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Dasha: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things #4 (Wedding Edition!)

17 Jul

Hi!

Yes, I know that I’ve been the world’s worst blogger. Almost a month since my last post. At least Adrienne had the excuse of moving and her wedding (!) but I’ve got nothing except the extreme torpor of summer. Or something like that. Forgive me.

But I have something fun to blog about. Adrienne’s wedding! I won’t go into too many details because I’m sure Adrienne wants to share those with you herself, but it was a beautiful, moving wedding. I cried when she exchanged vows with Dr. A. Adrienne and Dr. A. looked gorgeous and Adrienne’s kids were so cute all dressed up I wanted to eat them up (but in a non-creepy way). Plus, a Bloody Mary bar and cupcakes at the reception! I still have dreams about the caramel with fleur de sel cupcake. In an ideal world I’d eat one of those daily. I got to hang out with Mary and Erin, two of my dearest friends who live thousands of miles away.

As I mentioned before, Adrienne asked me to do her hair and makeup for the wedding. This struck me as comical because I’m not exactly known for my flawless hair and makeup but in a moment of slight insanity I agreed because I love Adrienne more than I love iced lattes (and that’s a LOT). We played around with makeup a bit when Adrienne visited me and we made a trip to Sephora. I’ve got this, I thought smugly. This will be easy.

I felt like that until a few days before the wedding when I realized that I was going to be doing THE hair and THE makeup for my dear friend’s wedding. That if I massively screwed it up she was going to look insane both in person and for her pictures and she’d hate me forever. And then there was the heat wave. A massive heat wave hit the Midwest and temperatures in Iowa soared into the 100s. The forecast for the wedding day was something like 98 degrees. I proceeded to metaphorically crap my pants, picturing Adrienne with a shiny face and off-kilter lipstick, her hair a giant fuzz of frizz. And it would be all my fault.

(Why, yes, I am making Adrienne’s wedding all about me. Thanks for asking!)

Flash forward a few days and it was 6:15 in the morning in Des Moines. The wedding was to be held at 9 am, so Adrienne had to come to my hotel room early for hair and makeup and then go dress her children and THEN get herself married. She seemed freakishly calm although it might have been because she was actually still asleep.

I’d designed a zillion-step program to hopefully keep that makeup on her face and frighten away the shine from the heat. When Adrienne had talked about her wedding makeup, she wanted something light and natural. She’s not a big makeup girl and wanted the focus to be on her face, not the makeup on it. Smart woman. I decided to highlight her gorgeous skin (it’s like Limoges porcelain, you guys) and lips and let the rest of her beauty speak for itself.

The makeup bar. Dig the Caboodle!

Face:

I gave her face a good smear of Missha BB Boomer, a primer and luminizer cream (as well as a really cheesy pun). This was to smooth out Adrienne’s already freakishly smooth skin and give something for her makeup to ahere to.  Next was Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer. This product has an SPF of 20 and provides light, but flawless coverage.

I dabbed on just a bit of Max Factor Erace Concealer. I’d never used this product before and it was awesome. None of that cakey undereye stuff happening.  Next was the Tarte Cheek Stain in Blissful, a peachy pink. I’ve sung the praises of this stuff before so I won’t again, except to say that I adore it. It creates such a natural look. I also put a little bit of Urban Decay De-Slick in a Tube on Adrienne’s nose and chin to further keep the shine away. This stuff really works.

Eyes:

I kept the eyes simple. Adrienne has big, gorgeous brown eyes that don’t need a lot of things done to them. I applied a bit of Tarte Clean Slate eye primer. This stops eyeshadow from creasing. There are few things worse that creasy eyeshadow! And then I very lightly brushed on peachy, golden shades from the Too Faced Natural Eye Neutral Eyeshadow Collection, which gave her eyelids a soft shimmer. And then the world’s lightest coat of E.L.F. Waterproof Mascara. It’s pretty darn great mascara, especially considering that it costs $3.00. Yeah, you heard me right. $3.00. I also brushed her brows with a bit of E.L.F. brow gel. (BTW, Adrienne? Whoever shaped your eyebrows is a genius. Bribe that person to forever make your brows so gorgeous.)

Lips:

Adrienne picked up an Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Lip Pencil in Naked on our epic Sephora trip so I lined her lips with it and then filled it in. It’s a nice neutral pinkish brown. And then I lightly glossed up her lips with Kiehl’s Lip Balm #1 (cranberry flavor). As far as I’m considered, this is the only lip balm in the entire world.

Hair:

This is the part that intimidated me. We had decided ahead of time that we’d give Adrienne some soft curls to wear with the gorgeous headband she’d picked out. Trouble was, I hadn’t curled my own hair in more than a year, since I chopped of 15 inches of my hair. Plus, holding a burning hot metal rod next to someone’s face is scary business. Luckily, Dr. A’s awesome sister-in-law was in the room with us taking pictures (thanks for the great pictures!) and suggested that I lightly flip the ends of Adrienne’s hair up. It worked like a charm. First I gave her clean, dry hair a good spray of Aveda Pure Abundance Style Prep, which creates great curl hold. Then I very gingerly flipped those ends. We spent a fair amount of time trying to work out how to get the headband on Adrienne’s hair (she did it herself in the bathroom) and then I shellacked the ever-living daylights out of her hair with Tigi Catwalk Work-It Hairspray.

