February Subscription Boxes: Birchbox and Sample Society

Birchbox February 2015


Monthly delivery for $10/month

Includes 4-5 beauty and lifestyle samples

This month my box included Fekkai Dry Shampoo, Not Soap, Radio Body Wash, Sumita Color Contrast Eyeliner, theBalm Read My Lips Lip Gloss, and Derma e Anti Wrinkle Exfoliating Cleanser. Birchbox has a few options each month- you can choose one of your samples, or you can choose a curated box, or you can choose to be completely surprised. I’m not particular about any of these options- I’ve done all three, and it really depends on whether or not anything really jumps out at me. This month, I was really into the curated box! So, nothing here is a surprise to me, and I don’t mind at all. I’m really into dry shampoo, and having sample sizes around is great for travel. I’ve loved the Not Soap, Radio brand, so always choose their items when available. The eyeliner is interesting (the color was actually a surprise, since they were randomly assigned) but I’m looking forward to seeing if I can make a blue eyeliner work. I’m pretty well set on glosses now, but I’m sure that one of my sisters will love this. And the exfoliating cleanser is perfect- it has a nice texture, but also feels super moisturizing, which is great for my sad winter skin. Overall, I’m pretty happy with my Birchbox this month.

Oh!! Right! So this box was sponsored by Rent the Runway, which is a service that I love and use regularly, so there is a $30 coupon code in the box. I have an event coming up next month that I need a dress for, so I was so thrilled to get this discount! I know that alot of people might not have a reason to use their code, but since I do, this box is an incredible value for me- I couldn’t be more satisfied!

SampleSociety February 2015

Allure Sample Society

Monthly delivery for $15/month

Includes 4-5 full and deluxe sized beauty and makeup samples

This month I received nugg Face Masks, Nails Inc Polish, Batiste Dry Shampoo, Chloe Love Story Perfume Sample, and StriVectin Intensive Illuminating Serum. So let’s start right in on the StriVectin- it was mistakenly sent out last month, so they resent it…and I’m not mad! It has a great value, and the packaging is perfect for saving to use when I travel. You know how I feel about perfume samples (meh) and we talked about my love for dry shampoos above in the Birchbox (yay!) so we can skip over those items. The nail polish is an interesting color, sort of a grey blue, and I’m not really sure about it. I’m not usually very adventurous with my nails, but it seems like I’m getting tons of polish lately, so my nails are currently a minty green and I’ll probably try this color next- why not? And lastly, the masks. I tried the moisturizing one last night, and it was pretty effective. The thing is, if Sample Society had only sent one of these I probably would have been pretty unimpressed with this box. I know adding two more doesn’t significantly increase the value but it does expose me to more products- and that’s my end game. So for me, this box was was a win! Not thrilling, by any means, but I feel pretty satisfied.

So far, no one else seems to be getting boxes- are you guys telling me that I’m the only one among my readers that subscribes? If not, tell me what you guys are looking forward to in the mail 🙂



Wellness Wednesday: She Reads Truth

Happy Wellness Wednesday, my friends! I hope you are enjoying a very reflective Ash Wednesday, as well. You might remember that 2015 is my journey in ‘Wellness’ and one aspect of this is spiritual wellness. I’ve always had a pretty strong sense of spirituality- I was raised in the Catholic Church, and I studied religions somewhat seriously in my undergrad. There are so many interesting and compelling aspects of each religion, but I still identified most strongly with the Roman Catholic doctrine on which I was raised, so when we moved to Columbus I joined a local parish and began to contribute to that community as a lay minister.

And then…and then our wedding happened. The experience that my husband and I had with the administration and leadership of the Parish was nothing short of appalling, and it became readily apparent that we were not engaged in a community that was either productive, or supportive, or even particularly community oriented. I was so disappointed- actually, I was heartbroken, and furious. And I knew (hoped?) that it wasn’t a reflection of the larger Catholic Church, but all the same- I quit my church.

Anyway, how this ties back into Wellness Wednesday- I’m really to get my spirituality back on track! I’ve maintained a sense of prayerfulness and quiet reflection over the past two years, sure, but now that I’ve had my cooling off period, I recognize that I need to re-engage in the Catholic Church in a more formal way…and Lent is the perfect season for such an embarkation. One tool that I’m really excited about is an app/website/daily email called She Reads Truth.

