Meal Kit Updates, Games, Pandemic, and Thou (or really Moi)

We’ve been getting a meal kit every week or two for quite a few months now (since before my summary of meal kit experiences post), and now that the novelty factor has worn off a bit, and I’ve gotten at least three boxes from each of Dinnerly, EveryPlate, Martha Stewart, and Hello Fresh, I think it’s time for a small update.

First and foremost: The lack of in-box recipe cards from Dinnerly has proven to be somewhat of a pain. It’s remedied by printing them ourselves, but it’s still an extra step that involves copying files to the computer hooked up to the printer. I’ve also encountered a couple recipes from Dinnerly now that seemed extremely poorly thought through, including a lentil-based meatless loaf that was the first meal kit meal I had to throw out. So I think a bit of the “this is the cheapest of all the meal kits” has really started to show.

Along those lines, the second cheapest, EveryPlate, has not suffered from the “bad recipe” problem, but instead has fallen victim to the “these are not interesting recipes” problem. There’re been many weeks now where I’ve looked through the recipe selections and nothing stands out to me as something I want to make and eat. There’s only so many times you can toss potatoes in olive oil and bake them, or so many ways to chop onions/garlic and cook with orzo/rice, or so many times you can season a chicken breast and pan fry it.

On the other hand, I’ve grown increasingly fond of Martha Stewart and Hello Fresh, despite their higher prices. One thing I’ve found from having had 6 different meal kit company subscriptions over the past 5 months is that many of them will send you “come back and try us again” savings, so I’ve been cycling through these to never pay full price for any box. From that standpoint, Martha Stewart and Hello Fresh have been significantly more worthwhile.

Of the two, I would call Martha Stewart’s meals more unusual (but slightly more expensive) while Hello Fresh’s are a little more straightforward while remaining interesting.

So I think, given discounts exist, I’d probably recommend Martha Stewart or Hello Fresh the most, even though I still think these kits are not worthwhile at full price. We’ve generally settled on each “for four people” kit making 3 servings for the two of us, although some of those (for example the plum/ginger pork below) require a supplemental second dinner afterward.

In entertainment-y life, my new gaming laptop kicked off some semi-regular video gaming nights thanks to Austin. We worked our way through a few games like Biped, Escape Room Simulator, and Moving Out. We also got into a couple more open-ended games in Unrailed, Risk of Rain 2, and Don’t Starve Together. The latter, in particular, has been nice because I’ve managed to get Ben and Steve and Seth involved as well. I think I’m finding that my video gaming life is really driven by a desire for social activity over anything else, which is perhaps unsurprising given the pandemic.

Along those same lines, however, I’ve grown strangely sick of trying to wrangle people for activities, which in many cases have meant they just… don’t happen. The Among Us groups I was running last year fizzled out because people stopped attending after RSVPing or expressing interest, making larger games difficult. General non-Thursday (virtual) board gaming has fizzled out because people generally don’t seem to be interested. I think maybe this is the pandemic again just lowering my threshhold for dealing with “less than super straightforward” stuff in my life… normally I’d love arranging events. I just haven’t felt it for the past many months.

That leaves just the regularly-scheduled recurring stuff: Thursday virtual board games, Sunday night Jackbox, and monthly virtual get-togethers. At least those are nice to have.

Speaking of the pandemic and my life… I think the best way to describe my mental state at the moment is “I’m tired”. I’m tired of feeling like I’m the only person taking the risk of disease seriously still, with everyone else going maskless everywhere and filling gyms and attending conventions and taking international vacations. I’m tired of variant after variant because people can’t do their part when needed to lower transmissibility. I’m tired of trying to figure out where my “acceptable” risk levels are because the world’s continuing on without me whether I like it or not even though I’m terrified of getting sick due to my increased health risk and the prospect of long covid.

It’s honestly hard to see anything positive in the future at the moment, either politically (hooray the far left is going to make us lose congress again this year and set us back another couple decades!), ecologically (hooray climate change is accelerating and we’re all going to burn and/or drown and/or starve!), societally (hooray divisions between people have never been greater such that even a pandemic couldn’t bring us together!), socially (hooray I still feel weird seeing people for non-outdoor/non-virtual activities because the pandemic is a thing!), professionally (hooray I feel stuck in a rut and burnt out work-wise and don’t know what to do about it!), or creatively (hooray I haven’t really been interested in photography or card game design in years now!).