Last Step:

My secret hot weather weapon, Missha Art Designing Makeup Fix. A couple sprays of this fragrant product and your makeup will not BUDGE. Guaranteed. It’s a miracle product. We were all spraying ourselves with this before the wedding.

And then Adrienne put on her dress and we all got sniffly because she was so gorgeous!

Can you even?

I mean, really. How gorgeous is she?

I can only take a little credit for Adrienne’s wedding beauty. 60% of it was her natural beauty, 35% of it was her pure joy and 5% of it was hair and makeup. Still, I’m pretty psyched how it all turned out.

Hugging my lovely PLP after she’s become a married woman.

It was a wonderful wedding in every way. Plus, I got to meet a bunch of YOU that weekend. So much fun. Holla in the comments!

Congratulations to Adrienne and Dr. A. I wish you a lifetime of love and happiness.

Dasha: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things #3 (And They’re Not All Beauty Products!)

19 Jun

Summer is here! I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying leaving the house wearing only one layer of clothing, going for walks and not getting frostbite, going to the farmer’s market, and being able to sit outside and enjoy a nice dinner. Of course, summer also means intolerable humidity here in Minnesota, swarms of mosquitos and truly insane road construction, but I’ll take it.

I have a LOT of favorite things right now, almost all of them summery! (As always, I have to disclaim that I’m not being compensated for any of these reviews)

Crispin Cider

I never thought I liked hard cider. I’d only ever had Strongbow and to me it tasted like carbonated apple juice. The cheap kind. But I’ve changed my tune now that I’ve tried Crispin. They make ciders that are drier and more adult-tasting than the traditional British kind. Delicious. Crispin also has an artisanal line of ciders and I’m telling you, the Honey Crisp flavor will rock your world. It’s as complex as many wines, incredibly drinkable, and goes with just about any kind of food. These ciders are a blessing as my husband has become allergic to beer and most wines (the horror!) and he can happily drink Crispin.

Naturalizer Naza Wedges in Dark Venom

Wedges are hot, hot, hot right now. But I’ve been a bit chicken to wear them. I don’t wear high heels in general, thanks to the flattest feet on the planet. I’m terrified that I’ll keel right over in a pair of wedges. These shoes have completely changed my mind. They’re insanely comfortable, go with everything from jeans to dresses, and feel secure (watch me jinx myself and turn an ankle today). They make me six feet tall and feel like I can conquer the entire universe.

DIY Sea Salt Spray

You’ve heard about the brilliance of sea salt sprays like Bumble & Bumble Surf Spray, yes? Basically they’re salt, water and a few other additives. And they’re MAGIC for hair. For those with wavy hair, a few spritzes in your wet hair and you have those beachy surfer-girl waves you’ve always dreamed of. For women like me with stick-straight, fine hair, they magically add enough body that you don’t need to blow dry. Just spray, scrunch and go. The only problem is that stuff is EXPENSIVE. $24.00 for 4 ounces. Ouch. That’s 24 bucks for salt and water. Surely we can do better, right?

Beachy waves on the cheap!

Turns out, it’s easy as pie.

  • Get a generic spray bottle from Target or similar.
  • Add 1 cup (8 ounces) of warm water.
  • Toss in 2 tablespoons of sea salt. Don’t use just regular old salt. 
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon of oil your hair likes, like jojoba, argan or coconut.
  • Optional: Add a few drops of nice-smelling essential oil like vanilla, tangerine or lavender.
  • Shake well and spray.

You’ve just saved a TON of money and you still have awesome hair.

Speaking of pie…

Key Lime Pie

This is the ultimate in summery desserts and it’s so easy that even I can make it and I’m baking impaired. This is the kind of pie you want to eat on the porch as you watch kids run through the sprinkler.

Ingredients:

1 premade graham cracker pie shell
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup key lime juice (do NOT substitute regular lime juice–it just doesn’t taste the same. I use Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key Lime Juice and it’s delicious) 
1 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
Whipped cream (optional)

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a medium bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks.
  • Add the condensed milk and mix well.
  • Whisk in the lime juice and blend well. The mixture should thicken a little.
  • Pour into the pie shell and bake for 15 minutes.
  • Let cool for about 20 minutes and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. 
  • Serve and enjoy! It’s very good with whipped cream and I’ve heard rumors that key lime is great with good vanilla ice cream.

Tarte Cheek Stain

Speaking of being baking impaired, I’m also blush impaired. I’ve never been able to wear blush without ending up looking like this:

Powder blush and I just don’t get along. But I’ve discovered that Tarte’s cheek stains are just right for me. They’re very sheer and easy to smooth on the cheeks, giving me a lovely blush (hence the name!) and even the semblance of cheekbones. My favorite color is Blissful, which is a warm peachy-pink (that magically smells like pink lemonade), but there are 8 shades. At $30, it’s not cheap stuff but it lasts forever and you’ll never have to worry about looking like Alexis Carrington Colby.

What are some of your favorite things right now?

