Sunday, May 24, 2015

Strawberry Season

It's strawberry season!  The first of the summer fruits to grace us each year is finally at its sweetest, juiciest, ripest peak.  I have been savoring these few precious, fleeting weeks by eating buckets of strawberries from a local strawberry patch and dreaming up countless ways to prepare them.

The first of my creations was for Mother's Day.  I set out to find a recipe for strawberry cake, but I was disappointed to find that most recipes called for strawberry flavoring, strawberry jello or some other variety of fake or frozen strawberries.  I decided to make Ina Garten's Strawberry Country Cake, which is basically a strawberry shortcake.  It is a dense (but not heavy) sour cream cake with a hint of lemon zest, fresh strawberries, and whipped cream.  It was incredibly easy to make and it tasted.....delicious!!  The cake and whipped cream are the perfect accompaniments to fresh strawberries to bring out their flavor and sweetness.  It makes a beautiful-looking cake as well.  Everyone at our Mother's Day gathering loved it!  I have to say, I've never made a recipe from Ina Garten that I didn't like.  She is the queen!

Photo credit to my Grandmother's iPhone

Next up was a strawberry rhubarb pie from Smitten Kitchen.  I had never tasted rhubarb before, but I kept hearing how great it paired with strawberries, and how well it balanced their sweetness and softness.  After making it and finally getting a taste, I have to agree.  The pie turned out just sweet enough, and the crust recipe was maybe the flakiest and tastiest pie crust I have ever made.  Like Ina, I've never made anything by Smitten Kitchen that I didn't like!

Enjoy the strawberries while they last! 


Thursday, May 14, 2015

6 GRE Study Tips

For those of us hoping to go to grad school, the GRE is a necessary evil.  It is like the SAT on speed.  I just took it last week.  Not that I aced it or anything, but here are some tips that I used (or wish I had used) to help my score:

  1. Begin studying at least a month in advance, preferably 2 months or earlier!  (But if you're like me, the longer you have to complete a task the more you procrastinate).  Try to set aside an hour a day or every other day to study, and take one or two practice tests a week.  That way you will know what you need to study, and you can track your progress by your weekly test performance.
  2. Buy a study guide!  The major ones are by Princeton Review and Kaplan, but there are many, many more.  I used the Kaplan book.  Most of the test prep books you find in the book store will be very helpful as long as they include lots of practice questions and practice tests.  These books are great because they familiarize you with the types of questions on the test and how it will be scored.  I recommend buying a book with an online component because it often includes extra practice tests that are administered the same way as the real GRE.
  3. Keep an ongoing vocabulary list.  As you study, you will encounter lots of words you don't know.  Write these down and define them, and continue studying them as you go.  My list was 4 pages long front and back.  Maybe I think too highly of myself, but I didn't realize there were this many words floating around the English language I had never heard of before.  I don't know where the GRE finds them!  These are not your high school SAT words.
  4. As for math: practice, practice, practice.  The way the GRE asks math questions is not straightforward...they give you an equation of some kind and two quantities (A and B) and then ask you if one quantity is greater than the other, equal to each other, or cannot be determined.  Unfortunately, this requires that all solutions must be parsed out before you can make your answer.  For a person as slow in math as me, it required tons of practice to get used to this type of question and to re-familiarize myself with long-forgotten rules and principles.  The only way to do this is to grab a test prep book and get to work, and then take as many practice tests as you can tolerate.
  5. Utilize  ETS is the organization that administers the GRE, and they have lots of useful test prep tools on their website.  There are free practice tests, essay prompts, and test tips.  I recommend checking them out and using all the resources they have to offer!
  6. Don't freak out on test day!  I know it's hard not to, but the GRE can always be taken again!  (Even though it costs you out the wazoo).  As my psych professor used to say, your exam performance does not determine your worth as a person!
Good luck!!!


