Plated Review: Crispy Lemongrass Pork and Long Life Noodles

Plated, the food delivery subscription box, recently had a promotion and I was able to get six plates for the price of two. It was a great opportunity to try something new. I love cooking and trying new things, but I am the worst at grocery shopping and not super excellent at planning meals in advance. Plated sends you the exact right amount of everything and offers curated menus of dishes a little bit fancier than I’d usually think to try. As always, no one sends me free stuff, so I paid for this with my own money. The rest of the week, I’ll recap the recipes that I made from the subscription and let you know what I think.

Most recipes cost $12 a “plate” (serving) so it can get a little pricey. It’s definitely good as a treat, or I could see getting a large order if I was planning to entertain and wanted to try something different.

Let’s talk about the bad though, because the bad parts of this experience were very bad.

I had delivery set for Friday, which means we planned to make some delicious food on Friday 3/27. I got the shipping notification, the tracking number, everything. Nothing arrived on Friday. On Saturday we checked the mail around 4pm and there was nothing. I looked up the tracking number and saw that my box was labeled “out for delivery.” I sent LaserShip (the company used in my neck of the woods) an email request for more information, to which I still have received no reply. I then headed over to their FAQ page and found that they will sometimes deliver as late as 8pm, and in certain areas on Sundays. I called the number and the number provided is “not in service,” leaving me to bank on the email reply. I checked for the package again at 9pm and nothing was there. Sunday around 3pm I went down to check. The box was finally there! It was also open. This is absurd. It looked like it was only taped half way to begin with, as there were no cuts in the tape and tears in the cardboard, but I am unsure if it shipped like that or if a neighbor took the item off the porch, opened it, and then realized it wasn’t theirs. That’s why it would still be extra nice to hear back from LaserShip, to know what day my item was actually delivered. I discussed these concerns in my feedback to Plated. As it stands right now, I would not recommend Plated to anyone in an area that would have LaserShip as their delivery service.

My other gripe is with the subscription service- supposedly you can skip weeks, which is great because sometimes you go on vacation and with a box of fresh food you really want to be there to get it. We will not be home at all over Easter weekend, so I wanted to skip Friday’s delivery while I considered if I wanted another shipment (they had some great looking options) after clicking everywhere under all the available account tabs, I couldn’t figure out how to skip the 4/3 delivery… so I just canceled the subscription altogether.

What’s excellent about Plated is the food. Despite being delayed and opened, everything in the box was still fresh- and it was properly packed, the meat was placed BELOW the fresh vegetable ingredients so they would have been ok even if there had been a leak (there wasn’t). I had wanted to do a full unboxing, but was just incredibly anxious to get all my things into the fridge after the delayed arrival.

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We did the Crispy Lemongrass Pork with Long Life Noodles for our first dish, as it was the quickest and had meat (we want to use that up first, given the delay). The recipe cards plated provides are large and beautiful.

Pictured against a 15" computer screen

Pictured against a 15″ computer screen

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There are step-by-step instructions, as well as an ingredient list so you can recreate the recipe. Plated comes with the exact right amount of just about everything (except water, salt, and pepper). I almost wish there were a way to select items you already have in your pantry so those can be used up- the soy sauce packets weren’t any huge inconvenience but I have a ton of soy sauce already! Still it’s really handy, especially in dishes like this, to not end up with a lot of leftover “orphan” ingredients that you buy for one recipe and then don’t know what to do with- like lemongrass.

Lemongrass and Garlic

Lemongrass and Garlic

I was most impressed with the noodles- they weren’t the strange, wet packaged in water noodles I’ve had from some places, nor were they dried. They were fresh, lightly floured noodles, like they had just come off a pasta machine.

It the broth with the Chinese broccoli

It the broth with the Chinese broccoli

This meal was finished in less than half an hour! It could take less time if you DON’T turn the wrong burner on and melt half of your plastic cutting board to a glass lid, and if you have a nonstick pan that won’t try to claim the pork for its own.

