Thursday, February 28, 2013

February Favorites

I've had a few inquiries lately as to what some of my favorite beauty products are.  I thought it might be helpful if I started sharing some of my favorite products each month and tell you a little bit about why I love them.

I want to share a few of my stand out skincare products of the moment.  All three of these products are ones I picked up and started using this month and they've become fast favorites.  The Thayer's Rose Petal Witch Hazel with Aloe Vera and the Vanilla Monoi Oil were two products I ordered from Vitacost along with several natural skincare products.

I've been using the Thayer's Rose Petal Witch Hazel with Aloe Vera at least twice a day (morning and night) as a toner.  It is alcohol free and incredibly refreshing, leaving my skin feeling clean and comfortable.  On days when I'm hanging around the house, not wearing makeup, I also like to sweep this on throughout the day to refresh my skin and remove oil.

The Vanilla Monoi Oil has become my favorite body moisturizer.  I'll be honest... most days I'm just too lazy to bother putting on lotion and waiting for it to sink in, but this product has completely changed that!  I keep this bottle of Monoi Oil in the shower where it slowly melts with the heat of my shower as I bathe.  After I'm done washing up, I turn off the water and immediately apply the melted oil to my body.  It smells divine (like coconuts, vanilla, and gardenia) and is a real pleasure to use.  After I've rubbed it into my skin, I gently pat off any excess water with a towel.  The oil absorbs incredibly fast and leaves my skin softly perfumed.  I find using this product as part of my shower routine makes me a loss less likely to skip moisturizer.

The last skincare product I wanted to share is one that I found at Target.  The Up & Up Maximum Strength Acne Medication (the Target version of this gel) has been a little miracle worker.  I find it works fairly well in its intended purpose as a spot treatment, but what I really love using it for is as an all-over oil control gel.  As I've mentioned before, I have extremely oily skin.  I've tried countless products that claim to reduce oil production and none have made any improvement to my skin.  I usually have to blot/powder my face every hour if I want to keep from looking shiny.  When I apply a thin layer of this product over my face, I notice a decrease in oil production and I can usually go 2-3 hours after applying makeup before I need to blot/powder.  I do have to be careful using this product, only applying it once a day or it can be drying.  I definitely wouldn't recommend using this product all over if you have sensitive skin, but for me it's worked wonders in this application!

Now for a few of my favorite face products.  You may remember the Missha Perfect Cover BB Cream from my September 2012 GLOSSYBOX USA post.  I'm so happy I received this product because it's become my all-time favorite foundation-like product.  I've tried several high end and drugstore foundations over the years and the Missha BB Cream is hands down my favorite.  It applies so effortlessly, blending in beautifully and giving the appearance of gorgeous skin.  I find it has really great medium-full coverage and is very buildable.  I will say that the finish isn't the best for those with oily skin.  It does remain a little dewy and is best set with a mattifying powder.  Despite the dewy finish, I actually find that it holds up and wears better than any of the foundations I've tried that are marketed toward those with oily skin.  Something about the formula doesn't break down and wear off when my skin gets oily, which I find happens with every other foundation I've used.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

DIY Gum Paste Flowers Tutorial

As promised in yesterday's post, I'm back today to share with you a little casual tutorial on how I like to make simple gum paste flowers to adorn cupcakes.  I've had several inquiries in the past (particularly from photos of these cupcakes) on how I make my gum paste flowers.  They're actually very easy to create as long as you have a few basic tools and ingredients.  They add a lot of interest and personality to an otherwise plain cupcake and, when stored properly, they last for positively ages.
To make your gum paste flowers, you'll need gum paste, of course.  You can buy ready-to-use gum paste to save yourself time, but I prefer to use a gum paste mix and make mine fresh as I find the prepared gum paste often tends to be a little dry and difficult to work with.  Also, when I use the mix I can control how much I make at once (usually I make about 1/4 batch at a time, unless I'm making a ton of flowers).  In addition to your gum paste,  you'll need a little shortening to grease your work surface and gel food coloring if you wish to color your gum paste.  If I am trying to match the color of something (such as the cupcake liners in this case), I like to keep that close as I'm tinting the gum paste to have as a reference.

You'll also need a few tools for rolling and shaping your flowers.  A small rolling pin is handy for rolling your gum paste out.  You'll also need flower-shaped cutters.  The one I used for the flowers shown in this tutorial is a plunger style cutter (like these) which makes removing your cut gum paste from your cutter much easier while leaving a small dot which will conveniently act as a guide later on when creating your flower center.  If want to do any shaping of your flowers, you'll need a gum paste tool set and a shaping foam set.  I also find a storage board helpful to keep your cut flowers from drying out before you shape them.  You certainly don't need a board like this, a piece of plastic wrap placed on top of your cut flowers will work just the same.  I have a storage board that was purchased as part of a set and I do find it handy and convenient.  While purchasing these tools can get pretty pricey, if you enjoy using decorative flowers to adorn your desserts, making them yourself will save you money in the long run.  I purchase all my tools and ingredients from Michael's taking advantage of 40% and 50% off coupons.

Now that you know what tools and ingredients you'll need, let's get started.

Prepare your work surface by coating it with a very thin layer of shortening.  This will prevent your gum paste from sticking to your surface.  I like to work on a small silicone mat, but a clean, smooth counter will work just fine.

