1/31/16

Reading Roundup: January 2016

I thought I would start a new regular post on here, where I can share with you what I've read during the month. I have posted a 2016 TBR, but I have already strayed from it and I can see myself doing that often! I also don't review every book that I read (though I do rate them all on Goodreads!), so this way I can share a more complete list of what I've been reading recently!



J A N U A R Y  *  2 0 1 6  *  R E A D I N G  *   R O U N D U P
  1. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith 
  2. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
  3. Starry Night by Isabel Gillies 
  4. Find Me Unafraid by Kennedy Odede & Jessica Posner  
  5. Here Comes Trouble by Michael Moore 
  6. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green
  7. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green 
  8. Fangirl: A Novel by Rainbow Rowell 
  9. The Danish Girl , by David Ebershoff 
  10. Brooklyn , by Colm Tóibín
  11. The Dogist , by Elias Weiss Friedman 
I welcome any reading suggestions you might have, or any conversation regarding these books in the comments! Happy reading!

1/29/16

Back to Basics: Winter Nighttime Skincare Routine


I'll admit that I'm a bit of a product junkie and I love trying out new products, often out of simple curiosity, but I'm always in search of that absolute holy grail product. However, as someone who deals with sensitive combination skin, it can be quite the drain on my skin when I'm forever switching it up to try new things. That's why I recently decided to calm it down a bit and go back to (mostly) basics.



Today I'm sharing with you my winter skincare routine. The main players involved are my Kiehl's products which I was using quite consistently awhile back, and to which I think I can attribute my best skin to. As I've been going through a bit of a rough patch skin wise (pun intended), I decided it was time for a re-visit to what I know for sure worked with my skin!









First up is the cleanser, which, I feel like I fell back in love with the moment I used it again. It's just the perfect cleanser in my eyes and I've yet to try anything that compares. It's creamy and gentle and I feel like I can tell it's cleaning my skin, without that obnoxious stripping/drying feeling that many cleansers cause. It doesn't smell too strong which is another bonus. I've had some skincare products that might have been winners but I just couldn't get past the smell. If it's too overpowering, then we're not going to get along! This Ultra Facial Cleanser from Kiehl's is just right for me. It doesn't have any grandiose claims and does what a cleanser should. A+!



Next up is this Ultra Facial Toner from Kiehl's, which I have actually never tried before but as its from the same line as the cleanser, I figured it was a safe bet and worth trying. I've had such success with Kiehl's products that I'm pretty much open to trying them all! When I've used this though, I've been fairly happy with the results - the main thing being that it doesn't dry out my skin. My skin seems to go through phases where it is either oily or dry but I hate that feeling like my skin has been deprived of all moisture and pulled tight through a taffy puller (too extreme?)!  No bueno!



Following the toner, I move on to my holy grail product. I can actually say that this is one of those products that I think is truly amazing and that I have yet to find anything to beat, and that is my Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate. I feel like its not often that I find a product that provides as noticeable results as this one has for me. It has really helped with any skin's appearance and it doesn't leave me feeling like my skin is overly greasy or clogged, which many serums do. I also love the smell. Every time I go to use this I feel like it immediately relaxes me! I'd have a stockpile of this one if it weren't a bit up there in price!


After using the concentrate, its on to eye cream. This Origins GinZing is one I had used a million years ago. I had received a sample of it, so it's back in the routine. I have no complaints about this cream but I can't say that its holy grail. I've tried a TON of eye creams over the years and I have yet to find one that really impresses me. If you know of any, please let me know in the comments. For now though, this one will do the trick.



Lastly, I use my Origins High-Potency Night-A-Mins. This is another product that I received as a sample and I like it fairly well. It doesn't have an overwhelming scent and seems to work well with my skin. What I really like about it is how quickly it seems to absorb into my skin, rather than leaving that greasy layer that some moisturizers seem to do. A little goes a long way too so this pot will last me quite a while!