Dasha: 11 Beauty Products

8 Jun

(Sorry for all the beauty-related posts. This stuff has been on my mind a lot.)

Like many women (I suspect), I have irrational hope that beauty products will transform me. If I just buy this cream or that powder, all of my perceived flaws will magically melt away and I’ll because the stunning beauty I’ve always wanted to be. After a long spell of mostly only wearing a dab of pressed powder on my nose and a little lipstick, I’ve gone whole hog into makeup. I’m not sure what exactly has causes this. It could be suddenly realizing I’m in my forties (how the HELL did that happen???). It could be that I’m currently so dissatisfied with my body that I figure I’ll at least make my face pretty. I could be the result of reading too many beauty blogs. It’s probably all of those things and some I’ve never considered.

This morning I realized that I’ve gone from wearing an average of 2 makeup products on my face to 11. ELEVEN.

Here they all are for today, in order of application. (This does not include skin cleaning/exfoliating/toning products.)

1. Too Faced Tinted Beauty Balm

2. Tarte Cheek Stain (in Blissful)

3. Tarte Clean Slate Eye Primer

4. Urban Decay De-Slick in a Tube (helps keep the obnoxious shine off my nose)

5. Shadow from the Too Faced Natural Neutral Palette

6. Stila Smudge Pot Liner

7. L’Oreal Brow Pencil (to repair the hole I made in my brow over the weekend with my tweezers)

8. Sephora Eyelash Curler

9. E.L.F. Brow Gel and Clear Mascara

10. Urban Decay Glide-On Lip Pencil

11. Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm

So you’d think that after increasing the number of makeup products used on my face 450% that there would be some pretty serious transformation, right? I mean, we’ve all seen the makeovers on TV and in magazines. I should look 450% better.

But I don’t think so.

Here’s a picture of me with a pretty bare face. Powder and lip color. That’s it. This was taken on April 12th of this year.

Excuse the alarmed look on my face.

And here I am today, proudly sporting all 11 products. (Yes, I wear a lot of black t-shirts. Staple of my wardrobe.)

Getting all artypants for the camera!

Am I that much more gorgeous? Glamorous? Fabulous? Is there even that big of a difference with 9 more makeup items on my face? I don’t think so.

So when am I going to finally get it? My face is my face and no amount of makeup (or any other kind of beauty product, for that matter) is going to magically transform me into a supermodel. Or halt the inevitable aging process (and the horrible downward slide of my upper eyelids–shit’s getting gruesome, y’all). It’s just not going to happen. Spending a half hour in the bathroom on makeup versus 1 minute isn’t going to make that much difference in the end. Sephora is NOT going to change my life.

I wonder if I’ll ever really get it.

How about you? Do you ever expect beauty products to transform you into something you’re not?

P.S. The purpose of this post is not (absolutely, positively NOT) to fish for compliments. You are all very sweet but I want to spur conversation, not boost my self-esteem.

Dasha: The Grass Is Always Proverbially Greener

5 Jun

(First of all, I want to thank all of you for your interesting and insightful comments on my last entry. I haven’t had the chance to respond to all of them yet because I was at a conference for most of last week but I’ve read them all and appreciate each and every one of them.)

Today I complimented my co-worker Mina on her hair. Mina normally flatirons her hair straight, and it looks very pretty that way, but today it was in its natural state. Her long hair was a gorgeous tangle of ringlets and I wanted to ask her if I could borrow her hair for the rest of the day. “Really?” she said, looking surprised. “I got up late and didn’t have time to do my hair. I was just thinking how awful it looks. I wish I had hair like yours.”

I have stick straight, fine hair. My hair only holds a curl with about six pounds of product and no humidity in the air whatsoever. I can’t tell you how many perms I got in the 80s and 90s in an attempt to get the then-fashionable spiral curl look. But my hair would only take the perm for approximately seventeen minutes and then would go flat as a pancake on me. Or worse, frizzy but not curly. Straight hair is stylish now, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at another woman’s head of curls and sighed to myself, wishing I could have fabulous, beachy waves. I spend a half-hour blow drying my hair with a round brush every morning just to give it the tiniest bit of body and volume.

My dream hair. I’ll take the sunglasses, too.

My hair–the reality version. Complete with crabby expression.

I think this is slightly related to my last post, but it does make me wonder why we, as women, are so very rarely satisfied with what we have, physically? I envy my small-breasted friend Liz’s ability to wear spaghetti-strap dresses without looking bovine and she envies my cleavage. I wish I had my mother’s ability to effortlessly tan (seriously, that woman just has to look at the sun and she’s instantly Brazilian) and she admires my pale skin. Sometimes it feels like we play an endless game of ring-around-the-rosy about our looks.

Think about it. Do you know anyone (that’s a woman) who is largely satisfied with her face, her hair, her body? If you do, I’d love to meet her. She must be AWESOME.

And why is it mostly women who deal with this? Maybe I’ve been involved with uncommonly secure men in my life, but I’ve never heard one say, “Gee, I wish I had straight, silky hair like Matt’s.” Maybe this is something men do think but don’t share aloud, for fear that it will seem less than masculine. I don’t know. Are there any men reading this? Do those thoughts run through your head?