(Not pictured) If desired, next you'll tint your prepared gum paste.  I recommend using caution when coloring your gum paste and only adding the tiniest amount of gel food coloring at a time.  This stuff is pretty potent, especially when working with a small amount of gum paste, and it's easy to add too much too quickly and completely ruin the color you're going for.  If you're afraid of mistakingly going too dark, one trick I suggest is to start off my cutting off 1/3 to 1/4 of your gum paste and setting that aside (keep it covered while you work so it doesn't dry out).  If you end up going a little too dark, you can add in the white gum paste you reserved and it'll help lighten your mixture back up a bit.  To tint your gum paste, use a tooth pick to add a tiny amount of food coloring to your white gum paste and knead it gently until the color is completely homogeneous.  Keep repeating this process, adding a tiny bit more coloring at a time, until you have achieved the desired shade for your flowers.

Once you've tinted your gum paste to the perfect shade, use your rolling pin and roll it out to ~1/16th inch.  To be honest, I never measure the thickness of my gum paste.  I just kind of eyeball what looks to be about right.  I might suggest measuring this on your first attempt until you get a feel for the proper thickness.  If you don't roll your gum paste thin enough, you'll have awkward cubby little flowers.  Too thin and they'll be weak and difficult to shape.

After you have rolled your gum paste out, use your cutter and cut out as many flowers as you need.  As you cut them, place them under the plastic flap on your storage board, or cover them well with plastic wrap.  You'll want to protect them from drying out while you work so they'll still be malleable enough to shape.  You may also want to cover your rolled gum paste with plastic wrap while you work as well.  The key to working with gum paste is to move fast and keep everything protected from the air until you actually want your flowers to dry out.  With exposure to air, they'll begin to dry and will become difficult to shape.

Your cut flowers are now ready for shaping.  This step isn't necessary but it provides your flowers with a more realistic appearance and also gives your flowers a little personality and character.  For the first step of shaping the individual petals, I like to use the thin foam piece from the shaping foam set and the dual ended rounded shaper from the gum paste tool set.

The process of shaping the petals is a little difficult to describe and capture in a still photograph.  Basically you want to place the ball from the small end of the round shaping tool in the center of a petal and, while lightly applying pressure, move the tool in a circular motion.  This serves to add dimension to the petals.

 Then place your flower on the thicker piece of foam from the foam shaping set and, using the larger end of the round shaping tool, apply gentle pressure to the center of the flower again moving the tool in a circular motion.  This creates a gentle cupping effect and gives your flowers a sweet rounded appearance.

Repeat this process with each of your cut flowers.  Once they have all been shaped, set them aside to dry for an hour or two.

Once your flowers are dry, it's time to add a little detail to their center to finish them off.  My favorite way to decorate the center of my flowers is to use small sugar pearls which I adhere with a "glue" made from mixing 1 teaspoon of merginue powder with 1 tablespoon of water.  I use a small paint brush to dot a little bit of this "glue" to the center of my flower, then place a sugar pearl on top and very gently press it into place.  Allow the "glue" to dry and your sugar pearl will be firmly adhered to your flower.  Another option for decorating the center of your flower is to use royal icing or other decorative sprinkles or small candies.

After adding your sugar pearl centers, give the "glue" another 30 minutes to 1 hour to dry.  Then your flowers are ready to adorn your delicious dessert creations!  If you want to make these in advance, they keep beautifully stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place.  I'd say these keep fairly indefinitely, but, to be safe, I'd recommend using them within a week or two of the time you make them.

I am certainly not a professional and these flowers definitely don't require a lot of skill to make.  I find their simple shape pleasing and I appreciate that they're fairly quick to make.  While elaborate gum paste flowers are truly works of art, for my everyday cupcakes I prefer to keep thing simple and these sweet flowers are just what I need!  With a modest investment in a few tools, you too can whip up these sweet little adornments and add some decoration to your cupcakes, petit fours, etc.  This is just my technique on how I like to make my favorite gum paste flowers.  I hope you found it helpful and that it's inspired you to experiment with gum paste as well.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chocolate Grand Marnier Cupcakes

Happy Tuesday!  I'm excited to finally have another cupcake recipe to share with you.  I've wanted to try these Grand Marnier Cupcakes from the moment I saw them posted over at My Baking Addiction nearly two years ago.  After my husband and I first got married, while we were still in college, I worked in the bakery at The Fresh Market for several months.  Near the end of my time working there a new dessert was introduced.  It was the most delicious and beautiful layered chocolate mousse that was flavored with a hint of Grand Marnier.  It was absolutely divine.  When I first came across these Grand Marnier Cupcakes I was reminded of that decadent mousse and have kept these cupcakes in the back of my mind ever since.  I just had to make them!

I probably would have made these many, many months ago if I was in the habit of keeping expensive Grand Marnier on hand.  I had never bought any until I purchased a bottle recently to use in a mimosa recipe I was serving at my Swap Party.  Having plenty on hand, I remembered these cupcakes and jumped at the opportunity to make them.

I made this last weekend and took them to a birthday party the hubby and I were attending.  To say they were a hit may be an understatement.  I received hugs from strangers thanking me for the delicious cupcakes and there were quite a few praises coming from the kitchen throughout the evening where they were being served.

