March Subscription Box Review: Birchbox and Sample Society

Monthly delivery for $10/month

Includes 4-5 beauty and lifestyle samples

This month my box included amika Bombshell Blowout Spray, Cargo Water Resistant Blush, Super Goop CC Cream, Number 4 Clarifying Shampoo, Whish Hair Inhibiting Gel, and a bonus Number 4 Reconstructing Masque. So Birchbox has a program where each month you have the option to pick between 3 highlighted samples, or you can pick a box that has been chosen by a guest curator, or you can let BB surprise you. This month I wasn’t really into any of the highlighted samples, so I opted to get a surprise box…and I got the Blowout Spray, which was one of the highlighted samples. This isn’t too big of a deal, since I chose to be surprised, but a interesting that the surprise was up for grabs. Anyway, this box is kind of ‘meh’ for me. I’ve gotten a fair amount of blush lately so that’s probably a sample I’ll donate, along with the Whish- I’m a little leery of ‘hair inhibiting’. The CC cream is nice, but also tiny! I don’t know if I’ll get more than an application or two out of it. The Shampoo and Masque are curious- I would normally be frustrated to get just shampoo without conditioner, but they sent it as a bonus sample, but it’s a tiny amount of conditioner compared to the shampoo, but it’s a bonus so I can’t really complain. So it’s pretty clear that this box wasn’t a run away winner, but I don’t hate it. For $10, though, it’s not a great value for me and I’m a little frustrated.
Sample Society
Monthly delivery for $15/month
Includes 4-5 full and deluxe sized beauty and makeup samples
This month I received Juice Beauty Age Defy Moisturizer, Benefit Roller Lash Mascara, Oscar Blandi Texture and Volume Spray, Cargo Cosmetics Lip Gloss, and Malin + Goetz Mojito Lipbalm. Let me just get this out of the way- I was so, irrationally irritated when I opened this box and saw glittery lipgloss. I ended my sub with Ipsy because they kept sending me childish makeup, so seeing that in this box (and having it be the full size item, no less) was so disappointing! I thought maybe I should give it the benefit of the doubt, so I tried it on, but no dice- this gloss is full on glitter. Everything else in this box was pretty underwhelming for me, as well- I already have at least two tubes of the Juicy Beauty moisturizer, so I don’t need that, and Sephora is also giving away the mascara samples, so that doesn’t seem like a great value. The Malin + Goetz balm is nice (good flavor and pretty moisturizing) and the texture spray turned out to be great for my newly short hair. Overall, my frustration with the glitter gloss wasn’t cancelled out by the other samples, so I’m pretty disappointed in Sample Society this month. On the other hand, I’ve been pretty satisfied with them in general over the past few months, so maybe this is a case of ‘you can’t win them all’? We’ll keep our hopes up for a better showing next month.

Sweet and Tangy Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

I think about food an awful lot. Like, I think about food what foods I shouldn’t eat, and what food I’d like to eat immediately, and food that was really amazing and I’d like to recreate, and food that I made that was kind of a failure, and…food in general, really. You know how people say that scents can be memory triggers and can tie you closely to a person, or a place, or an emotion? Well, food is like that for me.

Sometimes I think about how, when my parents wanted to go out and my grandparents would babysit us, my grandpa would make us scrambled eggs with ham (and then I get sad, because I really missed getting to know him as an adult). And my other grandpa would always buy yesterday’s donuts at the grocery store and microwave them, and they were far superior to any fresh donuts (he’s blessedly still with us, so that’s such a happy memory). When drive in movies used to be more prevalent, my parents would load us all up in the station wagon with blankets and pillows and homemade frosted brownies- those always taste like summer time and friendship to me.

Cabbage Rolls5After Evan’s grandma passed away last year we happened to sign up for a pasta making class, and Evan shared some memories from his childhood- his family would come to his grandparents house for dinner and they would feast on her sauce that she cooked all day, using whatever meat was on sale. I love hearing these sweet memories, and I was happy that we could carry on her legacy on some small way- even if the pasta we were making that day was a far cry from Grandma D’s sauce.

Similarly, a few months ago I was sitting with my grandma and her sister; my grandma has had some health scares lately, so I try to soak up any time I can with her. Conversation wandered to the topic of food, as it tends to do, and Grandma and my Aunt Julie started talking about the kinds of food their mom used to make. Aunt Julie mentioned that cabbage rolls had made a regular appearance in their childhood home- much to the clear distaste of my grandmother 🙂 I’ve never had cabbage rolls, nor desired to make them, but I’m really feeling compelled lately to make food that ties me to family, or to memories of family. So, armchair psychoanalyze me if you must, but today I have for you a recipe for Sweet and Tangy Cabbage Rolls.