Clearly the answer is largely our toxic culture and the messages women receive about the “right” and “wrong” ways to look. It’s especially bad right now with fashion and gossip magazines, web sites, and TV shows constantly ragging on the appearance of celebrities or touting the week’s currently acceptable look, but I have the feeling that this “grass is greener” sentiment has been with women for a long, long time. Recently I was re-reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods (I love children’s literature) and one of the running themes in the book is how Laura (with her straight brown hair) is envious of her sister Mary’s golden curls, mostly because everywhere they go, people comment on the gorgeousness of Mary’s hair and ignore Laura’s.

It is possible to get over it sometimes. In college, my roommate Tori was the exact opposite of me. Where I was tall, big-boned and brunette, she was a tiny (both in height and weight), adorable blonde. She was the kind of girl who was constantly having guys pick her up and twirl her around. No one ever wanted to twirl my big ass around, I can assure you. Thank goodness she was also cool as hell or I would have seriously resented all of the male attention she got. After I got to know Tori better and time passed, I realized something interesting. Yes, the guys who were interested in her were never interested in me but the opposite was true. The kind of guys I attracted (considerably fewer in number than Tori but I always joked I was an acquired taste, like olives) didn’t find Tori all that attractive. Somehow, that knowledge comforted me and helped me to stop envying Tori’s looks. 

thought you’d all appreciate a picture of my vintage perm look. That’s me on the right, although my friend L had a pretty sweet perm herself.

Do you suffer from TGIG (The Grass Is Greener) Syndrome? What do you envy in others? What do you think other people envy about you? What do you think causes it?

Dasha: Skinny Girls Claiming Fat

29 May

I work with a passel of extremely attractive twentysomething women. We’re talking borderline beauty queens with the clothes and figures to match. I think the largest of a the bunch is a size 6. When she’s bloated with PMS. Luckily, they’re super nice, smart, fun women so I generally don’t begrudge their lack of back fat and their extensive wardrobes (including 3-inch heels, something many overweight women can’t wear without pain).

However, more than one of them has said something like this to me:

Office Beauty Queen: OH MY GOD, I’M GETTING SO FAT. Look at me! Look at all this flab! (Pinches millimeter of skin at waist.)

Me: Uh, yeah. No, you look great.

OBQ: What are you talking about? I’m huuuuuge!

Me (in my head): If you’re huge, you must think I’m a fucking monster.

If you’re overweight, you probably have been part of similar conversations. I’m not going to lie, I find it maddening. To me, it’s sort of like if I started complaining about wedding planning to a lesbian friend who desperately wanted to legally marry her female partner. As a woman in a relationship with a man (I happen to be bisexual, but that’s neither here nor there for this purpose), I had the privilege of being able to legally marry him, with the social approval of just about everyone in the world. Not cool to flaunt it to someone who doesn’t.

I know that some thin women get snide comments like “Eat a sandwich!” Or have friends or family express concern about eating disorders. That sucks and it should stop. But it’s nothing compared to the shit you get when you’re overweight or obese. Not to make this a “my pain is greater than your pain” contest but heavy girls and women deal with some serious crap. Mean comments from strangers, disapproval from doctors, family and friends telling you to lose weight (my favorite was when my father kept spamming me with Overeaters Anonymous emails–THANKS, DAD), the inability to find cute clothes that fit, lack of interest from potential romantic or sexual partners. Not to mention the job discrimination that many overweight women face. Thin women might get the occasional nasty comment but, in general, they are considered to be the ideal by almost everybody in our society. They’re celebrated.

I have to wonder where these women are coming from when they obviously have slender, fit bodies but complain about them. In some cases, I think they’re fishing for compliments. I used to work with a woman I’ll call Samantha, who would complain about her body but in a weird humble bragging sort of way. “I totally hate that I’m so skinny but I have huge boobs,” she’d say and I’d roll my eyes. She did this all the time and after a while I started ignoring her because it was so obvious that she wanted me to say something like, “Oh, Samantha, you’re gorgeous and perfect as is. Never change, my lovely!”

In other cases, I do think that as women we’re so screwed up about our bodies that almost nobody has a healthy self image. That no matter how beautiful and/or thin we are, we always think something’s wrong with us. I mean, think about it. We have the media constantly blaring about “banging” celebrity bodies (or shaming female celebrities who have the audacity to gain a few pounds). We have advertisements forever telling us that there’s something that needs fixing about us. Get whiter teeth! Lose 10 pounds in a week! Get rid of those dark spots on your face instantly!

What’s really interesting is that you will never, EVER, catch me complaining about my body except to a very few trusted friends. As an overweight woman, the last thing I want to do is call attention to my body and its flaws. Besides, I figure that everyone can see what’s wrong with my body. I’m fat. You’d have to have a pretty serious visual impairment to miss it.

The inspiration for this entry came from an article currently on xojane, one of my favorite sites. Julie, a very slender woman, wrote Who Cares When a Skinny Bitch Gains Weight? She’s a thin woman who has gained a few pounds, has outgrown some of her clothes, and doesn’t like that her friends aren’t sympathetic to her issues.

This is Julie.

