Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: The Fresh 20

I like to cook. I am not some Food Channel chef with amazing knife skills and creative cooking talents, but I do like to prepare tasty foods for dinner and consider myself to be better-than-average at spying a good recipe when I read one.

However, I am not good at meal planning and making detailed shopping lists. My typical weekly shopping trip consists of buying meats I'm familiar with and knowing that I can figure out what to make with them when the time comes. Occasionally, I will have one meal idea in mind. For example, I might think, "oh, I should make burritos this week," and then I'll make sure to buy the ingredients needed to make that happen. I will also scan my brain for items I know I have stocked in my pantry to round out the meal: rice mixes, salsa, beans, etc.

On a typical weekday, at 4 or 5 o'clock, I rack my brain trying to think of something to make. Sometimes, I have to quickly defrost some meat if my workday runs over and my original game plan falls apart. What mom hasn't scrapped meal plans for something easy like grilled cheese or a quick soup for a group of hungry kids and one hungry husband?

I didn't really want to take on the job of fixing my system, because it sounded like work I wasn't interested in doing.

Enter 'The Fresh 20.'

The Fresh 20 is a menu planning / grocery list / food budgeting service. For about $5 per month, you receive a weekly menu plan with 5 meals, a detailed shopping list, and calorie/nutrition content for each item on your menu. They issue a new menu every Friday, and you can sign up for Classic recipes, Gluten-Free recipes, Dairy-free recipes, Kosher recipes, Vegetarian recipes or 'recipes for two.'

What I Love:

1) Each week you are only buying 20 items (thus, the name 'Fresh 20') - mostly from the meat and produce aisles.

2) I have learned new techniques and how to prepare new vegetables/fruits I may have never eaten before.

3) Menus are seasonal, so you are typically spending less money on your produce.

4) Waste is a thing of the past! If you stick to the menus, you rarely end up with any unused produce in your fridge.

5) They don't use processed or packaged foods. You make all the dressings, marinades, etc. from items in your pantry (they supply you with a list of basic pantry items you need on hand to complete the recipes).

6) I have branched out my cooking into many new areas I never would've picked on my own.

7) It has made my shopping and food prep so much easier!  Walking into your kitchen every evening, knowing you will have instructions and help plus all the foods you need for making a quality meal is a wonderful feeling.

8) Meal times are a lot less stressful for me. I can enjoy the process more when I have a plan set out for my family. 

9) Most menus employ a re-use feature that I find very awesome. You cook meat one day and save half for another meal. Or you cook a vat of brown rice early in the week for use later in two meals. It is very economical and time saving.

What I Dislike:

1) Sometimes I really don't think my family will like some of the funky flavors, so I have to substitute occasionally to satisfy.

2) Some of the meals are a little 'light' for hearty eaters. Many times they will only include a meat and a veggie with no bread/starch component. I have learned to keep easy sides on hand to add to a meal in case it looks like there might not be enough food.

3) You cannot size up the recipes. All recipes (except for the 'for two' menus) are geared toward feeding 4 people. And I would say they are mostly geared toward 4 light-eating people with no teen boys anywhere in sight. I have 5 in my family, so I am always having to buy a little more meat or adjust portions and hope it turns out ok.

4) The fifth meal in the Classic menu is always meat-free. That is NOT okay in our house. So many times I have added meat to the 5th meal or I will not make the 5th meal at all because it doesn't look like people would like it.

My Conclusion

One of the recipes I'm trying this week!
Overall, The Fresh 20 has been a great thing for my household. I have discovered some delicious recipes that I never would've chosen on my own. I have learned how to roast fresh corn, make homemade pesto, create delicious marinades, cook different types of fish, and craft homemade salad dressings with tons of flavor and freshness. I also have gotten to taste new flavor combos with middle eastern and asian spices - everything I've made is incredibly flavorful and nutritious. It makes you feel good to serve your family healthier food!

To maximize my family's enjoyment of the meals, I have scrutinized a few weeks' worth of menus and skipped the ones that really did not suit our family's tastes. If you buy a year's worth of menu planning, you have access to the menu archives. I highly recommend if you join that you take advantage of that option and download ALL the menus you can. Look through them for the food that looks most interesting to you. Don't feel badly if one or two menus don't sit well with you and you feel you need to skip it. Also, don't be afraid to substitute different meats or fish, if your family is not into ground lamb or halibut.

This service is great for those who want to save time and energy shopping and meal planning. However, I think it is also a boon to those who aren't strong in the kitchen. The instructions that come with the meals is so very informative. You learn a lot about techniques and cooking times with the menus.