Here’s the finished product:

Served in my Asian-esque Corningware bowls.

Served in my Asian-esque Corningware bowls.

We saved the garnish lime for my parents- they’ll use it to make capirinhas.

When/(if) you’re signing up for Plated you’ll have the opportunity to list any food dislikes/allergies/religious avoidances. They don’t allow you to get terribly specific. I had to blacklist all nuts just to avoid walnuts, but whatever.

I’m really torn between recommending this and not. I loved the food, it was a great way to try cooking something new. I enjoyed actually making the food! But I’m so disgusted about receiving an open box two days late. If it is something you want to try, and think the shipping in your area might be better, you can use my Referral Link. If they still have the promotion going

Blogging for Books: The Ballad of the Small Player

Meeeeeeeeh.

I squandered my spring break by thinking about all the packing I’ll have to do if we end up moving in June (you may need to stay tuned for a big announcement, you may not. Life is great like that). Now it’s the first day of my third term of grad school, I’m not quite halfway done but I’m getting there and it feels so good to be making progress. Something that I really appreciate about Drexel is that they very clearly lay out what classes you are supposed to take, making planning so easy to visualize (something that is truly relaxing to me).

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the Empire finale. I lead an exciting life, folks.

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You know who else leads an exciting life? Not the main character in The Ballad of a Small Player by Lawrence Osborne.

I mentioned in my previous Blogging for Books review that I was trying to stay away from Western-Focused books written by white men. This book is a success if you really stretch my to meet my criteria. It’s by a white dude, about a white dude, but it’s set in Macau so I gave myself points for that. You are given a limited selection to chose from, so you need to make do with what you can get.

What does the publisher have to say about this book?

“As night falls on Macau and the neon signs that line the rain-slick streets come alive, Doyle – “Lord Doyle” to his fellow players – descends into his casino of choice to try his luck at the baccarat tables that are the anchor of his current existence. A corrupt English lawyer who has escaped prosecution by fleeing to the East, Doyle spends his nights drinking and gambling and his days sleeping off his excesses, continually haunted by his past. Taking refuge in a series of louche and dimly lit hotels, he watches his fortune rise and fall as the cards decide his fate.
 
In a moment of crisis he meets Dao-Ming, an enigmatic Chinese woman who appears to be a denizen of the casinos just like himself, and seems to offer him salvation in the form of both money and love. But as Doyle attempts to make a rare and true connection, all that he accepts as reality seems to be slipping from his grasp. 
 
Resonant of classics by Dostoevsky and Graham Greene, The Ballad of a Small Player is a timeless tale steeped in eerie suspense and rich atmosphere.”

Osborne is a perfectly competent writer. I have read some really boring books where the prose was just too dense, or too sparse, or whatever. Not here. Osborne is competent and knows his way around writing. And Osborne seems like an incredibly interesting person. His author bio on Random House reads: “Lawrence Osborne is the author of one previous novel, Ania Malina, and six books of nonfiction, including the memoir Bangkok Days. His journalism and short stories have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, Newsweek, Forbes, Tin House, Harper’s,Conde Nast Traveler, and many other publications. Osborne has led a nomadic life, residing for years in France, Italy, Morocco, the United States, Mexico, and Thailand. He currently lives in Istanbul.”

Unfortunately, this book is still dull.

Set in the casinos of Macau (and Hong Kong? I think?), Small Player follows Lord Doyle, a Grade A scumbag with a gambling addiction and Dao Ming, the hooker with a heart of gold.

Doyle’s hit it rich by siphoning money from an old woman, a client from his former lawyer days, back in England. He faces no consequences for these actions, unless you count his bad luck. He squanders all his money, runs into Dao Ming (who he meets at the very beginning of the book) and she manages  to pay off his debts and save him from deportation, and then I skipped from chapter 17 to chapter 19 because nothing was happening, and then from chapter 19 to 21 (the final chapter) because still nothing was happening and then I counted the book as read. Pretty much nothing happens. Lord Doyle squanders his fortune, he begs some money off of another gambling addict, Dao Ming swoops in and saves the day, the he wins all his money back but misses out on true love or something. Supposedly the supernatural is involved (per the book jacket) but all I could count was the constant references to luck.