Cabbae Rolls3To be clear, I’ve never made nor eaten cabbage rolls before I embarked on this mission. As such, I’ve relied on recipes sources from all over the internet, particularly this recipe and commentary from Mark Bittman, this recipe that involves gingersnaps from Spicy Southern Kitchen (though I didn’t actually use gingersnaps, and this recent post from Bev Cooks (who I only recently stumbled upon, but really adore). This recipe wasn’t necessarily a fast one (it look about 30 minutes to assemble and another hour to bake) but it was pretty easy, and I imagine that you could make it ahead of time and just bake when you needed it. From the perspective of a cabbage roll skeptic…it was actually really delicious! Evan and I have been eating leftovers this week, and they’re so, so good! Evan also suggested that this is a meal that he’s like to make at the firehouse, so take that however you choose, but I see it as a stamp of approval 🙂

Cabbage Rolls4

Sweet and Tangy Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

1 head napa cabbage
1 medium yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1 pound meatloaf mix (or ground beef or pork, but I love to use meatload mix for things like this)
Olive oil
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp parsley
1 tsp thyme
½ cup jasmine rice (or whatever you have on hand- I had jasmine, and Bev said it was okay)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
Salt and Pepper
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 14 oz can tomato puree

Prepare the cabbage leaves: put a pot of water on to boil, and slice the bottom two-ish inches from the cabbage. You should be able to peel apart the leaves now, so separate about 20 of them. What we’re trying to do, here, is soften the leaves so they roll nicely without breaking. To make that happen, bring the water to a boil, then submerge each leaf for about 30 seconds to one minute. I did six or so leaves at a time so, once the water was boiling, this step only took about two minutes. Remove the leaves from the water and drain on a towel, and set aside.

Prepare the sauce: Dice the onion and mince the garlic. In a pan over medium heat, melt the butter in the oil and add the onions. Cook for about five minutes, or until the onions are nice and soft and translucent. Season with kosher salt and cracked pepper, and add the garlic. Cook for another three minutes or so, stirring frequently, until the onions start to take on some color. At this point, remove half of the onion mixture to a mixing bowl and set those aside to cool. With the other half of the onions remaining in the pan, add the sugar and vinegar- stand back, as the vinegar will hit your sinuses if you stand right over the pan. Cook this mixture down until it seems like there’s very little liquid left- that will only take a minute or two.Then pour in the tomato puree, along with about a half a can worth of water. Stir everything together, add salt and pepper to taste, then lower the heat to a simmer while you make the meat mixture. You want this sauce to a bit thinner than jarred sauce, but not watery, so cook it down or add water as needed to achieve a good consistency.

Prepare the meat: To the bowl with the cooled onions, add the ground meat, egg, milk, parsley, thyme, and rice, then season with kosher salt and cracked pepper. Use your hands to mix everything thoroughly- if it seems like the mixture is a little loose, wait a few seconds then mix again…sometimes it just needs to rest a minute, but without over working it.

: I used a white Corningware casserole, and I only mention this to say that I think a 9×13 would be too big- try for something a bit smaller and a bit deeper. Anyway, lay down about two layers of uncooked cabbage leaves (I read that this will stop anything from burning, but this may be completely unnecessary). Then, start the rolls. Lay down a cabbage leaf, with the stem side towards you, and place about ¼ cup of the meat mixture at the bottom. Roll it over once, then fold both sides in like a burrito, and continue to roll to the end of the leaf. Lay the cabbage roll seam side down in the casserole and continue until you run out of leaves or meat (in my case, I had a bit of meat left over, so I made a meatball and added it to the pan). Add enough sauce to cover the rolls, then cover with a lid or with foil. Bake at 350 for one hour, then remove from the oven and allow to rest for a minute. Evan and I enjoyed these by themselves with only bread for the sauce, but also thought they would be really good with mashed potatoes (does that sounds weird?). Either way, they were super delicious and, not surprisingly, reminded me of food that my grandma used to make when I was very little- I call that a success.

Wellness Wednesday: Nighttime Routine

Happy Wellness Wednesday, my friends! I mentioned on Monday that things are getting pretty busy in my neck of the woods- work is picking up, and it’s getting to be the time in the semester where I’m getting deep into research and writing and presenting for my classes. For me, this is usually the point in my life where all the rules go out the window and I just doc whatever I need to do to aim order to keep my head above water. This strategy has been successful, in terms of getting through rough patches, but hasn’t really done anything to preserve my sanity.

