Amazon Fresh Review (Chicago)

I am fascinated by automation. I think it’s inevitable that sometime in the very near future, most of the things we take for granted as household chores will cease to burden us…or at least that’s what I’m hoping will happen.

I love to shop as much as the next gal, so don’t get me wrong. I don’t always consider grocery shopping a burdensome task. If I had a cute little neighborhood store with everything I needed and wanted and I didn’t have to fight tooth and nail for a parking spot at my local Whole Foods only to find that most of the items I’m looking for are missing or overpriced, I’d LOVE to make the weekly trip.

There’s also the issue of time. I work full time in a demanding profession and my husband is a resident in a surgical specialty. The short bit of time we spend together shouldn’t have to be in the cereal aisle.

When Amazon recently announced that they had signed up to acquire Whole Foods, I was surprised, but also super stoked. In my opinion, it signaled that my favorite marketplace, Amazon, was ready to move into a space that was in dire need of an expert in distribution. So, after a busy week at work where the last thing I wanted to do was make a grocery stop, I decided to give Amazon’s grocery delivery service, Amazon Fresh, a try.

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A few things to consider: I’m not an Instacarter, or a Google Expresser or even a Peapoder. I typically get my grocery items by driving myself to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or my local co-op. I’ll go to Jewel Osco if I’m desperate, but I just hate sacrificing the quality of my produce, so I usually steer clear. I go to Costco once in a while, and I’ve used Pantry. I’m definitely a novice to the whole grocery delivery thing, so I was very happy that Amazon provides a 30-day free trial (on what is usually a $14.99/month add-to Prime fees) and a $25 off coupon on at least $100 spent on groceries.

I took the plunge. Here’s what I love and don’t so much love:

Love

  • Service was on time. I added items to my cart at 10pm on Saturday night (I know, what a party gal) and chose a Sunday 12pm-2pm delivery window. The items arrived by just before 12:30pm on Sunday. My delivery person (who arrived in a sedan, not a huge delivery truck) was friendly and professional, and there was almost zero damage to my groceries.
  • My Halo Top (yes, they have, like, every flavor of Halo Top!!) arrived with DRY ICE! Such a nice touch, especially since I was afraid I was going to have to deal with a goopy mess. All other refrigerated items came with ice packs and were a good temperature.
  • Produce was fresh. I got organic blueberries for a very reasonable price ($3.99/6oz), and they were sweet and delicious. Non-organic blueberries were $2.99, which is usually what I pay in Chicago for these items (sometimes more).
  • Generally, all items were priced in line with my expectations, either at or sometimes below grocery prices, except for meats which were very expensive.

Needs Improvement

  • Meat selection and prices were disappointing. I didn’t end up ordering any because it didn’t seem worth it. Would probably just make a monthly trip to Costco to pick up my favorite meats to freeze.
  • While the packaging my groceries arrived in was sturdy and fairly well insulated, I didn’t like the fact that it was all disposable. Yes, I did end up recycling most of it, as they were cardboard boxes, but I wish they provided the reusable insulated delivery bags as advertised, so that I didn’t feel terrible creating so much waste with my delivery.
  • Some produce you have to buy in large quantities, and aren’t able to just get one or two items (certain potatoes, for instance). And the yams were enormous!
  • No booze. Yet.
  • Pricey. The service is definitely a luxury. You are paying to have someone hand-select your items and deliver them to your door, so I can understand the $15/month charge. This is worth it for people who are very busy, like full time workers and parents with young children. For others, it’s a matter of how much you hate going to the grocery store.

I think as the service expands, and once Whole Foods has been truly integrated into the model, delivery costs will be lower and this service will become accessible to more people. I am strongly considering going forward after the 30-day trial and will try to provide an update once that is complete.

Have you tried Amazon Fresh or other grocery delivery services? Comment below with your experiences.

Where Are You Summer?

I love many things about living in Chicago but, as you all know, the weather is just simply not one of those things. Today it’s about 52 degrees, cloudy and windy, which is horrible considering that yesterday it was 79 and sunny. This teaser summer weather is really starting to get on my nerves!

