featured, Self-Help

Pimples are “In”

Whether you are a girl or a guy, the first hour of the day probably consists of prepping yourself to go out into the world.  Some care more about what people think when they see them than others.  There are also those who don’t give a damn what impression they bestow on others, and create a certain look just for their own confidence.  There is a whole scale ranging from those who roll out of bed and plunge right into their day, to the people who spend time making sure they have a balanced bronzer-highlighter ratio.  This article is for those who really do care and are questioning why that is.

Sometime ago, I woke up feeling pretty fed up with my pimples.  I came up with the idea of abandoning my makeup products for a month, with the hope that my skin would clear up.  I was going to run the idea by a friend, but before I did, the topic of self esteem came up in conversation.  Then the idea was born.  I decided to kill two birds with one stone by prohibiting myself from using makeup products and heat tools with the hope of ending up with improved hair, skin, and mentality.

Day 1

I am someone who from day one took pride in my appearance.  My mom has told me that I always wanted to pick my own outfits and dress myself as a kid.  One can imagine what could go wrong with a four year old dressing herself.  Nonetheless, mini-me was very opinionated and relentless.  Anyway, this attitude continued throughout my life and into my teenage years when the godsend of makeup and hair tools were introduced into the equation.  Like most people my age lacking confidence in my physical appearance, I latched onto these things and they became part of my routine that I did not question.  It felt good that my appearance was something that I was in control of.  Most people have fun trying out new looks, palettes, curls, etc. It sounds corny, but making yourself up provides the opportunity to express yourself.  I tried out the liners, the eyeshadows, the lipsticks, the curls, the waves, and whatever else seemed flattering.  Eventually, I found what suited my preferences and what I liked.  In all honesty, it was not until recently that I questioned why I spent this time doing this.

It seemed interesting to see what would happen, if me–the person who usually looks put together and enjoys it and all, just stopped caring.  The first day in public without makeup and my hair done, I felt pretty insecure and could feel myself walking with less confidence.  I began to realize that my confidence had become dependent on how I looked.  That revelation made my stomach drop.  Upon considering this habit, the gross feeling of vanity and self absorption almost made me sick, giving me more interest in completing the challenge.  I wondered, maybe it’s the generation that I have grown up in with the me me me attitude or if it was a normal teenage phenomena.  

Week Two

It just so happened that I ran out of contacts a few days after I started the challenge, so I was stuck wearing glasses. Contrary to what one may think, after not wearing makeup for a few days, my skin broke out.  I was blessed by the gods of complexion with oily skin and pimples–it was exactly what I needed then.

Here I was, my face full of pimples and my glasses completed the look.  At night I wear a retainer and recently started using an acne medication, so it was an interesting sight to see.  For some reason, I did not feel embarrassed; those feelings were present the first few days.  Maybe I was embracing my raw and unfiltered self.

I stopped doing these entries after the first week, but stayed committed to the challenge.  There were a couple days in the beginning that I did cheat, but then made up those days.  Why did I cheat?  One of those days was picture day for my team, so I convinced myself that I needed to look good for the sake of the yearbook.  At the end of the day though, quite literally, I remember looking in the mirror thinking, “I look exactly the same as I did without makeup” and that it was not worth messing up my little challenge.  The other day that I cheated, I had just gotten the most beautiful new mascara and I really wanted to try it out.  Distracted by the awesomeness of the mascara, I went to school with it on, and my best friend called me out.  To my surprise, she gasped and said “Sara you’re wearing makeup. Cheater!”.  Then she jokingly said, “You’re only hurting yourself.”

She was right. I was only lying to myself, and I desperately wanted to prove that I could go a month without makeup and heat.  From then on, I went on with my mission and business went on as usual for a seemingly long month.

Throughout the thirty day period, I  did get a few comments.  However, aside from my closer friends, no one really noticed that I stopped wearing makeup, so I rolled with it.  Most people just complimented my natural hair.  I came to the conclusion, that most of my insecurity is just in my head.  I asked my mom if I looked any different one day in a car ride home from track practice.  Looking at the road, she simply said “no, I mean you look pretty much the same.”   I asked “seriously, mom, you don’t notice any difference?”.  She proceeded to look at me with confusion, and the conversation switched to dinner.

