Wednesday, December 08, 2021

The final experimental meal

Sunday night, as planned, I made the fourth and final meal from the meal kit I received last Monday. It was fine—nothing wrong with it—but it was quite ordinary. And a bit fiddly, of course.

The meal was called “Very Very Peri Peri Beef Burger” (my result in the photo), however, what made it “peri peri” was only that I was supposed to use the supplied Heinz® Seriously Good™ Peri Peri Mayonnaise on the bun, which I skipped because I don’t like peri peri—I find it to be all heat and no flavour. Even so, I tasted it before starting the prep work and decided I was right: All heat and no added flavour (although the heat faded pretty quickly)

Peri Peri is a capsicum (pepper) cultivar that the Portuguese grew in their African possessions, especially in what is now Mozambique and South Africa. The Portuguese were eventually forced out, but the use of the pepper in food continues to this day.

The first bit of prep was to take one of the very large onions and finely shop it (side note: I find it much easier to finely chop smaller onions, something I now know because of this meal kit experiment), but I used half an onion. I was supposed to soften that in a fry pan, along with some finely chopped garlic, let it cool, then mix it with the beef mince (“ground beef” in Americanese). At the time, I thought the beef was fairly lean and dense, which I thought would be a good thing. After it was mixed, I formed them into four patties and then, as instructed, put them in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Next, I “cut the kūmara into chips”, though I learned from having made too much in earlier meals and used only one of the two supplied large kūmara (which is a sweet potato grown in New Zealand). As with the potatoes in Meal Three, I tossed the sliced kūmara in a bowl with some oil, salt and pepper to coat them evenly before spreading them on a baking sheet lined with foil.

Finally, I cut the other half of the large onion into rings, and also a small onion I had on hand (the recipe called for using two large onions for this!). I was to caramelise them with balsamic vinegar and some brown sugar, so I put them into the same fry pan I’d used for the onions for the burger patties, and put them aside (not on the heat).

I put the kūmara chips in the preheated oven and took the patties out of the fridge. I turned on the element under the onions and heated up my grill pan. I put two patties in the grill pan and noticed that they were shrinking quite a bit. They didn’t produce a lot of fat (or water, for that matter). The centre, though, stayed about as thick as I’d formed them—it was mostly shrinking at the edges.

I took the two patties out of the pan and put them on a plate to rest (with another plate inverted over them). and put the other two patties in the pan. Meanwhile, I added the vinegar and sugar to the onion rings.

When the meal kit arrived, I noticed that the instruction card for this meal said “please but buns in the freezer on arrival”. I assumed they mean “put”, and I did so. However, the buns weren’t pre-split, and I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to slice them while they were still frozen, so I worked very slowly and succeeded. I decided to toast them in the toaster, rather than under the grill in the oven, because the chips were in there and I didn’t want to mess that up. It worked okay, but I had the temperature set a little too high (it’s been quite awhile since I’ve done them that way—I’m out of practice).

The kūmara chips looked slightly burned, probably more from the sugar in them than anything else, because they didn’t taste burned. Instead of spreading the peri peri mayonnaise on the buns, I used ordinary mayo. I used a leaf of the supplied “Cos romaine lettuce” (nice way of covering both names…), and my own sliced tomato because the one supplied had been slightly crushed and had not lasted well in the fridge. A spritz of ordinary tomato sauce (ketchup) and some of the caramelised onion on top, and it was ready.

For my taste, the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar didn’t really add anything to the onions, apart from making them sweet with a balsamic tang. I think ordinary caramelised onions would have been at least as good, but, for my taste, better.

Overall, the meal was nice enough, but not so nice that it was worth all the effort: I give it 2.5 out of 5 because of all that prep work. That prep work, and the fact I cooked the burgers in two goes, meant that the whole thing took me around two hours to prepare and cook. I can make homemade burgers that I enjoy just as much in less than a quarter the time it took me Sunday night—I’ll be extra-extra generous and say half the time if I cooked four burgers instead of two, or if I made them fancier than usual.

Add to that the two fry pans, baking sheet, mixing bowl, and extra plates I needed in prep, all of which had to be washed (I ran the dishwasher yet again…), and the total time was far, far longer than I’d normally spend on making burgers for dinner.

I had leftovers for lunch on Monday, and decided I would try the peri peri mayonnaise on the bun: It added absolutely nothing, in my opinion. The heat wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, possibly because of all the other, non-spicy stuff, but I could feel the heat even after I’d finished the burger, and for no benefit—it didn’t give any good, unique, or extra flavour that I could taste. Personally, I think the ordinary mayo was at least as good, probably better.

Monday night, I took a pizza out of the freezer and, as part of doctoring it, as I always do, I sliced up the good part of the tomato they supplied and sprinkled the leftover supplied mozzarella and parmesan cheeses over the top. That means I used up nearly everything supplied—except for one large kūmara, two large onions, some panko breadcrumbs, and some fresh basil, all of which I’ll still use. I may not get through all the cos lettuce before it goes off, and then there’s the unused mesclun, too. Still, not much waste (apart from the mesclun, which went slimy and horrible in the bag, and so will go into my compost bin).

Later this week, I’ll sum up the experience, and what I think of the whole idea of meal kits (I’m still mulling that over a bit), but, for now, I can at least say that I didn’t hate any of the meals, I really liked one, and another one just needed some modifications, and one was okay, the fourth less so. That’s not too bad.

