Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Hello Blue Plated Chef

It seems like you'd have to be living on a remote island without social media to have missed the whole meal prep delivery trend. It may have started with Hello Fresh, at least, that's where it started for me. A friend offered a $30 off card, but I didn't go there. Another friend offered a $30 off card. Still I resisted. Finally, a friend offered a
Spinach and Artichoke Turnovers
with Arugula & Tomato Salad
"free week." It wasn't really free, but it was enough to get me to try it. It is always easy to get in a rut and we were in a serious rut. Too many meals eaten in restaurants or from Trader Joe's frozen section. My husband was skeptical, worried about the cost, etc. Still, when the doorbell rang for that first box, dear hubby was almost pushing me out of the way to get at the box. We unpacked together and it was darn easy to unpack. It takes a large box for all the packing materials to keep the food chilling on the porch. The actual food was nearly overpowered by the packing materials. Those packing materials. The companies claim most of it is recyclable, but not around here. I imagine there will be an entire layer of archaeological wonder over the meal prep delivery waste.
So back to the meal delivery. Our first company was Hello Fresh. There were three nice brown paper bags, each labeled with the meal. Some weeks there was a reminder to look between layers of ice bags for additional items. My meat eating friends tell me there is almost always meat there, but vegetarians get the occasional bag of pasta or something.
Ah, the difference between vegetarian and omnivore when it comes to the meal prep delivery boxes. All the reviews I've seen have been written by meat eaters for meat eaters. I'm a vegetarian married to an omnivore, so I want to concentrate on the vegetarian side of things. I'll make comments on the meal plans I tried from a vegetarian perspective with some comments from my meat eating friends. I started with four of the most common plans for this review -- Hello Fresh, Home Chef, Blue Apron, and Plated.

Hello Fresh

Each meal was  in a recyclable brown paper bag with few exceptions for special ingredients. So while the packing materials for shipping left a lot of non-recyclable trash, the meal bags were readily recyclable. It was easy to reach in the fridge and pull out everything necessary for the night's meal. Many items like crushed tomatoes and chickpeas came in boxes rather than cans. I imagine it reduces shipping weight.

The second week, a bag of tomatoes was squished in shipping and the contents kind

Blue Apron Za'atar-roasted
 Cauliflower with
 Date-Farro Salad was a hit
of leaked out everywhere. Fortunately, most of the mess was contained to one soggy bag. A quick trip to the grocery (something these delivered kits are supposed to reduce) and I had way to many cherry tomatoes for the dinner (another thing these kits are supposed to reduce). Hello Fresh credited me $5 on the following week. Aside from that week, ingredients were well packed to avoid smashed tomatoes, etc. All ingredients were at least as good quality as I would pick in the grocery. A couple of avocados were a bit too ripe, but that's more the nature of avocado than of meal kits.  Liquids were often in manufacturers  miniature bottles, so I knew the quality of the ingredients. At the end of our experiment, liquids were sealed in little packets. Most were Hello Fresh labeled so it might have been a choice to hide lesser quality ingredients or another step in reducing shipping weight. I missed the cute little bottles, but didn't notice ingredient degradation.

Ease of preparation, time from bag to plate:
The instructions were extremely clear. My husband is a great baker -- very precise in measurements, very detailed in following recipes. I'm a free spirit in the kitchen -- I wonder what would happen if I added this spice, almost never measure olive oil aside from a long circle or a little splash. And, dear husband's culinary inclinations were limited to pancakes, grilling, and microwaving. He jumped right in on preparation the very first night, precisely slicing vegetables with excruciating slow deliberation. By the second week when I was away from home a couple of nights, he proudly made one of the dishes on his own, texting me a picture of his masterpiece. I showed that picture to everyone who would look!
Husband's first solo effort -- Chipotle Cheddar
Mac 'n' Cheese with Roasted Cauliflower

Variety of ingredients, interesting recipes:
This was an area where Hello Fresh excelled for vegetarians. Meat eaters get choices of protein and dishes each week. Vegetarians get three meals chosen by the company. This may have changed recently, but it was a bit frustrating. If there was one dish in a week that did not appeal to us, our only choice was to skip the entire week or eat something we didn't like to eat. Aside from that, we loved trying new ingredients. We roast vegetables  almost every night now. There are a lot of good protein  sources -- black beans, chickpeas, quinoa, etc. Hello Fresh used a variety of them. A new favorite snack came from leftover roasted chickpeas. The secret to crisp chickpeas? Pat them very dry before tossing with olive oil, salt, pepper, interesting spices.
A meat eater friend started Hello Fresh with the regular plan. She said it wasn't  very interesting -- meat, side, veggies. When I started posting pictures of the vegetarian  meals, she switched to the vegetarian plan.

