (followed by more passive-aggressive comments in parentheses).

  • Chicken and Udon Noodle Soup (dried lime): B (it’s a soup, you’ll never get more than a B for a soup)
  • Seared Cod and Date Vinaigrette (medjool dates, sherry vinegar, watermelon radish): C (a rough cooking technique for the cod, another of their damned shallot vinaigrettes!, diced dates in quinoa was great and salad was outstanding)
  • Italian Meatball Soup (farro, lacinato kale): B (A hearty meatball soup is still a soup, see above)
  • Spiced Roast Chicken and Collard Greens: A (delicious, short on protein but great sauce, needed more greens and less onion)
  • Salmon and Lemon Bucatini: C (lemon flavoring was fun, not enough Brussels sprouts, far too much pasta)
  • Spiced Pork Chops w Charred Poblano Salsa and Sweet Potato Mash: A
  • Shrimp Banh Mi with Pickled Veg and Beet Salad: B (many of their recipes have bread which doesn’t transport well, bad news for a Banh Mi which is all about the roll)
  • Chicken Tortilla Soup with Rainbow Chart, Avocado and Cilantro: C (a meh soup, tortillas were poor, plus we burned them)
  • Juicy Lucy Burgers: C (decent burger with sadly mismatched quantities of onion and salad)
  • Buffalo Chicken Sandwich (white endive): C (chicken thighs are too fatty in this, we abandoned the salad)
The big winner from Blue Apron, Chicken, Collard Greens and a Maple Glaze

The big winner from Blue Apron, Chicken, Collard Greens and a Maple Glaze. This serves two.

The verdict

2 As, 3 Bs, 5 Cs. Are you feeling lucky, punk?

HelloFresh

We ordered HelloFresh for 4 people rather than the 2 person servings we got for Blue Apron. Each HelloFresh meal (for 2) is packed in a tidy white box with the recipe name on the side. HelloFresh recipes were about half the words of Blue Apron and often included an interesting cooking technique.

A HelloFresh recipe card.

A HelloFresh recipe card.

An open HelloFresh box

An open HelloFresh box

Pros

  • 4 person boxes generally went for 6 meals.
  • Very nice protein and fish
  • Boxes in boxes make seeing what’s available easy. Does take up more room in your fridge.

Cons

  • Packaging (boxes in boxes). We accumulated more freezer packs than we know what to do with.

The Recipes

Again, each recipe has a grade and “exotic” ingredients are in parentheses. There isn’t nearly the quantity of passive-aggressive sniping required for these meals.

  • Shrimp and Chorizo Paella: A
  • Cherry-Lime Rickey Chicken (ground juniper berries): B
  • Charred Corn and Salmon Salad: A+ (we’ve remade this several times and it’s healthy and great).
  • Seared Steak and Charred Nectarine Salad: B (very similar to charred salmon salad which we loved, just made us miss the better one)
  • Port and Chinese Eggplant Stir-Fry (chinese eggplant): B
  • Zucchini Noodle Lasagna: A
  • Reuben Steak with Tangy Braised Cabbage and Russian Dressing Pan Sauce: B (too much cabbage)
  • Chipotle-Glazed Pork Chops with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Broccoli: A
  • Lemongrass Chicken Skewers with Coconut Rice and Cuke-Carrot Slaw (lemongrass stalks): A
  • Sweet and Sour Pork Stir Fry: B
  • Parmesan Crusted Chicken w Balsamic Potato Salad and Garlic Roasted Tomatos: A
Chipotle-Glazed Pork Chops with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Broccoli (from the previous box)

Chipotle-Glazed Pork Chops with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Broccoli (from the previous box)

The Verdict

6 As, 5 Bs. A solid performance.

What’s next?

We’re trying Fresh20. They give you a list and you have to buy it. But they tell you what to cook and a year of their service costs as much as a nice meal out. Stand by.

And in the meantime, here’s some food porn for your viewing pleasure.

OMG, showoff pictures from Florence. This was amazing citrus-y lardo on crusty bread.

OMG, showoff pictures from Florence. This was amazing citrus-y lardo on crusty bread.

Show-off pictures from Florence. This was a cheese plate.

Show-off pictures from Florence. This was a cheese plate.

Lucca funk

In honor of Mommie2zs epic post about Lucca, here’s a walking tour of the town. The great white tents are temporary housings for the then-upcoming comic festival. We end up on the great wall around the town.

Stay tuned for some funnies.

Italy Trip – Days 22 – 25 Inside The Walls In Lucca

Well, folks. It’s either take down the Christmas Tree or write a blog post.

I’ve been putting off posts because my heart is still tender with loving, gushy feelings around the entire Italy adventure. We’ve got two photo collages up on the hearth room wall, with more pictures on the way.

That Yessa is photogenic.

That Yessa is photogenic.