I had written that I felt less confident at first.  After the first fifteen days, I was becoming pretty comfortable with how I looked.  My pimples disappeared, and whether anyone noticed or not, my skin looked better than it had in awhile.  I started to get used to my eyes being less defined and my hair not being in “perfect” curls.  One day someone even commented that they never noticed I had freckles, which may or may not have made my day.

If you care enough to wonder if I just rolled out of bed looking like a hobo everyday, the answer is a big no.  The challenge guidelines were no makeup and no heat.  I used neither, but I am guilty of some loopholes.  According to my friend’s justification, these loopholes did not fracture the integrity of the challenge.  I must confess; I did curl my lashes.  I also slept in braids, to keep my hair from becoming a frizzy mess.  I kept up with a skin routine with night cream, exfoliant, and my regular day moisturizer.  Other than that, I promise that I am innocent.  It is true, that by doing these things, I was still tending to my appearance.  Makeup and heat are things that you apply to yourself with the goal of changing your appearance.  What I did, just made myself look presentable and did not change my look as drastically.  Though I settled with that excuse, this point did make me doubt the purpose of those endeavors and whether doing so fractured the intention of the challenge.  The fact that I simply could not go without doing those things was something to reflect on.

What changed this month?

One thing for sure that I learned is that people don’t care as much as you think.  I was probably just blinded by a cloud of self absorption to realize that no one gives a fuck (excuse my language).  That’s the thing.  Everyone is caught up in their own problems and other important things to really analyze what you look like.  It was a combination of that and the fact that no matter what, I still have the same face. With or without makeup, I am the exact same person.  If nothing else, my skin looks healthier.

Major Takeaways

Everyone can relate to the great feeling that a great makeup look or perfectly composed outfit can bring.  It can truly transform how you approach your day.  One might say that it is vain to spend time tending to your appearance, but I say the opposite.  Look at it this way.  Your time is an investment.  It is valuable to spend your time on a routine that will make you feel confident and be the best version of yourself that you can be.  If spending an extra few minutes on your hair or choosing an ensemble will ultimately give you the boost you need to feel like a boss, then go on and do it!

It is okay to care about what you look like.  It is fine if you want to look a certain way.  What matters is that you are comfortable with yourself without those things so your confidence does not become dependent on it.  My intention is not to end this article with this lesson figuratively wrapped in a box tied with a bow.  In saying that, I mean that this month really was meaningful and is something that can truly be understood by doing the month without makeup.

When you go out into the world and feel comfortable, it truly shows in how you carry yourself and makes a difference in how you go about your day.   Do not abandon the eyeshadows and concealer.  Don’t throw out your irons and brushes.  Most certainly, do not trash the over priced foundations and highlighters.  As long as you are comfortable with yourself without those things, it is okay and healthy to want to enhance your features.  This experience was unexpectedly eye-opening for me, and I hope that it might encourage others to consider going on a beauty detox too.

food

Simplistic Cooking

If there is anything to know when it comes to basic home cooking, it’s that simple recipes and fresh ingredients yield a better outcome.  Have you ever noticed that on many occasions you may have thought that whatever you were working on—whether it be cooking or art, the more details you added, it did not look or taste as great as it did originally when it had less going on? This phenomenon applies to a bunch of things in life; especially in the culinary realm.  Here are three brief recipes that are perfect examples of this philosophy.  All of them have minimal ingredients, but their flavors stand out in a way that is straight to the point.  There are certain ingredients a home cook should always have in their pantry and fridge for most recipes and they should always be the best.  Arguably the most important of these ingredients that can pull a dish together is a very good quality bottle of olive oil in your cooking arsenal. An ingredient so versatile and flavorful if used correctly, has the ability to add a backbone to whatever dish you are making.  

 

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Asparagus with Parmesan

Yield: serves 4

Ingredients

  • One bunch of Asparagus
  • 3 regular kitchen tablespoons of olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  •  1 tsp of fresh lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons of grated Parmesan Cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Toss all of the ingredients with the Asparagus on a baking sheet.
  3. Put it in the oven for 15 minutes until roasted.

 

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Herbed Italian Orzo

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 1 pound orzo pasta
  • 1 yellow, red, or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • ½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed (optional: my version does not have it)
  • ⅔ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 white onion chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh basil
  • A squeeze of lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Cook orzo in salted water according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  2. Combine cooked orzo with  bell pepper, tomatoes, onion, and the optional mozzarella cheese.
  3. Dress the pasta salad by pouring in olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, salt, parsley, pepper, and basil.
  4. Stir to combine. Refrigerate until chilled. Serve cold.

