52 Weeks of Cooking – Dipping my Toes In

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve been looking for a new project to work on and to apply my love of cooking. A friend of mine does a 365 day a year challenge (he’s completed his first year and is on to his second). I considered a similar challenge for my cooking, but decided that daily cooking challenges might not work in to any travel or holidays we take. Instead, I’ve decided to pursue Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking challenge. Each week of the year has a theme, such as: Acid, Fire, Steakhouse, French. Your submission to the community must follow that week’s theme, but the theme is open for some interpretation. For example, you could make S’mores themed deserts or a light-your-mouth-up hot sauce for the Fire week. Acid might be something pickled in acid, seasoned with acid, perhaps a citrus-centric dessert. My plan is to do the full 2017 52 weeks of challenges, but I wanted to dip my toes in now and get used to the submission process and to planning out the recipes.

We’re in week 40 right now and the theme is “Steakhouse.”  I almost skipped this week, because in all honesty cooking steaks at home is not my forte. I have tried it a few times in the past and while the results were totally edible, they didn’t come close to rivaling my favorite steak-consumption-experiences (looking at you Hank’s and Echo & Rig in Vegas). Instead of shirking from this week’s challenge, I dove right in. This turned out to be a great experience to get me out of my cooking rut and to take on things I thought were out of my capabilities. My menu for this week included: Alton Brown’s Cast-Iron Steak, Potatoes Romanoff, and Balsamic Green Beans. Here are the ingredients (minus spices, and the potatoes which were currently roasting in the oven):

p1000383-2Ingredients for the whole meal, minus the potatoes and spices. Container below the almonds is filled with roasted garlic. Kerrygold Fresh Thyme

Ingredients for the whole meal, minus the potatoes and spices. Container below the almonds is filled with roasted garlic.

 

I’ll start with the green beans, as those were the easiest part of the meal. I used Aldi’s Seasonal Selection Haricot Vert beans from their frozen section. These are inexpensive and super easy to work with. I try to always have a bag of these in the freezer for a quick side dish. I sauteed these in avocado oil, with 3 cloves of the roasted garlic in my favorite chef’s pan. Once cooked to my preferred doneness (I like some snap and bite left in mine), I topped these with silvered toasted almonds and a drizzle of already-made balsamic reduction.

Green beans with balsamic reduction and toasted almonds.

Green beans with balsamic reduction and toasted almonds.

The Potatoes Romanoff is a recipe of my own creation/adaptation, inspired by the Strip House recipe and Can’t Stay Out of the Kitchen. This recipe turned out FANTASTIC and instantly was saved to my recipe database to bring out later. This would be a really great holiday or potluck dish for some time when you need to take something along pre-prepped. It reheats incredibly well and is very forgiving. I imagine there’s a way to adapt this for a slow cooker pretty easily. Here’s the recipe:

Potatoes Romanoff

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 Russet Potatoes (2lbs.)
  • 2 3/4 Cup Cheddar Cheese, shredded
  • 1 Cup Sour Cream, full or low fat
  • 2 T. Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Milk, whole or 2%
  • 3 Shallots, diced
  • 2-3 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • Salt, Pepper, Paprika

Method:

  1. Peel your potatoes or scrub them down, if leaving the skins on. I left mine on. Wrap each potato in foil. Roast in the oven at 425 F for 55 minutes.
  2. While the potatoes are baking, prep the shallots and garlic. Saute the shallots in your choice of fat over a medium heat until translucent and starting to caramelize. Add in garlic for a couple minutes at the end, being careful not to burn the garlic. You could use pre-roasted garlic like I did. If so, no need to add it to the shallots.
  3. Once potatoes are done, you have a few options. Either mash them by hand (my preference), or run them through a ricer. You can also let them cool and grate them with a box grater or food processor. I like my potatoes to be a little more chunky, so I like to do them by hand.
  4. Mix the now-mashed potatoes with the sour cream, butter, and milk. Fold in 2 cups of the cheese (reserving 3/4 C for the topping). Add shallots, garlic, 1 t. Paprika, and salt/pepper to taste.
  5. Place potato mixture in a casserole dish of choice (I went with a 2 1/2 quart Corningware casserole). Top with remaining 3/4 C of cheese and a sprinkling of paprika. I went heavy on the paprika because I just love it.
  6. Cover with lid or foil and bake at 400 for 20 minutes. Remove cover and brown cheese for 5 minutes or until your preference. I ended up turning the broiler on for just a minute to do this.

p1000433

For my steak, I used Alton Brown’s Cast Iron Steak method. I absolutely made a mistake, but the steak still game out pretty darn wonderful. Even my hubs, the steak-snob, agreed. This method involved heating a cast iron skillet in the oven (500 degrees F) until it’s slightly smoking. Then heating it further over a burner on the stove top, at high heat. You place your lightly oiled, seasoned steak in the screaming hot skillet for 30-90 seconds per side (depending on what version of the recipe you find). This is supposed to ensure a solid sear on the outside. You finishing the steak in the oven, still at 500 F, flipping halfway through. We did it for 4 minutes per side. My mistake was in the searing portion and not letting my pan get hot enough before putting the steak in. Still, the steak came out a positively perfect medium rare, tender and plenty juicy. Important to note: Resting the steak is key to
the tender, juicy steak we all know and love. I rested these bad boys in foil, topped with a bit of butter, for a full 10 minutes after cooking. Both my husband and I were both most impressed by how even and uniform the cooking was with this method. In the past, I’ve had problems with one side of a steak being significantly more cooked than another side. Or where the middle is quite rare while the outside is closer to over medium. I liked how the doneness of the steak was a subtle graduation from outside to center. I would absolutely make this again, but with more focus on the sear at the beginning. The little sear I did get was fantastic, but more would take this over the top for me.

Reddit 52 weeks of cooking Week 40 Steakhouse meal

The finished meal – Delicious!