In order to enjoy a book, I have to like a characters. This doesn’t mean I think the characters should be “likeable”, I don’t need to want every character to be my bff, but I need to enjoy their presence. The best example of this feeling that I can give is the villains in the Redwall series. These villains are bad, they are evil, they are despicable, they deserve everything that is handed for them and I cheer when they are brought to their knees. But I still love them. Chapters from the villain’s POV are incredible and just as enthralling as the rest of the book, I may welcome their demise but I love to see them try and fail to enact their dastardly plans. I don’t like the characters in the sense that I support their cause or actions, or want to be friends with them but I like reading about them because they are developed, motivated, and exciting. Lord Doyle and Dao Ming are neither of these thing. Grandma is the most exciting character in the book but she doesn’t feature prominently at all.

Maybe I am just not the right audience for this book. I’ve been in casinos and I even won big once*. I don’t find casinos that exciting. They’re loud, flashy, and overstimulating and really kind of sad in a weird way as everyone is so isolated and so unaware of their surroundings. But I thought a gambling addict hitting rock bottom could be interesting. I thought Macau could be an intriguing setting. I thought a lot of things, but this book was just dull.

Unless casinos or disgraced Englishmen are your fetish, I do not recommend The Ballad of the Small Player. 2 out of 5  stars.

*$12.50 at a slot machine. 50 cents of pure profit, baby!.

**I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Diversity in YA

Diversity in YA novels is just as (if not more) important than diversity in adult fiction. The Diversity in YA Tumblr is offering this giveaway- the winners will receive 5 randomly selected YA books featuring main characters who in some way or another qualify as diverse (so if you only want to read about straight, white, able-bodied people, this is not the giveaway for you). I promise that if I win I’ll offer reviews of the books I receive. This fits in nicely with my effort to consciously diversify my reading. Check it out!

Beauty Would You Rather

I’ve got a couple of these meme-style posts written up that I can publish sporadically until things calm down. Hope you enjoy!

The rules:

1) Answer the questions
2) Thank the blogger and link back  Or randomly steal it when it pops up on your reader 
3) Tag five bloggers and let them know you tagged them 🙂 Or don’t because these tagged things always feel bizarrely exclusionary to me.

Questions:

1. Would you rather go out with messy hair and nice make-up or Nice hair and no make-up?
– Messy hair and nice make-up is kind of my default setting (actually my default setting is “recently awakened bridge troll” but ya know, details). I would love nice hair/no make-up just for a change of pace but not as my permanent setting

2. Would you rather shave your eyebrows or have your eyelashes fall out?
– My eyelashes are one of my few naturally stellar features. I get asked for mascara recommendations or if I’m wearing falsies a lot… I was actually born with it! Since it’s nice to have one un-augmented thing going for you, I’d pick shave my eyebrows.

3. Would you rather be forced to shop at only MAC or Sephora/Debenhams for the rest of your life?
– Sephora. I like my MAC paint pot, but it’s literally the only MAC item I own. And Sephora has the Kat Von D eyeliner I adore.

4. Would you rather wear lip gloss/lip liner look or 80’s perm?
– Ok so do I get to pick between the gloss or the liner, or they together? I think I want to play this safe and rock an 80s perm. I’d rather be poodley than sticky.

5. Would you rather leave the house with an obvious foundation line or overdone blush?
– Overdone blush. I don’t know why but that idea bothers me less than a foundation line

6. Would you rather wear MC Hammer pants or biker shorts in public?
–Someone should tell Oregon you’re not supposed to wear biker shorts in public. Neither of these would bother me, just don’t make me actually ride a bike.

