16 November 2015

Review: Starbucks Gingerbread Tea Latte

WARNING: This post is going to be filled with me oversharing about coffee and tea. If you just want the review of the beverage I tried today, skip to the last paragraph. :)

It is important for this review to know that at my core, I am a tea person. And I really mean I am a TEA person. I regularly drink loose leaf tea (I have over 10 different varieties in the house at the moment) and both Mike and I have our special tea strainers. [Seriously, if you drink loose leaf tea, you MUST get one of these- IngenuiTEA.]  We also have more kinds of bag tea than I can count, some leftover from before we converted and some because there are bag teas we haven't found a suitable loose leaf alternative for. Also, bag tea is much easier to tote around, something we both do.

Every since I was little, I've always been a tea person. On rare occasions, I'd do coffee, but it's always been tea for me. The only exception to this rule used to be Starbucks' holiday beverages. My two favorites are the Gingerbread Latte and the Chestnut Praline Latte. The molasses on the top of the gingerbread makes it absolutely amazing and I love the sweet nuttiness of the chestnut praline. I usually splurge each holiday season and get each kind at least once. This year, I've already had a Gingerbread Latte. 

Usually, though, if I'm going to splurge on a drink at Starbucks, I'll get a Chai Latte (with soy milk! no dairy please!). It's one of my standard drink orders for any cafe, really. I LOVE chai. This past year, I discovered dirty chai lattes, which is when you get a shot of espresso in a chai latte. Ever since this discovery, I've usually allowed myself one of these during tech. They're a great, early morning punch of caffeine. It's all the goodness of chai with the strong presence of espresso. You know I'm tired if you every hear me order, "Hot, grande, Chai Latte with soy milk and a single shot of espresso."

Even more recently than my discovery of the dirty chai, I've started drinking coffee much more frequently. The switch mainly occurred this summer when I was working at North Shore Music Theatre. The 9am call plus hot and ready coffee in the building made it entirely too easy to add a cup of coffee to my morning routine. Then, my first director back at Stoneham Theatre was very much a coffee person, so we bought good coffee for rehearsal and tech. Finally, my mum came to visit and I made her coffee every morning. All that together and I've been drinking significantly more coffee than I used to (more during tech than show runs, though). 

Because I've been drinking it more on the regular, I've discovered a few things. You can't always get lattes (they're expensive!) but I apparently really like hazelnut flavored coffee. Both HoneyDew and Dunkin Donuts have hazelnut coffee. My best find, though, was the 99 cent coffee at Cumberland Farms. There's one about 10 minutes away from Stoneham (same distance as the nearest Starbucks) and any size coffee, hot or iced, will be $1.06 after tax. You make it yourself and they have a ton of flavor and non-dairy creamer options. I usually double up on the hazelnut flavor and creamer. It makes for a delicious coffee!

I've been trying not to drink coffee when I don't really need that extra caffeine, though, because I want to maintain a caffeine tolerance such that a coffee or an espresso still is more than my body is used to in the morning and I can turn to it when I need that extra jolt.

All that in mind, today I tried the Gingerbread Tea Latte at Starbucks. I really wanted to like this, because it would be a delicious way to get my holiday fix without the caffeine punch of espresso. And since I'm inherently a tea person, it seemed like it would be a win-win. Unfortunately, it was quite disappointing. I've never been a huge fan of Teavana's black teas and whatever they picked, I believe it's their English Breakfast Tea, just didn't blend well with the Gingerbread flavors. It also seemed like they dialed back the gingerbread-y-ness of the latte. I'm used to much more spices and especially much more molasses in the regular Gingerbread Latte. That's the main reason I love it! This beverage failed for me on both the gingerbread and tea fronts, which meant it really had no redeeming qualities. In addition to the disappointing taste, it also took a long time for my order (despite the barista being fairly speedy) because the first time he made it for me, he made it with regular milk. Luckily, I saw him do it and asked him if it was soy when he tried to give it to me. He quickly made another, but it meant it just took that much longer. And, to top it off, I'm pretty sure that as a Starbucks Gold Card member, I was supposed to get another holiday beverage free because I bought one holiday beverage today at 3:30p. All in all, a sad, sad day in Starbucks land.