What I learned this week:

First, I learned that I am capable of balancing various dishes cook times/heats at the same time. I tend to cook a lot of easy dishes, slow cooker/pressure cooker stuff. I love me some one-pot-wonders. That said, those have become a real crutch for me and tend to be the only things I make anymore. This reminded me that, although challenging, it’s not impossible. It also reminded me that starting with a clean kitchen and cleaning along the way is the key to surviving the after math of a many-pot meal.

Second, I learned that I’m a better cook than I thought I was. I tend to stick to one-pot meals not just because they’re easy, but because I fear my own failure in the kitchen. I have solid basics and a good understanding of cooking, even if my execution falls short sometimes. The sides were spot on and though the steak fell short of perfect, it was a good first filet effort. I think this undertaking will get me to take on more challenging endeavors in the future.

Stay tuned next week, when I’ll tackle Week 41: Bottle/Jarred Sauces from Scratch!

 

Sephora Play! May 2016 Unboxing: I finally got off the waitlist!

I’ve been waiting to get off the Sephora waitlist for quite a few months. Mid-March I got a notification that signups were open, but it took some seriously hokey pokey to make it work. I had to use a new email that I hadn’t used to sign up originally. I also had to download and use the Sephora app (an experience in and of itself) to sign up. After 10 or so tries, it went through and I was signed up. Since then, I’ve been waiting to see if the Play! subscription lives up to all the hype (and the $10 cost).

The waiting is over! Here’s what’s in the box:

Sephora Play May 2016 Contents

  • Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair Hair Mask
    • I got this in another box a couple months ago and really enjoyed it, so I was happy to get another (much larger sample) to use. I have fine and thin hair, so this sample is many uses for me. This stuff smells lovely and natural (probably because of all the natural products that go in to making it). I’m not sure if I’d splurge on a full size, at $36 for 8 oz. They recommend using this either as a 5-10 minute rinse-out mask, or under a shower cap + hair dryer for 30 minutes. I prefer the longer method, as I feel like I get better no-breakage benefits from that – something my pathetic hair definitely needs.
  • Korres Wild Rose Sleeping Facial
    • I’ve actually tried this before, via Sephora…and am THRILLED to get another sample of it. I alternated this with my Julep Night Shift mask and found my skin was brightened and more moisturized than when I was just using the Night Shift mask alone. I’m pretty sensitive to smells, so when I first put this on I found it a little overwhelming. It does fade well to a nice floral, soothing scent. I think it’s rather nice for falling to sleep, honestly. Also, I’m a stomach sleeper (to the woe of every healthcare professional I’ve ever met). I was really worried that this would muck up my pillow case or wear off so much as to not do any good. I didn’t have those problems at all, but I do like to read before bed, so I made sure to apply this and read for a bit to let it soak in/dry before falling asleep. Again, I’m not sure I’d buy the full size at $48 for a 1.35 jar. I’ve been exploring K-Beauty sleeping packs lately, and I have a feeling I could find the same benefits in one of those products for less price. That said, I still really do like this stuff (I’m just cheap 😛 )
  • Bite Beauty Amuse Bouche Lipstick in Kimchi
    • I LOVE me some Bite lipstick. Their formula is creamy dreamy and full of food-safe ingredients, which I really like. I saw the color “Kimchi” in a spoiler and immediately though: 1) how did they decide to call a shocking pink color Kimchi (kimchi is definitely a beautiful, lip appropriate color…just not pink). 2) I am going to hate this color on my lips. I stand by my first thought, but I was certainly wrong about the second. The pink is deeper? than I thought it would be and really does look nice on my lips. I put this on a few different ways. First, I applied it sheered out (because I was scared, okay?!) and it looked bad ass – I will for sure wear it this way. Second, I put it on full strength. It looked really lovely, but it just too bold for me personally to wear out and about very often. Third, I applied Bite Beauty’s Opal lipstick over the top…and hello nurse was it sexy. Inspired by this, I also tried Shiro’s Alkhestry Lip Gloss over the top, which was another winner. I absolutely wouldn’t have picked this out for myself, but I’m glad to have it in my collection. The formula is to die for and the color is workable for me in a lot of ways. I remain a Bite Lipstick zealot.
  • Tarte Tartiest Lip Crayon in Latergram
    • I’m a big Tarte fan, and have used a number of their lip products before, but haven’t tried their lip crayons before. In previews and on the Sephora site, this color looks much different than what appeared on my skin. It’s described as “mauve” which neither the website nor my swatches seem to match. That said, it’s still super lovely and something I will use regularly. I used this with Kat Von D’s liquid lip in Lolita, and the lip crayon matched really well. I’m not sure I really need to use a lip crayon with the KVD ELL forumla (look how cool I am with my acronyms), but I wanted to test it out. I will mention that the Tarte liner has a very dry formula, which took a little work to get used to. It does have serious staying power – the swatch wouldn’t come off with a makeup wipe + scrubbing, but did come off with Garnier Micellar Water (blue cap).
  • Atelier Orange Sanguine Perfume
    • I’ve received this in a past gift-with-purchase from Sephora, about 3 weeks ago. Both times the sample came packaged in a wax paper bag, along with a beautiful postcard. I hate to say it, but I just don’t like this scent. It’s reminiscent of orange cleaners or Goo-Gone 🙁 I wish the orange scent was zestier and held together with more spring notes, making it lighter and brighter. Instead, this scent settles in to something dark and almost sickening (at least to me). I thought it might be my body chemistry, but I’ve definitely seen similar feedback on other forums. This is going in to my bottomless perfume sample basket, in hopes that I find someone that this works for some day.
  • Origins Mask Primer + Charcoal Mask & Sleeping Pack
    • I love Origins products, both for their company philosophies and their effectiveness for my skin. I’m also mask-obsessed. So, these samples are right up my alley! The tiny spray bottle is the “Mask Optimizer” which promises to open your skin up to receive more benefits from your masks, like a mask primer. I tried it today under a sheet mask that I use regularly and didn’t see/feel a difference over what I usually gain from the mask. For what it’s worth, I’ve always used a toner before masks/packs so perhaps I would have noticed a bigger difference if I hadn’t been using those all along. If that’s the case, maybe it’s more cost effective to use a good toner instead. I haven’t used the sleeping mask yet, so I can’t provide an honest review there. But I can say that the Origins Charcoal Mask is one of the first masks I’ve ever used and something I still reach for. I apply it mainly to my T-zone, but I love what it does for my combo skin and large pores.