Honey “Glazed” Carrots

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Yield: 4 people

Ingredients

  •  1 lb. carrots
  •   3 tablespoons of butter
  •  2 tablespoons of honey
  • 1/4 cup of parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1.  Wash, peel, and cut the carrots lengthwise in half and cut once again through the middle.  Boil the carrots for three minutes and no more than that because you do not want those soggy carrots that taste gross.  Drain it afterwards.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan like the one pictured at medium low.  Add the carrots as well as the seasonings and honey.  Do not add the parsley until the end.  Toss and cook for 3-4 minutes.  The carrots should still have a bit of a bite to them, and should not be fully “cooked” per-say.
  3.   Add the parsley after turning off the heat and toss to coat.
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This poster was bought at a farm in Martha’s Vineyard, but is originally an advertisement during World War Two when America was encouraging rationing.  However, what it says is still valid when it comes to choosing the right ingredients to cook with.

 

 

food

Healthified Big Mac

My blog is full of contradictions.  On one hand I have posts about healthy eating and resolutions, but on the other I have recipes for marshmallows and ice cream.  Don’t be so quick to judge though.  I’m all about being able to strike a balance.  This recipe is one that I’ve made inspired by a similar dish that my aunt always used to make for my family, but healthified and still just as amazing.  Whenever I cook, my style is always “a little bit of this and a little bit of that”, so the recipe has ingredients that can be adjusted to your preference and as you see fit.  At first glance, it does not seem like there are many ingredients.  With most things, less is more, and when you don’t complicate things, flavors stand out more.

Ingredients:

1 Pound of Ground Turkey

Half an Onion

Four Cloves of Garlic

Good Olive Oil (do not use the cheap stuff)

Herbs de Provence

A small bunch of cilantro (about ¼ cup)

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce or Hoisin Sauce (completely different sauces, but both add the extra concentrated flavor)

An egg

Salt and Pepper to taste

 

Extras/Garnish:

Cheddar Cheese Slices

Arugula

Whole Grain Bread (I cut them into circles, removing the crust)

Avocado Slices

 

  1. Prep the ingredients.  Chiffonade the cilantro. Chop the onion and mince the garlic.  In a pan, drizzle olive oil and heat it at medium low. You can toss a piece of onion into the pan and if it sizzles, its hot enough.  Add the onion and garlic and cook until glossy and a bit soft.
  2. In a medium sized bowl add your turkey, salt, pepper, cilantro, preferred sauce, and herbs de Provence.  Mix well.  Now add the sautéed garlic and onion, mixing everything well.  Lastly crack the egg in and make sure everything is incorporated.
  3. Heat up the pan again after cleaning the remaining onion off on medium high with a bit more olive oil.  Make sure you have a spatula handy.  The turkey is a bit difficult to form into rounds, so try your best to do so, and just plop them on the pan once it’s hot.  The burgers should be about an inch-ish thick and fairly small compared to a regular burger.  I made mini burgers, so they were about two inches in diameter.
  4. Once the bottom browns, flip it over and cook the other side until it browns as well.  The sides should be cooked as well, but not necessarily browned.  It should take about 6-8 minutes.  You don’t want to overcook the burgers, so if you are not sure, cut one of them in half a little early to check for redness.  With beef it’s okay to have the center red, but with poultry, it is obviously not.
  5. Plate the burgers with the garnish ingredients listed.  If you would like cheese, turn the heat off, but put the cheese on top of the burger while it is still hot and on the pan.
  6. Enjoy!

 

Beauty

Better than Bath & Body

We are all familiar with Bath and Body Work’s signature Warm Vanilla Sugar scent that most of their products come in.  No matter what you get at that store, there is no going wrong with that one.   Though this is true, nothing can beat real vanilla sugar.  It is pretty difficult to mess up a sugar scrub , but if you cannot seem to get the proportions right, here is a good recipe.