Now it’s back to my regularly schedules programming—but it’s not the end of my experiments.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Yes, ask again

For several years beginning in 2012, I had an annual year-end series of “Ask Arthur” posts (I also had two July series, but gave up that idea). I didn’t do one in 2019, of course, but I realised that if I want to do a 10th anniversary series next year, I couldn't very well skip another year. Like last year, then, I thought, “why not?”

As in previous years, I'll leave the questions open until I near the end of the series. If I don't get any questions, this'll be a very short series, but whatever happens it'll end on or before December 31..

These “Ask Arthur” posts offer a chance for people to ask me nearly anything, and I try to answer whatever I’m asked. I’ve never had topics that I decided in advance are “off limits”, but I always said that if I couldn’t answer something for whatever reason, I’d say so. So far, I've never had a question that I wouldn’t answer.

Over the years, I’ve been asked about myself, my past, about life in New Zealand—mine or in general—about being an expat, what I think about various topics or events in the news, and so on. I'm also completely open to answering questions about grief, too, something that some people seem to be kind of afraid of asking about (even though I've blogged about it a lot over the past two years). In other words, there are many different topics, and many possibilities.

To ask questions, leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are allowed; all comments are currently moderated, so there may be a delay before yours appears). Or, you can email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom du question?). You can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page, however, keep in mind that all Facebook Pages are public, just like this blog, so if you ask a question there, anyone can read it and associate it with your name. Instead, you can send me a private message (not a comment on the page itself) through the AmeriNZ Facebook Page (private messages aren't public—at the moment?).

Finally, as I always note, this idea is stolen from inspired by Roger Green’s “Ask Roger Anything” (“ARA”) posts. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Or, something like that.

So, over to you: Ask your question whatever way works best for you, and I’ll do my best to answer it.

All posts in this series will be tagged “AAA-21”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.


What do you want to know? (December 2012)
Ask Arthur (July 2013)
Ask Arthur – Again (December 2013)
Ask Arthur Again, again (December 2014)
Ask Arthur yet again (July 2015)
It’s that time again (December 2015)
It’s ‘Ask Arthur’ time again (December 2016)
Let the 2017 asking begin (November 2017)
Let the 2018 asking begin (November 2018)
There was no “Ask Arthur” series in 2019.
Sure, why not ask again? (December 2020)

Not a humbug, but…

I have nothing against Christmas, I just don’t really care about it anymore. I don’t think there was a single moment where my earlier enthusiasm for it ended, and instead I think it just kind of fell by the wayside out of disuse, and probably disinterest. That sort of thing happens all the time.

When I was a kid, I loved Christmas—not a unique thing, obviously, but it’s where I started. For many years after I became an adult, I’d put up a tree and other decorations, but when I moved to New Zealand, everything felt out of kilter with Christmas being in hot summer weather. I’ve often thought that’s what started killing off my enthusiasm.

However, Nigel also wasn’t terribly interested in the hoopla—decoration, gift buying, all that sort of thing. What he and I both loved about the day was spending time with family, probably eating too much and sometimes maybe drinking too much in my case. It was just a nice, relaxed day with few demands (other than getting the food for Christmas Lunch all out at the same time).

Our family had a tradition for awhile that whoever had most recently moved to a new home would host Christmas for whoever in the family was around (in any given year, folks might be away, especially when the nieces and nephews became adults and had kids of their own). Christmases became smaller as a result, but they were still nice.

Last year, being the most-recently moved, I hosted a small gathering of family at my house, and it was a lovely day. At the time, I was thinking something that’s come back to me many times:
Last year, I didn’t know what to expect, but I think it was the lack of any traditions with Nigel that made it much easier for me than I thought it could be, but it ended up being roughly what I expected. However, even then I didn’t realise how lucky I was to not have traditions. I’ve seen an extraordinary amount of deep pain expressed on the Facebook group pages for gay widows/widowers I’m part of. It’s been heart-wrenching, and it’s left me thankful, if that’s the right word, for being in a better position than I could have been in.
I know that many people most keenly miss those they’ve lost when the holidays roll around, but I just don’t have that, because, as I also said in that post, “I miss [Nigel] every single day, holiday or not.” In fact, our birthdays and anniversaries have affected me far more than Christmas has. That’s a good thing, I guess?

This year, though, I did something different: I put up our Christmas tree, something we never did in the two Christmases Nigel and I had at our last house. Nigel saw the tree at a NZ department store called Farmer’s, and sent me there to buy one, though I don’t remember what year that was. I know do that the first year I included it in a blog post was back in 2009.

After 2009, we sometimes put the tree up, sometimes we didn’t, but the last time we put it up was for Christmas 2016, our last Christmas before we moved from Auckland’s North Shore to the last house we shared. There’s no actual reason why that was the last year, it was probably that putting the tree up was mostly up to me, and I just never found the right spot for it at our last house.

This year, I thought about getting a new tree and hanging ornaments again, but the truth is that right now, I’m not entirely sure where the ornaments are (I think they’re buried in the garage somewhere). Besides, it just “felt right” to use what was our tree, one that Nigel chose, for (at least) one last time. Back in 2009, there was also a garland I found and jokingly hung on a clay mask that was hanging on our wall, a joke I continued doing every year we put up the tree. I put that back up this year, too.

So, minimal decoration, minimal fuss, kind of like it always was in many other years—it’s just in an entirely different context this year. I don’t know that I’ll put any decorations up next year—or ever again, for that matter—but this year, and for no particular reason, I did.