At least my personal/romantic life continues positively. It often feels like it’s the only thing that is, these days.

I just wish I could find things to do in the rest of my life that make me feel even a tenth as fulfilled as and that I care about even a tenth as much as that. Maybe that means “I’m apathetic” is a better descriptor than “I’m tired”. Maybe I’m both.

Maybe hanging all your happiness on one other person is a terrible idea, and ultimately fairly unfair to them.

Maybe I just don’t have the energy to care, these days.

So life goes, I suppose.

Meal Kits In Review

We’ve tried quite a few different meal kits now (Blue Apron, Dinnerly, Every Plate, Hello Fresh, Home Chef, Gobble), and I think I have enough information to give a reasonable review of most of them?

One important thing to note: We eat a lot, so many of the “four person” meal kits for us are actually two or three servings (so one or 1.5 meals for the two of us), and many of the “two person” meals are a (small) one serving, so we augment the kits with additional things or just expect they’ll make fewer servings than they say. That also increases the per-serving cost for us a lot (by 50% to 100%), which has a large effect on our cost/benefit analysis.

Let’s do them in order that we tried them in.

Blue Apron

This was the original kit we tried, years ago, and it had the effect of turning us off meal kits for a very long time. (Necessary caveat following from that: it may also be different now.)

I’d generally describe it as “time consuming, wasteful, small, and expensive”. Every ingredient came in the package, but often in small containers (like a tiny bottle with a little squeeze of oil), and the recipes involved a ton of chopping and mixing and generally took way too long to cook. Cleanup was also a mess because preparation involved just about every pan we had (and more than a few plates and bowls). And the ultimate result was tasty enough, but really small for us.

Blue Apron looks like it costs $8.99/serving now, which for us actually means $17.98/person (and we’re still hungry afterward). If we want small and expensive and gourmet, we’d probably do Gobble instead.


This is basically the exact opposite of Blue Apron. Its recipes are significantly simpler to make (often involving only one pan and a bowl or two), and their veggie meals seem to actually be four (or sometimes five!) servings. (Their meat dishes are still somewhat small, but the side portions are generous, so I think a four-serving meat meal actually made three servings for us, which is better than the other kits.)

It’s also the cheapest of the kits at $4.69/serving (so somewhere between $3.75/serving and $6.25/serving for us), but that comes at a cost: more at-home ingredients required (vinegar, eggs, milk) and also no printed recipe cards. The recipes also tend to involve fewer ingredients overall, and also generally be more “standard” fare that you could make yourself by just hitting up the grocery store. However, another plus: They don’t nickle and dime you with “premium” recipes: everything is the same price.

Packaging-wise, everything comes together in the box and you have to pick out which ingredients go with which meal, which is maybe a little more complicated by the lack of recipe cards. But that’s also not a big deal for me.

They have a lot of variety in their menu, but no veggie substitutions, so you’re stuck with the vegetarian options they have. (Or you substitute for yourself; for one of the meals, we got the beef and just made it with tofu from the store instead.) Some of the recipes also seem to not be too well thought through: A recent veggie option was Tandoori Cauliflower that was intriguing on paper, but a little weird in practice with the ginger/garlic rice and cranberry chutney, plus the recommended preparation (mix tandoori spice with oil and toss with the cauliflower) fell apart in practice (managed to coat less than half the cauliflower before running out of oil/spice mix).

This is probably the one I would recommend the most, from both a price and serving size standpoint, and it helps that it’s one of the easiest kits to prepare, too.

Hello Fresh

This was not quite on the level of complexity of Blue Apron, but getting there. They have a few substitution options for vegetarians, but that comes at a cost: $9.99/serving to start, and an additional $5.99 to $7.99/serving for “premium” options that honestly don’t feel that premium.

In general, Hello Fresh meals tended to involve more preparation and more ingredients than the other kits, but they also sent almost everything needed (including the milk, for things like cream sauce pasta). I appreciated that the meals felt less like things I would normally make anyway, and that it required having less stuff “on hand”.

That said, the servings were small. These were very solidly in the “two servings is actually one serving for us” column, making a meal $19.98/serving for us, which is definitely not worth the price.