Pros and Cons:
Almost all the meals were tasty. Many of them appear on our table fairly often. I have tripled the recipes and taken them to potluck dinners and I regularly get requests for the recipes. It accomplished the original goals of giving me new menus and getting my husband and I cooking together. The app was very nice and easy to use.
We hated that dishes repeated a lot. It would have been nice to have at least one alternate meal each week. My meat eating husband would have been happy if we could have ordered some vegetarian and some regular meals. The menus repeated soon and often. We stopped using the company when there were no new dishes in a week.
We may buy the occasional week from Hello Fresh in the future if the menus expand. In less than two months, we had as many as four repeats of the same recipe.

Blue Apron

We heard good things about Blue Apron, so we tried that next. By now, we were accustomed to all the packaging. I will say quite a few Blue Apron boxes have found new uses in our home.
Dear husband loves these boxes for tax
records and other papers in transition. We
both love the easy to use lid,
What we did not like was that almost all the ingredients were loose in the box. Small items are put in a knick knack bag, one for each meal. We discovered the first week that we had to do an inventory when we unpacked. I started to make couscous stuffed Poblano peppers only to find most of the ingredients missing. I called the company and we discovered two of the knick knack bags were not packed. Not a great start, but the company  credited me a full week's meals free. I'd  show a picture of the peppers, but I never made them. Perhaps, now that i ran across the recipe pulling together things for this post, I'll make that dish. Dear husband tackled the pizza dough while I was
The makeshift pizza.
Note the best ever broccoli!
at a board meeting and topped it with stuff we had around the house. Not the red pepper and olive pizza advertised,  but tasty and a demonstration of how far hubby had expanded his culinary chops. We did have ingredients for the recommended accompaniment, the best broccoli ever. We steamed the broccoli and tossed it in a sauce of olive oil, lemon juice, and hot sauce. This is a dish that makes regular  appearances around here.
A few liquids were bottled and leaked slightly, not enough to ruin the recipes, but enough to know the vinegar leaked.

Blue Apron exposed us to ingredients we'd never worked with before. They used more enoki mushrooms than I'd ever eaten in my life. Sometimes they were perfect, sometimes a stringy minus in a sandwich. 
I got some good tips for getting nice crisp fried tofu -- pat really dry before tossing in cornstarch in very small batches. Blue Apron relies a lot on eggs and tofu as protein sources. There was some cheese in the many pasta dishes.

Ease of preparation, time from bag to plate:
Blue Apron recipes are complex. They are probably the most sophisticated,  but we found the preparation, with both of us working full tilt, took about twice as long as

Freekeh and Vegetable "Fried Rice"

The referenced stringy enoki mushroom tortas

Ginger-Miso Long Life Noodles with Roasted Vegetables and hard-boiled Egg

the recipe promised. With a lot of chopping and grating, we averaged 90 minutes to two hours on recipes that were supposed to be 40-50 minutes. Some of our slowness came in collecting all the ingredients.

Variety of ingredients, interesting recipes:
This program had a great range of dishes -- Italian, Asian, Southwestern, Mediterranean, etc. The recipes exposed us to Korean rice cakes which are not at all those crispy banes to dieters; they are very chewy and filling things. I wanted to love spicy Poblano  and enoki mushroom tortas, but the enoki were stringy and hard to bite off in a sandwich.
One of the techniques  Blue Apron uses a lot is pickling -- cabbage, beets, carrots. I'd forgotten how easy it is to pickle and what a nice contrast it adds to dishes. The Freekeh "fried rice" was topped with carrots that were lightly pickled. Freekeh is an interesting  protein source that substituted  for rice. I wasn't wildly thrilled with it, but it is a good ingredient to know.