There’s some interesting debate going on in the comments. Julie states that thin women deserve the same degree of understanding that larger women deserve when dealing with body image issues. Intellectually, I agree. We should all be compassionate and understanding with each other. Body image issues are rampant. But on a more visceral, emotional level, I’m having trouble with the idea.  As a person who has been teased, bullied, harassed and ignored at times because of her weight, I just can’t feel too much sympathy for a woman complaining that her size 0 skirts aren’t fitting any more because she gained four pounds. I want to be the bigger person (no pun intended) but it’s hard.

What do you think?

Dasha: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things #2

21 May

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a great weekend. I did!  Nothing particularly spectacular happened but it was just the right amount of relaxing and fun.

I have a big, thinky post about fat acceptance, body image, shame, and beauty rattling around in my head like Skittles. But I need some time for it to solidify in my brain. Right now if I tried to write it, I’m pretty sure it would come out as a completely incoherent screed a la the Unabomber. Only 100% less dangerous.

So, let’s be shallow and fun on this Monday morning! Let’s talk about products that make us feel lovely and happy! GO CONSUMERISM. (Joking. Sort of.) This is what I’ve been loving lately. And no, I have not been compensated for these recommendations. Far from it. Instead I’m going through a beauty product phase that was brought on my shopping for Adrienne’s wedding makeup (THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT, A) that may end up bankrupting us. (Not really.) I only recommend things that I truly love.
 

Coconut Oil

I read over at xojane, my favorite online beauty spot, that coconut oil was good for getting rid of those weird little bumps on your arms. I was skeptical but I bought some and what do you know? Bumps are gone! Now I keep it in the shower, smear it all over and my skin is ridiculously soft and smells like a tropical vacation. You can use any kind of pure coconut oil. I even found some at my super not-fancy supermarket in the Indian section.

Josie Maran Argan Oil Serum

Even though my hair is rather fine and mostly straight, in the summer I do deal with some frizz issues. A tiny squirt of this delicious-smelling mix of Moroccan argan oil, jojoba oil, and avocado oil and the frizzies are gone. This product is also organic, vegan, cruelty-free, free of bad stuff like parabens, and a portion of each sale benefits women’s collectives in Morocco.

Stila Smudge Pot

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had eyeliner problems. Unless I use a liquid liner, I have raccoon smudges under my eyes within a half-hour of applying it. And I don’t always want a liquid liner. Sometimes I want something softer and smudgier. The Stila Smudge Pot is perfect for my needs. You apply it with a brush. It goes on smoothly and it smudgeable at first. And then it settles in and does not budge for anything. But you can easily remove it with makeup removing wipes. Problem solved. My favorite color is the bronze, but they have everything from black to cobalt and jade.

Lavanila Vanilla Coconut and Vanilla Grapefruit Perfumes

I’ve mentioned that I’m picky, picky, picky when it comes to perfume, right? Once my beloved Aveda Gaia was discontinued, I hardly wore any perfume for years. I couldn’t find anything that smelled right to me. A scent that made me happy just to wear it. Well, this weekend not only did I find a perfume that’s me, I found two. Holy happiness.

I had read about the Lavanila scents on some blog and I found them at Sephora on Saturday. I found that I couldn’t decide between the Vanilla Coconut and the Vanilla Grapefruit. The first makes me smell like a happy medium between Coppertone on the beach and fresh-baked muffins. The second reminds me of eating fruit for breakfast on the beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. My heart was truly torn. And then my mother, bless her heart, treated me to one so I could have both. LOVE HER. I’m telling you guys, if you like vanilla scents, these are truly glorious. They also have Vanilla Passionfruit, Vanilla Lavender, Vanilla Blackberry, and Pure Vanilla. There’s also a limited-edition Vanilla Beach scent (OMG!) that wasn’t available at my local Sephora. But I’ve ordered it. Yeah, I’m a little obsessed but you would be, too, if you smelled this amazing.

Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey

About half of you are probably sighing at this recommendation and saying, “NO DUH, DASHA. This stuff has been recommended by every magazine and blog in the entire universe for, like, twenty years! BORING.” But I’m guessing half of you have never heard of this wonderful, slightly sheer lip magic that, yes indeed, does look good on everyone. Just like the ads promise! On me it’s a lovely, rich berry. It’ll probably look different on your but it’ll look good. Guaranteed.

I’ll be back soon with some hopefully deeper thoughts on all kind of important stuff. I just need some more coffee and a day off. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here sniffing my arm (because it smells so amazingly of vanilla and coconut). Have a great day!

What are a few of your favorite things? What’s making you feel pretty and spring-like right now?

Dasha: How to Fake an Indian Feast in Less Than an Hour

17 May

I don’t know about the rest of you, but trying to cook healthy, relatively inexpensive, yet still tasty dinners during the week can be something of a pain in the butt. Even though I menu plan, I often get home from work, stand at the doorway of the kitchen and think, “I really, really don’t want to cook tonight.” Or, worse, I email Nathan from the office and say, “I have a BRILLIANT idea! Let’s go out for sushi/get ridiculously huge tortas/eat soup dumplings/hit the overpriced salad bar at the yuppie supermarket tonight!” Which ends up being an expensive and calorie-laden meal.