Warm Vanilla Sugar Scrub

1/2 cup melted Coconut Oil

Two tablespoons Olive Oil

1 cup regular sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

Teaspoon of vanilla extract

Optional: vanilla pod seeds

 

In a big bowl, add all of your ingredients with the exception of the coconut oil.  Make sure to split the first layer of the vanilla pod in half, careful not to completely cut it in half, using a chef’s knife.  Then scrape the seeds using the edge of the knife, out of the pod, and add it to the bowl of sugar.  If it is not melted already, pop the measured out oil into the microwave for 30-60 seconds, or until completely liquid.  Add the oil to the bowl of sugar and mix everything thoroughly with a wooden spoon.  Remember all of the ingredients can be adjusted to your preferences.  If the mixture is too dry, add more oil and vice versa.

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featured, food

Marshmallow “Peeps”

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Right after Valentine’s day, stores are always quick to set out all the Spring and Easter themed candy, one of the most well-known and coveted treats being peeps.  A few years ago, I was trying to find something more interesting to make and stumbled upon a marshmallow recipe.  My first thought was “You can make those?”.  Marshmallows are a trivial thing that people usually just buy from the supermarket, so I never considered the possibility of making my own.  Surprisingly, they are relatively easy to make and require minimal ingredients.  This recipe is adapted to the upcoming holidays and general Spring theme, but you can make many varieties.  Cut into pretty shapes and packaged well, they make great gifts or party favors.  If you are too grown up to eat peeps, these are definitely a step up and a bit more sophisticated.

 

Ingredients:

3 packages unflavored gelatin

1 cup ice cold water, divided

12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cup

1 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Nonstick spray

Lemon juice or Strawberry Flavoring

Directions:

  • Add the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water.  If you would like lemon flavored marshmallows make sure you have ¼ cup lemon juice and ¼ cup water included in this addition of water.  If you would like strawberry flavored ones, skip adding lemon juice and add strawberry flavoring to the sugar syrup later in the recipe.   Have a whisk attachment standing by.
  • In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, and let the mixture come to a rolling boil and let it boil for about 30 seconds. All the while, keep a watchful eye to make sure the sugar syrup doesn’t overflow.  Take it off the heat and immediately begin with the next step.
  • Turn the mixer on low speed and  slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and fluffy; about 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.
  • Combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Cover two sheet pans normally used for baking cookies with plastic wrap.  Then, lightly spray the two sheet pans with nonstick cooking spray By using sheet pans the marshmallow will be spread thinner so you can easily cut it into shapes.  Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around over a sink to catch the powder, to completely coat the bottom. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.  It makes for very little mess and removal if you use plastic wrap.
  • Once the mixture is thick and fluffy and has been whipping for the allotted time, you can separate half of the marshmallow fluff into a bowl.  Put a very very small amount of red food coloring into one of the bowls of marshmallow and a small amount of yellow food coloring in the other.  Obviously, you can adjust to your color preferences, but I was going for Pastels.  Mix well to combine or leave a bit under-mixed for a marble effect.
  • When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pans, using a spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest of the powder for later use.  At this point, you could leave the marshmallows on the counter overnight to set, or leave them in the fridge for 3 hours.
  • Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into shapes using a cookie cutter dusted with the powder. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow by tossing them in a big bowl with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary.  Put the marshmallows covered in the powder in sieve and toss to get rid of extra powder. You can store these in an airtight container for about 3 weeks.  They do get sticky, so I recommend layering parchment paper in between stacked marshmallows.DSC_1363DSC_1366

 

food

Time to Par-Tea!

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I have always loved the idea of dedicating a part of the day to enjoying tea and little snacks that look too perfect to eat, like British people traditionally do (or so I’ve heard). Americans have their own version of high tea, but we enjoy our liquid energy boost to-go in Styrofoam cups or in those familiar paper cups with that infamous green mermaid. If the logo that I’m referencing has not already been ingrained in your head with native advertising, for your information, it represents Starbucks.  I love the idea of quick and easy, but it is nice to sit down and enjoy this tradition in a more slow and relaxed manner.  As much as we try, we will never be British, so we might as well adapt “tea time” to our own American culture and taste. The three types of cookie recipes included have Italian, Irish, British, and American influence.  Although they taste amazing alone, it is best to eat them with tea or coffee on the side and with good company.