7. Would you rather have a bad orange-y spray tan or really weird tan lines that can’t be covered?
– Weird tan lines. That happens to me pretty frequently and I don’t really care.

8. Would you rather have a bad haircut or bad hair color?
– Fact: I always hate my haircuts. Every haircut is a bad haircut on me. I’ll stick with the status quo on this one.

9. Would you rather have YouTube or Twitter taken away forever?
– Either or. I guess I use youtube less but am more entertained when I do. It’s probably better for my blood pressure if you take away twitter

10. Would your rather give up on using makeup brushes or mascara?
– Do I have to say brushes because I don’t use mascara to begin with?

What She Order? Crippling Self-Doubt and a Hailstorm of Deadlines! (That Shit Cray)

Oh Kanye, I take comfort in knowing I’m not the worst thing to happen to you- I’ve seen your fashion line. And I’m not apologizing to Jay-Z either, dude’s married to Beyonce, some lyrical butchering in a blog title is nothing.

So, where we at?

Finals for my second term of grad school have just begin. Last term they were cumulative projects, this term they are (both) specific take-home exams that I have a week to complete.

I am applying for a fancy new job. I love current job and in the grand scheme of things I am not actively job searching- however this is an opportunity to really advance myself and I can’t pass on it. There is not a hard deadline for applications, but I want to have my cover letter finished and polished by this weekend so that I can send my documents out into the world and stop stressing about it stress about it in a completely different fashion. Fortunately my resume is up-to-date from applying to grad school! I take comfort in knowing that if I don’t get the job I could continue to come to my current job and fulfill my tasks happily (if not without some disappointment) but new job is in a geographic location Manbeast and I both prefer and closer to some very important people to us.

Our lease ends at the end of April. The job I am applying for is in a different state and wouldn’t start til June/July. We didn’t really want to stay at our own place. One option is to move back in with my parents for a few months- they are in the process of moving themselves. Another is to start looking for a new place and hope we find out if I’m a finalist/have the position sooner rather than later. Or we can ask to extend our lease a few months, though we suspect that might go over better if we say “extend while I wait on this job, and if I don’t get it we will renew.” But do we really want to renew? We certainly don’t want to freeze and be poor again all winter! I know home ownership is fraught with its own set of challenges, issues, and expenses, but I truly want to be in a place where I don’t have to deal with the panic and worry of “do we want a new place and what happens if we can’t find an acceptable one by the time we need it?”

I’m poor. I’m maid of honor at my friend’s wedding in October, our electric bill is absurd (we have electric heat and utilities, and the power company our apartment uses raised rates by 40% for the winter). I don’t have the money to throw at things to review, even though there are a ton of items I want to try. I’ve been signing up for programs that offer samples for reviews, but outside of Blogging for Books haven’t had much success. I have a really small audience here, and while I’m trying to expand it brands just don’t seem that interested in helping a start-up. Of course, our electric rates should drop at the end of the month, and we’ll be able to turn our heat off, and that should make an incredible difference in our finances and open up the possibility to me purchasing some items for review! I also have some leftovers from Christmas (ugggh) that I can talk about, but surviving finals is hands down my primary goal right now. If you want to send me something, please contact me at irreverent.internet (at) gmail!

I like this blog and love writing in it, and I don’t like going long stretches without posting, but it looks like life’s going. Please send good thoughts my way for finals and this job (and figuring out our living situation!).

Blogging for Books: The Girl in the Road

So the official Blogging for Books instruction email explicitly states that I’m not supposed to start my review talking about how I got a free book. Normally I follow instructions but because this is the first time doing this I want to talk about what this whole thing is, why I’m reviewing this book (aside from: it looked interesting), and how you can get involved if you’re interested.

Blogging for Books is a site that matches bloggers with books. The books are free as long as you promise to review. Signing up is also free and easy, but you must provide a blog- your Facebook and Goodreads sites do not count (I am unsure if a Tumblr would count though). Once you’ve filled out some preferences it gives you some recommendations- select what you think is the most interesting and request it in print, ebook, or both (ebooks only to anyone outside the US).