In order to really get myself psyched for the awesome weather that *surely* lies ahead, I purchased this punchy, lemonade-colored blazer from Zara today:

2465231300_1_1_1I’m fairly certain if this doesn’t get me in the spirit for Spring/Summer, then really nothing will do the trick. I was inspired by blogger Mimi Ikonn to get on this bright-colored bandwagon. I’m hoping this will only be the beginning of a long and lasting relationship between me and eye-grabbing shades and prints. I’m thinking something coral next…

What gets you guys inspired for the season? Comment below and let me know!

5 Beauty Products Review- Too Faced, Benefit, MAC, YSL and e.l.f.

Aloha from sunny Chicago!

I decided to do a video in lieu of a post today to kick-start my blog posting after over a month hiatus. I’m focusing on a review of a handful of beauty products which I’ve loved or which have gotten lots of hype and I wasn’t impressed by. Let me know if you guys have tested these out and have thoughts or questions!

Here’s what I reviewed

1. Too Faced Chocolate Bar Palette

2. Benefit Erase Paste

3. Mac Prolongwear Concealer

4. YSL Babydoll mascara

5. e.l.f. Makeup Remover Pen

Thinking About Inspiration

Isn’t half the battle in life getting inspired to do something? I’d say it’s about 90% of the battle in my case. Inspiration is intoxicating, too. In the internet age, we spend so much time browsing: looking at Pinterest, Polyvore, Facebook, looking for things that will move us. Entertain us, too but, above all, add meaning to our lives.

Every day we should strive to do this: to invoke our inner creativity, our voice, and our passions. How do I break out of a funk and what really helps to bring back my inspiration? Here are a few things that work for me and might work for you

1. Invest in a really nice, visually pleasing planner. You can find these in bookstore, stationery stores, office supply stores or my personal favorite, Amazon. Get one that is colorful and has detailed time slots to include all the small tasks you need/want to get done throughout the week. Buy a nice pen to go with it.

This is the planner I use.

2. Try to work and live in a place with TONS of light. Stay away from courtyard-facing apartments or rooms with dark paint. Open the window once in a while and let the air circulate.

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3. Keep color around you. Make decorating your space a priority and choose decorations painted in a color that is motivating. For me it’s blue, pink or green. This could be a plant, a picture frame, a flower-pot that doubles as a pencil/pen holder, a vase, a lamp, a throw pillow, you get the idea.

Photo Credit: Better Homes and Gardens

4. Schedule in a five-minute meditative walk in the morning or afternoon. Imagine that those five minutes don’t exist in time and that there are no other tradeoffs for that time. All you can do is just walk for those five minutes, and be present. Use the Breathe app’s guided meditation for walking, if you’re having trouble keeping your mind focused on being present.

Breathe App

5. Keep your body feeling well, hydrated and energized by drinking an herbal tea that you love. At the moment I’m really enjoying Chamomile Citrus by Mighty Leaf, but I also love their African Nectar and any tea with citrus flavors.

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6. Remove clutter. It is distracting and anxiety-producing. Streamline your work space.

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7. Visualize your future. Close your eyes and imagine who you want to be in 5 years. Where are you? What do you look like? How do you feel? Look at pictures of people who are doing what you aspire to. Then write down one thing you can do every day to reach that goal. Put it in your shiny new planner.

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The path forward

What inspires you? Comment below, I’d love to know.

Favorite Craving Buster

Nutritionists say that often when we feel hungry we’re probably just thirsty. Or that we have an oral fixation–wait, that might be what Freudian psychiatrists say…I digress. Really what I’m getting at is: I think I’ve found a way to give in to my need to snack by turning instead to a trusty and tasty beverage-

LaCroix Sparkling Water!

These are just a few of my favorite flavors:

Coconut flavor
Grapefruit
Orange

Runners up include Lime, Passionfruit, and Lemon. I drink them with fun straws for an added layer of awesomeness.