I have nothing against Christmas, it’s just that I don’t really care about it anymore. For me, it’s not that it’s a humbug, it’s just it’s a yawn. And I’m perfectly fine with that. I know that for others Christmas is a very big deal, indeed, and I hope those folks have one that’s as special and magical as they hope it will be. I know that, in my own way, I will.

The photo up top is of my "Christmas decorations" this cloudy afternoon. Leo is inspecting the tree (left), something he's never seen (or sniffed…) before. The clay mask (right) is better adorned this year than it was in 2009, the first year I did that. Nothing stays the same forever, after all.

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Meal Three was a success

On Thursday, I made the third meal from the meal kits I’m trying, one called “Chicken Parma”, and it was a success. It wasn’t as fiddly as the first two, but I also mixed it up a bit so that could be part of why I liked it more.

The instructions called for taking the free-range chicken breast and “cut through horizontally to make 4 schnitzels.” I had no idea what “horizontally” meant in this context—horizontal as it was on the bird when it was alive?! I’d seen chicken schnitzels in the supermarket, so I guessed they meant lengthwise.

Next, I was supposed to put them “between two sheets of cling film and flatten with a rolling pin to about 5mm thick." I didn’t trust my cling film not to rip (it’s not very good), so I used baking paper instead, which survived the assault. I knew from experience that I needed to fairly gently whack the chicken (which was covered with baking paper, of course) until it was at the right thickness, which doesn’t take long to do.

The chicken breast was quite large (though it was the weight specified in the instructions), so I ended up with more than four pieces. Because of that, I increased the amount of Panko breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese for the coating. I also added a little garlic powder and a bit of dried basil. The coating method in the instructions is what I’ve (successfully) done in the past, so I didn’t change that (dip in flour, them dip in an egg beaten with a little water, then dip into the breadcrumb mix).

I fried them to brown them before putting them in the bottom of a roasting pan (I didn’t have a lasagna pan) and covered them with the provided jar of sauce. This was a big bit of luck: The instructions said the sauce was "Heinz® Seriously Good™ Spicy Tomato and Chilli Pasta Sauce,” which I think I would’ve hated. I’m not a fan of hot and spicy food generally, and, to me, this dish is meant to be a mild blend of subtle flavours, all of which could easily be overwhelmed if the sauce was too “hot & spicy” (as I’d define that…). Fortunately, the pasta sauce that was actually sent to me was the “Tomato and Roasted Garlic” version, which I’ve actually bought in the past.

There was an oddity (in my opinion) with this meal: I was to cut the provided potatoes into medallions (or, “rounds”, as the instructions called them), and drizzle olive oil and salt and pepper over them. Instead, I tossed them in a bowl with the oil and seasoning so they’d be coated (because I was to turn them over halfway through cooking, I felt this was a better method). When they were done, they weren't as crispy as they’d be if I’d fried them on the stove—they weren’t terrible, or anything, just not as nice as they could’ve been.

The whole thing struck me as odd because the handful of times I’ve been served a similar meal (or made it myself), I can’t remember it ever being served with potatoes like that. I did it anyway, though.

The other change I made was that it was supposed to be served “with a side of mesclun”, which was provided. It looked a bit too wilted to me, and, anyway, I’m not a huge fan—it kind of reminds me of weeds, and sometimes one of the leaves will get stuck at the back of my throat, which is rather unpleasant. Mesclun is a blend of salad leaves that originated in France, and for reasons I don’t understand, it’s often served as a side in cafes in New Zealand. Instead, I used some iceberg lettuce I had in the fridge, with a name-brand salad dressing drizzled on it (by that point I couldn’t be bothered making my own).

Making the meal required a fry pan, a roasting pan, and a baking sheet, plus bowls and plates used in prep, which once again was quite a bit more than I usually use when cooking for myself. Because of that, I’ve also been running the dishwasher more frequently than I normally do. It took nearly two hours to make, including cooking time.

The meal was really nice, though modified from what they sent. I was too busy on Friday to have the leftovers, so I had them for lunch yesterday—and I fried the potatoes to make them crispy, something Nigel and I used to do whenever we had leftover roasted potatoes. It was a nice lunch.

I’ll definitely make this dish again—which isn’t a surprise at all since I’ve made it before. Even though the instructions said to use Mesclun and included the odd (to me…) roasted potato rounds, I’d still give this meal a 5 out of 5. I wouldn’t have chosen to make the potatoes or to have Mesclun, but neither was it “horrible” that they were included. If the sauce in the instructions had really been supplied, though, I think the meal might’ve ended up with me giving it maybe 3 out 5 (possibly lower).

There’s one more meal to make, and I’ll probably make it tonight. I already know I’ll be making changes to that, too. I’ve learned that doing that when we want or need to is a good way to make these meal kits work. But is it worth the effort? I’ll give my opinion on that in my final post in this mini-series.

Important notes: The names of brands/products/companies listed in this post are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products/services were purchased by me, if applicable, at normal consumer prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

In the background of the mini project

Nearly every project I take on is related, one way or another, to some other project. Sometimes I’ve been clear about the connections, but other times I’m not. My recent post about “Another mini project” is in the latter category.

In that post from a couple weeks ago I talked about the DVDs that were the reason I got the shelves in the first place. I said, “Most of the DVDs came from here in New Zealand, but some came from the USA (about which, more in a different post).” That was in the background of the whole project.