For someone who may not be into meal planning, give The Fresh 20 a shot. This review is purely from my own perspective. I was not paid for this review. I will not receive anything in return for a positive review. I just really liked the service and wanted to spread the news.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Giveaway!

Hey, everyone!  I have something exciting for you today....a Rafflecopter giveaway!

First prize is a signed copy of my book THE NINTH CURSE. If you want to find out more about that book, click here: K J Gillenwater's Author Page for The Ninth Curse.

Second prize is a free Kindle copy of my book BLOOD MOON. If you want to find out more about that book click here: K J Gillenwater's Author Page for Blood Moon.

Please feel free to spread the word. The contest entry period runs for 3 weeks. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, August 4, 2014

Fix #4 From Stitch Fix - August 2014

I am having a lot of fun sharing my Stitch Fix hauls with my blog readers. Thanks for stopping by to look at what they sent me, my thoughts, and what I decided to keep. If you want to know more about Stitch Fix read my first unboxing post from May 2014. That gives you the low-down on what the service is all about, the costs, etc.

Jen Aniston's Lady Guns
After my July fix, I let my stylist, Shay, know that I was looking for a red top (I used to have one I wore all the time, but it got dated and worn, so it had to be culled about 2 years ago from my wardrobe and I have yet to find a replacement.) I also wanted some tops with sleeves, as I keep getting sleeveless items. I don't mind sleeveless tops, but they do take some planning to wear (the right bra, do I have a t-shirt tan, etc.). Also, I am not 100% in love with my arms...I don't have Hollywood lady guns, so it's not my favorite body part to show off. Therefore, I asked for some tops with sleeves of some kind. That was about all the directive I gave.

My box arrived early today, which rocks because that means I can wear something new! Here's a pic of my box once I opened it up:

It had some very cool prints, which is what I love about Stitch Fix (getting me to open my mind about interesting prints). I also saw a flash of bright red!

This time around, I decided to hang everything on a hanger to get a good photo for the blog. Below is each item with pic, name and price. I also noted at the end of each description which item I kept and why. Just a reminder, I never look at the prices until after I've tried everything on, just to make sure I'm choosing based on what I actually like rather than how cheap or expensive an item is.

Here's the styling card that came with my fix:

1) The first item I tried on was the Hamberg Paisley Print Henley Blouse by Skies Are Blue for $54. I liked that this blouse was airy and light for summer. I also appreciated that it had sleeves. The print was interesting, too. I had high hopes for this blouse. Stitch Fix included a nude tank for use with this blouse and another I will mention later in the post. I appreciated that!  The tank, actually, was super awesome...stretchy and of better quality than the tanks I have. I grabbed my favorite pair of Levi's bootcut jeans to wear with the blouse.

I really wanted to like this top. It was different than anything I had in my wardrobe and was not something I would've picked out for myself. However, once I got it on, it was a little too tight in the bust area for my comfort. Also, the elastic around the elbow-length sleeves was really uncomfortable.

I imagined what that would be like after a day of wearing it, and was worried it would bother me. Especially on a hot day...I was imagining sweaty hot skin being tortured by tight elastic. I have relatively wide shoulders and that didn't quite fit right either. Overall, the look was not flattering on me, so it went in the 'NO' pile. GOING BACK.

2) Since I had the nude tank on, I decided to try on the next blouse, which also had a see-through quality. This was the Dolly Crochet Trim Floral Print Blouse by Collective Concepts for $64.00. This had cute fluttery cap sleeves, which I really liked. The color was a good one for me: navy. This also was something I wouldn't have picked off the rack to try on, so I was excited to give it a whirl.
Sadly, when I tried it on, it created Droopy Boob Syndrome. You know those tops that just create this illusion of your boobs being low on your chest, which makes it appear you need a better bra? Yeah, not flattering.
Droopy Boob Syndrome Alert!

I was really disappointed because everything else about this blouse was cute. The fluttering cap sleeves, the interesting floral print, the light quality...I was bummed that this didn't look as good as I hoped it would. Oddly, from the side, it looked much better. If I could've only walked around sideways, maybe this would've been a keeper.

See? Isn't it better from the side?  But I will mostly see myself from the front and would only be looking at the droopy boob problem in front, so...GOING BACK.