This isn’t the kind of program that’s really going to help me chisel away at my “to-read” list. These are mostly new books, not all of them well-known (at least, not that I’ve seen in fiction, it does differ from category to category). Perhaps because I spend so much time on Tumblr, I decided that I’m going to aim to review books written by women, especially ones that aren’t western-centric (if nothing meeting that criteria is available I’ll just pick something else). It also helped that, of the books recommended for me, the one meeting that criteria was the most interesting sounding (ok, so maybe I picked this book and then decided to apply a method to my madness. Regardless, I think the author would approve).

girl in the road

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

Monica Byrne is quiet the accomplished person, having an MS in Geochemistry from freaking MIT. Her site contains no official bio, just her CV (where I pulled the geochem fact) and a mission: “There’s an infinite number of stories to tell. I intend to tell as many as I can. The universe is big.” and a blog. So based solely on summaries of the book (writing this pre-reading) The Girl in the Road is a science fiction novel following two women Meena in India and Mariama on the African continent as they travel to Ethiopa. There is an assassination attempt and an “energy harvesting” bridge across the Arabian Sea. The two stories are intertwined even though they are not happening simultaneously.

So now onto the basic and the post-reading review (I’m going to try and be spoiler free):

The book is classified as sci-fi, which is a genre I don’t read a lot of as I have a hard time finding sci-fi (and fantasy) books the I find to be enjoyable, not overly convoluted, and not part of a series (when I find out something is part of a series my desire to read it drops by about 70%. This is a recent-ish development). The Girl in the Road is, however, soft-sci-fi. It’s not truly post-apocalyptic and doesn’t describe a totalitarian government (though those issues seem to be touched upon). The focus of the story isn’t the fancy technology or even the energy harvesting. This is a story about our two unreliable narrators (Meena and Mariama) and their journeys. Meena is escaping from what she perceives to be an assassination attempt, and Mariama is trying to find safety and family.

While the focus is only on two characters, this book still offers a diverse cast. Set in India and Africa the characters are POC, there are LGBT characters and because of the “sci-fi” nature of all this, we are in a world where these issues are treated as mundane, except for some residual homophobia by the older generation. There are no prominent white people in the book, though colonization and racism are still explored in a different light.

The biggest pros of this book are how well constructed it is. Alternating chapters are easy to follow (books with alternating perspectives that jump around with what pattern of narrators they are using drive me batty). The technology is not the focus so it’s presented in a clear way without a lot of exposition about what the things do and how/why they were developed. Even the “trail” that Meena walks is explained in a way that is clear without being over the top.

Byrne is absolutely and undeniably a skilled writer, her craft is good.

There are cons, as well. I was not crazy about most of the sex as described in the book- this book is not erotica and the sex isn’t extremely graphic or anything, but I don’t think anything would have been lost by cutting a lot of them. Meena is established as an unreliable narrator almost immediately, and that’s not a bad thing, but sometimes I found her just a little too paranoid, over the top, and hard to tolerate (overall I liked the character though). Several of the “twists” felt very obvious to me right from the beginning, but like the trail this book was about the journey to the end. Which I found a little confusing. There were parts that I read and re-read and still said “huh” and some of the terms used I was not sure if they were Googleable words in foreign languages or created futuristic lingo.

I did not love this book. I am not going to run around and tell all my friends “you must read this book!” However, I did like this book, and I will absolutely recommend it to specific, targeted people. If you are someone who likes hard sci-fi, this is not for you. If you’re open to soft sci-fi and like character driven pieces, appreciate diversity in literature, this is a book you absolutely must read. It was intriguing, engaging, and not at all satisfying in the end, but still a great ride.

Official Random House page for Monica Byrne: http://www.randomhouse.com/author/184168/monica-byrne

Official Random House page for  The Girl in the Road: http://www.randomhouse.com/book/233838/the-girl-in-the-road-by-monica-byrne

(I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.)