Pros and Cons:
Blue Apron probably offered the broadest variety of dishes. If you are confident of your kitchen skills, but thinking your menus are a bit boring, this plan will challenge you. The app was easy to use and I liked that they included user comments.
My meat eating friend who switched to the vegetarian version of Hello Fresh liked the challenge of the recipes in the regular version of Blue Apron. She tends to alternate suppliers depending on the schedule for the week. She's a mom with two active grade school boys and a home-based business, so schedule is everything for her. I'm active in church on several levels, politics, boards of directors, editing, and blogging, so I  found myself skipping weeks when the schedule was tight.
Much as we loved the variety of dishes, we found it was too time consuming, not just the cooking, but the sorting.

Home Chef

Home Chef was recently purchased by Kroger. It is probably a good fit. The dishes were tasty, carb intensive, not very challenging. Vegetarians often have few options in restaurants, often a vegetable salad with no protein (maybe a touch of cheese) or some pasta dish (with a dusting of cheese for protein), sometimes a grilled cheese or a cheese omelet. That same mentality seemed prevalent with Home Chef. "Gosh, we need three vegetarian dishes. What can we do for them."
The packaging was nice. Everything was in a plastic bag that worked well as a "garbage bag" where I dumped non-recyclable trash, peels, trimmings, etc. After I finished cooking, I sealed it up, put it in the trash and the trash stayed less odoriferous. There was, of course, the usual issue of packing materials that couldn't be recycled. This company had the biggest problem with leaky packaging. Things like cooking wine (which I would toss anyway) leaked completely. Vinegar leaked by half. The liquids were packed in little bottles that were not sealed.

There were no interesting ingredients. There were a lot of pasta dishes. Several sandwiches, a tofu salad. Only one recipe made our favorites list. We had a lot of hard lemons and limes, unripe and overripe avocados. A few times, I had to rush off to the grocery store (ironically one in the Kroger chain) to replace unusable ingredients.

Cuban Avocado Black Bean Quinoa was
our favorite @realhomechef
Ease of preparation, time from bag to plate:
These dishes definitely lived up to the company name. They were, for the most part, quick and simple.p
Variety of ingredients, interesting recipes:
There were some strange things like using cooking wine in risotto. Have you ever tasted cooking wine? It is super salty and bears little resemblance to actual wine. I threw it out and used real wine. The most of the alcohol evaporates in the cooking or risotto, so it is even safe for children. The other oddity was using Cheddar cheese. Mozzarella, Provolone, Asiago,
Romano, Parmesan, maybe Fontina, but Cheddar is an English cheese. Why use an English cheese, worse yet, the American version of an English cheese when there are so many  great Italian cheeses?

Pros and Cons:
The pros were a slightly lower price, very simple recipes. The app is fairly good. This might be a good choice for someone moving into their first apartment if they didn't learn to cook along the way. It beats living on take out (much cheaper and a little healthier) or frozen meals (ditto on healthier).
Frankly, I  think it would be better to learn good techniques and more authentic recipes, but there is a place for Home Chef. It just isn't my kitchen.