These cupcakes start with a tender and moist chocolate cake that is filled with a generous amount of creamy Grand Marnier-infused ganache and then topped with a mound of buttercream that has been flavored with orange zest and, you guessed it, more Grand Marnier.  For anyone who enjoys the combination of chocolate and orange these will be irresistible.

You can follow this recipe as is or substitute your favorite chocolate cupcake recipe for the base.  Be aware that the batter for this recipe will be very, very runny.  It's a bit of a pain to work with, but the result with be a very moist and tender cake.  If you prefer a more dense and substantial cupcake, I suggest perhaps using this recipe (omitting the miniature chocolate chips) instead.

Chocolate Grand Marnier Cupcakes
via My Baking Addiction on Three Many Cooks
makes 24 cupcakes

For the cupcakes
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners; set aside.
2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
3. Using a large scoop, distribute the batter between 24 muffin wells, filling each well 2/3 full. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack and cool completely.
4. Once cupcakes have cooled, hollow out a small circle in the center of each cupcake; I use an apple corer because I am anal and obsessed with symmetry.
For the Ganache
5 ounces heavy cream
12 ounces dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1. Place chocolate in a large heat safe bowl.
2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the cream until it comes to a simmer. Remove from heat and pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Allow the mixture to sit for about five minutes. Whisk the chocolate and cream mixture until smooth and glossy. Stir in the Grand Marnier. Allow ganache to cool at room temperature for about 1 hour.
3. Pipe or spoon the ganache into each hollowed cupcake and top with buttercream.
For the Buttercream
4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Zest of one large orange (about 1 tablespoon)
pinch of fine grain sea salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1-3 tablespoons heavy cream
1. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter with an electric mixer until fluffy. Slowly add in confectioner’s sugar, and continue mixing until well blended.
2. Add orange zest, salt, vanilla, and Grand Marnier. Blend on low speed until moistened. Add 1 tablespoon of heavy cream and beat until thoroughly combined. If frosting is too thick, gradually add in more heavy cream until the desired consistency is reached.  Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes and decorate with gum paste flowers.*
These cupcakes are best served the day they are made; however, they will keep covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to two days. Allow cupcakes to come to room temperature for 45-60 minutes before serving.

*Click here for a tutorial on how to make your own gum paste flowers.

I used an Ateco 809 round tip to frost these cupcakes.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Couple of Home Decor Updates

Other than briefly sharing a snapshot of my kitchen just days after we moved into our house, I really haven't shared any photos of our home here on the blog.  We bought our house in August of 2010 and, aside from purchasing a sectional for our living room, we didn't make any real furniture or decor purchases until this past summer.  I've slowly been making a few changes here and there over the past few months.  Working on a small monthly budget and starting off with next to nothing has meant a very slow process of decorating our home.

After Christmas last year hubby and I made a couple of trips to IKEA to get a few furniture pieces and some various decor items for our home.  Among our purchases were an assortment of RIBBA frames.  Back in January, after a marathon week of painting our entry, living room, and kitchen, I planned out and hung a casual gallery wall behind the sectional in our living room.

When arranging the wall, I really didn't have any plans as to what would actually end up in each frame. I had a limited number of frames on hand and made due to figure out what looked to be the most aesthetically pleasing arrangement possible.  After getting the placement planned out, I then set out to find various photos and art to fill the frames.  Honestly, most of what you see in the frames in these photos are filler items until we figure out exactly what we'd like to display.  I personally prefer an eclectic gallery with an assortment of photos, art, and other keepsakes.  Ours is filled with tender memories as well as plenty of humor.

On a side note, how gorgeous are these Dutch tulips from Trader Joe's?  I've seen them popping up on various blogs lately and couldn't resist picking up a bouquet while I was at Trader Joe's recently shopping for a few natural skincare items.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Nail of the Day: OPI Casino Royale & The Living Daylights

natural light, two coats

Today's manicure features two polishes from the OPI Skyfall collection that released last October.  I'm kind of obsessed with plum/berry polishes at the moment and, though I have several in my collection, I couldn't resist picking up Casino Royale a couple of months back.  I also purchased a glitter from the collection, The Living Daylights, as I was really drawn to it's unique combination of teal, copper, gold, and silver glitter.

I've worn this combination a few times and figured it was about time I share it on the blog.  I'm usually not that drawn to most OPI collections, but I really enjoyed the sophisticated shades of the Skyfall release and thought the colors were perfect for fall/winter.

Don't forget to enter my current giveaway here!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

DIY Brown Sugar & Vanilla Lip Polish

Yesterday I shared a DIY Orange Spice Body Scrub with you.  Today I have a seriously epic DIY Brown Sugar & Vanilla Lip Polish recipe that will change your world.  This recipe comes from Sarah of Anonymous Was a Woman who created it as an inexpensive, chemical free alternative for the Fresh Sugar Lip Polish.

The recipe only requires a few all-natural ingredients and within a couple of minutes you'll have yourself a big batch of exfoliating lip polish that tastes good enough to eat (and trust me, you will definitely be licking this stuff off your lips).

Use this lip scrub once a day, or as often as needed, and your lips will stay soft and smooth and ready to don all your favorite lipsticks.

This recipe makes quite a generous amount of lip polish.  I was able to fill two small-ish acrylic containers full.  Feel free to halve the recipe if you'd like to make a smaller batch, or pass some of the polish on to a girlfriend.  Or, you know, just sit and enjoy some with a spoon.  I kid you not when I say this stuff is that good.  Don't judge.  Once you try it you'll understand...