She Reads Truth

I discovered She Reads Truth through a friend, and it might be best described as a virtual Bible study for women. It was developed by a group of women who are really committed to making the word of God significant in their lives- I’m not sure, but I don’t believe that any of them are Catholic…and that doesn’t matter at all! What does matter is that they make the Bible accessible, and digestible, and relevant.

She Reads Truth has a number of study plans that cover different books, and different topics. Through Lent, I’m very excited to be following along their Lenten Plan. I signed up for the daily newsletter, but you can also follow the current plan for free on the website, or you can use the app for a nominal charge. As I understand it, there is a community engagement option if you’re interested- I am not into that just yet, but it’s nice to know that it exists. For me, I just prefer to do the daily readings and reflect in solitude. I’m hoping that, by interacting with the Bible and Lenten teachings for the next several weeks, I can begin to rebuild my relationship with the Church and address any deficiencies in spiritual wellness.


So that’s Ash Wednesday, and how it applies to Wellness Wednesday, and yet another awesome resource that I’ve found in my quest for wellness. Tell me- what aspect of wellness are you all working towards?

February Popsugar MUSTHAVE Review

Popsugar February 2015PopSugar Must Have

Monthly delivery for $39.95/month

Includes “must have” items across all catagories, targeted for women, chosen by PopSugar editors.Popsugar February 2015b

This month’s box included an ACME Bamboo Cutting Board and Cheese Knife, US Apothecary Rose Water Bubble Bath, Tarte Cosmetics 12-hour Blush in True Love, Chuao Rocky Road Chocolate Bar, Sally Beauty Finger Paints Nailpolish in Pink Imagination, Figs and Rouge Lip Balm in Pomegranate, and Bauble Bar Mini Arrow Necklace in Gold. As it turns out…everything in this box is awesome. The cutting board is my least favorite item, due to the heart shape and the ACME engraving, but I bet I will still put it to use as a blog prop and for entertaining. Many people commented that they don’t like the rose scented bubble bath, but I’m secretly an elderly woman and love it- so much so that I drove to my parents’ house this weekend so I could use their whirlpool tub. People also commented that they didn’t love the necklace, due to the rhinestones or the metal they received, but I really like it- I think the design is dainty, which I prefer, and I’ve started to wear more gold, so that was a win for me. The Tarte blush is a super high value item, and Tarte is a really great brand, so I’m interested to see what the blush looks like with my already pink skin! I always like getting nail polish and lip balm, so these two items are a hit. And the chocolate…delish! Overall, I think it’s pretty clear that I love the February box, and am not at all dissatisfied with the curation or value.

As it relates to costs and expenditures, though…I bought the Popsugar box in December, and used several of the items as gifts. Then in January I had a 50% off code, so felt okay buying it again. I failed to cancel my subscription before February, though, and won’t give anything away, so this is $40 I’m just spending on myself. The items are absolutely a great value, but I probably only would have bought the candy bar of my own volition. So, in the end, I decided to unsubscribe for March because I was having a hard time justifying that expenditure…we’ll see if the spoilers can sway that decision 🙂

Chocolate Caramel Turtle Cake

So you all are pretty familiar with my dessert game by now- while I love to bake desserts, I don’t love to be eating them all week. To help combat this, I’ve developed a habit of making desserts on the Sundays that Evan works. That way, I can swing by the station and enjoy one slice of cake, but give the rest away to some very appreciative men. This strategy has been very helpful for my waistline, and I suspect that it’s also a hit with the firefighters 🙂

Chocolate Caramel Turtle CakeAnyway, this week I wanted to make something that would be a great Valentines dessert-  nothing heart shaped or pink, necessarily, but something that was a little bit more decadent than usual. It wasn’t heart to settle on a chocolate cake (because I have a great, fool proof recipe!) but choosing the toppings was a bit more of a challenge. In the end, I settled on a ‘turtle’ theme- because what’s more decadent than salted caramel with a double dose of chocolate, topped with toasted pecans?

Chocolate Caramel Turtle Cake3This is a great cake recipe, for which I can’t take any credit, since it’s a very slightly modified version of Hershey’s Black Magic Cake. I used a ganache/buttercream hybrid that whipped up in a second for the chocolate portion, and then made some dulce de leche, slightly thinned so it would spread. This cake isn’t difficult, by any means, but does have a few steps- so plan to take some time the morning that you plan to serve it (or, even better, the day before!). Also, it doesn’t travel very well- when I was driving to the station the top layer slid all over and the middle filling oozed everywhere. Beautiful or not, though, this cake is sooo delicious, and perfect for your next special event!