Have you tried out Sephora Play! yet? Or, tried any of the products sampled this month?

 

“Through the Looking Glass” May LitCube Unboxing!

This is my first LitCube (affiliate link) ever…and if the rest of the months go like this one, I’m hooked! Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorite books from childhood, and I’ve really been enjoying the newest takes on the Through the Looking Glass saga. LitCube is a subscription for book-lovers, which promises a “Readable”, a “Wearable, ” and a “Eatable” in every box. They also guarantee you’ll get some additional unnamed goodies. Cost of the cube is $35, which I’m very happy with paying for what I received. If you’re a Gilmore Girls fan, like me, you might be interested to know that they have a subscription launching soon specifically for us! The subscription is called the “Stars Hallow Monthly” and promises to have tons of custom goodies in each box. When I signed up for LitCube, I also grabbed myself a Luke’s Diner handbag, which is still available for pre-order.

Here’s what’s in this months box…

LitCube - May

  • Mad Hatter T-Shirt
    • This is the wearable for the month. I’m a plus sized woman with a well endowed chest, so graphic tees are something I’m always hesitant to buy. I was pleasantly surprised when this fit straight out of the box, very true to size. I was less surprised when I saw the brand, Gildan, which always fits well on my frame. These are also nice quality fabric and well printed, which I really appreciate. I’ve always appreciated the “We’re All Made Here” aspect of the Mad Hatter, which this fits with perfectly. The printing is hot pink on a black knit tee.
  • “Eat Me” Cookie
    • This came from Sweets by Steph and was almost too cute to eat…almost! The cookie was a lovely butter cookie, crisp and flaky, with pink royal icing and black lettering. It was also dusted with a lovely pearl powder that totally fit the theme. I was very impressed that the cookie tasted as good as it looked…something that can be hard to find it decorated cookies. I enjoyed this with a glass of tea in my own little Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
  • “Alice Takes Back Wonderland” by David D. Hammons
    • This is May’s readable. I’ve started reading this, but not finished it so I promise no major spoilers here. So far, I’ve gleaned that the book is about Alice’s return to Wonderland following a life affected by the madness caused from her first visit as a child. Alice’s return trip is full of genre and character mashups that are, so far, making for a great read. The tone the author set for the book feels very appropriate for Wonderland and it’s nonsensical nature. Technically this is classified as a Young Adult book, but I feel like this is definitely one that will entertain an audience well past those age ranges. This is such an enjoyable read I think I’ll have it finished in the next couple days. The pace is as quick as the author’s whit here.
    • It’s also worth noting that the autor, David D. Hammons, included a letter directly to LitCute readers explaining his process is crafting this novel. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that his reason in writing this novel was deeply personal and a journey that makes me appreciate the book even more.
  • Alice in Wonderland Zipper Bag
    • This is a super cute vinyl bag that was custom made just for LitCube. I love the teal and purple color scheme, as well as the graphic on the bag. It’s very well made and plenty big to hold my every growing bookmark collection.
  • Through the Looking Glass Mirror
    • This mirror is also custom made for LitCube, and the design on the front is the “theme” design for the month. The mirror flips open, clam shell-style. It’s held closed by a magnet. It’s a perfect pocket or purse mirror, though I’ve personally been using it as a pill case.
  • Alice Bookmark and Two Prints
    • Nothing super fancy, but artwork done just for LitCube. Artwork style is adorable and the printing quality is just fine. The paper is plenty thick and glossy. I’ve been using the bookmark in this month’s book, of course. I couldn’t decide what to do with the prints, but so far they’ve been acting as bookmarks in my adult/advanced coloring books. They seem to work quite well for that!

Lit Cube May

Since I’m new to the world of book subscriptions, I could use some recommendations. Do you have any book-fandom subscriptions that you love?

May 2016 Boxycharm Spring Vibes Subscription Box – Swatches + Review

So I just got the May “Spring Vibes” box from Boxycharm (referral link) and I’m super happy with this box! This box included mostly items I actually like, and use – plus they’re all full sized! The overall value of the box is $106 (but closer to $80 for me, since I loathe the perfume). Either way, that’s a great deal for what I paid for the sub, so I’m super happy with this. I’ve thought about canceling Boxycharm a few months now, and each time they real me back in with another great box. Keep it up Boxycharm and I’ll never cancel 😉

Here’s what’s in this month’s box:

  • Makeup Geek Blush in XOXO
    • This is a new product, released exclusively on Boxycharm. I really enjoy MUG eyeshadows, so I was excited to check out this blush. The formula is ultra creamy, with very good cling on the skin. It’s definitely a powder formula, but there’s something about it that makes it cling and blend almost like a cream-to-powder formula. I was worried about what color I would get because of my already red-prone skin, but this XOXO is really lovely. It’s a warm toned coral pink with TONS of build-ability on the skin. I admit that I wore it as a shadow today in a Sweet Peach-esque look and it looked fantastic, if I do say so myself. I have a feel it’s going to take me forever to hit pan on this stuff. The compact is quite nice for the $15 price point.
  • Ella + Mila Nail Polish in Pistache
    • This is so damn pretty! It’s a light green that perfectly looks like the Cover-Up Frosting on a Watergate Cake (one of my favorite cakes!). This polish is definitely a two coat needed polish, but it has a lovely finish sans topcoat. Also worth mentioning: I love it when I get products from Cruelty-Free companies, like Ella + Mila!
  • The Brow Gal Clear Brow Gel
    • As the proud owner of robust face caterpillars, I love me some brow products. My current HG brow gel is Julep’s, but this Brow Gal might compete. I love the staying power of this gel and it’s super waterproof. My only complaint is that the brush is so big. The brush on the Julep gel is a little better for details and precision, whereas this one is big enough to get a bit in the way. I’ve worn this a couple times now without it breaking out the skin around my eyebrows, which is actually a bit of a rarity for me.
  • Starlooks Luxe Lip Liner in Charmed
    • This is a lovely neutral lip liner that’s going to look good with the bulk of my lip stock. I wore it yesterday with Sephora’s Marvelous Mauve, and today with Buxom’s Dolly. Both looked really lovely with it. I think you could also wear it with Pasadena from OFRA, which came in last month’s Boxycharm. I did try this on the fly tonight under Iguaza Falls from Eccentric Cosmetics, as a primer. Iguaza has a tendency to be patchy when applying and this lip liner seemed to help it apply more evenly, without color transferring in to the liquid lipstick. Worth noting that when I swatched this, I took all the makeup off with a micellar wipe. It took a few times over to get all the lip liner off, so this has pretty darn awesome staying effect.
  • PUR Double Ego-Duo Ended Eyeliner in Bali (green)
    • So I’m not sure how I feel about this yet. The liquid goes on very easily and has amazing staying power. Even when using my go-to makeup wipes, it really takes a good scrub a few times over to get it off. That said, the liquid is also a bit sheer in coverage. I feel like I need 2-3 times over to get it super dark/opaque. The felt tip on the liquid size has fantastic flex to it that provide a very precise wing. The pencil side isn’t anything special, but it does blend out well. It’s also worth mentioning that liquid Bali and pencil Bali are two different colors. The liquid is closer to a kelly green, while the pencil is closer to a hunter green. Both are matte in finish, but there’s a hint of shine to the pencil just from the creamy nature of it.
  • Catherine Malandrino Romance de Provence Deluxe Sample
    • Dear Beauty Boxses…Please stop trying to make Catherine Malandrino perfume happen. I have three other samples of this same perfume. And the de Paris version came in last month’s Boxycharm as well. This perfume is definitely not for me, though the de Paris perfume is really lovely and I’m almost out of it. I think I’ll be saving this to either donate or give away to someone who does enjoy the scent. Don’t get me wrong, de Prevence is a nice scent, just not for me.

 

April 2016 Ipsy Glam Bag: Destination Chic Review + Swatches

Ever since I saw the super cute envelope style travel-themed Glam Bag, I knew I was going to love this month! Ipsy spoilers showed three different color of bags: Pink, Blue, and Purple. The purple was (obviously) what I was hoping to get in the mail…and purple I did get! The bag is adorable and pretty nice quality. Some past Glam Bags have ended up in a drawer collecting dust, but this one is definitely going to be regularly used.

The value of this month’s box blew me away: $71.23 total value (not including the cutie bag). Not a bad value for my $10 montly subscription! If you want your own Ipsy GlamBag and want to support my blogging efforts, you can nab your own Ipsy subscription using my referral link.

 

 

What’s in the box?

 

  • SOO AE Sheet Masks
    • I’ve actually used these before, specifically the brightening (blue label) mask. They’re definitely quality masks, and better than some cheaper sheet masks I’ve found. The brightening mask did a really nice job of lifting away dead skin cells so my skin looked less dull. The packet contained plenty of serum, enough for another treatment if you’re in to that sort of thing. The scent was pleasant, non-offensive. I’ve not tried the other two types included in this bag, but I’m really looking forward to it.
  • Pacifica Coconut Eyeshadow Trio
    • I’m usually a little annoyed when I get yet another trio of neutral eye shadows. Seems like every subscription sends a very similar trio regularly (including Ipsy). That said, I actually really like these and they’ll definitely get used. The lightest shadow, Crush, highlights really nicely. It looks delightful on my brown bone. Because of the light shimmer, it works just fine for a highlighter in a pinch. The shimmer in the darkest shade, Lovely, isn’t my preference, but I’m going to try it out and see if it grows on me. I feel like the shimmer in all three shades is maybe too much.

 

  • Clark’s Botanicals Smoothing Marine Cream
    • This stuff smells fantastically natural. I’d just finished a mud mask when I grabbed the mail, so my skin was quite thirsty. I slathered a bit of this on my cheeks (where my face is driest) and it feels really soothing. I have eczema on my face (right cheek) so some moisturizers actually burn when I put them on; this Clark’s did not. In fact, my eczema didn’t flare up after I used it: bonus! I’m not the type to pay $115 for a moisturizer (hello my lovely CeraVe), so I won’t purchase this in the future. Still, I love getting stuff like this in an Ipsy Bag. Great way to pamper myself at a fraction of the cost. Not to mention, a little bit of this stuff goes a long way…so I’m sure to have this mini for a bit yet.
  • Smashbox X-Rated Mascara
    • This is my third sample size of this mascara (one from Birchbox and one from Sephora). Dear makeup gods…please stop trying to make this mascara a thing. I hate the brush. I hate the formula when applying. And, I hate how this stuff wears on my lashes. I know that lots of people LOVE this stuff and that’s just fine. I wish I was the type of person who could handle this mascara with enough skill to apply it easily and had lashes bad ass enough to work well with this stuff…but I just don’t. This mascara will go in my “giveaway” box to go to some lucky reader down the road.
  • INSPR Beauty Eye Fluff Brush
    • This is a brush style that I can never get too many of. While I’d like to be the type of person who washes their brushes after every use, I’m not (Just call me Jossie Grossie). Since this blending brush style is such a staple in my eye routine, having some extras means I don’t have to worry about transferring colors between washes and a more hygienic usage. The quality of this brush is nicer than my Real Techniques of the same style, so pretty happy with that. Although I’ve just used it twice, it reminds me of my Luxie brushes – which is definitely a good brush IMO. I really like the long handle on this, too. A few of my eye brushes are travel style so have stubby handles. I find this makes my strokes much harsher than I’d like for both good blending and to not be too abusive to the sensitive areas around my eyes. Probably won’t rebuy this, simply because my sub boxes keep me supplied with so many nice brushes!

 

 

Are you an Ipsy GlamBagger? (Is that even a word? It’s totally a word now.) If so, what did you get in your box this month?