Packaging-wise, everything for a kit came together in one labelled brown paper bag, which you throw in the fridge (dry pastas and all), and the meats came separate from the kits. It was convenient for pulling out everything required for a meal, so that was nice. The recipe cards come separately on top of the bags.

Every Plate

We joke that this is the “zest a lemon” meal service, because just about every meal involves zesting a lemon, even the ones that don’t actually come with lemons. That said, this is a strong contender for #2 for us as its price ($4.99/serving) is reasonable and its servings (a solid 3 meals per 4-serving kit, for a price of $6.65/serving for us) are also reasonably sized.

The recipes tend to be slightly more complicated than Dinnerly, but still not involve unreasonable amounts of preparation. But that also means they’re a little more unusual, which is nice. They’re also consistently tasty: they always seem to have a veggie option that involves roasted chickpeas, and I love them so much I’ve started making variations of them on my own (canned chickpeas cooked with chili powder, roasted carrots with paprica, pearl couscous, sour cream, grape tomatoes, and spinach = delicious).

Like Dinnerly, they also tend to not do substitutions (although I think I’ve seen a couple options, but none of which were veggie substitutions for meat dishes), but that’s not a huge deal when they have such great veggie options.

Also like Dinnerly, everything comes together in the box without being separated by recipe, although they have better separation between veggies, dry ingredients, and proteins than Dinnerly does (with a separate paper tray for the veggies). However, these separations are just layers of paper, and one of the boxes we got had a leaky bag of chicken that got its juice over some of the veggies, so that wasn’t great, but otherwise this lack of meal separation also hasn’t been a problem. The recipe cards come separately on top of the bags.

In general, I’d say Dinnerly has slightly bigger servings but is simpler dishes, and Every Plate is more interesting but (slightly) more expensive, but they’re the two most similar of the kits, and I’m happy with both of them.

Home Chef

This is probably the best option for vegetarians, as basically every dish can be substituted. Their meals also have a much wider range of complexity than other companies, ranging from super simple to fairly involved. So flexibility wise, you can’t really beat them.

That said, we found Home Chef to suffer from the same problem as Hello Fresh: Small servings and expensive, especially because they have premium options and substitution of protein often costs more. They start at $6.99/serving (which for us is solidly $13.98/person), but very quickly and easily goes up in price.

I think I’d be more interested in them at half the price (or at least 25% less), because they do have some interesting recipes.

Packaging-wise, everything comes in separate large plastic ziploc bags by meal, with the proteins separated out, so these were very easy to pull out of the fridge to make. The recipe cards are 3-hole-punched and come separately on top of the bags (and they included a binder for the cards with my first shipment, which I thought was a nice touch).


Gobble was by far the most “gourmet” of the meal kits we tried, even more so than Blue Apron. But we were pleasantly surprised by how easy the meals were to make. Most of the sauces come pre-made, and complicated things (like polenta) come pre-formed and ready to cook. The meals are also the most unusual and things I would never be able to make myself without visiting specialty stores. (We had chicken in a wine sauce with polenta cake and broccolini, barramundi with cauliflower rice and beans, and a really nice vegetarian bi bim bap with mushrooms and shisito peppers.)

However, all of this comes at a steep cost: $12.99/serving with premium options costing even more. Worse still, the servings are among the smallest of the kits we received, so that’s actually $25.98/person if we ate just the kit. (For example, in the meal below, the potatoes and tortellini are not part of the kit and are things we added ourselves to augment to a reasonable serving size, but the kit contents of fish and cauliflower rice and beans were delicious.)

Packaging-wise, everything came in large sealed plastic bags divided by meal, with the exception of the proteins that came separately. The bags were also well-cushioned with paper inserts both inside the bags and outside, and the recipe cards were inside the sealed bags. So the packaging was a little excessive, but helpful.

I really want to like this kit, because it’s definitely the most unusual and has the most “free” premium options (like unusual fishes and beef), but that price is simply not justifiable for us when we could go to a nice restaurant and pay less than that per person after tax and tip.