Head out to the store and pick up these ingredients if you don't already have them on hand.  Then make this scrub stat.  You can thank me later.

Brown Sugar & Vanilla Lip Polish
recipe from Sarah of Anonymous Was a Woman

3 tablespoons organic virgin coconut oil
1 tablespoon organic raw honey
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 capsule vitamin E (optional)
1/2 cup brown sugar

In a small bowl, stir together the coconut oil, honey, vanilla extract, and vitamin E to combine.  If the mixture isn't coming together easily, it can be warmed gently in the microwave for a few seconds until the oil and honey have melted.  Mix in the brown sugar until everything is fully incorporated.  Spoon the mixture into a small jar and enjoy!

Friday, February 22, 2013

DIY Orange Spice Body Scrub

As I mentioned in my Natural Skincare Haul yesterday, I have a couple DIY scrub recipes to share with you.  Today I have an Orange Spice Body Scrub recipe that you can make as-is or adjust in a number of ways to create your ideal body scrub.  A couple years ago for Christmas a close friend of mine gifted me the most lovely homemade scrub that she had scented with sweet orange and clove essential oils.  I was inspired to make an orange spice version of a basic scrub recipe I found via Martha Stewart since I had loved the orange spice scent of the scrub my friend has previously given me.

To make your DIY Orange Spice Body Scrub you will need the following ingredients:

1 1/2 cups organic cane sugar (I used raw turbinado sugar since it was a little more course)
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
5 drops sweet orange essential oil
3 drops clove bud essential oil

The essential oils will provide a wonderful aroma to your body scrub and may also provide a number of skincare benefits, depending on the oil(s) you choose.  You will want to be careful when adding these to your scrub as a little goes a long way.  Some essential oils (such as the ones I have shown here) will include a little stopper in the cap which will allow you to carefully dispense a drop at a time in your recipe.  If your oils aren't bottled in this manner, use a pipette or a very cautious hand when adding these to your mixture.

In addition to your ingredients, you'll also need a measuring cup, a medium bowl, spoon or spatula, and a container with an airtight lid for storing your finished scrub.  I found the perfect acrylic container for storing my scrub at T.J.Maxx.  Anything will work from a small rubbermaid container to a mason jar.  I wanted something with an easy to remove lid (I find screw on lids can be a little annoying to work with in the shower) that was shatterproof since I'm prone to dropping things.

Once you have all your ingredients and tools gathered, you're ready to mix up your scrub.

In your bowl, stir together the grapeseed oil and your essential oils.  Add the sugar and stir until evenly combined.  Feel free to add more sugar and/or oils as needed to achieve a texture/scent you like.  Spoon the finished scrub into your jar and enjoy!

Keep this scrub on hand in your shower for a great exfoliating and moisturizing treatment.  I like to use this scrub on my body after cleaning with soap, focusing on dry areas like knees and elbows.  Even after rinsing, the grapeseed oil in the scrub will provide light but generous moisture to your skin.

You can certainly experiment with the ingredients in this scrub, trying out different combinations of carrier and essential oils for different scent combinations.  I think a combination of almond oil and vanilla and lemon essential oils would make a lovely sugar cookie-like scent!

If you try this scrub, I'd love to know what you think.  And if you have a favorite DIY scrub recipe, please share in the comments below.

Check back tomorrow as I'll be sharing another DIY scrub recipe!

*I purchased the Grapeseed OilSweet Orange Oil and Clove Bud Oil through Vitacost.  I find they have some of the best prices on natural oils.  If you'd like to order through Vitacost, you can save $10 on your purchase of $30+ by clicking through my referral link.  (You will save $10 and I will also receive a $10 credit if you use the referral link.)

*Check out my friend Hillary of Homegrown in KY who posted today about a sample swap we did recently.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Natural Skincare Haul

As might be evident by some of my most recent beauty-related pins, I've become pretty inspired by one of my favorite YouTubers (Christine of Pink So Foxy) to take a more natural route with some of my skincare.  I've been watching Christine since last Fall and have really grown to admire her genuine personality and I've fallen in love with her DIY skincare-related videos.  I've done a few DIY scrubs and face masks in the past and have enjoyed them and saw great results, but never stuck with using them for very long.  I have fairly problematic skin.  I suffer from VERY oily, acne-prone skin with enlarged pores and quite a bit of overall redness.  From the overflow of skincare samples I receive in beauty boxes and from my own purchases, I've tried an obscene number of skincare products over the past couple of years.  From drugstore to extremely high-end (hello, $225 moisturizer), I've tried everything in hopes of seeing an improvement in my skin.  Unfortunately none of the conventional products I've tried to this point have ever really blown me away.

Over the past month or so I've been slowly using up and running out of some of my essential skincare products (mainly toner, moisturizer, and eye cream).  My favorite moisturizer to date bears a hefty price tag, so I've been using up various little moisturizer samples from my stash in hopes of putting off having to repurchase the $50 moisturizer.  During this process, I finally started using a deluxe sample of Tarte's Maracuja Oil that I received with a makeup set I purchased well over a year ago.  For the past few weeks I've been using a few drops of the maracuja oil mixed with a couple of drops of tea tree oil as my nighttime moisturizer.  I've since seen a decrease in the frequency of breakouts and I've noticed my skin appears brighter and more even in texture.  Seeing my skin react so favorably to such a simple, natural routine has been the push for me to jump into transforming parts of my skincare routine.  Being hesitant to spend so much money on commercial skincare products that are full of cheap filler ingredients also makes the transition a pleasant one.  For a fraction of the cost of expensive skincare products, I can simply my routine by using only natural, beneficial ingredients and avoid putting needless, irritating chemicals on my skin.