For now, these are the products I'm sticking too as they seem to be cooperating decently with my skin. I do sometimes use my clarisonic but lately, I've been a bit on the fence as to whether or not it truly improves my skin or not (I'd welcome your thoughts on that as well). I'd love to know what your routine is like, so share in the comments!

1/25/16

Loaded Apple Carrot Muffins



Everyone loves cupcakes.They're sweet, often involve chocolate and are like little personal cakes. Muffins on the other hand? In my opinion, they're highly underrated. I like a sweet dessert just as much as anyone else, but I'm also a fan of a hearty muffin. Actually, I prefer it. Muffins can pack a lot of punch into a small package. These muffins, are packed to the brim with all sorts of good-for-you ingredients and might as well be called a health food.







If you're looking for a muffin to make to get you through breakfast for a week, then these are it. If you want to satisfy your sweet tooth, despite the healthy additions to these babies, they're sure to take care of that craving. They're so dense there's more mix-ins than muffin - so much so that they're bursting!

Loaded Apple Carrot Muffins 
Makes about 12 large muffins 
Ingredients 
  • 2 cups of whole wheat flour 
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda 
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon 
  • 1 tablespoon chia seed 
  • 1 tablespoon flax seed
  • 1 tablespoon hemp seed  
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans 
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries 
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut 
  • 2 cups chopped honey crisp apple 
  • 2 cups grated carrots 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1/3 cup crushed pineapple 
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons, of pineapple juice (reserved from crushed pineapple) 
  • 3 eggs 
  • 1/4 cup (scant) cup honey 
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar 
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil 
Directions 
  • Preheat oven to 350° (180°c) and prepare two muffin trays (for six muffins each - use one pan if doing cupcake size). I used coconut baking spray. 
  • Combine flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda and seeds together in a bowl and set aside. 
  • In a second bowl combine eggs, brown sugar, oil, and honey and wisk together well. 
  • To wet ingredients, add in remaining items until all combined. 
  • Slowly incorporate dry mix into wet ingredients until fully combined. 
  • Fill muffin pans with mixture and bake for 25 minutes to start, adding time as needed. Muffins are done when a toothpick comes out clean from middle. 
  • Remove from pans and let cool on a cooling rack (or eat while warm and steamy...I won't judge!)

1/22/16

Adorama Pix Gallery Wall (REVIEW)

Ever since I was little I have found that I often struggle with my surroundings staying the same for too long. I remember rearranging my bedroom so many times as a kid and while I've simmered down a bit as I've gotten older, I still like to spruce things up/change things a bit from time to time. This fall I decided that I wanted to switch out the decor above my bed for a gallery wall instead.



The process I went through was perhaps a bit backwards than what most people would do, as I went out in search of frames BEFORE knowing which photos I wanted to use. I did this because all too often, I have selected photos and had a difficult time finding the right frames, and since I had plenty of photos to choose from, I felt it was a safe gamble. I actually got my frames at AC Moore and I was quite pleased that they not only had some real wood frames, but that they had actual GLASS in them, rather than plastic. They were also 50% off so I got some great deals! 




After selecting some frames, I went through all the photos I had taken over the summer (and some from a trip to NY a couple of years back). I chose to print my photos with Adorama Pix. In the past, I will admit that I have chosen big box store developing...often out of convenience. I knew that I did not want to go that route for these and that I wanted quality. What I like about Adorama Pix is that they offer a lot of different options in terms of paper and styles for your images. They also offer retouching and inspect your images before sending them out. It's nice to have a bit of a human touch on a process that has become very technical!












I had a difficult time choosing what finish I wanted to go with for my prints, but I finally ended up  choosing the metallic prints - which, I absolutely did not regret! The photos of the prints in their respected frames, can barely do them justice. The metallic finish gives the images a dimension that a regular paper with a gloss finish definitely could not do. Not only were the prints reasonably priced, but they arrived fairly quickly as well considering that they were touched by an actual human. They also shipped them incredibly secure which was something I was worried about as I've had some shipping issues over the years. Since Adorama is a name often associated with photography, I had little doubt that their printing services would live up to the name, and I'm so happy with the way things turned out!