Plated combines the best and least of our first companies. This was the first company that gave vegetarians options, even the option of some meat dishes! The dishes are creative and definitely tasty. Plated offers desserts for $8 for four servings. The app works well and has more flexibility than most. The packaging continues the trash issues of the rest. Like Blue Apron, most of the ingredients are loose in the box with the bags of condiments, etc. that can
Herb-roasted Carrot & Zucchini Tarts with Spring Greens
serve as garbage collectors during the preparation.
Adding to the trash issue, the vegetables are individually bagged. If the zucchini was pre-washed, fine, bag it, but these vegetables aren't pre-washed. The kicker was last night's roasted peppers. First of all, we were roasting zucchini and eggplant, so we could have roasted the peppers. We even used a second sheet pan for toasting pine nuts and so we stuck the pitas in foil on that same sheet. Plenty of room for peppers. The peppers were in a little baggie inside a plastic carton. Massive trash and they still leaked out a little.
We got a little tired of kale and eggplant, but we learned a nifty trick for kale that will be eaten as a salad -- massage salt into the washed and dried kale to begin breaking down the fibers, then dress the kale in an acidic dressing (we liked Fresh lemon juice with olive oil and seasoning) before you start the rest of the meal.
There were few truly surprising ingredients.
Ease of preparation, time from bag to plate:
Again, we usually estimated twice the time that Plated gave. I'm relatively swift with a knife, but dear husband is still precise and that precision extends to several breaks to tidy up the knife edges if he thought they were off. If I'm in a hurry, I chop, he mixes dressings, oils and seasons veggies for roasting, and does other tasks. By the time we started Plated, we were pretty clear on our kitchen choreography.
The dishes were fairly easy to prepare and the company provided some nice pre-made like tart shells, puff pastry squares, and na'an.
Variety of ingredients, interesting recipes:
The ingredients were common, but assembled in interesting ways. As I said, we saw a lot of eggplant, kale, and sweet potato. But those sweet potato tacos will come back to our table from time to time. We liked quite a few of the recipes.
We bought two desserts during our exploration of Plated. Somehow I didn't get a picture of the delicious  lemon tarts. The Blackberry-Cornbread Trifle was interesting, but nothing like a true trifle. First, cornbread is unexpected. I don't care for sweet cornbread and I found it too grainy. The blackberry was just a quick jam, and not nearly enough of it. The dessert was dry. The jam was something I've made for biscuits since. Equal measures of fruit and sugar with a little water, bring to a boil, lower temp to simmer for about 15-20 minutes (that's  at 6200 ft. elev.) until it begins to thicken. Pour into a little bowl or jar and refrigerate until it thickens to a jam consistency.  The whipped cream was informative as well. Add a little powdered sugar to the cream and it holds consistency once it is whipped. Stirring in a little Fresh lime zest at the end was a game-changer.

Blackberry-Cornbread Trifle
Pros and Cons:
Plated had the disadvantages of excessive non-recyclable packaging. It also had some of the disadvantages of loose ingredients to corral and sort. Aside from the roasted red peppers, we had no leakage issues, but there was excess plastic bagging. 
Plated had a couple of big pros -- choices of dishes and desserts.

In conclusion

My purpose for using a meal prep delivery kit was two fold -- to get out of my menu rut and to encourage my husband to cook together. I then added a purpose for this blog post to examine four popular companies from the vegetarian perspective.
All four programs got my husband and I in the kitchen together, talking about food, comparing notes on dishes, and discussing why the programs did or did not work for us. We had fallen in a rut where
I was the one who did the true cooking, my husband heated a frozen option or scrambled eggs if I was sick, tired, away for home, etc.
Before we started this experiment, we were, in a word, bored. I was bored with menu planning and uninspired in the kitchen. Three of these programs gave us exciting new ways to look at familiar and unfamiliar ingredients. Even our least favorite program added a couple of new recipes to our kitchen repertoire. Easy became the enemy of good. Now we have a variety of dishes to chose from in our menu planning and, frankly, I'm energized because I am cooking with my husband.
As for how the companies address vegetarians, I suspect it is in their vegetarian options that the companies show their true natures.
Home Chef was our least favorite. While there were a couple of standouts, there was a lot of pasta, little protein, little new or challenging. That's not to say that the same holds true for their meat entrees. It says that they were not inspired or inspiring in their vegetarian options.
Blue Apron was the complete opposite of Home Chef for vegetarians. The dishes were often unfamiliar cuisines. The ingredients were often unfamiliar. The tastes were sometimes challenging. This certainly wasn't an exercise in same old protein sources. This would be a great program for truly adventuresome eaters with fair kitchen skills. Since we started our experiment, Blue Apron has gone on a roller coaster ride in the stock market and began offering versions of their kits in Costco stores. The downside for us was the sorting of ingredients and the long prep and cooking time.
Hello Fresh has a good system. The vegetarian meals may be more interesting than the meat entrees. There was a broad range of readily available ingredients that make it easy to replicate the recipes. Putting everything together for each meal was a definite plus. It took no time at all to pull out the bag labeled for the dinner I wanted, open the bag and start in on the veggie washing and slicing/dicing. The downside was how quickly the recipes started to repeat. Because the ingredients are commonly found in the local grocery store, the incentive to continue buying Hello Fresh is diminished.
Plated was certainly the most flexible of the plans. Although we started to see some dishes repeat, there was always at least one vegetarian dish to replace the repeat. For some reason, Mushroom Cavatelli and Grandma's Skillet Pie (our least favorite from Plated) have been showing up often. I'm not sure we would buy the desserts often because I am almost always watching the calorie intake and because we have some great dessert recipes already. There were many common ingredients and just enough exotic ingredients to keep us interested.
If Hello Fresh added to their vegetarian menu, it would be a hands down winner. It has the most convenient packing of individual meals, a good variety of interesting recipes and a decent price. If we had to choose one company today, it might be Plated because of the range of vegetarian options, a good system for getting around repeats, and flexibility.