Target Beauty Box, May 2016 – Review and Value Breakdown

I’ve been seeing unboxings for these Target Beauty Boxes for a few months now, and have been dying to get my hands on one. Unfortunately, these go live in the middle of the night and generally I’m snoring away then. In a stroke of luck, I just happened to be awake and at a computer within a couple of ours of when May’s box went on sale. Target offered a $5 gift card if you spent $20 or more in the beauty department, so I bought two boxes. Had I been more awake, I’d have spent the $10 on something else and leave this box for someone else (since I know they sell out so fast). Also, I knew that Target sometimes includes coupons off beauty/health department purchases…this box was no exception!

If you include the gift card and coupons in my purchase, each box cost me $4.50!! That’s crazy, especially when I did the value breakdown. This box weighs in at a whopping $42.51. I can’t wait for next month’s Target Beauty Box. It just *might* be worth staying up late to snatch one in June 😉

Target May Value

What’s in the box?!

  • Andalou Age Defying Night Repair Cream
    • I’ve never tried this particular cream from Andalou. This will also be my first CoQ10 cream. Excited to see if it lives up to the claims. I have tried other Andalou skin products and have been happy with them over all. They don’t irritate my easy-to-break-out skin, which is always a plus.
  • Laneige Water Bank Moisture Cream
    • I love, LOVE, LOVE this cream. I’ve used it prior to getting it in this box. Thrilled to have more in travel-friendly sizes.
  • L’Oreal Paris Colour Riche Lip Pen
    • I got this pen in two different colors and formulas. The bright pink is a matte formula (which I traded in for a different, more wearable-for-me color). The plumy mauve is one I kept and put on today. It’s a dusty raisin color that looks really flattering on my pale ass self, if I do say so. This formula is their La Lacque formula, which I am surprised to say that I like better than the matte. The shine looks nice and is less drying. It stays put almost as well as the matte formula, too. I definitely feel like I can use this sans primer or liner, which I also like. Anything to simplify a routine is probably a good thing for me.
  • Hair Food Kiwi Dry Shampoo
    • I actually picked some of this up before in the full size, when I ran out of my favorite dry shampoo (and Target had also run out). I really enjoy the scent of this, as some of the floral dry shampoo scents end up smelling like douche. Sorry for that…but it’s true. This stuff smells fruity in a pleasant way. It works pretty damn well and distributes well (no weird white patches on your head if you don’t move the can at the speed of light). I wouldn’t want to pay full price for this, considering that I like Batiste dry shampoo just as much, if not more. Cherry sent Batiste is life.
  • Derma e Firming DMAE Moisturizer
    • Not tried it yet. Hoping it works. It’s cream. In a jar. A creamy jar, if you will.
  • Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream
    • Just used this to take off my evening makeup and wow did it work well. I slathered some on like a night time moisturizer, let it sit for about 60 seconds, then wiped off. Full face of primed, foundation-ed, color corrected, concealed paint just came right off. Didn’t work super well around my eyes, as I was worried to get it in my eye (maybe that would have been okay, not sure). But I think I may buy a full size of this for face makeup removal (while using my micellar water for eyes). Smell was pleasant enough, nothing to write home about, but certainly not offensive.
  • CeraVe Foaming Cleanser
    • What can I say? I already have full sizes of this as it’s a staple in my skin care routine. These two minis are going in my travel kit and when they’re empty, I’ll refill them for travel. This cleans so well, while keeping my super sensitive combo skin in check. What’s not to love?
  • Burt’s Bees Facial Cleanser
    • I’m honestly a little hesitant to use this. I love oil cleansers and use one pretty much any time I clean off my makeup. That said, this formula has coconut oil in it. Coconut oil products and faces tend to not play well for people, a problem that I’ve had in the past. I’m in the midst of a break out, so I wouldn’t know if this was the cause or not. I think I’m going to try this on a patch in a few weeks and see how it goes. If I break out, I’ll know it doesn’t work for me.
  • L’Oreal Paris Sublime Bronze Towelettes
    • These are still sealed and in my “giveaway” storage box as we speak. I look ridiculous as a tan person, real or fake. I’m a pale, pasty, red (ish) head, as nature intended.  I envy people who tan well or can pull off a good fake-bake…I’m sadly just not one of them. Hopefully, once I get enough goodies saved up I can pass them along to a nice reader here at the blog in a giveaway.

May 2016 Target Beauty Box

Fortune Cookie Soap Summer 2016 Unboxing/Review

Hello there fellow lovers of Indie beauty products. If you’re not familiar with Fortune Cookie Soap, I highly recommend that you check them out. They’re a very small operation that does some pretty fantastic themed collections (think Doctor Who, Willy Wonka, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc). They also have a subscription box…and we all know how addicted to those babies I am! I’ve been subbing to the FCS soap box for almost a year now, with this most recent box being my 4th one. Each theme just keeps getting better and better! The 2016 Summer theme is FINDING NEMO!!! This is easily one of my favorite “I’m so friggin’ sick” movies, so I was super excited when I popped this badass box open.

Incoming referral link warning! If you want to get super good smelly goodies like these, you can save $5 off using this handy dandy link. I don’t have any other coupons right now, but I *might* have a $10 off coupon in a week or two to pass along (single use). I’ll post an update to this post if I get one.

On to the goodies! Here’s what it’s included in the box:

  • Fortune Cookie Soap in Shark Bait 
    • These are their flagship products. They’re honestly not my favorite soaps. They’re awkward to use in the shower or bath. They almost need to be placed in a soap bag (on of those knit types) to get it from just totally dissolving. I’ve taken to breaking these apart and using them as solid bubble bath. They work REALLY well for that purpose. I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy these for myself, but they are a fun gift item. One note about these: Use them pretty soon after you receive them (a month or so seems to be the tipping point). For whatever reason, unlike every other FCS item I’ve tried, the scent really fades in these over time. When I use them fresh, the scent is strong and imparts on my skin well. After a month or two, I can really smell it at all (either in the package or when in use). I’m not sure if that’s because they are stored in wax paper bags, or the formula, etc. Next time I get one with a scent that doesn’t thrill me, I plan to store it in a ziploc and see if that improves it.
  • OCD Hand Sanitizer in Lil’ Blue
    • As a person with an OCD diagnosis, I have to admit I get a kick out of this. I mean, hey, sometimes you’ve gotta laugh about the hand (or in this case hand sanitizer) that you’re dealt. Hand sanitizer is something I pretty much can’t exist without, as it is one of the items my OCD tends to latch on to. The FCS version smell fantastic and isn’t drying; in fact, I find it more moisturizing than any sanitizer I’ve tried. The pear and plum notes of this scent really come through. They rest on top of the sandalwood nicely, though the twist of amber gets lost on me.
  • Whipped Cream in INTERVENTION!
    • The formulation on these whipped creams are to die for. They’re so moisturizing, but don’t leave you greasy at all. A little bit goes a long way, but the scent lingers for quite a while. I like these small jars that come in the soap box because they fit well in my purse. This particular scent is heavy on the coconut, but I wish there was more pineapple. The coconut is a natural, smooth version of the scent instead of a fake cloying scent.
  • Perfume Oil in Whale Talk
    • Shut your dirty mouth! This perfume is my jam. The black currant, jasmine, and grapefruit are the heaviest notes when this has mellowed on my skin. But you do catch hints of the strawberry and avocado as well. FCS perfume oils last a good long while on my skin, which is more than I can say for some perfume oils (many companies’ oils fade within a couple ours on me). I’d gladly buy this oil in a full size.
  • Don’t Be Jelly Soap in Jellyman
    • The formula of this jelly soap is REALLY thick, like a gummy rather than jelly. Nothing wrong with that IMO; makes it easier to use honestly. There’s something in this scent that I don’t care for…I’m wondering if maybe it’s the guava? That said, once it’s in use (not just being smelled straight from the jar) I really enjoy it. It’s much more watermelon when in use.
  • Spray Lotion in Aqua Scum
    • Shut your face and take all my money! This is my favorite product of this box. It’s thick enough to stay where you spray it, but not so thick as to clog the sprayer. The lotion is (obviously) not as moisturizing as the whipped cream, but much more moisturizing than a lot of the spray lotions I’ve tried (looking at you Dove aerosol). The scent of this is fantastic. It’s described as “juicy lychee, crisp apple, and mouth watering peach nectar.” I was worried that the apple would dominate here, but the peach/lychee combo is what I smell most, even as it soaks in to the skin. I’d glad snag other products in this scent from FCS, for sure.
  • Lip Gloss in Ooooooooh…Barracuda
    • Yes, I did count all those O’s. I was worried that the pink color of this meant that it was a tinting balm (which tend to look silly on my lips, for some reason). It does look like it might be tinting my lips, but it’s so faint it’s hard to tell. The color just ends up looking like my skin, but more moisturized. The scent is a trio of melons (cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon) with a hint of lime. The lime is there, but just as a brightening scent. The cantaloupe is what I smell most and I’m totally fine with that. I wish the packaging had a fun label on it so that I remember what this product was once it’s been in my purse a while.
  • Pedi-Bomb in Fin. Noggin. Duuude.
    • This item highlights my biggest frustration with FCS. I’ve ordered a bunch of bath bombs and solid bath bars from them in the past. More often than not *some* part (sometimes all) are broken/crushed. It doesn’t super matter to me because I’m just going to use them, but if I were buying them for a gift it would super piss me off. That said, their bombs/baths do perform very well. Although I haven’t tried this particular bomb yet, I have had their pedi-bombs before in past boxes. They’re a really fun way to pamper myself and make my tired feet feel great. This scent was described as “lemon-lime fizzy pop floating with orchids and a curl of white chocolate.” I totally thought “ugh” when I read that because of the white chocolate…and now I feel foolish. The lemon lime sugar scent is lovely and bright, while the orchids round out the scent with a rich floral note. The white chocolate truly is an accent and provides an earth cream note. I like this scent a lot, though I don’t know how it will perform in the hot water…looking forward to finding out.

Over all impressions

This box is tied with my last box, in terms of scents I love. Both the Spring and Summer boxes were filled with fruity and floral scents, in a combination of bright notes and sultry notes. They were light on the gourmand scents, with I prefer reserving for colder weather, if I wear them at all. I feel like the diversity of products is pretty good, wish some one time use items and some that last me for months. I like that everything is very small in size so storage is easy, and I always take some of these when traveling. The hand sanitizers and whipped creams are ALWAYS in my purse. I’m not sure of the actual value vs. what I paid. That said, I enjoy this box enough I haven’t bothered to do a breakdown. The price is worth it to me for the joy I get out of the box. Dare I say, this sub sparks joy for me? Har har har, yes I just read that book and now I can’t stop thinking about it. Side note: I’m sorry for thinking you were crazy for talking to your purse, Mom. I get it now, I really do.

Has anyone else tried the Fortune Cookie Soap subscription service? If so, how’d it go for you?

May Naturally Radiant Curated Birchbox – Reviews + Swatches

This month’s curated Birchbox is called Naturally Radiant. The focus of the theme is all about the no-makeup makeup look (my favorite, because seriously I be lazy). I chose this box on my more mature account (my newer account went for the 3-minute body peel selection). I really loved the look of this box and am going to save it to store foil samples on my vanity.

If you want to check out Birchbox, you can use this here affiliate link to get $5 off your first box. In the interest of disclosure, I’d get $5 too if you use that link (thanks for that if you do). Birchbox is currently offering a Pixi Eye Shadow Palette free for new sign ups. Just use code “PIXIPALETTE”. I think there are other codes out there, but that’s the best value I’ve seen.

On to the reviews!