I have some DVDs I either bought in the USA or through Amazon that are zoned for North America, meaning that they won’t play on most DVD players sold in NZ (some of the DVDs aren’t zoned, and we also bought some at The Warehouse that were zoned for the UK). Nigel and I had three different DVD players, one of which was a BluRay (though we only had one BluRay DVD, “Star Trek”, the first of the rebooted movies starring Chris Pine). One of the DVD players is actually a DVD/VHS combo machine which makes it possible to record from one to the other or play either medium. Nigel and I planned to transfer some of our VHS tapes to DVD because the titles are no longer available or we just didn’t want to buy them again. DVDs have a longer lifespan than VHS tapes do, so we wanted to preserve them so we could still watch them. Just one more thing on a long list of things we never got around to.

I wanted to hook up that combo machine because of that, especially because it was an all-zone machine, and so, could play all of the American DVDs I’d bought. The machine hasn’t been used in years mainly because it’s silver-coloured, and at some point all the audio and video equipment had been changed to newer ones that were black. The fact it was silver bothered Nigel for some reason, and so, we put the machine away. By that point, we weren’t using the VCR part of it, anyway, so I didn’t really care; we had a black DVD player to watch disks, and that was enough.

At first, I didn’t have any cables for the machine, so I bought one, only to then find ones in a box (of course…), and they were much better, so I used them. The first problem I had was that I wasn’t exactly sure how to hook up the component cable to the TV. I realised I hadn’t hooked up a VCR to a TV since I lived in the USA 26 years ago, and everything’s changed since then. Because the DVD/VCR machine was from 2004, it had no HDMI port, and I wasn’t familiar with using component cables because they didn’t exist when I last hooked up a VCR. So, I downloaded the TV’s manual to find out how it’s supposed to be connected, and once I did, it worked perfectly.

There was one other thing, too: I did something Nigel never did.

A year or two before he died, Nigel bought what was essentially a soundbar and amplifier all in a big, flat case that would sit under the TV. He was very happy about it because he got it for way less than a quarter of its original price—because it had been discontinued, I later worked out. It also meant he didn’t have to have separate speakers in the room, and he didn’t have to use the amplifier that had a fault that he also never got around to dealing with.

The sound device was good, but I noticed that when there was music in the background of a scene, I often had trouble hearing what a person was saying because the music dominated everything. I mentioned it to Nigel, who, again, never got around to looking into it (I don’t know if it bothered him).

When I was hooking everything up, I looked at the back of the sound thing, and I saw a small knob labelled “sub” which, I assumed, was for a subwoofer function. It was set for smack in the middle, so I turned it up a bit and that solved the problem that’s bothered me ever since Nigel originally set up the machine. By increasing the low tones, it seems, speech became more distinct.

I’ll be honest: I was little bit proud of myself for figuring out how to fix it by doing something that Nigel may not even have known about, but the truth is that it was really a bit of luck. Even more importantly, though, it was something I arrived at the same way Nigel would’ve: I was researching online how to hook up the DVD/VCR machine and then stumbled across the knob while I was behind the TV. I took a punt that adjusting it would help, and it did—and that’s something Nigel would’ve done, too. As I’ve said before, he really did teach me very well how to deal with this tech stuff.

There’s one final problem that I haven’t taken care of yet: I have no idea where the remote is. It became separated from the machine after we stopped using it many years ago. I might be able to use a universal remote, but since it’s two machines in one, it’d be easier to have the actual remote. Besides, many universal remotes “learn” from the device’s remote, which I don’t have. I found a place in Australia that sells the actual remotes as replacement parts, and if the original doesn’t turn up soon I may order one—and there just aren’t that many places to look for the remote any more, so a replacement may be my only/best option. In the meantime, I can play DVDs by using the buttons on the front of the machine, but it’s definitely not ideal.

That’s the story that was behind my “mini project”: The project was to make the DVDs accessible to play on a machine I wanted to use because it’ll allow me to do a project we never got around to, that and also to watch any of our DVDs, including all of the ones from different zones.

I was able to do that because of what I learned from Nigel (often just by watching him), and because I understood what I was doing—something that’s not always the case. Still, I’m willing to learn and to figure stuff out, all of which will be useful in the years ahead. In that sense, Nigel prepared me well, and that, it turns out, is the background to nearly everything I’m now doing.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

Prescribing changes

Sometimes, a solution to a problem will simply fall into our laps. Back in June, I wrote about the problems I was having with a very simple thing: Finding the right pharmacy. For now, at least, I have a solution.

The first problem was that I wanted an easily accessible pharmacy, meaning, close to my house and open seven days. That’s because I have to go every month to pick up a refill of one prescription drug (the others each come with three-month supply; this has to do with the way theone drug’s funded by the government’s Pharmaceutical Management Agency, better known as Pharmac). As I said in June, that wasn’t as easy as it should have been.

When Lockdown re-arrived in August, I had my GP send the prescription to the chemist I used to go to, near the GP practice. What I forgot is that under Level 4, as we were at the time, they dispensed prescriptions for one month at a time. I had to go back there two more times—exactly what I was trying to avoid.

Last month, it was getting to be time to renew my prescriptions, and I was debating about where to have my GP send the order. I was leaning toward the pharmacy at the local Countdown supermarket, but the truth is, I don’t really like it.

Then, at nearly the last possible moment, I got an email from a store I’d ordered stuff from online. The email was to tell me that the store’s parent company, The Warehouse Group, had invested in a NZ online pharmacy called ZOOM Pharmacy. What drew me to them (apart from the fact they’re New Zealand-owned) was they they delivered the refills. Like the two Australian chains I considered, they don’t charge the usual $5 per prescription, but there was something else: Anyone like me getting four or more different prescription drugs got free delivery and could have them prepared in pouches, one day’s pills per pouch (if one has to take pills at different times, then all the pills for each time are put in different pouches; mine are once a day).