If you are looking to get some prints, I'd highly recommend Adorama Pix. I've included a referral link, and if you are a new user, you can receive a $5.00 credit following your first order of $15.00 or more. Digital is wonderful, but you can't beat an actual print photograph! :)

1/18/16

Apple Blueberry Crumble




I've spent the past few days in bed battling the typical seasonal sickness that seems to hit me this time of year. While I'm still feeling like crud, I just couldn't handle another wasted day. I figured baking something was a win/win situation for everyone and when I realized we had a ton of apples to use up, this apple and blueberry crumble seemed like the right solution. 








I love that this recipe is simple despite the number of ingredients involved. It's also vegan and one of my favorite vegan desserts. I used honey crisp apples because they're pretty much the only type of apple we seem to buy anymore, but you can switch that, and many of the other ingredients up to suit your tastes.  




Apple Blueberry Crumble [VEGAN] 
Ingredients: 

  • 4 cups of blueberries (I used frozen) 
  • 3 cups of honey crisp apples cut into cubes 
  • about a cup of maple syrup 
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice 
  • 1 cup and 6 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • 3.5 tablespoons of cinnamon 
  • 2 cups of oats 
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil 
  • 1/3 cup of cashew butter 
  • 3/4 cup chopped/crushed almonds 
Directions: 
  • Preheat oven to 350° (180°c) and set aside a 9x13 glass baking dish 
  • To make crumble: combine oats, 1 cup of flour, 3 tbsp. cinnamon, about half of the maple syrup, coconut oil (melted), cashew butter and crushed almonds in a bowl until well-combined and set aside. 
  • In a second bowl, combine blueberries, apples, lemon juice and remaining maple syrup, whole wheat flour and cinnamon until well combined. 
  • Line bottom of baking dish with blueberry apple mixture and spread out evenly. 
  • Top with crumble, and bake for about 25-30 minutes.
 
This crumble is delicious both warm and at room temperature. Top it with some whipped cream or ice cream, but its great on its own too! I'd love to know if you make this recipe, especially if you switch it up in some way. It's incredibly easy and versatile, so feel free to get creative!

1/15/16

Career of Evil: A Cormoran Strike Novel - Coffee Shoppe Reads (REVIEW)

Ever since the first Robert Galbraith novel came out, I was hooked. I devoured the first one...and then the second one. Perhaps it was timing, but it took me quite a long time to get through the third one. I started reading it during a particularly challenging semester, so it often sat by my bedside forgotten. Now that I'm on winter break, I've finally been able to finish it (ironically, it only took me a day to do so), and I'm happy to say that I'm one book down for my 2016 goal (as small as it is)!

 

For those that do not know, Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, who, like many, is one of my favorite authors. The Harry Potter books weren't merely a series that I read, but more like a life-changing experience. There was little question as to whether or not I would read the Cormoran Strike novels as well. Robert Galbraith books are like the treat for all the grown-up Harry Potter fans. They're dark & twisty (which is something I often enjoy in a book), yet they offer the same suspense that we once found in Harry Potter

Career of Evil is the third installment in the Cormoran Strike series. It focuses on the case of a serial killer who, having sent a severed leg to his office, is taking aim at Detective Cormoran Strike, his partner, and his livelihood. The case is gruesome and suspenseful and I enjoyed how the mystery did not unravel too soon. I had my guesses, but I was able to enjoy the mystery for far longer than some crime novels allow. 

The writing in Career of Evil is as fantastic as ever, and perhaps the star of the three novels so far. The character development goes deep and nothing seems cheesy or falls flat. You are truly able to immerse yourself in this dark and sordid world as Cormoron and his partner Robin, work in solving their case. The relationship that exists between the two of them, teases at being romantic which deepens their connection beyond mere boss and subordinate, and gives the reader something to wonder about as the book goes on. I personally, often find myself rooting for these types of situations, and the spark between Cormoran and Robin was clear in my eyes. 