  • Davines Love Shampoo and Conditioner I haven’t used this yet, but it does smell AMAZING! If it’s anywhere near as good as the OI stuff I got last box, I’ll be thrilled. I have fine, thin hair and a little bit of this stuff goes a long way. My foil samples last me 3-4 washes from the last box. I’m definitely planning on buying a shampoo and conditioner from one of their lines next time I have the BB points to spare. Yay for a bonus sample to review for an extra 10 points. I’m such a sucker for those extra point rewards.
  • Model Co. Lip Lacquer For some reason I assumed this would be a matte style liquid lipstick because that seems to be so popular in boxes these days. It’s actually a semi-stick, high shine lip gloss. I actually really like the color on my lips and I’m not one who minds a sticky gloss…so this is a winner for me. The scent of this is what I’d call “classic vanilla lip gloss.”
  • Coola SPF Setting Spray I really like this concept and the execution of this spray. A lot of SPF products really irritate my sensitive skin, but this stuff went on lightly and didn’t make me break out. I like that I can get SPF protection without having to change my favorite moisturizer (which doesn’t have SPF in it). The setting aspect didn’t work as well as my favorite (Urban Decay) but did work just about as well as the Nyx setting spray. I like that it features hyaluronic acid for more moisturizing benefits.
  • Clean Blossom Perfume This is a clean (see what I did there) scent that’s really enjoyable and seems like it will wear well in warm weather. The sandalwood isn’t too strong and the orange blossom brightens. I’m not huge on neroli, but I can live with what’s here. I wouldn’t probably buy this but the sample is nice enough.
  • Benefit Hoola Matte Bronzer So…I totally thought this was one of those BS hype products that bloggers/YTers gush over but is just another thing I’d buy and put in my drawer, never to see the light of day again. Geez, was I wrong. I could feel how creamy dreamy this was in the pan when I ran a finger through it to swatch. Seriously, it looks and feels like the softness suede in the world. It applies very lightly if you want, or build it up for a bold color. The color is really flattering on my uber pale skin. It’s super easy to apply. I love it already and totally get what the hype is all about now. I plan to totally get some of this when the sample is out. For what it’s worth, the sample looks REALLY small, but I think it will last me quite a while. I’m really curious to get the full sized bronzer to try out the brush that comes with it. I know a lot of people really like that brush.

You can see the swatches below, taken in a combo of incandescent light and natural light. The overall value of the box is pretty good here, as far as Birchboxes go. I find that the curated boxes usually have the highest value on average (though the sample choice ones sometimes surprise with super value).

PinkSeoul April 2016 Unboxing and First Impressions

Note: There are no affiliate links here and PinkSeoul did not sponsor this post in anyway. I bought this box with my own money and, as always, all opinions are honest and my own.

I just discovered a relatively new to the subscription scene Korean beauty box, called PinkSeoul. The box is a little pricier than I generally spend on a sub, at $49.95 per box. That said, the boxes contain full size products (aside from a few samples that they throw in and don’t include in their estimated value). Also, the boxes only come once every two months, which will give me more time to use up products. According to the PinkSeoul website, their goals are a little different than the average Asian beauty subscription box I’ve come across:

  1. They’re all about customizing your box. The card included in my box specifically addressed my self-described skin type. It includes some skin care routine tips that address concerns unique to my skin type. It also highlighted some ingredients that work best on my skin type and are typically found in Korean beauty products. I found these recommendations especially helpful because many of these ingredients aren’t found in many Western products.
  2. They’re all about full sized products. “Since our goal is not to have our customers purchase full-size products after trying sample sized products, but rather to provide our customers with products that they can easily incorporate into their existing skincare routine without spending additional dollars.” Need I say more? I love that I get enough product to really know if it’s working for me. Nothing worse than “thanks for this foil sample of a product that requires months of use before you see an actual change in your skin.” (Okay, that’s totally a first world problem. There are absolutely things worse than that, but boohoo for me and my ridiculous foil sample collection).
  3. They’re all about curating perfection. The items sent to me don’t overlap; they make sense to try to slip them in to your already existing routine. Also, There’s a really handy card included with incredibly detailed information about how to get started with a Korean skincare routine. They give basic theory behind these routines, steps to outline your own routine, and daily activities vs. weekly activities. For a nooblet like myself, this is SO helpful!  Also worth noting is that the product description card gives tips/tricks on the products. I love that the editors of this box, who certainly have more experience with these products than I do, are helping me get the most out of the products. For example: The sheet masks have best practice style tips and the Black Sugar Mask had a tip that I wouldn’t have thought of trying unless they’d told me. Honestly, most product cards are just descriptions of the products, maybe a value of the box, and a beg for a social media shout out. PinkSeoul’s cards are something I really enjoyed reading and I plan to save in my beauty chest to reference later.

A note about PinkSeoul customer service:

I signed up one day after the cutoff for shipping the April boxes. I didn’t know this when I signed up, I was totally impulse buying. I got an email from their helpful customer service letting me know about the cutoff and giving me a choice: Either I could go ahead and wait for my box as it was scheduled, which would mean my first box wouldn’t come until June. Or they could ship me out the April box ASAP. Obviously I’m an instant gratification girl, so I picked the April box. It was very nice of them to email me unprompted and make that offer. I’m sure it worked out for them, too – so it’s a win-win!

A note about PinkSeoul subscriptions:

PinkSeoul has three options for subscriptions: The PinkSeoul Box, the PinkSeoul Plus Box, and the Mask Box.

  1. The PinkSeoul Box is $39.95 and guarantees at least 4 full sized products and an accessory.
  2. The Plus box is what I opted for, at $49.95. It says “recommended for 35+” which I’m assuming is age based? I looked at the past boxes and liked the Plus better, so even though I’m not 35+ this box seemed a better fit for my taste. This box also guarantees at least 4 full sized products and an accessory.
  3. The Mask box is $29.95 and guarantees 10 masks and an accessory.

So here’s what’s in my box:

First Impressions:

I’ve not used all of the items yet, but I’ll share thoughts of the ones I have. All in all, I’m crazy happy with this box and can’t wait to see what I get next time. The curators of this box went above and beyond to make me feel like they’re trying to watch out for their customers. Companies like this make it easy to want to keep subscribing.