They even make great cocktail mixers! Try the Coconut flavor with rum or the Lime flavor with vodka or gin. Go crazy! Can you tell I can’t wait for summer to be here? 🙂

Favorite (Easy) Paleo Recipes of the Moment

I have to be real for a second: there’s no way on Earth that I could ever be a strict Paleo eater. Why?

-I love whiskey. There, I said it. This is reason number one.

-I refuse to be too obsessive about diets. This is especially because of the vast amounts of pseudo-scientific truisms that most diet “experts” live and die by, with scant long-term evidentiary support. Sigh.

-I’m lazy.

That being said, I do believe in the basic tenets of Paleo eating. I try to abide by them (especially cutting out the grains and legumes) as much as possible. This has been a guiding principle in creating my weekly meal plans. I sit there on a Sunday and basically browse the maaaany Paleo blogs out there hoping for some inspiration. I’ve resolved to make at least one new recipe per week, and 3 or 4 tried and true ones that are on my regular rotation. I try to make large batches, too, but my husband has a big appetite so I end up having to cook (or he cooks) most nights.

I came up with a little list of hits that have made it on the regular rotation, or that I really like to treat myself too once in a while. Here goes!

Paleo Pizza Crust from My Heart Beets

My Heart Beets Paleo Pizza Crust

Just top this crust off with your favorite sauce and toppings (I love mozzarella, basil, tomatoes and Parmesano-Reggiano) and HEAVEN! Just one tip: don’t cook the crust with the toppings on it or else you will end up with soggy pizza. First pan-fry and then bake the crust as instructed, then add your sauce and toppings and finish in the oven. Don’t forget to use your cast iron pizza pan!
PaleOMG’s Crockpot Ropa Vieja with Cuban-style Rice

Ropa Vieja from PaleOMG

This is one recipe that actually does make quite a large batch and lasts for a couple of dinners, which I love. It’s savory and satisfying and super simple to make. Chances are you already have many of the ingredients in your pantry to make this.

Food and Wine’s Provencal Lamb Stew with Basil

Photo Credit: Flying Fourchette

I’ve been to Provence and did not have the opportunity to savor their heartier dishes since I visited during the Summer. I imagine they would taste exactly like this. This recipe makes a decent-sized batch and of course just gets more delicious the longer it sits. My mouth waters just writing about it now. Mmmmmmm.
PaleOMG’s Almost 5 Ingredient Pizza Spaghetti Pie

PaleOMG’s Pizza Spaghetti Pie

Do I sense a theme here? Yep. I love PaleOMG’s recipes. And I love Italian food–which sucks on Paleo, but not when you have recipes like this. Absolutely delicious, and makes the spaghetti squash taste a million times better.

The Food Lab’s method for cooking salmon

Photo Credit: The Food Lab

I know this isn’t an actual recipe but cooking salmon this way means that you don’t really need to bother with any sauces or seasonings; the delicious buttery flavor of the salmon itself shines through. And the trick is to not skimp when purchasing the fish- go for the wild caught, fresh Alaskan salmon, nothing frozen or fish-farmed. Serve with a side of salad, cauliflower rice or your favorite subtle side (don’t choose something too salty that will overpower the flavors!) and enjoy.

Wine pairings optional but strongly recommended.

And a Happy New Year.

Today is the first day of the rest of 2015. I like to think of it as a Sunday: a day of setting plans, resolutions, preparing for what lies ahead, resting from the heavy partying we swear never to do again.

Completed the 2014 1000- piece puzzle, with a little help from my friends.
                                  Completed the 2014 1000- piece puzzle, with a little help from my friends.

This is a special year for me, though. For starters, I’m turning 30. Leaving my 20s behind seems like something I’ve been ready to do for a while. I feel like I’ve learned to cultivate a lot of self-acceptance in the past decade, and for that I’m really grateful. This will also be a year of changes, in anticipation of the Big Change that will come in 2016, when Alex matches into a residency program. The match may reveal that we have to move away. Because of this, 2015 will be fraught with uncertainty. But, uncertainty only means that I can be as open minded and adventurous as the occasion calls for.