If you haven't read any of Cormoran Strike series, I suggest you begin with The Cuckoo's Calling as it is the first. However, after reading the three released so far, I would have to say that Career of Evil is in my opinion, the star of the series and my personal favorite. I cannot wait to see what comes next!

I'd love to know what you thought of Career of Evil if you read it - please share in the comments! 



2016 Reading goal: 1/12 completed. 


1/11/16

The Ovary Negotiator: Chocolate cake with Nutella Espresso Buttercream



 Chocolate. It's one of the most important food groups. While it regularly causes me pain (yay, sensitive teeth!), its something I often cannot resist...particularly when my hormones are in control and chocolate feels like its more of a requirement than a desire). In one of those hormone driven baking sessions, my sister and I felt the need to whip up this cake.




Our goal was to marry together as many forms of chocolate as possible in hopes of appeasing our hormones. Let's be real...sometimes it feels like there is a hostage situation going on in which your ovaries are the captors. Enter: this cake. It's the perfect solution, and the great thing is that its one of those cakes in which little planning is needed. You likely have all the ingredients on hand. Nothing drives me more mad than scouring the internet for a new recipe to try and finding a bunch of contenders ....only to see they call for something perishable that I don't often keep as a standard item in my fridge (I'm looking at you heavy cream!).



The cake itself is straight from the back of the Hershey's cocoa box. Which, if you've never made before...don't let its thin/runny texture scare you. The first time I made this cake I thought something had gone horribly wrong. It turns out to be an amazingly moist and delicious chocolate cake though so definitely give this a try!

To make the cake a bit more unique, we made a buttercream with Nutella & espresso. Between the two layers of the cake I also added mini chocolate chips, and we added chocolate shavings to the top of the cake...just in case there wasn't enough chocolate.




The frosting was incredibly fluffy and could easily be eaten on its own...which means a lot coming from me because frosting is generally my least favorite part of a cake or any type of baked good as it's usually the part that offends my teeth the most. This frosting however, is less offensive and well worth making!




Chocolate Cake with Nutella Espresso Buttercream 

Cake: 


Frosting: 

5 cups of powdered sugar

1 cup of cocoa powder

3 sticks of butter

1/2 cup milk 

2 tsp vanilla 

2 tsp espresso 

1/2 cup Nutella* 

*** 

-Combine the dry ingredients and set aside. 

-In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the butter and Nutella together until smooth using a whisk attachment. 

-Add in the vanilla and some of the milk. 

-slowly begin to add the dry ingredients, alternating with the rest of the milk, as needed. 

-whip until ingredients are fully combined, and buttercream is nice and fluffy. 

Frost your cake (or grab a spoon), and enjoy!


Please note: when I added Nutella to my butter, I just eyeballed it. I guesstimate that I used about a half cup, but you could start with less and see what you think. You can always add more as you blend the ingredients together!

I'd definitely suggest this cake for your next chocolate fix - hostage situation or otherwise. ;)




1/8/16

Let's Go: Vidler's 5 & 10


As someone who has grown up and lived my entire life in the Western New York region, I can safely say that I've been to Vidler's a few times. It's a place in which you can easily get lost, or lose track of time, but in which you are highly likely to find at least one thing that you just *have* to have. Their selection covers nearly everything from classic candies, to housewares, toys, decor, ...and everything in between. For native WNY-ers, its a place you've likely been at least once, but for those unfamiliar with the store, I highly suggest you check it out.


 Their selection of cookie cutters is HUGE and covers every occasion you could think of!

 Their candle/bath & body section is ever-changing. I picked up a candle holder for wine bottles as I love to reuse (hoard) all things glass.







This is a VERY small section of their impressive candy section. The jars upon jars of chocolates were tempting me...

Vidler's has been around for 86 years and the building truly speaks to that - the character alone makes a trip worthwhile! Vidler's is located in East Aurora, New York, which features plenty of local and independent shops and eateries, making it ideal for a day trip. 



Tip: There is plenty of parking in back! Also, be sure to bring a dime or two to use the popcorn machine in the candy section!! :)