I decided to try the pharmacy, as I mentioned briefly last month, and with a little effort, I managed to use my doctor’s portal to request the prescription be sent to ZOOM, which they did. Then I had to speak with a pharmacist at ZOOM who verified my address, that the medications ordered were correct, and then he offered to answer any questions I might have.

It turns out that a couple weeks after the first order, they send out a text alerting people that their next order will soon be shipped and to let them know if anything’s changed. I received that text yesterday. I don’t have to do anything—the pills come to me, and completely for free, and they’ll email me a tracking number so I can check to see how far away the order is.

I knew that not having to deal with picking up a monthly refill of one medication would save me time and effort, but having it sent to me automatically would be better still. Better still, because of those pouches, I no longer have to count out all my pills once a week, and that saves me time, too. So far, it’s worked great.

I had a few issues at first, especially that the pouch in the photo up top [Note: The photo may be missing due to a problem with Google's Blogger – the issue is now resolved]. It was from day 2, and when I tore off the pouch for that day, I accidentality tore off a bit of the bottom of the Day 3 pouch (the little bit of plastic at the top of the pouch in the photo). I couldn’t tell if I’d made a little hole in the bottom of the Day 3 pouch, and because I didn’t want to take any chances (one pill has to be kept dry), I took Day 3’s pills on Day 2, then Day 2’s on Day 3. Crisis averted. Since then, I learned that if I tear the pouch down, not up, the problem doesn’t happen.

This has turned out to be a really good solution so far—and I’m definitely glad I waited a little longer to choose a pharmacy for my prescription to be sent to. I wish more companies did as gooda job—heck, even half as good.

Meanwhile, in that Health Journey update post last month, I also said I’d stop taking the diuretic I was on, bendroflumethiazide. I weaned myself off of it and stopped altogether a couple weeks ago. I think there are signs of the improvement I hoped for.

It’s important to repeat what I said last month, that “I know from experience that it often can take a long time for me to adjust to new prescriptions”, and that’s also true for stopping medications, too. That means that it’s early days yet, and things may not yet be settled, however, there’s definitely one important change: I no longer have the urgency to run to pee, and I don’t have to get up in the night to go pee, either. This is truly awesome.

For the first week or so after I stopped, I didn’t notice much difference with those headrushes, the weird unwell spells, or the fatigue. However, they all definitely seem better now, although the last one is the least changed (mainly, I just don’t feel as sleepy in the daytime, but I’m still tired all the time).

All of which means that things have become better since my Health Journey update last month. I (cautiously) think I’m feeling better than a month ago, although I can definitely say that the waterworks are now lightyears better. I’m also very happy with the pharmacy choice I made.

I’ve been dealing with this long enough to know that everything could still change—for the better or for worse. Right now, it’s a case of “so far, so good”, and after everything I’ve gone through over the past five years, I honestly feel that’s good enough. For now.

Important notes: This is about my own personal health journey. My experiences are my own, and shouldn’t be taken as indicative for anyone else. Similarly, other people may have completely different reactions to the same medications I take—better or worse. I share my experiences because others may have the same or similar experiences, and I want them to know that they’re not alone. But, as always, discuss your situation and how you’re feeling openly, honestly, and clearly with your own doctor, and always feel free to seek a second opinion from another doctor.

Also: The names of brands/products/companies listed in this post are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products/services were purchased by me, if applicable, at normal consumer prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Trying a meal kit delivery

There are times in which curiosity must be dealt to, either satisfied or crushed, so that it will no longer torment us. This week I started to deal with a long-standing curiosity, but will it be crushed? Yes, and also washed, cut, fried, boiled, and baked. In the end, my curiosity will be satisfied.

Sometime in Nigel’s last year or so, I became interested in those meal kit programmes, the schemes in which a company sends a box of meal ingredients and recipes every week and the recipient simply follows the instructions. It caught my attention mainly because I cooked the nightly dinners, and, while I didn’t mind doing that, I hated meal planning. I thought those plans might help take that burden away. Nigel thought it sounded like a good idea, but a little while later suggested I look into meal planning apps instead. I started to, but—then “things happened”, and that was that.

During Lockdown last year, I became interested again because I couldn’t get anything delivered from supermarkets, and I didn’t want to go in person because I was considered at reasonably high risk of having a bad time if I caught Covid—this was back in those pre-vaccine days, of course. I had a lot of stuff on hand when Lockdown began, and I also found workarounds (including help from family), as I wrote about at the time, so I was able to ride it out.

Recently, I came across apparently little-known meal kits that were sold one week at a time, without subscription, and I decided to try one. They said the kits were for four dinners for four people and cost $99. I suspected that “four people” was probably exaggerating a bit, but I was also pretty sure that for me it would mean four dinners and also lunch the next day. It sounded like a good deal to me—all the stuff to make the meals (apart from “pantry basics” like oil, butter, salt, that sort of thing) delivered right to my door, and all I had to do was prepare and cook it according to the instructions.

At this point, it’s worth noting why thought that would be a good deal. There are several meal kit companies operating in New Zealand, including three I’d considered in the past: New Zealand-owned “My Food Bag”, the first to enter the NZ market, and its budget-friendly (cheaper) version, “Bargain Box”. German-owned “Hello Fresh” (NZ) is another I considered, and while I looked at some smaller, more local options, I never went past merely looking (by then I was going off the idea at all).