It’s helpful to me to have a few meals in my repertoire that are so easy, so effort-free, that I can make them even when I’m at my most exhausted and crabby (which is, like, always). This dinner is definitely one of them. Yes, it relies on packaged foods, which some “healthy living bloggers” much more famous than I would probably have an aneurysm just thinking about. Yes, involves the microwave. But it’s quick, easy, and it tastes good. It tastes like you went through a lot of effort to make it without having to make much of an effort at all. It’s a win-win for everyone.

To make the Fake Indian Feast for 2 with some leftovers you will need:

Approximately 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. (I like to use the breast tenders because they cook a lot faster.)
3 tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt
1-2 teaspoons curry powder (if you’re all fancy about the spices, go ahead and substitute garam masala, turmeric, and other South Asian spices for the curry powder)
1-2 minced garlic cloves (for the awesomely lazy, use the pre-chopped stuff in the jar)
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger (ditto)
A generous squeeze of sriracha sauce (if you don’t own sriracha, I don’t want to know you)

1 box of Trader Joe’s frozen channa masala
1 box of Trader  Joe’s frozen palak paneer

1 package of the flavor of naan of your choice

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together the yogurt, spices, garlic and ginger. Add the chicken pieces and coat with the marinade. Cover the bowl and throw in the fridge for 20 minutes or so. You can marinate for up to an hour.

Greek yogurt is thick enough to really coat the chicken.

2. Spend those 20 minutes or so just relaxing. I recommend Arrested Development reruns and petting a cat or two.

3. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place on the baking sheet. The chicken should have a decent coat of the yogurt marinade on it. Place the pan in the oven. Turn the oven temperature down to 375 and set a timer for 20 minutes.

4. Take out the Trader Joe’s frozen channa masala and microwave according to directions. This is some of the best channa masala (chickpeas with spices) I’ve ever had–spicy and tangy and so good. 

If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s in your area, you might be able to find another brand of frozen Indian food at your local store. Or you might be able to find the Swad brand that needs no refrigeration. It’s pretty good, although not as good as the TJ’s brand.

5. Ditto with the palak paneer (creamed spinach with chunks of fresh cheese in it). TJ’s is the best but other kinds will get the job done.

6. Set out a jar of delicious Major Grey’s chutney.

7. When timer goes off, remove chicken from oven and check to see if it’s done. If it’s not, back in the oven for 5 minutes. If it is, remove chicken to a plate and throw out the aluminum foil. Turn the oven back up to 400 and wait a few minutes.

8. Throw your favorite flavor of naan on the baking sheet and put in oven for 4 minutes.  Remove and cut each piece in half. My favorite supermarket naan is the Culinary Circle garlic naan but I’ve found other good brands at various stores. The Trader Joe’s naan isn’t bad either, although I find the texture a little spongy.

9. Time to eat! I really like eating the chicken wrapped up in a bit of naan with chutney. And maybe some butter if I’m feeling like being daring. Sometimes if I feel like our diets are especially lacking in vegetables I’ll microwave-steam some broccoli or Brussels sprouts to eat with this. But mostly I don’t bother and figure the spinach and the chickpeas are good enough.

P.S. Nathan informed me that I was remiss in letting you all know that the chicken is really good grilled. I definitely agree with him on that one. When we’re planning on grilling the chicken, he normally prepares the marinade with less yogurt and the juice of about a half a lime instead. He uses less yogurt because the yogurt can make the grill really messy. He also gets all down and dirty and massages the HELL out of the chicken in the marinade. If you plan on doing any chicken massage, marinate it in a zipped plastic bag instead of a bowl.

Do you have any meals that you “fake” when you’re feeling tired or lazy?

Dasha: Chocolate, Bananas, and Manicures, Oh My!

10 May

This is going to be a fairly random entry. But that’s how my brain operates about 92% of the time, with extreme randomosity. <—pretty sure that’s not a word

1. I have lost custody of my chocolate. I was abusing it and the Chocolate Protective Services (otherwise known as my husband) had to remove the dark chocolate from my care. I will still have supervised visitation of the chocolate in question.

Farewell, my friend.

2. Instead of chocolate, I’ve been delving into the crazy world of banana soft serve. In case you haven’t heard of it yet (but I’m sure you have), banana soft serve is frozen banana chunks whipped in a food processor until it, quite literally, becomes soft serve. You’d never know there was no dairy in there. It’s rich, smooth, and creamy without that pesky fat or dairy (for those who have lactose issues like I do). If you care about this sort of thing it’s gluten-free, vegan and raw.

It’s easy as easy can be to make.

a) Peel a couple of ripe bananas, cut them into chunks and freeze them.

b) Throw the bananas into your food processor. (I’ve heard that blenders work for this, although I haven’t tried it myself. You can also buya Yonanas machine but do you really want to waste counter space on a machine that serves only one purpose? Well, maybe if you have a kitchen larger than my postage stamp-sized one.)

c) Let the bananas process for about 5 minutes until they have the approximate texture of soft serve. Don’t despair if it doesn’t seem to work at first. It’ll look all grainy and awful. You may have to stop the processor a few time to scrape down the sides or break up chunks. Don’t give up hope. You’ll get there.