Enter: my wellness routines. You all know that 2015 is my year of wellness and establishing some healthy rituals seemed like an easy way to ensure that i am able to refocus on wellness every single day. Today I’ll talk about my night time routine, and If anyone is interested I can follow with my healthy morning routine 🙂
So I’ve designed my bedtime routine to help make sure that I am in the best possible position for have a great morning and a great day. (Oh! And I’ve linked to items in my routine that I actually use, just so you can see what I’m working with. I’m always really interested in real products that people use, so thought you might be too!)

Nighttime Routine1. Sleep app
I first started using a sleep app last summer, and at first I thought it was silly- how in the hell is technology supposed to help me sleep? Oh, friends- I had so much to learn. I use Sleep as Android, my experience with it has been great, and I really look forward to talking more about it in a post dedicated to wellness apps. For the purposes of my night routine, though, my sleep at knows what time I like to wake up in the morning, so it knows what time I need to go to bed in order to get eight hours of sleep, which is my preferred duration. Using this information, the app lets me know when it’s an hour before bedtime, and as soon as I hear that alarm I know that I need to start to power down and start my bedtime routine. It’s so handy!

2. Power down screens
The first thing that happens when I get the alarm is I start to power down my screens. Evan definitely makes fun of my technology addiction in our house- it’s not uncommon for me to have my laptop, phone, and ipad going all at once for different functions, and frequently there’s a tv on besides. A ton of research shows that screen exposure before bed, especially phones, computers and tablets, leads to difficulty falling a sleep and lower quality of sleep. So, one hour before bed I start to power down. My laptop goes in the yoga room for a morning practice, my iPad gets plugged in downstairs (so I’m not temped) and my phone gets plugged in on my bedside table. Ideally my phone would go in another room, but I use it for sleep tracking, so…bedside table it is.
2. Coffee pot
My coffee routine is absolutely the best part of my morning, so I always make sure to set it up at night. Here’s the thing, guys- I use an in-bedroom coffee set-up, and I cannot even underscore the difference that this has made in my morning. It’s awesome. So, I have this coffee pot at the end of my bed (it’s very inexpensive and it’s small, but it’s programmable). I program it to start at 6:00, and then add fresh coffee and fill with water.  It is a small miracle, then, to be able to wake up to the sound and smell of coffee brewing 🙂
3. Prepare my room
I like to take a few minutes to straighten my room for sleeping. Nothing crazy, but I clear off my bedside table and make sure that my laundry is either in a hamper or in the closet. I also like to staighten our sheets and blankets- Evan and I have separate sheets and blankets on the bed, to preserve our sanity, so I like to make sure those are pulled up and separated so we can just climb in. This winter has been brutally dry, so I’ve also recently added in the step of filling and starting our humidifier for the night. This usually takes less than five minutes altogether, but it’s so important to me to make sure my room feels calm and organized- it’s much easier for me to fall asleep if I’m not thinking about what a mess it is.
4. Prepare food, clothes, bag, for next day
I mentioned above that I like to use my night routine to set myself up for the next day, and here’s where that really comes into play. I know it reminds you of elementary school, but I absolutely set my clothes out for the day, pack my lunch, and organize my awesome work bag to include everything I need. I do morning yoga, so I also set my yoga clothes out at the end of my bed so I can just toss those on as soon as I wake up. If there are things that I feel like I might forget (like I need to print something, or stop at the store on my way, or get gas) I write myself a post it and stick it next to my bag where I’ll see if before I leave. This habit helps me to intentionally plan for the next day, and not have to think about thingsg in the morning when I’m rushing around. Like I said, childish, but it works.
5. Down load into thought journals or meditate
Occasionally, I just can’t turn my brain off enough to relax at night. For these times, I have two resources. One option is using a journal to do a brain dump; I like to use the Simplified Journal by Emily Ley because there are a few prompts and ton of space for me to get out everything that’s on my mind. A thought journal can be helpful for tracking thoughts, concerns, and obligations, but sometimes I don’t really need to commit those things to paper. In those cases, I like to just meditate- I like guided meditations slime the ones offered through Headspace. I don’t get my thoughts out, necessary, but I can come to peace with my ticker tape of thoughts and find some space for mental clarity. Either way, this is absolutely a vital part of my winding down.
6. Body maintenance 
I know showering preferences can be divisive, but I like to shower right before bed. For me, it means that I always climb into clean sheets and it conveniently eliminates the need to make time for that in the morning. A lot of people can’t, or don’t prefer to, shower in the morning but I like it and studies suggest that it results in a drop in body temp that makes falling asleep easier. Even if I don’t actually shower before bed, I absolutely wash my face and apply eye cream and moisturizer so that it has time to work over night. And, of course, I brush my teeth and address my contacts and all that jazz; the usual.
7. Pajamas
I didn’t used to wear dedicated pajamas, and even now I don’t always. But there certainly is a case to be made for clothes that are dedicated to one activity- sleeping. Just as experts make the argument that all you should use your bed for is sleeping, having clothes that are only sleeping clothes really cues your mind, letting it know that it’s time for sleep and preparing for that task. Plus, I’ve recently learned that VS jammies are actually really comfy and convenient!
8. Book time
Finally. If there’s any time left over in my evening, I like to read a book. Like, an actual book. As in paper and pages. I’m a reader to start with, but this is my time for trashy novels or the magazines that I haven’t had time to read all month, or doing crossword puzzles or sudoku, or anything that involves paper- I also sometimes too needlework in this time, if I’m so moved. The point here