Some of our favorite photos from the trip.

Some of our favorite photos from the trip.

Having those photos up for me to see all the time has been cathartic. I’m ready to think of the trip through the lens of lovely memories.

Hence, let’s talk about our time inside the walls of Lucca.

To recap, Lucca is important to our family because Buddie’s Dad’s father was a little boy in Lucca. Monkey was excited to look for signs of the family connection in and around the town.

For the beginning of our time in the Lucca area, we found an apartment inside the old walls where there would be enough space for just our family for one night, and then we would have the joy of welcoming Grandma and Grandpa Vermont to our adventure for a week.

We hopped off the train at the Lucca station and made our way toward the walls. It isn’t immediately evident where the “Main gate” is, so we followed a sidewalk around to a hidden staircase, and meandered our way up and inside the city.

The Annual Lucca Comics and Games Festival took place shortly after we left the area, and we saw evidence of the city’s massive preparation for the influx of 250,000 people throughout our stay.

When Buds and I went out later to look for a grocery store, we did find the main gate, and had the opportunity to watch a semi drive through. A bicycle guide went ahead of the semi to stop traffic since only one car can go through at a time. We believe the semi was carrying supplies for the festival.

Impressive driving

Impressive driving

Looks easy from this angle.

Looks easy from this angle.

We didn’t find a grocery store outside the walls until later, but we did find a little, impressively well-stocked grocery a few blocks from the apartment. The availability of fresh, delicious food throughout our trip was such a joy.

This apartment was a great space. Ample room for all of us. A place for card-playing, for Buds to work, for kids to spread out with books, computers, a great kitchen to cook in…it was wonderful.

The stairwell up to the apartment.

The stairwell up to the apartment.

The front door from the outside.

The front door from the outside.

The inside of the front door-it was well-protected.

The inside of the front door-it was well-protected.

Looking down the hallway once you walked in the front door.

Looking down the hallway once you walked in the front door.

The master bedroom Buds and I shared.

The master bedroom Buds and I shared.

The kitchen, which was its own room, with a door to close it off.

The kitchen, which was its own room, with a door to close it off.

Yessa through the kitchen door. Photo by Grandpa.

Yessa through the kitchen door. Photo by Grandpa.

Looking back at the kitchen when standing by the table and window.

Looking back at the kitchen when standing by the table and window.

The tucked away washing machine.

The tucked away washing machine.

The living room

The living room

The children's bedroom. We moved the extra bed from our room down here.

The children’s bedroom. We moved the extra bed from our room down here.

The room Grandma and Grandpa used after they joined us.

The room Grandma and Grandpa used after they joined us.

The larger of two bathrooms.

The larger of two bathrooms.

The shower space in the larger bathroom.

The shower space in the larger bathroom.

We had some rain while we stayed in this apartment. Buds and the younger two kids and I headed out one morning while Monkey slept in. The goal was to find the grocery store, but also to have our morning cafe and pastry somewhere fun. We found a delightful cafe, and all of us had something delicious to eat, but the Buster couldn’t find anything that looked good to him, so he chose a treat when we got to the grocery store.

The treat turned out to be scary Franken-food that we were all intrigued to see him try.

Nutella and pretzel sticks, but with "orange juice" in half of it.

Nutella and pretzel sticks, but with “orange juice” in half of it.

He was willing to give it a try.

He was willing to give it a try.

The pseudo orange juice was a scary, scary chemical mixture. We won’t be trying that again.

In the midst of the downpour, Monkey decided it would be a great idea to collect rainwater to use for experiments later on. She and Yessa braved the drops with a big bowl and found great gushing fountains of water coming out of a ruptured downspout.

Soggy mission accomplished.

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Then the wait for Grandpa and Grandma. We knew the general time they would arrive in Venice from their tour, and which train to Lucca they would likely catch, and though we had been able to email with them, it was still a waiting game. The kids took turns hanging out the kitchen window in the rain to watch for them at the end of our alley, just in case they weren’t able to find us.

Do you see them?

Do you see them?

They found the apartment quite easily, though we were all happy to yell with excitement to be sure they saw us.

We had only a few days in this apartment, and we made the most of it.

We walked all over the city.

Walking on the walls

Walking on the walls

Playing "Kings In The Corner"

Playing “Kings In The Corner”

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Buds, Yessa, and L.M. and L.P. were game to climb to the top of the “building with the trees growing on top.” Here’s a great explanation of the tower provided by a random person on the internet.

It’s estimated that in the Middle Ages, there were about 250 “tower houses”, or torre, in the province of Lucca. These towers can still be found all over Tuscany (the little town of San Gimignano is especially known for its 13 remaining towers) and they were meant to symbolize the wealth and power of their owners. The 44 m tall Torre Guinigi was and still is the most important tower in Lucca, and one of the very few examples left in the region. It was built for the Guinigi family who once ruled over Lucca and defended the city against the Medici of Florence, which helped Lucca retain its independence until the 18th century. The tower has become one of the city’s most famous symbols, especially thanks to its rooftop garden that can be seen from all over the city.