In short, it’s time to prepare to move on with the next one. I’ve already gotten a head start on moving on to the next puzzle:

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESBut the next big puzzle is something I can never really be prepared for.

What does all this mean for A Bantam Belle? You will see a lot of action, a lot of fun and exciting posts, and most importantly, a lot more pictures documenting my adventures! I got a new Samsung NX3000 for Christmas from by wonderful husband and once I master the ins and outs of aperture, exposure, blah blah blah things should be looking pretty good around here.

So, here’s to living like it’s 2015.

Finding My Happy Place

Guys, writing a blog is scary stuff. I mean, putting your thoughts out there on the internet… it’s kind of intense, if you think about it. And still I feel compelled to take a chance and share because if one doesn’t risk sharing then you risk missing out. So I’m going to start my sharing some of my favorite things: a mishmash of items or activities that make me thankful and happy or just generally put me in a better place. In no particular order:

1. Watching Hocus Pocus on or around Halloween.

 

 

It’s not like this is an award winning film, it’s just fun and cute and very very 90s. It’s perfectly light fun and gets me in the whole “it’s finally Fall!” mood.

2. My Ann Taylor gallery tote

In nude

I love this bag. I’ve gotten tons of compliments on it (from the most random people) and plenty of folks at my work have also found this understated bag to be perfect for the office and after-hours. The only downside: it has no closure at the top so it pops open if you have a bunch of stuff in it, which I always do. It really is an awesome bag, and Ann Taylor has 50% off sales like every other week so it’s very affordable!

 

3. Wunderlist

Are you obsessed with To Do lists in the way I’m obsessed with To Do lists? Or are you just generally absentminded and need organization and reminders of your responsibilities? Then this app is pretty much the bee’s knees. My husband and I use it to coordinate household chores, grocery lists, etc. since it works across a variety of platforms and lists can be shared. Hooray for structure!

4. Wine!

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I want to say I’ve found the holy grail of wines, since I wanted to keep this list of favorites as specific as possible, but it really varies by dish, season and my mood. The pictured wine (Chateau Poyanne Cotes de Bourg) was really good, and I was lucky enough to taste some amazing wines when I was in Provence with my lady friends (shout out to Bertrand from Instant Terroir wine tour, amazing!). Enjoying some wine after a tough, long day is just a must in my book. We stock wine like milk in our special little wine fridge. Never can have too much!

 

5. Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend tea

The best way to wind down my night: a delicious, hot cup of tea (this kind or Cinnamon Apple from Celestial Seasonings). If you let it steep in there for several minutes it gets really sweet, naturally. It’s awesome.

6. Blog reading. I hope to do a post on some of my favorites, but it all started when my friend Val helped me set up my Feedly with some fun blogs, whereupon I quickly began my blog reading love. Inspired by the likes of The Fitnessista, Peanut Butter Fingers, Pumps & Iron, Lemon Stripes and countless fashion blogs, I have vastly improved my knowledge of all things health, shoes and Buzzfeed related. Thank you, internet!

7. Fruit Pies

At my wedding, there was no cake, only six different varieties of pie (catered by delicious Hoosier Mama Pie Company). When I die and go to heaven, I believe God will be waiting with an eternal buffet of dutch apple cherry pies, with extra crumble. My love for pie makes it very difficult to fully embrace Paleo, but then again, it’s all about moderation!

8. Hiking

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There’s nothing that helps me clear my mind (or burn off pie calories) than a fresh, crisp morning hike. It’s one of those things I don’t often plan too far in advance, my mind just needs a rest from urban living and I have to reset. The Chicago suburbs have lots of trails, but unfortunately most of them are flat (albeit full of wonderful scenery). Varied topography is one of the things I miss most about California, for sure.

Let’s leave it there for now. Before I’m tempted to eat that picture  of pie on my screen. mmmmmmm