Martha Stewart

Edit 12/29: We’ve also now tried the Martha Stewart/Marley Spoon kit. It feels like it’s trying to be gourmet, with “fancier” meals than any of the kits other than Gobble, but also with more prep work than Gobble. The ingredients themselves seem to be sourced from the same company as Dinnerly (and the Dinnerly website also loads many assets, like the PDF recipe cards, from Marley Spoon, so they’re really combined), but its recipes are significantly fancier than Dinnerly.

However, it’s also one of the most expensive list prices. Depending on how many servings you get, it’ll cost between $9 and $11/serving. Their servings are between 1.5 and 2 servings per 2-serving kit for us, so the cost to us is actually something like $9 to $15/serving, which I think is not worth it unless you have discounts.

The box packaging is similar to Every Plate, in that they have a divider for the meat and veggies, but also include an extra bag for the “dry” ingredients, but they don’t otherwise split up the meals, so you’re on your own for locating components for each meal. The recipe cards are between the insulated bag and the box (on the side, in my box, as opposed to on the top with other meal kits).

Overall Thoughts

If price is of no importance to you, I’d recommend Gobble. Its meals are delicious and varied and feel really premium but are still very accessible in terms of cooking complexity. However, they may leave you hungry.

If you’re vegetarian or need lots of substitution options, go with Home Chef for its flexibility, although expect to pay for the flexibility.

If you’re like us and care a lot about serving size and cost, go with either Dinnerly (simpler) or Every Plate (slightly more interesting but slightly more work).

Edit 12/29: We’ve also tried Martha Stewart now. It’s too expensive for me to recommend, otherwise it would probably come third after Every Plate. If you’re able to get discounts, I think the three I’d recommend (in order) is Dinnerly, Every Plate, and Martha Stewart, growing in fanciness but also price as you go.

Edit 3/23: See my followup post after another few months of meal kits.

Life, Bleh

My photo journal and stats page have both been updated. With an attempt at returning to normalcy in May, including eating (outside) at restaurants and having people over for board games, we actually have a reasonable number of photos: 2292 in the past 4 months. It’s still lower than the pre-pandemic 3417 since we weren’t doing weekly games or the usual weekend social things, but it’s still nice. (There are also some board game photos on photos, for the first time since the pandemic started. Woo.)

But of course, it’s all just in time for us to have to start being super cautious again, thanks to delta, and particularly thanks to all the people who refuse to vaccinate. I expect the next four months will be depressingly low in photos again, as we curtail in-person things. So that’s bleh #1.

Bleh #2 is work… I don’t think I’ve ever felt this utterly dejected in my professional life, and the worst part is that there isn’t even a reason for it. It’s probably just a ton of burnout, brought on by a combination of things in work and the world at large (because hooray the world is continuing to fall apart). I’m trying to push through it, like always, but I wonder if I actually need to find some more concrete changes I can make, like offloading some of the teams I work with to other people.

So of course, bleh #3 (and probably the biggest one) is the world in general right now. Politics is still an endless mess of poop, states are still doing horrible things (looking at you in particular, Texas and Florida), and the fact that we can’t even come together as a country in the face of an obvious, immediate threat (Covid) really doesn’t bode well for us being able to do anything about climate change.

Speaking of climate change, bleh #4 is that our basement flooded again, thanks to Ida. We’d been expecting for years that the flooding was due to the gutters being clogged and/or was coming from the walls. But this year… gutters were cleaned and cleared, and the water barriers we’d set up maybe suggest that the water is actually coming up through the concrete foundation, given the walls were actually relatively dry, and the wet patch in the middle of the carpet kept getting wetter as we cleaned it up, despite everything around it already being cleared. So that’s going to be some more house fun, and continue to curse the people who finished a Pittsburgh basement without proper consideration for the fact that basements of 100-year-old houses get wet.

Maybe the one “interesting” thing is that our food apathy and indecisiveness have led us to try some meal kits. After the arguably terrible experience we had with Blue Apron a few years back (“Let’s use every plate and pot and utensil and take 2 hours to make this overly-elaborate dinner that is supposed to serve four but barely serves the two of us!”), I didn’t have high hopes. But it turns out there’s a ton of meal box services now, all of which seem to be running specials. So…

Our first attempt this time around is Dinnerly. We got a 6-meals-for-4-people box and, to my surprise, the servings actually seem relatively well-sized. Some of the meals (pulled pork bowls) seem like they’re actually more like 3 servings instead of 4, but others (stir-fried eggplant) are more like 5 servings than 4. It’s also not a huge pain to cook… the things are more elaborate than I would usually make, but not unreasonably so. If it wasn’t for the fact that the meals also felt a bit plain (like things I could easily plan myself, such as grilled portabella with quinoa), it feels like it might be a good way to help with the food issue.