Coming Up...

We just got our first shipment from Hungry Root, an entirely vegan meal prep delivery system. Be watching as I change up our experiment to examine systems designed for vegetarians/vegans.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Bring Back Sane Immigration Policy

If you have been following my recent posts here, you know that I was adopted as an infant. I had a roof over my head, clothes on my body, food in my stomach, an opportunity for education. What I did not have was a sense of belonging. Memories of that are quite strong for me right now because of finding my roots and my family of origin.
In that context, recent news events have had a particularly strong impact on me. I cry for those families on the border. My biological mother freely gave me up for adoption with the hope, I'm sure, that she was doing what was best for me. Those parents crossing the border into the U.S. were doing so because they believed they were doing what was best for their children -- taking them from an environment where their children were in constant danger of murder, rape, and other atrocities. I sincerely doubt they realized they were bringing their children to a country where they would face incarceration and separation from their parents. 
There have been references to the Japanese internment camps in the U.S. during World War II. There, it is my understanding that families were housed together. While many Jewish families sent their children off in groups to England, the U.S. and other countries with no assurance they would be reunited, it was the intent of the parents to do the best thing for their children. Not even the Nazis effected such total and complete separation of children from their parents. Aside from the terrible medical "experiments" the Nazis committed on some children, it seems some children were kept with their family units, sometimes even to the ovens.
It is bad enough that the U.S. government is dividing families of undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, etc., but these are not temporary divisions. It is becoming apparent that there is no system in place to reconnect these divided families. There have been unbelievable stories of thousands of "lost" children, children who cannot be found in the records and cannot be reunited with their families. Now we hear that there is no effort made to set up a system so that families can be reunited. We have babies in internment facilities, "tender age" housing, whose parents have already been deported. Those parents are unable to search for their children, the government has no means of returning those children to their parents outside the U.S.
I had a "fairy tale" of loving parents hit on hard times who lovingly trusted their daughter to a good German Lutheran home to be raised as they wished they could have raised her. These children in internment camps in Texas have no such fairy tale. If they are very, very lucky, they will be reunited with their biological families. They may face horrors in their countries of origin, but they will face them with at least one parent. Some children in these camps may be lucky to be adopted to loving families, maybe to families that will be willing to help the find their biological families. Others will not be so lucky. They may be placed in foster families, maybe in a string of foster families. But, no matter what happens to these innocent children, they have already been traumatized, their lives will never be the same. They will never have even the illusion of safety again. Some of them will be like me, not knowing where they got their thick thighs, slightly lopsided smile, or sense of humor. Some of them may have the better life their parents wished for them, but it will be a better life with little missing pieces where their birth families should have been. Maybe it will haunt them, maybe it will not
The U.S. was a land of hope and opportunity to all my grandparents, biological and adopted, when they fled Kaiser Wilhelm II's Germany. It is sad that the current administration is making the U.S. an isolated and frightening place. I have registered my concerns with my Congressional delegation. I urge you to do the same. We must return to humane and sane immigration policies. Furthermore, we must provide strong support services to children who cannot be returned to their families as a result of the U.S. actions.
NOTE: As of the time of posting, the White House and Congress are signaling a possible end to the policy of separating families. There is no indication that there will be any reparation of families already destroyed.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