28 September 2015

Total Eclipse of the Supermoon!

I spent a good portion of my evening yesterday looking up how to take pictures of the moon and then trying to execute those instructions. Turns out, I can take a pretty decent picture of the moon with my camera. The sad thing was, without a tripod, I was not able to hold the camera still enough to take a clear picture of the moon once it was in the total eclipse. (It gets so much darker that you need a long exposure to pick it up, and no one is steady handed enough for that.) I took all these photos with my Nikon D500 from my backyard in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Courtesty of a blanket, mint tea, and a book on tape, here are my pictures of the September 2015 Lunar Eclipse of the Supermoon.

The eclipse has begun!

The moon has almost been totally eclipsed, just the tiniest sliver is still visible.

This was during the beginning of the total eclipse. The moon is just barely visible taken with the same settings as when it was fully visible.

The closest thing I have to a clear shot of the total eclipse. It was truly this orange in person.

My stillest close-up of the eclipsed moon. I was lying on my back with the camera on top of me and literally held my breath to take this.

Not quite as still, but the top moon almost looks good in this photo.

The beginning of the end.

Almost half of the moon is visible again.

Two thirds of a moon!

I'd thought the eclipse was over, but the camera shows there's still a hint of a shadow.

The Supermoon in all it's glory after the eclipse was truly over.

21 September 2015

Knitting Projects

I love knitting, but I secretly hate blocking my projects. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing when I block an item. I have put off sharing a hat I made last spring because I still have yet to block it. After finishing two other projects in the last couple weeks, I decided just to photograph it anyways.

First thing I knit was another tea tote. I'd sadly lost the blue one I made several years ago (with lots of tea inside it!). I kept hoping it would turn up, but it has not, so I big the bullet and made a new one.

Posing with a tea bag.
A few tea bags stuffed inside. This bag could have used some blocking, but I knew I was going to overfill it, so there didn't seem much point.
 Next up is the hat I made last spring, which needs to be blocked so that the pattern really pops. Knowing me, I'll probably just wear it like this anyways. Ravelry page for it is here.

It has a lovely pointy almost floral pattern to it.
Front and side views of the hat:

Finally, I decided to whip up a nice big, chunky cowl from some yarn Maggie had given me. Sadly, the two skeins I had weren't enough and I had to hunt down a third. As you can see, the colorway of the third skein was not at all the same. But, I decided I could live with it.

One of the reasons I chose this pattern in particular is that it's supposed to be the right size/shape to comfortably wear as a hood/snood. This was sort of a trial run to see if I like having a cowl with a hood, as there's one or two patterns I'd really like to make, but I wanted to make sure I'd actually wear them before I put the effort into making them.

So that's what has been going on in my knitting world. Right now I'm trying to plug away at my socks and ignore the siren call of mittens and leg warmers.

15 September 2015

Fruit and Coconut Popsicles

There's nothing more wonderful on a hot day than a frozen treat. This has been a particularly hot summer (that is regrettably still not over yet!) so I've been eating a lot of ice cream and popsicles. After going through my second box of fruity popsicles from Trader Joe's, it occurred to me that I could probably make my own pretty easily. One of the reasons I'd been eating popsicles in particular is that there tend to be more non-dairy options. I love me some ice cream, but my lactose intolerance does not. I dug through my Evernote stash of recipes and found two that both used coconut milk and frozen fruit. Then I picked up a couple of popsicle molds from the dollar store and went to work!

Fruit and Coconut Popsicle ready for consumption!
The combination of the coconut milk and fruit is delightful because you not only get a sweet, fruity pop, but the coconut milk adds a lovely creaminess and texture. My first batch of pops I made following the instructions from this recipe exactly: Frozen Coconut Creamsicles. I did as they suggested and blended the coconut milk and fruit together so they didn't look as pretty, but they tasted great. The next time I made them, I also referenced this recipe: Berry Coconut Milk Ice Pops. The addition of the spices was a good idea, I thought. So, after a bit of taste testing, here is my perfected recipe for Fruit and Coconut Popsicles!