All the brands have special deals, especially for new customers, but for clarity and simplicity I’ll compare their listed, non-discounted prices. So, here are their prices listed today for four meals for four people: My Food Bag – $189.99; Bargain Box – $134.99; Hello Fresh – $153.03 (including delivery, which is listed as $9.99 by itself; the others don’t list separate delivery prices). All the plans start at meals for two people, which might have been okay for me.

I’d heard that the meals in those kits were extremely fiddly, even overly complicated, and I don’t think that anyone I know who started it continued for very long. I now understand why.

The box I ordered was from Food in a Minute, a website best known to Kiwis for mainly for a series of one-minute recipe advertorials they did at 5:59pm each night, right before the news. The programmes always featured ingredients from Heinz Wattie’s, the New Zealand subsidiary of US conglomerate, Kraft Heinz (which purchased the company in 1982; it was founded in New Zealand in 1934). The Food in a Minute website is part of Wattie’s.

The meal kits are called “Easy as eats by Food in a Minute”, and I haven’t seen them promoted anywhere except through their email newsletters (it’s of course possible I just missed some other promotion). I signed up for the newsletter many, many years ago—maybe 20 years?—because some of the featured recipes sounded good and fairly easy to do. Ah, the emails: I started getting them again back in September when I restored the email addresses Nigel set up for us. Until then, I hadn’t noticed I wasn’t getting them anymore.

I ordered what turned out to be their final meal kit box for the year, and it arrived Monday (photo up top, with an upside down sticker on the side).

The box was reasonably well-packed, though the frozen peas were mostly thawed (no biggie). All the meats were chilled and the vegetables were intact, apart from a fresh tomato what was slightly crushed. All the ingredients were as good or better than what I’d buy at the supermarket: I often bought some of the Wattie’s products, for example, but I don’t buy free range boneless/skinless chicken breasts or thighs because they’re a much more expensive version of what’s already a more expensive version of the chicken. Some of the ingredients were branded “My Food Bag”, which I thought was interesting: I have no idea what specific connection is, such as, it’s merely My Food Bag putting the kits together for Wattie’s. At any rate, I was happy with the contents of the box.

I’ve now made two of the meals, and I can tell those two experiences are typical. Here those two are, one at a time:

Meal One: “Knockout Gnocchi”

It had a “tomato, pea, and mint sauce”, and I thought it was… interesting. Here’s the thing: I don’t like mint in savoury foods—only in sweet things like cake frosting, for example, and only sometimes. I had to chop the provided fresh mint along with some fresh basil, but if I was to make it again, I’d used only basil, which would’ve been much better, in my opinion. The peas I could take or leave, but since I don’t like minted peas (unlike most Kiwis I know), it was always going to be a challenge for me (I think I would’ve been fine with the peas if it was without the mint).

The bigger thing for me was how fiddly and complicated it was (the folks I knew who’d said that about meal kits were right). For example, Nigel showed me how to cook gnocchi, but the recipe added a further step: Frying it, and I don’t think it added anything except an extra step—and an extra pan. The recipe suggested adding a bit of salt and balsamic vinegar “if wished”, and I added the vinegar because, I hoped, it would cut the strength of the mint flavour a bit, and it did. The recipe would supposedly be ready in 15 minutes, but it took me the better part of an hour and a half to do, and it took two pots and a fry pan, along with various knives and spoons. I’ve never had so much washing up to do after one meal except when I’ve cooked for the entire family—never when it’s been just for myself.

Overall, I give it 2 out of 5 stars (it could’ve been 3 without the mint, and maybe higher if I simplified the cooking. I’m unlikely to try making it again.

Meal Two: “Teriyaki Yakitori”

I thought this meal was (theoretically…) nice, however, I would’ve preferred different methods.

Yakitori is skewered chicken, and the recipe called for cutting the free-range chicken thighs into 2cm pieces, then dipping them in “Sesame or other oil” (I used a bit of sesame oil for flavour, but mainly canola oil because its healthier). Thing is, the chicken was incredibly slippery when it was oiled, and they slipping back into the bowl of oil. Mostly, I was afraid I might slip and push the bamboo skewers they provided through my hand (I went very slowly to avoid that).

Next, they were supposed to be grilled on a BBQ or in the oven (Americans usually call that “broiling”), however, my BBQ hasn’t been used since before Nigel died, and it needs to be cleaned. Also, the chicken was supposed to be basted with some Wattie’s teriyaki stir fry sauce that was provided (I didn’t read the label to find out how much salt and sugar was in it—didn’t want to know!—but it was really nice, especially combined with the hint of sesame oil). I ended up cooking the chicken in my grill fry pan (a frying pan with raised ridges, something I use mostly for steak and hamburgers). When they were cooked, I let them rest in the pan while I stirfried the bok choy with some finely chopped garlic and fresh ginger. This was the first time I’ve ever worked with fresh ginger.

The big mistake I made was following their instructions for cooking the rice in a pot. When I read the instructions, I thought to myself, “that’s now how I’d do that…” and I should’ve followed my instincts and done it my way or used the rice cooker because I got the worst result I’ve ever had in my whole cooking life: A gloopy, glumpy, rice goo.

The photo on the recipe card showed it with rice on the bottom, bok choy on that, and the yakitori on top of that, so that’s how I presented it, as in the photo. Because I didn’t like the rice, I ate the bok choy and the chicken (and fried the rice gloop for lunch yesterday, with a couple eggs, some frozen veggies (mostly pre-cooked in the microwave), and then with the leftover teriyaki sauce stirred through. It was okay.