We're Calling Ourselves Sisters

I just talked to my sister for more than three hours! That sentence brings tears to my eyes. You see, I've never touched this sister, never knew she existed until a couple of weeks ago. And she never knew she had a half-sister on her mother's side. We met through the magic of DNA and it is a most amazing experience.
Brother on the left, sister in the center and niece on the right.
AncestryDNA calls us 1st cousins, but she's convinced and I have to agree, we are actually half-sisters. She has always known about a half-brother two years older than me who lived with her family and grandparents. That she had a half-sister was never mentioned, never even hinted. All the people who would have known the true story are dead, but all roads lead Kathy and I to believe we are half-sisters and, as Kathy said, "We can call ourselves sisters, and if there's ever evidence to prove otherwise, we can still call ourselves sisters."
Our mother
This is my mother in about 2000. I never imagined I would ever know what my biological mother looked like. I don't know that I ever even really daydreamed about her as a real person. As I look through family pictures, I know where I got my hair color. I wonder if her eyes switched between blue and green depending on mood and clothing color. I'll have to ask Kathy.
And my sister! We talked and talked. Neither of us cared much about dolls, but her/my mother made extravagent outfits for her Barbie. I still have my original Barbie, but the only outfit is her black and white striped swimsuit. I know I had other clothes, but I no longer have them. Kathy was the tomboy sister. I was the indoor sister, maybe, at least physically, the more timid sister. I loved horses, but she owned one. She rode motorcycles and did a lot more sailing than I did. She's obviously very intelligent, but I might be more bookish.
We agree that we might have fought a lot because we are both a bit outspoken, but that we would also have been close. We have so many things in common and so many very different experiences. She almost went to the same college I attended. We would have known each other, at least known of each other. Would we have recognized each other?
It's all suddenly so very real, but so sudden that there is still much to process for all of us. I haven't spoken to my half-brother at all. I have a new-to-me niece in the town where I live. So there is much still to explore, a whole family with which to develop relationship.
Kathy and I are beginning to make plans to visit each other and thinking about even traveling together to see the ancestral hometown in Germany. In some ways, it seems that things are moving at warp speed, but we have a lot of lost years of sisterhood to make up for.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Blue Hello Chef Plated Etc.

I kept hearing about Hello Fresh, then Blue Apron and Home Chef and the rest of this fast developing genre of home cook deliveries.
We started Hello Fresh. I noticed that my kitchen-averse husband started hanging around on Thursdays when the Hello Fresh box arrived, even stayed in the kitchen when the cooking began. Gradually, he took on more and more of the work until we became quite a team. When I was away at a meeting for two nights, he picked the meal he thought he could do by himself and texted me pictures of the finished dinner. It was worth it just to awaken his fledgling culinary interest.
Then Hello Fresh meals started repeating. I mean, new meals were a rarity. So we decided to try Blue Apron. The recipes were comparable, the instructions perhaps less clear. We got off to a bad start with them when to bags of ingredients essential to two of the meals the first week were missing from
our shipment. They graciously gave us the next week free and the meals were good. The package arrives with all the ingredients together in the box and a bag of small items for each dish. We were spoiled by Hello Fresh shipping everything (except "meat" items) in a bag for each meal, so the Blue Apron box seemed more complex, checking off each item and putting it with the others for that meal.
Now that we'd tried two of these services, we tried a third. We were diappointed, so we're trying a fourth next week.
There are subtle and not so subtle differences among these services, so I've decided to check out several more of them and compile my notes for this blog.
So, be watching. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your impressions of the services like this that you have tried.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Discovering Family

Now comes the tricky part. AncestryDNA has connected us and made a fairly convincing case that we are cousins. What do we do about that?
My first cousin and I made contact through the messaging option of AncestryDNA. Her first reaction was that I might be on her father's side, he had five sisters and several illegitimate children. I might be his child. Although AncestryDNA talks in terms of 1st cousins, that can be a half-sibling as well apparently. I said her mother's maiden name was part of my birth story. I mentioned my disease, her mother had a lot of polyps. Come to think of it, her mother had had a "breakdown", lived a while in Oklahoma City and in Wichita. There is enough there to look more closely.
While the family I grew up in would have been quite suspicious of someone claiming to share DNA with them, this new family seemed comfortable with it. They had some experience of finding relatives in the past. I know I grew up in a family that felt scarcity rather than abundance, not scarcity of resources, though that was the case, but scarcity in the sense of living abundantly or living life freely and fully. I get the impression that my newly found family lives more in abundance.
My cousin's sister (I guess that makes her my cousin, too) had died the previous week from complications of brain cancer, so much of our conversation came in the form of texts as she and her brother crossed Kansas, stayed in the Denver area, and continued to a small town on the western slope. We shared photographs. They see a resemblance to their mother. My cousin sent a poignant text, "This is surreal. I lose a sister one week and find a possible sister the next week." She's more comfortable with sister than I am. I'm feeling more comfortable with cousin. But then, she has experience with finding siblings and I have none. I have much to learn from this new family of mine.
We've made a few stabs at times to get together, but nothing has worked out yet. We are Facebook friends. Who knows what we will find? We share 1,872 centimorgans shared across 70 DNA segments, and AncestryDNA counts that as an almost 100% probability that we are closely related. What we do with this is uncertain, but I know I have blood relatives and that is a start. Will it matter if we are half sisters or cousins? We agree that we are at least new friends.
They are having a memorial for the cousin I will never know, the one who died the week before I found this new family, on June 2. There's irony they cannot know it their choice of date. I was adopted on June 2, 1951. My adopted family celebrated that more than my birth day.
This has been something of an emotional rollercoaster. One of my priest friends asked me, "Where is God in this?" I didn't have a good answer. I still don't. I have seen glimpses of God in the closeness and acceptance I detect in these new family members. They seem to be much more of a family than the one I grew up in. Perhaps I needed to find that is possible in people to whom I am related by blood. Perhaps is  that idea of living in abundance rather than scarcity. It is something I believe in, but do not always practice as I would like. Perhaps the next thing I need to do is search out God in this experience.