Next up, we’re trying Hello Fresh. They had some interesting-looking dishes up next week (particularly mushroom gnocchi and mushroom cavatappi), so we’ll see how that goes.

So other than the food, that’s a lot of bleh. Not much is going well in life right now, all things considered.

Yay life?

Life, social media and smartphones, Pepsi cookies

My photo journal has been updated to bring it current to today.
May was one heck of a month for gaming… in addition to the weekly Thursday board games, we hosted board games at the house three times, and hosted rock band a few times as well. Life being full of board games and people makes me happy.

I’ve been meeting a lot of new people recently in life, through both softball photography and board gaming. This has given me a desire to start working on People Wars again, so the Juxtapositions expansion continues onward. The set is adding a new card type Dream, that acts like a character once played but goes away at the end of the turn, and new Softball characters that have abilities that interact with Dreams. It should be an interesting mechanic to explore… maybe at some point I’ll get around to printing updated decks and actually playing again.

Owen sent me this article recently, and it just reinforces my desire to not get a smartphone. I’d previously ranted about social media and I don’t think any those opinions have changed since then. If anything, it’s gotten worse since then… my LiveJournal friends page has become basically a webcomic RSS reader and, with few exceptions, the posts that do still show up there are often only several sentences and seem like something that would be appropriate for Twitter.
I’m so old and curmudgeony. :P
Still, I guess I do see the benefit of having a semi-permanent way of contacting people as necessary. Email addresses change, IM services stop existing or fall into disuse… but your Facebook account (as long as you have an account) is pretty much always going to be you. It’s actually rather alarming how many FB messages I’ve sent recently to people. (Many of them were just asking for email addresses, but still…)

I’d previously made Coca-Cola cookies but they turned out rather strange, I assumed due to the lack of sugar in the soda. We recently got some Pepsi made with real sugar, so I figured I’d give it a try again, this time basing it on this recipe.

1/2 c butter
1/2 c sugar
1/2 egg (I just used the egg white)
1 c flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 can Pepsi (with real sugar)

Melt the butter, and mix it with the sugar until well mixed.
Boil down the Pepsi until it’s thick and syrupy, and immediately pour into the butter/sugar mixture. (It should be reduced enough that it turns hard quickly when heat is removed.) Mix well.
Add the egg, and mix well.
In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients, then slowly mix into wet ingredients.
Place small spoonfulls onto a baking sheet, and bake at 350 degrees for 14 minutes.

I think they turned out better this time? They taste a lot like caramel, and not a lot like Pepsi, but they’re still pleasantly sweet and chewy.

If I was doing this again, I would probably add more Pepsi and remove a bit of the sugar. Maybe 2 cans of Pepsi, and then only 1/3 c of sugar? It might flavor them a little stronger.

Life goes. Yay for life.

Life, KoL

I guess I should write in here as we’re approaching the end of July.

KoL has been interesting lately, as I’ve been pulled into a series of Hobopolis speed runs to obtain things like an invisible hamster, a technicolor overcoat, and a whacking stick. (They’re kind of like raids in WoW, in that you need 7+ people participating in specific ways to get the rewards.)
The hamster runs, in particular, mostly happened around 11:45 PM and went 3 hours, meaning there were quite a few nights of little sleep.
I’m weaning myself off of the runs now that I have all of the items I want and have contributed sufficiently to justify that, but there was a while where I was doing runs one or more times a day.

I’ve also had my first experiences maximizing item drops to obtain more things from the bosses. Here’s what happens when you hit +1800% items. (Click to make bigger.)

We have been cooking things once again. Chicken marsala happened for the first time and it was amazingly tasty.

Also lasagna happened. Ricotta cheese is one of the best things ever.

Nothing else has really been happening in life. Work continues to be crazy, and I should probably take some time off soon.

Edit: Buffed up even crazier today to +1900% items (+2000% in combat).
Details here.

Here’s the awesomeness that happens as a result:

I also made a thing to do loot distribution.