Fruit and Coconut Popsicles
Makes 8 popsicles
1 can coconut milk
2 cups fresh or frozen fruit (I've stuck to berries with good results)
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons honey
dash of cardamom (to taste)
dash of cinnamon (to taste)

Popsicle mix ready to go into the freezer.
1. If you're using frozen fruit, measure it and let it sit until it defrosts and comes closer to room temperature. This makes it easier to blend into everything else.

2. Put the coconut milk, vanilla, honey, and spices in a blender. Blend until combined and a little frothy.

3. Add fruit to the blender. Blend well. You don't want any big berry chunks.

4. Pour into popsicle molds. If you don't have molds, dixie cups with popsicle sticks will always work.

5. Let freeze for at least four hours.

6. Enjoy!

They're super easy to make and oh so delicious. I learned the hard way the first time not to try and blend the honey with the fruit, because the cold just makes it gloop up and not blend. I do like the blender only method though because it's quicker and less of a mess than heating up the berries and sugar on the stove top.

Hope you like these popsicles as much as I do!

Opening Night Make-up Look

Opening night for a show is always a chance to dress up, which usually means it's also a chance to do something fun with my make-up. The show I just opened is Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to The Forum, a farcical musical comedy. In our version, we've highlighted the wealthiest character as always wearing gold and also having gold coins all over his house. I used this as the inspiration for my eye make-up.

Since it had to get me through the whole day, I started off by doing a something a little more subtle. I did a base of Maybelline Eye Studio Color Tatoo Metal 24hr Eyeshadow in 65 Gold Rush, with a bit of gold powder eye shadow, wet n wild Color Icon Shimmer Eyeshadow in C30 Golddigger and Sephora Collection Colorful Eyeshadow in No 72 Movie popcorn, on top to set it. I then lined my upper lids with e.l.f. Essential Expert Liquid Liner in #4210 Copper. I smudged a tiny bit of a black-brown liner on my lower lids just to define them, and topped it all off with some mascara.

After the performances, but before the opening night reception, I quickly added some black wings with the e.l.f. Essential Expert Liquid Liner in #21706 Charcoal and highlighted the inner corner of my eyes with e.l.f. Essential Jumbo Eyeshadow Stick in #21631 Little Miss Thing. It turned out to be a nice dramatic look that was pretty simple to accomplish.

Here are a couple photos of the finished look I snapped when I got home:

Close-up of the eyes. The camera washed out the look a little bit.
Look of the full face (lipstick is gone in this photo).
There is also now a photo up on Facebook of me looking impossibly tall next to the rest of the stage management team for the show.

From left to right: PA Chelsea, ASM Maegan, SM Rachel (me!), Sub-SM Lauria, Waredrobe/PA Jess

27 August 2015

Outfit of the Day: Black and White

I got a lot of compliments on my outfit today and it was particularly fun, so I thought I'd share.

A little blurry, but I think it was because the mirror was dusty.
I'm wearing my new skeleton leggings (got them here), a shirt dress I've had for so long I no longer remember where I got it, and a bandanna that was a bargain buy from Walmart. I was also wearing my new black boots that you can't see, but which helped finish off the outfit with a tough edge.

Super comfy and it looked like I actually put some effort into getting dressed, which is always nice. Wearing a bandana like this is one of my new favorite things because it's just the bandanna with the help of two bobby pins and not only does it look cute and get all my hair up, but it also hides third or fourth day hair if I need it to. (Today was third day hair.)

26 July 2015

The Care and Keeping of Makeup Brushes

Despite the fact that I have been too busy (or sometimes unmotivated) to blog, my page views keep climbing and I have now passed 8,500 views! As someone who mostly blogs for myself, it's really awesomely fantastic to know that there are people out there reading what I wrote. Because I haven't been blogging lately, I have quite the backlog of things I want to write about. But, I decided to do a blog today on something much more current.