More Ancestry than I bargained for

While my first DNA test was a cheek swab, the AncestryDNA test was a saliva experience. They assure you it is just a quarter teaspoon, but my mouth was desert dry. I filled the tube to the line, got the preservative trigger to work, and send it off. I fiddled around with the AncestryDNA website for a while, trying to bring up birth records from Oklahoma City on my birthdate, didn't have any success, and got on with a myriad of tasks for my various volunteer jobs. I actually sort of forgot about the DNA testing.
One random Saturday morning, I checked my email and saw my DNA test results.

Not the almost entirely German results of the fairy tale I had been told about my biological parents. No Ashkenazi results that I thought might be there.
What was in the DNA was a pretty clear indication that I was not conceived by two married professional immigrants whose marriage did not survive the immigration, the story I had been told.
No matter how much I reminded myself that what I'd been told could be wrong, no matter how often I told myself that there may be a different story, I found nothing prepared me to confront the truth. I shocked myself with how shaken I was to find my DNA was a fairly normal Heinz 57 type of DNA.
The nationality information wasn't the only shock. Because of my rare and hereditary disease, I really didn't think I would find many, if any, relatives on one side of the family. So seeing that I had 559 relatives 4th cousin or closer who had had their DNA done by the same company was amazing. Most amazing -- I had a first cousin. I had a first cousin who lived less than 100 miles from my orphanage. Her mother's maiden name was a name that I had heard in the crazy jumble of my birth story. Did I want to make contact? Did I want to pursue this?
I'd been given up for adoption which kind of felt like rejection; I didn't fit in with the adopted family very well in looks or ambitions which was another kind of rejection; did I want to risk another rejection?

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Amazing DNA

When I was in my early 40s, I was diagnosed with mesenteric fibromatosis and familial polpyposis. Big words, rare disease, also, hereditary. The Cleveland Clinic did genetic testing, but there remains a world of difference between medical genetics and something like DNA testing. I was relieved to find I did not have the syndrome often associated with familial polyposis that is invariably fatal.
All this is odd for an adopted person. People who grow up knowing their biological family know about the health stories of immediate family. There is a tumor registry for mesenteric fibromatosis, but there is the inevitable issue of confidentiality. If I ever found a blood relative, I thought it would have to be on the side that did not carry the gene for the disease.
I tried again to get the adoption records opened, but without success. Life was busy and full as I got used to a new health normal.
Twenty years later, DNA testing was common and I thought I would at least get reinforcement of the information my adoptive mother had given me about my biological ancesters. I did the cheek swab, sent off the packages and waited for results.
Meanwhile, the polyposis interferred again and I had major surgery before the DNA results arrived. The results seemed odd. Mitrochrondial (mother's side) showed something like 97% Caucasian and the other DNA result was 98% Austrian. Something seemed very odd about those results. Who has nearly 100% of one ancestry?
Neither of those DNA reports resembled the story I'd always heard about my ancesters. I'd been told that my biological parents were professionals who immigrated from Berlin, Germany to the U.S. Their marriage did not survive the migration. That wasn't consistent with Austrian and Caucasian DNA. Meanwhile, I developed some complications from the surgery. Life happened and I dropped the search for my roots.
A couple of years later, I caught an episode of a TV show that unites families who have been separated, often a child given up for adoption. Maybe I could find a cousin or something. I tried another DNA company, thinking it might be preliminary to hiring the experts on the show or something like that.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Who Am I, Where Are My Roots