Comic is from the great website PhD Comics

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

30 Days of Yoga with Adriene

I have mixed feelings about yoga.  For the most part I love it.  Every time I've done it in the past I've left the studio feeling more relaxed, more energized, and more positive.  A couple times I even felt like I got an intense workout - like I exercised muscles I had never exercised before.  On the other hand, if I'm going to allocate time to fitness, I'd often rather cram as much physical exertion into the hour as I can, and yoga sometimes doesn't cut it.  Also, I still feel a little hokey when the class chants "om...." in unison.  It makes me feel like more of a suburban white girl than just about anything else.

Despite my hesitations, I still really want to do yoga.  It is very alluring for its graceful instructors, its promise of serenity and strength, and its mysterious roots in eastern religion.  Not to mention my doctor recommended I do yoga to rehabilitate my back after a nasty injury.  So, to ease into it and hopefully learn a thing or two, I decided to try 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene on YouTube.  

I started yesterday with Day 1.  Adriene makes things easy enough for beginners.  She speaks in a soothing,  encouraging tone and has a playful edge.  I appreciated her gentle reminders to stay present instead of allowing your mind to race ahead to the next posture.  The session is thirty minutes long, and while I thought I would be bored initially, I slid into an almost meditative state in which I felt very calm and time passed quickly.  By the end, I felt relaxed and loose and positive.

Over the next 30 days I will give a weekly update with my observations of any changes or effects I notice from the program.



Saturday, May 9, 2015

Summer Rolls Restaurant

A friend and I were looking for a place to eat some lunch. We weren't sure where to go, and I wasn't feeling anything too heavy or greasy. Fortunately, he had the brilliant idea to suggest some spring rolls! Although he said the place was a little far and a little pricey, the idea sounded perfect so away we went!

We ordered two things at the restaurant, and the first thing was a dish called banh beo. It consisted of small plates of steamed rice cake, topped with dried chopped shrimp, scallions, and croutons. We poured fish sauce on top, and scooped it out of the dish with a spoon. It was a little bit salty for my taste. We couldn't figure out what it was that was salty, but it was still delicious! The fish sauce added a little bit of sweetness to the savory dish.

As we were working through the banh beo, our spring rolls arrived! The rice paper came with hot water for soaking, so that it would become pliable for the rolls. The plate of veggies consisted of lettuce, cucumber, carrots, bean sprouts, cilantro, mint, chives, and Asian basil. The meat came grilled and skewered, and everything was ready to be assembled!

We dipped the rice paper in the water, and assembled a little bit of all the veggies on top and added some meat as well. I remembered a YouTube video I watched on spring rolls (linked here), where the girl instructs the viewers to roll "gently but tightly, the way you hug your sweetheart." Unfortunately I don't have any photos of the finished rolls because this was a hands on process, but the spring rolls were fresh, light, and incredibly appetizing! I would definitely recommend this restaurant, and would return for another visit :)