I recently purchased several products from Vitacost and a couple others from Trader Joe's.  Most of the items I purchased are for specific scrub recipes that I'll be sharing with you in a few days.  A few of the other items will be worked into my skincare/haircare as is.  I've already given a few of these products a try since purchasing them, and I have to say the stand-out item thus far is the Vanilla Monoï Oil (which I was introduced to by Christine in this video).  Monoï Oil is coconut oil that has been infused with Tahitian gardenias (and this particular version has also been infused with vanilla beans).  Trust me, it smells just as amazing as it sounds!  After showering, before drying off, I like to rub this oil into my skin as a moisturizer in place of lotion or body butter.  It absorbs fairly quickly and leaves your skin soft and smelling out of this world.  Because coconut oil is typically solid at room temperature, I suggest keeping the Monoï Oil in your shower.  It will warm up and melt with the heat of your shower and will be perfectly liquid and ready to use by the time you're finished washing up.

I'll be sharing a few recipes for how I used some of these other items later this week and I'll keep you all posted as I continue on my DIY, natural skincare routine.  If you're interesting in purchasing any of these items or already use some natural products in your skincare, I highly suggest you check out Vitacost!  They offer the best prices I've seen on natural oils and the like (half the price or less than what local stores charge for the exact same items), so if you're a bargain shopper like I am,  you'll love them!  If you are interested in placing an order, you may want to take advantage of their referral program.  When you place an order using a referral link, you will receive $10 off any order of $30 or more and the individual who referred you will also receive a $10 credit.  If you'd like to take advantage to save $10, here is my referral link.

I'd love to know if you use any natural oils, butters, etc. in your skincare and, if so, what your favorites are.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

400 Follower GIVEAWAY!

I recently reached 400 Google Friend Connect Followers here on the blog and to celebrate and thank all of you for your support, I wanted to do a little giveaway of some of my favorite things!

The winner of the giveaway will receive the following items:

A L'Oreal Colour Riche Caresse Wet Shine Stain in the shade Rose On and On.  I own two of these Wet Shine Stains and I absolutely love them!  Rose On and On is my favorite of the two I own and it has quickly become my favorite lip product in my collection (and I have quite a lot of lip products).  These Wet Shine Stains apply like a gloss: sheer at first but are very buildable.  After 2-3 layers they achieve a beautiful pigmentation and provide a long-lasting shine that isn't sticky or slick.  When I wear these Stains my lips feel incredibly hydrated and have a lovely glossy appearance.  The Stains set and dry and last for quite a while on my lips.  (I have used my own Stain for these photos.  The winner will receive a new, never opened tube.)

A pack of 25 baking cups from Le Petite Gâteau.  Who can resist a cute cupcake?  I'm a little obsessed with collecting cute baking cups.  These red and white striped baking cups would make some darling cupcakes.  Or, if you're not a baker, you could use them to serve nuts or small candies at a party.

A small red notebook decorated with sweet metallic gold dots and a quote from William Shakespeare, "Joy delights in joy."  I love small notebooks like this to carrying around in my purse for jotting down blog ideas, important notes, shopping lists, etc.

A pair of That Winsome Girl Modern Elegance Earrings -OR- a $30 giftcard to my Etsy shop.  These earrings feature beautiful faceted smoky quartz briolettes and all sterling silver findings.  They're dainty and classic and would compliment so many outfits.  If you don't have pierced ears, or these particular earrings don't happen to be your style, the winner may choose instead to receive a $30 giftcard that may be redeemed toward anything in my Etsy shop.

I hope you will enjoy these items as they are some of my favorite things of the moment.  You may enter the giveaway up to two times by following the prompts below.  For one entry you may leave a comment below telling me what kind of posts you would like to see more on the blog.  You may also enter by following my page on Facebook.

The giveaway will be open until midnight (EST) on February 28th.  At that time a winner will be randomly chosen, contacted via email, and announced on this post by March 1st.

Don't forget to enter using the widget below.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, February 16, 2013

February 2013 Birchbox

The theme of the February 2013 Birchbox was "Red Carpet Ready."  "In honor of all the nominees and winners - and all of us armchair-style commenters - we've put together an assortment of products worthy of the red carpet."

My February 2013 Birchbox included the following samples:

Jouer - Matte Moisture Tint in Linen ($38.00/1.7 oz)
This SPF 15 oil-free tinted moisturizer blends in beautifully to even out skin and control shine.

Sample size: 0.07 oz
Sample value: $1.56

Juicy Couture - Couture La La ($90.00/3.4 oz)
Roll out the red carpet for this new scent, a stunning mix of mandarin, red current, lily, and orange blossom.

Sample size: 0.05 oz
Sample value: $1.32

TIGI - Catwalk Session Series Transforming Dry Shampoo ($19.95/5.2 oz)
Master stylists always have this oil-busting dry shampoo in their kit.  It leaves behind a tousled, piecey finish.