3) By this point, I was getting sad face from the 2 duds in my box. I had such a great box last month, that I was hopeful August would be my first 5 item keeper!  But, no, the sads piled up. The next item I tried on was the Natasha Front Pocket Sleeveless Blouse by 41Hawthorne for $54.00. My stylist mentioned in her note to me that this was the only red top she could find for me.  I wasn't happy it was sleeveless, as I asked specifically for no more sleeveless, but I am sure Shay was torn between fulfilling my request for a red top and the note for no more sleeveless. She did the best she could under the circumstances.
I have seen this top posted in other fixes online (yeah, I obsessively read other blogs and Stitch Fix hauls. It's a sickness). I really was not that wowed. Knowing what I needed a red top for, I knew this would not fit the bill. It was sleeveless. It was flowing instead of more form fitting. It had a very deep v-neck. But I try everything on! So I went for it.

Not so great. It was very loose fitting and just not that interesting. I was looking for something with more pizzazz. This did not work. Also, unfortunately, the fold wrinkles in the fabric made for this really weird impression that I am about 4 months pregnant. I am sure if it were ironed that would go away, but it gave an additional negative perception that made the whole thing a definite 'no' in my mind. GOING BACK.

4) Now I was really panicking. Was this going to be the first box where I hated everything???  No, Stitch Fix, no! Don't do this to me!!!!! My next item was the Alyson Abstract Print Piping Detail Dress by Andrew Marc for $138.

Overall, when I pulled this out of the box, I really liked the dress. I am a big fan of abstract prints. It had denim on the shoulders and back of the dress, which made for some interest. So I did think maybe this dress would work. I do like to dress up for church and for dates...I wasn't 100% happy it was sleeveless, but the print meant it could be paired easily with a jean jacket or cardigan. I threw it on.

The picture below makes it look like it fits perfectly. Trust me when I say it did not. Looking at the pic, yeah, it looks all right. It shows off my waist and the shape of my body, which is a good thing. However, what you cannot possibly see in the photo is how tight that sucker was on ye olde derriere!

I frequently have that problem with form fitting dresses that don't have enough stretch to them--and the material for this dress was pretty thick and not that stretchy. Baby got back. That is why finding pants for me is a chore. And dresses of this type.

 If I walked in this dress, the bottom would ride up because of the junk in da trunk. It just wasn't gonna happen. Plus, when I saw the price of the dress at the end of this process, there was no love lost. $138 was very pricey for me unless it was the most amazing dress on planet earth. GOING BACK.

5) People, my heart was crying at this point. 4 out of 5 items. All terrible failures. Please don't fail me, Stitch Fix! Please!!!!  I moved on to the last and final item in my box: the Montgomery Chevron Cross-Front Top by 41Hawthorne for $48. This was probably my favorite item when I looked at everything in the box. The color is spot on for me - cobalt blue. That color looks great with my skin tone and hair color, so I was very very hopeful.

 I also liked the ruching and the thicker 'strap' area of the sleeveless top. I know I said no more sleeveless, but this would not cause the bra issues I've had with some of the other sleeveless tops I've kept in the last few months. I wasn't sure how low the crossover was going to go, so I was slightly worried.

Thank goodness I had no need to worry! This top fit great. I loved it immediately when I put it on. I have many other items in my wardrobe that will go with this top, so I know it will get a lot of use.  I know it looks a little bunchy around my waist, but that really is only in the photo. It covers very well across the top, so no need to worry about exposing too much chest. Arm holes are great, so nothing peeks out there. Ruching covers the problem areas some of us have. All-in-all a winner!  I was also pleased to see it was the cheapest thing in the box! KEEP!!!!!!!!!!!!

This was probably my worst box yet. But it was bound to happen. I'm hopeful next month will be better as we are moving into fall and some new looks should be out there. I desperately need some new jeans and pants, and since we will be getting out of the hot weather, I'll be looking to invest in a few pairs.

I forgot to mention that I was so so sad that I couldn't keep the nude tank they sent me for use with the more see-through blouses!  It was a great quality tank that fit perfectly and had this neat stretchiness. If you are interested, the tank is by Sugarlips. I think I'm going to hunt them down on the internet and order me a few. Really great tank top!

Even with the pile up of 'no' items, I highly recommend this service. Just so much fun to get a box of clothes on my doorstep every month. So far, I think my experience has been a very positive one with quite a few things added to my wardrobe. If you are interested in trying out Stitch Fix for the first time, you could use my referral link below. To be all up front and what not, I would get a $25 credit. No pressure, but I include it with every fix review in case someone's interested.

Thanks for stopping by and please comment! I'd love to hear what you all think of my newest Fix.

UPDATE: Added link to nude camisole top from Sugarlips. Very inexpensive ($14) and very nice quality.