I would’ve preferred the chicken Teppanyaki style (fried on a griddle) because it’d be less fiddly and easier to make sure the chicken was cooked through. I may try this recipe again, but teppanyaki— skipping the damn skewers.

This recipe was supposed to take 22 minutes, but it actually took me about an hour, which is actually an improvement. I used a pot, the grill pan, and a wok-like fry pan, plus bowls and plates used in prep. Overall, I give it 3 out of 5 stars (it would’ve been 4 if it had been teppanyaki style).

And that’s the story so far. After spending at least an hour cooking on each of the first two nights, plus doing so much of dishwashing, I took last night off. Instead, I made some that became one of specialities when I was a kid, peanut butter on toast. It was divine, and took me a few minutes. 5 out of 5.

Seriously, though, tonight I’ll make another kit, take Friday off and have takeaways, before making the last meal on Saturday or Sunday. I can’t imagine the last two meals will be any easier to do, but maybe it’ll turn out that the first two were difficult just because I wasn’t used to the way such things work. I’ll know for sure soon enough.

Important Note: The names of brands/products/companies listed in this post are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products were purchased by me at normal consumer prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The end game

There’s one reality about the garage project I haven’t talked about, and it also relates to the overall project of trying to organise my home: I’m not merely trying to tidy and organise the garage, I’m not merely trying to clear it so I can do projects, and I’m also not merely trying to make more space in my entire house, even though all of those things are true. The real point of all of this, the end game, is that I’m trying to lighten the load I carry—in many different ways.

I’ve often said that that I was dealing with 24 years worth of stuff from two people, and that’s absolutely true. I need to shed most of that stuff, and it’s a long, tedious (very boring, actually…), and energy-zapping process, made worse by the inevitable emotional triggers (and the ongoing fatigue I’ve talked about many, many times). The process inches along slowly, and I recently made yet another tiny step forward.

Weekend before last, New Zealand’s online auction service, Trade Me, ran a promotion in which every item listed on Saturday, November 20 would have 50% off the success fees (the fees Trade Me changes for hosting a successful sale). It was as good a reason as any to put some things online to try to sell them.

In the end, I found only four items that were ready to go. The vast majority of the stuff Nigel left behind isn’t ready to be sold—mainly because there are missing bits and pieces (like remotes, or boxes, or manuals, etc.). So, I picked three things that I bought and one that Nigel originally bought (spoiler: the item that didn’t sell was Nigel’s).

The things I put up for auction were things I didn’t want, had no use for, but that still could’ve had value for others. In the end, I got less than $84 all up (today, a little more than US$57), but the money wasn’t the main point: These were things that I knew had some use for others, but they probably wouldn’t have sold through an op shop (thrift store, charity shop, etc.). Wins all around.

Getting rid of stuff was the actual point (I also have two boxes of stuff packed and ready to go to op shops, but it’s unclear if they’re accepting donations at the moment, due to Covid restrictions). There are many reasons this purging is so important.

First, and most obviously, there’s no reason for me to keep things I don’t want and have no use for. If I can get a bit of cash for them, so much the better, but the important thing is to get them out the door. That, in turn, is motivated by my own experience: I inherited huge piles of Nigel’s stuff, things that I now have to dispose of, one way or another. I don’t want whoever clears my estate to have to go through the same thing.

I talked about getting rid of stuff some 20 months before Nigel died, and I wasn’t too complimentary about “Swedish Death Cleaning”, so it’s ironic-ish that it’s essentially exactly what I’m now working on. The truth is, I don’t even know why it matters to me. I mean, I’ll be dead, so, to be blunt, not my problem. I always thought, as I said back in that 2018 post, “if I’m the last one to go, it’ll be some company hired by my estate executor and paid to come in and look for things of value to sell, everything else going to the tip.” Yes, but, I now know the importance of leaving less to even have to deal with.

The biggest reason of all, though, is that I’m buried in stuff and I need it gone. This house is smaller than either of our last two houses, and we accumulated ever more stuff in the years we spent in those houses. That makes everything seem crammed-in here—and, in truth, it basically is. It’s a well-proven fact that too much stuff in one’s house can cause depression, and I know that over the years dealing with “stuff” often got me down, something I’ve mentioned in the past.

The thing is, dealing with “stuff” was always my job. Nigel could never work out where to start and often got overwhelmed very easily, so he'd ask me to take care of it for him. I often got anxious about that because I didn’t know what some of the stuff even was, let alone if it was something to keep. And now I’m in much the same situation, except that the decisions on what to keep/trash/donate/sell are all mine—I guess that helps?

To be clear, both Nigel and I are guilty of creating this situation. Where he accumulated lots of tech stuff (some of it quite expensive…), I accumulated other stuff, mostly fairly small, and often things I thought I could use for—well, dunno, something, apparently. I’ve already tossed/recycled a lot of that sort of thing which is easier precisely because I acquired it in the first place.

Stacks of papers have been a big challenge: I was in charge of filing receipts/bills/statements, a job I loathed so very much that I’d often end up with huge piles or, more likely, boxes filled with unsorted stuff to be filed. Nigel also had large piles/boxes of papers from his work that he just didn’t get around to dealing with.

Add it all up, and we were both bad, but in different ways. Together we created the monster.