Sample size: 2 oz
Sample value: $7.67

Vasanti - Brighten Up! Enzyme Face Rejuvenator ($34.00/120 g)
This exfoliating cleanser uses professional-grade (read: effective) microderm crystals and papaya enzymes to brighten skin.

Sample size: 20 g
Sample value: $5.67

Treat: Ghiradelli - Milk & Caramel Square ($4.25/5.32 oz)
A treat for Ghiradelli: You deserve a little sweetness.  Try Ghiradelli's Milk & Caramel Square solo or experiment - s'mores or baked into a cookie.  Who says you can't riff on decadence?

Sample size: 0.53 oz
Sample value: $0.42

Total box value: $16.64

Overall, I'm mostly happy with my box this month!  I'm really pleased with the size of the TIGI dry shampoo and Vasanti exfoliating cleanser samples.  I'm a dry shampoo addict, so I look forward to giving this one a try, and the Vasanti cleanser has pretty glowing reviews on the Birchbox website, so I'm optimistic about it as well.

Couture La La, the newest fragrance from Juicy Couture smells divine, as do all the other perfumes from the brand (in my opinion).  I'm currently saving up my Birchbox points for a big shop purchase and I'm thinking I may end up using them on a Juicy Couture perfume.  I have only previously owned Viva La Juicy, but I've sampled all the Juicy perfumes via Birchbox and I'm thinking I may purchase La Fleur or Couture La La this time.  I do have to say that I don't find that the Juicy perfumes last on my skin for more than a couple of hours, which is a definite draw back considering their steep price.  I personally love these scents but would never pay full price for them as I don't find the lasting power is sufficient enough to merit the price tag.

While I was excited to try the Jouer Matte Moisture Tint (I previously sampled their Luminizing Moisture Tint many months back), unfortunately the shade I received (Linen) is too dark for my pale skin.  Upon swatching it on the back of my hand, I found the tint watery and providing practically no coverage.  I recall being pretty happy with the Luminizing Moisture Tint when I sampled it previously. I believe it provided quite a bit more coverage and had a better texture.

I don't have much to say about the Ghiradelli extra.  I do enjoy the Ghiradelli squares (you may recall that I used them for the S'more Party I hosted back in the fall), but this isn't the type of product that I care to see in a beauty subscription that I pay for.

What did you receive in your February Birchbox?  Where you happy with your box this month?

Monday, February 11, 2013

February 2013 Glam Bag

The February Glam Bag was all about products that would help get you "Red Carpet Ready."  While most of us don't have an actual red carpet to prepare for, many of us want to look extra glamorous this month for Valentine's day.  This month's Glam Bag featured an assortment of makeup products to help create a glitzy look.

My February Glam Bag included:

Coastal Scents - Shadow Palette Sample ($24.95/252 Shadows*)
Coastal Scents Shadow Palette Samples are an ideal way to try these highly pigmented, stunning shadows.  These miniature-sized samples contain four hand-selected shadows by Ipsy, making it easy to create a variety of looks.  Wear these pressed powders dry or wet for a more intese, dramatic look.

Sample size: 0.07 oz
Sample value:  $0.39 (*based on price per oz. of the 252 Ultimate Palette)

Pixi - Flawless & Poreless Primer ($29.00/1.01 oz)
The Pixi Flawless & Poreless primer creates a beautiful no-shine finish for flawless, long-lasting makeup application.  This shine controlling, oil-free primer smooths out fine lines and hydrates while making pores instantly disappear.  It is the perfect skin primer for all complexions and all skin types.

Sample size: 0.5 oz
Sample value: $14.36

POP Beauty - Smokey Lash Kapow Mascara ($18.50/0.25 oz)
This lash-POP-ing mascara makes lashes plump, long and lusciously flirty!  Smudge proof formula adds volume while curling lashes up and out for a look that truly POPs your peepers!

Sample size: 0.17 oz
Sample value: $12.58

MicaBeauty - Gel Eyeliner ($35.00/0.18 oz)
Define eyes and apply eyeliner like a pro with the MicaBeauty Gel Eyeliner!  This smooth, highly pigmented gel eyeliner glides over the lid evenly and dries quickly for a long-wearing, smudge-proof finish.

Sample size: unknown (~0.1 oz)
Sample value: unknown (~$19.44)

Lash Card - The Lash Card ($6.99/10 pack)
Apply your mascara perfectly with the Lash Card!  Say goodbye to smudging, clumping, and messy mascara application.  The Lash Card has two curves on each side that fit a variety of eye shapes, making it easy to get those hard-to-reach lashes.