Chocolate Caramel Turtle Cake


2 cans sweetened condensed milk

Hershey’s Black Magic Cake (Original Recipe Here), with minor changes

2 cups sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup dark chocolate cocoa

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1 cup strong black coffee, still hot

2 tbsp white vinegar

1/2 cup butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup pecans

Chocolate Frosting:

1 7 oz bag dark chocolate chips

¼ cup milk

1 stick butter, but into pieces

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups powdered sugar

Start with the caramel, which is really dulce de leche: peel the labels off both cans, and plunk them in a saucepan. Cover with water and boil for about three hours. Remove from the pan, let cool for at least an hour, then empty into a mixing bowl, stirring in some milk (if necessary) to achieve a spreadable consistency.

Make the cake: heat the oven to 325 and spray two 9 inch baking pans. Stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, soda and powder in a large bowl. Add eggs, milk, vinegar, coffee, melted butter and vanilla. Mix only until the ingredients are incorporated, and be aware that the batter will be pretty thin. Divide into pans and bake at 325 for 30 minutes, then increase the heat to 350 and cook 15 more minutes, checking every five minutes to see if the cake is set and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely. (Baking the cakes at 325 for the first portion is sooo important- the low temp allows the batter to cook without puffing up in the middle, resulting in perfectly flat cakes that I didn’t have to level myself!)

Toast the pecans: spread out on a baking sheet and slip them into the oven while the cake is baking. Bake for about 10 minutes, stirring after 5 minutes to prevent burning. Remove from the over, sprinkle with a generous amount of kosher salt, and set aside.

Make the ganache/frosting/franache?/ganosting?: pour the chocolate chips and milk into a microwave safe bowl and microwave for one minute, then let it sit in the microwave for a few minutes while you’re stirring pecans or rinsing dishes to put in the dishwasher. Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir until smooth and silky. Add the butter pieces, then assemble your hand mixer (or stand mixer, I guess, if you’re so moved). Beat the buttery ganache until the butter is completely incorporated, then add the sugar and vanilla and whip til fluffy. Depending on your climate/humidity and ingredients, you may need to add a touch more powdered sugar to get the frosting to a place where it’s really soft, but holds its shape. Use discretion, my friends, but don’t be afraid! Once your frosting is the perfect consistency, set it aside and get ready for assembly.

Assemble your masterpiece: first, make sure your cakes are level, and place them side by side on the cooling rack (or cutting board, or wherever is handy). Spoon half of the frosting on each layer and spread it out so it’s about a half inch or so from the edge- and make a shallow well in the center. Then, spoon half of the dulce de leche into the center of the chocolate clouds, further spreading the chocolate until it almost reaches the edges. Sprinkle each layer with half of the toasted pecans and, if you like, some kosher salt. Transfer your layers to a serving platter, choosing the most beautiful as the top layer (I like to assemble them each separately to avoid smooshing the filling as much as possible). Service asap, and take any compliments as modestly as possible, while still acknowledging the fact that you are a baking goddess 🙂

Blueberry Lemon Smothered French Toast

Oooh my word, friends- I have the best idea for your brunching needs this weekend! French toast is a culinary delight in its own right, but smother it with lemon mascarpone filling and drizzle that with blueberry sauce, and it is perfection.

Smothered French ToastMy appreciation for French toast began remarkably early. For my sixth birthday, my mom decided that I could have a slumber party to celebrate. I’m sure it was quite the kindergarten rager, but all I really remember is my dad making breakfast the next morning; there may have been a dozen little girls, and we inhaled two loaves worth of French toast. With three sisters, slumber parties would become a regular occurrence at our house, and you could always count on Dad in the kitchen in the morning, manning the electric griddle to make French toast as fast as we could eat it.

Smothered French Toast 3It’s not surprising, then, that French toast holds a special nostalgic place in my heart, and at least one other post in my blog (you may or may not recall my Caramel Bananas French Toast, a few months ago). So this weekend, I’m offering you another insanely delicious variation on a classic- my Blueberry Lemon Smothered French Toast.