DSC_1252DSC_1296DSC_1257Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti
Ingredients
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup pistachios
Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
  • In a large bowl, beat together oil and sugar with an electric mixer until well combined. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts, then beat in the eggs.
  • Combine flour, salt, and baking powder; gradually stir into egg mixture. Mix in cranberries and nuts by hand.
  • Divide dough in half. Form two logs, about 12×2 inches on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. If the dough is sticky, cover your hands in flour.
  • Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated oven, or until logs are light brown. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 275 degrees F.
  • Cut logs on diagonal into 3/4 inch thick slices for longer biscotti or cut it across to make smaller biscotti. Lay the cut cookies on the sheet and bake approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until dry; cool.
    Yield varies on how you cut them.

Biscotti are normally known as “the boring cookie”.  I’m convinced that once you make this recipe, your perspective on this forgotten Italian cookie will change.  The combination of pistachios and cranberries is great and the faint taste of olive oil adds an interesting flavor.  I’m not a biscotti fanatic, so maybe this is just how they are usually made.  Either way, this recipe is amazing.  By making them from scratch, you aren’t going to knock your teeth off from biting into one either. What are you waiting for?

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Lemon Glazed Cookies
Yields 2 dozen
Ingredients
1 cups butter, room temperature
1/3 cup powdered (confectioners’) sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup cornstarch (it seems like its a lot, but this amount of cornstarch makes the texture better)
Lemon Frosting (see recipe below)

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • In a large bowl, beat butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy using an electric mixer. Add lemon zest and vanilla extract and beat well.
  • Add flour and cornstarch into butter mixture and mix until well combined. The dough might look dry, but give the butter time to “melt” into the dry ingredients. If its too wet looking, you can refrigerate it for ten minutes or so.
  • Roll cookie dough into 1-inch balls. Place onto parchment paper cookie sheets and bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven, carefully remove from baking sheet, and cool on wire cooling racks since they break easily before being cooled.

Lemon Frosting:
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
⅛ cup lemon juice
1 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar

  • In a medium bowl, combine butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, and powdered sugar and beat with a fork.  If the mixture is too dense, microwave it for a few seconds.  If you microwave it too long, no worries.  Just put it in the fridge for a few minutes.  Additional lemon juice may be needed to get the frosting thin enough too.
  • Carefully dunk the cooled cookies into the frosting, since they break very easily.  To make the cookies look even better, grate some more lemon zest and place it on to the tops of the cookies you just dunked.

Even though the fact that these cookies look adorable should be enough motivation to make them, there are many other reasons.  These literally melt in your mouth and sweet and sour glaze is perfect for the otherwise boring shortbread cookie.  The combination is heavenly and nothing short of perfect especially when accompanied by tea, of course.

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Mini Chocolate Chip Scones
Yields 32 mini scones
Ingredients
Scones
4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup very cold unsalted butter (frozen)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mini chocolate chips
Glaze
1 cups confectioners sugar
2 Tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375 F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
    In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  • Cut in butter (It is better to freeze the butter, grate it using a box grater, and then cut it in that way. This method yields the flakiest scones). Stir in heavy cream and vanilla.
  • Carefully stir heavy cream/vanilla mixture into flour mixture. You do not want to over-mix, but due to the amount of dry ingredients it may be tricky to well incorporate the liquid and the dry mixes. You will need to use an electric mixer on a low setting to help coax the dough to cling together.
  • Once dough is beginning to cling together, add chocolate chips and incorporate, and then transfer to a very lightly floured surface
    Knead the dough and chocolate chips together until you are able to form a ball.
    Break the dough into 4 even pieces and round each one out into a disk about 5 inches wide.
  • Cut each into 8 wedges and transfer to cookie sheet.
    Bake for 14-16 minutes.
  • Prepare your glaze by whisking together milk, vanilla extract, and powdered sugar. Start with 1 cup powdered sugar, and if it still seems too runny you may increase the sugar amount. If it is too stiff, you can add more milk.
  • Once scones are cooled, drizzle icing on the top of each scone. Allow it to sit and harden before serving.  If you are extra like me, put the icing into a pastry bag or plastic zip lock and cut a very tiny part off of the tip.  Use the piping bag to drizzle the icing on for a neater look.

Out of all of these recipes, this one is the fan favorite.  I have made these a number of times for get-togethers, bake sales, or just given them out to friends.  It was actually the inspiration for this post, as so many people have asked me for the recipe.  These scones are sort of like the fancy version of a chocolate chip cookie but better.  See for yourself and recreate these scones!