Buster wasn’t interested in climbing the stairs, so he and I settled in on the outside stoop to people watch, tell stories, and enjoy quiet time together. A good time had by all.

Climbing the tower

Climbing the tower

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In the step counting contest, Yessa was the big winner with the closest guess (220!), and Buds and L.P. both got some great pictures.

On another excursion, we picked up chestnuts from the copious chestnut trees that grow all along the outer walls. L.M. put in a good faith effort, aided by internet videos, to turn them into a toasted chestnut treat. Didn’t work out, but it was interesting to try.

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Buds and I had accidentally walked off with one of the keys to the Venice apartment, so we wandered to the Poste Italiane and took a number.

It’s no small choice in which number you take.

Choose carefully!

Choose carefully!

What you can do at the post office.

What you can do at the post office.

We only wanted to mail a package, but we could also have paid a number of utility bills, deposited money into our bank account, or even purchased a new cell phone and cell phone plan. It took about 30 minutes before our number was called, but we were making ourselves laugh, so it went quickly.

The woman who helped us was incredibly helpful, even though her English was sparse, and our Italian non-existent. Smiles, gestures, and three people who laugh easily go a long way.

The keys made it back to their owner, so we did something right.

On another excursion with the crew, we had a grand time at a local playground.

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What a long teeter-totter!

What a long teeter-totter!

In our wandering around town, we did find one shop with our last name on it. And the phone book certainly had more of our clans-people than back home.

The phone had lots of our relatives...

The phone had lots of our relatives…

One shop we found with our name.

One shop we found with our name.

The woman inside the shop didn’t know anything about the name above the door, just that it was a long time ago. Monkey, and all of us, were excited to see it, though.

Finally, our time inside the walls drew to a close. Buds and I walked over to pick up the two rental cars we had for the next few days. We carried as much luggage as we could on that trip, and to reward ourselves stopped at the most wonderful little cafe for an espresso and pastry. It was run by a husband and wife. She chatted with the customers and gave out the pastries. She’d call down the coffee orders to him and he’d pull them from the shiny espresso machine. Then he kindly carried them out to us.

It was so sunny and so peaceful and such a happy place. We spoke of returning here again someday. As we did of many places on the trip.

Bless you google maps for this photo.

Bless you google maps for this photo.

Buds and I happened upon his photographer Father as we made our way back to the apartment.

The snapper gets snapped.

The snapper gets snapped.

I believe there was one last stop of gelato on our way out of town, then off we went to load up the cars to head to our farmhouse outside the city.

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What was your favorite gelato?

Gelato at the controversial Grom

I’m quizzing the kids on their Italy memories. Since, Monkey’s in her “no clue” phase, we’re starting with an easy question.

Yessa: When we were going up the mountain in Bolzano. We stopped at a place on the way down (Gelateria Eccetera). The Vanilla was awesome, the Nutella was awesome. It made me want more Nutella it was so good. This was the first good gelateria we went too and all the kids remember it fondly.

Buster: Don’t know. My favorite depends on the place. I always sampled Chocolate, often Limone and Fragola.

Monkey: You know my favorite flavor (strachiatella). I can’t say what my favorite place was. My least favorite was the fancy place in Florence (Grom). It tasted incorrect. Strachiatella should be white with the chocolate in it, but this was yellowish and it tasted like milk, rather than gelato.

Buds: This was the first place I noticed Fior De Latte “flower of milk”, the pretentious purist gelato.

Yessa: At Grom, I didn’t like when all the Vanillas were yellow. It didn’t look appetizing. My new favorite flavor is Vanilla because it’s the base. Without it you can’t have anything.

Jennie: My favorite gelato memory was in San Gimignano (Piazza Della Cisterna, San Gimignano). We got one flavor before lunch and another after. These were the best of all. I had Tiramisu and Coffee. We ate them sitting on the cistern in this beautiful square.

Buds: I spent my time looking for the strangest flavors. I loved a Sicilian medley with candied fruit at Grom in Florence. Apparently, I’m alone in that. We also found a little spot near a small Piazza in Florence (Il Gelato Gourmet di Marco Ottaviano) that was awesome. I had Ricotta with Figs and Walnuts *and* Rose flavored gelato there. It had the highbrow flavors of Grom with a friendly attitude.

Jennie: The place close to the bridge in Florence (Gelato Santa Trinita) was also great. We stopped there a few times. Large servings of creamy goodness.

Buds: Lastly, I should mention this place in Rome by the Coloseum. We had had a few iffy gelatos in Rome but this was absolutely first class and friendly.