I never used to use makeup brushes much, but then I bought a few e.l.f. brushes and became a convert. I find that my eye shadow looks better when I use a brush and having nice brushes to apply my face powder, blush, and highlighter makes a world of difference. While I own 15 different brushes (plus extras of my favorites), there are five that I use every day.

My favorite e.l.f. brushes.

  1. e.l.f. Essential Total Face Brush : I use this brush to apply my Physician's Formula pressed powder. It gives me nice, even coverage that is easily buildable. I also use it to help clear away any fallout from my eye shadow.
  2. e.l.f. Essential Bronzing Brush : So it is called a bronzing brush, but I basically use it for everything that goes on my face besides powder. I use it to contour, to highlight, to apply blush, and, if I use it, to apply bronzer. The angle of it makes it great to apply to targeted areas on my face.
  3.  e.l.f. Essential Eyeshadow Brush : This is the brush I use to apply shadow to my upper lid. It's great for a subtle wash of color, or for packing on a lot of color on the outer corner. You will never apply shadow with one of those eye shadow applicator sponges once you use this brush.
  4.  e.l.f. Essential Blending Eye Brush : My other favorite shadow brush, I use this one to dust color over my entire lid all the way up to my eye brow. It is also the one I use to get highlight in the inner corner of my eye and it is great at blending.
  5. e.l.f. professional Concealer Brush : As someone with constant acne, this brush is a life saver. It does it's job marvelously and applies targeted spots of concealer with ease.

Honorable mention: e.l.f. Essential Smudge Brush : I do not use this brush every day, but it is the most used of all the rest of my brushes. I use it to pick up concentrated color and pack it over my liner. Sometimes it's just to reinforce whatever color I put down, other times it's to change it (like putting hunter green over brown).

There are of course so many different companies that make brushes, in every price range, but I love these because they are so affordable and effective (you can purchase all 6 brushes I mentioned for only $8!). Whatever brushes you choose to use, these shapes/sizes I think are highly useful.

As a brush owner, you are supposed to keep them nice and clean. First, because you don't want yesterday's product on your face, but also because over time, bacteria will build up on them, and no one wants to put bacteria all over their face. Now, I will confess that I do not clean my brushes as often as I should. After I use them, I always give them a cursory clean on a tissue or towel to remove the excess product, but I rarely remember to deep clean them. The reason I avoided it is because I found it to be so annoying and time consuming to do. Well, no more! I happened to see a "cheap trick" that absolutely works!

Presenting, Zote soap! It's a Mexican laundry soap and it is AMAZING. You can buy it on Amazon, but go to Walmart- it's only a dollar there! Cleaning your brushes with this is the easiest thing in the world. First, get your brush wet (avoiding the farrow- where the bristles go into the brush). Then swipe it along the soap to get some on the bristles. Swirl it in your hand so that it suds up. You can swipe again if needed. You'll see all the product come out in the suds. Rinse. For my larger brushes, I put a little bit of soapy water in a dish and swirled it in that before getting more soap on the brush and swirling it in my hand. For some of the really, really dirty brushes, I'd swirl, rinse, and swirl again. Once they're clean, gently squeeze the excess water out of the the bristles and let dry. It's best to dry them with the bristles down so that water doesn't get up in the farrow and make the bristles fall out. I solved this by pinning my brushes to a wire hanger with clothes pins. Worked like a charm!

Isn't that so simple?! Get it wet, get it soapy, rinse, dry. Done.

I found this so much easier than the oil + dawn method and much more effective than any of the brush cleaners I'd used. You should absolutely go out and buy a bar. It's one dollar and it will last you a very long time.

Super fancy hanger + clothespins drying rack. Always dry with bristles down.

Warning: It does have a very light fragrance, so if you're sensitive to fragrances, you may want to do a spot test with the soap somewhere before you use it. However, my brushes rinsed very clean, so I don't think much soap, if any, remained on the brush anyways, but better safe than sorry when dealing with your face.