Much of my sorting has been slow because of those boxes of various papers. This is something I’ve been working on, one way or another, for many years, and blogged about one such time back in January 2018. It's slow because I have to go through each box and look at each piece of paper to decide what to do with it: Trash, shred/destroy, recycle, or, sometimes, keep.

The “destroy” papers aren’t necessarily super-secret, but are ones I’d still rather not have flying around a paper recycling centre or above a landfill when a rubbish bag splits open after it’s dumped. There have been a few things a bit more sensitive, for whatever reason, and I started shredding those things, but there’s just so much and the process is so slow that I decided to order a secure destruction bin to put it all into, everything from the highly sensitive to the merely rather-not-have-flying-around things. And that, in turn, has made me hurry up and sort though the remaining boxes of papers so I can order the bin and get rid of all that kind of “stuff”.

Meanwhile, the keep pile is, thankfully, small. It’s mostly statements (etc.) that are less than seven years old (and so, that I have to keep for awhile yet). However, mixed in those papers is “stuff” I’m keeping for purely sentimental reasons (those few papers will easily fit in one filing drawer).

I’m being as hard-nosed and no-nonsense as my fragile self can handle, and it’s paid off: Over the time I’ve been in this house, there’s been a lot of “stuff” I’ve given away, been able to throw out in the rubbish, recycled, and also a little bit I sold. It all adds up—and to far more than I (or anyone else) can grasp.

Even so, there’s still so very much to do, and it gets me down sometimes. So, I just work away at it, little by little, and make slow progress doing what I can, when I can, to revive my old motto. If one day I’m just not feeling it, maybe tomorrow (to recall another motto). I still have no idea when this will be all done, but I’m not focused on that as much as sticking to the one thing more than any other that’s gotten me through the past couple years: One day at a time.

The past few days have helped move things along. Other days will help, too. What I can, when I can, one day at a time, and sometimes maybe tomorrow. It all gets me closer to the end game of all this work: To lighten the load I carry—in many different ways.

The photo above is of the first thing I sold, boxed and ready for the courier to pick up.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

An eventful week

This week has been important for New Zealand’s move toward a world in which Covid-19 is endemic, one in which the country re-opens to the world—and itself. The new system is designed to keep New Zealanders safe while letting us get on with more or less “normal” life. Well, vaccinated people will have that, anyway: Unvaccinated people will face restrictions.

On Wednesday of last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made some announcementsabout the new Covid-19 Protection Framework, which the government is now also calling “the traffic light system”, as most New Zealanders and the news media do. The framework will replace our current Alert Level system—and its lockdowns—and provide a way for fully-vaccinated people to have near-normal life. She said that all of New Zealand would move to the new system together, and shortly after Cabinet reaffirms the move Monday of next week (November 29).

At the press conference on Monday (video and transcript at the link), the prime minster announced, “the whole country will move into the new traffic light system, at 11.59 p.m. on Thursday, 2 December, making Friday, 3 December the first day that the traffic light system will be operationalised.”

On Monday, Cabinet will look at the various DHB (District Health Board) areas to see where their vaccination rates are at, or likely to be at not long afterward, what the uptake of “My Vaccine Pass” has been, and related issues to determine which “light” they’ll be starting in. The prime minister had already said that Auckland will be at Red because of the current outbrak, and in Monday’s press conference she also said that:
We will not be placing any region into green, and that is because we’re in a transition environment. We don’t want regions yo-yoing, and starting in green is an unlikely place for people to stay while we’re transitioning at the moment, particularly with [the Auckland] boundary changes.
Any parts of the country placed at Red, and it’s at least possible the entire country may be, it be similar to the way things are now for fully-vaccinated New Zealanders (and, as of today, 84% of eligible New Zealanders are fully vaccinated, and 92% have had at least one jab). However, for unvaccinated eligible people, it will be similar to living under the current Level 3 restrictions.

The other big announcement came on yesterday when Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced the government’s plan for “Reconnecting New Zealand — the next steps”, which includes timelines and requirements for opening up New Zealand’s borders, beginning on January 16, 2022 with people in Australia, then extending to New Zealanders in other countries a month later before opening in April to any eligible person anywhere in the world (except countries deemed :high risk”).

At the core of the new system is self-isolation: In addition to mandatory testing, the government will require 7-day self isolation for fully-vaccinated people. While this shouldn’t be a problem for Kiwis returning to family, tourists won’t be able to do that unless some sort of private isolation facilities open. There’s apparently never been a case of Covid found in fully-vaccinated people arriving from Australia, so it’s logical to wonder if the self-isolation requirement will remain long-term.

Another problem for Australians or New Zealander who live in Australia is that travelling to New Zealand is one thing, but travelling back to Australia without quarantine may not be possible, depending on which Australian state they live in. So, returning to New Zealand without staying in an MIQ facility will be great, but, right now, anyway, it looks like it’d work mostly for those returning to New Zealand permanently.

A potential problem for us all in the weeks ahead is the teeny, tiny, and aggressive anti-vax/government extremist nutjobs who are becoming increasingly abusive and even violent toward retail workers. However, as the fully-vaccinated majority of people begin to take advantage of the freedoms they’ll have with the new traffic light system, only the hard-core lunatics will remain a threat (as, indeed, they always are—that’s nothing new).

The fact is, there is every reason to think that in the months ahead New Zealand will become a much more positive—and fun—place again as people just get on with “normal” life. The loudmouth loons may still spit into the wind (sometimes literally, probably), but the vast majority will just get on with life again. And that’s exactly what we’ve wanted for a long time.