So, I've always limited this blog to food, politics, and religion. But there is one other obsession in my life, one that I've talked about only superficially. As in, "I'm adopted and I envy people who know where and who they come from."
I was an only child for my adopted parents until 1955, when my sister was born. I was thrilled to be a big sister. That is, until a neighbor who obviously did not understand about bright and alert 4-year-olds. "Isn't it nice you could have one of your own since you had to adopt?" Uhm, Mommy, what is adopt? Why did you have to adopt? Mom told a story that wouldn't make so much sense without knowing that we had an old-fashioned candy store a couple blocks away from our house to which we walked for special treats. I've forgotten the proprietor's name, so I'll just call him Mr. Jones.
You love to see all the candy in the cabinets at the candy store and choosing exactly the candy you want. What if Mr. Jones put all the candy in little brown bags before you got there. You'd have to take whatever was in the bag without knowing what it was. What if you got candy corn (I hated candy corn at the time)? Well, that's what Daddy and I did, we went to the orphanage to look at all the babies and we chose you. With your sister, we had to take what God gave us.
I worried for a little while about them haveing to take what they got with my sister, but by the time my brother was born 18 months later, I knew I was somewhat superfluous. The candy store analogy was a good one, just not as accurate as I hoped.
Nonetheless, I had a reasonable, childhood with a roof over my head and too much food in my stomach. There was, however a lurking worry that they would send me back, that I had to be the very best student, person, and so on so they would want me. I also became the family scapegoat.
I always struggled to "fit in" and never felt very good at it, not in high school, not in college, not in grad school. I even struggle with believing that my wonderful husband will keep me around, though, after more than 35 years, I probably am doing okay on that front.
I sent cheek scrapings off to a DNA company a few years ago, but the results came back oddly inconclusive and inconsistent with everything I had been told about my birth family.
A month or so ago, I sent saliva off to another DNA company to see if I could satisfy my yearning for blood relations.
I'll be continuing to blog a bit about my yearnings, learnings, fears, and experiences as an adopted kid, now grown up, in search of a sense of belonging.

The Riverwalk in Pueblo, Colorado is a charming place to walk on a cool summer evening. In places, it is quiet and peaceful; in others, boisterous.
We chose a restaurant in the repurposed jail. Though there are many ramps, the place is not really very accessible. After 10 months of life on oxygen, I can assure you that not not everyone who needs a handicapped parking permit is in a wheelchair, I saw just one handicapped parking place and I was not entirely sure it wasn't left over from the building's previous life.
Still, the menu offered creative drinks and several options for a vegetarian. I didn't make the best choice. I should have asked more questions. My meal was chunks of squash, some onion, some peppers stirred in a garlic and adobo sauce and served in a grilled poblano. It was very flavorful and there was no place for the tastebuds to go to be refreshed. It certainly was not worth the price.
I told the waiter that it wasn't what I expected when he delivered it. I spoke to the manager who wanted to know what he could do to make me "happy." The chef came out and I explained that even a vegan (which I am not) needs some protein, suggested white beans in with the veggies would take care of the protein deficiency. We discussed the need to give the palate a break in the meal, maybe applesauce, a fruit couli, etc. He seemed to understand and appreciate the information. We had a nice dessert, a lemon tart with berries and meringue peaks. Then the bill. None of the concessions offered by the manager showed up on the bill. The chef did come out with two housemade chocolates and a card for a free dessert on a future visit. We were visiting overnight and had no expectation that we would be back at another time to use that free dessert.
I wanted to like the restaurant. I was thrilled that there were options for vegetarians and vegans. The drink was excellent. The food had potential. In fact, I think I will replicate the dish as a side dish with grilled tofu or a veggie burger. The key in that sentence is side dish.
I want to make two points:
1) I resent paying main course prices for side dish portions simply because I am vegetarian. My husband's meat-based meal was substantial and filling and cheaper than my vegetables; and
2) When the manager offers another meal to take home, to add a protein, etc., and the customer is not in a position to accept the offer, the bill should reflect some concession like a price reduction. In other words, don't imply promises you don't intend to keep.