Monday, April 27, 2015

Bread Baking: No-Knead Multi-Grain Bread

This recipe comes from Sonja and Alex of A Couple Cooks, who adapted it from Zoe Francois's cookbook The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  It is a great find because not only is it delicious, it is incredibly easy to make and it's got some nutritional value.  I stopped buying store-bought bread a while back because of the long list of strange ingredients.  It's nice to be in control of what goes into my least then I know I won't be eating lots of added sugars, preservatives, and flavor enhancers.  Homemade also just tastes better...and it's not too bad to look at on my kitchen counter!
I started by soaking rolled oats, quinoa, and chia seeds in water.  The recipe calls for sunflower seeds instead of chia, but the sunflower seeds in my pantry mysteriously disappeared before I had the chance to use them.  
The dough consists of all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, rye flour, the grains, water, salt, and yeast.  Basically I just threw it all in the mixer bowl and let it go until the dough was just formed.  I was careful not to over-mix so the bread would be tender and fluffy.  It really is the easiest thing in the kneading necessary.  It's a piece of cake!  Easy as pie!  Why are there no bread puns?!  
Here it is after rising for a couple hours.  At this point I covered the bowl in plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge to be made the next morning.
Peeling it out of the bowl in the morning was quite the tactile experience.  This isn't the typical smooth bread formed lots of tiny air pockets which gave it an interesting stretchy-ness and a sponge-like appearance.
Doesn't it look like a sea sponge?!
I divided the dough in half and formed each loaf by tucking the ragged edges underneath to make a smooth ball.  Onto the corn-mealed baking sheet to rest for an hour.
It has risen!
I floured the tops and cut some slashes with a serrated knife.  Quite artist-ique if I do say so myself.
All finished.  This is a hearty bread but it's not so hearty that it's tough or dense.  It's got a nice soft texture and a crunchy crust.  I eat it with my eggs in the morning, as a sandwich at lunch, and on the side at dinner.  I eat it all day!  It's that good.  Thanks A Couple Cooks!


Friday, April 24, 2015

Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Foundation

Finally, finally!

I caved. I have been waiting to get this product so long, that I may or may not have paid too much to get a hold of it. But finally!

The full name: Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Eraser Treatment Makeup. If you saw the post on the Instant Age Rewind Concealer, you would know that the concealer is what got me interested in the foundation. And I am happy that I decided to try it!

This foundation is lightweight, medium coverage, and incredibly easy to apply. I don't have too much to say about the merits of it's lasting power, but I would say that this foundation is situationally amazing.

Time for a story. One day, I was feeling pretty upset and I ended up crying. Unfortunately, I am not a pretty crier! My eyes get swollen, and my nose and the center of my face get pretty red and I look like a hot mess. I wanted to go to the grocery store, but I didn't want to go looking like I had obviously just cried, but I also wasn't particularly in the mood to carefully and meticulously apply my makeup. IN COMES THIS FOUNDATION TO THE RESCUE.

This foundation took absolutely no time to apply, was ridiculously easy to blend, and covered all the blotchy redness on my face. It erased all the evidence of my tears! It was a miracle worker, a time saver, and was perfect for that moment.

The finish is definitely not matte, and would maybe be considered between satin and dewy. The applicator makes putting on the product a breeze and is a great time saver. There is a slight chemical smell to the product, but it's nothing too offensive.

Again, I wouldn't be sure about recommending this for the lasting power. But if you have somewhere you need to be and want to get out of the house in a few minutes and want to even out your skin, this would be a good option!

Rating: 3.8 out of 5


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day 2015 I thought I'd share some pictures of the flowers I potted a couple days ago!

 Out of the little pot and into the big pot!
 My mom always tells me to break up the roots before planting to encourage them to grow into the new planter.
Two double impatiens and two verbena!
Snipping the beautiful flowers off the newly potted gardenias.  Seems so sad but it helps the plant allocate nutrients more efficiently to grow big and strong.

Happy Earth Day!


Monday, April 20, 2015

Dermalogica Essential Cleansing Solution vs. CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser

I am kind of a skincare fanatic.  It all started in high school when I had stubborn acne that wouldn't go away no matter what I did.  No matter how diligently I washed, moisturized, ate cleanly, drank water, visited the dermatologist, and prayed to the gods of good skin, my angry red bumps just didn't go away.  I found it to be the most frustrating thing in the world, as anyone with acne will understand.  Once the acne finally started fading, I became obsessed with keeping my skin under control.  I knew I never wanted to deal with bad acne again (who does?).  So, researching skincare products and reading online reviews became one of my favorite pastimes and I learned a lot about different brands, ingredients, and products in the skincare world.  Cleansers are one of those things that are important to get right in your skincare regime, because they must keep your skin clean without stripping it of all its moisture and throwing it off balance.  Here's a couple of my favorite cleansers, each at drastically different price points, pitted against one another:

Two years ago I stopped using foaming cleansers and switched to Dermalogica's Essential Cleansing Solution.  It has a lotion-y consistency rather than a soapy one and since it doesn't get sudsy like most cleansers, it almost feels like it's not cleansing at all.  However, it worked wonders for my skin and I found that using a gentler, non-foaming cleanser made my skin softer, more moisturized, and much less oily throughout the day.  I also didn't notice any more breakouts than with the foaming cleanser (less actually) so it must do a great job of cleansing as well.  I like that the Essential Cleansing Solution doesn't contain any fragrances or dyes, and I like the additions of safflower oil, vitamin C and E for skin conditioning.  It's an all-around great cleanser and I have no complaints about it's performance.  But that price though...It is very expensive for a cleanser, and it's hard to justify paying $36 for 8oz. of something that is going to be washed down the drain, even if it is really great.

I decided to try CeraVe's Hydrating Cleanser to see if it measured up to Dermalogica.  The consistency is kind of like a gel/lotion, and like the Essential Cleansing Solution, it doesn't lather up.  It contains ceramides and hyalauronic acid (shoutout to Lisa Eldridge on YouTube for educating me on this ingredient) which help moisturize and protect skin.  It also doesn't contain any fragrances or dyes.  Check check check.  As far as it's performance, I've been using it nearly a month now and it has kept my skin smooth, moisturized, oil-balanced, and clean.  Also, it's $12 for a 12oz pump bottle.  Not bad.

So, in conclusion, the Dermalogica and the CeraVe cleanser are equivalent products that do an equivalent job.  They are both great, but it is safe to save your money (save lots of money!) and go for the CeraVe!


Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Birthday Cake Experiment: 8 Layer Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cake

Last year for his 25th birthday I baked my brother this delicious chocolate and peanut butter cake from Smitten Kitchen.  It was quite well-received and touted "the best cake ever" (thanks Deb!) so when his 26th birthday rolled around last week I knew I had to deliver.  I didn't want to bake the same cake again, but I knew it would be hard to top last year's.  After some brainstorming I settled apprehensively on an 8-layer chocolate and peanut butter cake with chocolate ganache filling and peanut butter buttercream (if you haven't noticed, peanut butter and chocolate is the flavor du jour).  This is definitely the tallest and most complicated cake I have ever made, but taking it step by step made it not too hard, even for me.  Here's how it went down:

First things first I made the ganache recipe from this cake with Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate.  I left it in the fridge to set up while I did the rest of my baking.

Next, I baked this recipe of chocolate cake which is actually the same recipe from the back of the Hershey's cocoa box.  It is a kind of odd recipe involving boiling water and a super-thin batter but the cake comes out beautifully moist (sorry if you hate that word) and rich-but-not-too-rich.  It's also not too sweet.  Perfect! 

I turned them out onto a rack to cool while I baked the peanut butter cake.

This peanut butter cake.  I found the recipe on The Daring Gourmet and boy am I glad I did.  It tastes like a giant peanut butter cookie!

Next step.  I used my Wilton cake leveler to trim the domed tops of the cake layers and slice the layers in half.  I must say it works really well, but only when the pre-determined height settings fit your needs.  When they didn't, I had to use a large bread knife.  No big deal though.  I began with a chocolate layer on a swiveling cake plate with strips of parchment tucked under the edges.  The ganache set up a bit too hard in the fridge to be spreadable so I portioned off enough for the layer in a bowl and microwaved it for 5 seconds.  This got it to a perfectly spreadable consistency so I used my small offset spatula to cover the layer in ganache.  


Up it goes!  This took awhile, not gonna lie.  I tried to get the layers as flat and as uniform as possible.  Experience has taught me that sloping and uneven cake layers just don't look as pretty.

And the cake is built!  Now bed time.

The next morning and the cake is ready to be iced.

There's my peanut butter buttercream looking a bit like cement but tasting delicious.  I used Wilton's recipe and I loved it!