Smothered French Toast 2This version is smothered, not stuffed. I don’t love stuffed French toast because I think it’s really messy, and because I like my eggs to cook through- not raw egg batter hiding in my bread. For this one, I like to use a nice whole grain bread for some texture, and make traditional French toast. Then I smear on some lightly sweetened mascarpone, mixed with lemon juice and peel, and top with a super easy blueberry compote. This dish is fancy enough to impress brunch guests, but totally easy enough to make before climbing back into bed. I hope you enjoy!

Blueberry Lemon Smothered French Toast

  • 4 oz mascarpone cheese
  • 1 tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1 lemon, zested and sliced in half
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • Salt
  • 1 loaf whole grain bread, sliced about ½-3/4 inches thick
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • ½ tsp cinnamon

Make the filling: stir the mascarpone together with the lemon zest, and the juice of ½ lemon. Stir in a sprinkle of salt, and set aside.

Make the compote: in a sauce pan, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Stir in the blueberries and juice of ½ lemon, and simmer until thick (I let it simmer away while I’m making the French toast, checking occasionally and adding water if too thick).

Make the French toast: whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Add some butter to a skillet or griddle that’s over medium heat and coat the bottom. Working with one slice of bread at a time, dip each side into the egg mixture and lay on the griddle. Allow to cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side, or until lovely and golden. Plate the French toast, spread with each slice with the cheese filling and spoon over the compote. Enjoy!!

Amazing Chicken Tortilla Soup

When I mentioned a few weeks ago that I am bringing a strong soup game this winter, I was not kidding! I have classes on Monday and Tuesday evenings after work, from 5:00-9:30, so dinner usually needs to be completely prepared in advance, or I end up eating take-out…which makes me feel awful and doesn’t do anything to set me up for the rest of the week. To combat this, I’ve taken to making a huge pot of soup on Sundays and eating it for lunch, dinner, or snacks the entire week (or until it runs out). Knowing that I have a healthy, delicious option mere moments away usually deters me from hitting the drive-thru between work and class, or on my way home.

I’m a person that usually struggles with left overs, though- I get bored easily, and I tend to hate the taste of microwaved food (why, yes- I am a finicky eater!). So I know that, if I’m planning to eat leftovers, they need to be really delicious, insanely flavorful, and need to reheat well. In my experience, dishes with lots of liquid tend to do best in the microwave- otherwise the texture can change and that definitely affects the taste. Soup fits the bill in this regard, especially one that is jam-packed with flavor, like today’s Chicken Tortilla Soup.

Chicken Tortilla Soup3Full disclosure: I have been working on tortilla soup for about two years now, and it’s always come up short. I don’t like a creamy soup (a la Max and Erma’s velveeta disaster) but I couldn’t seem to get enough body with a broth based version. Then I couldn’t figure out which peppers were best for maximum flavor without overpowering spiciness. Finally, through uncountable trial batches (don’t worry, no one minded taste testing) I landed on this incredible recipes.

Chicken Tortilla Soup2Friends, I am not exaggerating when I say that this soup is incredible.

This is one of my recipes that is not particularly quick, nor simple. There are plenty of short cuts available (like using rotisserie chicken and boxed stock/broth) though, so please don’t let that stop you! On the other hand, if you have two hours available on a Saturday afternoon, making this recipe from scratch would not be a bad way to spend your time.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Amazing Chicken Tortilla Soup

  • Olive oil
  • Chicken (one whole 4-5 lb chicken, or 2-3 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, or about 3-4 cups of shredded chicken)
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt**
  • 6-8 cups water or 4 cups of broth and some water**
  • 2 cans fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1(7 oz) can green chiles**
  • 2 chipotles in adobo**
  • 1/2 cup cilantro**
  • 1 onion
  • 1 orange or red pepper
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 cans black beans
  • 4 corn tortillas
  • 1 lime
  • Toppings: lime wedges, monterey cheese, avocado, crispy tortilla strips, sour cream, etc

** FOOD NOTES: the amount of broth you end up using is completely discretionary. I like a thinner soup, so I use more, and Evan likes a thicker soup, so he would prefer I use less. Add water and broth until you achieve a texture that makes you happiest. Salt is also completely discretionary- I use a pinch of salt at nearly every step, so in addition to the spice mix, I probably also salt the veggies, and the blended tomatoes, and the final product. The only way you will learn what you prefer is to taste often, and practice. Remember, you can always add more! As it pertains to heat- the green chiles are not particularly spicy, but the chipotles are. If you’re trying for a less spicy soup, I recommend that you use the chiles and only use the adobo sauce that the chipotles are in (it has a distinctly smokey flavor that you could leave out, but is better in!). And the cilantro- I know that ½ cup seems like a lot, and it would be if it were being served fresh! But after it cooks for a while in the soup, all that flavor is subdued into something much more subtle. I really suggest that you stick to that amount and try it- I don’t think you will be disappointed J