When it looks like this, you know you’re there!

d) Serve and enjoy! You can also add all sort of tasty things towards the end, like vanilla extract, chocolate syrup, maybe a little peanut butter or caramel. Sky’s the limit.

3. I’m still a little obsessed with my nails. I can honestly say that the only physical part of myself that I like 100% is my fingernails. I was lucky enough to be born with long nail beds (so that my nails look pretty long even when they’re cut to the quick) and they rarely break. In an effort to make myself feel good at a time when I’m not satisfied with my body AT ALL, I’ve taken to making my nails as lovely as possible. Also, it’s almost summer! Time for cute skirts, sandals, and awesome nail colors!

If you want the pretty nails and don’t want to spend a fortune getting manicures, I’m here to help. It’s completely and totally possible to have gorgeous nails that will last almost a week and do it yourself, saving time AND money. It’s a win-win. And don’t tell me that you suck at doing your nails. EVERYONE sucks at doing their nails at first. I’m so uncoordinated that I had to go to special loser physical therapy sessions in grade school because I couldn’t dribble a ball properly but I’ve learned to do my nails. With a few tips and some practice, you’ll be a pro in no time.

a) Get the right gear. You’ll need a decent nail file, nail polish remover, and cotton balls as your non-polish equipment. If you want to do fancy stuff to your cuticles, be my guest. I don’t bother so I don’t have good advice for you. My other piece of advice is keep them short-ish. Long, long nails and acrylics are so ten years ago.

b) Use polish remover on your nails even if you’re not currently wearing any polish. This removes any ambient dirt and oils from your nails and allows the polish to adhere better to your fingernails.

c) Paint on a thin layer of a base coat. The base coat helps fill in ridges, smoothes out your nail and keeps your polish from discoloring your nails. I use the Essie All in One Base but I’ve had good luck with the Sally Hansen base coat, too. One thing I cannot stress enough: make absolutely, perfectly sure your polish is dry before you apply another coat. If you don’t let the layers properly dry they will smear and look horrible later.

 d) Paint two layers of the polish of your choice. There are a million gorgeous colors out right now. Go nuts! My current favorite polish brands are OPI, Essie, Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure, and Butter London. I don’t love the Nicole Kardashian Kolors at all and if I did I wouldn’t freely admit it.

These sparkly wonders are totally NOT from Kardashian Kolors.

Essie’s Turquoise and Caicos, my current polish.

You want to paint on layers of polish that aren’t too thick and aren’t too thin. Two coats should do it for most polishes, although you may need to do 3 if it’s a particularly sheer polish. DON’T EVEN worry about getting polish on the skin around your nails. There’s a super easy solution to that: The morning after doing your nails, when you’re taking a shower you can just peel off that excess polish on your skin with the tip of a fingernail. It’ll come off fairly easily one your fingers have been wet for a while. Again, make sure one layer is dry before adding another.

e) Add a top coat. In my opinion, the best top coat on the planet is Sally Hansen Insta-Dri. Accept no substitutes. Not only does it help your polish dry more quickly (although not instantly as promised), it adds a lovely shininess and it helps protect your nails from chipping. This stuff is priceless. Unlike my twice-stated rule above, you want to apply a layer of this while your top layer of polish is still wet. 

f) Chill out. Don’t do anything much for the next twenty minutes until your nails are fully, perfectly dry. Watch 30 Rock or Parks and Recreation. Eat some banana soft serve. Have a beer. Keep the cats away from your drying nails if you’re a crazy cat lady like I am.

g) Enjoy your gorgeous nails!

Do you like doing your own nails or are you a manicure person? Or are you strictly au naturel? What’s your favorite polish brand and/or color? Have any hot nail tips to share (no pun intended)?

As always, I have to disclaim that I am NOT being compensated at all for anything I’m recommending here. If any awesome beauty companies want to send me swag for review I can be reached at dashaxf at gmail dot com. I have no shame.

Dasha: The Art of Menu Planning

5 May

One of the lessons I’ve had to learn the hard way is that to be able to eat healthily at home, I need to menu plan. I can’t just throw a bunch of random food items into the cart at the supermarket and expect them to magically assemble themselves into tasty, healthy meals. If only it were that easy! In college, my roommates and I used to dream about a magical food fairy who would stock our fridge during the night. She never did show up and we had more than one dinner that consisted of chocolate chips and beer.

Over time I’ve come up with a system that works for me, as the primary food shopper and cook in my household. Your mileage might vary based on your needs and the needs of everyone else in your household.

1. Sit down and think for a few minutes.

  • What do I want to eat in the next week? What am I in the mood for? (Sometimes I ask this of Nathan, too, but generally he’s pretty happy with whatever I make.)
  • What do I currently have in the fridge/freezer that needs to be used up?
  • What’s coming up in the next week that will mean one or both of us will not be home for dinner?

2. Get inspired.

Sometimes I consult cookbooks, sometimes my back issues of Cooking Light and Cook’s Illustrated. I always go to my Pinterest account to browse through all the recipes I have pinned there. Some are new things I’d like to try and some are old favorites. Sometimes I just think of old favorites that I have no recipe for. Sometimes I wing it. (“It’s corn season, so I’ll get some at the Farmer’s Market and do some kind of salad with corn, bacon and tomatoes.”) 