This might've been the hardest part of making this cake - trying not to catch many crumbs in the icing and making sure it went on evenly.  

Ta da!  The icing had a light, whipped texture so the finished look was a bit...rustic, but I loved how it looked nonetheless!

Party time!  Here's the birthday boy and lovely Cindi with his cake.  (Excuse the candles...never buy sparklers from Target).

The first slice!

We did a number on it.

And we even got to take a few slices home!  

This birthday cake experiment was a success!


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Noisy Neighbors

I know this video has been making the rounds (I first saw it on A Cup of Jo), but it made me laugh so much I had to share it here.  Everyone who has had noisy neighbors will understand!

"Be well"


Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: Philosophy Purity Made Simple Facial Cleansing Oil

I was looking for something gentle to remove my makeup when I bought this cleansing oil.  It seems like most makeup removers on the market are so harsh as they sting your eyes and dry out your skin, and the gentler ones like Bioderma just take a little too much time/effort/product to do a proper job.  Well here comes Philosophy Purity Made Simple to the rescue!  It is gentle AND effective at removing all my makeup in one fell swoop.

This magical oil has lots of ingredients, many of which I do not recognize, which is slightly scary, but it appears to be a mix of different oils plus water and some kind of emulsifier.  The oil is very thin and will run all over the place if you're not careful.  The technique to this stuff is to pour a little into one palm, dampen the fingertips of the opposite hand, and then use your fingertips to massage the oil in circular motions around your dry face and over your eyes.  I probably massage for about a minute before I rinse it off with warm water.  The great thing about this oil is that is takes off ALL my makeup the first time!  It leaves not a trace on my skin or eyes.  It has easily removed tough mascaras, waterproof eyeliners, foundations, BB creams, you name it.  It does sometimes get in my eyes and blur my vision until I can rinse it out (because it is oil, but that really scared me the first time), which is unfortunate, but it doesn't sting or irritate them and leave them red like lots of makeup removers.  I always follow this cleansing oil with my normal facial cleanser because I don't like the slightly oily film it leaves behind and I want to make sure my skin is completely clean.  With this method, I never saw an increase in breakouts and I think this oil helped keep my skin moisturized through the dry winter months.

I paid $18 for mine back in autumn but I just checked Ulta's website and it looks like they're selling it for $25.  It is quite pricey but mine has lasted me a long time.  I'm not sure if the ingredients are quite worth that cost.  My next endeavor is to try a pure oil like coconut or jojoba to see if they do as good a job at removing my makeup for a fraction of the money.  I hope so....

Overall, I highly recommend the Philosophy cleansing oil for its makeup removing power if you are willing to shell out the cash, but check back in the future for my report on purer and cheaper oils!  


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Double Take: Four Eyes Reviews Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Concealer

Here's our take on the concealer everyone on YouTube raves about, full name: Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Eraser Dark Circles Treatment Concealer with Goji Berry & Haloxyl. Phew!

Concealer might be my most important makeup item, and it is definitely the hardest to find a good one.  I've been loyal to the Amazing Cosmetics concealer for 3 years now for the great coverage it provides, but I've become increasingly dissatisfied with the dull finish it leaves and the cakiness and creasing after a few hours of wear.  Also the exorbitant price.  But as a makeup snob, I've never found a drugstore concealer up to par so I was skeptical of this Maybelline one before I bought it, even with all its hype.  I'm so happy I made the leap though because it did not disappoint, and now I have a great concealer for less than 1/4 the price of my old one!  Yay!!
I bought mine in the color 'Light' at Ulta for...was it $7?  I can't remember, but it was in the $5-$8 range.  It comes with a fuzzy sponge applicator on top and you wind the product to distribute it through the applicator.  I'm not a fan of the applicator I have to say, because every time I swiped it under my eyes the concealer got all in my bottom lashes and it applied too much.  Not a major problem though, because I can use my finger to dab the product from the applicator onto my skin.  The coverage is good enough to cover my dark circles and any redness in my skin.  The finish is somewhere between luminous and matte.  That's to say it doesn't look wet and shiny and it doesn't look dry and cakey; it strikes a nice natural-looking balance.  I've found it to fade only slightly throughout a long day of wear and it doesn't crease at all on me. I love it!