Chicken Tikka Masala

Oh my word, friends- these past few weeks have been something else! I’m not claiming to have more going on than anyone else, but I am definitely saying that I have more going on than I would prefer 🙂 Between work and class and life- who has time to do anything??

Chicken TikkaIt is for this reason (insanely jam packed schedules) that today’s post is so awesome- I have the most delicious, relatively not- unhealthy, time sensitive dinner. I’m going to call it Chicken Tikka Masala, but you should know that it’s really just my take on the dish. If this were a traditional recipe, my chicken would be marinated in yogurt for a while and then roasted, and I would likely be making my own spice blend. But this isn’t a traditional recipe, so…..LIBERTY!!

The background is this- during a work lunch last week, a friend mentioned that she had made a really good Chicken Tikka in her slow cooker, so she agreed to forward the recipe. (Actually, we were mainly talking about chicken thighs, and how I cannot handle cooking with them or eating them. The fat, and the changing textures, and the color…I’ve tried, but I simply cannot get behind them. Anyway, I digress.) I don’t like using a crock pot (I know, what am I??) so I updated the process and changed around a few ingredients. After I got home from grocery shopping over the weekend I was positively starving, so I threw this together.Chicken Tikka2And it. was. magical.

Chicken Tikka3Seriously, this was a 30 Minute Meal, from grocery bags to sitting down at the table. I was feeling extra time conscious so I used frozen rice, but you can definitely put the rice on first and then start the chicken. And the flavor…amazing!! The only thing missing from my beloved Aab India is the naan, and I didn’t even miss that too terribly. All I’m saying here is that if you’re in need of a quick, delicious weekday meal that doesn’t involve stopping for takeout, this is a definite winner. Give it a try!

Chicken Tikka Masala

Adapted from The Lemon Bowl

2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cleaned
1 medium yellow onion
15 oz can light coconut milk
1 cup plain greek yogurt
About 5 tbsp tomato paste (get a tiny can and use a little more than half)
2 tablespoons grated ginger root (I used the squeeze tube…)
2 garlic cloves, chopped or grated…or in a squeeze tube
3 tablespoons garam masala, divided (I know that you’re thinking you’ll never use this after this recipe, so why buy it? Answer: so you can keep making this recipe.)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoon salt, divided
2-4 tbsp sriracha
1 tsp smoked chipotle powder (optional, but awesome)
½ cup chopped cilantro
Olive oil

Jasmine or basmati rice (Trader Joes makes frozen, so…efficiency!)

Prepare the sauce: in a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, coconut milk, tomato paste, ginger, garlic, 2 tbsp garam masala, starch and 2 tbsp sriracha. Set aside. Chop the onion to about a medium dice.

Prepare the chicken: Heat a wide, heavy pan to medium high and add about 1 tbsp olive oil. Trim any visible fat from the chicken, cut into 1 inch chunks, and add to the hot pan. Cook the chicken for about seven or eight minutes, turning occasionally so that the edges take on some color. Add the onion, along with 1 tbsp garam masala, 1 tsp kosher salt, and smoke chipotle powder. After about two minutes, pour the yogurt sauce over the chicken, cover, and reduce heat to medium or even medium low (hint: it gets much darker as it cooks). Cook for about fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally (After ten minutes or so, give it a taste test. Add salt and the rest of the sriracha to taste). Remove from the heat and let sit for a minute or two, then serve over rice. Sprinkle one some cilantro- it makes everything taste fresh and wonderful! Serve with naan, or some green veggies, or nothing at all. Life is busy, so you do you 🙂