Sample size: 4 cards
Sample value: $2.80

Total box value: ~$49.57

I'm pretty pleased with my bag again this month!  I'm not as over the moon excited to try any of the products as they're all pretty basic, but they're nice staples and I'll certainly get use out of them.  I was really curious about the Coastal Scents eye shadows.  I've heard so many things about their shadow palettes over the years and have been curious about the quality (considering they are so affordable).  I'm pleased to say these four shades I received felt buttery smooth and swatched with nice pigmentation.  I'm looking forward to trying the Pixi primer and the MicaBeauty gel liner.  I have a few gel liners in my collection, but the black liner I currently own isn't the most creamy or pigmented, so I'm hoping this one will be great!  I probably won't get around to trying the POP mascara for a while as I have so many tubes open and tons of samples tubes waiting in the wings.  The Lash Cards I've actually tried before via Birchbox.  They're a little unnecessary, but do serve a purpose and they're handy when you're doing a particularly dramatic eye look with lots of mascara.  All in all, a nice assortment of products (including a whole eye look) and a great value!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

February Julep Maven Box

The February Julep Maven glamor collection featured rich, smoky colors and glitzy holographics inspired by classic Hollywood icons and modern leading ladies.  For my February box, I decided to go with the Bombshell box which included two color polishes in Laura and Ginger and two new products from Julep: the Oxygen Nail Treatment and the Freedom Top Coat.  Additionally, the February boxes also included a little extra: a small eyelash curler.

The shades I received this month were Laura, an olive khaki cream, and Ginger, a sand holographic.  I had a difficult time choosing my style this month as I was also very fond of the color sections from the Classic with a Twist box which included the shades Claudette, a smoky brick red creme, and Helen, a smoky pastel lavender creme.  Ultimately I decided Laura and Ginger would better round out my collection.

The Oxygen Nail Treatment is an intriguing new product marketing itself as "complete nail care, and make-up all in one bottle."  It claims to 'restructure nails to a stronger, thicker, and smoother condition in just one stroke.'  I've never really used a nail treatment before, so I'm curious to see if I notice an impact using this product.  I don't have particular thin, weak, or problematic nails but I'm excited to try this if only for the pretty shine and subtle color it provides to naked nails.

I'm equally excited to try the new Freedom Polymer Top Coat which claims to 'protect nail color from chips, dings, and dullness twice as long as regular top coats.  The quick-dry formula cures under regular light in three to five minutes; no UV light required.'  The trick with this formula, it seems, is to cure the polish under a traditional 60-watt light bulb for a couple of minutes.  As much as I love changing the color of my polish, I don't enjoy the time it takes to change my manicure.  So if this stuff really does lengthen the life of my manicure, I will be thrilled!

Additionally, this month I chose to add on an extra polish to my Maven box for an additional $4.99 (which is a steal since Julep polishes retail for $14.00).  I chose Joan which is a stunning raspberry plum with rose gold shimmer.

This has been one of my favorite boxes since the Julep Maven program launched.  I'm always so thrilled with how fresh and new the Maven boxes are.  Julep seems to constantly be developing innovative new products and Mavens are the first to get their hands on them!  While the Julep Maven boxes are on the higher end of subscription boxes costing $19.99/month, I am always 100% satisfied with my Maven box (especially considering their fantastic options for customizing each month).  This month my box included over $64.00 in product!

I'll let you know my thoughts on the Oxygen Nail Treatment and Freedom Top Coat once I've had time to thoroughly test them.

If you received a February Maven box, what style did you choose and what are your thoughts on the new treatment and top coat?!

If you're interested in trying out the Julep Maven program, take the Maven style quiz, and add the starter box to your cart.  During checkout enter the coupon code 'COLOR2012' and you should get your first box for only $0.01!  (Unfortunately I believe this promo is only available for customers in the US.)  From there you can choose to continue receiving your monthly boxes to really try out the program, or you can cancel at any time!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

January 2013 GLOSSYBOX USA: Man Repeller Collaboration

The January 2013 GLOSSYBOX USA arrived a little later than usual.  The box for January was a collaboration between GLOSSYBOX and the fashion blogger Man Repeller.  Instead of the usual pale pink box, the Man Repeller collab was metallic silver with a cheeky faux-stamped "the man repeller" logo.

Inside I was very pleased to see a generous assortment of items including two full size products and five deluxe samples.  The items included this month are some of Leandra's (aka the Man Repeller) favorite products.

My January 2013 GLOSSYBOX USA included the following samples:

Sebastian Professional - Potion 9 ($19.00/5.1 oz)
The ultimate versatile styling cream infused with nine botanical extracts to help restore lost moisture and rejuvenate the healthy look of your hair.  Perfect for styling your wet or dry hair into multiple looks with flexible hold.

Sample size: 1.7 oz
Sample value: $6.33

Tarte - Glamazon Pure Performance 12-hour Lipstick in Fierce ($26.00/0.07 oz)
Achieve vivid long-lasting color with a superb blend of emollient-rich butters (mango, avocado and shea) encapsulated in Tarte's 12-hour power formula.  Helps to minimize the appearance of fine lines leaving lips with a perfect, plumped-up appearance.

Sample size: 0.07 oz
Sample value: $26.00

OPI - Liquid Sand Nail Laquer in Can't Let Go ($9.00/0.5 oz)
A unique matte purple shade with subtle accents of reflective shimmer.  This long wearing liquid sand lacquer dries to a matte finish which means no top coat is necessary!  Apply base coat and two coats of color for full opacity.

Sample size: 0.5 oz
Sample value: $9.00

Estée Lauder - Sumptuous Extreme Lash Multiplying Volume Mascara ($25.00/0.27 oz)
Three different high-volume fibers create audacious, false-lash effects.  Lustrous color leaves eyes brighter, wider, more seductive than before.  Build bigger, bolder, more extreme lashes at the Estée Lauder counter today.