P.S. What on earth is goji berry and haloxyl?  I looked them up and found that goji berries are full of antioxidants and vitamin A which are great for skin, and haloxyl is a man-made compound that is supposed to remove dark pigments from skin and reduce the appearance of broken capillaries over time.  I can't speak to their benefits in this concealer because I don't know if there is even enough to make a difference.  I can say I haven't seen a change in the short time I've been using it.  I wish beauty product's skincare benefits always lived up to their claims but sadly that is not usually the case so I don't expect to see much of a change in the skin around my eyes.  At least it's nice to know they tried!


This concealer is a wonderful product from the drugstore. The Maybelline Instant Age Rewind concealer is incredibly blendable which is something I absolutely love! It also does not crease on me or settle into fine lines, and it looks very natural. Many people also love the Maybelline Fit Me concealer for the under eye area, but I think the Instant Age Rewind does a better job of looking natural.

Another positive point on this concealer for me is the packaging. I love the sponge applicator! It is incredibly soft and spreads the makeup quickly and evenly across the areas where I need it. It makes my makeup application so fast and easy when I have places to be! The way I apply it is I swipe it under my eyes, and blend it with my Sephora Airbrush Concealer brush. 10 seconds: done!

This concealer also does a great job of brightening the under eye area. For me, it cancels out the darkness which can drag down my eyes and make me look tired. It makes me look fresh and awake, without looking like I have on makeup!

Another thing I like about this concealer is the wear. It doesn't settle into fine lines during the day or come off patchy, or do any other sketchy things that makeup can do. It fades a bit after a while, but in a natural way, which is a check plus in my book! (The natural, not the fading :3)

One negative about this concealer though is that if you apply it directly onto dry spots, it will accentuate them on your skin. So if you have a dry under eye area, I can't recommend this in good conscience (unless you have some magic techniques to make it work, then you do you boo).

Rating: 4/5

I would definitely repurchase this product, and it has actually gotten me interested in the foundation. I have been wanting to pick it up for the last week and a half and have checked several places and it's always out of stock in my color! So unfortunate, but if I can ever get my hands on it, I might write a post! Let us know with comments or suggestions whatever you are interested in :) 

A Good Day

Yesterday was one of those days that made me happy to be alive.  The trees were budding, the air was warm, the sky was blue, and I felt happier and springier than I have in a while!  I decided to brave the dog park with my Jack Russell Terrier- a feared feat by the owners of this feisty little breed-but I am glad I did!  There was nobody else there so my two little dogs ran like crazy chasing birds, tennis balls, and me until we were all dirty and worn out.

So much dirt!

Then we took an excursion to Kabob Je Rotisserie and Grille for a feast of falafel, hummus, fattoush, mujaddara, tabouleh, and pita.  Without exaggerating, it was the best Lebanese/Mediterranean food I'd ever had!  I stuffed myself and very happily carried home a plate full of leftovers.  The staff was nice enough to allow the dogs on the patio and even brought them a dish of water!  They were stunningly well-behaved and drew lots of compliments.  I felt so proud.

The day continued with a trip to the garden store with my mom (the expert gardener) where I picked up some salmon-colored double impatiens and white verbena, which will be potted as soon as the threat of frost goes away.  These flower names are too technical for me...I prefer to call them pink and white flowers.

I ended my day with a slice of lemon cake and a mug of earl gray tea.

Sometimes it's nice to forget about your big deadlines and demands and just focus on the little things.  It really is the little things like a spring morning in the park, a good meal, pretty flowers, and a cup of tea which make it all worthwhile.

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