Prepare the chicken and broth: First, stir together the spice mixture. If you already have shredded chicken, stir about half of the spices into the chicken, set that aside, and move on to the next step. If you’re using the raw chicken (whole or parts) use half of the spices, and rub them into the flesh of the chicken. Heat a heavy cast iron to medium high heat, add a tablespoon of oil, and sear the meat for a few minutes on all sides, until browned. Cover with water (about 8 cups) top with the lid, and let simmer for about 1 hour (or until a meat thermometer indicates that it is cooked through). When the chicken is cooked, transfer to plate or cutting board to cool for at least 30 minutes. Strain the broth into another bowl/pitcher/large measuring cup, and clean the dutch oven. When cool enough to handle, pull the chicken from the bones and tear into bite sized pieces; discard the carcass.

Prepare the broth component: In a blender, mix the tomatoes, chiles, chipotles, and cilantro. If you need to, add some of the broth to thin to a pourable consistency- but you don’t want it to be very thin at this point.

Prepare the soup: Dice the onion, orange pepper and celery into a medium dice, and finely slice the tortillas. Mince the garlic, and drain and rinse the black beans. Heat the dutch oven or soup pot to medium or medium-low heat, and add a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Saute the onion, pepper and celery for three or four minutes, until they start to soften a bit. Add the tortillas and garlic, and season with a pinch of salt. Cook this for another seven or eight minutes, adjusting the heat as needed, until the tortillas start to break down. Add the other half of the spice mixture, cooking for a minute, then stir in the chicken and beans. This will be a bit dry, but cook for two or three more minutes (you really want the tortillas to break down as much as possible before adding more liquid, to add texture and release that corn flavor). Stir in the blended pepper and tomato mix, and cook for another fifteen minutes. Finally, stir in the reserved broth- you may need to supplement with water to achieve your desired soup consistency. Simmer for twenty minutes, then remove from the heat and stir in the juice of one lime, and salt to taste.

Serve: with any and all toppings. I like avocado and extra lime, Evan likes extra tortillas to thicken- do it up!

DarbySmart, January 2015

Happy February, my friends! I heard this morning that Punxsutawney Phil has predicted a late winter…and I totally agree with him J I just don’t think that we’ve received quite the winter we were expecting yet, and I’m still anticipating much more weather to come!

While I am definitely eager to get outside and start gardening/jogging/generally enjoying not being cooped up, I’ve also been able to keep busy indoors this year. I generally like to spend the winter months doing creative things, and this year has been no exception. We’re still slowly plugging away at our fireplace remodel, and coordinating a dedicated yoga room, and I’ve developed a cross stitching habit, but I was also generously gifted a subscription to DarbySmart for my birthday (aren’t my sisters just those most thoughtful??).

DarbySmart January 2015DarbySmart is a monthly subscription box that is craft focused; each box contains all of the supplies needed to complete one or more crafting products. For January, I received a paint stamping kit and tea towels to be stamped. The kit included paint, a paint tray, a paint roller, linoleum block, a block carving tool, and two towels.

DarbySmart January 2015cI decided that I wanted to do a geometric boarder on two sides of the towels and, after doodling around for a bit, settled on a herringbone pattern. Carving the block was actually a bit challenging, and I ended up carving out a portion of one of my nail beds, which was both painful and kind of gross. After the block was carved, though, stamping the towels was pretty straight forward and I really like the results! (One minor complaint, though- I thought the ink was blue, since the print on the bottle is, so didn’t realize that my herringbone pattern would end up looking kind of like tire tracks, with the black ink.)

DarbySmart January 2015bOverall, I’m really happy with DarbySmart. Having an entire craft project shipped to me is super convenient, and I love that the resulting product is something that I can actually use. Also, I mentioned that the block was a challenge, but that was a good thing- I felt accomplished by the time I finished, and not like I was just going a craft for the sake of completing something. Anyway, this was a great way to get some creativity into my life (and my winter) and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the next few months!