Sample size: 0.1 oz
Sample value: $9.26

Le Métier de Beauté - Replenishing Daily Solution ($225.00/1.17 oz)
This rich, emollient formula protects, conditions and hydrates while it nourishes, rejuvenates and detoxifies skin, restoring a healthy suppleness to your skin.  Paraben-free.

Sample size: 0.1 oz
Sample value: $19.23

Narciso Rodriguez - for her Eau de Toilette Spray ($104.00/3.3 oz)
A fragrant harmony of music, intimately refined with a floral facet developing gently and slowly, rounding out into the feminine warm tones of sun-kissed skin, dusted in snow, velvet-like sensuality.

Sample size: 0.03 oz
Sample value: $0.95

Fresh - Umbrian Clay Mattifying Serum ($35.00/1 oz)
Umbrian Clay, Fresh's proprietary ingredient, has a uniquely high-mineral content that works to neutralize acidity, purifying and clarifying the complexion.  This treatment formula tones and hydrates while controlling shine and minimizing the appearance of pores.

Sample size: 0.17 oz
Sample value: $5.95

Total box value: $76.72

Of course, I'm over the moon about this month's GLOSSYBOX!  It was good timing, too, because I had been a little underwhelmed with the past couple of months.  The full size Tarte lipstick and OPI polish have me thrilled.  I heard so many great things about this line of lipsticks from Tarte when they released but had yet to try them.  The shade I received is a little more orange and bold than my usual red lip choice, but it'll be a nice change to the darker, cooler reds of my collection.  The OPI Liquid Sand polishes seem like a unique and fun way to add texture to your nails.  And for those who aren't a big fan of the matte look, I have a feeling these would look gorgeous with a glossy topcoat.

I've previously tried the Fresh serum via a teeny foil sample from Birchbox.  Of course, being a such a tiny sample, I never got much of a chance to really give the product a try.  With my oily skin, I'm looking forward to having a bigger sample to better test this product.  Also, I'm really curious to see what kind a magic a $225 facial lotion can offer.  I'll be transferring the foil sample to an empty cosmetic pot so I can ration the product and treat it like liquid gold.

If you received a January GLOSSYBOX, let me know which products you received and what you thought!

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Weekend of Parties

Things have been a little crazy around here lately.  Since the beginning of the year I've spent much of my free time working on sprucing up our little home.  The past week and a half I spent nearly all of my free time repainting the main living areas of our home from the cheap, unwashable builder basic beige to a slightly more pleasing beige in a MUCH higher quality paint.  Over a month ago I had set a date for a fun little Swap Party I wanted to host for some girl friends and soon after realized that I set the party for the same weekend as Super Bowl (hubby and I traditionally host a big Super Bowl gathering with 20+ friends).  Hosting two big parties in a row gave me the push to spend much of January painting and decorating so we could show off some of the changes we were slowly making to our home.  I'll share some of those in another post soon.

Last Saturday I hosted a Swap Party with a sweet little mimosa bar, a coffee/tea bar, and lots of brunch appropriate appetizers.  Unfortunately we were hit with quite the snow storm that morning, shrinking our party down to five girls.  We still had a great time chatting, swapping accessories and decor, and munching on the spread I had prepared.

When planning the menu for the party, I knew I wanted a brunch themed assortment of food; everything bite size to make eating while talking/swapping easy.

I prepared a Mimosa bar with options for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic Mimosas with orange and also raspberry/peach juice for a few flavor combinations.  In addition to the Mimosas, I had my Keurig set up for coffee, tea, hot chocolate, etc. and made a picture of Lemon Cucumber Mint Water which is always refreshing and a hit.

The menu included plenty of gluten-free and vegetarian options as I had a few girls in attendance with dietary restrictions.  I made Bacon, Leek and Cheddar Mini Quiche (some crustless and others without bacon), Mini Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, Mini Cream Biscuits which I served with country ham and strawberry jam, Melon and Prosciutto and Melon and Mint Skewers, Cucumber Bites with Garlic Herb Filling, Cheesecake Stuffed Chocolate Covered Strawberries, Chocolate Dipped Clementines, and Salmon Mousse on gluten free crackers.  Everything was well received and we had a lovely time!

Then came our Super Bowl Party.  Planning and hosting a party for a group of 20 folks is quite the task, so I didn't get any great photos to share of the evening.  I did; however, manage to snap a few mediocre photos of the Bacon Chocolate Stout Cheesecake I made for dessert.

This was quite the unique combination of flavors.  The cheesecake itself had a pretzel graham cracker crust, a filling flavored with chocolate stout and studded with Beer Candied Bacon, and was topped with homemade Hot Fudge Sauce, more Beer Candied Bacon, and fresh whipped cream.

Overall the cheesecake was very well received (I'm pretty sure I witnessed one guest enjoy three slices).  Personally I was kind of on the fence about it.  I'm not typically a fan of sweet/salty combinations (which this certainly was with the pretzel crust and bacon), and I'm definitely not a beer drinker.  I really enjoyed the chocolate flavor of the filling and found that the beer wasn't particularly noticeable.  Honestly, as much as I love bacon, I think I'll continue to prefer it in more savory applications.  That said, our guests seemed to enjoy the cheesecake and I certainly thought the finished result had a lovely presentation!

Now that I've survived a month of home projects and a week of prepping for two big parties, I'm looking forward to a little down time from hosting.  I sure do love planning a party, but it's exhausting work!

Have you thrown any fun parties recently?
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