  • The Verysix lip gloss is one I’ve gotten before in a subscription box. I LOVE it and use it regularly. In fact, I’m already half way through a tube…which let’s be honest, is pretty impressive. Finishing a lip product takes serious commitment! I was so bummed that it’s a limited edition color. When I saw that PinkSeoul was sending this out, it was a huge part of why I signed up. Ridiculous? Okay, probably a little.
  • The Hair Band is adorable and super comfortable. I have a larger head and was worried that it wouldn’t fit me. It’s snug enough not to slide around but not so snug that it’s going to squeeze its way off my head. I really like how thick the band is – gives me plenty of protection for getting my hair in a goopy mask.
  • I’ve been really wanting to try the SkinFood Black Sugar Mask. It’s another reason that I jumped on this sub. I used it straight after opening the box. It’s not really what I was expecting, which was more of a sugar lip scrub consistency. This is more of a gritty gel consistency, which sounds not as enjoyable as this mask actually feels. This goes on like a thick gel mask and sits nicely without dripping. The editors recommended thinning this out a bit with water, oil cleanser, or toner. I opted for water and it worked quite well. After 10 minutes, my face looked and felt amazing. Bonus: This mask smells DELICIOUS! Probably shouldn’t eat it…but if you do, I won’t judge you…much.
  • Black Snail All-In-One Cream was what I applied post sugar mask. I can’t tell you if this thing is working miracles yet, but it does feel lovely going on. I also really appreciated that the PinkSeoul editors noted that they were annoyed that this cream doesn’t come with a spatula, so they gave us one in a little PinkSeoul baggie.
  • Aloe Gel is something that I’ve always considered post sun-burn care and that’s it. As I don’t sun bathe/burn anymore (because I’m trying to be a real adult, damnit!) I didn’t really know what I’d do with this giant jar. Shouldn’t have worried because the PS editors have me covered! They gave at least 5 suggestions of ways to use this that I wouldn’t have considered. I chose to use this as an eye mask by soaking a couple cotton rounds and putting them in the fridge to chill. They felt fantastic on my post-crying swollen eyes today (hormones be hormoning, yo). Another suggestion I’m looking forward to for summer: mix some with foundation for a lighter weight, dewy look.
  • Note about the value of the box: The PS website says the box value is $117, but with “free samples” my calculations bring the box a little higher than that. I couldn’t find an easy way to calculate the value of one of the samples, so I left those out. I was told by someone that uses it regularly, that the snail cream is really over valued here (apparently Amazon Prime has it at around 1/3 this price). Even accounting that I could get it cheaper elsewhere, I still think the value of this box is fantastic (and above what I paid). Also, there’s value in the curating process to me – especially given the super detailed and helpful nature of the cards in the box and website. To me, there’s also value in having someone else be my personal shopping expert so that I don’t have to try 10 crappy products to find that one good one.

 

Beautycon Spring Beauty Box, Curated by Bunny

I discovered Beautycon’s Spring Essentials beauty subscription box from Grav3yardgirl’s Youtube. Grav3yardgirl, aka Bunny, is the curator of this Spring’s box. I’ve been following her channel for a while now and have always admired her unique style. When I found out she was working with Beautycon, I jumped on the subscription. This is a quarterly box, with a single box costing $29 (free shipping). The time from when I ordered to when it was delivered was very long, about a month…which was a little frustrating. The cancellation policy is also worth mentioning: You can’t cancel at any time; only within 7 days of receiving your most recent box. I just didn’t want anyone to sign up without knowing that first.

This box has a one-of-a-kind key chain included. Bunny collects vintage/antique dolls and appreciates their unique beauty, flaws and all. She says they remind her that we’re all beautiful in our own way. When she knew she was going to curate this box she picked out a baby doll that she loved from her collection to have caste in metal for a key chain. This key chain is incredibly well made and very solid. I was really surprised by how nice of quality it is. Bunny also included a set of Tie-Dye Hair Ties and NCLA Nail Wraps that she designed herself. I love the hair ties (wearing one right now) and the nail wraps are so different than anything I’ve seen before. I can’t wait to slap those babies on a manicure later this month.

Also included in the box:

  • Benefit They’re Real Mascara
    • Huge fan of this stuff already and thrilled to have another mini for my travel bag.
  • $20 Giftcard to Dolls Kill
    • Used this to pick up a Jeffree Star liquid lipstick, a new iPhone Case, and some Sugarpill nail polish.
  • Garnier SkinActive Charcoal Cleansing Towelette
    • I haven’t tried these, but I do use Garnier Micellar Water makeup remover and it’s easily my end all be all. I’m really interested to try these wipes out because of the charcoal.
  • GLAMGLOW YouthMud Tinglexfoliate Treatment
    • I’ve loved every GLAMGLOW product I’ve tried, but I haven’t tried this one before.
  • Maybelline The Rock Nudes Palette
    • I wore this to dinner tonight and really liked the look I achieved with it. I even used the metallic blue on the top row for wet lining. These shadows definitely didn’t perform as well as some of my super high end shadows, but I wouldn’t expect them to. They wore well, without creasing, on top of my UD eye primer. They are a bit chalky if you go primer free (based on what I’ve seen around other blogs). Most of my other palettes are heavy on warm browns and beiges, so this definitely fills some holes in my palette collection.
  • Murad Essential-C Moisture SPF 30
    • I used this today, too. It was crazy hot outside and this was very light weight under my makeup. It didn’t make my makeup slide around and felt lovely. I’m a big fan of vitamin c moitsurizers, but hadn’t tried this one before. I almost wish I hadn’t…the full size is pricey (for my budget) but I’m really loving this stuff.
  • NYX Matte Finish Setting Spray
    • I use this setting spray pretty much every time I wear a full face. I also use it for foiling and wet lining. It’s easily the best I’ve tried and I’m thrilled to have another bottle of it.
  • Pacifica Power of Love Natural Lipstick
    • Interestingly enough, I’ve gotten this lipstick in a vegan beauty box a couple months ago. It’s a light-to-medium brick red that I just love. It was my first foray in to brown-ish toned lip colors and it’s easily become a go to. It’s close enough to my natural color not to be difficult to pull off. It goes on so smoothly and lasts for a long time. It has a matte finish but isn’t drying (like so many other formulas). I like this enough to buy more colors of it, but I’m certainly not disappointed to have another tube of a favorite color.