3. Think about balance between meals.

  • Quick work night dinners vs. more time-consuming recipes I can make on the weekend.
  • Spicy vs. non spicy.
  • Meaty vs. vegetarian. (I try to only cook with meat 2 or 3 times a week)
  • Balance between various cuisines. For example, I usually will only cook an Asian-inspired meal once in a week. Same with Italian, Indian, Latin American, and other cuisines I like to cook.
  • Not too much of the same kind of food. For example, pasta usually will be scheduled only once a week (except maybe as leftovers).
  • Super healthy vs. something more indulgent.
  • A dinner that will be eaten in one meal vs. something that will freeze or can be used as lunch leftovers.
  • Meals where you can get everything at the regular supermarket vs. recipes where you’ll need to go to a specialty store of some kind.
  • What’s currently in season, produce-wise.

4. With all this in mind, select the meals you want to make in the week.

I usually cook dinner 5 times a week, but it depends on what kind of week we have coming up.

5. Write down each meal on a piece of paper, along with its associated sides.

Then, think about what you currently have in your fridge and panty. Underneath each menu item, write the foods you’ll need to buy at the supermarket to cook that recipe. (Click to enlarge the image.)

6. From your menu, assemble a grocery list.

I separate everything into 5 categories: produce, dairy, meat/fish, frozen and packaged goods. Don’t forget to add other things you’ll need during the week like foods for breakfast, snacks, lunches, staples like coffee (and dark chocolate for me!), etc.

You now have a list! Sparkly nail polish is always an optional part of your shopping experience.

7. Shop and cook.

I hope I didn’t make this sound overly complicated. Menu planning usually takes me a half-hour, maximum. This morning I think I did it all in 15 minutes.

I promise you, this will make your supermarket shopping go much easier and you’ll never come home from work and stare at the fridge thinking, what on Earth am I going to make for dinner tonight? And you’ll never, EVER have chocolate chips and beer for dinner. Unless you really want to.

Do you menu plan? If you do, how do you do it?

Dasha: Getting Serious

1 May

I think I’m still recovering for the weekend.

In case you didn’t hear all the squee from your house, Adrienne came up to visit me and, as usual, we had a completely epic time.

There was a lot of this:

Watching Game of Thrones, that is. Not slapping each other. There is only love when we hang out.

Speaking of which, I can’t help it but I’m shipping these two like Fedex:

I KNOW. I’m a weirdo.

And lots of this:

There was the infamous Dasha’s Boot Camp for Fat and Lazy Girls. That was fun. I think I like being a drill instructor just a little too much. (I’ll post the workout very, very soon.)

And makeup shopping at Sephora! It was really fun taking Adrienne there. She was nervous about it but when she saw it was basically a beauty amusement park, very low pressure, she relaxed and we had a blast picking out makeup for her wedding.

When we got back to my house, we had a makeup lesson.

And I tried out Sephora’s Nail Patch Art (note that they have much better patterns available in-store than online). Have I mentioned my recent nail obsession? Anyhow, these were kind of spendy but the designs were much more my style than the Sally Hansen brand. They were sort of a bitch and a half to get on correctly but they looked great once on. Big plus is no drying time and no stink! I’ve had them now for 3 days and there hasn’t been much chipping yet (except in one spot but that was totally my fault). Looking closely, you can see how I sort of failed at getting them on perfectly straight but I think they look nice from afar. 

We also had drinks with my parents. They made the BEST martini. It sounds gross as hell when you hear the ingredients but they created a harmonious whole. It was 1 part gin, 1 part sauvignon blanc and 1 part St. Germain liqueur, which is made with elderflowers. Float a slice of orange on top. Delicious.

Adrienne left on Sunday afternoon (sniff!) and then I went to a baby shower for my friend L’s daughter. I can’t believe I’m old enough to have a friend be a grandmother. It was a lovely afternoon but when I got home I crashed and crashed HARD. Too much fun for one person. I need my fun in small, manageable doses.

Now that all that merriment is over I’ve come to the realization that I have to get serious about my eating and fitness again. I’ve been letting everything slip to the point where I’m almost (but not quite) back to my old habits. I need to recommit myself to losing weight and getting healthy. This week I’m trying to get back on the straight and narrow. My dress for Adrienne’s wedding arrived yesterday. It’s a size too small so that’s pretty good motivation to get back on track.

My goals for this week:

1. Work out at least 4 times. 5 would be better. At least 2 strength workouts and 2 cardio.

2. Lay off the chocolate. And don’t buy any more shortbread cookies from Target. They’re dangerously good.

3. Watch my portion sizes. I have the ability to eat like a linebacker.

4. Fruits and vegetables!

5. Constantly play the “is it worth it?” game. In other words, when I am presented with the opportunity to eat something that isn’t exactly healthy, I weigh the pros and cons of eating it. If I think it’s ultimately worth it, I’ll eat it and try to make up for it during the day or the next day. If it’s not, I don’t eat it.

6. Try to avoid mindless eating.

I think those are doable goals, don’t you?

What are your goals for this week?

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